Friday, October 31, 2008

Virginia Film Festival 2008 - Day One

As noted here yesterday, the Virginia Film Festival opened its four-day run on Thursday evening with the regional premiere of Lake City, a new film starring Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek (who calls the Charlottesville area her home) and Troy Garity, the son of Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda (who accompanied Garity to the festival).

The three actors arrived just before the screening and fielded questions from print and broadcast journalists. Fonda -- whose appearance was only announced at the last minute -- was a bigger draw than her son, but she graciously pushed him to center stage, saying "you're the one in the movie." For his part, Garity attributed his enthusiasm for Lake City to the fact that Sissy Spacek would be in it.

Spacek arrived a few minutes later and answered questions about working with Garity and about the film industry in Virginia. She was full of praise for the quality of film technicians and support staff in the Commonwealth, but she also made a pitch for more tax incentives to bring film productions here. She noted that Virginia competes with other states that do provide such incentives, and that it would be a shame if, for instance, New Mexico played Virginia as a stand-in. (Later in the evening, Rita McClenny, head of the Virginia Film Office, told me that North Carolina was a rival for the chance to host the production of Lake City.)

Once inside the auditorium in Culbreth Hall -- which was filled to near-capacity by movie lovers, industry insiders, aspiring filmmakers, members of the press, and several people who were part of the cast and crew of Lake City -- the festival's artistic director, Richard Herskowitz, offered a few words of introduction, including some reminiscences of festivals past. (Herskowitz is leaving the University of Virginia for new positions in Texas and Oregon.) One of his piquant memories was of a question posed to Vanessa Redgrave about her knowledge of economics. (Full disclosure: I asked that question during the 2005 Virginia Film Festival.)

Herskowitz also introduced members of the production team of Lake City, including producers Mark Johnson and Weiman Seid and co-directors Perry Moore and Hunter Hill, as well as Spacek and Garity, who each said a few words of welcome. The two co-stars, the directors, and production designer David Crank discussed the film on a panel after the screening.

Here is video of the stars arriving in Charlottesville. (That's the UVA marching band you hear playing in the background.)

Here is video of Richard Herskowitz's opening remarks:

More photos and videos will be posted through the weekend.

Update: Here is the panel discussion that followed the screening of Lake City.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Update: More video clips from Day One and Day Two can be seen here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Redpath Launches Radio Ads

The Libertarian Party's candidate for the U.S. Senate in Virginia, William Redpath, has launched a series of radio ads around the state, urging voters to cast their ballots for him on November 4.

There are three ads in the series: one addresses badly needed reforms in the tax code, another calls for liberalizing foreign trade policy, and a third urges an overhaul of entitlements programs.

The Redpath for Senate radio ads can be heard on line here. (They are available in QuickTime format.)

These radio spots are currently scheduled to air in the Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Norfolk,Richmond, Roanoke, and Virginia Beach media markets, although there is a possibility that they might be expanded to other parts of the state.

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Virginia Film Festival Opens Tonight

Oscar-winning actresses Sissy Spacek and Jane Fonda will be among the guests tonight as the 21st annual Virginia Film Festival opens in Charlottesville. The festival continues through Sunday evening.

Special events include a rebroadcast of the Orson Welles radio production of The War of the Worlds, based on the novel by H.G. Wells. It was 70 years ago tonight that Welles' Mercury Theatre of the Air scared the wits out of America by presenting the story of a Martian invasion as a series of (what sounded like) on-the-spot radio news reports.

The Adrenaline Film Project returns this year, with several teams of filmmakers charged with writing, filming, and editing a short subject within 72 hours. There will also be panel discussions about making movies in Virginia and in Charlottesville, a "family film day" on Saturday, and a screening of a new short film about interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, The Response, with Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, actor Peter Riegert, and two of the attorneys who have represented prisoners held at Gitmo.

WINA-AM radio will be broadcasting The War of the Worlds, in its entirety, at 4:00 p.m., during Coy Barefoot's "Charlottesville--Right Now" program and again at 7:00 p.m., the same time that the film festival's re-creation will take place in the University of Virginia observatory. George Pal's 1953 film version of the H.G. Wells story will be screened in Culbreth Hall on the UVA grounds at 10:00 p.m.

Spacek and Fonda will attend a screening of a new movie, Lake City, which was filmed in Virginia. In addition to Spacek, Lake City features actors Dave Matthews (a former bartender at Miller's on Charlottesville's downtown mall) and Troy Garity (son of Jane, and grandson of Henry, Fonda), who will be escorting his mother. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring directors Perry Moore and Hunter Hill and producer Mark Johnson, a member of the Virginia Film Festival's advisory board.

The theme of this year's Virginia Film Festival is "Aliens," and the 80 films and 100 guest speakers will explore the idea of aliens as immigrants and emigrants, displaced individuals, and of aliens as visitors from (or to) outer space.

Watch this blog for day-by-day reports on the festival's activities. Part One is here.

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Local Election Officials Discuss Preparations for November 4

On Wednesday afternoon, I joined Lee Catlin, the spokesperson for the Albemarle County government, and Will Harvey, secretary of the county's Electoral Board, at a news conference where we discussed the preparations we are making to make Election Day an efficient and pleasant experience for area voters.

Two local television stations covered the event. WCAV-TV noted on its web site:

"We knew this very early in the year, when the February primary had so much interest, we realized that we would be dealing with record number of voters this year," said Rick Sincere of the Charlottesville Electoral Board.

That's including thousands of newly registered voters, nearly 6,000 in Albemarle County, and 9,000 in Charlottesville. Officials saying that it was apparent early on, that this could be a historical year.

"We had 61% turnout in 2004 and that was pretty much record turnout for a presidential election, we're expecting perhaps 85% turnout," said Sincere.

Another indicator, the large amount of absentee ballots being submitted this election.

"For mail in absentee ballots, we have sent out 3,723, 2,145 of them have come back already," said William Harvey of the Albemarle County Electoral Board.

And as officials continue their preparations for Tuesday, they have some suggestions for voters.

Best time to vote:
9am - 11:30am, 1:30pm - 3:30pm

No political paraphernalia

Know Polling Place

Bring Proper I.D.

Officials saying they will make sure that everyone that's eligible, will have their vote counted.

"We will be conducting a transparent, fair, and clean election. people can be assured that they're votes will be counted," said Sincere.

Here is the video of Mark Tenia's report on Channel 19:

Over on Channel 29, Jenn McDaniel reported:
Charlottesville and Albemarle are both seeing record registration numbers. They've increased the number of election officials to make sure they can deal with the crowds.

In Charlottesville, voters should know they may see different types of ballots but they will all be counted the same way. If, for some reason, you're told you can't vote, push a little bit and don't just accept that as an answer.

"The electoral board takes the attitude that we want every vote to count and if there's a way we can find that they are properly registered than that's what we'll do," said Albemarle County Electoral Board's Will Harvey.

If you show up wearing a button, shirt or hat saying vote for a certain candidate, you'll be asked to take it off. It's not allowed within 40 feet of a polling place. If you don't, you can still vote but a report will be filed with the commonwealth's attorney.

The best times to vote are between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Also, remember to take a driver's license, social security card, government ID or some other kind of acceptable identification.

Here is the video of McDaniel's story:

For some reason, the only tidbit the Daily Progress gleaned from our news conference was in regard to the State Board of Elections' clarification of the rules for the restricted 40-foot zone around polling places, the zone in which electioneering is not allowed:
Voters at polling places who refuse to remove buttons, T-shirts or other apparel with political messages will face possible misdemeanor charges, local election officials said Wednesday.

Election Day workers in Charlottesville and Albemarle County have been told to ask voters wearing political clothing or a button to either cover it up or remove it.

The move is part of a newly clarified state guideline that bans all such exhibitions of campaign material at Virginia’s polling places.

Two Charlottesville-based groups along with the Virginia ACLU said Wednesday that they will sue over the policy, asserting that it is a violation of free speech.

If the voter does not agree to cover or remove the political apparel, the poll workers must file an incident report with the commonwealth attorney’s office for possible prosecution.

Even if a voter refuses to remove his campaign button or T-shirt, he will still have the opportunity to vote.

“No one will be refused the right to vote for violating this policy,” said Rick Sincere, chairman of Charlottesville’s Electoral Board.

The law banning campaign material at polling places has been on the books for “generations,” Sincere said. In the past, he added, voters have generally been happy to comply.

Fellow blogger Tim Hulsey was on hand with my video camera to record the whole news conference; unfortunately, the tape ran out earlier than expected, so all that he captured was Will Harvey's opening remarks and a portion of my opening remarks. The Q&A is lost in the ether.

Here is Will Harvey of the Albemarle County Electoral Board, introduced by Lee Catlin:

And here I am, trying not to repeat the same sensible things that Will had to say:

There is also a nice photo of Will and me together on WINA-AM's web site.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Somebody Needs an Economics Lesson

The graduated income tax, which has been imposed on American citizens since the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913, has advantages and disadvantages. Economists and policymakers can argue about it in a rational and civil manner.

As for myself, I believe the tax code is too complex and it is used as much for social engineering as it is for revenue raising. The only legitimate use for a tax is to raise money to provide government services. It should not be used to nudge personal behavior in one direction or another, or to pick winners and losers among businesses, or to reward a favored group over against a disfavored group.

Let me add that those who favor the graduated income tax can make intelligent arguments on its behalf, even if I disagree with their conclusions.

But sometimes one of those supporters of the income tax says something so stupid that they deserve to be called out on it.

One example of this can be found in today's Arizona Daily Star, a newspaper published in Tucson.

In a guest article submitted by Sheila Tobias, identified as "an author and educator in Tucson," the argument for making richer people pay a larger proportion of their income in taxes is buttressed by this:

Since when does the hoarding of wealth by individuals, rather than jobs creation, do more to "grow the economy?"

Tobias must have got her economic education from editorial cartoons of the 1930s, showing wealthy people stuffing their money into mattresses or burying it in the backyard.

Doesn't she know that wealth cannot be hoarded -- unless it's hidden in that cartoonish manner -- it can only be invested.

Either the money is put into bank accounts, where it is made available for loans (mortgages, car loans, small business loans), or it is put into investment accounts (buying stock, building businesses, and, yes, creating jobs). It does not sit idle.

Even Jesus Christ understood this. In the parable of the talents, He said:
Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!’

The man with the two talents also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.’

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!

Then the man who had received the one talent came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’

His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
To Sheila Tobias, rich people are like that "wicked, lazy servant" when in fact the opposite is true -- those who are productive and take risks earn more money than those who are greedy and risk-averse.

I certainly hope that, as "an educator," Ms. Tobias is not teaching her students anything about economics. If she is, they will turn out as ignorant as she is.

H/T: Neal Boortz

NYT Recommends Charlottesville

Joshua Kurlantzick, whose byline is usually attached to articles about foreign policy in The New Republic and other opinion journals, has written a travel article for the New York Times, suggesting that readers might enjoy "36 Hours in Charlottesville, Va."

Beginning, as might be expected, with a reference to Thomas Jefferson and the architecture he designed or inspired at Monticello and on the grounds of the University of Virginia, Kurlantzick goes on to note:

But the town itself is far more cutting-edge than its architecture. As American regional cuisine has gone upscale over the past decade, Charlottesville has been at the center of many changes, with local chefs updating traditional Southern fare by marrying grits, fried chicken and other standbys with French, Asian and other influences. The town's music scene, too, has served up megastars like the Dave Matthews Band and helped to launch the modern roots-rock wave. Even Virginia wine, once more Burger King than Bordeaux, has caught on. Local vineyards that never used to get invitations to competitions now hold their own with the finest of California or France. Even Jefferson would be proud — the third president succeeded at nearly everything, but he couldn't coax a decent wine out of Virginia's soil.
The NYT web site also includes a colorful slideshow of scenes in the Charlottesville area, with views of the downtown mall, Monticello, various restaurants and shops, the Barboursville ruins, and Ash Lawn-Highland.

'I Am Not a Vegetarian,' Says Candidate

In most parts of the country, politicians have sex scandals. Look at Florida Congressman Tim Mahoney, whose trouser-snake escapades have torpedoed his chances of re-election. Tap your toe toward Senator Larry Craig and see how he responds. Offer to be Congressman Vito Fossella's designated driver.

In Montana, however, sex habits are not as salient as eating habits. Whoever would have anticipated a candidate releasing an official statement affirming that he's a carnivore? Yet here it is, as reported in the Billings Gazette:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Brown this week accused Democrats of spreading a false rumor that he is a vegetarian in this meat-loving state.

"I am not and have never been a vegetarian," Brown said.

"I am disgusted by the baseless allegation that I am a vegetarian and that my personal eating habits should somehow be construed as opposed to the economic interests of Montana's livestock industry."

Brown did say that he and his family temporarily cut back on their consumption of meat and dairy products 25 years ago when they were caring for a dying loved one who couldn't eat those products.
The Gazette's Charles Johnson traced the unfounded rumors of Brown's preference for vegetables to an email from one of the candidate's neighbors.
Brown was responding to an undated e-mail sent by his Billings neighbor, Pat Etchart, to Dennis McDonald, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party and a Melville cattle rancher.

McDonald, in turn, forwarded Etchart's e-mail to some cattle ranchers Friday and asked: "What do you make of this?"

The letter also has been send to agricultural publications and blogs.

In the e-mail, Etchart said that when the Browns moved next door in Billings, Roy Brown invited her husband and her to their house to get acquainted.

"In the course of conversation, he told us that he and his wife are vegetarians," Etchart wrote. "At the time, I thought nothing of it, but as Roy now makes the rounds and campaigns for governor, I have a concern. Would it not be a problem, in a state where cattle ranching is such a vital industry, to have a governor who does not eat meat?

"What caused me to think about this is that I told my brother-in-law, a rancher who usually votes Republican, about it. And he said that he could never vote for a vegetarian, because it's against his economic interest."

Reached in Billings, Etchart, a Democrat, confirmed that she sent McDonald the e-mail.
Brown's dining habits may not make a difference in the long run. The latest poll shows incumbent Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer has a 33-point lead over his Republican opponent. According to the Flathead Beacon:
Schweitzer was picked by 60 percent of likely Montana voters to Brown's 27 percent, in a survey released Friday by Montana State University-Billings. Libertarian Stan Jones captured 4 percent, and 8 percent were undecided.
The poll does not break down demographically to indicate who Montana vegans favor.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Gremlin in the DCCC

A few days ago, I reported that I had received a weird call from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, urging me to vote for Glenn Nye for Congress and Barack Obama for President.

This was weird, I said, because Nye is running for Congress in the Second Congressional District in southeastern Virginia, while I live and vote in the Fifth Congressional District in central and southside Virginia.

Well, I just checked my voicemail and discovered another call from the DCCC, again touting congressional candidate Glenn Nye. The only difference between the calls was that the first one was a recording with a male voice and the second one had a female voice.

Surely I am not the only person in the 434 area code who is receiving these misdirected campaign calls.

The question is: Did the DCCC just get a bad phone list that is running (and rerunning) through a robocall computer program? If so, the committee had better start purging its staff of incompetent computer technicians, because somebody should have caught that error.

Perhaps there is just a random gremlin in the program, but -- considering that my first Glenn Nye call came on October 17 and my second one came on October 24 -- that little imp should have been uncovered by now.

Or perhaps Thelma Drake's campaign has a tactically positioned mole in the DCCC, who is making sure that Virgil Goode's constituents get the Glenn Nye calls, while voters in the 757 are being urged to vote for Tom Perriello.

I can't wait to see the write-in results from both districts.

When a Libertarian Debates

Say what you will about the Libertarian Party, its candidates enliven the political process.

This past Wednesday, in debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters in Williamsburg, Nathan Larson, a Libertarian candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Virginia's First Congressional District, faced off against Republican incumbent Rob Wittman and Democratic challenger Bill Day.

The result, according to press reports, was an actual debate rather than an exchange of predictable soundbites.

The Flat Hat, a student newspaper at the College of Willam and Mary, noted in an editorial headlined "Debates Need Third Parties":

While Democrat Bill Day and Republican Rob Wittman vied to show their support for energy independence and fiscal responsibility, Libertarian Nathan Larson helped shape the debate — and drew some jeers from the audience — with his plans to drastically reduce or eliminate the role of government. We applaud the Williamsburg League of Women Voters’ decision to admit him. Open political discourse comprises a key tenet of the American democratic ideals, and we hope that in the future, debate organizers will seek to include all registered candidates.

The traditional debate has become a tennis match of platitudes. Game-changing moments rarely emerge between the memorized volleys. But drop in a third-party candidate and the calculus changes.

Larson’s argument that the American economy would have been better served by allowing bad banks to fail required the others to justify their support for the Treasury Department’s bailout package. Without him, Day and Wittman likely would have stuck to criticizing the original bailout package’s earmarks or lack of accountability as they’d done in the past.
Larson is the only Libertarian candidate for the U.S. House in Virginia this year. (LP national chairman Bill Redpath, who ran for Virginia governor in 2001, is on the ballot statewide as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. His opponents include former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore and former Democratic Governor Mark Warner. They are all seeking to fill the seat being vacated by 30-year incumbent John Warner.)

Writing in the Daily Press about the LWV debate, Hugh Lessig reported on Larson's positions and the reactions from the audience:
Larson said the government should stop "bailing out businesses that are failing." The only way for capitalism to work, he said, is when poorly managed companies are allowed to fail. That allows capital to flow to businesses that are good stewards of their money....

Larson said he favored abolishing Medicare, an answer that brought gasps from some older members of the audience. In his view — where government plays as limited a role as possible — the tax dollars that fund Medicare would be better spent in the private sector with insurers and other private organizations that could provide health care to the elderly....

Larson said he would privatize the Chesapeake Bay. If it came under private ownership, there would be a natural incentive to harvest its resources responsibly and prevent pollution. The key to environmental protection, he said, is to establish property rights over all resources, extending to sections of the ocean floor.
Reporter Alex Guillen of The Flat Hat focused on some other topics covered by the three debaters. He noted, for instance:

Larson argued for privatizing transportation and other areas of government.

“There’s no service the government provides that couldn’t do better privately,” he said.

Larson said that education should be privatized and, in a move that drew laughs from the audience, made optional. Larson argued for the abolition of almost all government services and taxes, although he was unable to say how he would convince Congress to do so.

There was even a rare moment of agreement among all three, said Guillen:

Larson, again shocking the audience, advocated the abolition of Medicare.

After touching on federal recognition of Indian tribes — which Wittman and Day supported and Larson did not — all three candidates affirmed their support of nationwide congressional redistricting by an independent, non-partisan body.

The three differed in how they would advise the incoming president, however:

Larson said he would give the next president some economics books to read, bringing a laugh from the audience.

Wittman argued that the next president must reach across the aisle to enact change.

Day was more specific, saying that the next president must focus on the national debt, balancing the budget and securing energy independence, issues he said cross party lines.

In an email to Libertarians around Virginia, Larson provided the text of his closing remarks at the Williamsburg debate:
Now is the time to begin restoring freedom to America. Congress should completely deregulate the economy, so that businesses can thrive to their fullest potential. We should break the government monopoly on currency, so that entrepreneurs can create gold- and silver-backed currencies that will be more stable than our present U.S. dollar. Government services should be privatized and funded entirely by user fees, so that the different needs and desires of customers can be better accommodated through a competitive marketplace. Taxation should be abolished so that Americans will be free to devote their money toward productive investments, charitable contributions, and improvements in their quality of life, rather than having their incomes siphoned off into wasteful government programs, including unnecessary foreign wars and bailouts of poorly managed companies.

Historically, we've seen that nations such as the Soviet Union, in which government tried to exercise too much central control over the economy, have often collapsed. At best, they tend to experience economic stagnation compared to freer countries. The current recession is a result of some of the same kinds of harmful government interference. By electing a Congress that will simply rein in government, and let the market correct itself, America can get through the recovery faster and continue on to a more prosperous future.
While the editorial board of The Flat Hat praised the League of Women Voters for including Nathan Larson in the debate, credit is also due to Congressman Rob Wittman and to Bill Day. In a year in which candidates are refusing to debate their opponents in fora that might attract a large audience, Wittman and Day deserve congratulations for being unafraid to debate someone who brings new ideas to the table. Regardless of who the official "sponsor" might be, the two major parties generally control the terms of these sorts of events, usually excluding third-party and independent candidates, so Wittman and Day's openness to participation by all certified candidates is welcome.

Let's hope other candidates follow their example in future campaigns.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Charlottesville Election Official Training

With more than 28,000 registered voters this year (up from just over 21,000 four years ago), Charlottesville is gearing up for record turnout on Election Day, coming up in less than a fortnight.

As noted here previously, anticipating the higher number of voters and working to make voting as efficient and manageable as possible, the Electoral Board decided to buy new equipment to supplement the Hart Intercivic eSlate machines that have been used here since May 2002. The complementary eScan system uses paper ballots and a digital scanner to read and record the votes on them. Voters will have a choice whether to use the traditional electronic voting device (the eSlate) or the digitally-scanned paper ballot (the eScan).

In addition, we have purchased electronic pollbooks (EPBs) that promise to make the check-in process smoother than ever. With the entire citywide voter list on every laptop, we no longer have to divide the lines alphabetically -- no more "A-L" and "M-Z", because any voter can walk up to the first free position at what we call the "RVL table" ("RVL" means "registered voters list").

As a consequence of having the additional, new equipment and knowing that heavy turnout will bring with it new challenges, the Office of Voter Registration & Elections decided that it would be best to put a heavy emphasis on training of election officials (pollworkers) this year. Some level of training is required before every election, but this year we thought it best to assure as close to individual attention as possible.

Instead of one big session for all of the pollworkers from across the city, we divided them into four groups. In addition to the usual training for Chief Election Officers, Assistant Chiefs, and Closing Specialists, we also have had separate training sessions for election officers from (1) Recreation and Clark precincts, (2) Walker and Carver precincts, (3) Jefferson Park and Tonsler precincts, and (4) Venable and Alumni Hall precincts. (Venable is now our largest precinct, as measured by number of registered voters, with more than 5,600 and surpassing traditionally largest Recreation.) Moreover, new election officers have been required to attend special training sessions in the registrar's office.

Tonight was the training session for Jefferson Park and Tonsler, held at the Carter Family Life Center on Cherry Avenue, which also serves as the polling place for Jefferson Park precinct. I snapped a few photos with my cell phone to record the event for posterity.

I will be a guest on "The Schilling Show" on WINA radio (1070 AM) on Monday, October 27, to talk about what to expect on Election Day in Charlottesville -- not just the expected large turnout but also the new voting equipment and streamlined procedures for voter check-in with the EPBs. My segment will be on sometime during the 1:00 - 2:00 p.m. broadcast with host Rob Schilling. If you can't tune in, there will be a podcast available soon after the program has been aired.

'Sending a Message'

In a pre-election roundup by Will O'Bryan ("Outing the vote: Gay locals talk politics in the final stretch to Nov. 4"), Metro Weekly, a publication with a largely gay readership in Washington, D.C. (not to be confused with The Metro Herald, a publication with a largely African-American readership in Alexandria, Virginia, for which I write), quotes a supporter of Bob Barr who will be casting a write-in ballot for the Libertarian nominee:

Outside Washington, you might have former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, also of Georgia, on your ballot, running for the Libertarian Party. Of course, you can always just write him in on a D.C. ballot. That's what D.C.'s Berin Szoka says he'll be doing.

''When I vote for Barr, the point is not whoever the Libertarian candidate is. Voting Libertarian is a way of sending a message.... The more votes the Libertarian Party gets, that communicates something. That's why I'm voting at all.''

Before supporting Barr, however, Szoka had publicly -- and somewhat jokingly -- dubbed himself the ''HomoPaulertarian-in-chief,'' promoting Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) dark-horse candidacy for president.

''He's always been a hero of mine. I was delighted when he ran for president,'' says Szoka. ''At the same time, I was astonished by the enthusiasm among young people.''

While Szoka's philosophical leanings tend toward the libertarian, the 28-year-old shares a view probably not uncommon among many who eschew Democrats and Republicans for smaller political parties.

''I think both the major political parties are philosophically corrupt.''

With such strong convictions, one can imagine how difficult it might be for Szoka to pull the lever for either.

Instead, says Szoka, ''I vote for limited government in all respects: social issues, economic issues, foreign policy. Keep the government away from the bedroom, the boardroom and invading foreign countries.''

In a winner-take-all political system, he readily admits, any ''third-party'' presidential vote will remain a largely symbolic gesture. But Szoka is surely not the only gay Washingtonian making that gesture.
I should note that I have known Berin Szoka since he was a law student at the University of Virginia, and I was pleased to see that Metro Weekly sought out his views for this article, which also looks at local elections in D.C. and its suburbs and congressional races as well as the big kahuna, the presidential race in which either Barack Obama or John McCain is the most likely victor.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Unusual Search Terms

It has been a while since I checked into the odd search terms that bring people to this blog. (Those compendiums have themselves proved to be effective bait, as attractive to readers as honey is to Winnie the Pooh.)

In recent days, new readers have found their way here using Google, Yahoo, and other search engines to find out about these topics:

ayn rand's the children's hour

did franklin roosevelt have erectile dysfunction?

does the first amendment protect cindy sheehan

does the first amendment protect political speech

hanson brothers circumcision interview

how would benjamin franklin react to film fantasy about witchcraft

jesuit Thoughts on masturbation

marquette university
gay sex

Pornography in Buena Vista Virginia

sponge bob barr

tyler whitney
sex tape
One unusual search has stood out, not because it is humorous or inscrutable, but because it is unexpectedly frequent. A number of visitors have been looking for an article written by my friend, Mike McGough, some 20 years ago. Then the editorial page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (now with the Los Angeles Times), McGough did a piece for The New Republic about the decline of high school debate called "Pull It Across Your Flow."

His article elicited a letter-to-the-editor from me, which in turn led to our meeting for lunch and subsequently a two-decade friendship. It also inspired me to write my own article on high school debate and -- apparently -- it also inspired sociologist Gary Alan Fine to write a whole book on the subject called Gifted Tongues: High School Debate and Adolescent Culture.

At first I thought that a debate coach somewhere had assigned his students to read McGough's original essay, but when I saw that the searches were coming from various locations around the country (and not clustered around one city or state), I decided that hypothesis was groundless.

I am still at a loss, as is Mike McGough. Can anyone out there answer the question of why a 1988 article about high school debate suddenly has such a surge in interest? Both the author and I would like to know the cause.

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Unusual Campaign Call

As most of my readers should know, I live in the Fifth Congressional District of Virginia, where incumbent Republican Virgil Goode is being challenged by Democrat Tom Perriello this year.

I was just checking my voicemail (on my home phone, with a 434 area code) and found a message from the "D-triple-C" (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee), telling me to expect some information in the mail about, and asking me to support, "Glenn Nye" for Congress.

Isn't Glenn Nye running against Thelma Drake in the Second Congressional District? And aren't all (or at least most) of the telephones in that district linked to area code 757?

Should I take the DCCC's advice, and write in the name of Glenn Nye instead of their party's nominee in my district, Tom Perriello?

Odd call. Odd phone list. Odd use of campaign resources.

Kiwi TV Focuses on Charlottesville

International interest in the U.S. presidential election is piqued, as anyone who has traveled abroad recently or who has read the foreign press knows.

Even in countries that have their own elections this year, people want to know what's going on in the United States.

This week, that interest focused on Charlottesville, when a crew from Television New Zealand came to our town to examine politics in a swing state that might help determine the outcome of the race between Barack Obama and John McCain.

In this video clip, New York-based correspondent Tim Wilson interviewed Albemarle County Supervisor David Slutzky and former Charlottesville City Councilor Rob Schilling, as well as Cordel Faulk of the UVA Center for Politics:

Of course, this isn't the first time that a foreign TV network has come to Charlottesville to gain insights on American politics.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Politics at 'The New Yorker'

That staid journal that is read more often for its cartoons than its articles (take that, Playboy!), the venerable New Yorker, has three good political reports that are worth a look.

The first is a profile of Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr, written by Raffi Khatchadourian. Here's a sample paragraph:

For many people, including skeptical libertarians, Barr still has the reputation of a partisan, but his self-imposed exile from the Republican Party is representative of a broader disaffection among conservatives who did not immediately rally behind McCain. Republicans in the mold of Barry Goldwater, who believe in small government, minimal constraints on the free market, and expansive civil liberties, have become profoundly uneasy about the direction of the country under President Bush, who has presided over the largest increase in federal spending since the Great Society, raised the national debt to more than ten trillion dollars, suspended habeas corpus for enemy combatants, and recently proposed the seven-hundred-billion-dollar bailout of Wall Street. David Boaz, the executive vice-president of the Cato Institute, and David Kirby, the executive director of America’s Future Foundation, have argued that, because of such policies, the libertarian vote, which for decades has been solidly Republican, “may be the next great swing vote.” According to surveys, as much as a fifth of American voters hold libertarian values, and in recent years more than seventy per cent of them have voted as Republicans. But Boaz and Kirby noticed that in the 2004 Presidential election only fifty-nine per cent of them voted for Bush, and between the midterm elections of 2002 and 2006 three million of them drifted away from the Republican Party—a shift that Boaz and Kirby argue “may well have cost Republicans control of Congress.” In this year’s Republican primaries, Ron Paul, the congressman from Texas and a longtime libertarian, earned more than twenty per cent of the vote in Idaho, Washington, Montana, and North Dakota. “His supporters are the equivalent of crabgrass,” Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist, told Time. “It’s not the grass you want, and it spreads faster than the real stuff.” In August, Newt Gingrich warned that if McCain chose as his running mate Senator Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, Barr would win fifteen per cent of the vote.
Two other articles focus on the major parties' vice-presidential candidates.

Ryan Lizza profiles Joe Biden, who was chosen to be the running mate of his former rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama. A sample:

On August 6th, Biden said, the Obama campaign “smuggled” him into Minneapolis, where Obama was campaigning, and the two senators stayed up late in a suite at the Graves 601 Hotel working out the details of a potential deal. Obama told Biden that the vetting had gone well—Biden assured me that it was “very complimentary.” Biden happens to be one of the least wealthy members of the Senate, although his family’s joint income was more than three hundred thousand dollars last year. (His wife, Jill, has a Ph.D. in education and teaches at Delaware Technical & Community College.) His relatively straightforward tax returns and uncomplicated financial situation made the process easier. “All these years and you still have no money,” Obama said to Biden, teasingly.

The conversation in Minneapolis ranged from foreign policy and possible appointments to the federal courts to the legislative strategy that would be needed to pass an Obama agenda. Obama wanted to know how Biden had managed his signature achievements—such as the 1994 crime bill, which added a hundred thousand federally funded police officers to city streets. He also tested Biden’s understanding of how broad his role would be, as opposed to that of another contender—apparently, Kathleen Sebelius, the governor of Kansas and the only woman known to be on Obama’s short list. “He said, ‘Well, you know, if I offered this to somebody’—he named her, a person—he said, ‘That person would be very happy if I assigned them to reorganize the government.’ And he said, ‘They’d be very happy doing that. How about you?’ ” That didn’t sound like much of a job to Biden. “No,” he told Obama. “That’s not what I want to do.”

Finally, Jane Mayer traces how Sarah Palin emerged as the leading contender for the Republican vice-presidential nomination. While Palin's name was known among political junkies for months before the GOP convention, she seemed to the general public to have sprung full-blown from the head of John McCain, who decided, without vetting, that he needed to have a Tina Fey lookalike at his side. Mayer sets the record straight. For example:

While Brickley and others were spreading the word about Palin on the Internet, Palin was wooing a number of well-connected Washington conservative thinkers. In a stroke of luck, Palin did not have to go to the capital to meet these members of “the permanent political establishment”; they came to Alaska. Shortly after taking office, Palin received two memos from Paulette Simpson, the Alaska Federation of Republican Women leader, noting that two prominent conservative magazines—The Weekly Standard, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and National Review, founded by William F. Buckley, Jr.—were planning luxury cruises to Alaska in the summer of 2007, which would make stops in Juneau. Writers and editors from these publications had been enlisted to deliver lectures to politically minded vacationers. “The Governor was more than happy to meet these guys,” Joe Balash, a special staff assistant to Palin, recalled.

On June 18, 2007, the first group disembarked in Juneau from the Holland America Line’s M.S. Oosterdam, and went to the governor’s mansion, a white wooden Colonial house with six two-story columns, for lunch. The contingent featured three of The Weekly Standard s top writers: William Kristol, the magazine’s Washington-based editor, who is also an Op-Ed columnist for the Times and a regular commentator on “Fox News Sunday”; Fred Barnes, the magazine’s executive editor and the co-host of “The Beltway Boys,” a political talk show on Fox News; and Michael Gerson, the former chief speechwriter for President Bush and a Washington Post columnist.

By all accounts, the luncheon was a high-spirited, informal occasion. Kristol brought his wife and daughter; Gerson brought his wife and two children. Barnes, who brought his sister and his wife, sat on one side of Governor Palin, who presided at the head of the long table in the mansion’s formal dining room; the Kristols sat on the other. Gerson was at the opposite end, as was Palin’s chief of staff at the time, Mike Tibbles, who is now working for Senator Stevens’s reĆ«lection campaign. The menu featured halibut cheeks—the choicest part of the fish. Before the meal, Palin delivered a lengthy grace. Simpson, who was at the luncheon, said, “I told a girlfriend afterwards, ‘That was some grace!’ It really set the tone.” Joe Balash, Palin’s assistant, who was also present, said, “There are not many politicians who will say grace with the conviction of faith she has. It’s a daily part of her life.”

Palin was joined by her lieutenant governor and by Alaska’s attorney general. Also present was a local woman involved in upholding the Juneau school system’s right to suspend a student who had displayed a satirical banner—“Bong Hits 4 Jesus”—across the street from his school. The student had sued the school district, on First Amendment grounds, and, at the time of the lunch, the case was before the Supreme Court. (The school district won.)

During the lunch, everyone was charmed when the Governor’s small daughter Piper popped in to inquire about dessert. Fred Barnes recalled being “struck by how smart Palin was, and how unusually confident. Maybe because she had been a beauty queen, and a star athlete, and succeeded at almost everything she had done.” It didn’t escape his notice, too, that she was “exceptionally pretty.”

This issue of The New Yorker also has an article that gives hope to those of us who still have creative ambitions long past the date we might have been considered precocious. Malcolm Gladwell writes about the difference between youthful genius and artists who succeed much later in life in an article called "Late Bloomers."

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Redpath Endorsed by Veteran Democratic Legislator

A news release from the Redpath for Senate campaign notes that Theodore V. Morrison, Jr., a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates (he represented Newport News from 1968 through 1989) and a former member of the State Corporation Commission (1989-2007), will formally endorse Bill Redpath, the Libertarian candidate facing former Governors Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner, at a meeting in Richmond this evening. As a legislator, Morrison was once considered to be one of the most powerful members of the General Assembly, culminating in the chairmanship of the House Finance Committee. His nickname was "the Bill Killer."

When Morrison was first elected to the General Assembly, Virginia still had multi-member House districts. According to the 1977 Almanac of Virginia Politics, he represented House District 49 with Lewis Archer McMurran, who had first joined the House of Delegates in 1948, and Alan A. Diamonstein who, like Morrison, was in the class of 1968. (In a stunning upset in 1977, McMurran was defeated in the Democratic primary by Robert Scott -- now known as U.S. Representative Bobby Scott of the Third Congressional District.) Let me note that, as a result of both redistricting and the application of single-member districts to the Virginia legislature, House District 49 is now in Northern Virginia (Arlington County and the City of Alexandria, where it is represented by Delegate Adam Ebbin). That is also the same district where I sought election to the House of Delegates in 1991 and 1993.

The 1977 Almanac reported:

Theodore Morrison, as a member of the Courts of Justice committee, concentrates on the law and order issues. Crime is a big issue in this district and State-wide. He introduced numerous bills dealing with criminal procedures, such as provisions for handgun reporting by dealers and penalties for felons and misdemeanants on bail or recognizance who fail to appear. Neither bill passed. Passed were provisions dealing with search warrants, appointment of counsel for indigents charged with felonies, and disorderly conduct. Morrison also sponsored a bill to create a Juvenile Justice Information System which passed.
The 1981 edition of the Almanac of Virginia Politics added this information about Morrison's record:
Morrison has introduced a number of bills pertaining to arrest procedure and courtroom procedure. A 1979 bill, which passed, gave juvenile judges the right to order the parents of children in trouble to participate in certain programs to help rehabilitate their youngsters.

In 1980, Morrison wanted to give police the authority to attach devices to phones which would record the phone numbers called. The authorization, which would have been used for criminal investigations, was not approved by the General Assembly. Also killed was a Morrison bill to grant gas-tax refunds for gas used by race cars.

Morrison introduced a bill to tighten the Freedom of Information Act and called for a limit on the amount of money each legislator could spend on postage. Both passed.
By 1987, Morrison was representing a single-member district (House District 93) within the City of Newport News. The Almanac of Virginia Politics published that year had a much more extensive profile of him, which reported:
Ted Morrison has represented the city since 1968 and is one of the most powerful members of the House. In 1983 he became Chairman of the House Finance Committee, and he has previously chaired the House Chesapeake and Its Tributaries Committee and the Virginia Code Commission. He is second in seniority on the House Courts of Justice Committee, and he is a close friend and ally of Speaker A.L. Philpott.

Morrison is a defense attorney who is very well respected for his fine tuned legal expertise and his knowledge of the state code. Known by his colleagues as "The Bill Killer," Morrison considers himself to be an independent thinker whose duty lies frequently in preventing passage of bills he considers to be abominations.

One of his proudest accomplishments was the creation of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, a ten-member court established in January of 1985 to relieve the backlog of cases before the Virginia Supreme Court.

Morrison sponsored probably the most controversial bill of the 1985 session -- a bill which would have required teenage girls considering abortions to have either the consent of their parents or the consent of a judge before undergoing the procedure. His bill passed the House, but was amended in the Senate to substitute the approval of an "independent doctor" rather than a judge. However, this version was unacceptable to Morrison, and the bill did not pass.

He very quietly created a storm of controversy in Newport News right after the 1986 session ended. During the session he sponsored and passed a bill requiring all cities in Virginia (except Virginia Beach) to own their courthouses rather than lease them. His actions thwarted plans of the Republican-dominated City Council to lease a courthouse from a developer as part of the Newport Centre downtown development plan and saved the city's taxpayers a great deal of money. The city had planned to lease a building for one million dollars a year for seven years, with an option to buy at the end of that time, yet the building would cost only $6 million to build.

Morrison was a key budget negotiator during the special Transportation session of the General Assembly. Although he was not a supporter of increasing the sales tax, he worked closely with the Commission and the Governor to put together the revenue package. Hampton and Newport News will benefit greatly from the completion of Highway 664, an express connector which will give these two cities more direct linkage to Suffolk.
Here is the news release from Bill Redpath's campaign about Morrison's endorsement of the Libertarian Senate candidate:
Former 20-year Member of Virginia House of Delegates to Endorse William Redpath, Libertarian for US Senate

William Redpath, the Libertarian Party nominee for US Senate in Virginia in 2008, will be endorsed for that office by Theodore V. Morrison, Jr., a 20-year former conservative Democratic Party member of the Virginia House of Delegates and former Chairman of the Virginia State Corporation Commission.

The endorsement will occur on Monday, October 20, at 7:30PM, at the meeting of the Libertarian Party of Richmond, at the Legend Brewing Company, 321 W. Seventh St. in Richmond. A business meeting at 7PM will precede the endorsement.

Mr. Morrison will be endorsing Mr. Redpath due primarily to the candidate’s proposal for a Flat Tax to replace the complicated and deduction & credit-riddled individual and corporate income taxes in the United States. A Flat Tax would likely increase savings and stimulate entrepreneurism and economic growth in the United States.

Other positions of Mr. Redpath can be seen on his website,
(Click the graphic above to see the snapshot profile of Theodore Morrison from the 1987 Almanac of Virginia Politics.)

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