Category: Loudoun

Donor State

Had a chance to sit through a “forum” for the Virginia Gubernatorial candidates and heard a classic argument that I’m sure many of us have heard a lot over the last year or two:

“Well, if we don’t take the money, then that means we’re a donor state…we’re paying our taxes and not getting money back. That’s not fair to Virginians.”

The arguer, of course, was the Democratic candidate for Governor, and the issue at hand, was “Medicaid Expansion.” For those of you not “in the know” on Obamacare implementation, “Medicare Expansion” means that if States raise the threshold of who is eligible for Medicaid from 100% to 125%, thus significantly increasing the Medicaid rolls in Virginia and elsewhere, then they get goodies (cash) from the Federal Government.

While the Supreme Court decision last year basically said that as long as the Federal Government calls something a tax, it can extort as much money from individual citizens as it wants — even if it means forcing them to buy a private product or service — SCOTUS also held that the Federal Government could not force States to expand Medicaid. It could bribe them, but it couldn’t force them to accept it by holding the rest of the Medicaid money hostage (which is what they wanted to do).

Everybody clear on that? Bribery is OK, extortion is not.

So States have the choice to take the bribe or not. So here we are with the age-old argument that we HAVE to take the money or we’re just throwing it away, and letting other states live high on the hog from our Donor State generosity.

Four basic responses to this argument:

  1. As far as the Medicaid money in particular, it comes with strings attached. It always does. There is ample evidence that if Virginia, and other States, were left to their own devices for Medicaid that they would do a much better job of managing the systems themselves. The money is also short term. It starts to go away after two years, and it only covers the costs of care and not the extra administration costs that go with it. But the expansion never goes away. It’s like getting your first go at an addictive drug for free.
  2. In general, since when does 30 wrongs make a right? So to follow the logic: if someone stole hundreds of billions of dollars from you and 49 of your friends, and 30 of them were taking a small portion of it back, it would be…well…”wrong” for you not to take your share back. In what world is that morally and ethically good?
  3. What’s wrong with donating? It seems that the “we don’t want to be a donor state” is so aggressively hypocritical as to be laughable. Of course, I realize that the argument is about helping the poor of our great Commonwealth, but shouldn’t we simply ask the question first whether we desperately need it? Are liberals completely shirking the States’ core responsibilities to handle its own poor? What if there was ample evidence that other States are suffering more and need more Medicaid money than Virginia does? Should we just pretend that New York, Mississippi, and New Mexico don’t desperately need more Federal resources?
  4. Now assuming that we CARE about Federal overreach and fiscal ineptitude (which is what is hidden behind this argument — it is always in desperate response to: “The Federal Government has no money, and it shouldn’t be giving us more of what it doesn’t have.” “Yeah, but if we don’t then those OTHER states will…”), then we must first ask the question of where it will end? Do we want to live in a State in which the leaders of said State are willing to take anything the Federal Government will give them whether it’s the right thing to do or not? Do the ends justify the means?

The truth is, we all know that the Federal Government is notorious for not living up to its promises, and there are no guarantees that we’ll get the money we’re promised, or that we’ll get the “flexibility” (usually in the form of waivers) which will allow the Commonwealth Government to administer its health care system for the poor the way it deems fit.

The first question should always be: if it was OUR money — State money, that is…it’s all technically our money — would we expand such a fine-tuned and well-oiled machine as Medicaid any further? The answer is obviously a big fat, “NO.” So why is it OK to take the money that is being printed by the Federal Government, but not directly taxed by the Commonwealth to Virginia citizens?

How is that noble?

And for those Republicans who are pushing for it, using basically the same aforementioned
argument as Democrats, who like to pretend that “reform first” is some super-principled stand, I have a few questions:

Why did it take Obamacare and a SCOTUS decision for you to determine that you need to fight for Medicaid reform (more waivers, etc)? And if reform is so critical, and you intend to use the Federal Government new goodies for “reforms” where is the money going to come from for the new Medicaid recipients? Is there any evidence that your supposed reforms will actually save money? No? Didn’t think so. Here’s the reality:

THE MONEY VIRGINIA WILL GET FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT WILL NOT PAY FOR MEDICAID EXPANSION. It’s that simple. The State budget increases by $200B+ a year (approximately) and we get less than that from the Federal Government….for two years, then we get even less. Our elected representative in Richmond all know good and well that without the Federal cookies they would not be expanding Medicaid…so why do they think it’s a good idea just because someone else (your “donors”) is paying for it.

Don’t buy it. Largesse is largesse. Overreach is overreach. Unconstitutionality is unconstitutionality. Rationales about someone else getting the dirty money should be dismissed for what it is: hypocritical and twisted.

A School Without a Building

(originally posted at LoudounLiberty.com)

…yet.

For those of you who have been following the drama surrounding Dominion Academy and Leesburg Christian Church, who decided on April 10th to close down the school, there is some good news for Dominion Academy parents.
providence
The owners of the property surrounding Destiny Church has offered their new 26,000 sq ft building, set to begin construction next year to the school.  Greg Wigfield, the pastor at Destiny Church hosted an audience of teachers, parents, and other interested folks on Friday night.  Over 200 people crammed into a barn and listened to Marie Miller (the fearless leader of the new enterprise) and several other committee heads give an update on the school.  Mr. Wigfield said he had no desire to control the school, so whatever the relationship with Destiny Church is going to be, it sounds like it would be a hands-off one.

The catch is, of course, that the building which Mr. Wigfield is providing for the cause wouldn’t be available (theoretically) till Fall 2015…which means the school is looking for a two-year home.  Now I don’t know much about commercial Real Estate, but it seems to me that a 2 year lease might be something of a challenge.  The head of the Real Estate Committee cited three prospective properties which looked promising, including the Loudoun Parks and Rec building near Downtown Leesburg, along with the Sheriff’s office on Harrison St. which will be left vacant in time.

None of these locations are a sure thing yet, but one thing was clear from the meeting, and that’s the feeling that a school has way less to do with buildings and facilities than it does dedicated teachers, committed parents with kids who are eager to learn.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the author of a book (not excessively new, but new to me) called “The Beautiful Tree” in which the author, James Tooley, makes a discovery while studying private schools in India which launches him on an unexpected journey through for-profit, private education in the third world.  He discovers that hundreds of thousands of children amongst the poorest of the poorest of the poor in the third world were getting their education, not from their governments but their neighbors seeking to provide a service and make a living…and the quality of education exceeded that which the government – through financial support from the developed world – was able to provide.

Story after story after story is told of: negligent teachers, greedy government bureaucracies, and frustrated parents who would rather spend from their meager means for a real education than send their kids to a school which doesn’t really teach their kids much of anything…when they show up. In other words, all the horror stories and implications of public education in the U.S.–which are really only true some of the time, and in good school systems like Loudoun is the exception to the rule (at least the negligent teachers part) and to a very small degree–are the rule in the third world.

“The Beautiful Tree” is a fascinating read, but the biggest thing that it leaves the reader with is the unmistakable reality that education has nothing to do with technology or fancy buildings or nice playground equipment and “programs” but the relationship of one child with one teacher one lesson at a time in which the child furthers their knowledge of the world.  This is true in Loudoun just as much as it is in Kibera. And it’s important that we…all of us…begin to think outside of the boxes of classroom sizes and 90 acres school plots.

Which brings us back to Loudoun…the barn as the setting of the meeting made a few people joke, “why not just have the school right here in the barn?” At a previous meeting a parent had made the statement that people used to be taught under trees and turned out just fine.

On another note, there are a couple things that the press (even the latest article from Leesburg Today which very fairly covers the above mentioned meeting) keeps getting wrong is the idea that “declining enrollment” was the main reason for the school being closed down in the first place.  According to one spokesman from the new school, the capacity of Dominion Academy was between 268 and 284, they’re currently at 238, and as of the end of March they were already at 218 with another month left before the application deadline for the 2013-2014 school year. They’ve had previous years with less than their current…so enrollment doesn’t seem to be the main driver behind the decision. Besides, the press release that the school board sent to parents and staff didn’t indicate declining enrollment as the issue, but instead only that the church was no longer able (willing?) to subsidize the school, and that the school would not be able to survive without that subsidy. Period.  That was the reason.  There was no reason given (by the church leadership or the school board — kind of the same thing) why the church was no longer able or willing to support the school…just that it wasn’t.

One of the most concerning parts of the whole affair has been the church’s position that none of the equipment –including desks, a full library, and interactive whiteboards (donated by an ardent supporter of the  school not the church, necessarily) — since it was the property of Dominion Academy, Inc., would revert back to the church once Dominion was terminated. The “New School” committee decided that it was more important to focus on finding a new location and getting all the other pieces in place than getting involved in a protracted legal battle.  So they’re operating under the assumption that they’re working from scratch from an equipment standpoint.

The most disturbing thing, though, is the name battle.  It seems that once it became evident that Virginia Academy was not going to come in and take Dominion Academy’s old space (presumably without aforementioned subsidy from the church) — because most of the parents, teachers, and the Chief Academic Officer (Ms. Miller) were lining up behind a new school — that the church took it upon itself to call down to the State Corporation Commission in Richmond and reserve every name possible for a school that included the word “dominion” in it.  Since the original idea was to name the new school “New Dominion Academy,” this put a damper on things, but the committee for the new school decided on a different name…within a day or two: Providence Academy. This little SCC stunt, though, together with the new school’s insistence on focusing on the positive and “turning the other cheek” on the classroom equipment issue, has the school looking like the adults (Christian adults) in the room, and the church leadership looking a little petty.  Maybe none of this happened the way they intended, but they’ve handled things quite poorly.

And the new school, Providence Academy, in less than three weeks: has some options for a temporary home, has an offer for a permanent home at a sprawling new campus within the town limits of Leesburg in a couple years, has 175 enrollees already confirmed for the 2013-2014 school year, almost all of the current teaching staff at Dominion having expressed interest in continuing with the new Providence Academy, and to top it off, a relationship with a church (which, as Mr. Wigfield pointed out in his presentation, can provide a tremendous amount of help when it comes to zoning and special exceptions for schools) that doesn’t seek to control the school as their previous church did.

For more info and updates on Providence Academy, go to: providenceacademyva.org 

UPDATE: Some of the details involving enrollment numbers a few paragraphs up have been adjusted and clarified.

UPDATE 2: There is more news on the horizon, so stay tuned.

Meatless Mondays…Meet Open Carry Wednesdays

If ever the reader desired to look at the slow decay of reasoning skills and sensibility in our country, one need look no further than the article in Leesburg Today (and especially the comments) about “Open Carry” night in Downtown Leesburg, VA.

cajunexperienceFirst, let me tell a story.  I’m chatting with a good friend of mine a few months ago about “green” this and “green” that, and how, though I believe we should be good stewards of our environment, that it’s the not the first thing on my mind in the morning and that the constant preaching about Mother Gaia bugged me about as much as Jimmy Swaggart would bug him.  He then said, “It’s not always about politics…” To which I responded, “Then why can’t I go to my local Deli [Puccio's New York Deli] without seeing a RESOLUTION from our TOWN COUNCIL that it’s bad for the planet for me to eat meat?”

No answer.

Flash forward to today, when another Downtown Leesburg establishment decides to inaugurate “Open Carry Wednesday” to support its customers in the law enforcement community (and otherwise) who believe in upholding and protecting their second-amendment right to bear arms.

The first reaction one might have is that it’s just not right to compare these two things…they’re SO different.

Well…that’s a proper reaction, because they ARE different.

First, with “Meatless Mondays” the businesses themselves didn’t have the idea…someone who doesn’t eat meat did.  And they sold it to the businesses as a way to be “community oriented” and save the planet.  ”Open Carry Wednesday” was completely the idea of the business owner.

Second, with “Meatless Mondays” the folks who don’t eat meat (who don’t need a meatless Monday…because they don’t eat meat) strive to convince municipalities to ENDORSE their idea...to bless it…complete with a Mayor’s signature.  The restaurant who started “Open Carry Wednesdays” asked for no such blessing.

So they are different.  But there are similarities:

In both cases, the customers have the choice to eat at these establishments on Mondays, on Wednesdays, both, or not at all, and second, they can do so based on their beliefs in whether the restaurant in questions adheres to their political or philosophical views on the subject…or based on the food.

The first time I saw the Meatless Mondays ad at Puccio’s I thought, “Holy Schneikes, what is the world coming to.”  Then I ordered the Gyro sandwich.   You see, they made the choice to still provide meat for those who still want it…even on Mondays, and I made the choice to eat there, even though they expressed to me, through Town edict, that I was contributing to the collapse of the ecosystem.

When I heard about “Open Carry Wednesday,” I decided to show up…NOT carrying, and eat there anyway, because a) I support the idea, and b) I like the food. But they still served me even though I wasn’t packing. Imagine that.

Frankly, I believe everyone is simply taking themselves too seriously if they think that carrying a gun is “creepy”…my favorite comment on the Open Carry article, responding to someone else’s thoughts on how disappointed they were in the “civilized” DC Metro area having such an “uncivilized” establishment as this :

As civilized as the DC Metro area? Really? Are you including DC in that area? When did such a high crime rate become civilized? Which part of the DC population do you consider civilized? The criminals carrying the guns, or the law abiding citizens who can’t?

Not necessarily the safest place in town? Let’s watch and see who gets robbed or assaulted on Wednesday nights. And likely the victims (1st responders) will call 911 for some good guys with guns (2nd responders) to come help them.

I don’t know much, but I know that the safest place to be in Leesburg on Wednesday night is likely at the Cajun Experience, and that Puccio’s still has the best Gyro’s.  So there you go…EQUAL…OPPORTUNITY.

One last thing: since that first Meatless Monday experience at Puccios, I’ve actually tried some vegetarian meals around town.  Some of them are great.  I fiercely still support the eating of meat, but it’s a learning experience. It would be encouraging for those who don’t know much about guns to show up at Cajun Experience on Wednesdays and chat it up with those who are openly a part of the “gun culture” (which means they know more about guns than those who aren’t) and ask their opinion about, I don’t know…THIS.  You might learn something.

You see, being “open-minded” and deliberate in your thinking and making sure you’ve looked at things from all angles and listened to those who disagree with you and understand their thoughts on controversial topics…that door swings both ways. Doesn’t it?

(BTW, be sure and vote on the page (to the left) whether you would be more likely to go to the restaurant or not based on Open Carry Wednesday).

Rural Economic Development

I’ve seen a couple presentations from the Rural Economic Development staff of Loudoun County lately, and there are a few things that strike me:

1) There seems to be a lot of talk about “value added agriculture”…there being a built in assumption that we should be telling farmers how much they can or cannot be “processing” the food that they produce, and whether ancillary products and services should be treated the same as agriculture.

2) There is also a lot of talk about “amenities” that we should be providing for horses and other farmers, lest they decide to move elsewhere.

Though I’m EXCESSIVELY excited and enthusiastically in support of allowing farmers to do whatever they damn well please on their own property and making a living however they see fit within what is moral and legal anywhere else in the County, I’m NOT completely sure they should be able to provide the same services and “value-added” anything without being subject to the same regulations and taxes as everyone else in the county.

Which begs the very simple choice:

Do we force agriculture businesses to be subject to the same guidelines as the rest of the county, or do we finally acknowledge that all the fire codes, permits, zoning regulations, etc, etc, do very little to actually improve or guarantee public safety? If they don’t need it in Western Loudoun on a winery, then they must not need it in Ashburn at Clyde’s…right?

Systems

You hear it all of the time:

“Our educational system needs reform!”

“The healthcare system is all screwed up.”

When it comes to logical and reasonable discussions about what the solutions to some of our problems in healthcare and education (high costs, low quality, mediocre results…all three), the side of liberty and choice loses when we allow the English language to be stretched and abused to the point where calling the delivery of health care or diplomas a “system.”

network_managementNow think about it. What makes healthcare a “system” but…say…auto manufacturing an “industry?” (One would think that since the Federal Government felt comfortable taking over a good chunk of the car industry, they’d call it a “system” too, but I digress.)

Healthcare and education are systematized because everyone in the United States (presumably) needs healthcare…and (presumably) needs formal education, so the logic is that it needs managing to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.

But everyone in the United States needs clothing…shelter…and food.  Are these systematized by Governments and managed systematically?  Well food was for a while. We discovered years ago that price fixing in food markets didn’t help farmers and didn’t help consumers.  But food, clothing and housing are markets.  People pay for them.  They choose what to pay for.

For some reason somewhere along the line, it was decided that education and healthcare needed to systematized and here we are…calling them “systems.”

Why? BECAUSE WE ARE NOT PAYING FOR THEM ANYMORE.

Education is filtered through governments through taxes (or highly subsidized by taxes in the case of higher education), and healthcare is filtered through a series of governments, employers, and insurance companies. If we aren’t paying for it, then someone else is controlling it, and if “they” (whoever they are) want to change that system, we have to advocate for them to change it in a way in which you feel will help.

But we’ve already lost the argument.  Once we’ve conceded that it’s a system, we have ceded the freedom of individuals to control their own destiny.

Until we explicitly make the statement that education and healthcare need to be treated as free markets, where individuals choose their own destiny and pay the price they’re willing to pay, then we will NEVER gain the liberty we seek on these fronts.