Dante Alighieri had a tough life. Exiled from Florence because of political machinations and with no timely news network to convey his fury, he decided to seek his revenge by penning what is arguably the greatest poem in world literature: The Divine Comedy. The poem provides a road map to heaven, purgatory and most importantly hell, where Dante, with suitable venom, positioned the political hacks of his day on various rings. Each ring was characterized by moral deficiencies in the human temperament. There was lust, greed, gluttony, pride, hypocrisy and so forth. Not unsurprisingly these faults are still with us today, and so are the politicians who — with great disregard for the quality of their souls, much less their constituency – still manage to provide food for the devil’s banquet.
Let’s begin with the low hanging fruit right here in Virginia, Senator Phillip Puckett, a nominal Democrat. A week or so ago he decided to resign his position as state senator for a number of reasons, none of which are especially edifying: to allow his daughter to be confirmed as a judge and to potentially receive a lucrative position as deputy director of the Virginia Tobacco Commission. Whether this is legal remains to be seen, the FBI is sniffing around, and Puckett appears to have turned down the deputy position out of concern for his ‘legacy’ and the negative publicity it has garnered, at least for the short-term.
But the problem isn’t so simple. Puckett might get away with a stint in purgatory for that bit of venality, but the context in which he resigned points to a much larger ethical failure. For the last five months, Governor McAuliffe and state Democrats have been fighting to expand Medicaid through the budget process. Despite its even split of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans, the Senate made its move, passing a budget with the Medicaid expansion earlier this year. But, with its large Republican majority, the House of Delegates refused to budge, and has passed a budget without the expansion.
By resigning, Puckett gave control of the Senate to Republicans, who have now passed a budget without the Medicaid expansion. This in turn forces Governor McAuliffe’s hand. He can sign the budget and break his campaign promise, or he can preside over the first shutdown in Virginia’s history.
In either case, the prospect for Medicaid expansion has become incredibly dim. An estimated 400,000 Virginians will likely not get health insurance or access to needed health services like check-ups, medicines, surgeries, and cancer treatments. Worse than what Puckett has done to his party, is what he has done to his own constituency. He represented the 38th District, which draws from 10 counties in southwestern Virginia: Tazewell, Pulaski, Russell, Buchanan, Dickenson, Wise, Radford, Bland, Smyth, and Norton. According to Jamelle Bouie writing in Slate, “This is one of the poorest corners of the state. The poverty rate in Russell County, for instance, is 20.4 percent, compared to 11 percent for the state writ large. Even worse is Buchanan County, where 25 percent of residents live below the poverty line. Not only is it one of the poorest counties in Virginia, it’s one of the most impoverished in the entire United States. And according to a recent analysis from the Commonwealth Institute, it contains a chunk of the estimated 20,170 uninsured adults in Puckett’s district who are eligible for coverage under the Medicaid expansion.”
Puckett didn’t just sell out his Democratic colleagues, he sold out the lives and well-being of thousands of his constituents for what amounts to a bag full of silver and a nepotistic arrangement. Dante, who did not fool around, would probably not assign him to the fourth circle of hell, the ring reserved for those who hoard and squander wealth, so involved in their acquisitive cycles they lose their identities. No, Dante would assign him an honored position in the ninth circle of his inferno, the one reserved for those who betray a special relationship of some kind—like the relationship between a politician and those who vote for him, hoping he represents their interests. Dante used the word treachery to describe this particular circle of hell. The punishment that is meted is especially convincing. Traitors are immersed in ice up to their chin for eternity. In Dante’s ninth circle, it’s always a cold day in hell.
Puckett, of course, didn’t act alone. Working in concert with him are the state Republicans, pretty much en toto, although there are a few Republicans who manage to stand out even in this bleak landscape.
At the point when Medicaid expansion was still in play, three state Republican senators, Emmett Hanger, Walter Stosch and John Watkins, nominally supported Medicaid expansion. Up until the primary results were in for another Virginia Republican—majority whip Eric Cantor, in the US House of Representatives. As everyone knows by now, Cantor lost his primary bid to newcomer Libertarian and Tea Party acolyte, David Brat who won 56 percent of the vote, compared with 44 percent for Cantor. “Political earthquake” is the cliché making the rounds for Brat’s victory. As of last week, when Medicaid expansion received its death-blow, the conventional wisdom was Brat won because of an overwhelming tide of tea partiers coming to the polls and shoving through their agenda—an agenda that included a rabid denunciation of Obamacare, of course. That conventional wisdom likely shocked the three state Republican senators and turned tepid support for Medicaid expansion to outright denial.
Unfortunately, the ‘conventional’ wisdom may very well be wrong. Approximately 18,000 more votes were cast in Tuesday’s primary than in 2012, when Cantor easily defeated another Tea Party-backed challenger, Floyd Bayne. Some of those votes look to have come from precincts that were Democratic leaning. Why does that matter? Because not only were Republicans voting in the primary which defeated Cantor, so were Democrats. The open primary law allowed this, and Democratic operatives like Brian Umana had been working for years to put a coalition together to defeat Cantor: a coalition of Democratics and populist Tea Party Republicans disaffected with the Cantor brand.
Said Umana, “Anyone But Cantor” mentality was beginning to take hold in central Virginia and the Richmond suburbs. In this heavily Republican district, many Democrats and Republicans told me in conversations that they saw Cantor as a disingenuous political insider looking out for his own self-interest above the interests of his constituents. …. Put succinctly by one journalist on the scene, “Cantor lost because he was a ‘dick’.”
After the election results were in, the campaign strategist for Brat, Tammy Parada, emailed Umana, writing: “This was the direct result of active participants working together across party lines. An unpopular but honest truth in [the] VA7 victory: Mr. Umana and Mr. Stevens, even as their political ideology is far left of conservative, were important players, offering strong analytics behind ‘the numbers’ that eventually led to Cantor’s defeat.”
So it looks like the state Republican senators flipped their votes based on the fear of a Tea Party ‘tide’ that is more speculative than real. They were willing to prevent 400,000 Virginians from receiving decent healthcare rather than risk a few votes at the polls—votes that may never be cast in any case. According to Dante, such cowards dither at the gates of hell, neither aligned with the demons or the saints, their punishment is to eternally pursue a banner of self-interest while stung by wasps and hornets; the sting of conscience. One last, vivid note. To illustrate their stagnant moral state, maggots drink their blood and tears.
Of course we would never wish such a fate on anyone, and Dante’s writing was speculative in the extreme. But the fate of 400,000 Virginians without medical care is all too real.
According to the Nation magazine, a term from the history books, ‘Jim Crow’, looks to be making a resurgence, at least in a minor key. Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election. Laws mandating strict forms of government-issued identification to cast a ballot were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote were passed in Alabama and Tennessee. Restrictions on voter registration drives were enacted in Florida and Texas. Virginia, not to be outdone, is notably tightening its voter ID law, actually disallowing different forms of identity verification—this despite only a handful of voter ‘identification’ violations on record in the state out of 4 million votes cast. One bill has passed in the House already. An alternative, in the Virginia Senate (SB1256), disallows any ID without a photograph, but does offer to fund the ID for poorer voters.
Of course, Republicans (with assistance from ALEC) have long argued that voter fraud in the United States is a widespread problem and called for requirements that voters have a government-issued identification. But they had no real proof of any voter fraud—much less ‘widespread’ voter fraud, except, of course, just prior to the national election when the Republican National Committee (RNC) canceled its contract with a firm accused of destroying voter registration forms for Democratic voters while submitting fraudulent Republican voter registration forms themselves. You might argue that the firm, ‘Strategic Alliance’ was just a bad apple, but you would be wrong. The Los Angeles Times reports that the RNC urged the firm to change its name before hiring it because of allegations of registration fraud in previous elections. So the last major incident of voting fraud in the nation was initiated by the Republican party itself.
But that hasn’t swayed Republican efforts. In conjunction with new voting restrictions, Republicans all across the South have used their control of state legislatures to pass redistricting maps that favor Republican candidates and narrow the number of viable Democratic districts, placing as many Democratic lawmakers into as few “majority-minority” districts as possible. This is also known as ‘gerrymandering.’
Ari Berman, writing in The Nation notes that “in virtually every state in the South, at the Congressional and state level, Republicans—to protect and expand their gains in 2010—have increased the number of minority voters in majority-minority districts represented overwhelmingly by black Democrats while diluting the minority vote in swing or crossover districts held by white Democrats. “What’s uniform across the South is that Republicans are using race as a central basis in drawing districts for partisan advantage,” says Anita Earls, a prominent civil rights lawyer and executive director of the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice. “The bigger picture is to ultimately make the Democratic Party in the South be represented only by people of color.” The GOP’s long-term goal is to enshrine a system of racially polarized voting that will make it harder for Democrats to win races on local, state, federal and presidential levels. Four years after the election of Barack Obama, which offered the promise of a new day of postracial politics in states like North Carolina, Republicans are once again employing a Southern Strategy that would make Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater proud.”
That might seem a bit strident, but it’s not, if you understand the South’s history. Voter Suppression in the South has a kind of ‘eternal return’ aspect to it. Towards the end of the Civil War and directly after, a series of Amendments were passed that sought to guarantee to minorities the rights of any white person: freedom from slavery, the rights of citizenship, and, most importantly, the right to vote. But in the 1870s, after Federal troops withdrew from the South as part of the 1877 Compromise, Southern legislatures including Virginia, passed a series of laws collectively known as Jim Crow. The effects were devastating. Ironically, minorities found themselves with more freedom of movement and political latitude in the short ten to twelve year period directly after the Civil War than at any time in their history until well into the 20th century. All the hope that inspired blacks during Reconstruction (when the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments gave black Americans freedom, citizenship, and the right to vote) suddenly vanished.
In 1878, Congress forbade the use of the Army to protect black voters from the intimidation and physical violence with which they were regularly threatened. By 1894, Congress ceased appropriations for federal marshals to protect black voters at the polls. In 1901, the last black representative lost his seat in Congress. It would be 30 years before a black person could gain a seat in the House or Senate. This was not an accident.
In 1902, Virginia wrote into its constitution that white and ‘colored’ children could not be taught in the same school. Additionally, laws were passed by the Virginia General Assembly that outlawed miscegenation, “It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person…”For the purpose of this act,” they were careful to note, “the term ‘white person’ shall apply only to the person who has no trace whatsoever of any blood other than Caucasian.”
Public facilities and public transportation were ordered to be segregated and the State Corporation Commission was the designated agency to enforce ‘separate waiting areas’ in the terminals for the races. Most importantly, voting poll taxes were put into place and the state’s treasurers were ordered to enforce these laws. Keep in mind this was all done with gentlemanly aplomb and bipartisan fervor. It was a conscious effort to silence an entire race, and for a very long time it worked. Not just in Virginia, of course, but all across the South.
So, given this history, you would think the current residents of the Virginia General Assembly would be a wee bit reticent about enacting laws that would have much the same effect today. But as if to underscore their voter suppression heritage, the Virginia Senate passed a gerrymandered redistricting bill during President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. The vote, 20-19, would have been a tie had Democratic Senator Henry Marsh been present, but Henry Marsh, a famous civil rights leader, was in Washington, D.C., attending President Obama’s inauguration.
Luckily, the bad publicity garnered by the gerrymandering bill caused Republican Speaker of the House, William Howell to have second thoughts. Howell effectively killed the bill by ruling it ‘not germane.’ It could be that the specter of Virginia’s past was a little too close for comfort, or, more likely, it’s the appearance of Republicans across the South happily embracing the efforts of the ex-Confederacy that made Howell think twice. Indeed, the same day that the Virginia Senate passed the redistricting plan, they adjourned in honor of the Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. It was, after all, his birthday.
Let’s hope the rest of the Republicans –both at the national and at the state level—learn from the Marsh incident and the negative publicity that Virginia’s State Republican establishment has once again brought on themselves. It’s never too late to learn from history.
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(Click the map to see where future uranium mines could be in Virgina.)
Here’s an article about last night’s meeting: Science meets passion at uranium briefing
As you may know, Va. Beach is hosting a public briefing tonight on Uranium Mining in Virginia. A surprising number of people are getting seriously involved with this issue, and not just the people of Virginia.
Uranium mining can’t begin unless the moratorium is lifted, and due to a lack of support, the vote was postponed until 2013. The corporate money and power behind the mining project is becoming more clear all the time, though it’s been framed as a FFV’s love for their community and ultimate concern for its progress. The public isn’t buying it though, and they’re passionate about keeping the ban in place. As that firestorm continues to mount, I think we could have a real People v. Profit showdown next year, and that may be just what the doctor ordered.
I hope you’ll find a way to attend the briefing tonight, but even if you can’t, read this great exposé by award-winning investigative journalist, Rose Ellen O’Connor. It’s a three-part series that started in November about lifting Virginia’s ban, but covers much more than the 30-year moratorium. She carefully includes both sides, but weaves in and out of the ‘truth or consequences’ of uranium mining, complete with horror stories, lies, politics, corruption and misinformation. Each one is a prize, so if you’re interested in the prospects of mining and milling uranium in Virginia, I recommend reading all three for the nitty-gritty.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marline, the Canadian firm that failed to win approval for mining from the Virginia General Assembly before the market tanked in 1985, had workers crisscross the state with Geiger counters, hopping out of their cars when an area seemed promising. Marline bought up leases on 16,000 uranium-rich acres in Fauquier, Madison, Culpeper and Orange counties, which have since expired. Opponents of lifting the moratorium say they fear that Virginia Uranium will seek to mine the sites that Marline found and that the state will be overrun by uranium mines.
Virginia Uranium executives insist publicly that they have no interest in other mines.
“We’ve made it clear we’re only interested in Coles Hill,” Wales said at the Richmond forum.
But Coles Jr. seemed to suggest that the company is, indeed, interested in other mining possibilities at a meeting with potential investors in London in February. Coles said the geologist who discovered uranium at Coles Hill has long believed that more deposits will be found. Virginia could be another “Athabasca Basin” Coles said, referring to an area in Saskatchewan, Canada, where 41 companies mine one-third of the world’s uranium supply.
“Talking to the lead geologist,” Coles said, “he’s insistent to this day that Coles Hill is the first of more major discoveries in Virginia that might lead to another Athabasca-style resource play.”
The main study on Uranium Mining in Virginia came out in December. Most people have read the non-technical brief that has been linked in many articles. But the full report to view on the internet is linked below. From the link, scroll to the Table of Contents and from there you can either read the full report, select chapters, or skim. Under the skim feature you can also search by “suggested” keywords.
Full report: “Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia.”
Who owns Virginia Uranium Inc.?
Here’s how the company is structured: VA Uranium Holdings Inc., a company incorporated in Yukon, Canada, for tax purposes, owns 100 percent of Virginia Uranium Inc. A little less than 50 percent of VA Uranium Holdings is owned by Canadian firms. Virginia Energy Resources Inc., a uranium development company based in Vancouver, Canada, owns 29.44 percent of the holding company’s shares, while Sprott Resource Corp., a Toronto-based natural resource development firm, owns another 18.06 percent. Local investors own about 52.5 percent of the holding company, according to Virginia Uranium.
Video: “Uranium has never been mined east of the Mississippi River–for good reason. Kay Slaughter, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, explains why mining and milling uranium in southern Virginia poses serious threats to the environment and public health.”
I think lifting the ban has less to do with Virginia’s economy and more to do with the mining industry’s profits. Plus, our military’s unsustainable need for uranium and other strategic elements and rare earth minerals is a thirst we should be concerned about. It certainly won’t be sated in Pittsylvania County. In that context alone, I think the ban will be lifted by our lawmakers regardless of every foreseeable negative impact, and we can expect that this sort of dangerous mining and toxic dumping will spread … unless we can stop it.
Ms. O’Connor did point out the large Canadian presence involved, and in fact they are present throughout U.S. mining operations – but she didn’t mention that their web of partnerships sells to global markets. In foreign-owned hands, how can we control, or even know where the uranium and its by-products are being sold?
After 35 years of continuous mining (which is unheard of because they quit working when the market is down), the damage would be done and the mine would be abandoned. A hand full of people – maybe even some Virginians – would have made a startling fortune. After that, many generations of our children would be charged with finding safe ways to escape something we did knowing that we couldn’t control the outcome and that it could cause them cancer, birth defects and genetic mutations – among other things.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding … Virginia has a long history of catastrophic weather events, and that’s not including the climate change that promises to deliver circumstances we can’t conceive of today. There’s not a corporation nor a government on earth that can ensure a thousand years of safety. Nor can they deny that in the next thousand years, no matter how “safe” the clean-up is, one healthy explosion in the reclamation area is all it would take to contaminate the water, air and land that sustain millions of Americans. That’s a bullseye.
A while back, I read a comment that a physicist made about nuclear energy production, but I think it applies to uranium mining as well. He said, “We can send a spaceship to Alpha Centauri today but it would take a hundred years or more to arrive. In 80 years, we might send a spaceship that would pass the original en route. Are we advancing our progress by sending one today? Unlikely – we already know what the current technology can and cannot do. If we used the money on basic research instead of giving it to companies to try to make inferior technology competitive, we would be better off in the long run.”
Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.
I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.
Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.
A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.
“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.
When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.
If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.
It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.
Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food. John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.
I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.
Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.
Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.
And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.
One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)
The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:
“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?
I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?
I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.
Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.
I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.
Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.
I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”
(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)
Some News from APV, Virginia:
Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.
John has been in the system for a long time. He’s troubled and shows it by getting in trouble. No one has been interested in adopting him since he was twelve, and the situation is getting worse as he ages. A lovely dedicated couple who have worked with troubled children for many years decide they’d like to adopt him, but the agency won’t allow it because they don’t want John to be influenced by Jews.
Susie has a disability that requires medical treatments. A few couples thought about adopting her, but they didn’t because of the necessary modifications for her wheelchair and the concern and expense of her health care needs. Gail, a nice widow of 60 and a nurse with the resources and background to offer Susie a good home and stable life, is turned down by the agency because she isn’t married. Or, it could be because Gail is over thirty, or because she’s not a Republican, or because she’s a woman, or because she doesn’t believe in corporal punishment ….
Sam and Mack are well-respected and known assets in their community as well as their church. They’ve been stable partners for 14 years and have a successful landscaping business. After long consideration, they apply to be foster parents for Jake, a homosexual teenage boy in crisis counseling for a suicide attempt. Everything about Sam and Mack checks out, but the caring, understanding home environment and healthy role models are rejected by the agency, preferring to “cure” Jake with prayer treatments and anti-gay conversion therapy. LGBT children make up a significant number of available adoptees.
Nick and Caroline own a convenience store next to their home. Caroline is a teacher. They’re not rich, but they’ve managed a nest egg that will allow them to raise a son and put him through college. Everything looked great until Nick told the agency that he hoped his son would want to serve our country in the Marine Corps, as he did. The adoption is denied on moral grounds.
A decision made by the State Board of Social Services in December allows state-licensed private adoption and foster care agencies to refuse prospective parents based on sexual orientation, religion, age of the prospective parents, gender, disability, family status or political beliefs.
APV fought that decision tooth and nail, and like a lot of people in Virginia, we can hardly believe it went through. But it did, and to solidify it into law and make it even worse, we have HB189 and SB349, which are due to be signed by Governor McDonnell. Here’s what we’re fighting in Virginia adoption law now:
Child-placing agency; conscience clause. Provides that, to the extent allowed by federal law, no private child-placing agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. In addition, the bill provides that the Commissioner of Social Services shall not deny an application for an initial license or renewal of a license, nor revoke a license, of any private child-placing agency and no state or local government entity shall deny a private child-placing agency any grant, contract, or participation in a government program because of the agency’s objection to performing, assisting, counseling, recommending, consenting to, referring, or participating in a placement that violates the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. The bill provides that the refusal of a private child-placing agency to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer, or participate in a placement that violates its written moral or religious convictions or policies shall not form the basis of any claim for damages. This bill is identical to SB349.
Sen. John S. Edwards, a Democrat from southwestern Virginia, said, “This bill treads on thin ice. It confuses the right of a person to hold their own religious views, which is sacred, and imposing those views on someone else.”
“Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”
The state’s contractors are not entitled to this protection. They’re not people. It’s not about their freedom of religion because adoption is a public act. Nor, as contractors, should they be granted permission to impose their stated religious beliefs on adoptive children who are covered by the statute. Virginia’s children, if “compelled to support … religious worship, place, or ministry” would be wronged, and “such act will be an infringement of natural right” in the state of Virginia.
Should Virginia’s parentless children have a guardian ad litem to oversee their foster home and adoption applications? What about the suffering experienced by children forced to live in group homes unnecessarily? A child’s needs and rights should be protected from any agency choosing to put into peril available opportunities for a stable home and family life.
Just as troubling, or more so, is the vague wording about “moral convictions or policies”. In context, we’re not talking about virtue-centered morality for the good of community. This is “rights-centered” morality stressing individual freedom, which can be anything. The way this bill is written, an agency can write down a list of preferences, call it moral conviction and policy, and they’re free and clear to prohibit adoptions based on whatever is on the list.
Examples of unregulated rights-centered morality issues are as common in this country as being anti-war or believing in corporal punishment; as controversial as reproductive rights for women; or as egregious as the applause in recent debates has indicated for allowing people to die because they have no health insurance. Polygamy is a regulated religious practice in the U.S., but arranged marriages are not.
The point is, the law will relegate a critical public responsibility, the placement and future of Virginia’s adoptive children, to contractors with a variety of religious and moral agendas, and who also accept taxpayer dollars to subsidize each child’s care.
Back to the scenarios for one more point:
Because he’s been in trouble, John’s mounting chores in the group home include most of the cleaning and yard work. They’re not really eager to lose him to adoption at this time. Because of Susie’s disability, the agency that keeps her gets more money each month for her than the other children. They’re not really eager to lose her to adoption at this time. Jake’s homosexuality is believed to be a stubborn refusal to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, a point of contention that his agency is determined to make an example of. They’re not really eager to lose him to adoption at this time.
Who is designated to stand up for our children when agencies fail to act in their interest? The checks and balances have been defunded and cut back to the extent that a handful of dedicated, overworked social workers and CASA volunteers must simply do the best they can with a massive workload.
It doesn’t make good sense to keep adoptable children in the system when healthy loving people are willing and able to care for them, embrace their differences, and provide the home and family life they have to share. The moral or religious preferences of an agency are not important. This is supposed to be about the children, and if the agencies had their hearts in the right place, they would insist upon safe and healthy placement regardless of their list of convictions and policies.
This is bad law being pushed through by moralistic people in power who want to force their agendas on others.
But, back up a minute … what about the very real suffering and damage done to a child who is kept in the system unnecessarily? Well, that potential damage was obvious and looming enough for the authors of this bill to include sweeping immunity for the very contractors that should be prohibited from discriminating for their personal whims in the first place. It states that restrictions on adoption under “…written moral or religious convictions or policies shall not form the basis of any claim for damages.”
Hopefully, that would be challenged and decided by the courts, and maybe it would result in adoptable children being assigned a guardian ad litem. But, preventively, this legislation can be vetoed by the governor.
If the bill is signed, adoptable children in Virginia will pay the high price of being political, religious and moral pawns in a system already looking the other way when it comes to meeting many of their needs.
Please consider their interests and let Governor McDonnell know where you stand before it’s too late. Contact the Governor’s Office at (804) 786-2211, sign a petition here, and contact your representatives to let them know how you feel.
We’re seeing the same thing at the state level here in Virginia where another factor is at play, the Tea Party’s war against unionized labor so often associated with mass transit.
“Defunding transit is how you smack down urbanites, environmentalists, and people of color, all in one fell swoop. It’s how you telegraph a disdain for all things European. It’s how you show solidarity with swing-state suburbanites who don’t understand why their taxes are going toward subways they don’t even use. And it’s how you subtly reassure your base that you’re not concerned about the very poor.”
Becoming a lobbyist for progressive values in the Virginia General Assembly
My first day January 11, 2011
I have never lobbied legislators before and felt rather unsure about whether or not I can make any contribution doing this sort of thing. Basically I thought anything important probably took place out of sight—you know the cigar-smoke-filled-room image of how government “really” works. After a day guided by APV’s Public Policy Director Scott Price, I am ready to change my mind. Lobbying for progressive values can make a difference.
I took a bus to Capitol Square and arrived early about 8:30. Good thing because I tried to start my lobbying at the wrong building. Legislators meet in the Capital Building so that’s the obvious place to lobby—right? Well no. A call to Scott set me straight. About a block toward Broad Street from the Capital Building is an entrance with big letters GENERAL ASSEMBLY BUILDING. I entered by going through a metal detector (didn’t have to take off my shoes), found Scott, and started the orientation—coat room, elevators, rest rooms—all important stuff.
I was immediately struck by how open and accessible the GA Building is. No sign in sheets, finger prints, eye scans, SS numbers, credit cards—nothing. An accessible dress code too—a black or dark blue suit. I was told the building had Wi-Fi throughout and several people carried computers, smart or dumb phones, even cameras. Everyone looked busy and serious but not intimidating.
Most of the GA building’s floors contain GA members’ suites with an exterior window, small interior rooms for staffers and shared receptionists who moderate access. The lower floors contain Senators with House members above them. The 6th floor has a cafeteria. The basement contains public computers to check bills—tracking is computerized and accessible online–and a documents center to get copies. The first floor has committee meeting rooms nicely labeled A B C D with smaller caucus rooms throughout the building. Given how government gets tagged as wasteful and inefficient, I ended up being impressed by the thoroughly modern efficiency projected by this building and by extension what takes place in it.
Scott started showing Lisa Taranto and myself around by introducing us to legislators and staff he either knew or felt would be receptive to APV aims. Basically Scott would start with a receptionist to find out if the person was available. If so we’d be introduced, exchange contact information, Scott would explain APV and then pass the power to Lisa and myself. I’d guess I shook hands with three legislators and 15 staff on my first day. All seemed to be receptive to whatever support APV could give, while admitting that in this 2012 GA session progressives will be in rear-guard mode—more about opposing regressive legislation rather than promoting progressive actions. Vigilance would be needed.
We ended by watching the Senate opening on a large video screen. Again the openness of all this impressed me. We just walked into the room, sat down and watched. From press reports I gather that eventually interactions got testy as Republicans asserted dominance in the 20-20 split Senate, but what we saw was pure Virginia cordiality including jokes about ham with a double entendre about pork on the cash-and-carry honor system luncheon buffet.
These are my first impressions. None of this is meant to minimize what APV needs to do to have an impact: many bills to follow through committees and subcommittees; many terse and focused position papers; spending time to get the word out; and calls to mobilize when needed. I expect that the pace will be fast. I hope my experience encourages more APV members to join the effort to make legislators understand that treading on progressive values will have consequences they cannot ignore.
Ralph R. Sell
Ralph is one of APV’s citizen lobbyist for this year’s General Assembly session in Richmond. We encourage our members to get involved and to attend APV’s Lobby Day, January 24th. Details to come. Contact us at info@APVonline.org