Is this house big enough to hold my ego?

What is it about Versailles that so appeals to rich people with large egos?

Even a property–rights conservative must admit it’s always an ominous sign when a prospective neighbor decides to give his soon–to–be–constructed house a name. There’s nothing that screams “Arriviste!” like a billboard in the front yard trumpeting the fact that your new home is so large it merits a title and will be petitioning for a Zip Code.

So it came as something of a shock to unsuspecting neighbors in the Hidden Springs community of Great Falls when Mrs. Young Yi installed a sign announcing construction of “Le Chateau De Lumiere,” when their own homes had been anonymous lo these many years.

I must confess we’ve privately called our modest shelter the “Fisher–Price House” because the siding was once bright yellow with equally arresting blue shutters. But we didn’t hang banners off the eaves announcing the fact or stock the front yard with random infants.

I believe the title of Mrs. Yi’s abode means “mansion of light” much like a bullfighter’s garish getup is called the “suit of lights.” But what the name lacks in modesty is more than compensated for by its addition of “diversity” to the blandly wealthy neighborhood.

According to the Washington Post, the 25,425 sq. foot behemoth is modeled on Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. This asteroid, is ten times larger than the average square footage of a house built these days for lesser mortals. And it’s almost twice the size of the Virginia governor’s mansion, which comes in at a paltry 14,000 sq. ft.

Mrs. Yi’s plans call for European landscaping and, much like an airport runway, the manse will also boast a lavish underground lighting system, hence the “Lumiere.” She will also enjoy a pool, pool house, wine cellar, exercise room, billiard room, sauna, card room, rec room, gallery and a theater with a “concession space,” which may be how she plans to offset the mortgage payment. No word as yet on valet parking.

There’s something about Versailles that’s a magnet for pretension. Back in 2000 Michael Saylor, who was briefly a dot.com billionaire, unsuccessfully planned to build a mega–edifice in Great Falls also modeled on Versailles. His was to have a football field, although if he was really serious about the Versailles connection it should have been a soccer pitch.

Continuing to mix architectural metaphors Saylor declared, “I want it to be like the White House.” Saylorville was projected to cost as much as $50 million and he described it as, “part house, part embassy, part ceremonial” and all hey–look–at–me!

It’s somewhat ironic the house causing restless nights for the neighbors is being built by the owner of 1st Class Sleep Diagnostics Center, a chain with six locations in Virginia that treats apnea, snoring, insomnia and obsessing about construction plans.

The NIMBYs, I mean neighbors, are using time–worn objections that have been employed to prevent construction of everything from bike paths to nuclear reactors: It’s an eyesore, it’s too big, trees will die, it interferes with my view, it will lower property values(!) and it makes my house look small.

It’s difficult to muster much sympathy for either side. On one hand you have the $25 million Case de Ostentation where a functioning GPS is required to find the bathroom and on the other you have people who, in the priceless words of reporter Justin Jouvenal, “deliver their own trash to dumpsters at a local school, rather than have a noisy trash truck rumble down the main road.”

More likely Mr. and Mrs. Fastidious order their undocumented landscape interns to dump the trash, which in addition to eliminating rumbly trash trucks also eliminates the need to pay for garbage disposal since taxpayers pick up the tab.

The wealthy are always appalled when reality refuses to accommodate their whims. Social disapproval does not appear to be working, so lawyers have been hired. The lawsuit leans heavily on deed covenants that were put in place to keep the lots large and woody. Unfortunately, for neighbors seeking to occupy the moral high ground (while leaving the trees undisturbed), deed covenants or restrictions have been used in the past to keep Jews from buying property and blacks from moving into a neighborhood.

The suit also contains vague charges regarding the loss of the “sylvan character” of the neighborhood and the megalith’s failure to demonstrate “conservative” aesthetics.

But mostly the controversy again proves the enduring truth of Dennis Miller’s observation that “a developer is someone who wants to build a house in the woods, while an environmentalist is someone who already has a house in the woods.”

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Next Stop: The White Elephant’s Graveyard

Construction nears completion on Phase I of the Dulles rail project.

Virginia just avoided a state–sized version of the popular “government shutdown” crisis. Democrats had twice defeated the budget in Senate votes and it looked like the usual hostages — children, teachers, social workers, grief counselors, underwater mortgage holders, illegals, addicts, the lame, the halt and the blind — were going to be bussed in to Richmond and threatened with self–sufficiency until stingy Republicans came up with a few more billions.

Then it all went away, like an Obama campaign promise, when a single Democrat senator broke ranks and voted ‘yes.’ (So far there are no media reports that praise him for “growing in office.”)

The ostensible reason for the “shutdown” crisis was the potential demise of Phase II of the planned $6 billion railroad to Dulles Airport that would connect with the existing Washington Metro.

There’s something about spending billions on 19th Century transportation solutions that liberals find irresistible. Frankly, I’m fearful that one of our local politicians, famous for his support of a commuter ferry on the Potomac, will learn the steamboat has been invented.

Senate Democrats claimed Dulles rail was threatened by Republican’s refusal to pony up an additional $300 million to subsidize drivers on the Dulles Airport Toll Road, which voters were promised would cover 75 percent of the construction cost of the Silver Line.

This is classic Democrat economics: Use money raised by selling long–term bonds to subsidize a recurring expense. Talk about your fiscal treadmill. Without subsidizing tolls, railroaders fear the cost will be so high that drivers will use nearby free roads. Effectively converting the toll lanes into a long, narrow asphalt preserve for Northern Virginia’s growing deer population and Obama’s golfing motorcades.

In the absence of taxpayer–funded bond money, the cost of a roundtrip toll next year will range between $4.50 and $9.00. By 2018 it is projected to be $13.50. And just thinking about using the toll road will deduct $2.00 from your E–Zpass account.

Naturally this is what you get when a Democrat governor goes legacy shopping. Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D–Flomax) concluded that closing all the rest stops in Virginia might get him in the history books, but not in the way he preferred. Instead, like Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, Kaine took a moribund plan for a railroad to Dulles and breathed life into it by turning the project over to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA); an inspired choice for a multi–year, multi–billion–dollar operation.

Board appointees made by liberals in D.C. and Maryland vastly outnumber Virginia appointees. Consequently the carpetbaggers are more than happy to spend Virginia dollars for which they will never be held accountable.

While Dulles rail is sold to taxpayers as a mass transit project, the airport board uses it to reward cronies and amass chits for the next election (see: Government Motors bailout). This was done by tying construction contractors and sub–contractors to what is called a “project labor agreement” (PLA).

This means that during Phase I of the project all contractors and subcontractors “voluntarily” agreed to pay union wages, hire union workers and follow union work rules, in spite of the fact Virginia is a right to work state where union membership cannot be required as a condition of employment.

So Kaine gets his legacy project and unions — that supply free labor and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Democrat candidates — don’t have to worry about bid competition from non–union firms.

One administration later, what’s “voluntary” under Democrat Kaine must be mandatory under Republican Bob McDonnell. So for Phase II the airport authority votes to require mandatory PLA compliance before bidding. And it just so happens that one of the board members voting ‘yes’ was Dennis Martire who is also Vice President of the Laborers’ International Union.

When you consider that in 1978 the Laborer’s union was termed “completely dominated…[by] organized crime” in a Dept. of Justice report and as recently as 2011 the mob still had links, it’s not surprising that Martire did not believe he had a conflict of interest when he voted ‘yes.’

Since only 4 percent of Virginia construction workers are unionized, the bulk of the Phase II hires would be residents of Maryland and DC, which is just fine with MWAA members, since it will improve their chances for carpooling to board meetings.

Taxpayers will be hit for an estimated $350 million to $750 million in increased costs that a PLA imposes on a project. Del. Bob Marshall (R–13th) recognizing the threat, introduced legislation prohibiting state money from being spent on any project requiring a PLA.

In response the board removed the requirement for a PLA, but in turn said it would rank contractors “voluntarily” agreeing to a PLA higher than those contractors that did not — a distinction without a difference.

The board believes it can get away with this obstinacy because the project is half complete and if the second phase founders the GOP–controlled General Assembly will be blamed. While the truth is the project was brought to the brink by a board that puts more emphasis on political payoffs than it does on completing a mass transit project.

Now that no additional funding will be forthcoming from the state, the financing package for Phase II of the Silver Line may well fall apart. But if that happens it won’t be because Republicans refused to pay a union–inspired ransom. The death certificate will read the project died of self–inflicted wounds.

Mike Wallace in the hot seat

Mike Wallace’s star on the Walk of Fame

The journalism establishment exemplified, by the MSM (mainstream media), does not believe in American exceptionalism. That’s reserved for the rubes in flyover country. Their admiration is reserved for themselves and the lofty position the “4th Estate” holds in contemporary society. What’s more, members do not respond positively when anyone questions this self–assessment.

An interesting tidbit buried deep in the Associated Press obituary for television journalist Mike Wallace proves this is not a recent phenomenon. Over 26 years ago Wallace and CBS were jointly sued for libel by retired Gen. William C. Westmorland after the broadcast of a documentary entitled “The Uncounted Enemy: A Vietnam Deception.”

The program alleged that Westmoreland deceived President Lyndon Johnson and the American public by orchestrating a conspiracy that fraudulently underestimated the size of the North Vietnamese Army.

According to Wallace and CBS, Westmoreland arbitrarily established a maximum estimate of 300,000 NVA troops and during the infiltration prior to the Tet Offensive; he discounted the number of soldiers (estimated as high as 20,000 per month) who were coming south in preparation for the attack.

The goal was to convince the public that progress toward victory was being made and shore up support for continuation of the war.

It was a devastating portrayal of command deception at the expense of the lives of American soldiers in the field. Westmoreland sued in an effort to restore his reputation.

But that’s not the interesting part.

During his career on 60 Minutes Wallace popularized the “ambush interview” where unsuspecting targets were surprised by Wallace and his video crew. The confrontation would occur without warning. Wallace would pepper the totally unprepared victim with questions while the crew taped the interviewee’s obvious discomfort and shock.

What’s interesting is that during the libel trial Wallace found himself the target of questions and accusations regarding his work. Instead of “Mike Wallace crusading investigative journalist,” he was characterized as a liar and unscrupulous propagandist.

For the first time in his life, Wallace was subject to the same kind of unrelenting pressure, accusation and vilification to which he routinely subjected his interview subjects.

And when the kitchen got hot, Wallace couldn’t take the heat.

At the conclusion of the trial he was hospitalized for over a week with “depression.” Or in his words, bringing irony to an entirely new level, “Imagine sitting day after day in the courtroom, hearing yourself called every vile name imaginable.”

Yes, do tell.

For Wallace and the MSM, Westmoreland should not have been surprised when he was targeted. And the same went for businessmen, bankers, conservatives, Republicans and all the rest of the usually suspect bad guys. Benefit of the doubt did not exist for those outside of the media’s list of approved occupations, causes and thought processes.

When the camera’s red light came on you were guilty. But a reporter being criticized in the same way he filleted his victims was simply unheard of in 1985.

So Wallace was completely unprepared when the situation was reversed. I suppose in different circumstances Wallace could have asked Westmoreland what he did to recover his equilibrium after being called a liar on nationwide TV.

Today the MSM still believes it is an exception to the rules governing the rest of us. Recurring controversies surrounding civilian police review boards prove my point. It’s a given that reporters and editorial page writers strongly favor these kangaroo courts where individuals with zero background in law enforcement — and who are often actively hostile to the police — sit in leisurely judgment of working cops who have to make life or death decisions in fractions of seconds.

Internal police investigations are not good enough. The MSM demands an independent body to oversee law enforcement. But on the other hand when there are calls for an outside organization to evaluate bias and unfair coverage on the part of monopoly newspapers or TV stations, outsiders suddenly become unqualified to evaluate the decisions of reporters made on deadline and in fast moving circumstances. Why, it would be like asking Gen. Westmoreland to approve the news!

Journalists assure us the public doesn’t have the background or experience to sit in judgment. Instead, the media offers the “Ombudsman” who just happens to be an employee. Somehow this internal investigation passes muster, while the police internal investigation is hopelessly tainted.

The MSM knows what’s good for the public and your job is to shut up and read it. Just ask George Zimmerman if you disagree.

Ann Curry, one of the Today Show’s set of shiny teeth, said after Wallace died, “Tough questions are being asked in heaven today.” Which is certainly true, but once again Wallace won’t be the one doing the asking.

Teachers suffering from paycheck ADHD

Teachers go hyperbolic, again.

There’s been a great deal of upheaval involving teacher’s unions over the last year. There was and is great drama in Wisconsin where teacher’s and their Democrat lackeys in the legislature went hands on with Gov. Scott Walker to fight his efforts to reform public employee unions.

But here in Prince William County, VA, where I live, it’s been comedy.

It began in Richmond, where the teacher’s statewide union and Democrat lackeys in the legislature defeated Gov. Bob McDonnell’s effort to reform tenure rules. Encouraged by this victory, local teachers and the Prince William Education Assn. began a ‘work to rule’ campaign to put pressure on the school board to include a raise in next year’s budget. This meant they didn’t stay after school to help students with extra curricular activities unless they were paid extra.

Teachers conducted “grade–ins” at grocery stores and government meetings. They wore buttons to school and made a big solidarity production out of entering the school building together in the morning and leaving en masse in the afternoon.

After writing about the campaign, I discovered area teachers are avid readers, because many of them took time to send me irate email. To recap, in my view the PWC school board has gone out of its way to protect teachers from the economy pounding the taxpaying private sector.

While 300,000 teaching jobs have been lost nationwide, there have been no layoffs in Prince William County. In Loudoun teachers were threatened with unpaid furlough days, but not here in PWC. And although the county government employees took a 5 percent hit to their paycheck to cover costs passed down from the state, teachers didn’t lose a dime.

It was striking to me how many of the hostile teachers complained about dealing with children. It’s like a surgeon griping about cutting people open.

Kids are unruly, there are too many of them, they clutter up the hallways, they turn in papers that need to be graded. According to those emails, working conditions rivaled that of a Chinese iPad assembly line worker. With long hours, oppressive supervision and no noodles for lunch.

Many of the emails were also confused about the practice of journalism and the cushy life reporters lead. Although I currently enjoy a lofty perch in the journalistic pantheon, I started out in this business as a sports director for a TV station in West Texas. After a month the news director informed me I was now the Midland city reporter AND the sports director, effectively doubling my workload with the same pay.

This meant my day could either start at 10 AM or 2 PM but it always ended at 10:30 PM after the last newscast. What’s more, we worked Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s and the Fourth of July, if those dates came during the week. There were no four–day weekends or Easter Break in the news business. And we didn’t get the summer off.

But enough about me. Another correspondent complained that with a master’s degree and nine years experience she “scarcely make(s) over $50,000” a year. If she’s at step nine on the pay scale it means her salary is $58,312 annually.

This is $22,575 more than the per capita income in PWC and compares well with the median nationwide income of $61,273 for master’s degree holders. Particularly when you remember most master’s degree holders are working, according to Forbes magazine, 225 days per year instead of her 195 as a teacher.

Another disgruntled educator complained about having three bosses, evidently watching her like a hawk. Her compadre wrote, “teachers are observed by their administrators several times each year and formally evaluated every three years.”

And guess what? Everyone is above average, just like in Lake Woebegone! Last year in PWC out of 5,422 teachers a grand total of 16 did not have their contract renewed. That’s three tenths of one percent.

For comparison purposes, in healthcare — another “caring industry” — 4.6 percent of the employees were discharged involuntarily in 2011. Even in the utility industry, hardly a hotbed of job insecurity, 2 percent of employees were let go. In PWC education a comparable number would have been 108, but instead tenure protects the good, the bad and the unmotivated.

So what was the result of the work to rule campaign? Last week the school board did vote for the pay increase teacher’s demanded and it proved to be a real learning experience. Teacher activists got to familiarize themselves with the meaning of “Pyrrhic Victory” and brush up on their percentages.

The board approved an increase, but it also lengthened the school day from 7 hours to 7.5. The new school year adds an additional 97.5 hours, an increase of 7 percent.

This “pay raise” increases salaries an average of 2.85 percent for all employees although 1,800 teachers will receive less and 270 teachers at the top of the scale will receive nothing.

Getting down to cases, a teacher with a BA degree at step 10 made $54,863 a year or $40.19/hr. before the “raise.” After the raise she makes $56,427 (assuming she gets the full increase) but her hourly wage drops to $38.58/hr.

So after this victory she’s making $1.61/hr. LESS than she made before. A few more triumphs of labor solidarity like this and landscaping may start to look attractive as a career option.

At least Pyrrhus beat the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum, which is more than you can say for the PWEA. Teachers wanted a raise in the worst way and it looks like that’s what the school board gave them.