Sunday, May 31, 2009

Adnan Barqawi's Speech at the RPV Convention

All the buzz about the RPV convention, aside from general comments about the results of the voting (for those who haven't heard, Bob McDonnell is running for governor, Bill Bolling for lieutenant governor, and Ken Cuccinelli for attorney general), has been about the recent Virginia Tech graduate who gave the final formal speech to the delegates.

Adnan Barqawi became a U.S. citizen on April 17. Last fall, he became commander of the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. He delivered a strong, heartfelt address on the meaning of citizenship and the values that Americans hold dear. (I liveblogged about his speech -- and the rest of the convention -- yesterday. His comments begin at "3:15 p.m." Or perhaps I should have said "1515" in military time.)

In style and substance, Barqawi outshone keynote speaker Sean Hannity and most of the politicians who crossed the stage on Saturday.

A typical comment on Barqawi's speech comes from Nick Howard at Tertium Quids:

Adnan Barqawi was the final speaker (other than acceptance speeches). Outstanding. Simply outstanding. The best speaker of the convention. I hope his speech is available on YouTube.
Nick's wish is granted. I uploaded video from Adnan Barqawi's speech just a few minutes ago to YouTube. Here it is, in two segments, divided by applause (and there was a lot of it -- the ovation at the end of the speech lasted for more than half a minute).

Part I

Part II:

Political Brambles wrote of the speech:
This young man was an inspiration to all at the convention and brought the delegates to their feet cheering on three separate occasions. His address was inspirational and motivational. He is a new citizen of the United States and proud to be called an American.
AMCIT wrote on AMCIT's Weblog:
Watch him. Charismatic, good speaker, outstanding message. I had tears in my eyes. The man will go far.

Immediately, he’s about to head for the Mississippi Delta as part of the “Teachers for America” program. With a teacher carrying this message, our students will do well.

If I had an inkling all college students would hear and heed his message, I would never again worry about the future of our country.
If Adnan Barqawi returns to the Old Dominion from Mississippi, he will be a force to reckon with in Virginia politics. His vigorous delivery of what could have been an anodyne speech left the thousands of Republicans in attendance at the RPV convention with a sense of purpose, unity, and pride -- much needed qualities given the electoral losses of the past few years. Could we one day be inaugurating Governor Barqawi on the steps of Mr. Jefferson's Capitol?

Update: The full text of Adnan Barqari's remarks is now available on the Virginia GOP's web site.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Liveblogging the RPV Convention - 2009

9:47 a.m.: The excitement is palpable along Bloggers' Row here in the Richmond Coliseum. Excitement might not be the right word for it. Minor panic is better: the electrical outlets on which our computers and other devices rely just blew out. Too many bloggers on one circuit? Who knows? Word is "The blew a fuse but they're going to fix it." Stay tuned.

9:50 a.m.: The Coliseum is filling up much more slowly than expected, considering that the program is scheduled to begin in scant minutes. First up: gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, followed by syndicated talk radio and Fox News host Sean Hannity. No doubt delegates and guests rolled out of bed slowly after a heavy night of hospitality suites sponsored by candidates and interest groups at the Richmond Convention Center and neighboring hotels (Marriott and the new Hilton Garden Inn, occupying the old Miller & Rhoads department store building). Rumor has it that the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) suite lasted until 2:00 a.m.

9:54 a.m.:
Speaking of AFP, I attended a breakfast this morning that was sponsored by that group and its subsidiary, Patients United ( The topic was health care and how we must combat the socialization of medicine in the United States. You'll be hearing more from this group as the Obama administration works to Canadianize the health-care sector of the U.S. economy.

Speakers at the AFP breakfast included Kay Cole James (former director of the Office of Personnel Management in the Bush 43 administration), Delegates Ben Cline, Brenda Pogge, and John O'Bannon, and Tito the Builder.

10:04 a.m.
The public address announcer has just asked "ladies and gentlemen" to please take their seats as "we are ready to reconvene." Most folks are ignoring him.

10:09 a.m. He's still begging us to take our seats. Program is slated to begin at 10:15. Lots of people milling around, chatting, generally having a good time. The atmosphere is quite positive. You'd never know the GOP is on a losing streak from the vibes this crowd is generating.

10:11 a.m. RPV Chair Pat Mullins takes the podium and gavels the convention to order. He introduces Kay Cole James as the convention chair. "I first met Kay Cole James probably 20 years ago," he says. Walt Barbee and he convinced Tom Davis to appoint Kay Cole James to the Fairfax County School Board.

10:15 a.m. Kay Cole James takes the gavel. "Let's get the party going!"

10:17 a.m. The Hullaballoos from the University of Virginia (or, as Ms James puts it, THE University of Virginia) present an a capella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner." This is followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and a trinitarian invocation.

10:22 a.m.: A video tribute to Bob McDonnell fills the large screens that flank the platform. It provides biographical information about McDonnell and his accomplishments. Elements of this video can be seen in the commercials his campaign is running on TV around the state.

10:24 a.m.: Bill Bolling takes the stage: "158 days to victory in November!"

10:28 a.m.
Bolling talks about how much he likes Bob McDonnell and how proud he has been to run for office alongside him and work with him in the General Assembly and as statewide officeholders.

10:30 a.m. Bolling says "Brighter days are on the way.... We'll restore conservative leadership to the governor's office in Virginia."

10:31 a.m. "Go, Bob go!"

10:32 a.m. Another short Bob McDonnell video. John Gerdelman of American Healthcare Solutions, a former colleague of McDonnell, takes the microphone, talks about their experience together as business associates. "Bobs4Jobs isn't just a slogan," he says. "Bob McDonnell knows how to solve complex business problems.... He's a leader, he knows how to build a team ... Bob gets results; I've seen it."

10:34 a.m.:
Colonel Gary Nelson, USA-Ret, comes to the stage. He talks about Bob McDonnell's military career. Nelson was Bob's commander for 5 of the 21 years that McDonnell was in the active and reserve services.

10:36 a.m. "Character experience" ad on the jumbo screens. Lisa Hicks Thomas, a deputy attorney general, comes to speak. "We kept the Boy Scout Jamboree here in Virginia" gets huge applause. She says "he was the best attorney general in the nation and he will be the best governor in the nation. His record says it all."

10:39 a.m. John Clodfelter, whose son Kenneth was killed on the U.S.S. Cole, takes the stage. Kenneth is remembered on a Wall of Honor in Richmond. "He knows that our heroes must be remembered ... he set aside time and he created the Virginia Wall of Honor," even though it "wasn't in his job description." "No one told Bob to do it; he did it because he felt it was the right thing to do."

10:42 a.m. Crowd erupts in chant of "USA, USA, USA"

10:44 a.m. Internet service interruption.

10:47 a.m. Chris Gill is introduced. "I'm a lawyer here in town; I don't usually start out telling people that." He talks about the "Legal Food Frenzy" that raises money and collects food for food banks across Virginia. Bob McDonnell, he says, took a local project in Virginia Beach and made it a statewide charity event. "Hundreds of law firms and thousands of lawyers across the state now participate."

10:51 a.m. Francis Stevens and his family arrive: His children attend St. Joseph's School in Petersburg. Bob McDonnell stepped in to help the school raise $1 million when it was given a three-week deadline or else it would close. They raised $900,000 in just a few days. Ruth Bonner, the principal, called it "the miracle of St. Joseph's School."

10:56 a.m. Iraq war veteran Jeanine McDonnell arrives to introduce her father, telling us to "always root for Notre Dame," which she attended on an Army ROTC scholarship.

11:02 a.m.
Bob McDonnell: "I accept your nomination to be the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia." Spontaneous chants of "Go Bob Go!" He notes this is the largest RPV convention in 15 years.

11:04 a.m. McDonnell gives a shout-out to his friends from Fairfax County, where he grew up; from Virginia Beach, where he served as a legislator; and from Henrico County, where he now lives. He quotes Ronald Reagan: I will not paint pale pastels where bold colors are required.

11:13 a.m. McDonnell references his "landslide victory" in the race for Attorney General four years ago (tongue in cheek, of course).

11:15 a.m.
McDonnell wants Virginia to be the number one state for tourism and film production, and wants to develop the top commercial space port. He wants Virginia to be the "energy capital of the East Coast," and he supports off shore drilling for oil and natural gas.

11:16 a.m. House of Delegates candidate Melody Scalley taps me on the shoulder to introduce herself. She's running in the 100th district on the Eastern Shore.

11:34 a.m. At last, Sean Hannity arrives. "Hellooooooooo, Virginia!" He gives a shout-out to Barbara Comstock (who is running for the House of Delegates) and Eric Cantor, and to Governor George Allen. He says he didn't know he'd have Barack Obama's teleprompters and that "Virginia, Yes You Can!"

Hannity plugs the Fox News Network, mentions Alan Colmes, who is "hanging out with Ted Kennedy," adding "Let not your heart be troubled: Alan is driving."

11:42 a.m. Listing all of Obama's gaffes and missteps, Hannity asks what would be the reaction if George W. Bush had done the same. The crowd ooos and boos in all the right places.

11:45 a.m. Hannity reads a lengthy quotation from Ronald Reagan in March 1975, in which he talks about the results of the preceding November's elections. He draws a comparison to the 2008 elections. "We did not seek world leadership," Reagan said, "it was thrust upon us.... Americans are hungry to feel a sense of mission and greatness." Reagan went on to say Republicans shouldn't blur the difference between themselves and their opponents. "Is it a third party we need or a revitalized second party?" Again, the reference to "pale pastels" and "bold colors," a favorite theme today.

11:54 a.m. Hannity appropriates the phrase "Yes, we can!" to apply to future Republican successes. He slips into a Bill Clinton impersonation. He says he has to watch his jokes because everybody in the media is here and "Terry McAuliffe is watching every second of this."

11:57 a.m. Sean Hannity talks about energy independence, border security, and free-market capitalism: Yes we can!

We can save children from "the mediocrity known as government schools" Yes we can!

12:00 noon "The Republican party is the party of the American dream"

12:03 p.m. Sean Hannity leaves the stage to great cheers and applause.

Kay Cole James gavels the convention to order and calls on the credentials committee chairman for a supplemental report. The credentials committee has certified 11,007 delegate votes and there are over 6,800 delegates present as well as over 1,000 guests.

12:16 p.m.
Bill Bolling has been speaking for several minutes. I had to take a break to cross the Coliseum in order to report to my unit chair, Buddy Weber of Charlottesville. (Otherwise I may not be able to cast a ballot when it comes time to vote.) Bolling is strenuously defending his record against the attacks that have come from his opponent for the nomination, Patrick Muldoon, noting that he has the support of Bob McDonnell and all three candidates for Attorney General.

12:19 p.m.
U.S. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA7) is visiting Bloggers' Row. He's chatting with various bloggers and looks quite happy. (In the photo to the left, Cantor speaks with blogger/photographer Jane Dudley.)

12:29 p.m. Patrick Muldoon leaves the stage and the crowd reacts raucously. Bolling supporters almost overwhelm the Muldoon cheers.

12:34 p.m. John Brownlee elicits more cheers and applause when he mentions Ken Cuccinelli's name than when he arrives on stage himself.

12:43 p.m. Cuccinelli opens with a Gadsden flag on the screen and waving throughout the auditorium. He appears as if by magic at the podium, emerging from the dark into the light. Heavy symbolism.

12:46 p.m. Cuccinelli argues that Republicans are in the minority in Washington and in Richmond because they have abandoned their principles. He says he will defend the constitution as it is written.

12:50 p.m. Cuccinelli talks about how he fought for the marriage amendment (a plus with this crowd but not with me) and for the Second Amendment (thumbs up!), and for property rights.

12:58 p.m.
Dave Foster talks about his deep family roots in Virginia and his ability to win elections in Northern Virginia. He emphasizes his support for McDonnell and Bolling at the top of the ticket.

If I were to judge the mood of the delegates, I'd say that Cuccinelli has the edge over Brownlee. Dave Foster must be everybody's second choice.

I tried to get the box lunch due to "VIP Delegates" (those who paid the voluntary $35 convention fee) but the line was too backed up for me to wait. I'll go hungry so I can listen to these campaign speeches.

1:02 p.m.
Foster tries a new chant: "Yes we will!"

1:13 p.m.
Bill Stanley has been speaking for about 10 minutes to advance his campaign for party chairman. "My agenda is your agenda," he says.

1:14 p.m. Pat Mullins says he is "seeking re-election" and that the last time he spoke before a state convention was to put the name of Ollie North in nomination for the U.S. Senate. He also says he is a "physical conservative," although the context suggests he means "fiscal conservative."

2:11 p.m. The voting and counting of ballots has been going on for some time now. To entertain the milling masses, the UVA a capella group, the Hullaballoos (who sang the national anthem earlier today) performed a set.

Now Ed Gillespie, former RPV chair and now chairman of Bob McDonnell's campaign, is speaking. He is here to introduce former Governor and former Senator George F. Allen, who has been recruited to give a pep talk to the troops. Will he tell us that "America is not addicted to oil, America is addicted to freedom"? Will he tell us to "start our engines"? We'll find out.

2:15 p.m.
George Allen praises Bob McDonnell, "Fireball Bill" Bolling, and the three AG candidates.

2:17 p.m. Some others who have been blogging from the RPC convention include SWAC Girl, who has a list of everyone on Bloggers' Row; Shaun Kenney, who has some "random thoughts"; and Crystal Clear Conservative, who is also live blogging. I'm sure there are more.

2:32 p.m. George Allen is talking about energy independence but the crowd is rhubarbing. Some people are sitting quietly and paying attention, others are chatting and socializing. I think he just called for Virginia to become the Qatar of the East Coast.

2:34 p.m. Governor Allen just suggested we start our conservative engines, but without the emphasis he usually puts on that phrase. "Representative democracy does not run on automatic pilot," he says.

2:36 p.m. Eric Cantor comes on stage to the strains of John Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses." Don't politicians listen to the lyrics when they pick theme songs?

2:41 p.m. Bob McDonnell is visiting Bloggers' Row. Former Governor Jim Gilmore is speaking.

3:01 p.m. Gilmore repeats tropes on energy, education, taxes. He points out that 50 percent of Americans pay no taxes and suggests that everyone should have to pay taxes. (Here's my suggestion: adopt the Fair Tax, repeal the 16th Amendment, and abolish the IRS.)

3:04 p.m.
The least prominent member of the Virginia congressional delegation, Representative Randy Forbes (R-VA4) takes the microphone. Like other speakers, he tells the crowd that Bob McDonnell will be a great governor.

3:09 p.m.
Forbes says that for the first time in history, the budget is driving defense strategy rather than defense strategy driving the budget. "Failure is failure," he says, "and we need to learn from it and move on."

3:12 p.m. Forbes is sermonizing about lions and lionesses, roars and grasslands. "If ever there was a time when America ought to run to the roar," he says, "it is this time." Lionesses are hungry and grassland animals are stupid, it seems.

3:15 p.m.
Recently naturalized citizen and Virginia Tech student Adnan Barqawi comes to the podium. He wears a uniform, which is probably a breach of protocol when it is done in conjunction with a partisan political event. His speech is heartfelt. He carries the sabre of Donald Huffman, who carried it when he was a member of the Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech. Barqawi arrived in the United States at the age of 17 from Kuwait, although he was not a Kuwaiti citizen, having been descended from Palestinians. He chose to live in Virginia "because it says 'Virginia is for lovers.'" He liked the images of VT on Google Images and so he chose Virginia Tech.

3:21 p.m. Says Barqawi: "Anyone can give up ... holding it together ... is true strength." "As a freshman I learned that you cannot command if you cannot obey." "We are ultimately responsible for whom we become." "Impossible is just a word thrown around by little men..." "No one is in charge of my welfare except myself." "Diversity is embracing your culture rather than expecting the culture to embrace you."

3:25 p.m. Barqawi is going to Mississippi to teach elementary school under the Teach for America program.

3:38 p.m. "I do not call myself an Arab-American or a Middle Easterner-American, but an American." (Cheers, chants of "USA, USA!") "Some Americans have hyphens in their names because not all of them have come over."

3:33 p.m. Newly elected Alexandria city council member Frank Fannon arrives to talk about recent Republican victories in Northern Virginia. He notes that, despite Alexandria voting 72 percent for Barack Obama last November, in the May local elections, for the first time in two decades there were Republicans elected to city council.

3:37 p.m. A trivia question involving mobile phones: Who was the first Republican governor of Virginia in the 20th century? A. George Allen B. John Dalton C. Linwood Holton D. Mills Godwin. The answer, of course, is C.

HOT TIP: John Brownlee is going to ask that the convention nominate Ken Cuccinelli by acclamation.

3:42 p.m. Pat Muldoon takes the lectern to make a motion. He says he will be voting for Bill Bolling in November. He moves to nominate by acclamation. There is acclaim.

3:43 p.m. The chair recognizes Dave Foster and John Brownlee for a motion. Foster speaks first. He thanks all of the delegates for rebuilding the party and his volunteers. He also thanks "John and Ken for a great campaign." They move jointly to nominate Ken Cuccinelli by acclamation. There is BOISTEROUS acclaim.

John Brownlee takes the microphone. He will support and endorse Cuccinelli. He congratulates Ken's wife and family.

3:46 p.m.
"The chair would like to recognize Bill Stanley for the purposes of a motion." Stanley moves to elect Pat Mullins as the new RPV chairman by acclamation. "Today is a great day in Virginia because our party ... is once again unified to defeat the Democrats." "We are unified in strength ... purpose ... and in our ticket."

3:48 p.m. Another speech by Bill Bolling, now the Lt. Gov. nominee.

3:52 p.m. It's all over but the shouting. Bolling is still droning on. Crowd wants Cuccinelli.

3:53 p.m. Crowd is streaming out. A lot of delegates are eager to get home. It's been a long day.

3:54 p.m.
Remaning delegates greet Cuccinelli wildly. Ken thanks Dave Foster and John Brownlee for running good, clean race. He appreciates their support. He thanks all the delegates for "injecting so much energy into this party. We need it."

He predicts that McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli will sweep in November 2009.

Cuccinelli's message is on target but the crowd is restless; not everyone is listening. Chalk it up to fatigue. Quite a few people trying to snap photos of the AG candidate, even if they have to focus on the big TV screens.

3:57 p.m. He notes that Steve Shannon has had a head start in fundraising. He asks for volunteers for his campaign.

3:58 p.m. Kay Cole James recognizes the new RPV chair, Pat Mullins. He thanks Bill Stanley, "a fine guy, right on principles."

4:08 p.m. The happy ticket:

Bill Bolling Bob McDonnell Ken Cuccinelli

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Supreme Catholic Moment

With the nomination (and presumed confirmation by the Senate in time for the first Monday in October) of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court, a moment in judicial history has been reached that would have been unimaginable, and perhaps repulsive, to the Framers.

That is, six of the nine justices of the Supreme Court will be Roman Catholic, two will be Jewish, and only one -- John Paul Stevens, the Court's oldest member -- will be a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). The Catholic bloc includes Chief Justice of the United States John Roberts and associate justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito.

Who would ever have foreseen a Catholic supermajority on the Supreme Court?

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Interview with Tom Davis

This article is scheduled to appear in this weekend's edition of The Metro Herald. (While I call this a "partial transcript," it is virtually complete; I just left out a few vocal pauses and repetitions.)

This interview was conducted on May 15, a week before the Washington Post editorial board endorsed state Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County) for Governor.

Tom Davis Speaks with The Metro Herald
Rick Sincere
Special to The Metro Herald

Former U.S. Representative Tom Davis (R-Virginia), who represented the 11th Congressional District for 14 years and before that was chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, was the featured speaker at the undergraduate convocation of George Mason University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences on May 15. Rick Sincere of The Metro Herald caught up with Congressman Davis backstage before the ceremony and captured an exclusive interview. Here is a partial transcript of that interview.

Metro Herald: What are you going to be talking about in your remarks today?

Tom Davis: Well, I’ll just be talking a little bit about the future and the challenges that they face and try to humor them a little bit with what I call “Davis’ Five-Step Process for Life After College.”

Metro Herald: What’s your handicap of the Democratic gubernatorial primary?

Tom Davis: My gut is that it is [Terry] McAuliffe and [Brian] Moran, depending on the size of the turnout. [R. Creigh] Deeds is just from the wrong part of the state that produces votes in a primary. But they haven’t really started their ads, at least the other two candidates. So we’ll see. Anything can happen in the last week. I’d handicap it that way.

I think [Republican candidate Bob] McDonnell is the favorite simply because Virginia, being what we call a countercyclical state, they vote against the president in power, and for governor it’s been eight straight times.

Metro Herald: What do you think is going to happen in the House of Delegates races?

Tom Davis: The Republicans should hold the House. I don’t think you’ll see a major shift but they should hold, maybe pick up a seat or two.

Metro Herald: Back on the governor’s race. Do you think Brian Moran’s unique stance on repealing the Marshall/Newman Amendment [which bans same-sex marriage and civil unions] will affect him either way in the general [election] or the primary?

Tom Davis: I think it’ll probably help him up here in general. A lot of people feel strongly about that issue. What we found in the general [election] is that it doesn’t really play in partisan politics. Buchanan County had the largest percent for the marriage amendment last time [2006] and yet George Allen lost it.

Metro Herald: Anything you’d like to say to our readers? We’re based in Alexandria.

Tom Davis: It’s an exciting time to be out of office. What worries me is the debt. We’ve stacked up more debt here in the first five months of this year than we did in the previous 200 years. Just this year the debt that has piled up – just this year – you take thousand-dollar bills, stack them from the floor, they’ll go 60 miles high. That gives you a perspective.

Metro Herald: Is there any way that we can overcome that?

Tom Davis: The only way you’re going to do it over time is you’ll have to attack the entitlement programs, and it’s a very tough lift without getting both parties to the table to take the hit. Whatever you do is going to be very unpopular.

Metro Herald: What about prescriptions for economic growth? What would you suggest?

Tom Davis: Well, I’m always a great believer that the nation needs to attract capital and that means not over-regulating and not overtaxing because there are other places companies can grow. I think the Administration’s idea of trying to “close these loopholes” on overseas income is the wrong direction. I think it will actually drive capital away.

Metro Herald: Would you be in favor of something like the Fair Tax [national sales tax] and eliminating the income tax?

Tom Davis: It’s a heavy lift. I work for an accounting company so that’s not a fair cop to the question. I can’t speak against interest.

Metro Herald: Thank you very much. Good luck today.

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If It's Hurricane Season ...

Norm Leahy reminds us at the Tertium Quids blog that, starting Monday -- Memorial Day -- there is a week-long tax holiday for Virginia shoppers who purchase various items related to hurricane preparedness. There is also an annual tax holiday for back-to-school purchases.

Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that studies tropical storms and tracks them year to year, predicted that this year's hurricane season will be about normal -- perhaps as many as 14 storms that earn names, and about half of those might become hurricanes. Any one of those, of course, could make landfall and wreak havoc for homeowners and businesses, especially those close to the coast. (My house is still missing part of the rain gutter that was torn down by a falling tree during Hurricane Isabel, which was the "costliest and deadliest" Atlantic storm of 2003. And I live more than 175 miles from the ocean.)

The Daily Press conveniently provides the entire list of products that are tax-exempt next week, providing they cost $60 or less:

- Artificial ice, blue ice, ice packs and reusable ice
- Batteries (excludes automobile or boat batteries, but includes cell phone batteries)
- Any portable self-powered light source including flashlights, lanterns and glowsticks
- Portable self-powered radios (including self-powered radios with electrical power capability)
- Two-way radios
- Weather band radios and NOAA radios
- Tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, plastic drop cloths and other flexible waterproof sheeting
- Bungee cords and rope
- Ground anchor systems or tie down kits
- Ratchet straps
- Duct tape
- Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors
- Fire extinguishers
- Gas or diesel fuel tanks or containers
- Water storage containers
- Nonelectric food storage coolers
- Bottled water
- Manual can openers
- Storm shutter devices (but this does not include plywood, which is often used to board windows during hurricane season)
- Cell phone chargers
- First aid kits
There are also two items you can buy without paying a sales tax, if they cost less than $1,000:
- Portable generators and generator power cords
- Inverters and inverter power cables
This is one of a handful of tax holidays legislated by the Virginia General Assembly. As Norm put it last year around this time:
A far more rational, and sustainable, effort to ease the financial burden on taxpayers is to advocate for and enact the most moderate tax regime possible. No loopholes, no gimmicks, no giveaways, no special taxing districts or fees masquerading as taxes. But that's hardly the sort of approach that generates press releases. Or sells much duct tape.
If we can't have general tax relief year-round, at least we should make these gimmicky tax holidays easier to understand. I wrote about this issue way back in 2006, and I stand by what I said then:
The easiest, most logical, most consumer- and business-friendly thing to do for the tax holiday would simply have been to decree that on this particular three-day weekend, all items with a retail price of $100 or less would be tax-exempt. That would be simple to program into stores' computers, and it would be simple for the average customer -- that is, taxpayer -- to understand.

Well, nobody ever accused legislators of being consumer-friendly -- or logical.

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Is It 2010 Already?

Although he is only four months and a few weeks into his first term, Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA5) is already being treated to television commercials promoting his re-election.

Two lobbying groups, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhrMA) and the Health Care Leadership Council, have paid for ads running in the Charlottesville market (and perhaps elsewhere within the 5th congressional district) aimed at highlighting Perriello's support for legislation that the groups are advocating and which benefits their corporate members.

The ads do not constitute "express advocacy" as defined by McCain-Feingold. That is, they do not expressly urge that viewers vote for one candidate or against another. But the ads do urge voters to telephone Congressman Perriello's Washington office and thank him for his votes. They are intended to make the freshman congressman look good to his constituents.

Could these TV commercials be the first campaign ads of the 2010 election cycle?

The voices that narrate the ads are juvenile -- one male, one female. The girl sounds like she's 8 or 10 years old, the boy sounds about 12. Laid over flattering photographs of Congressman Perriello, the narrators say he:

"voted to give health insurance to 200,000 Virginia children"

"voted to extend health care coverage to Virginia workers hurt by the recession"

"protected our veterans by making sure their treatment for combat-related injuries was covered"
The narration ends with this request:
"call Congressman Perriello and thank him for standing up for better health care"
It's hard to believe there are only 529 days between now and Election Day, 2010.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

VDOT Should Not Be Running Quaint Tourist Attractions

The Virginia Department of Transportation has announced budget cuts that will result in the closing of several highway rest stops and a reduction in force of as many as 750 workers. VDOT has also announced that it will close the Hatton Ferry on the James River near Scottsville.

While the loss of jobs -- especially productive ones -- is unfortunate, the closing of the rest stops (which are mostly in Northern Virginia, with an abundance of gas stations, convenience stores, and restaurants close by the interstates) and the Hatton Ferry are sensible decisions that are long overdue.

I want to focus on the Hatton Ferry, which is nothing more than a quaint tourist attraction. The government has no business running quaint tourist attractions. That is something best left to the private sector.

The Hatton Ferry, in fact, was once run privately. The government socialized it in the last century. The Daily Progress explains:

VDOT bought the ferry in the 1980s and pays a contractor to ferry cars across the river on weekends from mid-April through mid-October.

By stopping the ferry service, VDOT would save an estimated $21,000 per year. The cut would go into effect July 1.

The Hatton Ferry is a historic relic of a bygone era, said Margaret O’Bryant, librarian of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society. “I’m very sorry to hear about this,” she said.

O’Bryant pointed out that the Hatton Ferry is one of only two pole-driven ferries still in operation in the United States.

Ferries played an important role along the James River, going back to the days of the European settlers, she said. The Hatton Ferry, O’Bryant added, has a long and fascinating history of its own.

In 1972, the ferry was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes, but a new one was built by the Department of Highways and dedicated in September 1973 with the help of Richard Thomas, star of TV’s “The Waltons.”

The newly built ferry was sunk and destroyed again in 1985 when the James River flooded. The following year, VDOT launched a sturdier metal ferry.

The historical society has championed the Hatton Ferry for decades. The organization has built a kiosk on the site and renovated the operator’s building so it appears as it did in the late 1800s.

“It comes as a big shock and a big disappointment,” said Steven Meeks, president of the historical society.
If the Hatton Ferry really has value, then the historical society will be able to arrange to buy it and run it privately. It should not be the responsibility of the government, and thus a burden to taxpayers.

As Governor Tim Kaine is fond of saying, "If you can find it in the Yellow Pages, maybe government shouldn't be doing it." I agree.

"Relics of a bygone era" surely meet that test, and the government lacks the moral and political authority to own them or operate them. VDOT deserves credit for making the right decision.

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Forbes Likes Charlottesville

Forbes magazine has published a survey of what it calls the "top 20 college towns for jobs" and metropolitan Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia and nearby Piedmont Virginia Community College, made the list.

Provo, Utah, where Brigham Young University is located, ranked first, while Charlottesville and UVA came in eleventh.

Forbes' correspondent, Matt Woolsey, writes:

We defined "college towns" as U.S. metropolitan statistical area and metropolitan divisions--geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget used by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing federal statistics--where employment from universities, four-year colleges, two-year community colleges and university medical teaching hospitals supplied 2% or more of area jobs. Jobs created at for-profit universities and strictly Internet-based universities were not counted. Using Data from Moody’s, we looked at year-over-year job growth in each college town. While jobs in the U.S. as a whole shrunk by 3.5% from March 2008 to March 2009, there were 62 college towns that experienced job growth.

Our list includes plenty of idyllic college communities, such as Charlottesville, Va., home to the University of Virginia and its grand Jeffersonian architecture, where 12.7% of metropolitan residents are employed by the university, and jobs are up 2.47%; as well as Athens, Ga., where you’ll find the University of Georgia and more than enough bars and music venues to entertain its 35,000 students. Employment in Athens is also up 2.47% for a year ago. Also on the list, however, were bigger metros like Seattle (2.19%) and Oklahoma City (1.51%), where clusters of large universities have continued to create jobs through the downturn.

One surprise on the list: Jonesboro, Arkansas, ranked number 19. One surprise because it's not on the list: Madison, Wisconsin.

Here is the profile of Charlottesville from Forbes:
No. 11. College Town: Charlottesville, Va.
(Metro area: Charlottesville, Va.)
Primary university: University of Virginia
Percentage of workers in university jobs: 12.7%
Job growth since 2008: 2.05%

Data from Moody’s

Let me be just a bit critical of In order to see all the towns on the list, a reader must go through 20 pages of a slide show, and each page takes an excruciatingly long time to load. I realize that Forbes wants to have more page views and more eyes to offer its advertisers, but this format is really user-unfriendly. It makes me reluctant to return to see similar stories in the future, and that makes it advertiser-unfriendly, too.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Graduation Weekend 2009

Colleges and universities across the region held their commencement exercises over the weekend of May 15-17, including George Mason University in Fairfax and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

As noted by former Congressman Tom Davis, the featured speaker at the undergraduate convocation of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University, “This is a very, very challenging time to be graduating. In our country and across the world, we have the highest unemployment rate in a generation. We have a world full of ethnic and religious tensions and an unprecedented threat of global terrorism. We have a national debt that is so high that, just in the last few months, if you were to stack up thousand-dollar bills, the stack is 60 miles high.”

Davis, who represented Virginia’s 11th congressional district for 14 years before retiring in January, now teaches part-time at GMU. He pointed out that the school has many accomplishments of which to be proud, including a faculty with two Nobel Prize winners and two Pulitzer Prize winners; a student body that produced a Final Four NCAA basketball team; and a rating by Princeton Review as one of the best bargains in higher education. He called GMU “America’s number one up-and-coming university.”

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is the largest unit among George Mason’s several schools. The convocation on May 15 provided an opportunity for its more than 3,000 graduating seniors to be recognized in advance of the all-university commencement the next day. Davis – who before his election to Congress was chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors – took his speaking opportunity to present “Davis’ Five Rules for Moving on in Life after College.”

Those five rules were:

(1) “Follow your instincts. We all have a special talent or special gifts that make us, if not the best in something, at least a little better than the average bear… Take that instinct for whatever it is, and ride it… Take that talent, develop it, and go with it.”

(2) “Don’t give up easy. Set high standards for yourself and stay with it. It’s so easy to get discouraged, but as I tell my kids and I tell other people entering politics, ‘If you’re afraid of losing, you’re never going to be a winner.’”

(3) “Always give back to your community. No matter how bad things are or how good they are, give back to the community… Nothing is a better feeling than having accomplished something that helps somebody else.”

(4) “Once you leave college, don’t stop reading. Continue to be curious, continue to ask questions, continue to enrich your mind… Read and learn, think for yourself, form your own opinions.”

(5) “While you’re doing everything else, take some time out for yourself. Stop and smell the roses… As that great 20th century philosopher, Ferris Bueller, said on his day off, ‘Life moves pretty fast and if you don’t stop and look around, you can miss it.’”
The next day in Richmond, physician-geneticist Francis S. Collins received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and addressed the graduates there. According to university president Eugene P. Trani, some 3,800 students received their degrees that day, in addition to approximately 2,000 who received degrees in December, for a 2009 graduating class of nearly 6,000 members.

Collins, who from 1993 to 2008 was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institutes of Health, oversaw the sequencing of the human genome (DNA), which was accomplished in April 2003 – ahead of schedule and under budget.

Collins is the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, and his commencement address was both edifying and entertaining.

Taking a cue from his own scientific endeavors, Collins told the graduates that they will be part of the first generation “where your lives will be profoundly affected by knowledge of your own DNA, the human genome. That human DNA sequence … our own instruction book, is three billion letters long. If you printed it out on standard paper with standard margins and reasonable font size and piled the pages on top of each other, they would be as high as the Washington Monument.”

“You have that information inside each cell of your body,” he continued. “If we decided to have a reading of the human genome… and we could pass it around and each graduate could read for a little bit, and then pass it along to the next one – probably not a good idea, because we would be here seven days a week, 24 hours a day, for 31 years.”

Although the Human Genome Project cost about $400 million, Collins said that “in the next five to ten years, each one of you will likely have your complete human genome -- if you’re interested -- sequenced at a cost for less than $1,000, and placed in your medical record where it might be pretty useful at some point where you need to know something about your own instruction booklet.”

Collins noted that he had listened to dozens of commencement addresses but only remembered one of them, from his high school graduation in Staunton, Virginia, where the speaker challenged the class to answer the most important questions in life. He chose to present four such similar questions to the VCU graduates.
(1) “What will be your profession, your life’s work? Some of you already know what that will be. Some of you don’t, but that’s ok. Some think you do, and will be surprised later on when your plan gets utterly revised.”

(2) “What are you going to do about faith? …We do all have to come face to face, sooner or later, with life’s profound questions: What’s the meaning of life? What’s the meaning of suffering? …What happens when we die?”

(3) “What role will love play in your life? Well, as much as possible, right?”

(4) “What’s the fourth? Fun! After all, life is full of sobering, tragic moments, so you’re going to need to exercise your sense of humor.”
At this point, Collins picked up a guitar with “a double helix on the fret board” to accompany himself on a song parody of “My Way,” having fun with academic stereotypes and the experiences of everyday student – and faculty – life. He called it “A Song of the Student Experience” and it was met with exuberant cheers and applause from the audience in the Richmond Coliseum, students, faculty, family, and friends alike.

Video of the speeches by Tom Davis at GMU and Francis Collins at VCU can be seen on YouTube and also right here, below.

First, some highlights of the convocation ceremony at GMU, held in the Patriot Center:

Then, in two parts, former Congressman Tom Davis addresses the graduates, faculty, friends, and family:

Here are some highlights of the VCU commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 16. Note how the orchestra begins with "Gaudeamus Igitur" (as one might expect) but also plays an arrangement of "For All the Saints," an odd choice for a secular institution's graduation exercises.

As the platform party took the stage, the orchestra played "Pomp & Circumstance," followed by the singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" by J. Chase Peak.

Dr. Francis Collins chose to speak for a few minutes longer than Congressman Davis did, so his address is divided here into three parts. The last section includes his musical number, a parody of Paul Anka's (or, if you insist, Frank Sinatra's) "My Way."

For more photos from the GMU College of Humanities and Social Sciences convocation, look here. For more photos from the VCU commencement, look here.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Presidents at Notre Dame - Now, and Then

In reaction to President Barack Obama's address to the graduates at the University of Notre Dame this past Sunday, I have an opinion article in the commentary section of the Washington Examiner today. (It's on page 19 of the print edition, for those of you in the D.C. metro area who would like to pick it up and see it in full color, with accompanying photographs.)

The article, headlined "Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama at Notre Dame," notes that when President Carter spoke at the Indiana university more than three decades ago, his speech (about a "new" approach to U.S. foreign policy) was given analytical treatment in a full-length book just a few months later.

The article begins:

When President Barack Obama addressed the graduates of the University of Notre Dame Sunday, it was the first time in 32 years that a Democratic president had done so.

On May 22, 1977, President Jimmy Carter delivered an address on foreign policy at Notre Dame. Carter’s appearance was not marked by the sort of controversy that accompanied President Obama this year, nor was it the subject of the 24-hour news cycle.

Carter’s speech, however, was seen as sufficiently significant that a whole book of responses was published a few months later by the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The book, Morality and Foreign Policy: A Symposium on President Carter's Stance, included such contributors as Jeane Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger, Irving Kristol, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Limited space in the pages of the Examiner caused me to exclude some of the erudite, perspicacious, and even juicy comments made by the authors collected in Morality and Foreign Policy. Let me offer a few samples.

It has become something of a commonplace, and a jocular one at that, to make facile comparisons between the Carter and Obama administrations, especially with regard to foreign policy. (The comparisons were raised even before the 2008 election as a warning to voters about Candidate Obama.)

Thus it was somewhat jarring to read this paragraph in the essay by Charles Burton Marshall, author of The Limits of Foreign Policy and The Exercise of Sovereignty, in his essay entitled "The Valor of Ignorance." Substitute the word “Obama” for “Carter” and this reference to political messianism could have been written yesterday – or next week – rather than in 1977:
“Sooner or later events will demonstrate even to the tight inner circle that the Carter administration no more knows the secret for walking on water around the world than it has a formula for cleansing the public service or any other manifestation of the Old Adam The self-enthrallment then will cease.”
Another comment whose echoes we here today came from the legendary editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, Robert Bartley, whose essay was called "Reflecting the Eastern Establishment":
“Almost certainly it is a mistake to look to President Carter’s professed morality to explain our concerns about his foreign policy. His version of morality is not that sharp a departure, and on experience so far not that powerful a force in shaping his policies. We would do better to worry about sheer inexperience.”
John P. Roche, then dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, tried to set Carter’s speech in a wider context in his contribution, "A Lack of Ideological Roots":
“As a thirty-year veteran who long since reached the conviction that commencement addresses were drafted by computers, I am certain I have heard this one four times. Indeed, had I absorbed it without advance information on the source, I might have attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt, Arthur Goldberg, Harold Stassen, or George McGovern. (At half an hour it was a bit brief for Hubert Humphrey, God bless him.) In short, it was standard commencement pap by an American ‘statesman’: ‘Speech 5c—American Policy, Morality, and the World (for use at a liberal religious school).’”
Roche went on to say:
“Part of Mr. Carter’s problem in world politics is the lack of any ideological roots, a weakness which has been buttressed by a McGovernite ‘issues staff’ which sincerely believes that the world began in January 1977, when they took office. In this state of historical amnesia it is hard to deal with the degrees on the scale between ‘good’ and ‘bad.’”
While generally content with the themes underlying President Carter’s remarks, Jeane Kirkpatrick -- at the time on leave from the Department of Government at Georgetown University and later to become Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations -- raised six questions demanding clarification or explication in her essay, "Selective Invocation of Universal Values." One was this:
“Why does the President think that ‘a peaceful world cannot exist one third rich and two thirds hungry’? The implication is that the frustration of poor nations causes war. In fact that the notion that poverty causes war doesn’t wash. Poverty causes hardship, suffering, and death … but there is little evidence to support the notion that it causes war… Poverty is abominable, not because it leads to war, but because it perpetuates human misery. We can approach problems of war and poverty more effectively if we are clear about the relationships between them.”
The two contributors most sharply critical of Carter’s speech were Michael Novak and Eugene V. Rostow. (One of Rostow's key points is featured in my Examiner piece.)

Novak, then a religion professor at Syracuse University and later author of the insightful book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, said in his response ("The March of Defeat") that Carter's Notre Dame address
“is a profoundly embarrassing and disturbing speech…. [The] President’s vision is deficient. It is deficient both in realism and fact. It is deficient in its moral vision. The President uses the word moral and its cognates – values, principles, social justice, and the like – very heavily indeed. But he does not use them well.”
Later in his essay, he added:
“One of the best ways to create an immoral foreign policy is to try too hard for a moral one.”
Rostow, who served in the Johnson Administration’s State Department and, by the beginning of the Carter administration was chairman of the executive committee of the Committee on the Present Danger, wrote in "Ignoring Soviet Realities" that
“President Carter’s Notre Dame speech is his most ambitious attempt thus far to define the American national interest in its course. The speech is deeply flawed: inconsistent; incomplete; and excessive in its claims of novelty…. The speech lacks any conception of the relationship between power and morality in international affairs.”
Ronald Berman, once chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, parsed the language of Carter’s speech. In "Confusing Domestic and Foreign Policy," he wrote:
“Where the language of this speech is moralistic,” he said, “it tends to have an effect just about the opposite to that intended: By devaluing our past motives it makes our present ones suspicious. How reliable can policy be which is based upon the acceptance of our moral fallibility?”
In a paragraph that timelessly retains its relevance, Burt Marshall, pondering whether disappointment might follow the non-fulfillment of the president’s high-flying rhetoric, noted that the
“distinction [between cynicism and skepticism] is important. A cynic shrugs off differences between right and wrong as merely conventional – a sham, as it were. A skeptic acknowledges such differences as real, but regards them to be often complex and subtle, and refuses to arrive at judgments on the basis of declaratory evidence only. Cynicism goes hand in hand with ennui. Skepticism kindles the critical spirit. Every one of us should be skeptical about foreign policy, because that attitude is what helps exact proper performance from those conducting it.”
Re-reading this book after some 30 years -- I began working at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in September 1979, and the Center's publications were readily available to read and absorb -- what struck me was how, despite their later affiliations and identifications, so many of the authors were (at least in 1977) firmly identified as Democrats, even if they later became more associated with the neo-conservative movement of the 1980s and, directly or indirectly, with the Reagan administration.

The book's editor, Ernest W. Lefever, had been a foreign policy advisor to Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Rostow, as was noted, worked in the State Department under Dean Rusk. John P. Roche had been an advisor to President Lyndon Johnson. Although he served Republican presidents, Daniel Patrick Moynihan served in the U.S Senate as a Democrat from New York. Michael Novak had been a speechwriter for George McGovern. Jeane Kirkpatrick held on to her affiliation with the Democratic Party even through her tenure as UN Ambassador, up till (and perhaps including) when she icily invoked the "San Francisco Democrats" at the 1984 Republican National Convention. Irving Kristol, of course, is famous for coining the definition of a neo-conservative as "a liberal who was mugged by reality."

Except for Bartley, Berman, and Kissinger, I could not put my finger on another contributor to Morality and Foreign Policy who might be Republican. (I am not aware of any partisan affiliation of Roger L. Shinn, the last of the contributors, who at the time was Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.)

It is hard to imagine a collection of Democratic scholars or activists today, coming together in an edited volume of essays criticizing Barack Obama for the policies he outlined in his speech at Notre Dame on May 17. Partisans of both Republican and Democratic stripes treat their top leaders with kid gloves. Just as Republicans -- with a few exceptions, such as Ron Paul -- were loathe to criticize George W. Bush even as he was abandoning conservative principles on issues like the economy, education, and foreign interventionism, so too are Democrats today unlikely to say an unkind word about President Obama's initiatives. (Disgruntled borborygmi in the blogosphere don't really count, do they?) It may not just be nostalgia that suggests that "in the olden days" policy debates were conducted more civilly and with less of a bipolar division than we see today. We may be remembering the past accurately when we say that.

Despite its being nearly 32 years old, Morality and Foreign Policy's essays are remarkably fresh. (The fact that President Carter in his address and several of the respondants speak at length about U.S. policy toward Iran and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict makes it eerily relevant, too.) While some references might be dated -- South Korea is now a thriving democracy, not an authoritarian dictatorship, for instance -- the foundational analysis of the contributors remains strong and applicable to the 21st century's international environment.

Morality and Foreign Policy is a slim volume (just 76 pages) but it is densely packed with insight. Look for it in a used book store or order it through It will be worth the effort.

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