Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tom Brokaw Smoked Pot ... and Lived to Tell About It!

From a partial transcript of Barbara Walters' interview with former NBC colleague Tom Brokaw on her Sirius radio program on January 28:

BARBARA WALTERS: Did you inhale [marijuana]?


BARBARA WALTERS: OK, well, dumb question, Barbara...well how could you not in those days right?

BARBARA WALTERS: ...What about coke?

TOM BROKAW: Never did it. Not interested in it....what I did was experiment with a little marijuana like a lot of other people and walked away...
In that same interview -- excerpted on Media Bistro's TV Newser blog -- Brokaw expresses some optimism about the 2008 election, saying that its results will not be the consequence of racism or sexism. Answering a question about the prospects of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Brokaw said:
A lot of people have said to me, is this country prepared to elect a woman? Is this country prepared to elect a black man? And my line has been, if either of them don't get elected, it will be for issues other than race or gender which I really believe that. I think that they both have done extraordinarily well up to this point; both of them. And race and gender has not had a whole lot to do with it. Race did come into play in South Carolina. I was down there the Monday before and a lot of my young, African American friends, and I do have several in South Carolina, said to me: It's kind of a generational split going on here. The older folks are worried that if they vote for him he won't be able to win next fall because he's a black man. And I looked around at the Martin Luther King rally and I thought, I don't care what age you are, if you live in South Carolina and you're an African American and you can go into the voting booth tomorrow and vote for a credible African American presidential candidate forty years after the death of Dr. King, you're going to do that and with good reason.
Brokaw's comments came before the Florida primary. We'll see what he's saying next Tuesday night.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Blast from the Past

While going through some old VHS videotapes in my collection -- many of them with no identifying marks -- I came across this promotional video made for the Ethics and Public Policy Center in 1985, shortly after the Center published my first book.

This is a fascinating look back at the political climate of the mid-1980s. While many of the domestic issues discussed in the video are still current (especially with regard to education policy), images of the menacing Soviet threat seem like a relic from another century -- which, of course, they are -- but no less frightening for that.

Besides myself, this video includes cameo appearances by Ronald Reagan, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Casper Weinberger, Chester Finn, Linda Chavez, Orrin Hatch, Yonas Deressa, Ethiopian bishop Abba Mathias, and others. EPPC staff members who appear and in the video include founding president Ernest W. Lefever and Robert Royal, now with the Faith and Reason Institute. Alert viewers might catch a passing glance of other staffers, such as Raymond English, Carol Griffith, and Margaret Webb. Really alert viewers will see the faces of Elaine Rendler, David Rothbard, John Chettle, John Montgomery, and various journalists, think-tank scholars, and academics in the scenes of seminars and conferences.

What is refreshing about this video, which was, as I said, made for promotional purposes, is that there is no direct appeal for financial contributions to the Center. This was no doubt what the Center's directors had in mind when they authorized the video's production, but their reticence to ask for money in so many words is admirable.

What is striking, too, about the video is that it is more than just a brochure-made-for-television. It has a narrative arc, as a good documentary film should have, and it ties together its disparate elements in a thematic fashion. It does so effectively. I don't know -- or, rather, don't remember -- who wrote the script, but whoever it was should be proud of the accomplishment. It wouldn't win an Oscar for Best Documentary-Short Subject, but it is well-crafted and much better than similar videos of this genre from that era.

A small portion of this video could be used as a commercial for my book, The Politics of Sentiment. It also includes a snippet of my first appearance on CNN, in an early incarnation of Crossfire with Pat Buchanan and Tom Braden (the inspiration for the character played by Dick Van Patten on Eight Is Enough). My opponent in the crossfire that evening was Dr. Helen Caldicott of Physicians for Social Responsibility and we were discussing civil defense policy. Somewhere I have a Betamax recording of that entire program, and I am flummoxed as far as figuring out how to convert it to DVD and then to AVI or Windows Media.

(At nearly 13 minutes, this clip is too long to post on YouTube in one piece, but fortunately Blogger now includes video upload capability. This is my first attempt to post a video directly through Blogger, rather than posting it on YouTube first and then embedding the code in my blogpost. You bloggers will understand the difference.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Poignant ‘Glory Days’ at Signature

This past Sunday night I saw a new musical at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Glory Days, with book by James Gardiner and music and lyrics by Nick Blaemire. Here is my review for The Metro Herald:

A Poignant ‘Glory Days’ at Signature
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

Do not be misled by Glory Days, the title of a new musical now having its world premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, with its allusion to a hit song by Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen’s first verse tells of a middle-aged man, drinking in a bar, reminiscing ruefully of his time as a high school sports star. The four characters in Glory Days (the musical) are brought together through quite the opposite experience: failing to make the school’s football team their freshman year.

What Glory Days (the musical) and “Glory Days” (the rock song) have in common is a theme of nostalgia for an earlier time. The contrast cannot be clearer, however, because the characters in Springsteen’s song are all well-past high school and the characters in the new musical by Nick Blaemire (music and lyrics) and James Gardiner (book) are only a year past graduation. One wonders, superficially, what these young pups have to be nostalgic about. On deeper reflection, however, one finds a painfully accurate portrayal of what the interior life of a teenager is like, and how much that interior life is influenced by relationships with his peers.

Glory Days also has a thematic connection to Merrily We Roll Along, the venerable (if flawed) Stephen Sondheim musical that opened Signature’s current season. Both plays are meditations on friendship and its meaning. Both plays portray the fault lines that can develop between (and among) friends. Both plays express a yearning for having a life “like it was” (in Sondheim’s phrase) and a regret that “things are different” (in Blaemire and Gardiner’s version). As an exploration of friendship, however, Glory Days succeeds in ways that Merrily We Roll Along fails.

Musically, the two shows could not be more different, and though it would be cruel to contrast the efforts of neophyte songwriter Blaemire with those of the mature Sondheim, it would be also be fair to note that the music in Glory Days is rather homogenized, with any one song indistinct from the others. The sameness may benefit the young cast, however, because while the music is not very challenging to a singer, the clever and sometimes rapid lyrics can be. Blaemire’s score is a bland mix of pop, folk-pop, and commercial jingles without any stand-out selections. This is not to say the score is bad. It is, in fact, pleasant and does the job it is intended to do.

That job is to provide an opportunity for each of the four boys (some more than others) to express their interior monologues in a theatrically acceptable way. The choice to musicalize these texts is one that makes much more sense, dramatically, than to take the route that few playwrights other than Eugene O’Neill can do without seeming stilted and unconvincing. (And even O’Neill faltered more than once.)

Glory Days takes place in real time: Four high school friends, now 19 years old, meet on the bleachers of the football field after a year away at college and on the night before a big alumni football match. One of the boys suggests a prank to play, to get back at the jocks and preps who made such fun of them during their school days. This is the closest that Glory Days gets to a traditional plot, for the play is not so much about what happens exteriorly as what is happening to each of the boys interiorly.

What Blaemire and Gardiner get, just-so, is the sense of nearly every adolescent that, even if he is as normal as one can be, he is either abnormal or extraordinary. (Bob Fosse dealt with the same set of issues in Pippin more than 35 years ago, in a far different manner and with a much more memorable score by Stephen Schwartz that included the songs “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary,” expressing that adolescent angst precisely and humorously.) The four boys of Glory Days believe they were misfits without knowing that virtually all their classmates and teammates believed the same thing about themselves.

While Glory Days is an ensemble piece, the story (such as it is) really centers on Will (Stephen Booth), who is alone on stage when the play begins and again when the play ends. Will is a diarist who writes about his pals and his relationship/s with them – he has secretly been keeping a journal about them since they met, expressed in song in “My Three Best Friends.” Will is also the instigator of the plot – he has invited his friends to join him on the football field at midnight so that they can relive their high-school friendship after a year of being apart.

It is here that the story strains credulity, simply because Glory Days is set in the present. How is it possible that four friends in the era of email, Facebook, and txt msgs could have been incommunicado with each other for a year? In 2008, teenage friends are in constant communication with each other, regardless of where they might have traveled to college.

Had Blaemire and Gardiner chosen to set this play in the not-so-distant past – even as recently as the early 1990s, but perhaps more believably in 1978 rather than 2008 – this problem would not arise. With a few minor adjustments, directors of future productions of Glory Days should endeavor to fix this.

Moving past that minor glitch, the “three best friends” arrive, and each of them is a distinct personality with an individual story to tell. Will and Andy (Andrew C. Call) have been college roommates, but know each other none the better for that fact – revealed in the song “We’ve Got Girls,” in which they dispute each other’s successes and failures on the playing field of love and lust.

In “Open Road,” Jack (Jesse JP Johnson) brings tension to the quartet when he reveals, subtly yet decisively that, after dropping out of college and taking a month-long road trip, he has discovered he is gay. Learning this, Andy feels lied-to and betrayed, but tries to keep his anger under wraps for as long as he can.

The most “adult” of the four is Skip (Adam Halpin) who, in college, has abandoned his straight-edge previous self (his father a military officer, Skip was in Junior ROTC for four years) for what the other boys call a “hippie” look. To us, Skip appears quite clean-cut but the reaction of his friends tells us that his moderately long hair seems to be in a different universe than that of his crewcutted, high-school self.

The four actors playing these roles are perfectly suited to their characters. No doubt director Eric Schaeffer worked with them long hours to help them create back stories for each boy. (These back stories are intimated in a two-page spread in the play’s printed program, meant to suggest a high-school yearbook, with autographs and listings of activities, favorite songs, and quotations.) All four deserve commendation, but Booth’s Will gives the play its heart.

Will fears growing up. Although he is just 12 months past graduation, he has idealized high school as a carefree time even as he remembers himself (and his three best friends) as misfits, alienated from the rest of their classmates. Neither recollection is entirely accurate, of course, and the conflict between these two visions is what animates the discord among the four friends. It is within this dichotomy that Blaemire and Gardiner have captured so perfectly the anxious yet hopeful psychology of the late teenager. (That this inner conflict applies so particularly to smart, creative types may be why it took a team of 23-year-olds to write and compose this show.)

When it comes right down to it, Glory Days is a likeable show. I liked it. Despite its imperfections, I can foresee Glory Days having a successful future in the repertoire of college and community theatres. With its four-person cast, its small instrumental ensemble (keyboard, guitar, drums, and bass, here under the direction of Derek Bowley), its single set, and a running time of under 90 minutes, it is ready-made for theatrical companies on a tight budget that want to showcase their young (and male) talent.

Not every small company will be able to replicate the amazingly simple yet evocative set by James Kronzer and terrifically effective lighting design by Mark Lanks, but most should be able to approximate the contemporary, generic-yet-individual costumes designed by Sasha Ludwig-Seigel. Signature’s design team has set the bar high for future productions.

On their first outing, the team of Nick Blaemire and James Gardiner may not see themselves immediately proclaimed the next Kander & Ebb, but they prove that they are competent and talented enough to produce more, and more complex, works in the years to come. (They have also written a second musical, called Millennials, not yet produced.) To paraphrase the master, “Here’s to them! Who’s like them? Damn few.”

Glory Days runs through February 17 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, Virginia. For more information, visit Single tickets for the world premiere of Glory Days are on sale through Ticketmaster at 703-573-7328 and through

Addendum: Peter Marks reviews Glory Days in Friday's Washington Post; that newspaper earlier ran a small feature on the show's costume design choices. Jayne Blanchard gives her take on the show in Friday's Washington Times, while Metro Weekly's Tom Avila posted his review on Thursday.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Silent Cal Talks!

For this, I have to give a hat tip to Dan Mitchell, who writes on the Cato@Liberty blog:

Many advocates of limited government are rather unhappy with the GOP’s fiscal record in recent years. Yet even after losing Congress in part because of fiscal profligacy, it seems that Republicans have not learned any lessons. The major candidates for the Republican presidential nomination have conspicuously failed to identify programs they would cut and departments they would eliminate — presumably because they have no interest in reducing the burden of government. But then I found this video, which shows that it is possible to be a Republican who believes in smaller government.
And here is the video he mentions, the first sound film of a U.S. president, recorded by radio and film pioneer Lee De Forest on the White House lawn:

Calvin Coolidge, like Grover Cleveland, is a president who does not get the credit he deserves for strict adherence to the Constitution and its vision of limited government, with clearly defined powers allotted to the federal government, and rights retained by the people. It is nice to learn that at least one of his speeches has been preserved in both sound and image.

Useful Conversational Distinctions

Michael Wex, author of Born to Kvetch and Just Say Nu, has a monthly language column in the Jewish Daily Forward. In his latest piece, he points out a distinction of some importance in spoken Yiddish, since making the wrong syntactical choice could prove to be quite embarrassing. Here he is pointing out basic terms for polite conversation about the weather:

Basic Precipitation


It’s raining

It’s pouring out there



e-mail [lit., “lightning post”]


It’s snowing

Not fit for a dog outside [lit., “It’d be a sin to put a dog out”]


to slip, slide, skate
Then he adds:
A distinction that shouldn’t be overlooked:

I’m hot

I’m cold


I’m horny

I’m frigid

There’s nothing more embarrassing than sitting in a stuffy room and saying, “Am I the only one here who’s horny?” without even knowing that you’ve done so.
If I recall, both German and French have similar pitfalls. In German, the word "warm" means, in most contexts, what the word "warm" means in English. But to say "I am warm" or "It is warm," one says, in German, "Es ist warm." (I am reaching back to German 101 in college, so I am open to correction.) If one says, in German, "Ich bin warm," (literally, "I am warm"), the colloquial meaning is "I am homosexual (gay)."

Oops! Be careful if you say that in a steam bath.

As for French, a BBC web site provides this useful information:
In France, I popped into a restaurant to cool down as it was boiling hot and I had just been on a bike ride and was sweating like mad. When I tried to explain to the waitress that I was hot - Je suis chaud - she looked outraged and marched off, refusing to take my order. It was only later that I realised that I had said I was hot ... for her!

Editor's note: One to definitely look out for! To say you're feeling hot, in the context of temperature, you need to use avoir chaud, ie. j'ai chaud. Using être with chaud implies you're feeling 'horny'!
This item elicited comments from readers to confirm the point:

Similarly, if one is feeling cold, one mustn't say in German ich bin kalt, which means "I am frigid". The correct phrase is mir ist kalt.
Sent by: Mariam

I am really glad to have discovered this. I have told my French neighbour's wife many times that je suis chaud and worse still, I have said it to her husband and her son.
Sent by: Ped

In Québec, je suis chaud can also mean 'I'm drunk'.
Sent by: Sam

* * *

You need to watch out with the hot vs. horny in Spanish as well; a friend of mine, sitting in the livingroom of her Spanish parents in law, declined an offer to have tea with No gracias, estoy caliente. What she should have said was Tengo calor.
Sent by: Julia

I lived in Germany and was sick one day, so wasn't thinking properly. I said Ich bin heiß, ich muss ins Bett gehen, hoping to say 'I'm feverish, I need to go to bed' but instead saying 'I'm horny, I need to get to bed.'
Sent by: Heather

I wonder what kind of response Heather received?

Plan Your SOTU Party Now

President George W. Bush will make his final State of the Union Address a week from today, on Monday, January 28, before a Joint Session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol. John McCaslin offers some ideas for how best to enjoy the speech in his "Inside the Beltway" column, which appears in the Washington Times and other newspapers:

We had reminded readers [January 17] that President Bush's final State of the Union address will be delivered on Monday, Jan. 28, at 9 p.m.

Now we are reminded of a popular pastime held each year, "The State of the Union Drinking Game 2008."

Organizers say: "If all goes well, you'll be unconscious by the time they show the other party's response."

New rules will be in place this year, but last year, every time the president said "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," players had to take two gulps of their chosen beverage, and swallow a third if Mr. Bush pronounced the Iranian president's name correctly.

In addition, players had to take one shot of extra-virgin olive oil every time Mr. Bush said "addicted to oil," as well as one shot of tequila when he said "illegal immigration."
Coincidentally, I just bought a bottle of tequila last week, so now I'm thinking of hosting a viewing party for this year's SOTU. Anyone care to join me?

Friday, January 18, 2008

An Interview with Shakiem Evans of 'High School Musical'

The first time I saw any portion of Disney's High School Musical, I was standing in the electronics department of Wal-Mart, and there was a video playing on several TV screens. I did not recognize what I saw, but as I watched for about a quarter-hour, I could not help but think, "This is a well-crafted movie musical. Why haven't I seen it before?" Eventually, a couple of visual clues helped me to realize that what I was watching was the DVD of High School Musical, the phenomenon that began on the Disney Channel and burst forth into popular culture as a CD, ice-skating show, arena concert, a sequel, and -- since January 2007 -- legitimate stage musical.

The only time I have seen the full-length HSM was when the Disney Channel ran a "pop-up video" version on Thanksgiving weekend in 2006. Believe me, I learned more about the making of that movie than I ever thought it was possible to know. But that viewing confirmed my earlier thought that High School Musical is well-written, well-directed, and well-shaped. As an introduction to the musical-theatre form, teens and tweens could do much worse.

The stage version of High School Musical is coming to the National Theatre in Washington. Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to interview one of the actors in that production, Shakiem Evans, who plays "Chad Danforth." I wrote an article for The Metro Herald based on that interview, and here it is:

‘High School Musical’ Takes to the Stage:
A Chat with Actor Shakiem Evans
Rick Sincere
Metro Herald Entertainment Editor

(WASHINGTON) --- The High School Musical phenomenon – which began as a Disney Channel TV movie, climbed to the top of the CD and DVD charts, morphed into an arena concert, and spawned a TV-movie sequel – has become a legitimate stage musical. This latest incarnation arrives at the National Theatre in Washington on February 5.

The Metro Herald had an opportunity to speak with actor Shakiem Evans, who plays Chad Danforth (the role originated by Corbin Bleu in the Disney Channel movie), by telephone from Memphis, where High School Musical is on tour as it winds its way towards Washington.

Evans, a professional actor since he was 13 years old, grew up in Hillside, New Jersey, and attended Arts High School in Newark. His parents would take him to auditions in New York City as a child and eventually he landed the role of the early-adolescent Tito Jackson in the TV miniseries, “The Jacksons - An American Dream.” There is still wonder in Evans’ voice when he explains that “my first job was as Tito Jackson opposite Angela Bassett.” That 1992 production also featured Billy Dee Williams, Terrence Howard, Holly Robinson Peete, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs.

He learned a lot on that first job. “For that to be my first professional acting experience, working with Angela Basset and Vanessa Williams,” Evans says, is “where I got a lot of my foundation” as an actor. He learned, he says, “mostly from observation. I’m a very introverted type of person; I like to sit back and watch.”

Seeing Angela Bassett – an Oscar-nominated, Yale School of Drama-trained actress – at work, he explains, “was really an inspirational experience.”

He remembers how, “between takes, Angela would sit and still be in character – even after the director yelled ‘cut!’ It was such a great learning experience for me because,” when filming on location, “you have all these distractions. There are extras in the background and onlookers from the neighborhood, but your job as an actor is to produce when it’s time to produce.”

“The Jacksons” miniseries took several months to make, and the cast traveled to Pittsburgh and California for filming. “My family traveled with me,” Evans recalls, “and we had tutors because we still did our schooling on the set.”

During high school, Evans continued to make commercials and participated in musical theatre. He muses how the character he plays in High School Musical has much in common with classmates who would make fun of him in high school for wanting to sing and perform. The role of Chad Danforth, he says, “is really a lot like the opposite of what I was in high school.”

After high school, Evans took what he calls “a break,” attending the prestigious drama program at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. After filming part of “The Jacksons” in that city, he explains, “I was familiar with the Carnegie-Mellon name, and a director I worked with in high school recommended certain schools and conservatories” – Carnegie-Mellon among them. “I knew I wanted to go to a school that was acting based. This was a very hard program.” At Carnegie-Mellon, “they had a ‘cutting’ system where after every semester, if they felt you were not progressing with the rest of the class, you were cut – it was a hard, rigorous program that prepared me for life in the business.”

Evans was part of the original cast of the new stage version of High School Musical when it premiered in Atlanta early last year. “I play the role of Chad,” which, it turns out, “was one of the hardest roles to cast.” At the time they were casting High School Musical, “I was working on Broadway in Mamma Mia!; my agent called and said they were looking for the role of Chad; they had auditioned hundreds or thousands of kids for all the roles in the show. When I auditioned, they offered me the role the same day.”

All of the songs are the same as in the television version, except there are two additional songs for the stage show. One of those is called “Cellular Fusion,” which occurs when Troy (played by Zac Efron on TV and by John Jeffrey Martin on stage) tells Chad he got a role in their school’s musical. Chad immediately gets on his cell phone to tell Zeke this news, which gets transmitted student-by-student in the distorted way that messages travel in the parlor game of “Telephone.” In this case, however, the actors on stage use real cell phones – something that brings a contemporary feel to High School Musical.

Although much of his work has been in film and on television – his other credits include parts on “Providence” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” – Evans enjoys the unique experience of performing before a live audience.

“There’s nothing like having a live audience and experiencing their emotions, exchanging emotions with them. We feed off the energy of the audience, and you can’t get that in television or film. I do all of them [different media] for different reasons,” says Evans, and “this is one of the reasons” I work on stage.

The national tour schedule is harsh. The show stays in most cities for only a week at a time, sometimes two. “The longest run we had was in Toronto – we mostly do one-weekers, occasionally do two weeks, but we did three weeks in Chicago and Philly, four weeks in Toronto – and it can be hard. We do eight shows a week, just like a Broadway schedule. Your one day a week off is a travel day, so it’s hard to stay healthy.”

In an effort to do that -- stay healthy -- Evans does yoga and tries to work out every day. His first stop in every city is a supermarket, so he can stock up on fruit. “If you’re living in a hotel, there’s no chance to cook. And if you stay in a hotel downtown, there is fast food galore, but not a lot of healthy options, so you have to do the best you can.”

That’s why physical exercise is so important to Evans. “We’ve been on the road for almost seven months,” he says, “and it’s really important to stay focused and stay centered. One week we were in three different time zones!” It is no wonder that, in Evans’ words, “The hotels blend together, the theatres blend together,” and that’s why “you do the best you can to find a gym, eat healthy, do sports outside, so you’re not in the hotel all day and only have the time on stage for physical activity.”

Despite growing up and working primarily on the East Coast, the arrival of High School Musical will be Evans’ first professional visit to Washington. Consequently, he says, “I’m looking forward to being in Washington. A lot of my [nearby] family will be coming to visit me because I’ve never performed in D.C. before. This is my first touring experience, so I’m able to visit a lot of places that I never would have seen without being in High School Musical.”

With regard to the show itself, Evans says, “if people enjoyed the movie, they’re really going to enjoy our show. We respect the movie. We’re professional actors,” and, by choice, they are not trying to replicate the television experience. “I’m not trying to imitate Corbin Bleu, who played Chad on TV. Our director doesn’t want us to mirror the performances in the movie. He has respected us as actors.”

The theme of High School Musical, Evans says, is “about being yourself: As long as you’re doing your best and not hurting others, and doing what you love to do, the rest will take care of itself.”

After Washington, High School Musical will play at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore before heading to Des Moines, Minneapolis, Seattle, and Salt Lake City. A tour of the United Kingdom (with a different cast, of course) begins on January 23 in Bromley.

High School Musical opens at the National Theatre on February 5 and plays through February 17. Ticket prices range from $41.50 to $86.50, with a limited number of premium seats available on weekends at $126.50. Tickets are available at the National Theatre Box Office and through Telecharge at (800) 447-7400 or at
I will be seeing the stage version of High School Musical (or, what I have come to call "High School Musical: The Musical") on Super Tuesday, February 5. Art trumps politics.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Budget Transparency Catching On

Last week I wrote about proposals in the Virginia General Assembly to put all of the state's budget information on line in an easily searchable format. In his remarks at a news conference announcing the legislation aimed at achieving this goal, state Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) mentioned in passing that he would like to see the same thing done at the local level, noting that Fairfax County's budget is in the $6 billion range, "a sixth of the state budget."

Cuccinelli and others at the Tertium Quids-sponsored news conference pointed toward the Missouri state government's budget web site as a model for Virginia.

Now other states are riding the budget transparency wave, too, including Missouri's neighbor, Oklahoma. On his blog, which often deals with state issues in his home state, Nevada political activist Chuck Muth writes about what's going on in Oklahoma:

The Sooner State has joined a growing number of government entities openly embracing budgetary transparency by putting its finances online. Its Open Books website is “loaded with information” which enables taxpayers to determine for themselves if their tax dollars are being spent wisely.

Granted, the website is a work in progress. Far more detailed information is needed and surely will be provided eventually. For example, “Miscellaneous Administrative Expenses” should be broken down into specific expenditures, to whom and for what purpose. But this transparency website is light years ahead of anything Nevada taxpayers currently have at their disposal.

Open Books is a searchable website which mirrors the budgetary database being created at the federal level thanks to bi-partisan legislation co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Democrat Sen. Barack Obama. It’s the latest in a growing movement to use this Internet thingy Al Gore invented to help taxpayers see for themselves if they’re getting all the government they’re paying for, and then some.

This is an idea whose time has come...
As I previously noted, the legislation to make budget transparency a reality in Virginia has already been submitted for consideration by the General Assembly in this session. Delegate Ben Cline (R-Amherst) has introduced HB1360, with the short title "Searchable budget database website," while Senator Cuccinelli has introduced SB585, with the same short title.

A Legal Anniversary

Over at Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway has an informative post about a historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, issued fifty years ago today, in the case of ONE Incorporated v. Oleson. It was the first Supreme Court case that ruled in favor of a gay organization (or, for that matter, gay individual) seeking relief from discriminatory government action.

Burroway writes:

[The October 1954 issue of ONE] was enough for the Los Angeles Post Office to seize that issue — the one with “You Can’t Print It!” on the cover — and charge the editors with violating the 1873 Comstock Act, which prohibited sending “obscene, lewd, and/or lascivious” material through the mail.

The editors were eager to sue the Post Office, but ONE’s financial condition was so perilous that they held off for nearly a year. Jubler took the case for free and looked for help from the ACLU, but they wouldn’t touch it — the ACLU was still defending anti-sodomy laws at the time. Finally it was up to young Jubler alone to argue ONE’s case in federal district court that the magazine was educational and not pornographic. It didn’t go well. The judge ruled for the Post Office in March 1956, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in February 1957, calling ONE “morally depraving and debasing” and saying that the magazine “has a primary purpose of exciting lust, lewd and lascivious thoughts and sensual desires in the minds of persons reading it.”

ONE then took its case to the U.S. Supreme Court. To everyone’s surprise, the Court agreed to take the case, its first ever dealing with homosexuality. Even more surprising, the Supreme Court issued its short, one-sentence decision on January 13, 1958 without hearing oral arguments. That decision not only overturned the two lower courts, but the Court expanded the First Amendment’s free speech and press freedoms by effectively limiting the power of the Comstock Act to interfere with the written word. As a result, lesbian and gay publications could be mailed without legal repercussions, though many continued to experience harassment from the Post Office and U.S. Customs.

I thought I could not find the full text of the Supreme Court's decision until I reread that last paragraph, which mentions "its short, one-sentence decision." Then I realized I had, in fact, found the complete ruling but was mislead by its brevity. Here is the complete decision as issued fifty years ago today, January 13, 1958:
U.S. Supreme Court
ONE, INCORPORATED, v. OLESEN, 355 U.S. 371 (1958)
355 U.S. 371

Decided January 13, 1958.

241 F.2d 772, reversed.

Eric Julber for petitioner.

Solicitor General Rankin, Acting Assistant Attorney General Leonard and Samuel D. Slade for respondent.


The petition for writ of certiorari is granted and the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed. Roth v. United States, 354 U.S. 476.

Page 355 U.S. 371, 372
That's just a bit more verbose than Clarence Thomas during oral arguments.

Wikipedia also has some background on ONE in this article.

Who Runs the Buggy-Whip Concession?

In his most recent syndicated column (which I saw in this morning's Daily Progress in Charlottesville, but had to be found on line in the Topeka Capital-Journal), former Texas agriculture commissioner Jim Hightower writes:

Sergio Olaya is a 21-year-old college student who has had to drop out of school because of our country's messed up health insurance system....

Ironically, Mr. Olaya's job is in the U.S. Senate. He runs an elevator on which our honorable solons ride everyday.
The point of Hightower's column is to make a plea for government-provided health insurance for all Americans, but that's not what caught my eye.

What grabbed me was the notion that the U.S. Senate is paying someone to be an elevator operator -- in 2008!

Are our Senators so weak that they cannot press the buttons to take them from the ground floor to the third floor? From the basement to the penthouse?

Can there be a more archaic, unnecessary job than running an automatic elevator?

What other 19th-century jobs are being paid for on Capitol Hill by the money taken from taxpayers?

Perhaps if Congress got rid of the deadbeats on their payroll, they could refund some of those taxes so people are better able to afford health insurance on their own, without the government control that Hightower so strongly desires.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Question Was Answered Six Years Ago

Why is Jamie Kirchick's story in The New Republic about distasteful passages in newsletters published under Ron Paul's name nearly two decades ago getting so much attention?

Those passages were raised by Dr. Paul's opponent in the congressional election of 1996 and discussed widely at that time. The voters in the 14th District of Texas did not seem perturbed by the revelations.

And in an October 2001 profile in Texas Monthly (not a right-wing publication by any stretch of the imagination), Dr. Paul discussed the newsletters in a straightforward manner with reporter S.C. Gwynne:

Paul's return to congressional politics.... happened in 1996. With Nolan Ryan as his honorary campaign chairman, he entered a bruising Republican primary against incumbent Greg Laughlin, who had switched parties the year before. Paul was now running in a new district, the 14th (he had moved his residence from Lake Jackson to his beach house in Surfside). It was a demographic oddity that connected the Gulf Coast and Central Texas and included the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe lower river basins and the small cities of Victoria, San Marcos, and Freeport. Paul immediately discovered that the electoral ground rules had changed: With the Democrats trying to regain control of the House, which they had lost two [ ] years earlier, and Speaker Newt Gingrich backing Laughlin, whom GOP regulars viewed as the stronger candidate, someone who had run for president on the Libertarian ticket—and who had advocated things like the repeal of federal drug laws and an end to the "so-called drug war"—was now a much bigger and more visible target. "My image was completely different in 1996 than in 1976," Paul says. "You can't just get passed off as an average Republican having done what I did. We got hit hard."

Most of the hitting was on the drug issue, first by Laughlin, whom Paul beat convincingly in a runoff, then by Charles "Lefty" Morris, Paul's opponent in the general election. Morris was certain that Paul's radical views would discredit him with voters. "We just have to get his ideas out, and people will know what he really stands for," Morris said at the time. He ran ads saying that Paul advocated the legalization of illegal drugs, which was not entirely accurate. Though some of Paul's public remarks had suggested that he supported full drug legalization, his official position was (and is) that federal drug laws ought to be repealed: Let the states handle all drug laws. Then Morris' subalterns dug up something even more damaging to Paul: copies of a 1992 newsletter he had published that contained racially tinted remarks.

They caused a minor sensation. In one issue of the Ron Paul Survival Report, which he had published since 1985, he called former U.S. representative Barbara Jordan a "fraud" and a "half-educated victimologist." In another issue, he cited reports that 85 percent of all black men in Washington, D.C., are arrested at some point: "Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the 'criminal justice system,' I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal." And under the headline "Terrorist Update," he wrote: "If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet-footed they can be."

In spite of calls from Gary Bledsoe, the president of the Texas State Conference of the NAACP, and other civil rights leaders for an apology for such obvious racial typecasting, Paul stood his ground. He said only that his remarks about Barbara Jordan related to her stands on affirmative action and that his written comments about blacks were in the context of "current events and statistical reports of the time." He denied any racist intent. What made the statements in the publication even more puzzling was that, in four terms as a U. S. congressman and one presidential race, Paul had never uttered anything remotely like this.

When I ask him why, he pauses for a moment, then says, "I could never say this in the campaign, but those words weren't really written by me. It wasn't my language at all. Other people help me with my newsletter as I travel around. I think the one on Barbara Jordan was the saddest thing, because Barbara and I served together and actually she was a delightful lady." Paul says that item ended up there because "we wanted to do something on affirmative action, and it ended up in the newsletter and became personalized. I never personalize anything."

His reasons for keeping this a secret are harder to understand: "They were never my words, but I had some moral responsibility for them . . . I actually really wanted to try to explain that it doesn't come from me directly, but they [campaign aides] said that's too confusing. 'It appeared in your letter and your name was on that letter and therefore you have to live with it.'" It is a measure of his stubbornness, determination, and ultimately his contrarian nature that, until this surprising volte-face in our interview, he had never shared this secret. It seems, in retrospect, that it would have been far, far easier to have told the truth at the time.

That controversy ought to have destroyed him. Lefty Morris certainly thought it would, and things looked even bleaker for Paul when the AFL-CIO kicked in with a heavy rotation of anti-Paul ads. That may explain why, even after midnight on Election Day, when the newspapers were all giving the election to Paul, Morris still refused to concede. He simply couldn't believe it.
I would like to highlight something that Gwynne wrote in that article, quoted above:
What made the statements in the publication even more puzzling was that, in four terms as a U. S. congressman and one presidential race, Paul had never uttered anything remotely like this.
This has been the most common reaction in the past few days from people who have known Ron Paul, who have followed his career, and who are familiar with the issues that motivate him and the way he expresses himself.

Let me speak from my own experience as someone who has met Dr. Paul on several occasions, all of which were characterized by civility, politesse, and good humor. I have never seen any evidence from Ron Paul the man that he has a hateful thought or possesses an animus against any group or individual. He, like most libertarians, is focused on ideas, ideas principally aimed at promoting human dignity, individual liberty, and personal responsibility.

Nearly fifteen years ago, I was running for the Virginia House of Delegates (in the 49th District, then completely within Arlington County, one of the most heavily Democratic and liberal districts in the state).

The campaign took place during the period that, according to Kirchick, "Ron Paul" was making derogatory, anti-gay remarks in "his" newsletters. As it happens, I was running as an openly-gay candidate for the Virginia General Assembly. (It was my second run for that office after a previous attempt in a special election in January 1991. The same district currently has an openly-gay Democrat representing it in Richmond.)

During that 1993 campaign, Ron Paul issued a letter on my behalf, soliciting funds from libertarians and votes from constituents. (We sent the letter to both groups.) Dr. Paul (then a former Congressman) was aware I was running as an openly-gay candidate and he raised no questions, concerns, or objections. I hardly think a homophobic bigot would have sent out a fundraising letter over his own signature, endorsing (as the Washington Times stylebook would have it) an "avowed homosexual" for public office.

Did Ron Paul exercise poor judgment in allowing others to publish badly-written newsletter articles under his name? Yes -- and that is something that he acknowledged more than a decade ago, and quite explicitly in that 2001 Texas Monthly article. He has taken responsibility for his error, owned up to it, and did not even beg for forgiveness. In fact, he has reacted to this smear attempt in a cool, evenhanded, and direct manner.

If people want to dredge up the past of politicians, how about paying attention to the way Mike Huckabee has consorted with Christian Reconstructionists, who want to institute a sort of sharia law in the United States that would include the death penalty for adulterers and homosexuals?

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Virginia Presidential Primary FAQ

Although "Super Tuesday" will occur on February 5, with 22 states holding presidential preference primaries or party caucuses, Virginia's presidential primary -- for both Democratic and Republican candidates seeking their respective party's nomination -- will take place a week later, on Tuesday, February 12.

Ironically, the General Assembly moved the date of the Virginia primary forward so that voters on the Commonwealth would have a larger, earlier effect on the outcome of the nomination contest. What the Delegates and Senators failed to anticipate was that so many other states would race to the start, diminishing Virginia's influence on the nominating process.

The State Board of Elections has issued a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), with answers, about the "dual primary" scheduled for the second Tuesday in February. Here is what the SBE says:

Why do I have to state a party preference to vote in this election?
Under Virginia law, a dual primary consists of two separate elections conducted on the same day for the same office or offices. There are separate pollbooks, separate ballots and/or ballots boxes, and results for each primary are tallied separately. Virginia law only allows you to vote in one of these two separate elections.

Is this party registration?
No. Voter registration by political party does not exist. Your name will be marked in the pollbook for the party in whose primary you choose to vote, and that information will be available to that political party after the election.

There are names appearing on the ballot of candidates who have announced their withdrawal from the contest. What happens if I vote for candidate one of those candidates?
Your vote will still be counted and reported as a vote for that candidate.

I voted by absentee ballot for a candidate who has since withdrawn. Can I request and receive a new ballot?
No. Your vote will be counted and reported for the candidate you voted for.

Last year I voted in one party’s primary, now I want to vote in the other party’s primary. Can I do that?
Yes. The offer to vote in a party’s primary does not constitute a legal obligation to do so again in a future election, nor does it prohibit you from voting in a different party’s primary in the future.

How is the order in which names appear on the ballot chosen?
After the deadline has passed and the political parties have certified the names of the candidates who have qualified to appear on the ballot, the State Board of Elections, in a public meeting, holds a drawing in which the names of all the candidates or a primary are placed in a container and a Board member draws the names at random. The process is then repeated for the other party.

Can I cast a write-in vote if I don’t wish to vote for any of the candidates whose names appear on the ballot?
No, write-in votes are not permitted in primaries.

Why can 17 year olds vote in this election?
Seventeen year olds may register to vote if they will be eighteen years old by the day of the November General Election. Virginia law further states that they may also vote in any intervening primary or special election occurring in the jurisdiction in which they are registered to vote. This means that while they can vote in the Presidential Primary, the Congressional Primary which may be held in June and any special election, they may NOT vote in a town or city election for which they would otherwise be qualified since these are General Elections.
Virginia residents who are qualified to vote but have not yet registered have until Monday, January 14, to register and be eligible to vote in the February 12 primary. To find your local voter registration office, look here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My New Hampshire Primary Question

Did anybody tell John Edwards that he should not have given the same concession speech tonight as he gave in Iowa just a few days ago?

Just wondering.

You'd think he'd be a bit more creative and at least pretend to have had a few new thoughts between Thursday and Tuesday.

Budget Transparency in Virginia

Three members of the Virginia General Assembly spoke today at a news conference in the State Capitol about their coming efforts to pass legislation aimed at improving the transparency of the state budget process.

State Senators Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax County) and Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Delegate Ben Cline (R-Amherst) are the co-patrons of the legislation, along with Delegate Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth). They were joined at the news conference by Kristina Rasmussen, director of government affairs at the National Taxpayers Union, which is helping promote budget transparency at the federal level and throughout the country for state and local governments.

In a press release prepared by Tertium Quids, the non-profit advocacy group that sponsored the news conference, Senator Cuccinelli said:

"Taxpayers should be able to easily access the details on how the state is spending their tax dollars and what results are achieved for those expenditures."
Delegate Cline added, according to the Tertium Quids release:
"This is nonpartisan legislation that's good for all Virginians. Every Virginian who pays taxes and fees to the government has a right to see how his or her money is being spent by public officials."
Tertium Quids noted in its news release that
"The state of Missouri has one of the better budget transparency web sites launched to date. It is found at The extremely user-friendly and informative site allows users to search by agency, category of expenses, contract, and vendor."
Earlier on Tuesday morning, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling endorsed the proposed legislation (which has not yet been assigned a bill number, but which should be dropped in the hopper tomorrow -- the first day of the legislative session -- by Petersen and Cuccinelli in the Senate and by Cline and Joannou in the House). Bolling said through Tertium Quids:
"I am pleased to lend my support to this legislation, which would require the Commonwealth to design and implement a budget website that displays a clear, detailed, and understandable issue-level budget. While some budget information is currently posted on-line, citizens can only obtain very general information about budget expenditures, as opposed to detailed and specific information. By making more detailed information available to citizens, we can better enable them to understand how their tax dollars are being spent and influence the actions of their elected officials."
Senator Cuccinelli also read a statement from Attorney General Bob McDonnell endorsing the proposal. (McDonnell was holding his own press conference in another part of Richmond at the same time, but sent his statement to Cuccinelli via Blackberry.)

I was able to record the entire press conference on videotape and uploaded it just minutes ago to YouTube. The event lasted just under 25 minutes, so I have split the video into two parts.

Part I:

In part one, John Taylor of Tertium Quids introduces the four speakers. It includes the complete opening remarks by Kristina Rasmussen of NTU and the major part of Senator Cuccinelli's opening remarks.

Part II:

In part two, Senator Cuccinelli finishes his remarks, including his reading of the statement by the Attorney General, and Senator Petersen and Delegate Cline give their remarks. John Taylor has a few comments, and there are questions from the audience and answers from the speakers.

The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star has already editorially endorsed this legislation. In the lead editorial this morning, the newspaper said:
A couple of existent programs nibble around the edges of what the senator and his co-patrons hope to accomplish. Virginia Performs, an administration creation, rates the progress of state agencies in pursuing quality-of-life goals. The state Auditor of Public Accounts' Commonwealth Data Point, a Web site, paints a broad-brush portrait of how state government operates, including in the budgetary realm. But both programs are deficient in the all-important "fine print" category.

Mr. Kaine should support this transparency initiative, not because it would make his life easier operationally--the measure, for example, would expose to the cyberized world the practice of some state agencies to shift funds among program accounts--but because in principle it's the right and progressive thing to do. The money with which the legislative cardinalate and administration nabobs play government is the people's money. They should be able to see what becomes of it, quickly and easily, every step of the way.
Expect more newspapers -- which have a clear interest in freedom of information -- to endorse this initiative in the weeks to come.

UPDATE: The bills have now been submitted in both the House and Senate. Delegate Ben Cline has introduced HB1360, with the short title "Searchable budget database website." Senator Ken Cuccinelli has introduced SB585, with the same short title and this summary:
Searchable budget database website. Requires the Director of the Department of Planning and Budget to maintain a searchable budget database website that would allow persons to search and aggregate information for individual or specific appropriations or budget items. The Director would be required to have the database operational by July 1, 2009. When fully operational, all data in the database would be maintained for a minimum of 10 years. The bill would require to the Director to work with the Auditor of Public Accounts and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to avoid any duplication of efforts.
(Legislative information comes courtesy of Richmond Sunlight.)

Memories of the '96 New Hampshire Primary

Twelve years ago, I drove to New Hampshire with some friends to campaign for presidential candidate Steve Forbes in the 1996 Republican primary. The New Hampshire primary in 1996 was much later than this year's -- it took place on February 20 instead of January 8.

Forbes attracted a lot of libertarian support that year. In fact, despite having his name only on the Republican ballot, he placed fourth in the Libertarian Party primary as a write-in candidate, just as he did as an official candidate in the Republican Party primary (behind Pat Buchanan, Bob Dole, and Lamar Alexander).

Many of the volunteers we met in Manchester, Concord, Exeter, and other towns told us, without prompting, that they were libertarian by philosophy but that Steve Forbes was the candidate who resonated the most with them. (That they were not campaigning for Harry Browne or Irwin Schiff in the New Hampshire Libertarian primary that year says a lot about Forbes' appeal.)

Besides campaigning for Forbes, I wrote about the primary campaign for The Metro Herald. If I can find those articles in my files between now and February 20, I may post them here.

For now, here are some of the photos I took in the several days preceding the election and on election day itself -- including the Forbes Victory Party in Manchester on the night the results came in. It truly felt like a victory party, too, despite the fourth-place finish. The crowd was animated, enthusiastic, and ready to go forward to real victories (which eventually took place in Delaware and Arizona, the two state primaries won by Forbes that year). It helped that the emcee of the celebration was Joan Rivers, not only a celebrity in her own right but also a longtime friend of Steve Forbes and his family.

This is one of my favorite photographs from the 1996 New Hampshire primary. It shows Steve Forbes among supporters and TV cameras just after he got off the campaign bus. Several months later, I asked him to sign the picture for me, and it now hangs on my living-room wall.

Whatever happened to MTV's "Choose or Lose" campaign? It was a big deal in 1996, and MTV threw a huge reception in Manchester for young voters and campaign volunteers.

I snapped this picture in the state capital of Concord. I've always been amused by the intersection of "Church" and "State" streets.

Speaking of Concord, it seemed that an orchard of campaign signs had sprouted on the grounds of the State Capitol itself.

Here I am among the blossoms.

Few remember that former California Congressman Bob Dornan (known as "B-1 Bob" for his pro-defense positions) was a candidate for president in 1996. Dornan was the xenophobic candidate that year, sort of like Tom Tancredo but far more colorful. Here he is with my friend, David Brown of Charlottesville, who was campaigning for Steve Forbes in 1996 and this year is in New Hampshire campaigning for Ron Paul. I wonder how many other Forbes supporters from the Class of '96 are activists for Dr. Paul this year?

Although we were working for Forbes, somehow we found ourselves at a Lamar Alexander rally at Phillips Exeter Academy. Here are my friends Tom Jamerson (right) and David Brown on the academy grounds before the rally.

Inside an auditorium at Phillips Exeter, Lamar! -- that's what his campaign signs said -- was introduced by fellow Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. What has he been doing lately?

Back outside, Tom Jamerson, David Brown, and I showed our support for the other side. Someone -- perhaps a Lamar! supporter -- was kind enough to take a snapshot.

Back at Forbes headquarters in Manchester, staffers and volunteers were watching the candidate in a TV interview.

The candidate himself looks confident leaning out of the campaign bus.

Journalist Deroy Murdock (left), whom we picked up along the way in New York, covered Forbes and other candidates in the days leading up to the election. Here he is with a Forbes staff member.

The election night party burst with color. Here I am ready to celebrate.

We also wanted people to know that Steve Forbes' supporters came from far and wide.

Like Ron Paul today, Steve Forbes had a strong contingent of youthful supporters.

Here is Joan Rivers arriving to host the festivities. That had to be at least three faces ago.

Maybe four faces ago.

Despite what must have been a disappointing finish, candidate Steve Forbes and one of his daughters appear exuberantly happy.

This is just a reminder of why New Hampshire is important in American history, over and above its place as the "first in the nation" primary state. It's no accident that President Jed Bartlet first served as New Hampshire's governor.