Thursday, June 22, 2017

PORTSMOUTH, VIRGINIA LOCAL AUTHOR BOOK EXPO 2017

LOCAL AUTHOR EXPO 2017 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. June 24, 2017
Portsmouth Public Library 4934 High Street West Portsmouth, Virginia 23703
THE WRITERS GUILD OF VIRGINIA will be represented at the Local Author Expo 2017 by David Cariens. Cariens will be happy to meet and talk with anyone about the GUILD, including membership, workshops, classes, and the GUILD's literary publication, THE JOURNAL. Cariens books will also be available, including his three books on gun violence and school shootings.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

AFTER TECH: VIRGINIA'S MENTAL HEALTH SHELL GAME


Following the mass murders at Virginia Tech the one issue that nearly everyone agreed upon was the need to do more in the field of mental health—to identify and get treatment for those who are a threat to themselves and others. There seemed to be a moment when something might be done. And indeed, Virginia did allocate more money for mental health, but that was 2008; it is now more than five years later and Virginia has backtracked. The state now spends less on mental health than it did on the eve of April 16, 2007.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), between FY 2009 and FY 2011, Virginia’s expenditures on mental health dropped 9.1% from $424.3 million to $385.8 million. (“State Mental Health Cuts: A National Crisis," a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2011) NAMI also points out “the risks of violence among a small subset of individuals may increase when appropriate treatment and support are not available. The use of alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication can also increase these risks.” Virginia made these cuts at a time when it was one of the few states running a budget surplus.

In his first three years after taking office, Governor McDonnell delivered budget surpluses each year. Virginia’s fiscal policy gained national attention. On July 31, 2012, Fox News lauded Virginia’s three years of budget surpluses under McDonnell, citing surplus of $220 million in 2010—the first year of McDonnell’s four-year term. Fox also said that the Virginia General Assembly had a surplus of $311 million in 2011 and that in 2012 the state had $129 million more in its General Fund than had been predicted. No one mentioned that part of this surplus came on the backs of one of the most vulnerable segments of society, the mentally ill. Fox News did not mention that cuts to mental health services have a potential impact on public safety: the risk of violence among a small number of mentally ill individuals increases when appropriate treatment and support are not available.

Virginia then, has not been starved for cash and its politicians at the highest levels in order to score points with right-wing pundits appear to have intentionally broken promises to the electorate to spend more for mental health. (To be continued)




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

EFFORTS TO DERAIL THE PRYDE AND PETERSON TRIAL

 
Let’s take a closer look at the efforts in Virginia General Assembly by Delegates Bill Janis (R-Goochland County) and Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin County) to delay or kill the reappointment of Franklin County Circuit Judge William Alexander. Alexander was the presiding judge appointed by the Virginia Supreme Court to oversee the Pryde and Peterson trial because all the local judges recused themselves. Judge Alexander initially ruled there was enough evidence of gross negligence that the suit against several current and former Virginia Tech officials, including school president, Charles Steger, could go forward. That ruling may not have gone over well with the right wing glitterati of Virginia’s body politic, some of whom argue no one can be held responsible for someone else’s actions. Therefore, Seung Hui Cho, and only Seung Hui Cho, is responsible for the mass killings at Virginia Tech. The fact that school and police officials turned a blind eye to Cho’s mental illness and threatening behavior is, to them, immaterial. (It should be noted that the gross negligence claim was removed by Alexander just before the trial began in 2012.)

The problem with those who argue that no one can be held responsible for what someone else does, is the failure to take into account the concept of “foreseeability,” a legal principle that says if the warning signs are readily apparent, and individuals who are aware of those signs do nothing, then those individuals can be held responsible for their inaction. If you look at the number of warning signs at Virginia Tech they are overwhelming—I have spelled them out in detail in previous posts. What more of a warning do you want than a professor threatening to resign unless a student (Cho) is removed from her class because she fears for her safety and the safety of her students? Subsequently, Judge Alexander’s ruling may have been viewed as a serious blow to the state and the school.

The Roanoke Times reported on the grilling Judge Alexander received during the re-appointment hearings and his opponents may have seized another issue to delay or stop the judge’s reappointment in order to mask their real motive. It appears the issue they chose was Alexander’s decision to release a grand jury report after the indictment of Franklin County Sheriff Ewell Hunt. The sheriff was indicted on charges of keeping improper records about the employment of his daughter.

Delegate Janis has publicly acknowledged that the judge had the authority to release the report, which the judge did in response to a motion filed by the special prosecutor in the case, Pittsylvania County Commonwealth’s Attorney, David Grimes. If Judge Alexander had the right to grant the motion, then what is Delegate Janis doing other than playing politics?

Ultimately, Judge Alexander was reappointed and the lawsuit filed by the Pryde and Peterson families went forward. (To be continued)



Sunday, June 18, 2017

ARE YOU REALLY SURPRISED?


If you look at the state of our society today—the hateful, sharp divisions; the President signing into law a bill that allows mentally ill people to buy and own guns; and the lack of civil discourse—is anyone really surprised about the tragic shooting of Congressman Stephen Scalise and three others?

We have a President who has given people the green light to beat up reporters (and one congressman tried); a President who calls people who disagree with him liars; and who proposes to restrict people from coming into this country simply based on their religion. He has unleashed hatred in our political arena on scale not seen before.

Right here in the Northern Neck of Virginia, our local newspaper frequently prints letters-to-the-editor by former candidate Catherine Crabill who, nine years ago, when running for the state legislature said, “…if we cannot get it from the ballot box, or the jury box, we will get it from the bullet box.” In other words, in a state that has suffered two horrific school shootings (the Appalachian School of Law January 16, 2002 and Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007), advocates the use of guns to get her way. Her pronouncement forced the Virginia Tech and law school families to publically call for her defeat.

When Supreme Court Antonin Scalia died, Crabill went off the deep end. She speculated Scalia was assassinated so that President Obama could appoint his replacement. She cited the handling of his body at the funeral home and quick embalming as evidence. There are many problems with her argument (besides the fact that it is built on half-truths and innuendos). But, in order to embalm a body the family would have to be involved in the decision. That means Crabill was implying that Mrs. Scalia was involved in the plot to assassinate her husband. You have to ask yourself, just how low will this woman go; how hysterical can she be?


This sickness of hatred does not represent our American values. It threatens physical violence and verbal thrashing on anyone who disagrees with them. These words can entice the mentally ill, unstable, or hotheaded to pick up a gun and shoot someone. This vitriolic name-calling is not heroic and can have serious consequences. (To be continued)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

VIRGINIA TECH: DUPLICITY AND CROCODILE TEARS


Many of the politicians who came to Virginia Tech following the massacre, cried in front of the families and media, and then worked to water down and undermine responsibility for campus safety at senior levels. These efforts were clearly intended to reduce the liability of school presidents and other top-level leaders.

One of the worst examples of this duplicity is Virginia State Delegate David Nutter. Nutter was both an employee of Virginia Tech and an elected official from Blacksburg in the Virginia House of Delegates.  Common sense would make you think Nutter would be in the forefront of efforts to prevent school shootings. But, Nutter proved common sense wrong.

Immediately after the shootings, Nutter met with the families, wept, and offered his sympathies. But when it came to adopting measures to help strengthen school safety, Nutter balked.

The prime example of his chicanery came nearly three years after the massacre at Virginia Tech when the lower house of the Virginia legislature significantly weakened state Senator John Edwards’ bill to amend and reenact the Code of Virginia relating to crisis and emergency management for public institutions of higher learning. Specifically, members of the lower house took exception to university presidents and other school officials having to certify they comprehend and understand the school’s emergency plan—a plan that they play a role in creating. Here is the sentence as it cleared and passed the senate unanimously:

“In addition, the members of the threat assessment team, as defined …(by law)…, and the president and vice-president of each institution of higher education, or in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, the superintendent, shall annually certify in writing to the Department of Emergency Management, comprehension and understanding of the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan.”

Here is the sentence the lower house insisted on and appears in the final bill:

“In addition, the president and vice-president of each public institution of higher education, or in the case of the Virginia Military Institute, the superintendent, shall annually (i) review the institution’s crisis and emergency management plan; (ii) certify in writing that the president and vice-president, or the superintendent, have reviewed the plan; and (iii) make recommendations to the institution for appropriate changes to the plan.”

Stop to think what members of the Virginia legislature have done: they have said that presidents of the state’s colleges and universities do not have to comprehend and understand a document that is critical to the security of our children.

While the State Senate passed the original bill unanimously, the House of Delegates objected. The two most ardent opponents of the legislation—they wouldn’t vote for it in any form—were Delegates Nutter and Charles Poindexter, a right-wing politician who tried to derail the reappointment of Judge William Alexander, the judge who presided over the Pryde and Peterson lawsuit against Virginia Tech President Steger.

If you read the official reports of both the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, as we have, there is repeated emphasis on schools’ security plans and the role of those plans in preventing campus shootings. Now, according to the Virginia lower house, the presidents of the state’s colleges and universities do not have to comprehend and understand those plans.

Clearly Nutter’s promises to the Virginia Tech victims’ families weren’t worth very much. When the state had a chance to do something, as little as it was, Nutter refused to go along with the bill in any form.

Nutter is not alone. I will look at others in future posts. (To be continued)




Monday, June 12, 2017

SCHOOL SHOOTINGS: POOR DECISIONS, INACTION, NO ACCOUNTABILITY


Another argument against banning weapons in any form is that it destroys our Second Amendment rights to bear arms. But all the rights granted us in the Constitution have limitations. For example, despite our First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, we cannot use profanity in this book nor can we use sexist or racist vocabulary.

Clearly the Second Amendment says no one has the right to take away our right to bear arms. We doubt, however, that the founding fathers would have supported the right of the dangerously mentally ill to own assault weapons whose main purpose is to kill human beings.

A ban on assault weapons, which are intended for use by the military and law enforcement, is not a ban on our individual rights. Such a ban is a step toward sanity in protecting average citizens and guaranteeing them the right to life and the pursuit of all the freedoms guaranteed us in the Constitution. We would argue that such a ban helps guarantee the rights of all citizens to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The public, then, is being duped when it comes to what is being done to keep our schools safe and prevent school shootings. The far right of our political spectrum has framed the argument solely in Second Amendment terms, wrapping themselves in a blanket of constitutional patriotism and labeling all those who question them as unpatriotic. The hysterical tone of these self-described patriots has reached such a crescendo that it drowns out any talk of protecting the Second Amendment and keeping guns out of the hands of those who are dangerously mentally ill. Furthermore, even a hint that incompetent school and police officials have played roles in these killings cannot be heard over the din. Holding people accountable for their actions or inactions that result in injury or death is brushed aside in the frenzied rhetoric.

The result is that two issues critical to improving school safety (keeping guns out of the hands of people who are dangerously mentally ill as well as holding people accountable for their actions or inactions that facilitate these murderous rampages) are not heard, much less discussed.

Thousands of dollars have been and are being spent on warning systems, period. A considerable amount of time and effort has been expended on drawing up security and safety regulations, but once these regulations are in place, it takes a human being to activate such a system. In other words, no matter how good an electronic system is, how well thought out safety rules are, it always boils down to the human factor—to those who have the authority to make decisions. And if there is one lesson to be learned from the Virginia Tech massacre, it is that people failed to do their duty—to warn. Those in authority who failed to warn have not been held liable.

Under Virginia Tech’s Emergency Response Plan in effect on April 16, 2007, it was the Emergency Response Resources Group (a.k.a. ERRG in Tech’s plan) that had the authority, and responsibility, for sending out a warning. President Steger was part of the Policy Group, which, per the plan, sat above the ERRG. Therefore, according to the plan, Steger had no responsibility to send out a warning. Chief Flinchum, however, had the authority to issue a warning based on the school’s published Timely Warning procedure in compliance with the Clery Act to issue a warning, but he did not do so. Secretary Duncan cited the conflict between Virginia Tech’s published timely warning procedure and internal procedure 5615, which was not well known. The Emergency Plan was under a different jurisdiction (see below). The school’s leadership did not follow either its Emergency Plan or Timely Warning procedures as written—neither Steger nor Flinchum have been asked to answer for that.

At the Appalachian School of Law, President Lucius Ellsworth belittled faculty members’ requests for campus security, chalking their concerns up to “women’s hormones” and assuring them nothing would happen. Within weeks, three people were dead and three more seriously wounded. Ellsworth has never been called to task for his disregard of security.

The pattern is the same over and over again—dangerously mentally ill people getting their hands on guns, people in positions of authority turning their backs on warning signs, and innocent people being gunned down. As of this writing, no one appears ready to hold individuals accountable for their failure to act and to warn when faced with an imminent danger of violencethat is true for both Virginia Tech and the Appalachian School of Law. The pattern is there: poor decisions, inactions, and no accountability.

The publicity surrounding improved warning systems gives the public a false sense of security, gives the politicians and school officials the fig leaf they need to say they are doing something. But unless these expenditures on new warning and security systems are coupled with holding people accountable, nothing meaningful is being done, and doing nothing is not an option; the stakes are too high—they are the lives of our children and loved ones. (To be continued)