Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Send in the Clowns

The Senate Courts of Justice Committee in the Virginia General Assembly voted on Monday, 15 to 0, to approve a bill, HB 372,that would "[punish] the disruption of a funeral or memorial service as disorderly conduct, a Class 1 misdemeanor." Patroned by Delegate Charles W. Carrico of Independence, the bill earlier passed the House on a unanimous 100-0 vote, so passage in the full Senate looks assured.

The legislation is aimed at stifling the latest practice of the Reverend Fred Phelps, pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, in which he and his flock protest the funerals of U.S. soldiers, sailors, and airmen who have been killed in the service of their country. He asserts that the deaths of these brave men and women is appropriate payback for a country that tolerates homosexuality.

Lately I have heard Phelps mentioned on conservative radio talk shows. Libertarian Neal Boortz calls Phelps a "cretin" on his show on Monday and on WMAL-AM in Washington on Sunday, Chris Plante (a former CNN Pentagon correspondent) suggested that Phelps should be shot.

A group of motorcycle-riding veterans has been following Phelps around and revving up their Harleys to drown out the Phelps clan's chanting -- an interesting variation on the "angel wings" tactic employed by friends of young Matthew Shepard at his funeral in 1998, and memorably recreated in "The Laramie Project" on stage and TV. According to a CNSNews (formerly the "Conservative News Service," now "Cybercast News") story published today:

A group of motorcycle riders who attend U.S. soldiers' funerals to protect them from anti-homosexual protestors on Saturday surpassed the 10,000-member mark.

The Patriot Guard Riders (PGR) escort families of fallen soldiers to funeral services and stand between the funeral proceedings and protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church, who picket the ceremonies with anti-American and anti-homosexuality slogans.

The Westboro Baptist Church, according to its website godhatesfags.com, believes that God uses improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq to avenge the August 1995 bombing of the church headquarters in Topeka, Kan. Church founder Fred Phelps Sr. believes the 1995 bomb was a government attempt to silence his group. Topeka police ruled it a random attack that was part of a string of bombings in the area.

Members of Phelps' church stand outside funeral services holding signs that say, "God Hates Fags," and "God Hates the USA." They also sing songs with anti-homosexual messages. Patriot Group Riders stand between church members and funerals, usually using American flags to obstruct the protestors' view.

The "rides," as PGR members call their events, began in August 2005 when members of the American Legion rode motorcycles to funerals as a response to Westboro's protests. PGR spokesman Kurt Mayer said the group has seen "an explosion of growth" since it went nationwide in November and opened chapters in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
The Washington Post reported in January that "at least five Midwestern states are considering legislation to ban protests at funerals in response to demonstrations by the Rev. Fred Phelps and members of his Topeka, Kan.-based Westboro Baptist Church, who have been protesting at funerals of Iraq war casualties because they say the deaths are God's punishment for U.S. tolerance toward gays." That number rose quickly: Besides Virginia, 13 other states have considered anti-Phelps legislation, and the Wisconsin legislature has passed a law, which was signed by Governor Jim Doyle, who said:
“I think that it is absolutely shameful that anyone would intentionally disgrace the funeral services of one of these fallen heroes. It’s unfortunate that a bill like this one is even necessary.”

“[W]e all understand that as Americans, people have the right to demonstrate their opinions, however abhorrent those opinions may be to us. I think we also all believe Wisconsin families deserve the right to have a quiet, respectful place to grieve the loss of a loved one.”
Three Wisconsin legislators voted against the law. One of them, Democrat Pedro Colón of Milwaukee, told the Badger Herald, a student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin-Madison:
“[The law] opens our right to self-expression for caveats. I think the more … exceptions you make to the First Amendment, the more you restrict that to the point that you don’t have a First Amendment any more.”
It seems to me that these proposed rules fit under traditional time, place, and manner restrictions, so they are not a particularly egregious infringement of the First Amendment. (Reasonable people might disagree.) Even reprehensible speech deserves protection, but it doesn't need to be enabled.

Boortz, reading from a Leonard Pitts column, suggested that Phelps himself is gay and acting out his own self-loathing. Here's what Pitts wrote in his column in the Houston Chronicle on Monday:
Allow me to share with you an epiphany. I think Fred Phelps is gay.

Not that I'd have any way to know for sure, and not that there's anything wrong with that. But it seems obvious to me that Freddie has spent a little time up on Brokeback Mountain, if you catch my drift. I'm thinking he's secretly into show tunes, interior decorating and man-sized love.

Granted, that's not the first thing that comes to mind when you talk about the Fredster, who is defined by an apparently pathological hatred of all things homosexual. Perhaps you remember how his followers desecrated the funeral of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten and left to die on a prairie fence in Wyoming eight years ago. They showed up at the funeral bearing signs that said, "God Hates Fags."

Now Phelps has updated his act. His "thinking," if you want to use that word, is that the casualties of the Iraq war are divine retribution for this country's tolerance of homosexuality. So, he says, thank God for the IEDs, improvised explosive devices, that have sent so many American soldiers home in dead and broken pieces.
Wait, wait -- there's more:
And for goodness' sake, how many times have we seen homosexuality condemned by those who turned out to be closeted themselves? There was Pat Robertson biographer-turned-gay-activist Mel White; Spokane Mayor James West, who spent his days opposing gay rights and his nights in gay chat rooms; and Gary Cooper and Michael Bussee, who founded a group that purported to cure people of homosexuality but gave it up when they fell in love with each other.

Consider all that, and then consider the sick ferocity of Phelps' attack:

God hates "fags."

Gays are vomit-eating dogs.

Gays are "worthy of death."

Can you say "self-hatred," boys and girls? Come on, isn't it obvious? The poor fellow is gayer than a Bette Midler AIDS benefit. In San Francisco.

He needs not our condemnation but our understanding. Maybe someday he'll find the strength to stop living this lie. He might just go on to be the greatest gay-rights activist this country has ever known. Maybe then, in the arms of the right man, he'll stop hurting.

Kind of chokes me up to think about it.
Even if Fred Phelps is not a deeply-closeted, self-loathing homosexual, he has another secret that many people would like suppressed: He has been a Democratic party activist and financial supporter of former Vice President Al Gore. According to a news release from the Log Cabin Republicans dated October 25, 2000:
Reports linking Vice President Al Gore with notorious anti-gay activist Fred Phelps, Jr., and the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas were confirmed with the release of photographs showing Gore at a fundraiser at the home of Fred Phelps, Jr., who told the Conservative News Service on October 16 that he served as a Gore delegate on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988.

Gore, who was quoted by the Nashville Tennessean in 1984 saying homosexuality is not "an acceptable alternative that society should affirm" and said in his 1984 U.S. Senate race that he would not accept money from gay rights organizations and that he opposed a "gay bill of rights," reportedly sought the support of the Phelps family in his 1988 presidential campaign, and invited the Phelps' to the Clinton-Gore inaugurations of January 1993 and January 1997....

Fred Phelps, Jr. also ran for Governor of Kansas in the Democratic primary in 1990, winning over 11,000 votes and placing third.
The web site of the Washington state Log Cabin Republicans has reproduced the photos of Al Gore and Fred Phelps here and here.

Phelps has been doing his street theatre routine for a long time. I remember seeing his group outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1996, carrying signs with stick-figures engaged in rather angular sodomy. As mentioned earlier, Phelps made his reputation protesting the emotional funeral of murder victim Matthew Shepard in 1998, an event that gained worldwide media coverage. But he had been demonstrating outside funerals of gay people for years. According to Bill Berkowitz of WorkingforChange.com:
The Topeka, Kansas, Baptist preacher proudly boasts he and his family have picketed 20,000 gay-friendly places and events including universities, city halls, state capitals, arts performances and small businesses. Phelps and supporters (who mostly consist of his children and grandchildren) thrust themselves into the national spotlight several years back by picketing the funeral of President Clinton's mother, and the funeral of Randy Shilts, the San Francisco-based gay journalist and author of several books including "And the Band Played On."
Psychopath that he is, Phelps is probably grateful for all the attention he's getting in recent days. Being attacked on the floor of any legislature, state or national, is in many ways a mark of honor. He may be disappointed, however, if sending this message of opprobrium discourages others from emulating Phelps' methods and point of view.

Isn't it queer, though, how conservatives didn't have any objections to Phelps when he just protested outside the funerals of gay (and gay-friendly) people? Now that he's taking his message to the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, they're all shocked and disgusted. I have to wonder where the shock and disgust were when Phelps' targets were "only" gay men and lesbians.

Isn't it rich?

Friday, February 24, 2006

"And That's the Way It Is . . ."

If you're like me, each day you find several solicitations in your email box from charities, advocacy groups, political parties, and candidates for public office. (Sometimes I think I'm Ken Mehlman's favorite person -- it seems I get an email from him at least once a day, twice on days leading up to an election.)

And if you're like me, you probably look at the subject line and hit delete, or if you're feeling generous, you open it up to read the first paragraph. Seldom do you read beyond the first few lines, unless something really grabs your attention.

Well, something grabbed my attention today.

I opened up a solicitation email that turned out to be from the most trusted man in America, Walter Cronkite himself, telling me why he opposes the failed War on Drugs and supports the Drug Policy Alliance.

The letter, which also appears on the Drug Policy Alliance's web site, begins:

As anchorman of the CBS Evening News, I signed off my nightly broadcasts for nearly two decades with a simple statement: "And that's the way it is."

To me, that encapsulates the newsman's highest ideal: to report the facts as he sees them, without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.

Sadly, that is not an ethic to which all politicians aspire - least of all in a time of war.

I remember. I covered the Vietnam War. I remember the lies that were told, the lives that were lost - and the shock when, twenty years after the war ended, former Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara admitted he knew it was a mistake all along.

Today, our nation is fighting two wars: one abroad and one at home. While the war in Iraq is in the headlines, the other war is still being fought on our own streets. Its casualties are the wasted lives of our own citizens.

I am speaking of the war on drugs.

And I cannot help but wonder how many more lives, and how much more money, will be wasted before another Robert McNamara admits what is plain for all to see: the war on drugs is a failure.

Most of the victims of the War on Drugs are too young to remember Walter Cronkite as a fixture in American homes. Before there were 24-hour news channels, before there was talk radio, before there was an Internet, Walter Cronkite was the voice that brought the news to us as we ate dinner. He landed with the troops at Normandy on D-Day. He broke into "As the World Turns" to tell America that John F. Kennedy was dead. He covered the first manned space flights and the moon landings. And when he (and another trusted voice, Paul Harvey) decided that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable mistake, American public opinion followed.

So to a certain generation of Americans, Walter Cronkite's opinion carries a lot of weight.

In his letter on behalf of the Drug Policy Alliance, Cronkite tells stories of real people whose lives have been adversely affected by the misguided and expensive Drug War:

Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way.

But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.

An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.

To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend - who actually knew something about dealing drugs - was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.

Then there was Jan Warren, a single mother who lived in New Jersey with her teenage daughter. Pregnant, poor and desperate, Jan agreed to transport eight ounces of cocaine to a cousin in upstate New York. Police officers were waiting at the drop-off point, and Jan - five months pregnant and feeling ill - was cuffed and taken in.

Did she commit a crime? Sure. But what awaited Jan Warren defies common sense and compassion alike. Under New York's infamous Rockefeller Drug Laws, Jan - who miscarried soon after the arrest - was sentenced to 15 years to life. Her teenage daughter was sent away, and Jan was sent to an eight-by-eight cell.

In Tulia, Texas, an investigator fabricated evidence that sent more than one out of every ten of the town's African American residents to jail on trumped-up drug charges in one of the most despicable travesties of justice this reporter has ever seen.

The federal government has fought terminally ill patients whose doctors say medical marijuana could provide a modicum of relief from their suffering - as though a cancer patient who uses marijuana to relieve the wrenching nausea caused by chemotherapy is somehow a criminal who threatens the public.

The effects don't stop with these individual victims, however. We all suffer because the War on Drugs erodes our civil liberties and takes money from our paychecks. Cronkite continues:

And what is the impact of this policy?

It surely hasn't made our streets safer. Instead, we have locked up literally millions of people...disproportionately people of color...who have caused little or no harm to others - wasting resources that could be used for counter-terrorism, reducing violent crime, or catching white-collar criminals.

With police wielding unprecedented powers to invade privacy, tap phones and conduct searches seemingly at random, our civil liberties are in a very precarious condition.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on this effort - with no one held accountable for its failure.

Amid the clichés of the drug war, our country has lost sight of the scientific facts. Amid the frantic rhetoric of our leaders, we've become blind to reality: The war on drugs, as it is currently fought, is too expensive, and too inhumane.

But nothing will change until someone has the courage to stand up and say what so many politicians privately know: The war on drugs has failed.

Emphasizing his point, "the most trusted man in America" concludes:

Americans are paying too high a price in lives and liberty for a failing war on drugs about which our leaders have lost all sense of proportion. The Drug Policy Alliance is the one organization telling the truth. They need you with them every step of the way.

And that's the way it is.


Private Money for the Arts

Unlike the neighboring Paramount Theatre, which unashamedly sucks at the public teat (the Virginia General Assembly just appropriated another $50,000 in taxpayers' money to what is, in form and function, a commercial performing arts venue) the City Center for Contemporary Arts, which houses the Live Arts theatre group as well as Light House (a film and video educational organization) and the Second Street Gallery (which displays graphic arts) has prided itself on its refusal to take public money.

(I wrote about C3A about a year ago in an article on taxpayer subsidies for arts institutions.)

Today a news release crossed me desk, announcing that Bama Works, the charitable wing of the Dave Matthews Band, is giving C3A a booster shot of more than half a million dolllars.

Here's the news release in its entirety:


Bama Works Fund pledges $550,000 to City Center for Contemporary Arts

Charlottesville, Virginia (February 23, 2006) – Bama Works Fund, the charitable giving arm of the Dave Matthews Band, announced today a $550,000 pledge to Charlottesville’s City Center for Contemporary Arts.

The pledge represents half of the $1.1 million left to raise to complete the C3A Building Campaign. For the remainder, the band is challenging the local community to pitch in and finish the campaign by the end of the year.

“I believe strongly that everyone should have a chance to participate in the arts,” said DMB’s Carter Beauford. “We feel that there’s a role we can play to help people have access to creative opportunities – not just by funding the arts ourselves, but also by challenging everyone to continue to support the arts and nurture other artists.”

The result of a collaboration between three Charlottesville nonprofit arts organizations – Live Arts, Second Street Gallery and Light House – City Center for Contemporary Arts opened the doors to its partially completed facility in the fall of 2003. The award-winning arts complex houses theater, gallery and film education spaces run by each of the independent organizations.

The organizations hope to finalize their capital campaign, complete unfinished spaces in the building, and provide for long-term maintenance needs by raising funds to match the Bama Works pledge by December 31, 2006.

“Bama Works’ pledge to the completion campaign for City Center is a wonderful way of leading by example,” said organization Chair Thane Kerner. “Their commitment to the arts and philanthropy is without question, but they’re also encouraging our community by saying ‘meet us half way’--which makes their gift doubly powerful.”

Bama Works Fund was established as a part of the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation by the Dave Matthews Band to carry out the band's commitment to charitable works, both close to home and world wide. Bama Works has given to numerous nonprofit organizations, community programs and charities that work for environmental causes, human services, education, and the arts. Dave Matthews Band has also performed at a number of benefit concerts.

For more information about the campaign for City Center for Contemporary Arts, or to make a tax-deductible contribution, please call (434) 293-7552 or visit www.c3arts.org.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Rob Schilling's Campaign Announcement

Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling announced his bid for re-election today from the steps of Clark Elementary School. Despite fears of snow and chilly temperatures, the weather cooperated nicely with bright blue, sunny skies and only some gusty breezes to remind the crowd that it is, indeed, midwinter.

Schilling was joined at the podium by his wife, Joan, and their 2-year-old son, Gabriel, who punctuated his father's remarks with calls for "Daddy, Daddy!" almost as enthusiastically as the three dozen or so Schilling supporters did with their applause and cheers.

Councilor Schilling's re-election web site is now up and running at www.schillingforcouncil.com. The web site makes it easier for supporters to contribute money to the campaign, volunteer to help, and to request yard signs.

Here are the remarks delivered by Rob Schilling this morning at Clark Elementary School:

Good morning and welcome, friends and supporters.

I’d like to thank all of you for attending this event. I’d especially like to thank my wife, Joan for her ongoing encouragement and support during the ups and downs of public service.

Let me get right to the point: Today, I am announcing my candidacy for re-election to the Charlottesville City Council.

For the past four years, it has been my honor and my privilege to serve this community. In service, I have striven to be a voice of reason, a voice of common sense, an open ear and an open mind – a councilor with a willingness to respectfully hear all points of view.

My Record

First, I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss things that have transpired over the past four years of my service to you.

Elected school board
Four years ago, I championed your right to have greater input and accountability in educational policy—I advocated for an elected school board. Together with Jeffrey Rossman and a large bipartisan group of community supporters, we accomplished what many said was impossible to do in Charlottesville. Working cooperatively, like-minded Democrats, Independents, and Republicans successfully removed the power of appointment from the powerful few and entrusted School Board representation decisions to you. While 80% of city council opposed an elected school board, nearly 75% of you, the public, supported the change. I congratulate you on your opportunity to vote for your first elected school board members on May 2.

Fiscal responsibility
Four years ago, I promised you that I would work hard to bring fiscal responsibility to city government. It has been an uphill battle, but I’ve made inroads into the “spend every cent you get” mentality that has been running rampant in city hall for too long. By speaking forcefully against “business as usual” budgeting, a city council, which had shown no inclination otherwise, has been pressed into reducing the property tax rate by a cumulative 8 cents during my first term on council. That amount of property tax rate reductions had not been seen in the previous twenty years, and is no coincidence to my 2002 election. A lone yet strong voice, with a little help from his friends, can really make a difference in city hall.

Citizen Advocacy
Four years ago, I pledged that in my service to you, I would maintain an open door, open mind and open ear policy when dealing with citizen concerns. Unfortunately, too many people in this community, have felt that the doors to city hall have been “closed,”—or at least have not been open in a welcoming manner to citizens’ needs and concerns.

Sadly, this situation had caused many people across this community to simply give up hope of having a voice in their own government. Such a situation was and is intolerable. Whenever possible, I’ve spent the past four years befriending and assisting people of all political affiliations in resolving their issues with city government. I’m grateful for the countless messages of appreciation regarding the ways that I’ve been of help to help residents. The citizens of Charlottesville know that they can trust me to be respectful of them and responsive to their concerns. They know that I’ve stood with them, rather than blindly defending city hall or city staff decisions. I’m humbled that so many of you have trusted me to be your troubleshooter and “voice” inside city hall.

Many of you are personally aware that portions of our city infrastructure are literally falling apart. From sidewalks to streets, from buildings to bricks, the problems we face, and the expenses we’ll incur to repair and maintain our infrastructure investments, are enormous.

For some time now, city officials have pursued a policy of “buying new things and worrying about the old things later.” The massive, $10 million dollar transit center (that already is $4 million dollars over budget) is a good example of wasteful spending on what could have been a well-implemented and far less expensive structure. The $3 million dollar “investment” of your tax dollars into the downtown amphitheater, without proactive and appropriate planning for noise and traffic issues is another example of mis-prioritized spending. During my four years on council I’ve repeatedly called upon the city to reprogram dollars away from potentially nice but strictly unnecessary projects and toward those areas of the city requiring immediate attention. While we’ve had some successes here, there is no excuse other than overall poor planning to justify the current condition of our valuable infrastructure.

The Future
While together, we’ve accomplished so many of the things we envisioned four years ago, there still is much left to do.

This community is in the process of transitioning to an elected school board—it is critical when making any change in a system that there be advocates within, who fully support the changes to be made. I am the only candidate (and only city councilor) who publicly supported making the change to an elected school board. My continued presence on city council provides genuine support and trusted guidance throughout the transition.

City council has the power to decide how school board members will be elected. It is imperative that school board members are elected in a manner that encourages full citizen participation—and in a way that provides the type of broad representation that the citizens of this community deserve. As your city councilor for the next four years, I won’t give up until we have achieved a system of school board elections that benefits all members of the public, and not just the interests of a powerful few.

Cost of Living
Affordable housing is a topic on everyone’s lips; however, more than just the initial cost of housing is a problem. It has become a challenge, particularly for low- and moderate-ncome families and, those on fixed incomes, to live affordably in Charlottesville. Even if a person has managed to purchase a home here, there are constant, debilitating tax and fee increases, year after year.

Escalating property assessments, and accompanying taxes, are burdens shared by homeowners and renters alike. I continue to receive messages from many who are distressed by the latest real estate assessments. This year, citywide assessment increases are around 18%. This is on top of the roughly 15% annual assessment increases levied over each of the past several years.

Many residents are fearful that they’ll be forced out of their homes by high tax bills and, rents continue to rise in response to increased assessments. Some wonder how they’ll continue to make ends meet. And there are many, many others who just don’t know what to do, short of leaving their homes and moving out of the city.

Something can, and must be done about residents’ double-digit annual tax increases, and council has the power to reduce the property tax rate to compensate for soaring assessments.

For years, city council has ridden the comfortable cushion of rising assessments, placing the blame on state and federal governments for our own lack of fiscal discipline.

Each time the issue of fiscal discipline is raised, there is a threat of “service cuts”—however, the threat of cuts rings hollow when your taxes have skyrocketed each year, yet your city services still have been cut or diminished each year.

And, perhaps you didn’t know about the city’s best kept secret: Charlottesville finished last year with a $3.2 million dollar budget surplus. Unfortunately, it already has been spent.

City government must approach its budget in a way that encourages affordable living for ALL residents. I’ve worked for property tax rate cuts and budget reform each year of my council tenure, and we’ve achieved a cumulative 8-cent reduction, but that is not enough. I am the only voice on city council who you can reliably trust to stand up and demand accountability for government spending and to fight for equitable property tax rate reductions. As your city councilor I will continue to work to implement fiscally responsible and disciplined budgeting processes for the next four years.

Other issues
There are so many other problems and issues that face our community, and together, we will continue to work on them.

While some students receive a world-class education in our city schools, unfortunately many students currently are not realizing their full potential. As your city councilor I will continue to support measures designed to increase the achievement of ALL children. Specifically, I’m calling for a greater collaboration with the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, to help us implement, proven, research-based initiatives to eliminate the long-standing achievement gap. We have expertise in our own backyard, which we have not fully utilized.

As a former classroom teacher, I know the value of a well-trained and well-supported educator in every classroom. During the next four years I’ll continue to look for ways to work with the school board to ensure that more resources find their way into our classrooms rather than into Central Office administration.

Overall, for the nearly $13,000 we spend on each student annually, we can and must do better.

Public Safety
No city can be called “number 1 or “orld-class” unless its citizens are safe within its boundaries. While we face many challenges in this community, our fine public safety agencies are working hard, night and day, to ensure our collective wellbeing. However, we do have issues with recruitment and retention, especially in our Police Department. The city council needs to realize that a safe community is a top priority and prioritize its budget accordingly. As your city councilor I will continue to support the efforts of our public safety personnel.

One of my colleagues recently lamented my tenure on council and made specific reference to “the politics of ‘no.’” Well, as we’ve all seen, some things are such a bad idea that the only correct answer IS no. But there have been a lot of “yeses” on my part – for the right things and for the right reasons, as I saw them.

I want to thank all of you who entrusted me with your vote in 2002. Those in this community, who are challenged by my presence, by my questions, and by my loyalties to the public over the power structure, have targeted me for removal, but I’m confident, that together, we will prevail.

I welcome the support of all of you in my re-election —Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—who have trusted me and relied upon me these last four years to be your eyes, ears, and voice inside city hall. I know that with your help, and your vote, we will again secure a victory for the people of Charlottesville on May 2.

I look forward to another four years of service to this community. Thank You.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gay Conservatives and the Internet

Via GayPatriotWest, I learned that this blog is listed among many gay libertarian and gay conservative blogs identified by syndicated columnist/law professor Dale Carpenter in his latest piece on gay politics (written from his own conservative perspective).

Professor Carpenter begins his piece by noting:

Perhaps more than any invention since the printing press, the Internet has decentralized information and opinion. The marketplace of ideas, including ideas about the appropriate tactics and even direction of the gay-rights cause, is more robust than ever. Gay-conservative bloggers and Web sites, of which there are now dozens, are major competitors in this marketplace.
He presents his own personal "top eight list" of gay conservative blogs and informational web sites. You'll notice that several of them are already listed on my blogroll (see sidebar to your right) and others deserve to be:
(1) Independent Gay Forum (www.indegayforum.org): This ought to be the first stop for anyone interested in gay conservative and libertarian views. It features columns from more than 40 different writers (including me) on just about every gay-related topic. It also features a terrific blog called CultureWatch, written by Steve Miller, who has something trenchant to say about everything.

(2) Andrew Sullivan (andrewsullivan.com): Sullivan is the granddaddy of all bloggers, and easily the most widely read gay blogger in the country, getting 70,000 to 80,000 visits a day. Passionate, perceptive, and wickedly smart, he's interesting and challenging even when he's wrong. Cruise him daily.

(3) Jonathan Rauch (www.jonathanrauch.com): Rauch is one of the most influential and finest gay authors on the planet. He writes for respected mainstream publications, like The Atlantic and National Journal , on a wide range of issues. His recent book, Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, is the best and most concise argument for gay marriage I've ever read. While his Web site is not a blog, it will quickly get you to his irreplaceable work.

(4) Bruce Bawer (www.brucebawer.com): Bawer wrote the most important book of the 1990s on gay issues, A Place at the Table . It awakened a generation of gay Americans to the possibility of an alternative to gay-left orthodoxy. Now he's defending classical liberal values against Muslim extremism. Also not a blog, this site will give you entree to Bawer's best stuff.

(5) Beth Elliott (www.thebethzone.com): Elliott, who has been active on gay issues since the 1970s, calls herself "a girl-kissing California girl with a Southern heritage and a Jesuit education." Her irreverent blog effectively takes on lesbian-feminist shibboleths from a libertarian perspective.

(6) Gay Patriot (www.gaypatriot.net): Two skillful and informed pundits take turns whacking at Democrats and the gay left on this blog. It's probably the most reliably conservative gay blog on the Internet.

(7) Tim Hulsey (mystupiddog.blogspot.com): Hulsey, a "gay, conservative grad student and former writing teacher," ruminates articulately on culture and politics. When I want a thoughtful analysis of a movie I'm thinking about seeing, I go to Hulsey's blog.

(8) Jon Rowe (jonrowe.blogspot.com): Rowe is a libertarian college professor with a law degree. His blog covers everything from constitutional theory to sex to religion, all the things one shouldn't talk about in polite company. It is intelligent, refined, and measured – qualities badly lacking in much of the blogosphere.
Carpenter then goes on to say there "are many more good ones," some of which (I am sad to say) I have not previously encountered:
ricksincerethoughts.blogspot.com, bovinestare.typepad.com, lloydletta.blogspot.com, boifromtroy.com, anothergayrepublican.blogspot.com, queer-conservative.blogspot.com, dyneslines.blogspot.com, blogcabinca.org, republicofm.com, rightrainbow.com, homocon.com, gayandright.blogspot.com, northdallasthirty.blogspot.com, thatgayconservative.wordpress.com, bigapplegop.blogspot.com, gayorbit.net, malcontent.typepad.com, averagegayjoe.blogspot.com, cakeordeath.wordpress.com
I am impressed, if by nothing else, by the diversity and creativity of the names that people give their blogs. Some of them are quite clever and pungent.

GayPatriotWest comments:
Because of the growing media marketplace, especially the Internet, gay people no longer have to rely upon left-of-center news and opinion sources for information and commentary on issues of concern to us. Those in the gay media (and at some gay organizations) who wish to suppress our ideas, suggesting that their views reflect that of the gay community can no longer get away with the claim that they speak for all gay people. With the growing number of gay conservative bloggers, there are now gay voices publicly standing up to left-leaning gay organizations and gay media. And we’re reaching an ever-increasing audience.
We live in a different age. Anyone who suggests that the Internet has not transformed politics, the press, and social life is ignoring the obvious

Let the Race Begin

A few political notes from around the state:

On Friday evening, a group of about a dozen libertarian Republican activists met in Fredericksburg with the aim of reinvigorating the Republican Liberty Caucus of Virginia, which has been inactive in recent months. RLC-Virginia chairman Dave Briggman was there, along with Spotsylvania GOP activist (and former state Senate candidate) Shaun Kenney, who was kind enough to set up the meeting and to draw up an agenda. Well-known Virginia bloggers Jon Henke and Tim Hulsey also participated in the meeting.

The group became an ad hoc steering committee and decided to call a state RLC convention for early to mid-May in Charlottesville, contingent on the availability of a venue and an appropriate keynote speaker.

The Republican Liberty Caucus, which can best be characterized as "the Republican wing of the Republican Party," stands for reducing the size and scope of government in the tradition of Barry Goldwater, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan. Several current Members of Congress, including Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona, personify the RLC's approach to politics and policy. RLC Advisory Board member John Shadegg was a candidate for House Majority Leader last month, running a three-way race with Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt and eventual winner, John Boehner of Ohio.

The RLC-Virginia convention will serve as an opportunity for RLC members from around the state to meet each other in a non-virtual fashion. (A lively email list now serves as the primary method of communication among RLC-Virginia members.) The agenda will include electing officers and consideration of endorsements for this fall's elections. Watch this space for more details as plans are concretized.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville news, incumbent City Council member Rob Schilling will announce his re-election bid on Tuesday morning, February 21, at Clark Elementary School. The announcement is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on the side of the school facing Tufton Street.

The Clark School setting is particularly apt because four years ago Schilling promised voters that he would lead the city toward a shift from an appointed to an elected School Board. With overwhelming support from Charlottesville voters and despite near-unanimous opposition from the city's political elites, Councilor Schilling delivered on that promise, so that on May 2, for the first time, Charlottesville voters will have a direct voice in the selection of those who serve on the city's School Board.

Schilling has also served as a taxpayer's watchdog on Council, putting enough pressure on his dais-mates to force through property tax rate reductions (a total of 8 cents in four years) after 20 straight years of rate increases. He was a key proponent for Charlottesville's decision to get rid of those sticky, dreaded personal property tax decals for vehicles, resulting in a savings of $40,000 each year -- not to mention the messy frustration of trying to remove the old stickers from the windshield every year.

Matt Smyth, an analyst at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told the Augusta Free Press last month that "Rob Schilling has been successful in part because he doesn't approach people saying that he is a Republican who advocates every single facet of the Republican Party agenda without fail. He presents himself as a Republican who is also a single member of a five-member city council who can bring to the table certain ideas that maybe aren't represented elsewhere on the council."

The Charlottesville Republican Party will have a mass meeting on March 5 to nominate candidates for City Council. Should he win his party's nomination, Schilling will face likely Democratic nominees Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro (the only announced candidates so far) in November. Independent candidates have until March 7 to turn in 125 valid signatures of registered voters on a petition of candidacy to qualify for the ballot.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

There Is Nothing Like a Dane

Everyone -- that is, everyone who hasn't been living under a rock -- is aware of the controversy that has developed from the printing, way back in September, of several editorial cartoons in a Danish newspaper, cartoons that some Muslims have found so offensive that they have become violent.

For instance, the Washington Post reported today:

Thousands of Muslim protesters enraged over the publication of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad set ablaze the Danish Embassy on Sunday and rampaged through a predominantly Christian neighborhood, dangerously escalating sectarian tensions in a country whose mélange of faiths can sometimes serve as a microcosm of the world's religious divide.
In another article in the same paper, this report from Syria and Palestine:
Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday _ the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, police said.

The controversy illustrates the wide cultural, political, and philosophical divide between the liberal democratic West and the theocratically-inclined, illiberal Muslim East. Another article in the Washington Post notes:
"It's interesting how our ambassadors in Europe see this issue so differently than ambassadors in Islamic countries," said a European diplomat in Turkey, where reaction to the cartoon flap has been relatively muted. "Those in Europe see it as a free speech issue," he said, while diplomats in Muslim countries are agitated.

The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to share confidential diplomatic traffic. The diplomat quoted a cable from his country's Cairo embassy that read: "I can't de-escalate. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are not something I can sell here if it is in conflict with Islam."

The Danish prime minister, to his credit, has refused to buckle under the violence and threat of continuing violence. He argues that his government does not control the press and that freedom of the press includes allowing the press to say things that some people might not like.

Other world leaders are not so principled. The Washington Times reports that
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan argued through a spokesman that press freedom "should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."
And the Vatican, says the Washington Post,
added its voice to Western governments condemning publication of the images. "The right to freedom of thought and expression . . . cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers."
One must ask the Secretary-General, as a black African, whether his warning applies to literature that does not "fully respect" the religious beliefs of the Aryan Nations, originally known as the Church of Jesus Christ Christian. What are these religious beliefs, which, according to Kofi Annan, must be fully respected?
Members of Aryan Nations believe that they are the true chosen people of Israel, and that they are working towards the gathering of their "true" people for Jesus Christ. They feel that they are under an obligation to preserve their race as the one, true race of the world (Aryan Nations: 1). They feel that Adam was of the white race, and that not everyone descended from him, and therefore not everyone is of the true race. The Bible is used to enforce many of the Aryan Nations beliefs, such as that the Bible was written for Abraham and his family. They believe that this relates back to Adam, and in turn, back to them. People of other races are descendants from Cain, who is really a descendant of Satan. They believe Eve seduced Satan, and this resulted in the birth of Cain (Aryan Nations: 2). Wesley Swift and Richard Butler both began to include racism and anti-semitism in their doctrines, and this is still a prominent belief today. The Jews are of a lower class and stem from Eve's original sin, as do all non-white races.

Inter-racial marriage is clearly unacceptable. Coming soon for these people is the end of the race war (Aryan Nations: 2). This is the war that will eventually leave the white race on top. They feel that Christ's Kingdom will eventually be established here on earth, and will throw out all other races who are not worthy of God's love. This group feels that their beliefs all stem from love. This is the force behind their beliefs, and even though to others it seems to be hate-based, they proclaim again and again that it is their love for their race and nation that backs these beliefs. One of their goals is to teach every child of this race who they really are, and to help unite the people of Anglo-Saxon descent in this "race war."

Or let's ask the Vatican if it would be wrong to offend the believers of Tony Alamo, whose Tony Alamo Christian Ministries web site (and countless pieces of printed literature) says things like:
The Vatican is posing as Snow White, but the Bible says that she is a prostitute, “the great whore,” a cult (Rev. 19:2).1 She uses government agency branches in every country, including the United States, as her vicious little dwarfs. The more power and control she gets in government, the more she will fade away into the background in her “Snow White” disguise so that government will be used and blamed for all her evil deeds.

REASON: To enforce laws that harass, malign, destroy, and censor everyone and every idea that is not Roman Catholic so she can sit as the satanic queen (the big whore).
These people hold these religious beliefs sincerely and fervently, but these same beliefs manifest themselves as anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and racist. Are we to refrain from criticizing them because they might offend "religious believers"? Or do the Vatican and Kofi Annan make exceptions for misguided or cultish "believers"? Their statements, as reported, are general and do not seem to allow for such exceptions. They are non-discriminating and, consequently, foolish.

One day in 1993, I was leafing through my recently-acquired copy of the hardbound edition of Peter McWilliams book, Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do. I had to do a double-take when I saw this quotation, on page 36:
In a free society, standards of public morality can be measured only by whether physical coercion -- violence against persons or property -- occurs. There is no right not to be offended by words, actions, or symbols.
I was taken aback because the quotation was attributed to me. Although it was something that I would say, I did not remember saying it. (Months later, I traced the quotation to a letter to the editor that I had written to the Washington Times sometime earlier, in reaction to (of all things!) the arrest of actor Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) in an adult movie theatre in Florida.

I stand by those words today, and I am particularly proud of the Danish government and Danish people, for staying firm in defense of liberal values against the barbarians who would destroy them. (Those other European and American newspapers that have reprinted the "offending" cartoons deserve praise and support, as well.)

The story is well-known that the Danes, even under Nazi occupation in the 1940s, stood up for liberal values by doing what they could, in the form of civil disobedience, to protect the country's Jewish minority. When the Jews were ordered to wear an identifying yellow Star of David on their clothing, the rest of the Danish people did the same -- even the king and royal family. Through this strategy of assimilative confusion, the Danes saved thousands of Jews from torture and death.

A Danish movie that I saw a quarter-century ago expresses well the sense of solidarity that the Danes have engraved on their souls. It is called "You Are Not Alone" (Du Er Ikke Allene), and I recall one of the subplots interwoven into the story was about how the students at a boarding school rebelled against censorship imposed by the school's rather authoritarian adminstrators. Some reviewers at the time suggested that "You Are Not Alone" was a political allegory. Perhaps it is even more clearly such today.

Not only did the Danes protect the Jews during World War II, they have been pro-active in promoting equality and justice for other minorities, as well. In 1989, Denmark became the first Western country to grant the equivalent of marriage rights to gay couples and their families. To be sure, the domestic partnership law was not passed without opposition, but in the 16 years since it took effect, gay couples have become integrated fully into the institutions of society without any evidence of social degradation.

Moreover, although America has many friends around the world, Denmark is the only country that has a celebration on the Fourth of July specifically to mark the Independence Day holiday of the United States. The Rebild Celebrations, as they are known, date back to 1912.

Throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds, there are calls to boycott Danish products. To do my small part to counteract this irrationality, I went shopping today at Foods of All Nations in Charlottesville. I bought a six-pack of Carlsberg beer, a package of Denmark's Finest baby havarti cheese, and a very expensive stick of imported Lurpak butter. I only spent about $15.00, but there weren't a lot of Danish products from which to choose. I did what I could.

By the way, if you want to see the cartoons that started the violence, you can find them at a blog called "Face of Muhammed" (scroll down to the February 1 entry). And if you'd like historical evidence that the prohibition on artistic portrayals of the Prophet Mohammed is recent and not deeply embedded in Muslim culture, check out the Mohammed Image Archive, which notes:
While the debate rages, an important point has been overlooked: despite the Islamic prohibition against depicting Mohammed under any circumstances, hundreds of paintings, drawings and other images of Mohammed have been created over the centuries, with nary a word of complaint from the Muslim world. The recent cartoons in Jyllands-Posten are nothing new; it's just that no other images of Mohammed have ever been so widely publicized.
Confirming this, Muslim scholar Reza Aslan, author of the book No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, said on NPR's "All Things Considered" on Friday:
You do see a number of cases, both in South Asian art and in Sufi art and in Shia art, of depictions of Mohammed. In fact, you can go to any market in Tehran and find paintings of the Prophet Mohammed to buy.
I'm not recommending that you go to a Tehran bazaar to buy a painting of Mohammed. I do recommend that you go to your local supermarket or furniture store and buy something -- anything -- imported from Denmark. (Let me be cheeky and suggest that the first thing you buy be a Danish ham or bacon.)

And if you see a Dane on the street, shake his hand. Give him a hug. Kiss him. He and his countrymen deserve it.

UPDATE, February 8:
There are some tips for buying Danish products at George Mason University's History News Network and at the aptly named Buy Danish Campaign. Banners and logos that can be used on websites can be found at SupportDenmark.com.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

State of the State of the Union

I was going to respond to President Bush's State of the Union Address, which he delivered last night, but then I looked at the text:

Three men's dress shirts (light starch)
One blue blazer
Two men's trousers
Five ties
One grey pinstripe suit
Three ladies' blouses
One blue dress
Three pairs black socks
One jogging suit
One pair tennis shorts
... and decided it's just not worth the effort.

Instead, I thought it would be fun to go back ten years and see what I wrote about another president's list of (unaccomplished) aims. From the Metro Herald in February 1996, here is what I wrote about Bill Clinton's State of the Union message for that year:
State of the Union: But, But, But ...
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.

The difference between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole is this: Although neither Clinton nor Dole really believes in anything, Clinton knows how to fake it. (Long before his 100th birthday, George Burns observed: "Acting is all about sincerity. If you can fake that, you're set for life.")
If the State of the Union Address and Dole's response indeed launched the 1996 presidential campaign, Dole is in for a sad, downhill retreat. The contrast between the two performances was stark: Clinton was relaxed, vigorous, emphatic; Dole was twitchy, anemic, soulless. Yet only in their styles did the contrast shine forth. Though their deliveries were decidedly different, their content was barely distinguishable.
Television -- which is how most Americans observed the Clinton and Dole speeches -- is a visual medium that conveys emotion much better than argument. Neither Clinton nor Dole tried for much substance in their speeches. Their themes rested entirely on feelings.
Indeed, the themes of both politicians were conservative. Clinton sounded much like Ronald Reagan -- something he does often and well, dating to his acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic convention. He emphasizes themes of family, neighborhood, and work -- the same themes that motivated Reagan's winning 1980 presidential campaign. (Reagan himself developed these themes when he stumped the country in the 1950s and ‘60s, and used them effectively in "The Speech" that launched his career as a politician. Delivered on behalf of Barry Goldwater just before the 1964 presidential election, "The Speech" made Reagan the darling of the dawning conservative movement.)
Unfortunately, Clinton does not mean what he says. When he appears to embrace conservative -- even libertarian -- principles, he always has a fallback to traditional, failed liberal policies. In his State of the Union message, Clinton used the word "but" 27 times in 65 minutes. Each time he made a grand statement that conservatives and libertarians could readily and happily agree with -- such as "the era of big government is over" -- he qualified it with a "but." Each "but" meant that "we liberals recognize that conservatives have won over public opinion, so we're telling you we agree with them, even though we're sticking to the same policies we've advocated for thirty years."
In his faltering attempt to respond to Clinton, Dole attacked straw men that must have befuddled most viewers. Most of his attacks rang true for committed conservatives -- accusing Clinton of alignment with elitist special interests, for instance -- but they had little to do with the powerful speech Clinton had just presented. And Dole offered few specifics to distinguish himself and the Republicans from Clinton and the Democrats. He gave us no reason to vote for him, personally, or his party.
Just so. The Republicans and Democrats agree on so much in terms of keeping the government big and intrusive, they must pretend to disagree in order to trade positions of power every four years. Is it any wonder that 60 percent of Americans tell pollsters they'd like to see a third political party emerge to challenge the Republicans and Democrats?
Clinton promised to seek a higher minimum wage. All economists agree that higher minimum wages result in higher unemployment for the most marginalized workers in society -- teenagers getting their first job, illiterate and unskilled workers, single mothers re-entering the workforce after raising their children. By raising costs for businesses, minimum wage laws fatten the welfare rolls.
Dole said nothing about this.
Clinton promised to seek laws that force insurance companies to grant health insurance policies to anyone who wants them, regardless of "pre-existing conditions" (that is, being sick). This will raise the cost of insurance premiums for everyone, making health insurance unaffordable for some -- many -- Americans at a time when government interference in the health care system raises prices across the board.
Dole said nothing about this.
Both Clinton and Dole call for more intrusion into the lives of Americans. In particular, as Clinton pointed out, Republicans and Democrats agree on a number of new programs. Gene Cisewski, chairman of the D.C. Libertarian Party, mentioned a few of these in a post-speech interview: "Calling for mandatory V-chips in TV sets, expanding social programs, building up more arms on our borders, showing off his real live general for a war against the American people, and campaign finance ‘reform' that effectively blocks third parties from political access move this country in a more authoritarian direction."
If the Republicans want to win the 1996 presidential election, they need to find a more dynamic candidate than Dole (perhaps Steve Forbes) who genuinely believes in policy changes that can move the country in a positive direction. If they do end up with Dole, Tuesday's match-up shows that Clinton will mop up the floor with his opponent.
But the ultimate losers will be the American people.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Richard Sincere is chairman of the Libertarian Party of Virginia.

(Doesn't that tagline date the piece?)
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