Thursday, September 25, 2008

What Kind of Fools Do They Think We Are?

The audacity of the Bush administration knows no bounds.

Brian Wingfield and Josh Zumbrun report

In fact, some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."

The gossamer bailout will solve Wall Street's problems by flooding the financial industry with spun sugar.

Why not? If they're making up the numbers, any solution will do.

Just the Facts, Not the Meme, Ma'am

Colbert I. King is a man of impressive credentials. Before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post, he has been a Treasury Department official, World Bank executive, and vice president at what was once known as Riggs Bank.

So it comes as that much more of a surprise that, with the wealth of knowledge he has at his fingertips, he should make the mistake of repeating one of the most egregiously erroneous memes of the current -- if manufactured -- financial panic.

What's even more disturbing is that King could have avoided his error just by reading his own newspaper.

Here is what King had to say in his regular column on Saturday, September 20:

...banks have been foreclosing on homes at a rate not seen since the Great Depression.
Six days earlier, an economic analyst took on this oft-repeated but unproven claim in the pages of the Post's Outlook section. Donald Luskin actually checked out the facts, however, and wrote:

Patient zero in this epidemic is the Democratic candidate for president. As it would be for any challenger, it's in his interest to portray the incumbent party's economic performance in the grimmest possible terms. Barack Obama has frequently used the Depression exaggeration, including during a campaign speech in June, when he said that the "percentage of homes in foreclosure and late mortgage payments is the highest since the Great Depression." At best, this statement is a good guess. To be really true, it would have to be heavily qualified with words such as "maybe" or "probably." According to economist David C. Wheelock of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, who has studied the history of mortgage markets for the Fed, "there are no consistent data on foreclosure or delinquency going all the way back to the Depression."

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) database, which allows rigorous apples-to-apples comparisons, only goes back to 1979. It shows that today's delinquency rate is only a little higher than the level seen in 1985. As to the foreclosure rate, it was setting records for the day -- the highest since the Great Depression, one supposes -- in 1999, at the peak of the Clinton-era prosperity that Obama celebrated in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention late last month. I don't recall hearing any Democratic politicians complaining back then.

Even if Obama is right that the foreclosure rate is the worst since the Great Depression, it's spurious to evoke memories of that great national calamity when talking about today -- it's akin to equating a sore throat with stomach cancer. According to the MBA, 6.4 percent of mortgages are delinquent to some extent, and 2.75 percent are in foreclosure. During the Great Depression, according to Wheelock's research, more than 50 percent of home loans were in default.

Moreover, MBA data show that today's foreclosures are concentrated in that small fraction of U.S. homes financed by subprime mortgages. Such homes make up only 12 percent of all mortgages, yet account for 52 percent of foreclosures. This suggests that today's mortgage difficulties are probably a side effect of the otherwise happy fact that, over the past several years, millions of Americans of modest means have come to own their own homes for the first time.

One sentence there stands out for me, and bears repeating (italics added, below):
According to the MBA, 6.4 percent of mortgages are delinquent to some extent, and 2.75 percent are in foreclosure.
Luskin's article discusses several other aspects of the economy, as well, and would be a useful tonic to those chicken littles who insist the sky is falling.

With the Wall Street bailout on the near horizon, pickpocketed taxpayers and pickpocket legislators alike would be well advised to study the facts of history rather than just repeating the most frightening rumors that come to their attention.

Craig Ferguson Gets It

Late-night chat-show host Craig Ferguson may have been a U.S. citizen for less than a year, but he has a more profound understanding of the spirit of democratic capitalism than any three dozen professional pundits on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC.

The last few minutes of Ferguson's opening monologue tonight were devoted to a critique of the Bush administration's corporatist, quasi-fascist (yes, I am using "fascist" in an historically appropriate manner) plan to bail out Wall Street investors who made major mistakes.

Ferguson, a high school dropout, is an autodidact whose opinions do not always match mine but are nonetheless usually well-considered and thoughtful.

In his September 24/25 monologue, which mixes political commentary with naughty humor, Ferguson said:

Earlier on tonight, President Bush addressed the nation. He said, Congress must agree to the bailout of the Wall Street banks, and if we don't, then we'll invade somebody...

This is because the banks are asking the federal government for $700 billion. You know what that works out to? We all pay -- every taxpayer in America -- $3,600 each to the banks. Really.

That's right. Every man, every woman, every she-male in America, everybody has to pay. That's right, she-males, it's time you did your fair share for this country -- in addition for all the fine things you do for me.

You know, I don't know how I feel about this, the taxpayers bailing out the people on Wall Street. Let me think about it for a second. I HATE THIS!

This is the biggest robbery in American history! Or, at least, since the cute David lost American Idol and they gave it to the ratty one. I liked the cute one.

But I won't editorialize here. I'll stay neutral. Here are the facts; I'll remain objective about the financial crisis.

Basically what happened is that Wall Street are evil, they got really stupid, and they got drunk on greed. What happened is, they crashed their Ferrari, now they're crying like little bitches, and they want their Uncle Sam to buy them a new one.

No. No. No. That's not how it works here. Uncle Sam would be better off using his money to build them a nice prison. (chuckles)

I'm always suspicious of people, these traders, they don't make anything except money. You know, they just make more money. I mean, it's like, "What do you make? Do you make a car, do you paint pictures, do you make houses, do you make people laugh?" (All right, bad example, but you know what I mean.)

Or if you invest in a company that makes things, that's great, too.

I know taking a stand against Wall Street fat cats is a bold move. You know, people are not going to agree with me at all on this. It's like saying, "I hate crime" or "I hate poverty" or "I hate Trump." People are already with you, you don't even really have to say it.

What I mean is that these guys, what they do though, is that they shift money around to make more money. That's just gambling. I mean they use fancy terms to make it sound legitimate: short selling, profit chasing, bottom fishing.

I don't know what bottom fishing is. I think it's what Elton John does on vacation or something.

(To audience:) Don't "ahh" me, I didn't steal your damn money!
Here's the part where Ferguson shows his deep, if inchoate, understanding of how the free enterprise system works, and how it interacts with liberal democracy:
See, what happens is, the banks want us to lend them money. Irony, my old friend, we meet at last.

I say we do to the banks what they've been doing to us for years. I've been poor. I've had to go to the bank for money. They are never pleasant or particularly helpful...

Should we bail these people out? Here's what I think: No, let them go bankrupt.

That's what the free market does. That's the free market in effect. Some win, some lose. Right now, you lose, you hedge-fund bastards.

They're saying that if they go bankrupt, we will lose our freedom. That's crap!

Capitalism and democracy are not the same thing. Democracy creates equality. Capitalism creates inequality. They need each other to survive. They kind of complement each other, but they kind of hate each as well. They're like the Olsen twins, if you imagine.

That's what they are. They balance each other out. Evil/good, evil/good, and then somehow, it works.

I don't understand this government bailout. Where's the government bailout of the 10 million uninsured children? Where's the government bailout of the people who are losing their homes? Where's the government bailout of the people who are losing all of their money betting on Dancing With the Stars and gone horribly wrong?
Even the last little bit of tirade, which suggests a sort of leftish sentimentality to Ferguson's way of thinking, expresses well the concept of opportunity costs.

The government can take $700 billion from us taxpayers and pass it along to Wall Street fat cats without fear of judicial review or any sort of accountability, but that means there is $700 million that cannot be used for something else: college scholarships, laser weapons, or subscriptions to National Geographic for federal prisoners.

What's more important is that the government is substituting political decisionmaking, which, as Hayek explained so long ago, is constrained by the blinders of central planning, for the market, in which the wisdom of millions of actors (consumers, workers, entrepreneurs, investors, and analysts), performing millions of transactions (selling, purchasing, manufacturing, investing) leads to a general condition of equilibrium. (That is, what Ferguson referred to as the "balance" between capitalism and democracy.)

Perhaps if the late-night talk-show hosts, as well as the daytime radio hosts, jump on the anti-bailout bandwagon, the masses (that's you and me) will tell Congress to take the Paulson plan and put it where the sun doesn't shine.

At the very least, enough complaining from the people may lead Congress to do its job and deliberate about major policy questions, rather than rush to judgment stimulated by the Bush administration's (and the McCain and Obama campaigns') panic and hysteria. One would think they already learned from the mistakes made in passing the USA PATRIOT Act without first reading and understanding it.

My message to Congress: Slow down, take a deep breath, and remember how free enterprise and liberal democracy work. Don't leap into the tar pit of fascism without first thinking about it.

In the meantime, I hope somebody posts Craig Ferguson's monologue to YouTube and it gets wide distribution.

Update: Somebody at CBS-TV granted my wish and posted the last minute and 44 seconds of last night's monologue to YouTube. It's here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This Just In: Water Is Wet

People magazine will reveal on its web site tomorrow that American Idol's most famous runner-up, Clay Aiken, is gay.

The shock and surprise with which this news is being met is... well, it isn't.

Reuters reports:

After years of dodging questions, former "American Idol" singer Clay Aiken will acknowledge he is a gay man in an interview with People magazine set to run on its Web site Wednesday, according to media reports.

Celebrity site on Tuesday published a photo of the cover of People magazine's upcoming issue on which Aiken cradles his new son, Parker Foster Aiken, in his arms.

The caption reads "Yes, I'm Gay," and underneath is a quote from Aiken on his decision to come out of the closet that says: "I cannot raise a child to lie or to hide things."
An unscientific poll on (which seems to be affiliated with AOL) finds that 96 percent of nearly 186,000 people surveyed are not surprised by the news Clay Aiken is gay; 4 percent (probably people who live in an abandoned coal mine in Alberta) expressed surprise.

A parallel poll indicates that 91 percent of over 151,000 persons surveyed are more surprised that Lindsay Lohan has admitted to being a lesbian, with 9 percent being more surprised about Aiken. (Most of those 9 percent have been searching the web for salacious home video of Lohan and her girlfriend, Samantha Ronson.)

Isn't news supposed to be, well, new?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doubletake Headline of the Week

Lion Appointed To Detroit Zoological Society's Board

The article, from a publication called Zoo and Aquarium Visitor, explains:
At the annual meeting of the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS) held September 16, 2008, at the Detroit Zoo, the membership approved the following slate of candidates for a three-year term of board service: Tom Lewand, Albert L. Lorenzo and Victor Martin.

Lewand is in his 14th season with the Detroit Lions organization, currently serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer. He is the immediate past chairman of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau and serves on the boards of the Downtown Detroit Partnership, Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and Parade Company. Lewand has been recognized twice by Sports Business Journal as one of the top “40 Under 40” sports executives in the United States, and was also named to the Crain’s Detroit Business list of “40 Under 40” top business people in the Detroit area.
Whew! For a minute, I thought the inmates were running the asylum.

Constitution Day, 2008

This past Wednesday was Constitution Day. On September 17, 1787, members of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia gave their final approval to the document they had toiled over for the previous summer, sending it to the states for ratification.

Delaware became the first state to ratify the Constitution on December 7, followed five days later by Pennsylvania. Other states followed, until New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify it on June 21, 1788, meeting the requirements set in Article VII to put the Constitution into effect. Virginia caught up just four days later, and Congress (the Confederation Congress, of course) passed a resolution on September 13 that declared the new Constitution was operative. Two states -- North Carolina and Rhode Island -- ratified the Constitution after it was already the basic law of the new country.

In one of his nationally syndicated newspaper columns in 2006, George Mason University economist Walter Williams wrote:

Each year since 2004, on Sept. 17, we commemorate the 1787 signing of the U.S. Constitution by 39 American statesmen. The legislation creating Constitution Day was fathered by Sen. Robert Byrd and requires federal agencies and federally funded schools, including universities, to have some kind of educational program on the Constitution.

I cannot think of a piece of legislation that makes greater mockery of the Constitution, or a more constitutionally odious person to father it — Sen. Byrd, a person who is known as, and proudly wears the label, "King of Pork." The only reason that Constitution Day hasn't become a laughingstock is because most Americans are totally ignorant of, or have contempt for, the letter and spirit of our Constitution.
There is, indeed, something dubious about the federal government mandating that schools -- not just government schools, but also private schools that accept federal funds -- teach anything at all, much less specifying lesson plans for a particular day, since the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government no authority whatsoever regarding education.

Since the 1860s, however, and accelerating through the 20th century down to the present, Congress and the Executive Branch have been usurping powers that, constitutionally speaking, are the province of state and local governments. Little things like Article II and the Tenth Amendment have not stood in their way.

Despite this depressing history, I spent Constitution Day this year at the home of James Madison, who has been called "the Father of the Constitution." The particularly special occasion was dubbed a "Restoration Celebration," in honor of the five-year long project to restore Montpelier to the way it looked in the first third of the 19th century, when James and Dolley Madison lived there.

Following the ceremony, I had an opportunity to ask Representative Eric Cantor (R-VA7), who holds the congressional seat that once belonged to Madison, whether he thought the Constitution Day legislation sponsored by Senator Byrd was "ironic." His answer comes at the tail-end of this video, after he answers two questions from WCHV-AM's morning host, Joe Thomas:

Cantor, as you will see below, was also one of the featured speakers at the festivities, along with Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts, among others.

The ceremony began with introductory remarks by Montpelier Foundation president Michael Quinn, who introduced PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer as master of ceremonies. Lehrer noted that an "anonymous pundit" pointed out that Madison had "invented a government that could be run by idiots," something that might have incensed some of the political bigwigs on the podium, had Lehrer not appended a suggestion that this epithet may not apply to those present:

Lehrer, in turn, introduced Richard Moe, the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Unfortunately, I did not capture Mr. Moe's speech on video. He was followed by Congressman Cantor:

The series of speeches by public officials was broken up by a reading of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution by a descendant of James Madison's sister, Madison Iler Wing, and by a descendant of one of Madison's slaves, Raleigh Marshall:

James Madison never served as Governor of Virginia, as his contemporaries, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, did. The current holder of that office, Timothy M. Kaine, nonetheless addressed the audience of some 6,000 visitors from Central Virginia and places farther afield:

The keynote speaker of the day -- and the only one to be greeted with a standing ovation -- was Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., whose thoughts on the Constitution are more salient than those of any other current public official. He gave no clues about his views on issues now before the Supreme Court, however. (Roberts' colleague on the Court, Justice Samuel Alito, was also a guest at the ceremony.)

Roberts suggested, at the close of his remarks, that even the restored Montpelier is not a sufficient monument to James Madison. Referring to the famous inscription at St. Paul's Cathedral regarding Sir Christopher Wren, its architect (but, nodding to the general cultural illiteracy of even a well-educated 21st-century audience, not using the original Latin: si monumentum requiris circumspice), Roberts said "if you're looking for Madison's memorial, look around. Look around at a free country, governed by the rule of law."

Following the remarks by the Chief Justice, more than 2,600 schoolchildren from Orange County, the City of Charlottesville, and Albemarle, Culpeper, Greene, and Madison counties formed a gigantic American flag, in the form of the "star spangled banner" that flew at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. This banner was in the design of the U.S. flag during the Madison administration, with 15 stripes as well as 15 stars. (Later designs reduced the number of stripes to 13 while adding a new star with every state admitted to the Union.)

As a helicopter hovered above Montpelier to catch the "living flag" in a photograph, the national anthem (appropriately, "The Star Spangled Banner") was sung by Eric Greene of the Virginia Opera Company:

The final portion of the ceremony was the official ribbon-cutting to open the "new" Montpelier, which has been reduced in size from the 55 rooms it had while it was owned (and expanded) by the DuPont family to the 29 rooms that preservation experts believe it had while the Madison family lived there. Even at 29 rooms, the house is still large, with more then 12,000 square feet of living and working space. Governor Kaine wielded the scissors (one hopes the practice might apply to future budgets) while Chief Justice Roberts and other VIPs -- including relatives of the Madisons and the DuPonts -- held the ribbon.

After the ribbon was cut, "James and Dolley Madison" (actors, not exhumations) welcomed the many visitors to their home and shared some stories of their lives at Montpelier:

There was a lot of attention paid to the Montpelier restoration in the news media, including articles in the Washington Post, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Culpeper Star-Exponent, C-VILLE Weekly, Charlottesville Daily Progress, Richmond Times-Dispatch, and The Hook, which also offered a colorful slide show.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Redpath to Liveblog Today

Although he was excluded from the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce debate hosted to showcase his opponents, Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner, the Libertarian nominee for the U.S. Senate from Virginia, Bill Redpath, will have an opportunity to interact with voters later today when he liveblogs on "The Shad Plank," the blog at the Hampton Roads Daily Press.

Redpath's liveblog event was postponed from Wednesday, giving readers two extra days to think about pertinent questions to pose to him.

Go to the Shad Plank at 1:00 p.m. to participate

Update: The Bill Redpath liveblog, moderated by Hugh Lessig of the Daily Press, took place between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. You can watch a "replay" here (it's necessary to click on the "replay" button).

In fielding questions, Bill talked about the economy, the government's attempt to bail out Wall Street firms, free trade agreements, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, running with Bob Barr at the top of the ticket, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), the challenges of getting on the ballot as a Libertarian, and other topics. The comments section of The Shad Plank is open for those who want to add their two-cents' worth.

Steve Forbes for Treasury Secretary

Regardless of who wins the presidential election on November 4 -- whether Bob Barr, John McCain, or Barack Obama -- when the new president takes office in January 2009, he could do much worse than to name magazine publisher Steve Forbes as his Secretary of the Treasury.

While the political world is full of Chicken Littles warning that our economy -- which is in a period of growth about equal to the average since World War II, and which sees unemployment at a level lower than the average since World War II -- is ready to collapse, Forbes offers a voice of sanity. His optimistic message about the economy has hardly changed at all since his presidential run in 1996, and for good reason: the U.S. economy has been, and continues to be, in good shape -- especially when compared to our trading partners in Europe and elsewhere around the world.

According to an article published in Thursday's Washington Times:

Publishing tycoon and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes on Wednesday urged people to put the crisis on Wall Street in perspective, saying it "will quickly pass" so long as the Bush administration and financial regulators strengthen the dollar and enforce rules on the short-selling of securities.

"Put things in perspective: We will get over it," Mr. Forbes said in a speech hosted by the Ad Club of Metropolitan Washington on Wednesday morning. "But if we continue doing dumb things like make monetary mistakes, raise taxes, do crazy things on the regulatory side, you can get a real disaster on your hands."

Quoting extensively from Forbes' speech at the Ad Club, correspondent Kara Rowland reports:

"Long story short, in 2004 the Federal Reserve, then headed by Alan Greenspan, made a fatal miscalculation," he said. "They underestimated the U.S. economy. They printed a lot of money because they thought the economy needed it, and the engine flooded."

As a result, Mr. Forbes said, commodity prices shot up and the domestic economy became distorted. Housing prices were already going up, and the influx of money led people to build and buy more houses, lending standards eroded and a subprime-mortgage crisis erupted, he said.

"It just went berserk; a classic bubble, and thanks to high technology, global economy, securitization, it took on proportions it had never done before in history," he said. "So how did the Fed respond? Having gone on one drinking binge, it went on another: It cranked up the money press again."

The Treasury Department should have told regulators to "back off" at that time, but instead praised the move, said Mr. Forbes, who called the country's "weak-dollar policy" the "biggest mistake of the Bush administration."

"If cheapening your money was the way to wealth, then Zimbabwe and Argentina would own the world," he said.

Far from panicking -- which, unfortunately, is the attitude of both major-party presidential candidates, including the normally hands-off McCain as well as the central-planner Obama -- Forbes suggests we should look at the current situation more calmly and intelligently. Writes Rowland:

Moreover, recent losses may seem big, but people should put them in perspective, Mr. Forbes stressed.

"If you look at median net worth in the United States in the last 10 years, it's gone up over 30 percent," he said. "What's happened in recent years is unprecedented in human history; never before in so many parts of the world have so many people advanced economically as happened in recent years. Each year, 50 [million] to 70 million people around the world join the middle class."

The U.S. has weathered economic storms in the past and will make its way through the current crisis, he predicted, if the Fed redefines its mission as "focusing on a stable currency and dealing with panics." It should start to soak up some of the excess money it created and the Treasury Department should announce a strong-dollar policy, he said, adding that financial regulators should try to standardize "these exotic instruments" that have been created by Wall Street.

"Make the dollar stable. It's not that hard to do. Maybe I should write a book, 'Central Banking for Dummies,'" he joked.

In the meantime, Mr. Forbes said, investors should stay calm.

"This is precisely the time [you] don't give into your emotions. Your emotions are your enemy."

I wrote my first article about Steve Forbes for the Metro Herald back in September 1995, shortly after he announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. This is what it said:
Does Steve Forbes Have the Right Stuff?
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

The Republican presidential horse race just got a thoroughbred entry -- a 25-to-1 shot with a $25 million purse. But can millionaire magazine owner Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes, Jr., break away from the pack to win the race? Pundits are skeptical.

Forbes is the son of the late publisher Malcolm S. Forbes, a former correspondent and now the editor-in-chief of the magazine that bears his father's name. There are reports he plans to spend $25 million of his own money to win the Republican nomination and to go on to defeat President Bill Clinton in November 1996.

Announcing his candidacy formally at the National Press Club in Washington on September 22, Forbes described himself as fundamentally different from the rest of the GOP candidates. He said "their vision of what we can do is narrow, cramped, and constricted." He noted that all of them "have been in Washington, or in politics, or both, all of their adult lives. They haven't been at the center of the entrepreneurial economy. I have, both as a reporter traveling the world and as a businessman, running a company. That," he said, "has been my life."

Indeed, if vision is what elects candidates, Forbes stands head and shoulders above the rest. He has a consistent vision lacking in Bob Dole, for instance, who after 35 years in Washington is known best as a "compromiser" with no overarching political or economic philosophy. Forbes has a focus absent from Bob Dornan, whose public speeches ramble and roam with no coherent direction, except to attack gay and lesbian taxpayers. He has a certainty superior to Phil Gramm, who has lurched to the right in recent weeks to appease religious conservatives, who make him fidget nervously. Forbes has a coherence unseen in the campaign of Pat Buchanan, who calls for freedom except for immigrants, and international trade, and minorities, and political dissenters, and (pick a favorite category here).

Of course, vision alone does not elect candidates. Forbes may have a lot of money, and a clear message, but he doesn't have a lot of political operatives around the country. Like it or not, politics is still largely a game of machine-based politicians. Without the ability to call in his chits, Forbes is unlikely to build the support he needs among local activists who select delegates to the big show -- the Presidential Nominating Convention.

That aside, Forbes' message is compelling. He demands scrapping the current income tax code. "Don't fiddle with it. Junk it. Throw it out. Bury it." In its place, he calls for a "pro-growth, pro-family tax cut that lowers tax rates to 17 percent across the board." This flat tax would have exemptions that ensure that a family of four earning $36,000 or less will pay no taxes.

He really parts company with the Republicans in his firm, unmitigated support for term limits. In an article he wrote for the September 25, 1995, edition of Forbes (the magazine), the new presidential candidate noted correctly: "Public support for term limits remains unwaveringly strong, regardless of race, party, income, or gender. People agree with Thomas Jefferson, who said that the Constitution should have mandated the rotation of elected officeholders."

At his campaign kick-off, Forbes said:

"I want to change the culture of Washington by changing the rules of the game. And to change the rules of the game, you have to do two things: You have to take away the politicians' power to manipulate the tax code. . . . And you have to limit their terms."

In addressing "values," Forbes acknowledged a truth that the so-called Christian Right is unwilling to admit. The real reason for the breakdown of family values, and of families themselves, is the breakdown of the economy caused by the growing intrusiveness of government. By deregulating the economy, by cutting taxes, by offering parents the right to choose any school for their children, by focusing the energies of police and prosecutors in violent crimes, we can restore values to their proper place in our communities. Forbes is on the right track -- though his announcement speech lacks specifics. (That, of course, might be its attraction: By letting the other Republicans fight over the title of "most righteous," Forbes might win "most likely to succeed.")

Some say Steve Forbes is a stand-in for Jack Kemp in the 1996 presidential stakes. Some call him "Kemp Lite." Indeed, his campaign staff is made up of many former Kemp associates. Forbes, however, does not seem to be as squishy on welfare and regulatory issues as Kemp is. Kemp is a big-government Republican. Forbes, if his actions match his words, genuinely believes in shrinking the size and scope of government. We'll see.

Steve Forbes brings new interest and new experience into the Republican presidential race. Can he go the distance?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Richard Sincere is author of The Politics of Sentiment: Churches and Foreign Investment in South Africa, and other works.

Comparing the quotations from my 1995 article and Kara Rowland's piece in yesterday's Washington Times, one can see that Steve Forbes has lost neither his idiosyncratically staccato speaking style nor his overarching vision of free-market economic policies.

Can we start a write-in campaign for "Steve Forbes for Treasury Secretary"?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Talking About Voting Improvements

Monday night, the Charlottesville City Council approved a request from the Office of Voter Registration and Elections to appropriate funds for the purchase of new voting equipment to supplement the Hart Intercivic eSlate machines that we have been using in Charlottesville since May 2002.

As noted on the WINA-AM website:

Charlottesville will spend $48,000 to get additional voting machines in advance of the November 4th election. The City Council authorized the purchase Monday night. Registrar Sheri Iachetta says voters in each precinct should have an opportunity to use the new devices. That includes smaller Charlottesville precincts, such as Clark (pictured) (Listen to Sheri Iachetta) As of the start of this week, Charlottesville had 26,085 adults on its voter rolls. Iachetta says her staff has been registering 400 new people each week, and she expects to see that continue through October 6th. That's the deadline for people who are not registered to sign up.
The new machines, known as the Hart eScan, use digital scanning technology to read paper ballots. Virginia law prohibits Charlottesville (or any other locality in the Commonwealth) from acquiring DRE (direct recording electronic) devices, even if currently-owned machines are damaged or destroyed. While we previously would have been able to borrow, rent, or purchase new eSlate units to meet the needs of voters, the General Assembly and Governor Kaine decided we should not have that option.

Last Friday, I appeared on "The Schilling Show" on WINA to discuss this topic. WINA summarized the conversation between me and host Rob Schilling like this:
Thanks to a steady stream of summer registrations, Charlottesville has roughly 26,000 adults on its voter rolls. The deadline to register for the fall election will be October 6th, and the chairman of the Charlottesville Electoral Board anticipates a flurry of activity before that date. Rick Sincere (pictured) says that could have a special impact on the Recreation precinct, which is the city's largest. (Listen to Rick Sincere) He also notes Charlottesville voters will be given a choice of voting machines for the November 4th election. (Listen to Rick Sincere) Sincere was a recent guest on the Schilling Show, which airs at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday on Newsradio 1070 WINA.
For those who want more than a summary and a couple of soundbites, here is the complete interview on video (in three segments).

In the first segment, Rob Schilling introduces the program and mentions the case of Gennady Denisenko, a political refugee from the Soviet Union who has lived in Charlottesville for almost two decades but who is now being deported back to Russia. Rob urges his listeners to write to Virginia Senators Jim Webb and John Warner, and to Congressman Virgil Goode, to ask them to put pressure on immigration authorities to reverse the deportation decision.

Also in this segment, I talk about the rapid increase in voter registration in Charlottesville -- a rise of 8.5 percent in the month of August alone -- and what this might mean for the configuration of our voting precincts after the November election. (Virginia law requires that any precinct in which 4,000 or more people vote in a general election must be split into smaller slices. We anticipate that Recreation Precinct will reach that threshold this year.)

In the second segment, I talk about the new machines we will introduce this November, and how "as an election geek" I am intrigued by the unique opportunity to do a real-world experiment to determine whether voters prefer to vote electronically, on the eSlate, or on paper, using the eScan digital scanner. (Voters will have a choice that is the equivalent of "paper or plastic?")

In the third, shortest, and final segment, I reply to a listener's question about whether having the choice of voting methods might cause delays in the process and result in long lines. I assure him that, with the use of electronic pollbooks and with intense training of our well-qualified poll workers, we expect things to move smoothly on Election Day.

At the end of the interview, host Rob Schilling invited me to come back between now and Election Day, because -- as we at the Electoral Board have already realized -- voters will need to be reminded to expect changes at their polling places and, as the saying goes, forewarned is forearmed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

'Dr. Cook's Garden' Blooms in Arlington

On Wednesday evening, Tim Hulsey and I saw a new production of a 40-year-old play, Dr. Cook's Garden, at the American Century Theater in Arlington. Here is my review, prepared for The Metro Herald (and likely to run in next Friday's print edition):

‘Dr. Cook’s Garden’ Blooms in Arlington
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Now uncovered by the American Century Theater, for four decades Dr. Cook’s Garden was a hidden gem that weaves together elements of a psychological thriller, small-town melodrama, philosophical dialogue, and debate about moral values.

Written by Ira Levin (better known for novels like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, as well as for the long-running play, Deathtrap), Dr. Cook’s Garden had an unfortunate fate in its original Broadway run, which lasted only about a week.

Perhaps 1967 audiences were not ready for the heady questions raised in the play – or for the answers raised in reply.

The challenge for a reviewer of a play like Dr. Cook’s Garden is to say enough to tantalize audience members and persuade them to see it, but not reveal too much of its tautly-constructed plot or the internal twists that take it from opening curtain to curtain calls.

It can’t be done – not adequately, at least.

Suffice it to say that the action of Dr. Cook’s Garden takes place in a small Vermont town on the day that a former resident, Jim Tennyson, returns for a visit after years away at college and medical school. The plot unreels in the office of the eponymous Dr. Cook, who has been the sole physician in tiny Greenfield Center (think of Grover’s Corners) for three decades, and who was Jim’s employer, mentor, and inspiration before Jim left for school. In the course of his visit, Jim deduces a secret about Dr. Cook that he never could have imagined – a secret that has consequences for the two of them, for their friends, and for the whole town.

Levin’s script is tightly crafted. There is no extraneous dialogue or action in this play. Every sentence in Act I has a payoff or parallel in Act II or Act III. What seems like small-talk or filler turns out to be consequential. Even props that seem merely decorative have substantive uses as the play reaches its climax.

What makes Dr. Cook’s Garden work best are the relaxed and authentic performances of its cast, under the direction of Ellen Dempsey. Under less able hands, the play could turn out to be a macabre yet flaccid melodrama. The second act, which is largely a debate on ethical topics (in the style of an 18th-century philosophical dialogue, but with greater punch and vim), could become plodding. Dempsey makes it swing and energizes it.

To be sure, Dempsey owes much to her cast, none of whose members have previously appeared in an American Century production. David Schmidt, as “Doc” Cook, steers a middle ground between what we might imagine Burl Ives’ turn at the role in the original Broadway production and Bing Crosby’s re-creation of it in a made-for-TV movie a few years later. Schmidt conveys a mild-mannered “country doc” who could have fit in nicely on a 1930s radio soap opera, but one whose surface hides the secret that cannot be revealed here.

As his young counterpart, Jim Tennyson, the actor JB Bissex recreates the role originated by Keir Dullea and offers a physically nuanced performance in which the muscles of his face reveal more information, at times, than the words he speaks.

Supporting these two central characters are Robert Lavery as Elias Hart, a gardener and town constable whose simple bearing makes one menacing moment both unexpected and logical; Kathryn Cocroft as Doc’s nurse, Bea, who may (or may not – we never know) be aware of Doc’s secret; and Carol McCaffrey as housekeeper Dora, whose gift of gab unwittingly turns on Jim’s curiosity and, hence, his discovery.

Much of Levin’s work is infused with a fear of totalitarian control that threatens individual autonomy, often represented by Nazis or Satanists. Neither is present here, but the underlying concern can be felt. And Levin’s social conscience often expresses itself aphoristically. Here are two examples:

Referring to a dysfunctional family, Doc says: “Beatings are handed down like land and money.”

Drawing a distinction between two key concepts, Jim remarks: “Gardens go to seed; towns muddle along.”

Dr. Cook’s Garden was not originally scheduled to be part of TACT’s 2008-09 season; it was a last-minute replacement when rights to another Levin play became unavailable. Artistic director Jack Marshall and his colleagues, however, made a brilliant decision in finding this play and choosing to produce it. As obscure as it once was, it should be so no more. If you are going to see only one play between today and October 4, see Dr. Cook’s Garden.

Forty years after Dr. Cook’s Garden opened in New York, this seldom-produced play may finally be ready for an audience – or audiences may finally be ready for it. Despite a few 1960s references that anchor it in that decade, the central theme of Dr. Cook’s Garden is perennially relevant. Perhaps it is relevant now more than ever.

Dr. Cook’s Garden continues through Saturday, October 4, 2008, at Theatre II, Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang Street, Arlington, Virginia 22206. Ticket prices range from $25 to $32, with discounts available for students and seniors. A performance schedule and ticket information is available at Further ticket information is available by calling 703-998-4555 or sending an email to

In case it is not clear from the foregoing review, I liked Dr. Cook's Garden. Go, see it, and tell your friends about it (but don't give away the secrets).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fidel Castro, Humanitarian?

Agence France-Presse reports:

South Africa Thursday said it has given its 2008 humanitarian award to former Cuban president Fidel Castro for his contributions to "humankind beyond boundaries."

Castro, who turned 82 Wednesday, becomes the first non-African and the third ex-head of state to win the "Ubuntu" award, the National Heritage Council of South Africa said in a statement.

"The Ubuntu award is honouring persons who have consistently lived the humanitarian values of the African philosophy of Ubuntu," which defines the individual in terms of their relationships with others.

Castro won the award "for the role he played in the Cuban revolution and worldwide contribution to the struggle for an alternative, just and humane society," the statement said.

In related news, the National Culinary Council of South Africa has given a posthumous "lifetime achievement" award to Jeffrey Dahmer for his outstanding contributions to diet and cuisine.

Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff

Here is more evidence that the British have gone balmy, and that the traditional English values of privacy and personal autonomy are no longer being respected:

Park wardens have been ordered to stop and interrogate anyone who is not accompanied by children.

The visitors who are quizzed have to explain their presence and risk being thrown out or reported to police if their answers are not satisfactory.

The policy has been introduced at Telford Town Park in Shropshire. The council which manages the 420-acre area says it is a 'commonsense approach' aimed at safeguarding children.

This comes not long after news that photography hobbyists have been harassed and discouraged by British police.

From the Telegraph on August 17:
There is no law in this country that prevents people from taking photographs in public. None the less, Amateur Photographer magazine receives dozens of reports per month from readers who have been stopped and searched by police officers who seem to think otherwise. 'Sadly, many amateurs are not aware of their rights and are resigned to their fate,' says the magazine's news editor Chris Cheesman. 'Once they are stopped, and their name taken, the police have a record. And we only hear about those who are prepared to kick up a stink about it - there are sure to be many others that go unreported.'
The article, written by Sam Delaney and entitled "Has our increasingly paranoid society declared war on the humble 'weekend snapper'?" continues:
'The growing concern about paedophiles coupled with concerns about terrorism is a heady cocktail that makes police officers edgy,' says Labour MP Austin Mitchell - a keen photographer who was once stopped from taking pictures on a beach on the grounds that there were children present. 'I didn't see any children and none were in my pictures,' he says. 'In any case, they are the responsibility of their parents, not me.'

Mitchell has tabled an Early Day Motion condemning police actions against lawful photography in public places, and this summer he will lead a delegation of photographers and fellow MPs to the Home Office to demand greater clarification of the laws. 'We are watched by the state on CCTV more than ever and yet they are simultaneously stopping us from taking happy snaps on the street. It's a bit daft when they're trying to attract tourists to the country,' he says. 'I think it's part of a culture where people aren't allowed to do things unless they're specifically authorised to do so. I think it should be the other way round.'
The Telegraph's report reminded me of an experience in my own life.

About ten years ago, I was briefly detained by the personal police force of the Gabonese prime minister after I was observed taking photographs around Libreville. It was an intimidating situation, since my French is not very good and none of the police officers spoke English.

Luckily, my driver (a Nigerian) spoke better French than I did and explained that I was working for the President's daughter and chief of staff (the same person, actually). They weren't particularly impressed by that, since the PM and President were not exactly buddy-buddy.

I think they were looking for me to bribe myself out of the situation. (Arresting an American who was working for the President in advance of that year's elections would have been bad public relations, as even a low-level bureaucrat -- or cop -- could recognize.) Unfortunately for me, I was traveling with only a few dollars in cash, all in crinkly CFA francs.

Fortunately, however, they let me go after I opened up my camera and exposed the film, which I left with them. My driver was a successful mediator and, were it not for him, I might still be languishing in an equatorial jail cell. (I guess you can call me "Survivor: Gabon.")

The loss of the film was too bad, because I had got some great shots of, for instance, the petroleum ministry building, which had a huge, gold-leafed flame rising from the roof.

It turns out that taking pictures of public buildings and anywhere along the oceanfront in Gabon is illegal. I later got some surreptitious photos from inside the presidential palace, but not without a thorough scolding from the presidential aide who was leading us through the grounds.

It's hard to believe that British police are adopting the same techniques and practices as those thuggish Gabonese officers of the late 20th century. What is the world coming to? Whatever happened to Anglo-Saxon liberty?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

In Bed with the Oil Industry

You can't make this stuff up.

David Ivanovich reports in the Houston Chronicle today:

The Interior Department's Inspector General, who has been investigating the U.S. Minerals Management Service's Royalty-In-Kind program, said government employees who were supposed to be regulating the oil companies were engaging in drug use and having sex with industry contacts.

"Several staff admitted to illegal drug use as well as illicit sexual encounters," Inspector General Earl Devaney wrote in a Sept. 9 memo to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne released today....

Devaney said that between 2002 and 2006, a third of the Royalty-In-Kind staff socialized with, and received a wide array of gifts and gratuities from companies with which the government was doing business.

"While the dollar amounts of gifts and gratuities was not enormous, these employees accepted [gifts] and gratuities on at least 135 occasions from four major oil and gas companies with whom they were doing business — a textbook example of improperly receiving gifts from prohibited sources," Devaney said. "When confronted by our investigators, none of the employees involved displayed remorse."
Here comes the best line in the report, however (italics added):
Two program marketers became so intoxicated on one occasion that they had to accept lodging from industry officials, according to the memo.

"These same ... marketers also engaged in brief sexual relations with industry contacts," Devaney wrote. "Sexual relations with prohibited sources cannot, by definition, be arms-length."
Are we experiencing a cultural moment that calls for the return of Dallas and Dynasty to TV's prime time?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Gay Issues and the GOP

Nearly seven years ago, in an interview with journalist Rex Wockner, U.S. Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) had this to say about Republicans and gay issues:

Until fairly recently, the Democrats thought they were caught between the anti-gay feelings of the general public and the pro-gay activism within the Democratic party. Now the Republicans feel torn. People don't like gay-bashing....

When I say the Republicans are no better than they were 20 years ago, that's based on the roll call. You're right, though. The Republicans got much worse, then they got better again. I agree with that. That's fair. They're better than they were 10 years ago, not so much in the number of votes we get, but in the diminution of gay-bashing.

They learned from Pat Buchanan in 1992. And from the fact that the passage of DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act] did not bring them any political benefits. ... People don't want to hear Jesse Helms calling their gay kids names, so the Republicans have got it on gay-bashing. Ten years ago they were actively trying to roll back pro-gay things when they happened; now they don't want to do that.

When I first came to Congress, gay rights was for a lot of Democrats a "no way" issue. After AIDS, gay rights went from a "no way" issue to an "oh, shit" issue. "Oh, shit, I've got to vote on this." Now, for the Democrats, it's an easy vote and for the Republicans it's become an "oh, shit" issue. But they still vote wrong. ... They're in this transition phase where they can't do anything right but they don't want to do anything wrong.
Fast forward to 2008, and Frank's remarks of 2001 are echoed, after a fashion, in an opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal by Jamie Kirchick, headlined "The GOP Should Kiss Gay-Bashing Goodbye." (Full disclosure: Kirchick, who is an acquaintance of mine, interviewed me for and quoted me in a recent article in The New Republic.)

Kirchick begins his piece by noting:
Political conventions are memorable not only for what the party grandees say, but for what they leave out. What was noticeably absent from last week's Republican gabfest? Gay-bashing.

This is not an insignificant development for Republicans. In 2004, gays featured prominently at the Republicans' convention and in their rhetoric.
"Topic gAy" of the 2004 Republican convention was what was then called the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have written social policy into the Constitution for the first time since the failed Prohibition Amendment and its repeal. President Bush had beat the drums for support for the marriage amendment, which has never received a sufficient number of votes in the U.S. Senate to pass it along to the states for ratification.

Like Congressman Frank, Kirchick also remembers the debacle that was the 1992 Republican Convention -- the one in which a belligerent Pat Buchanan pushed the eminence grise of the Republican Party, former President Ronald Reagan, out of a prime-time speaking slot.

Says Kirchick:

As disappointing as the GOP's 2004 campaign was in this regard, it didn't hold a candle to the party's 1992 convention. The most famous speech to occur in Houston that year was the prime-time address delivered by Patrick Buchanan on opening night. "Pitchfork Pat" had challenged George H.W. Bush for the Republican nomination and did surprisingly well for a candidate confronting a sitting president, winning the New Hampshire primary. His address that year is best remembered for his observation that "there is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America . . . a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself."

Mr. Buchanan made it clear that primary soldiers on the other, dark side of this "cultural war" were gay people. Telling the audience that while the "three million Americans who voted for me" disagreed with Mr. Bush on some issues, he declared that "we stand with him against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women."

In contrast to the explicitly anti-gay rhetoric of 1992 and the softened, but still direct, attacks on gay families in 2004, gay issues in St. Paul were notable by their omission from speeches on the podium. (They were not, however, ignored completely; at least not by the Virginia delegation.)

Kirchick continues:

The absence of antigay rhetoric has much to do with Mr. McCain; he is comfortable around gay people, and his old-fashioned sense of honor proscribes against making them pariahs for political gain. He also has a better record on gay issues than most of his Republican colleagues, having courageously stood up against his party by opposing the FMA.

Partly for that stand, he won the endorsement last week of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group that declined to endorse Mr. Bush in 2004 over his demagoguing gay marriage. Steve Schmidt, Mr. McCain's senior strategist, spoke to Log Cabin on the last day of the convention, informing them that "my sister and her partner are an important part of my life and our children's life," and that "I admire your group and your organization and I encourage you to keep fighting for what you believe in because the day is going to come."

Republicans might also have noticed the opinions of their own party members and realized that attacking the "gay agenda" would prove unpopular. On the eve of the convention, a New York Times/CBS News poll reported 49% of Republican delegates were in support of either civil unions (43%) or marriage (6%) for gay couples. While 90% of Democratic delegates support either marriage (55%) or civil unions (35%), Republican delegates -- the party's conservative base -- are actually more liberal on this issue than Republican voters, only 39% of whom support either option. With 58% of the American public in favor of some form of legal recognition, Republicans are actually closer to the national mood, and are hopefully beginning to understand that Buchananite "cultural war" rhetoric is fast becoming a thing of the past.

In his concluding sentences, Kirchick suggests that McCain's attitude toward gay issues will, with his help, rub off on the rest of the GOP, and that the party might return to its "self-declared principles of individual liberty and smaller government." At the same time, he expresses some disappointment that McCain has not exhibited more leadership in this regard, by not going after some Republicans' "cynical stigmatization of an entire class of citizens."

One would hope, given the polling data cited above and other public opinion surveys of recent years -- as well as considerable anecdotal evidence -- that as a younger generation of Republicans, who grew up with gay friends and who look toward Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan as the historical figures who best exemplify Republican principles, begin to gain control of the party's resources and its future platforms, this live-and-let-live philosophy will reassert itself in the Grand Old Party.

As gay issues begin to lose their divisive resonance culturally, it is only a matter of time before politics falls in line. After all, as Barney Frank said in his Gay Today interview with Rex Wockner, if a person doesn't vote exclusively on gay issues, "it's rational to vote Republican."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Buena Vista Social Club

Last Monday, I drove down to the small city of Buena Vista, Virginia, for the traditional kick-off to the political season in the Commonwealth: the Buena Vista Labor Day Parade.

This was my first visit to Buena Vista, although I had often read about the parade and appearances there by candidates for public office. There was a real festival atmosphere, with food and beverage vendors, carnival-style games, Civil War re-enactors, and beauty queens.

During the political forum that followed the parade, former Governor Jim Gilmore said that this was his "third or fourth" time to attend the Buena Vista Labor Day festivities. I found that impressive, until former Governor Mark Warner added, snarkily, that this was his "eighteenth" visit -- a line intended to elicit cheers from a crowd that was heavily salted with Warner-for-Senate groupies.

This year, besides Gilmore and Warner, who are both seeking the open U.S. Senate seat in Virginia, there were several other candidates for high office: fellow Senate candidate Bill Redpath, the nominee of the Libertarian Party; Sixth District Congressman Bob Goodlatte and his opponent, Sam Rasoul (who described himself as the youngest candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives this year); state Senator Creigh Deeds and Delegate Brian Moran, who are competing for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2009; and state Senator Ken Cuccinelli and former U.S. Attorney John Brownlee, who are seeking the GOP nomination for state Attorney General next year.

The 2009 candidates were limited to shaking hands with constituents and smiling silently on the podium. The 2008 candidates all had an opportunity to speak for up to five minutes to a rather boisterous crowd.

I captured all the speeches on video, and I would have posted them here on the evening of Labor Day, but I encountered software problems that took several days of trial-and-error to solve. Once I overcame those difficulties, I posted the videos to YouTube and made them available for posting here, as well.

First, Tara Wheeler, who is Miss Virginia 2008, led the assembly in the National Anthem:

Miss Virginia was followed by the two older-party candidates for U.S. Senate, starting with Jim Gilmore, the Republican nominee:

Gilmore came out swinging against his principal opponent, Mark Warner, and Warner gave back with the same intensity:

For some strange reason, the forum organizers skipped over the other Senate candidate on the dais, Libertarian Bill Redpath, so that he ended up speaking at the end of the line. Since it's logical that the three Senate candidates speak sequentially, I will put Redpath's remarks here. (There are also a couple of scenes in this video from prior to the forum, with Redpath chatting with Governor Gilmore and with him being interviewed by WDBJ-TV from Roanoke.)

Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA6) includes Buena Vista residents among his constituents. His remarks focused on the good things he has done for the district and this particular neighborhood:

Goodlatte was followed by his opponent in this year's congressional race, Sam Rasoul, who was greeted by cheers:

The final speaker (before Bill Redpath) was Delegate Ben Cline (R-HD24), who is not a candidate this year but who does represent the people of Buena Vista:

Steven Latimer and I got a late start leaving from Charlottesville, so we missed most of the parade. Still, I was able to get some atmospheric shots, including a line-up of emergency vehicles (what would happen if there was a major fire across town?) and Shriners on motor scooters.

(Some of the still photos included in that video were taken by Steven.)

My general impression of Buena Vista might be summed up by what I said as we were walking along the parade route: "I feel like I just stepped into a John Mellencamp song."

Nonetheless, I hope to return next year for the parade, the festivities, and the speechifying.

By the way, the mainstream media had extensive coverage of the Labor Day parade. There were articles in The Washington Post, Daily Press, Staunton News Leader, Roanoke Times, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Waynesboro News-Virginian, Virginian-Pilot, and distributed by the Associated Press. TV stations that covered the event included NBC29 (WVIR-TV) in Charlottesville, ABC13 (WSET-TV) in Lynchburg, WSLS-TV in Roanoke, and WHSV-TV in Harrisonburg. WDBJ7 in Roanoke included an interview with Bill Redpath as well as clips of Warner, Gilmore, Deeds, and others.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fall Fashions

Maybe I'm going out on a limb here, but the camp value of this new line of McCain-Palin campaign memorabilia might just make these items the most popular ironic fashion statement in gay nightclubs this autumn.

Here's an example:

The design is available in t-shirts of various colors, including the ever-popular, always-slimming, basic black.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How to Embarrass Virginia Republicans

The delegation of Virginia Republicans at the convention in St. Paul has been getting both good and bad coverage from media outside of the Old Dominion.

A sympathetic report aired on NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday, in which anchor Robert Siegel visited Virginia delegates at a reception held to welcome them at the Ramada Inn. He interviewed state GOP chair Jeff Frederick, outgoing Congressman Tom Davis, and other delegates. Siegel also noted that Frederick had been "passing the hat" to raise money to send to a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to be used to assist people harmed by Hurricane Gustav.

Unfortunately, a report on a local Minnesota TV station is likely to erase the sense of good feeling that NPR listeners might have come away with.

KSTP-TV (Channel 5), an ABC affiliate in the Twin Cities, notes that the Virginia delegation, at the direction of Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling's staff, sent back a set of entertainment and dining guides because the booklets included a section of interest to gay and lesbian tourists.

According to KSTP correspondents Elena Kibasova and Nicole Muehlhausen:

The campaign for Virginia's Lt. Governor Bill Bolling ordered 150 of the guides to give to Virginia delegates as gifts when they arrived in the Twin Cities.

But after reviewing the guide and finding it had a six-page section for gays and lesbians, they canceled their order, said AJ Kiefer, The Rake's advertising director.
And it's not just speculation on the part of the publisher that the gay-oriented section was the reason for the canceled order. There was this email from Bolling's political director, Tom Bartel:
I am so terribly sorry to do this, especially when the both of you have been so "out of your way" helpful, generous and easy to work with. But, we need to cancel the order for 150 of the "Secrets of the City" guidebooks.

Thanks for sending a copy to me so expediently, Tom. Upon looking at it, though, having a section dedicated solely to GLBT will be a BIG problem for many of our folks. We simply can't hand them out.

Please still bill us for the copy sent along with shipping, though.

Again, I'm so sorry.

What's next? Will Virginia Republicans begin to send back their annual Yellow Pages deliveries because there are listings for gay and lesbian businesses and social-service agencies?

This is just embarrassing. I know a number of people in the Virginia delegation, and I consider them to be friends and colleagues. They must be red-faced to learn that the top-ranked Republican officeholder in the state holds them in such low regard that he thinks their minds would be corrupted by seeing ads for gay-owned restaurants, book stores, or nightclubs.

It seems to me that, with his gubernatorial ambitions still alive -- if put on hold for four years -- Bolling would want to treat fellow Republicans as adults, rather than do things like this, which infantilize us.

What's ironic about this news is it comes on the heels of the news that the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest organization of gay and lesbian Republicans, has endorsed GOP presidential candidate John McCain:
Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Sammon. "Sen. McCain is an inclusive Republican who is focusing the GOP on unifying core principles that appeal to independent voters."
It might be just a coincidence that Bolling endorsed Mitt Romney during the primaries. Maybe he's disappointed at Sarah Palin's all-but-certain nomination as the GOP vice presidential candidate, and this boneheaded move is his way of acting out.

In a World Without "In a World"

Movie trailers will never be the same:

Don LaFontaine, the man who provided the sonorous voice for more than 5,000 movie trailers, died Monday at age 68.

LaFontaine died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from a collapsed lung. He had been taken to the hospital Aug. 22 with a blood clot in the lung.

LaFontaine was known as the "king of the movie trailers," having done the trailer voiceovers for films such as Terminator, Fatal Attraction, Cheaper by the Dozen, Batman Returns and his personal favourite, The Elephant Man.

His baritone voice and melodramatic delivery are famously associated with the oft-repeated movie trailer phrase, "In a world…"

It takes a special talent to be a voiceover artist. Don LaFontaine was among the best.