Saturday, April 30, 2005

Aaron Carter in the News

I was traveling last night, so I didn't get to watch any television. When I got home, however, I discovered an unusual amount of activity here on the blog. People from all four points of the compass were streaming to read my March 11 post on Aaron Carter and the photos of him in the National Enquirer, allegedly smoking pot.

Intrigued, I did a quick Google search and discovered that ABC News had broadcast a report on Aaron Carter and his brother, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, on 20/20. (I don't often watch 20/20, in any case, but I am glad that the program now showcases John Stossel so much more prominently than it did in the past. Stossel is one of the few TV news correspondents who understands how the free market works and why it is good for all of us. Besides his TV news reports, Stossel has expressed his point of view quite accessibly in his book, Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media...)

According to a pre-broadcast report, "Fame and success can bring money, but it also can bring pain and — as it did with Nick and Aaron Carter — it can tear apart a family." It goes on to say how Nick and Aaron are estranged from their mother, Jane, who has been their manager in the past. It carries this allegation: "Jane claims that she caught Aaron with a bag of marijuana at a show during the Hawaiian Tropics Pageant," but does not mention the National Enquirer mini-scandal.

On an optimistic note, the report adds that "With a new single out, Aaron is continuing to pursue his music career. This December, he will turn 18 and gain access to a trust estimated at $5 million. He says he's grateful for the love and discipline his father has brought to his life."

Friday, April 29, 2005

Muzzle Award Fails to Muzzle

Some politicians just don't learn from their own embarrassment. Or perhaps they simply have no shame.

As I noted on April 12, one of the winners of this year's Jefferson Muzzle Awards was Gerald Allen, a state legislator from Alabama. Here's how the Montgomery Advertiser put it:

State Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, is a most deserving winner of an award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for Protection of Free Expression. We heartily applaud his selection.

Regrettably, however, Allen is not being recognized for his commitment to free expression, which Jefferson championed and which has been a hallmark of American liberty. Instead, he is a winner of the center's "muzzle" award, recognized for trying to suppress "the expression of a viewpoint that is at odds with his personal views."

Each year, the center marks Jefferson's birthday -- he'd have turned 262 on Wednesday -- by presenting the "muzzle" awards to individuals or organizations it believes have attempted to stifle free expression. Allen clearly qualifies.

Allen earned his award with a ridiculously broad bill he introduced that would prohibit any school or library supported with public funds from acquiring and displaying books that so much as "recognize" homosexuality. Public schools and colleges would be prohibited from staging plays with any perceived element of homosexuality.

In introducing the bill, Allen said he favored digging "a big hole" and burying such works in it. (An earlier Advertisereditorial called that "book burning without the fire," a characterization we'll stand by.)
Catherine Smith of the Southern Poverty Law Center calls attention to the constitutional implications of Allen's bizarre -- er, unique -- proposal:
Allen claims that he wants to "protect" Alabama children from the "homosexual agenda" and believes that "our culture, how we know it today, is under attack from every angle." Clearly, his bill intends to suppress ideas contained in materials that are perceived to promote homosexuality.

But like so many attempts to ban literature, Allen's anti-gay bill comes with both practical and legal problems. How exactly would the State of Alabama define what constitutes promotion of homosexuality? Who would be empowered to make those determinations?

As Juanita Owens, the director of the Montgomery City-County Library, told the Birmingham News, "Half the books in the library could end up being banned. It's all based on how one interprets the material."

A broad interpretation of Allen's proposed law might ban The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for the Bard's slapstick treatment of cross-dressing.

Practical matters aside, Allen is certainly aware that his proposed statute violates a core tenet of the First Amendment — it's commonplace knowledge that the government is prohibited from stifling speech because of its message, idea or subject matter. [See R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 505 u.s. 377, 386 (1992)]

And Allen's bill represents the most egregious form of content-based regulation because it is viewpoint-discriminatory. [See Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 u.s. 819, 829 (1995) (explaining that "[v]iewpoint discrimination is ... an egregious form of content discrimination").]

The bill would prohibit only those materials that promote homosexuality, leaving books that cast homosexuality in a negative light unscathed and on Alabama bookshelves.
Perhaps with tongue in cheek, the Montgomery Advertiser takes issue with that last point:
The language in Allen's bill is so broad as to ensure many disputes over whether a particular work could be said to "recognize" or "foster" or "sanction" homosexuality.

Which meaning of "sanction" is to apply? One definition is to penalize or impose a punishment against something or someone. Using that meaning, Allen's bill could be read to prohibit works that condemn homosexuality.
Despite the criticism and mockery -- if I were Gerald Allen, by this point I would have dug a hole to hide myself in, the books be damned -- the troglodyte legislator trods on. CBS News reports that Allen's bill was reintroduced and was considered by the Alabama House this week:
Republican Alabama lawmaker Gerald Allen says homosexuality is an unacceptable lifestyle. As CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports, under his bill, public school libraries could no longer buy new copies of plays or books by gay authors, or about gay characters.

"I don't look at it as censorship," says State Representative Gerald Allen. "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of our children."

Books by any gay author would have to go: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal. Alice Walker's novel "The Color Purple" has lesbian characters.

Allen originally wanted to ban even some Shakespeare. After criticism, he narrowed his bill to exempt the classics, although he still can't define what a classic is. Also exempted now Alabama's public and college libraries.
Still, CBS delivers the last word, and the last word is good:
Editor's Note: When the time for the vote in the legislature came there were not enough state legislators present for the vote, so the measure died automatically.
I think that voters, who on the whole are pretty level-headed people, elect people like Gerald Allen to office simply for their own amusement. John Merli, a columnist for the Potomac News in Manassas, Virginia, calls this "Conservative Chuckling" and says it is his new hobby. He writes:
My hobby is fairly simple. I just sit back and observe the news each day and then see what makes extremist conservatives really annoyed, and intuitively it just makes me chuckle. Often, out loud!
Although the 2005 Jefferson Muzzle Award failed to muzzle Gerald Allen, by his actions he lets us know he's angling for renomination next year.

Update on Dr. Tom Coburn

In my post earlier this month on the concept of citizen-legislators -- an alien concept, to be sure, in today's environment -- I pointed to the current case of Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is the object of potential sanctions by the Senate ethics committee -- because he wants to deliver babies and treat patients (at cost!) in his hometown medical practice.

Veteran Washington journalist Robert Novak has taken up Coburn's cause in his latest column for the Chicago Sun-Times (also syndicated around the country). Novak points out that the Senate is not pleased with Coburn because he's uppity: he has the nerve, as a freshman Senator, to draw attention to how that legislative body screws the taxpayers.

Writes Novak:

In a legislative body where members spend much of their time off the Senate floor begging for money, it is worthy of Kafka that the only pending ethical proceeding involves Coburn's concept of the citizen-legislator. Unless the rules are changed, Coburn must either break his campaign pledge of continuing baby deliveries or leave the Senate.

His early departure from the Senate would occasion rejoicing there, as he showed April 20. Not observing a freshman senator's customary silent period, he proposed reducing the $592 million for a new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad provided by the emergency supplemental appropriations bill. Coburn argued that because only $106 million could be spent over the next two years, "we are going to have $486 million hanging out there that will be rescinded and spent on something else." Instead of settling for the usual voice vote, Coburn insisted on a roll call (which he lost by only 54-45).
Noting how Coburn, through his actions and not just rhetoric, styles himself as the taxpayers' friend, Novak continues:
During six years in the House, Coburn's campaign against pork-barrel spending made him anathema to Republican leaders. He planned a lower profile in the Senate, but the ethics complaint made that impossible. He also had an agenda ensuring him more attention than ordinary freshmen: bringing free market principles to health care, oversight of federal programs (as chairman of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee) and assaulting congressional pork. For the first time since Phil Gramm left the Senate, Sen. John McCain had an anti-pork partner.

In the April 20 debate on the supplemental appropriations bill, Coburn was the only senator to support McCain against Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who was mandating that a $40 million project go to a "Philadelphia-based company." "I believe this is the wrong way we should be doing things," Coburn told the Senate. "We need to stop. Our future depends on the integrity of a budgeting and appropriations process that is not based on politics but is based on having the future best will for our country."

It is hard to exaggerate how much Coburn's rhetoric riles pork-loving colleagues, explaining the absurd ethics proceeding against him. In answering charges that he is a part-time senator, Coburn wrote constituents that he will continue to "devote at least 60-70 hours per week to my Senate duties." Other senators spend as much time as Coburn back home but mainly for fund-raising. They are not stopped from padding their bankrolls with book royalties, farm income and investments.
If the Kafkaesque case of Dr. Tom Coburn does nothing more than draw attention to the double-standards and double-dealing in the U.S. Senate, he will have served his purpose and can retire in good conscience.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Procedures Announced for Voting on Dual-Primary Day

For the first time in the memory of most Virginia voters -- and even of political party activists and election officials -- there will be two party primaries taking place statewide on Tuesday, June 14.

While there have been simultaneous primaries for local offices or General Assembly races in recent years, most jurisdictions have never had a dual primary for statewide races -- at least not since most localities began to adopt new voting equipment in the wake of technological advances and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

The State Board of Elections has issued procedures for conducting the dual primary. Party officials should look over these rules and make sure that their voters understand them. I have encountered people who have been voting in Virginia for many years but who think that they are registered to vote by party. (Virginia has no party registration.)

Voters may be surprised by two things:

First, because Virginia has open primaries, some voters may expect they can vote in the Republican primary for governor and then cross over to vote in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. That's not permitted.

Second, voters may be surprised -- and some may be upset at the notion -- to learn that they must declare their choice of primary vocally. Some people may prefer that their neighbors not hear which party they prefer. The instructions are clear, however: after the voter indicates his choice of party, the election officer will repeat the choice in a voice loud enough to be heard by the other election officials and by any party or candidate representatives present, so that the choice can be marked properly in the pollbook.

Here are the procedures from the State Board of Elections. Voters, party officials, campaign activists, and candidates should all pay close attention so that problems are minimal on election day, June 14.

JUNE 2005 DUAL PRIMARY SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS

A dual primary is actually two primary elections conducted concurrently. Some supplies and procedures are different from regular elections. The instructions below cover these differences and are a supplement to the usual instructions:

Voting Equipment Programming:

– Central Absentee Precinct

  • If your county or city has a Central Absentee Precinct (CAP) and your locality has more than one congressional district, you must report the number of voters and the results for each statewide office for each Party’s Primary by congressional district. Please make certain that your voting equipment vendor is aware of this programming requirement.

- For All Precincts

In a dual primary, officers of election must

  • Determine in which primary election the voter wishes to vote by asking the voter:

"Do you wish to vote in the Democratic Party Primary? OR

Do you wish to vote in the Republican Party Primary?"

    • The voter must state their choice of primary to the pollbook officers out loud. The choice should be repeated by the officer so that any candidate representatives present may hear (and to confirm that the officer heard the choice correctly).
    • All persons qualified to vote may vote in either primary. (§ 24.2-530)
    • But, the voter may not vote in both primaries held on the same date, even if the desire is to vote for candidates running for different offices. (§ 24.2-530)
    • No voter may be challenged on their choice of a primary. (§ 24.2-530)
    • The choice to vote in a party's primary does not mean that the voter will be "registered" with that party.
  • Each voter's name must be looked up in both parties' pollbooks at the same time, to make sure that the voter has not already voted in the other party's primary. For each division of the pollbook, place two pollbook officers side-by-side, with separate count sheets.
  • Enter the AB in either the Democratic Pollbook or the Republican Pollbook, as appropriate.
  • Enter the next Pollbook count number from either the Democratic Pollbook Count or the Republican Pollbook Count, as appropriate.
  • Provide the voter with the appropriately colored entry permit (access card). Use a different color entry permit for each Party’s primary, e.g., blue for Democratic Party Primary and white for Republican Party Primary. The voting machine officer must direct the voter to the appropriate voting machine.
  • Prepare two Statements of Results for the Democratic Primary Election and two for the Republican Primary Election

The fact that there are two separate elections being conducted does not require two completely separate teams of election officers, only that there be enough officers of each party to fill all of the required stations, including the all divisions of both pollbooks or sets of pollbooks.

For Punchcard Systems, officers of election must:

  • Give the voter the official Democratic Primary ballot card (blue) or Republican Primary ballot card (white).
  • Direct the voter to the voting booth designated for the Democratic Primary or the Republican Primary.
  • Direct the voter to deposit either ballot card into one ballot counter before he leaves the polling place.
  • If possible, the system should be programmed to separate the punchcards of one party into the bin normally used for ballots with write-in votes. If separated by the equipment, after the polls have closed the voted ballots should be placed into separate envelopes (or containers) with the name of the party marked on the outside of the envelope/container. (If not separated by the equipment, transmit the voted ballots in a combined container marked with both parties' names.)If ballot cards can be printed on colored paper, it would be helpful to do so and to use the same colors as the entry permits.

For Optical Scan Systems, officers of election must

  • Give the voter the official Democratic Primary ballot or Republican Primary ballot.
  • Direct the voter to deposit either ballot into one ballot counter before he leaves the polling place.
  • If possible, the system should be programmed to separate the optical scan ballots of one party into the bin normally used for ballots with write-in votes. If separated by the equipment, after the polls have closed the voted ballots should be placed into separate envelopes (or containers) with the name of the party marked on the outside of the envelope/container. (If not separated by the equipment, transmit the voted ballots in a combined container marked with both parties' names.)If the optical scan ballots can be printed on colored paper it would be helpful to do so in the same colors as the entry permits.

For DRE Systems, the Electoral Board must:

  • Set up each DRE with both the Democratic ballot and the Republican ballot.
  • Officers of election must be instructed to hand the voter the access card for the Democratic Primary or the Republican Primary and direct the voter to the next available unit.
  • Instruct the officers of election to verify that each voter is presented with the correct ballot based on the party in whose primary the voter has declared he/she wishes to participate.

For Mechanical Lever Machines the Electoral Board must:

  • Set up each machine with both the Democratic and Republican Ballots.
  • This will require the use of the Primary Lockout Lever which may have been used infrequently. It is important for the Electoral Board to verify that the Lockout lever works correctly and that the officers of election are properly instructed in the correct procedure for its use.
  • Since voters using these machines will see both ballots displayed on the face of the machine it is critical that the officers of election be instructed to verify the voter’s preference for either the Democratic or Republican Party primary BEFORE setting the Primary lever for the correct party and pressing the entry button to activate the machine.

For Paper Ballots and Provisional Ballots:

  • The officer must enter in the upper right-hand corner of the voter's Provisional Vote envelope either a D for Democratic Party Primary OR an R for Republican Party Primary.
  • Ballots must be deposited into separate ballot containers marked "Democratic Primary" and "Republican Primary." (A combined container with a divider, and a slot on each side, may be used.)
  • After the polls have closed, the voted ballots should be placed into separate envelopes (or containers) with the name of the party marked on the outside of the envelope/container.
  • Provisional ballots must be referred to the Electoral Board in separate envelopes marked with the name of the party on the outside.

'Undertow' Now Available on DVD

One of last year's best movies was released on DVD this week.

David Gordon Green's Undertow has one of the most excruciatingly painful opening sequences of any film ever made. Any audience member with any sensitivity whatsoever will be wincing throughout the first several minutes of Undertow. (The closest equivalent I can recall is the famous cloud-moon-eye sequence in Un Chien Andalou.)

Undertow did not get the attention it deserved while it was in theatrical release. Part of the reason may be that it could not find its audience, since Undertow does not fit into any particular genre. Is it Southern Gothic? A buddy film? A family drama? It's all of these and none of these.



David Gordon Green, director of Undertow, with Richard Herskowitz at the 2004 Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. (Photo by Tim Hulsey)
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Green, at 30 years of age still in the early stages of his career as a director and screenwriter, has been compared by Roger Ebert to the young Martin Scorsese. When he appeared at the Virginia Film Festival last October to discuss Undertow with audiences, Green looked more like an eager film student -- dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, fielding questions with humility and candor -- than like a director on the cusp of critical acclaim.

Green said that his influences as a filmmaker included the "Smokey and the Bandit" movies as well as late-night horror films. He watched a lot of television growing up, sitcoms and dramas and old, classic movies. This background unwinds in films like Undertow by giving them a post-modern sensibility.

Undertow features terrific performances from Jamie Bell (Oscar-nominated for Billy Elliot), Josh Lucas, and especially Devon Alan in a juvenile performance that was ad-libbed brilliantly within the confines of the script by Green and his collaborator, Joe Conway. A musical score by Philip Glass brings all the elements together to form a cohesive whole.

The relationship between the brothers portrayed by Bell and Alan is the anchor of Undertow. It is also what sets Green apart from other directors who try to tell a story about children. These brothers think, feel, act, and react like real teens and pre-teens. Their brains are not fully formed and their understanding of reality is limited. What they do is shaped by their age as much as it is by their situation. Green has tapped into something about our behavior in youth that few filmmakers (or playwrights or novelists, for that matter) have been able to find when creating similar stories.

Years from now people are going to look back at Undertow and wonder why it did not receive a cascade of awards.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Breaking News: PATRIOT Act Reform Caucus Announced

This arrives from the office of Representative Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the only Socialist in Congress who admits to it. But, as they say, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And look at his fine allies from the right!

WASHINGTON -- April 27 -- A coalition of conservative and progressive members of Congress will hold a news conference on Thursday, April 28 to announce the formation of the Patriot Act Reform Caucus. The caucus will work to support initiatives that protect the safety and security of our nation, while ensuring that the laws we pass to fight the war on terrorism do not violate our constitutional civil liberties or diminish our system of checks and balances. The caucus will work with outside groups to educate Congress on the need for Patriot Act reforms and develop legislative proposals to ensure that constitutional freedoms and protections are maintained in any Patriot Act reauthorization. The caucus is chaired by Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Ron Paul (R-TX), and Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

WHAT: News Conference announcing the formation of the Patriot Act Reform Caucus by the caucus chairs.

WHEN: Thursday April 28, 2005 at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE: Cannon Terrace, Cannon House Office Building

WHO: Rep. Bernie Sanders I-VT

Rep. Jeff Flake R- AZ

Rep. Ron Paul R-TX

Rep. Jerrold Nadler D- NY


Good wishes to alll those Members of Congress!

Bart Hinkle on the Sandbox Campaign

Bart Hinkle, a libertarian-leaning columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in a piece he published yesterday, picks up on a theme I addressed in an earlier post.

Hinkle is concerned about the juvenile atmosphere being promulgated by two of the candidates for governor, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican JerryKilgore. The title of Hinkle's article sums it up: "Kid Stuff: Gubernatorial Race Resembles a Sandbox Spat."

Looking at Tim Kaine's not-so-subtle but indirect criticism of Kilgore's voice, Hinkle notes that one way of reading it might be that rural, Southern accents are off-putting to sophisticated voters in urban Northern Virginia and even Tidewater.

He adds, however, that there is a more insidious interpretation, one that until now had been most widely discussed among bloggers and only rarely in the mainstream press:

[T]he question of Kilgore's accent is a freighted one. Regarding it most political players know, but few say, the obvious. Here's how one Virginia blogger stated it: "He sounds . . . well . . . gay. Perhaps a less controversial word to use would be 'effeminate.' His speech pattern is stereotypically that of an effeminate gay man, and there's really no getting around it"

WHEN PEOPLE talk about Kilgore's accent, they mean more than the Southwest Virginia twang. Plenty of successful politicians have had a good-ol'-boy accent: Fred Thompson, Fritz Hollings, and -- oh, Ann Richards -- come to mind. But none of them sounds like "Ned Flanders meets Mr. Rogers," as the Staunton Daily News Leader characterized Kilgore in December. Kilgore's accent wouldn't be an issue at all if he sounded more baritone.

This is not exactly groundbreaking, either. Last year both John Kerry and his running-mate, John Edwards, made a point of calling attention to the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. It was a calculated, cynical tip-off to the religious right, about as subtle as waving raw meat in front of a hungry dog. (And no, it cannot be justified on the grounds that Republicans who bash homosexuals have it coming; the perceived wrongfulness of the other side does not give those who claim to support homosexual rights a license to employ gay-baiting when it might serve them.) The Kaine camp isn't trying to impugn Kilgore's sexuality, merely his manliness -- perhaps part and parcel of Kaine's strategy to make Kilgore look weak and incapable of leading.
Juvenilia may be a hallmark of this campaign. As I commented elsewhere, by the end of the campaign, all we have to remember "is that Jerry Kilgore is 'weak' and Tim Kaine is 'desperate.' I guess that makes Russ Potts 'desperately weak.'"

It's the job of politicians to reduce their opponents to a single word: flip-flopper, lazy, liberal, theocrat. Ah, for the days when candidates spoke in complete paragraphs and made an effort to persuade, not bulldoze, the voters! Nostalgia, alas, does not win elections, any more than maturity and civility do.

Political Prosecution in Wisconsin?

The things one finds on Usenet newsgroups! Those dinosaurs of the information age sometimes reveal nuggets of useful and interesting information, sticking up like bones in the LaBrea Tar Pits.

My most recent discovery came on alt.politics.libertarian, where there were two postings about the news that theft charges against a Dane County libertarian activist were dropped.

This may not seem newsworthy to most. The amount of the alleged theft was only $50. But the person arrested was, at the time, spearheading a recall campaign against Wisconsin's Democratic governor. Dane County is well-known as a Democratic stronghold. (It includes the state capital, Madison, and the University of Wisconsin's principal campus.) The arrest was a transparent effort to silence a political dissident. This should come as no surprise. Despite its Progressive traditions, Wisconsin is the home of Senator Russ Feingold, whose name appears on legislation he sponsored (though he probably did not read it), which is designed to suppress political speech.

Here's what was reported in The Capital Times, a Madison daily:

A theft charge against Libertarian Party leader Rolf Lindgren of Middleton were dropped today, but Lindgren remains unhappy about the prosecution of the case.

Lindgren was charged with stealing an apron, apparently with tips from a waiter in it, from the Irish Waters bar and restaurant in November 2003.

The case was scheduled for jury selection today and trial on Wednesday, but Assistant District Attorney Jay Mimier moved to dismiss the case at the last moment, a move that did not placate Lindgren.

After Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan ordered the case dismissed, Lindgren spoke up and said: "The prosecutor in this case has known since the beginning of this case that I didn't commit this crime. I'd like you to ask the prosecutor when he realized that I didn't commit this crime."

Lindgren also insisted that the government pay his legal fees, which had added up to thousands of dollars over the past year and a half.

A news release issued on Lindgren's behalf through the Libertarian Party of Dane County reveals why this was a political prosecution:
Loan Officer Rolf Lindgren won his criminal case today in Dane County court. This morning, just before jury selection was to begin, Prosecutor Jay Mimier asked to dismiss the charge against Lindgren. Lindgren had been charged with stealing $50 from the Irish Waters Restaurant/Tavern in November, 2003.

The Lindgren team and the state have a video of a different person stealing the $50.

* * *

The case began on November 26, 2003, with the false-arrest of Rolf Lindgren, who was subjected to a brutal, two-hour interrogation. Just two days earlier, on November 24, 2003, Lindgren had filed papers with the State Elections Board regarding the Recall of Governor Jim Doyle. Because of the arrest, the Doyle Recall did not move forward.

The arrest occurred the night before Rolf Lindgren's scheduled on-camera interview for the documentary movie 'A Remarkable Man', a movie about the life of Ed Thompson. Because of the arrest, the movie interview was postponed.

The arresting officer, Craig Knutson, had approached Rolf Lindgren earlier in the year, in February, 2003, at the Harbor Athletic Club in Middleton. Knutson asked Lindgren dozens of questions about what the Libertarian Party believed in. The person who claimed to be a victim in the case, former Irish Waters waitress Vanessa Wheaton, waited on customer Lindgren in October, 2003. Lindgren was wearing a RecallDoyle.com T-shirt that evening. Lindgren testified under oath regarding the case in October, 2004. No state witness has testified under oath.

At the hearing this morning, Rolf Lindgren asked Judge Flanagan for the state to pay Lindgren's legal fees which are now several thousand dollars. The state has known since day-one that Lindgren did not commit this crime. The state intentionally ran up Lindgren's legal fees during the past 17 months.

Judge Flanagan denied Lindgren's request without giving a reason. Judge Flanagan said it was "unusual" for a defendant to speak to him directly in court. A potential false-arrest lawsuit is under consideration.

We like to believe the myth that this sort of thing only happens in banana republics. This isn't Kyrgyzstan, after all, it's the United States -- it's Wisconsin, home of Fighting Bob LaFollette!

If Wisconsin political activists are not safe from government harassment and threats against their lives and liberties, neither are political activists in Virginia, Wyoming, or Arkansas. Stories like this are simple reminders of how we must remain vigilant against abuses of government power everywhere and always.

Kilgore's Secret Plan to Raise Taxes?

A prominent conservative activist recently forwarded to me a copy of Jerry Kilgore's plan to solve Virginia's transportation problems. (Kilgore, for readers outside Virginia, is the former state Attorney General seeking to win the Republican Party's nomination for governor this year. His opponent is Warrenton Mayor George Fitch.)

The activist's accompanying comment was telling, but too kind:

Regional transportation authorities. What a pathetic idea. Who exactly are the policy geniuses around Kilgore who are coming up with this crap?
Some explanation may be in order. Here is the section on "regional transportation authorities" from Kilgore's plan, quoted in full:
The Commonwealth has an obligation to provide for a statewide system of roads, including major highways and rural roads. Jerry Kilgore will empower citizens in metropolitan areas who have the most pressing challenges to establish Regional Transportation Authorities with policy, fiscal and operational control over their road networks. By bringing decision-making closer to the people who use the transportation system and working across local government lines, we can achieve greater efficiency and speed in delivering needed improvements. These authorities will have the power to issues bonds, hold referenda to involve taxpayers in certain financing decisions, sign private maintenance contracts, enter into public-private partnerships, and use other financing mechanisms to fund new road, bridge and mass transit projects over and above existing funding from the state.

Hidden in this wonkish gobbledygook is Jerry Kilgore's secret plan to raise taxes.

He'll deny it, of course. But look at the language of his proposal. He wants to set up unelected bodies, unanswerable to any voters, with regional authority to "issue bonds," hold referenda on "certain financing decisions," and "use other financing mechanisms" to fund transport projects.

"Other financing mechanisms"? My optimistic side says this is a code word for toll roads, which I support wholeheartedly as a way to make users pay for the services they use. As Michael W. Thompson of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy has noted, "Tolls are user fees and not taxes."

The pessimist in me, however, says that "other financing mechanisms" can be nothing else but taxes, taken from the earnings of Virginia workers.

If Jerry Kilgore wants to pick our pockets, he should at least have the courtesy of telling us outright, rather than obfuscating his plans in the arcane jargon of centralizing urban planners and watermelon smart-growth advocates.

Is regional coordination on transportation issues a good idea? Of course it is. It makes a lot of sense. But it is not a good idea to set up unelected bodies with the authority to issue bonds or raise taxes. In Virginia, even elected school boards lack taxing authority -- not to mention those few unelected school boards in such retrograde jurisdictions as Charlottesville. School division budgets must be approved by city councils or boards of supervisors, who are accountable and answerable to voters on tax and budget matters.

To paraphrase William F. Buckley, Jr., when it comes to Virginia transportation policy: Coordination, sí; magistra, no.

'Read Bills Before Voting' -- Legislative Dream?

Writing in the Washington Post last November, Representative Brian Baird (D-Washington), stated ruefully:

There is now an inverse relationship between the importance of legislation and the amount of time members have to study it before voting.
Baird noted that "prominent examples from the 108th Congress" of legislation that needed -- but lacked -- scrutiny before votes
include the Medicare prescription drug bill, the energy bill, the intelligence bill and the defense authorization bill. These important pieces of legislation total more than 2,900 pages of text and authorize more than $1 trillion of spending. Yet, collectively they were available to members for less than 48 hours total for reading.

If forced to tell the truth, most members of Congress would acknowledge that they did not fully or, in many cases, even partially read these bills before casting their votes.

It is true that summaries of the legislation were available and that many of the bills had been discussed for some time before the final drafts were brought to the floor. But the devil is often in the details, and without access to the full text members cannot know those details.
Picking up on this theme a few days later, Fox News commentator Radley Balko wrote:
Most Americans think their elected representatives in Congress deliberate and debate the costs and benefits of a bill before voting it into law.

Unfortunately, most members don't even read the laws they pass. Neither do their staffs. Instead, they more often than not rely on summaries prepared by the bill's authors, or by interest groups whose judgment they trust.
Balko notes how two of the most notorious pieces of legislation of the past five years were passed behind a veil of ignorance:
The Patriot Act, for example, weighs in at 340 pages — svelte by federal legislation standards. Yet the Senate was given just three days to read the bill before voting on it (and approving it 98-1). And just two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Sen. Orrin Hatch found a pending appropriations bill due for a vote, and tacked on a slew of amendments that served as a kind of precursor to the Patriot Act — again, giving the Senate no time to actually read and contemplate them.

Campaign finance provides another example. After passing much-celebrated campaign finance reform last year, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were forced to call in legal experts to advise them on how to abide by the Byzantine set of rules they'd just passed. One of the bill's leading Democrat supporters told the New York Times, "I didn't realize all that was in it."
Now a new organization, which calls itself Downsize DC, has come up with draft legislation that would require Senators and Representatives to read bills before voting on them. Downsize DC, unknown to me until recently, says in its mission statement:
We believe the federal government has grown too large, too intrusive, and too expensive. We believe in constitutional limits, small government, civil liberties, federalism, and low taxes.

We want to end laws and programs that don't work, cause harm, and violate the Constitution. We want to restore the full force of the 9th and 10th amendments, which reserve most social functions to the people and the states.

Our goal is to reduce the federal government to a tiny fraction of its current size, decentralize power, end deficits, federal borrowing, and monetary inflation, and eliminate most federal taxation and the IRS.
Very libertarian sentiments -- I expected them to be written by someone I know. Yet upon examining the list of its "Founders Committee" (divided into "Patrons & Sponsors" and "Associates"), I did not recognize a single name. This is good news: it means that libertarian ideas and ideals are spreading beyond the core libertarian movement, as characterized by such well-known organizations as the Cato Institute, the Institute for Humane Studies, the Reason Foundation, or the Institute for Justice.

Back to the specific issue that sparked these reflections: Downsize DC has drafted a bill (but apparently has not yet found a congressional sponsor) based on this principle:
We hold this truth to be self-evident, that those in Congress who vote on legislation they have not read, have not represented their constituents. They have misrepresented them.
The key passage in the draft legislation is in its Section 3, which I reproduce here in full (apologies for the length, but if I want my congressmen to read the bills, I expect my blog readers to read at least an excerpt of them):

(a) Chapter 2 of Title 1, United States Code, shall be amended by inserting at the end of the first sentence of Section 106, the following: “provided however, that no bill — including, but not limited to, any bill produced by conference between the two houses of Congress and any bill or resolution extending, modifying, or otherwise affecting the expiration date of a bill previously passed and enacted into law by Congress — shall pass either house of Congress: (a) without the full text of said bill, and the full text of each and every amendment thereto and — if the bill or resolution extends, modifies, or in any way affects the expiration date of a bill previously passed and enacted into law — without the full text of such bill or resolution and the full text of the bill previously passed and enacted into law having first been individually read verbatim by the Clerk of each house to the body of each house called to order and physically assembled with a quorum present throughout the time of the full textual reading of said bill, and of the full text of any bill previously passed and enacted into law, if any, that is the subject of a bill or resolution extending, modifying or in any way affecting the expiration date of such previously passed bill enacted into law; and (b) without the full text of said bill, and the full text of each and every amendment thereto, and the full text of the previously passed bill and enacted into law, if any, having been published verbatim on the official Internet web site of each house at least seven days prior to a final vote thereon in each house, together with an official notice of the date and time on which the vote on the final version of said bill and its amendments will take place.”

(b) Chapter 2, Title 1, United States Code, shall be further amended by striking the last sentence of Section 106, and substituting therefor: “With respect to each bill and each and every amendment thereto, and each bill previously passed and enacted into law, the expiration date having been extended, modified or in any way changed by a bill or resolution, each house of Congress shall cause to be recorded in its journal of proceedings: (a) that the reading, printing, and publishing requirements of this section have been met; and (b) the names of those members of the Senate and of the House present during the reading of each bill and each and every amendment thereto. Each member of the Senate and each member of the House shall execute a sworn affidavit, such affidavit being executed under penalty of perjury as provided in Section 1621, Title 18, United States Code, that the member either was present throughout the entire reading of each bill, each and every amendment thereto, and listened attentively to such reading, or, prior to any vote on passage of the bill, and each and every amendment thereto, personally read attentively each bill, and each and every amendment thereto, in their entirety. Neither house of Congress, nor Congress jointly — by concurrent resolution, or by unanimous consent, or by any other order, resolution, vote, or other means — may dispense with, or otherwise waive or modify, the printing, reading, entry, publishing, recording, or affidavit requirements set forth herein.”

(c) Chapter 2, Title 1, United States Code, shall be further amended by renumbering Sections 106a and 106b to 106b and 106c respectively and adding a new Section 106a as follows: “Enforcement Clause. No bill shall become law, nor enforced or applied as law, without Congress having complied fully with the printing, reading, entry, publishing, recording, and affidavit requirements of Section 106, Title 2, United States Code and any person against whom such a bill is enforced or applied may invoke such noncompliance as a complete defense to any action, criminal or civil, brought against him. Any person aggrieved by the enforcement of, or attempt or threat of enforcement of, a bill passed without having complied with the printing, reading, entry, publishing, recording, and affidavit requirements of Section 106, Title 2, United States Code, and any member of Congress aggrieved by the failure of the house of which he or she is a member to comply with the requirements of Section 106, and any person individually aggrieved by the failure of the elected Senator of the State in which the aggrieved person resides, or elected member of the House of the District in which the aggrieved person resides, to fulfill that Senator's or House member's obligations under Section 106, shall, regardless of the amount in controversy, have a cause of action under Sections 2201 and 2202, Title 28, United States Code and Rules 57 and 65, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, against the United States to seek appropriate relief, including an injunction against enforcement of any law, the passage of which did not conform to the requirements of Section 106.”

I have long been a proponent of legislators reading bills before voting for (or against) them. I have discussed this idea with local and state representatives, who tut-tut and privately decry the disgraceful habit of voting on bills they have not read, but go ahead and cast such votes anyway. I am glad to see that an organization has taken on this quest, however quixotic it might be. At the very least, Downsize DC's efforts may force members of Congress to defend this indefensible practice before their constituents -- U.S. taxpayers and voters.

Remember the name of this proposal:
This Act may be cited as the “Read the Bills Act of 2005.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Citizen-Legislators: A Clash Between Ethics and Responsibility

It was recently my pleasure to attend two performances of the musical play, 1776, as produced by the Four County Players, a community theater in the historic village of Barboursville, Virginia (named for nineteenth-century Governor James Barbour).

Despite taking some minor liberties with actual words and events for dramatic effect, the creators of 1776 do an excellent job in telling the story of how 50-odd agitators and activists in Philadelphia came to declare the independence of the United States from the British crown.

Upon reflection, what was striking about these men was how they saw government service as a temporary burden to be suffered gladly (though sometimes not so gladly). They were farmers, shopkeepers, lawyers, publishers, and physicians. People like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock served their country for short periods with the aim of returning to their normal lives and livelihoods. Over time they might hold several offices, but never for many consecutive years.

For more than a century, political leaders in the United States held firm to the concept of a "citizen legislature." They agreed with Aristotle’s view that "a principle of liberty is to rule and be ruled in turn." The "Potomac fever" that grips modern-day politicians and keeps them in Washington for decades at a time was unknown until after World War I.

Benjamin Franklin explained that "in free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former, therefore, to return among the latter [is] not to degrade but to promote them." George Mason, the father of the Bill of Rights, warned: "Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interests of his constituents as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people from whence he was taken."

More than a generation later, Andrew Jackson cautioned further:

"There are perhaps few men who can for any great length of time enjoy office and power, without more or less being under the influence of feelings unfavorable to the faithful discharge of their public duties," he said. "Their integrity may be proof against improper considerations immediately addressed to themselves; but they are apt to acquire a habit of looking with indifference upon the public interest, and of tolerating conduct from which an unpracticed man would revolt. Office is considered a species of property; and government, rather as a means of promoting individual interests, than as an instrument created solely for the service of the people."

In Virginia, the tradition of a citizen legislature is long and honored. Mitch Van Yahres, who is retiring from the House of Delegates this year after 12 terms, worked as an arborist in his family’s business while serving as a legislator and member of Charlottesville’s City Council. Rob Bell, who represents the neighboring 58th District, is an attorney in private practice, whose office is in the same building as that of lawyer David Toscano, another former City Councilor and candidate to succeed Van Yahres.

Delegate Ben Cline, who represents the 24th House District (Amherst, Augusta, Rockbridge counties) is a marketing and public relations consultant outside the General Assembly. He wrote earlier this year that "although the process is at times chaotic and always hectic, the concept of a citizen legislature is a sound one. Legislators not only return home after 60 days to live under the laws that we write, we must live and work alongside our friends and neighbors who hold us accountable for the votes we take and the laws we pass."

What brings all this to mind is the recent case of Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who was elected last year after a campaign in which he pledged "to serve no more than two terms in the Senate and to continue to care for patients." (Dr. Coburn is an obstetrician-gynecologist with a practice in his hometown of Muskogee.). In 1994, Coburn ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, promising then to serve no more than three terms, a promise he kept when he retired after the 2000 election.

Senator Coburn faces an obstacle in keeping his recent promises. The Senate Select Committee on Ethics has issued a ruling that forbids him from practicing medicine. As explained by the Washington Post, "For nearly two decades, Senate rules have barred members from holding outside professional jobs, such as those as lawyers, real estate agents and physicians, for fear that such services -- and compensation for those services -- might conflict with their role as policymakers. The Senate panel refused Coburn’s request to grant him a special exception once he closes his business."

This rule, as well-intentioned as it might be, is at odds with the principle that legislators are citizens first, whose term in Congress should merely interrupt their private lives. While it is important to prevent impropriety and corruption, ethics rules should not override larger principles of governance. Ethics should not provide an excuse for the perpetuation of a permanent, professional political class.

Dr. Coburn believes strongly and explicitly in the value of a citizen legislature, one made up of dedicated and talented amateurs who serve their constituents not permanently but well. It is no accident that the title of the book Coburn wrote after he left Congress is Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders.

Paul Jacob
, a senior fellow at Americans for Limited Government, notes wryly: "Unsurprisingly, those who believe in a permanent, professional legislature can’t grasp Coburn’s notions. To them, politics is the career, the most important career. Nothing higher to aspire to. Anything else is second best."

In other words, as Jacob says, "a total inversion of values."

On specific legislative issues, Tom Coburn disagrees with me as often as not. That’s beside the point, however. Whether liberal, conservative, or libertarian, Congress needs more members who will fight for the principles of proper governance laid down by our Founders. Congress needs more citizen-legislators and fewer full-time, permanent, careerist politicians. Congress needs more Tom Coburns.

(Note: A slightly abbreviated version of this essay appeared in The Free Liberal and in the Augusta Free Press, in both cases on April 13, Thomas Jefferson's birthday.)

Saturday, April 23, 2005

"Mary Tyler Moore" House for Sale

Did you ever want to turn the world on with your smile?

Did you ever wish you could take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?

Did you ever want to live in the same house where Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern lived and loved and made merry?

Now you can!

The Minneapolis house made famous in the classic and inimitable 1970s TV series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is now for sale. Here's what the ad in the Star-Tribune says:

Several famous people lived here: Made famous by Mary Tyler Moore, this is the house where fictional TV characters Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis lived. In reality, it was the home of Naomi and Evan Maurer, former director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Now, about the house: It's a Queen Anne, Victorian-style house built in 1892. It has nearly 6,500 finished square feet, including five bedrooms, five bathrooms and a three-car garage. The house has multiple fireplaces, a library, a study, lots of natural woodwork and the occasional MTM drive-by fan.

Buy it now for $1.295 million.

You can see a picture of the familiar house in the Star-Tribune's real estate section here.

Isn't it obvious from that photo that love is all around, no need to fake it?

We're gonna make it, after all!

Virginia-Made Dracula Movie Premieres in Charlottesville

This arrived in the arts and entertainment publicity email box that I keep at metroheraldented@aol.com (in my role as Entertainment Editor for The Metro Herald). It was totally unexpected, and I'm interested to learn who the "local actors" are who are appearing in this new movie. Here are the key details:

For Immediate Release:

Darkstone Entertainment and Lander Creative present the Independent Movie Premiere of John Johnson’s “Alucard”


April 30, 2005 at 6:00 PM at The Dickinson Fine and Performing Arts Center at Piedmont Virginia Community College.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $12 at the door and include admission to the premiere celebration which will be held at the Gravity Lounge (103 South First Street, Charlottesville, Virginia) immediately following the showing of the movie (the movie run time is 3 hours and 52 minutes).

Call to order tickets: 434.296.7915. MasterCard and Visa accepted.

Movie Details: Never one to be limited by convention or rules of form in his filmmaking, Charlottesville’s John Johnson set out to make an epic Digital Video version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Where most filmmakers have seen a story of emotional and sexual futility and gothic horror, Johnson saw a story of heroism and sacrifice. Johnson was shocked that he could not find a version of the story that did not explore these central themes of Stoker’s novel. 53 sets, 75 actors, 168 pages of script, more than one chase by sea and horse, and redressing of Swannanoa (to be the home of the villainous Count Alucard), complete this four-hour epic that is the most loyal version of the story ever crafted.

As much as the film is a testament to Bram Stoker’s seminal novel, the movie is also a testament to the energy and enthusiasm of independent film. Without studio support, Johnson mounted horseback chases, boat chases, sword fights, a dark and menacing castle, and anachronism that takes the viewer off guard. In one scene a laptop might remind the viewer of the twenty first century relevance of Stoker’s story and in the next, a horse drawn carriage will take you to a place of timelessness. This is a story that you thought you have known since the first time you hid under the covers as a child from the Count. Come see the darker side of Dracula that cinema has shunned for decades.

Filmmaker’s Bio: JOHN JOHNSON shot his first film, “Zap,” when he was 8 years old. A self-taught filmmaker, by the time John graduated high school, he had completed 50 No-Budget films: 5 feature lengths, 1 (20 episode) television show, and 44 shorts ranging from 2-47 minutes long. His show, “FearFighter: Save the Legion,” aired on WADA, a local affiliate of PAX TV in Charlottesville, VA.

John is now an award winning filmmaker and the Head Chairman and Founder of Darkstone Entertainment, an independent film company based out of Charlottesville, VA. His short film, Darkness, won the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film at the Vision Film Festival in 2003. John’s feature film, Shadowhunters, completed in 2004, was recently licensed to Maxim Media Marketing for international release and Brain Damage Films for domestic home video/ DVD distribution. John currently has three feature films in post-production, Alucard, a retelling of Bram Stoker’s gothic novel Dracula, Skeleton Key, a horror comedy, and Deceptors, an action fantasy film.

PAC Flak?

A minor flap regarding Delegate Mitch Van Yahres and his political action committee is playing itself out on Commonwealth Conservative and Virginia Patriot, two blogs that deal with Old Dominion politics.

I'll reserve judgement, but you can see for yourself what the fuss is about, on Virginia Patriot here (original post) and here (follow-up #1), and on Commonwealth Conservative here (notice the comments by readers) and here (follow-up #2).

The Evolution of the Tip Jar

Some of you might have noticed a "tip jar" in the sidebar of this blog. If you haven't seen it, please check it out. Click on the little "PayPal" button and see what happens. You -- and I -- will both be pleasantly surprised.

Knight-Ridder recently circulated a story about how tip jars are popping up all over the blogosphere, with surprising results for the bloggers who use them:

But for bloggers with high traffic, devoted followings, or persuasive begging skills, tip jars can mean big bucks, with some A-list bloggers pulling in thousands of dollars a year.

Susie Madrak's tip jar yielded a car.

"My readers sent me $1,500 when my car died," said Madrak, of Bensalem, Pa., whose feisty Suburban Guerrilla is at www.suburbanguerrilla.blogspot.com.

Madrak, a fraud investigator and former newspaper journalist, is tooling around in a used Infiniti after sharing her car woes. She begged, hectored, and put up a photo of a cat, warning: "Hit the PayPal or I kill the kitten."

I promise not to threaten any housepets, but believe me, tips are received with humble gratitude. Or, as Eugene Volokh put it: "Tips are quite unnecessary yet much appreciated."

The Knight-Ridder story points out some of the advantages of tipping your friendly blogger at least as well as you tip your neighborhood barista:

At least in cyberspace, nobody can see you're not tipping. Plus, bloggers write thank-you notes.

"Thanks to all the folks who've sent donations lately. They do a fine job of offsetting the hate mail," University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds wrote recently on Instapundit (www.instapundit.com).

Reynolds, who says he averages 175,500 page views daily, has told readers he prefers tips to ad revenue because "there's something about someone paying you when they don't have to that makes it nice."

How true. So the next time you visit me here on the Web, please feel free -- but not obliged -- to drop a few coins in the virtual tip jar. Or, for the mutual benefit of a consensual value-for-value transaction, visit our advertisers (particularly Amazon.com) and buy yourself a book, CD, or DVD. As Bartles and Jaymes used to say, "And thank you for your support."

Hat tip to InstaPundit by way of Commonwealth Conservative.

The Therapeutic Society: Can't We All Just Get a Life?

You know the therapeutic society has progressed beyond tolerability when people demand counseling for digging up misdeeds by distant ancestors.

A London Sunday Telegraph story, reprinted in Saturday's Washington Times, reports:

Genealogists want psychotherapy to be made available for people who stumble across unpleasant discoveries while researching their family history.

Britain's Society of Genealogists is one of several organizations concerned that amateur historians are not sufficiently prepared for the secrets they might uncover in their family records and could need counseling to help them through the emotional process.

"People can be dealing with many serious things -- from discovering your ancestor was a rapist who was deported to Australia to finding out you are adopted," said Else Churchill, a genealogy officer at the society.
Has all of Western society gone daft? Or are amateur genealogists so weak-kneed that they all get the vapors when that skeleton falls out of the family's closet? ("Don't open that closet, McGee! You'll end up on a shrink's couch for years to come!")

George F. Will addressed this issue more broadly in a recent column. Noting a new book by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel called One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture Is Eroding Self-Reliance, Will writes:
Sensitivity screeners remove from texts and tests distressing references to things like rats, snakes, typhoons, blizzards and . . . birthday parties (which might distress children who do not have them). The sensitivity police favor teaching what Sommers and Satel call "no-fault history." Hence California's Department of Education stipulating that when "ethnic or cultural groups are portrayed, portrayals must not depict differences in customs or lifestyles as undesirable" — slavery? segregation? anti-Semitism? cannibalism? — "and must not reflect adversely on such differences."

Experts warn about what children are allowed to juggle: Tennis balls cause frustration, whereas "scarves are soft, non threatening, and float down slowly." In 2001 the Girl Scouts, illustrating what Sommers and Satel say is the assumption that children are "combustible bundles of frayed nerves," introduced, for girls 8 to 11, a "Stress Less Badge" adorned with an embroidered hammock. It can be earned by practicing "focused breathing," keeping a "feelings diary," burning scented candles and exchanging foot massages.
The "self-esteem" "experts" who recommend that children juggle with scarves should themselves start juggling with knives. Then, later, we can nominate them for a well-deserved Darwin Award.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Freedom and Prosperity Agenda" for Virginia

To complete the thought begun by my previous post, here is the full text of the news release distributed by the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition on Tuesday, April 12, with its recommendations for reform of the Virginia tax system, property rights protection, and education:

VIRGINIA CONSERVATIVES LAUNCH
"FREEDOM AND PROSPERITY AGENDA"


RICHMOND – Virginia’s leading conservatives gathered in Richmond today to unveil the “Freedom and Prosperity Agenda,” an 11-point plan designed, in the words of Virginia Institute for Public Policy president John Taylor, “To protect the properties, incomes and futures of Virginia's citizens.

”Taylor noted that, “It took 386 years for Virginia to have a $30 billion biennial budget. It took only 10 years to add another $30 billion. The Freedom and Prosperity Agenda gives conservatives in the General Assembly and throughout the Commonwealth a means to begin restoring the balance between the people and their government.”

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, one of the Agenda’s supporters, said "We've laid out the markers with this Agenda. A lot of these planks are about trust – restoring public trust in government and in holding the government accountable for the promises it makes. We know not every part of the Agenda will be passed in the next session. But we will prevail in the end."

Del. Scott Lingamfelter added that, “I don't think it's going to be difficult to get a great deal of support in the House for these issues when they come up. I think the challenge will come from other quarters of the government. But I think these issues are ripening, and I also think we'll see these issues gain more support in the months ahead.”

The Freedom and Prosperity Agenda focuses on four main areas – taxes and spending, property rights, education reform and transportation. The Agenda’s planks are as follows:

* Eliminate the War of 1812 tax (BPOL)
* Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR)
* Eliminate the Death tax
* Eliminate the prepayment of the Sales and Use tax
* Redefine and limit the public uses for which private property may be confiscated
* Constitutional Amendment to base real estate taxes on the acquisition value of the property
* Parental choice in education
* Protect the transportation trust fund with a Constitutional Amendment
* Proposals for new taxes must contain sunset provisions
* Freedom and Fiscal Accountability Act for Virginia’s Public Colleges and Universities
* Eliminate the Car tax
- 30 -

Green Democrat in 57th: Right for Wrong Reasons?

Richard Collins, a soon-to-retire University of Virginia professor of architecture and urban planning, is also a candidate for the seat vacated this year by Delegate Mitch Van Yahres, who was first elected in 1981.

Collins is the candidate of the "progressive" faction of the local Democratic Party. He faces the party establishment favorite, former City Council member David Toscano, and low-cost housing developer Kim Tingley in the primary election scheduled for June 14. All three candidates have submitted a sufficient number of petition signatures to qualify to be on the ballot.

I am sure if you presented me with a list of ten priorities that Rich Collins will pursue as a member of the Virginia General Assembly, I would disagree with nine of them. His tree-hugging rhetoric and leadership of the anti-worker, anti-homeowner, anti-entrepreneur, anti-choice Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) tell me that he and I would seldom, if ever, read off the same page.

But somehow, this left-wing Democrat has stumbled upon something essentially correct and progressive in his position on how our system of property taxes should be reformed. He told John Borgmeyer of C-VILLE, the Charlottesville weekly tabloid (the one published on Tuesdays, not Thursdays -- that's The Hook):

My proposal would provide the option for local government to freeze the assessments. What could happen is that homeowners would not have to pay higher assessments until they sold the place. For newcomers, it would be like a price for admission to a community in which there has been a great investment into water, sewer, schools and an attractive community. I’m strongly in favor of using markets to make long-term changes in our economy.
Does that sound familiar? Here's what VOTORS (Virginians Over-Taxed on Residences) has to say on that same topic:
VOTORS believe the “Current Market Value” property tax process in Virginia is unfair, unjust and unrelated to the taxpayers ability to pay

VOTORS want a Virginia Constitutional Amendment that provides an “Acquisition-Value Based” property tax system which:

* Resets property assessment values those on record a minimum of 2 years prior to passage of this amendment (base year value)

*Imposes a 2% limit on the increase in property value assessments annually from the base year until a property is sold, at which time the property value is adjusted to the selling price

*Imposes a 1% cap on property tax rates and requires a state referendum for any subsequent increase to the tax rate cap

VOTORS believe local governments must be more efficient and disciplined in their budget development

VOTORS believe an Acquisition-Value Based property tax system will strengthen families, strengthen public education, and strengthen and help drive a robust Virginia economy

This is also the approach endorsed by a coalition of conservatives and libertarians last week at a news conference in Richmond. As reported in the Newport News Daily Press on April 13 (is it significant that that day is Thomas Jefferson's birthday?):
To control spiraling real estate taxes, some conservative Republicans are prescribing even stronger medicine than their likely nominee for governor.

Under their proposal, governments would base the tax on what the owner paid for a property and not its current market value.

* * *

Tuesday's proposal came from conservative lawmakers and a group of activists called the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition, which focuses on taxes, property rights and education.

The plan is part of an 11-point conservative agenda for 2006 that will also touch on education and transportation.

The tax-relief proposal is still in the early stages, but it would fundamentally change how Virginia assesses property and computes the real estate tax.

The state constitution requires property to be assessed at fair market value.

The new approach would be acquisition-based, meaning that assessments would change little, if at all, until a sale occurs. It would require amending the constitution.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore also wants a constitutional amendment, one that would limit assessment increases to 5 percent a year unless the property is sold or improved.

In reporting on the same news conference, the AP said:
Supporters of the coalition's proposal said more needs to be done to keep government from pricing residents out of their homes.

"I've literally stood on the doorsteps of constituents' homes when they were on the verge of tears, wondering if they'll have to sell their house and move," Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, said at a news conference.

Al Aitken, chairman of Virginians Over-Taxed On Residences, said the proposal would force local elected officials to either manage finances better or raise the tax rate rather than rely on inflated assessments to bring in more revenue.

"They'll have to actually govern," he said.
Responding to sneering criticism from Tim Kaine's campaign that the proposal bore similarities to the California property tax law known as Proposition 13, "Aitken said real estate tax revenue increased by an average of 10 percent annually in California in the decade after Proposition 13, despite the growth limit on property values."

If Rich Collins is in favor of a VOTORS-style, Proposition-13-inspired, radical program of tax reform, I'm on the same side as Rich Collins.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Tom DeLay Criticizes Supreme Court for Internet Research

I don't have an opinion on Tom DeLay's legal and ethical troubles, because I am not in a position to know the full facts in the case. I don't like to pass judgment on things I don't know about.

But I can comment on the House Majority Leader's increasingly shrill verbal attacks on those members of the judiciary with whom he disagrees.

DeLay's latest target is Justice Anthony Kennedy, one of President Ronald Reagan's appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. Actually, Kennedy has been a frequent target of DeLay's criticisms, but the one that was unearthed today simply verges on the absurd.

According to the Associated Press, after citing Kennedy's decision in the case that ended the death penalty for those who were under 18 years of age when they committed their crimes, DeLay told Fox News Radio:

"And not only that, but he said in session that he does his own research on the Internet? That is just incredibly outrageous."
That comment is so bizarre, it simply deserves no response.

Except this: Tom DeLay is increasingly becoming a political liability to the Republican Party. He should do the honorable thing and step down from his leadership post. When Newt Gingrich failed to lead his party as well as expected in the 1998 elections, he did the right thing and resigned both as Speaker of the House and as a Member of Congress. DeLay should follow Gingrich's noble example.

Hat tip to both SW Virginia Law Blog and Professor Bainbridge.

Pope Benedict XVI and His Namesake Predecessors

While there is no substitute for looking at the actual record of a new pope – his work as a pastor, his writings as a theologian or philosopher, his sermons, his interviews with the news media – it is also useful to divine some insight from his choice of a pontifical name.

When Albino Cardinal Luciano of Venice was elected pope in 1978, he took as his name John Paul I – the first compound name in papal history – as homage to his two immediate predecessors. After he died just 34 days later, his successor, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, the first non-Italian pope in 450 years, took the name John Paul II to signify continuity.

With the death of the pope many are calling John Paul the Great, it was probably too much to expect that his successor, whomever it might be, would take the same name. Some might view such a choice as hubris, since John Paul II, over 26 years of his pontificate, had raised expectations of what a pope should be and do.

Now comes the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who has taken the name Pope Benedict XVI. What meaning can we glean from this choice of name? Who is the new pope trying to emulate? What might the name Benedict say about the church’s immediate future?

The first significant Benedict of church history (a monk who lived circa 480-547) was not a pope or even a priest, but the Rule of St. Benedict laid the foundations for what we have come to know as religious orders – the Benedictines, of course, but also the Dominicans and Jesuits and Franciscans and all the rest. Summarized by the Latin motto, “Orare est laborare, laborare est orare” (“To pray is to work, to work is to pray”), St. Benedict’s rule prescribed “common sense, a life of moderate asceticism, prayer, study, and work, and community life under one superior,” according to John Delaney in his Dictionary of Saints. The rule, Delaney continues, also “stressed obedience, stability, zeal, and had the Divine Office as the center of monastic life; it was to affect spiritual and monastic life in the West for centuries to come.”

So there we see one model for the new pope. How about some Benedicts who are anything but role models?

Benedict VIII (reigned 1012-24) has been described as a “ruthless soldier” while the “depraved” Pope Benedict IX (1033-45), according to William J. La Due in The Chair of St. Peter, “obtained the papal office through overt acts of bribery and treachery.” As Hans Küng notes in On Being a Christian, Benedict VIII also inserted the “filioque” clause into the Nicene Creed, which says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. This belief conflicts with Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. To our contemporary ears, this may seem like a minor semantic point, but the theological dispute ended in a schism between East and West that has continued for more than 1,000 years.

There were two popes known as Benedict XIII. One ruled from Avignon in France and was deposed in 1417. Historian Thomas Bokenkotter calls him “a formidable prelate of incredible tenacity and guile,” who by breaking an oath to resign after his election delayed the healing of the rupture between Avignon and Rome – a virtual schism in the Western Church – for nearly two decades.

The other Benedict XIII reigned for six years, 1724-30, and delegated the administration of the church to a corrupt underling who sold ecclesiastical offices (a practice known as “simony”) and engaged in endeavors both avaricious and bungling. This Pope Benedict focused on his pastoral responsibilities as Bishop of Rome – visiting parishes, celebrating Mass, teaching the catechism – but despite this was widely despised by his episcopal flock.

Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58) was, according to La Due, “without a doubt the most capable and successful pontiff in the eighteenth century. He was open to the scientific advances occurring at that time, enjoyed a correspondence with Voltaire, did not play favorites, and avoided any tendency to nepotism.” (It says something about the quality of 18th century popes that Benedict must be praised for lacking negative characteristics.)

Benedict XIV permitted the first translation of the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into vernacular languages. He promulgated reforms in regard to the liturgy, marriage, and the censorship of books. La Due writes that “even during his last years as pontiff, Benedict continued to radiate energy and vitality.”

Perhaps it was Pope Benedict XV (1914-22) who was closest to mind when the new pope chose his name on April 19. In an interview with Robert Siegel on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Thomas Groome, a professor of religious education at Boston College, said that he thought it “significant that he chose the title of Benedict XVI because Benedict XV was indeed a bridge-building pope. He came into the pontificate in 1914 and inherited a church terribly divided around theological issues between the conservatives and the 'Modernists' as they were called at the time. Benedict XV managed to bring the sides together and to be a real reconciler. Hopefully, in choosing this name, Cardinal Ratzinger now intends to do something likewise.”

In his book A Concise History of the Catholic Church, Thomas Bokenkotter agrees with this portrait of Benedict XV. The cardinals who elected him, Bokenkotter writes, “were looking for a peacemaker, and Benedict did not disappoint their hopes. Peace and conciliation were the objectives he unswervingly pursued from the first moment of his pontificate. Peace – first in the Church, which was bitterly divided by the anti-Modernist zealots who had been allowed to run riot during the previous administration. And one of his first acts was to call a halt to the witchhunt after ‘Modernists.’” (The Modernists, I might add, were well-represented among American church leaders.)

This Benedict also helped bring the church into the modern world with his encyclical, Maximum Illud, which established, as Bokenkotter explains, three “fundamental principles” of the Church’s missionary project: “promotion of a native clergy, renunciation of all nationalistic attitudes, and respect for the civilization of the mission country.” In other words: no cultural imperialism. While it took a long time for the church to absorb this lesson, the irrepressible growth of Catholicism in Africa, Latin America, and Asia over the past several decades proves Benedict XV’s prescience as well as his sensitivity.

What qualities will Pope Benedict XVI inherit from his namesake predecessors? Only time will tell. After all, the shoes of the fisherman are hard for any man to fill.

Biographical note: The beneficiary of 16 years of Catholic education, Rick Sincere has contributed articles to such publications as Homiletic and Pastoral Review and America, as well as to several diocesan newspapers, such as the Arlington Catholic Herald, the Catholic Standard (Washington, D.C.), and Church World (Brunswick, Maine).