Sunday, September 27, 2009

Deifying the Chief Executive

Not since "The Apotheosis of George Washington" has an American president been subjected to deification to the extent that Barack Obama has. Even FDR-worship was largely limited to rotogravure photographs hanging in the living rooms of American families and an obsequious press that pretended the president could walk unaided and that he was faithful to his wife.

One song performed by schoolchildren in praise of Barack Obama could be an anomaly. Two songs performed by schoolchildren in praise of Barack Hussein Obama may not be a trend, but it certainly is the beginning of one.

No president -- no living, terrestrial political leader -- should be the subject of songs of praise in a manner usually reserved for gods and saints. The U.S. Postal Service requires that a person be dead for at least ten years before he can be eligible to appear on a stamp. (Exceptions are made for recently deceased presidents and for cartoon characters like Homer Simpson.) The Catholic Church requires that candidates for sainthood go through a rigorous vetting process before they are beatified and subsequently canonized.

It is simply unAmerican to ascribe supernatural powers to living politicians. It's more than a bit creepy, too, when schoolchildren are required to sing hymns to the president. That is something that, before the last year or so, was limited to totalitarian dictatorships in faraway lands.

It didn't happen in New Jersey, for heaven's sake!

But now it has.

You probably have to be living under a rock if you have not yet seen or heard the youthful sycophants of B. Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington Township, New Jersey, chanting in praise of the occupant of the White House, followed by a hymn of praise set to the melody of "John Brown's Body" (better known for the past 145 years as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic").

Here's the video, as seen by more than three-quarters of a million viewers on YouTube:

Not surprisingly, the web site of B. Bernice Young School is inaccessible at the moment, though the Burlington Township school system's site is still live.

Fortunately, I was able to capture a screen shot of the school's homepage before it went down. The site noted that school will be closed on Monday, September 28, for "Rosh Hashanah." That's odd, since Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was celebrated on Saturday, September 19; September 28 is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Apparently the administrators of B. Bernice Young School are so entranced with the worship of an earthbound deity, the Augustus of Hyde Park, that they forget about the details (like the correct dates) of long-established holidays honoring the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Or perhaps principal Denise King simply doesn't have a current calendar close at hand. (She could do worse than to buy one of those displayed below.)

Perhaps next year B. Bernice Young School will just mark the Ninth of Thermidor as a holiday and leave aside the other religious observances.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Charlottesville Daily Suck-Up?

For the past few days, the Charlottesville Daily Progress (a Media General newspaper) has been running profiles of local candidates for public office, beginning with those running for City Council. The series is going to continue through next week, including a Q&A with the candidates next Sunday, followed by articles about the contenders for sheriff, commissioner of the revenue, commonwealth's attorney, treasurer, and School Board. (Of those offices, only the sheriff's race is contested.)

The first two profiles, for independent City Council candidates Bob Fenwick and Paul Long, were positioned on the right side of the front page, with their headlines just above the fold. This is appropriate placement for a feature story with certain current news value. (See the two pictures, below.)

The third profile, however, which featured incumbent Dave Norris, who is also Charlottesville's mayor (a title bestowed by other City Council members and not subject to voter approval), was positioned as the day's most important news story, well above the fold and emblazoned across the most prominent section of page A1. (See below; click to embiggen.)

Excuse me for pointing this out, but a soft-edge candidate profile is never the most important news story of the day, especially when it is published five weeks before the election. Indeed, as local stories go, the report on the Albemarle County Superintendent of Schools' decision to save three elementary schools was far more newsworthy and deserving of greater prominence than the Dave Norris puff piece was.

Either the editors of the Daily Progress have no news judgment or sense of balance at all (which may be the case, since they ran an AP report of a local news story above the fold on Thursday, rather than producing an article with a Daily Progress or Media General byline; they can't send a reporter to Orange County?) or they are trying to curry favor with the powers-that-be in City Hall -- and doing it in a ham-handed, blazingly obvious way.

Does anyone know if the Daily Progress or Media General might have a regulatory or zoning matter coming up before City Council anytime soon? At least that would provide a clear rationale for putting a photo of an incumbent-mayor-seeking-reelection in the position on the front page the most readily draws the readers' attention.

Please note that my beef is not with any of the candidates, none of whom I am endorsing; it is with the newspaper, for its transparent apple-polishing.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

GOP Congresswoman Calls Out UN Homophobe

At a news conference in New York on September 18, the new president of the United Nations General Assembly, former Libyan foreign minister Ali Abdussalam Treki, said that he was opposed to the decriminalization of homosexuality and that, in fact, he favored those countries and traditions that continue to penalize their gay citizens.

According to a report by Matthew Russell Lee of the Inner City Press -- and apparently the only report on Treki's remarks in the news media so far:

In a surreal press conference on September 18, the new Libyan president of the UN General Assembly Ali Abdussalam Treki veered from refusing to answer a question about his country's recent proposal to cut Switzerland into three parts because it is not on the Assembly's agenda to favoring the criminalization of homosexuality despite a General Assembly vote to the contrary only last year. Video here, from Minute 29:53.
(I noted the bizarre proposal to dismember Switzerland, derived from a personal vendetta of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi, a few days ago.)

Lee goes on to say:
...when Treki was asked about the vote in the General Assembly last year urging the decriminalization of homosexuality, he was not as restrained or diplomatic. He said "that matter is very sensitive, very touchy. As a Muslim, I am not in favor of that... it is not accepted by the majority of countries." This last would seem to contradict the vote in the General Assembly last year.

Treki continued that some countries allow homosexuality, "thinking it a kind of democracy... I think it is not." While basing his statement on Islam -- he said there are "two billion" Muslim in the world -- he also said that "probably Jewish and Buddhist and Hindu" communities are against it. Video here, from Minute 29:53. Of course if it is raised in the 64th session, he conceded, the Assembly members will have to decide.
Be sure to click on the links to the video; it backs up Lee's report in Treki's own words.

In what may be the only political response to Treki's remarks from the United States (so far, at least), Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking minority member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement of rebuke.

This is the text of a news release from the Congresswoman's office that landed in my email box a couple of hours ago (it is not yet posted to Ros-Lehtinen's official web site press release page):
Ros-Lehtinen Criticizes Anti-Gay Remarks by Libyan President of the UN General Assembly

Calls on Congress to cut funding to UN Agencies, pass Reform bill

(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, commented today on recent remarks by Ali Abdessalam Treki, the new president of the United Nations General Assembly and former foreign minister of Libya, in favor of the criminalization of homosexual behavior. Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:
“The anti-gay bigotry spewed by this Qaddafi shill demonstrates once again that the UN has been hijacked by advocates of hate and intolerance.

“Likewise, the leadership of the UN Development Program is held by the Iranian regime, which denies the presence of gays in Iran even as it murders them and other innocent citizens.

“We must ensure that billions annually in U.S. taxpayer dollars no longer foot the bill for the UN’s anti-freedom agenda without significant reform.

“Congress must demand better by enacting pending legislation that would leverage our contributions to the UN to produce sweeping, meaningful reform of that body.”
Note: Ros-Lehtinen is the author of the United Nations Transparency, Accountability and Reform Act (H.R. 557), which seeks to combat anti-freedom bias within the UN. This bill enjoys the support of almost 100 cosponsors.
H.R. 557 so far has 97 cosponsors, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, Minority Whip Eric Cantor, and Cantor's fellow Virginia Congressmen Bob Goodlatte, Rob Wittmann, and Frank Wolf, as well as South Carolina's newly famous Second District Representative Joe Wilson. Among other things, the bill would:
[Withhold] U.S. contributions to the United Nations Human Rights Council until the Secretary certifies to Congress that the Council does not include a member state: (1) subject to Security Council sanctions; (2) under a Security Council-mandated investigation for human rights abuses; (3) subject, within the prior five years, to a country-specific resolution passed by the former U.N. Human Rights Commission; (4) which the Secretary has determined is a government that has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism; or (5) which the President has designated as a country of particular concern for religious freedom.
Ros-Lehtinen deserves congratulations for her willingness to speak out against homophobic language by the leader of the United Nations General Assembly. The idea that, in the 21st century, people should be imprisoned, tortured, or executed for being gay is beyond the realm of civil discourse.

Let's hope that more of Ros-Lehtinen's colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, line up to offer their own condemnations of Ali Abdussalam Treki's Neanderthalism.

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Who Wants to Live in New York?

In the Outlook section of Sunday's Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley reviews a new book by journalist David Owen (not, I presume, the British politician of the same name) called Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability. Yardley quotes the book:

A former resident of Manhattan who has lived for many years in a rather remote Connecticut town, Owen finds in New York City, Manhattan in particular, a model that the rest of the country could profitably emulate. A city of "extreme compactness," New York "is the greenest community in the United States." The "average Manhattanite consumes gasoline at a rate that the country as a whole hasn't matched since the mid-1920s," and "eighty-two percent of employed Manhattan residents travel to work by public transit, by bicycle, or on foot," which is "ten times the rate for Americans in general, and eight times the rate for workers in Los Angeles County." It all derives from being a very crowded place:

"Manhattan's density is approximately 67,000 people per square mile, or more than eight hundred times that of the nation as a whole and roughly thirty times that of Los Angeles. Placing one and a half million people on a twenty-three-square-mile island sharply reduces their opportunities to be wasteful, enables most of them to get by without owning cars, encourages them to keep their families small, and forces the majority to live in some of the most inherently energy-efficient residential structures in the world: apartment buildings. It also frees huge tracts of land for the rest of America to sprawl into."
A "model that the rest of the country could profitably emulate"? Really?

Well, it's possible, given a sufficient level of coercion. The fact is, if people wanted to live in cities like New York, they would have already chosen to do so.

New York attracts nearly 50 million tourists from around the world each year. In 2007 and 2008, more than 37 million came from the United States alone. An incredible 35 million people visited Times Square in 2007. (By comparison, only 6.7 visited the Eiffel Tower in Paris.)

Those tens of millions of tourists don't arrive back home and say, "I want to replicate the New York living experience right here." If they are like me and most of the people I know, they view New York as a nice place to visit for a few days, but think that it would be a most unpleasant place to live. As Marianna Allen (a Mask & Bauble colleague from Georgetown days gone by) sang on the original cast recording of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along:
"Who wants to live in New York?
Who wants the worry, the noise, the dirt, the heat?
Who wants the garbage cans clanging in the street — ?"
I know I'll be scolded by residents of the five boroughs, many of whom would never choose to live anywhere else. But that's their choice; it's not mine, and it's not the choice of the 290 million Americans who prefer not to live in New York or in urban conglomerations very much like it.

Authors like David Owen are condescending control freaks who think that most Americans are not smart enough, or sophisticated enough, or sensitive enough, to pursue the lifestyles that Owen and his ilk would impose on us. They disdain the choices people make as a consequence of being free and liking it.

And why, if Owen thinks New York is the ideal place to live, does he live in "a remote Connecticut town"?

Because he chooses to do so. I respect his choice (hypocritical though it might be) and he should respect mine and that of every other American.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Swiss Shards

What would legendary Swiss patriot Wilhelm Tell think about this?

Colonel Moammar Gadhafi (also spelled Qadafi, Kadafi, Khaddafi, Gaddafi, but never Cavafy), who has ruled Libya as a dictator for the past four decades (but never managed to get promoted to general - what's up with that?), wants the United Nations to dismember Switzerland, an independent country for more than six centuries, and redistribute its constituent parts to Germany, Italy, and France.

I learned about this through an article in O'Dwyer's PR, a professional newsletter (subscription only), and I had to do a double-take because I thought I was reading something from The Onion or another satirical publication. The O'Dwyer's article reports that Libya's Mission to the United Nations has hired a public relations firm, Hopps & Associates, to represent Gadhafi during the coming year. (Libya was elected president of the General Assembly in June and takes the gavel this month.) The article then continues:

The abolishment of Switzerland is among Gaddafi's U.N. priorities. He will call for carving up of Switzerland and handing its parts to France, Italy and Germany. The Colonel has waged war against the Swiss after authorities arrested his son, Hannibal, for beating two workers at a Geneva hotel. More than $5B of Libyan funds have been yanked from Swiss banks, and the Tripoli office of Nestle has been shuttered.
Skeptical, I did some research to confirm this bizarre story, and found it to be true.

World Radio Switzerland, for instance, reports:
Mummar Gaddafi plans to officially ask the United Nations to eliminate Switzerland from the map. The Libyan leader first made the comments at the G8 meeting in Italy in July, but it was largely ignored by the world leaders.

He also said at the G8 meeting that Switzerland is ‘a mafia world, and not a country’. Gaddafi has apparently notified others that he will make his request during his first-ever visit to, and speech at, the UN General Assembly.
The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, added some details to the story:
He first mentioned his idea at the G8 summit in Italy in July. 'Switzerland is a world mafia and not a state,' he said.

'It is formed of an Italian community that should return to Italy, another German community that should return to Germany, and a third French community that should return to France.'

The Swiss Foreign Ministry described it as a single-minded campaign against Swiss interests.

Swiss MP Christa Markwalder, told the Swiss TV news programme 10 vor 10 this week: 'We are concerned that Libya will attempt to use its year-long presidency of the U.N. General Assembly to damage Switzerland's reputation.'
The good news -- for Switzerland, not for Gadhafi -- that the United Nations lacks the authority to carve up countries and feed the remains to their neighbors. (Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, for instance, broke apart from centrifugal forces of their own making, not because of intervention by a multilateral organization.)

Foreign Policy magazine notes on its blog:
A UN spokesman tells the Swiss News Agency that Libya submitted a proposal to the General Assembly calling for the dissolution of Switzerland last month. The proposal was never accepted or circulated because the U.N. Charter prohibits countries from threatening the existence of other member states....

The source of the Libya-Switzerland beef is an incident last year involving Qaddafi's ne'er-do-well son Hannibal. (See more about him in our list of the World's Worst Sons.)The young Qaddafi was arrested at a hotel in Geneva for aggravated assault on two of his servants. His father responded by lodging a formal diplomatic complaint, expelling Swiss diplomats, and shutting down Swiss-owned businesses in Libya.
If Gadhafi takes this proposal further, perhaps someone should challenge him to shoot an apple off the top of his son Hannibal's head.

Chances are, however, that nothing will come of this. Hannibal should have learned a long time ago that he'll lose more than he'll gain by crossing the Alps.

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Porn for a Cause

Each week I look forward (pardon the pun) to an email from The Jewish Daily Forward, with a list of its most recent articles. I can always depend on The Forward for quirky, unexpected news and cultural commentary that simply can't be found anywhere else.

For instance...

This week there was a story on Russian-Jewish emigre Michael Lucas, who spent his childhood under Soviet Communism and who now lives an entrepreneurial American success story. Simply put, he's an adult movie producer -- in fact, he's an award-winning gay porn producer.

The article, headlined "Pornographic Stimulus Plan," by Michael Kaminer, highlights the latest offering by Lucas Entertainment, a video entitled Men of Israel.

Kaminer says that it is claimed that the film is "the first gay adult film made in Israel with an all-Israeli cast." (That cast includes Avi Dar, Matan Shalev, Jonathan Agassi, Guy Ronen, Morr-Foxx, Naor Tal, and Ninrod Gonen.)

What's more, the Forward article continues,

Lucas claims that his motivation behind “Men of Israel” was not just titillation, but also a counterbalance to lopsided portrayals of Israel in mainstream media. “It’s free PR for Israel, and it’s much better than the PR they’re getting on the news,” he said during a tour of the company’s expansive second-floor offices, with views of the New York Times building across the street. “The reality is that Israel has only one face to people on the street, and that’s the West Bank and Gaza. All people see in the media is a country of disaster. They get images of a blown-up bus.”

By contrast, Lucas said, the images in “Men of Israel” — filmed in telegenic Tel Aviv, Haifa and desert locations by Israeli fashion photographer Ronen Akerman — amount to a pornographic stimulus campaign for gay tourism.

“Nobody goes to Israel for Golda Meir, I’m so sorry,” Lucas said in heavily Russian-accented English. “People don’t care that you have a great orchestra, and they’re not particularly interested in the Holocaust museum. Gay people, and straight people, want beautiful beaches, beautiful nature, beautiful men and women, good food, good hotels. Israel shouldn’t be mistaken about why people go there. They need me.
Will Men of Israel do for Israeli tourism what The Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, or what Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown's new novel, The Lost Symbol, is expected to do to bring more tourists to Washington, D.C.? Michael Lucas seems confident that it will; Kaminer reports that Lucas recently became an Israeli citizen.

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Constitution Day 2009

Today is the anniversary of the day in 1787 that the Framers of the United States Constitution signed the document and sent it on to the states for ratification.

On Monday, September 14, the House of Representatives passed a resolution (H.Res. 686) urging that:

(1) all high school seniors across the country should spend at least one week learning about the United States Constitution in September of their senior year, as knowledge of this historic document, which constitutes the very foundation of our country, is critical to being an effective citizen; and

(2) upon reaching voting age, high school seniors should engage in civic learning activities on an issue of importance to them to demonstrate their understanding of their rights and responsibilities as citizens of the United States.
Ironically, the resolution, introduced by Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL8) and cosponsored by 222 others, itself contains a glaring error of historical fact. Can you catch it in this "whereas" clause?
Whereas a 1998 survey revealed that more teenagers knew who the `Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' was than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, more knew the star of the motion picture `Titanic' than who was the vice president of the United States, and more can name the Three Stooges and the 3 American Idol judges than can name the 3 branches of government;
(I'll fill you in: A "1998 survey" could not have included information about the three American Idol judges because American Idol did not premiere on U.S. television until June 2002.)

As well-intentioned as H.Res. 686 may be, a far more important bill, H.R. 450 (and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 1319), has been languishing with no action in either chamber.

Introduced by Representative John Shadegg (R-AZ3) and cosponsored by 51 others, H.R. 450 would "require Congress to specify the source of authority under the United States Constitution for the enactment of laws." Specifically, it says:
`Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The failure to comply with this section shall give rise to a point of order in either House of Congress. The availability of this point of order does not affect any other available relief.'
The Senate version, introduced by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and cosponsored by 21 others, is slightly different. It says:
Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise explanation of the specific constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The failure to comply with this section shall give rise to a point of order in either House of Congress. The availability of this point of order does not affect any other available relief.
S. 1319 also includes a provision for limiting debate according to Senate rules.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate on June 23, Senator Coburn explained the rationale of the Enumerated Powers Act:
The whole purpose behind this bill is to say when you write a bill in this Congress and any Congress that follows it, you have to know in that bill where you get the authority in the Constitution to spend this money or to authorize this program. You can still introduce a bill without it, but it creates a point of order that says a Senator can challenge that bill on the basis of what the Constitution says because you have not clearly stated in this new piece of legislation where you get the authority as a Member of the Senate to author it when, in fact, it is outside the authority given to us under the Constitution. The bill then sets up a debate on which the Senate will have to vote. I am not so naive as to believe I will win a whole lot of those, but I know I will win something, because the American people want to hear that debate, and that debate is something they are not hearing today.

They are not hearing our justifications why we can take freedom away and we can make a bigger, more powerful Federal Government that is going to borrow more money from their children to spend on things we don't need, money we don't have. The American people are entitled to hear the reasoning behind why we know so much better than they do, and to hear the reasoning why we can ignore the wisdom of our Founders in terms of our ability to grow the Federal Government.

The Federal Government is far too big and far too removed from people's lives today. That is why we are feeling this rumble out in the country....

This bill, S. 1319, requires that each act of Congress shall contain a concise explanation of the authority, the specific constitutional authority under which this bill would be enacted. What it does is makes Congress go to the Constitution, and particularly article I, section 8, and say, here is where I get the authority. We won't win many of those arguments, even though many of the bills will be outside of the authority granted us under the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson thought such an exercise was vitally important--we have ignored his advice--he thought it was important for Congress to undertake in order to study what those who ratified the Constitution had in mind. In a letter in 1823, he said this:
On every question of construction, let us carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.
There is no question what the context and the meaning was of our Founders when they wrote out the enumerated powers section. We have prostituted it to our own demise. The words of Benjamin Franklin ring true today: Can we keep it. If we can keep it.

S. 1319 is a little exercise in self-discipline for the Senate that maybe we ought to be explaining to the American people where we think we get the authority to trample on the 10th amendment, to tell them what to do, how to do it, and by the way, we need some money to tell you how to do that. The whole goal of the Enumerated Powers Act is to make us accountable. My whole goal in the Senate has been transparency. We ought to be transparent about how we get or where we get or from where we get the authority to grow the size of this government even further and to make it less effective.
Bills such as S. 1319 and H.R. 450 should be non-controversial, yet certain Members of Congress refuse to commit to endorsing this legislation. For instance, according to a letter to the editor published in the Charlottesville Daily Progress on June 22:
On May 8th, a group of local citizens from the Jefferson Area Tea Party met with Congressman Tom Perriello, D-Albemarle, at his office. He was presented with a petition signed by over a thousand people who had attended the April Tax Day Tea Party. At this meeting we were able to speak with Mr. Perriello about our various concerns.

One question that we asked concerned the congressman’s views on HR 450, the Enumerated Powers Act. This is a very simple piece of legislation: “To require Congress to specify the source of authority under the United States Constitution for the enactment of laws, and for other purposes.” Mr. Perriello at the time was not familiar with the bill, but after it was explained to him stated that he did not see any problem with the legislation. He promised to check into it and get back to us....

After a month I was able to finally get an answer from the congressman’s office: He would not sign on as a co-sponsor to the bill. According to his office, he felt that any legislation that currently was being passed was constitutional, and if it were not the courts could settle any questions. This bill according to him was an unneeded redundancy.
Three members of the Virginia delegation, J. Randy Forbes (R-VA4), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA6), and Rob Wittman (R-VA1) are cosponsors of H.R. 450, as are South Carolina's Joe Wilson (R-SC2), Arizona's Jeff Flake (R-AZ6), and former presidential candidate Ron Paul (R-TX14). One has to ask why House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA7) and the other Republican from Virginia, Frank Wolf (R-VA10), have not cosponsored this simple piece of legislation. (None of Virginia's Democratic Members of Congress, including Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb, have cosponsored either H.R. 450 or S. 1319.)

As a tribute to the U.S. Constitution, let's turn to the rising generation, those who are the focus of H.Res. 686.

I captured this short video at the Jefferson Area Tea Party that was held in Charlottesville on Independence Day. In it, singer/songwriter Lisa Mei Norton's son, Joshua, recites the Preamble to the Constitution to a musical accompaniment. His effort was met with warm applause.

For those who may not be able to make out all of the words as recited, here's the text from the U.S. Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
I remember being required to memorize the Preamble in fourth or fifth grade. Is that still an expectation of pupils in our elementary schools?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Candidate Emerges in 99th

The Virginia blogosphere is atwitter with the news that a write-in candidate has emerged in the 99th House of Delegates district, challenging incumbent Delegate Albert Pollard (D) and tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist Catherine Crabill, a nominal Republican who has been repudiated by the GOP's candidates at the top of the ticket and by the state GOP chairman.

As reported on Virginia Virtucon:

CAROLINE COUNTY, VA – Hamilton “Ham” Sandwich, Esq. today announced his campaign as a Republican write-in candidate for the 99th House of Delegates District on the popular local blog “I’m Surrounded By Idiots” run by Timothy Watson. Ham previously ran for Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney in 2007 as a write-in candidate and received more than 700 votes countywide with votes coming from every precinct in the county according to Prince William County Registrar Betty Weimer.
Can a ham sandwich win a write-in campaign against two ballot-statused candidates? Stay tuned through November 4 to find out.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Patrick Swayze and 'Red Dawn'

Fox News and other media outlets are reporting the death of actor Patrick Swayze:

After a very long and public battle with pancreatic cancer, actor Patrick Swayze died at home Monday with his family and friends at his side. He was 57.

Swayze, who was diagnosed in January 2008, defied the odds in many ways – living for more than a year-and-half with this extremely deadly form of cancer. During that time, he put together a memoir with his wife and even started filming the new crime drama “The Beast,” in which he refused to take painkillers because he was worried it would affect his performance.
A quarter-century ago, I wrote my first movie review. Written for the Journal of Civil Defense (not known for its arts coverage), the review was about Red Dawn, a Cold War-era drama directed by John Milius and starring, among others, Patrick Swayze (pre-Ghost and pre-Dirty Dancing).

Aware of the embarrassment likely to ensue from the reprinting of any juvenile work of criticism, I'm willing to take the risk and post that review here, as it appeared in the October 1984 (!) issue of the Journal of Civil Defense.
“The Outsiders” Meet Darth Vader:
Schoolkids Battle Red Army in RED DAWN
Richard E. Sincere, Jr.
Red Dawn — Directed by John Milius. Produced by Buzz Feitshans and Barry Beckerman. Screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and John Milius. Executive producer, Sidney Beckerman. A Valkyrie Film distributed by MGM/United Artists Entertainment, 1984. Rated PG-13.

What would America be like under Communist military occupation? To answer this question, United Artists has released a movie more frightening than The Day After, as suspenseful as The Empire Strikes Back, and as real as the war in Central America. Directed by John Milius (The Wind and the Lion), it is called Red Dawn and stars Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, and Oscar-winner Ben Johnson. Former secretary of state Alexander Haig says of Red Dawn: “It’s a provocative and extremely interesting film which depicts the futility of war without underestimating the essential need to maintain the preparedness to fight war.”

The movie’s premises are stated flatly: Russia has suffered its worst wheat harvest in 55 years. The Green Party has captured a majority of seats in the West German parliament. Cuba and Nicaragua increase their armed forces to more than half a million; El Salvador and Honduras fall to their might. NATO collapses. Mexico has a revolution. Soviet troops march into Poland to suppress a workers’ rebellion. The United States stands isolated in the world …

As the film opens, a high school history class listens to Mr. Teasdale (Frank McCrae) lecture on the methods of conquest used by Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes. They would spread out over hundreds of miles, he said, pushing cattle, villagers, and soldiers towards the center — a policy of encirclement. In the midst of the lecture, paratroopers land in the schoolyard and start shooting anyone who steps in their path. World War III has begun.

Some of the students escape to nearby mountains in a pickup truck. Jed (Swayze) and Matt (Sheen) are brothers who know the ropes of hunting and survival; Jed’s namesake is mountain man Jedediah Smith. Daryl (Darren Dalton), the mayor’s son, is president of the senior class. Rounding out the group are frightened teenagers Robert (Howell), Danny (Brad Savage), and Aardvark (Doug Toby). Eventually they are joined by Erica (Thompson) and Toni (Jennifer Grey), the granddaughters of Mr. Mason (Johnson), a rancher who gives the boys food, horses, and ammunition.

On their first trip into town from the mountains, the boys discover that Cuban and Nicaraguan soldiers have turned the area into a massive concentration camp: the town — Calumet, Colorado — is forty miles behind the lines in Soviet-occupied territory. Beyond the lines lies “Free America,” a rump of the United States, mostly east of the Mississippi.

As they take over the town, the Cuban officer in charge (played sympathetically by Ron O’Neal) orders his Nicaraguan lieutenant to go to the sporting goods store and find all the gun-registration forms, so the guns can be confiscated and their owners rounded up and put into the ‘re-education camp” (what used to be a drive-in theatre). At the drive-in, the residents see movies with messages like “America is a whorehouse that has betrayed its revolution.” In town, the theatre marquee advertises “Alexander Nevsky -- All Day Saturday — Admission Free.” Posters of Lenin plaster the sides of buildings; Russian troops burn books.

After the boys see the conditions in the re-education camp, they decide to turn into guerrillas — or, as the Red Army major says, “bandits.” After they kill their first Russian soldiers, the authorities line up about a dozen civilians, who are executed as they sing ‘America the Beautiful.” Fifty other Americans are forced to watch the execution.

This sets the stage for a series of brilliant guerrilla attacks against the Communists, their camps, and their equipment. The plot takes several twists, some comic, some bittersweet, some plain bitter, punctuated by superb performances by Patrick Swayze as the group’s leader and C. Thomas Howell as the innocent teenager turned bloodlusted guerrilla. This is no lighthearted entertainment; its darker, tragic aspects compete vigorously with its inherent optimism.

The movie is bone-chillingly real. The Communist strategy of encirclement — no doubt culled from the experience of the Mongols, Russia’s overlords into the 16th century is in process now. The Cuban colonel, viewing the dead bodies of his troops after a guerrilla attack, says, “I’ve seen this before ... in Nicaragua, San Salvador, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Angola — but I’ve always been on the other side.” The use of terror against the civilian population — mass executions of innocents — is frighteningly reminiscent of Soviet tactics in Afghanistan, where booby-trapped toys maim and kill small children for the purpose of scaring their parents into submission.

The scenario, too, is realistic — much more so than the one we saw in The Day After. Early in the movie there is no indication of the use of nuclear weapons; later we learn that there was a very limited use of missiles, surgically striking missile bases in the Dakotas, SAC headquarters in Omaha, and communications centers like Washington and Kansas City. The United States fails to respond in kind, and the war stands at a conventional stalemate. The Soviet invasion’s first wave comes by commercial aircraft to California and the mountain states. Cubans and Nicaraguans infiltrate U.S. air and military bases in the South and Midwest, disrupting communications as a fifth column. The effect is Soviet occupation of the Great Plains up to Cheyenne, Wyoming; Denver is suffering a siege as bad as Stalingrad’ in the Second World War.

Pacifist Western Europe “decides to sit this one out.” Only two countries are fighting on our side: Britain and “600 million screaming Chinamen,” according to Colonel Tanner of the U.S. Air Force, who joins the kids in the hills. He’s asked: “The last I heard there were a billion screaming Chinamen.” Well,” he says, “now there’s only 600 million.” Silence.

The sheer terror of the movie, present in the constant watchfulness of the occupying troops, the KGB, the torture, the animal instincts to which our teenage heroes descend, the herding of civilians into concentration camps all this should be a lesson to the Helen Caldicotts of this world who were so moved by The Day After and Testament, two films which showed the aftermath of nuclear war without showing the alternative: slavery and faces mashed by hobnail boots.

Director John Milius is an anomaly on the Hollywood landscape. With films like Reds and Missing being praised so highly of late, it is rare to find a filmmaker who professes a belief in peace through strength and is willing to admit that yes, Cuban interventionism in Central America threatens America’s ultimate interests — our survival as a nation. Red Dawn portrays everyday American kids as heroes -- the Nathan Hales of the twentieth century — and can touch the heart of every American, It undermines belief in the heroism of "progressive revolutionary forces” and it shows the Communist slave-drivers as they really are: vicious, bloodthirsty, vindictive, brutal.

The film does yield to liberal sentiment in its expression of “What’s the fighting all about?”, “What’s the difference between us and them?” Yet the underlying theme remains: We fight because we love. If there’s nothing to die for, there cannot be anything to live for. The film does not shy away from death and gore; its heroes are not immune from suffering; no one tries to persuade us that war is pristine, a romantic, or cathartic. Indeed, one is comes away convinced that this dirty business has to be averted — but that it sometimes is just and obligatory.

Red Dawn echoes, in varying degrees, the Star Wars trilogy (rebels vs. the evil empire), Lord of the Flies (given the right conditions, even children can devolve into savages), The Green Berets, Sands of Iwo Jima, Battle Cry, and other heroic war movies, and The Outsiders (Patrick Swayze and C. Thomas Howell played brothers fending for themselves in a rough, violent world in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film of the popular teen novel). Moreover, it remarkably parallels the concrete experience of the Contras in Nicaragua, the freedom fighters in Afghanistan, and the European resistance movement of the 1940s. With insufficient provisions, no training, but with a lot of courage and chutzpah, even children can fight for the values we cherish: freedom, self-determination, honor, and love.

MGM/UA must be commended for making this film. Far from the vacuousness so characteristic of our San Fernando Valley culture of American filmmakers, this is a jarringly realistic portrayal of the the world as it might be. I predict it will be very popular among Americans in 1984, especially those who have overcome the “post-Vietnam syndrome” and look proudly on one major achievement of American strength, that since 1980 no nation has fallen captive to Soviet adventurism. In fact, American fortitude of has rescued one country — Grenada — from its alien rulers. Nonetheless, Red Dawn has a sharp message: It can happen here. We must prevent it — or suffer dire consequences.

* * * * * * *

Richard Sincere, a member of the board of the American Civil Defense Association, has directed, designed, or acted in numerous plays and musicals, including Fiddler on the Roof, The Hot I Baltimore, God, The Fantasticks, The Brig, and (most recently) Company.

After earning $8,230,381 in its first weekend, Red Dawn went on to gross $35,866,000 in its initial U.S. release. It was not much of a critical success (its only significant award was a nomination for a Young Artist Award for supporting actor Brad Savage), but it has remained a guilty pleasure for many Reagan-era young conservatives. Years later, "Red Dawn" became the code name for the military operation that captured Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Charlottesville GOP Announces New Platform

On Thursday afternoon, September 10, the Charlottesville Republican Committee had a news conference in front of the main entrance to City Hall to announce the new local party platform.

Here is a video recording of the news conference, at which unit chairman Buddy Weber discussed the platform and answered questions from reporters.

Part I:

Part II:

Matt Holmes of CBS19 has a report here.

NBC29 has its report here.

WINA has a brief report here.

(This is cross-posted from the Charlottesville Republicans Blog.)

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Write Your Own Headline

Why bother to comment when I can just cut-and-paste a single paragraph?

From a report in yesterday's New York Observer:

Naomi Wolf is going back to her roots. The journalist and author, who has seemingly been on a break for the past couple of years from writing books on the kinds of feminist themes that made her famous in the early 1990s, has signed on with the Ecco Press for a project tentatively titled A Cultural History of the Vagina.
Feel free to offer your suggestions for a headline in the comments section, below.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Cost of Health Care 'Reform' to Virginians

The Virginia Institute for Public Policy released a new study today on the effects of proposed health care reforms on families in the Old Dominion. Produced by a team of economists that includes Arthur Laffer, the study is entitled "The Prognosis for National Health Insurance: A Virginia Perspective."

Among its conclusions are these bullet-points, from a news release released at a press conference in Richmond:

-- Funding health-care reform based on President Obama's priorities will [cost] $4,176 for every person in Virginia. This comes to $32.4 billion in total costs that Virginians will have to bear.

-- In addition to federally-funded expenditures, Virginia government expenditures through 2019 that will occur as a result of federal health-care reform is $2.1 billion, or a $275 bill for every person in Virginia.

-- Virginia would see reduced economic growth in 2019 by 4.5 percent.

-- If the federal government pushes the financial responsibility for covering the expansion of lower-income individual's health-insurance coverage off to the states, Virginia's costs will increase by a total of $6.8 billion, while the federal costs will decline.
While the full study is 44 pages long, a four-page executive summary is available on the Virginia Institute's web site.

I was able to capture the entire news conference today, divided up per YouTube's rules into six unequal parts.

In Part I, John Taylor of the Virginia Institute opens the news conference and introduces the participants, economist Donna Arduin of Arduin, Laffer & Moore Econometrics and U.S. Representative J. Randy Forbes (R-VA4).

Part II features the remarks of Donna Arduin, one of the study's three co-authors:

Congressman Forbes talks about the politics of health care reform on Capitol Hill in Parts III and IV:

Donna Arduin and Randy Forbes take questions from the audience in Part V and Part VI:

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Leslie Carbone Talks About 'Slaying Leviathan'

Well-known Fairfax County-based blogger Leslie Carbone has a new book out, called Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform, published by Potomac Books.

Carbone is a former speechwriter for Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, and her articles have appeared in The Weekly Standard, American Enterprise, San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications. Apropos of the topic of her book, she served as director of Family Tax Policy at the Family Research Council.

I have not yet had an opportunity to read the book, which has an official publication date of August 31, but fellow Virginia blogger Doug Mataconis has written a positive review of it at Below the Beltway:

There have been plenty of books and policy papers written, plenty of speeches and television and radio interviews, about the economic reasons that high progressive taxation is a bad idea. We’ve heard many times about how it restricts innovation by discouraging investments, or how higher tax rates actually have the seemingly perverse impact of decreasing government revenue, while lower tax rates lead to more money in the Treasury. Those arguments have been made and re-made, stated and re-stated, so many times that most fiscal conservatives can restate them on their own.

What we haven’t seen very often, though, is an argument about tax policy from a moral perspective, an examination of the impact that tax policy has on society in the manner that it punishes good behavior and rewards bad behavior. That is exactly the argument that Leslie Carbone takes up in Slaying Leviathan: The Moral Case for Tax Reform, and it’s a welcome addition to the debate.
Earlier today, Leslie spoke about her book and answered questions about taxation and morality at a monthly gathering of political activists in Richmond, known as the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition, which is sponsored by Tertium Quids.

Leslie gave me permission to videotape her presentation, which is in three parts. In the first part, she is introduced by John Taylor of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy. In parts two and three, she answers questions from the audience.

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

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Labor Day in Buena Vista - 2009

For nearly four decades, the Labor Day parade in Buena Vista has marked the beginning of the statewide political season. Candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general (and, in even-numbered years, for U.S. Senator) walk the parade route, shaking hands with as many spectators as they can, and follow up with speeches in the pavilion at Glen Maury Park.

The event is virtually the only time that one can see all the statewide candidates speaking on the same platform. While each pair of competitors has debates lined up (the numbers vary from office to office, and according to the recalcitrance of those who fear facing their opponents in front of reporters or TV cameras), there are few -- if any -- opportunities to see and hear all three pairs in the same place at the same time.

This unique situation gives Buena Vista pride of place in campaign season. How this small city off of Route 60, just a few miles from Interstate 81, received this honor is lost in the mists of 20th century history. (Buena Vista's Labor Day parade parallels the evolution of the Shad Planking in Wakefield as an odd but significant annual political event.)

This year's speakers at Buena Vista's LaborFest included the incumbent governor, Tim Kaine, who is not running for anything but whose role as chairman of the Democratic National Committee gives him a national spotlight. Kaine used his few minutes on stage to praise the participants for keeping politics retail (and not reducing political campaigns to TV advertising) and to boost his party's ticket of R. Creigh Deeds, Jody Wagner, and Steve Shannon, who are running, respectively, for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. All three candidates were also present, along with Jeff Price, a candidate for the Virginia General Assembly.

On the Republican side, former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, the GOP candidate for governor, and his ticket mates -- current Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling and AG candidate Ken Cuccinelli -- also spoke, as did Sixth District U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte and Ben Cline, who is running for re-election in the 24th District of the Virginia House of Delegates.

I was able to capture all of the candidates on video, but I missed Congressman Goodlatte's speech because of the need to change video cassettes in my camera.

But first .... here are some highlights from the parade itself:

The political speeches were preceded by the national anthem. Mr. C.P. Brinkley led the crowd in singing "The Star Spangled Banner":

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was the first speaker:

The first candidate to speak was State Senator R. Creigh Deeds (D-25), who is the Democratic party's nominee for governor:

Deeds was followed (for a change of pace) by former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate for governor. McDonnell's remarks are divided into two parts, because he spoke at greater length than any of the others.

Part I:

Part II:

Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling (R-Hanover) followed his ticketmate and preceded his opponent, Democratic nominee Jody Wagner (D-Virginia Beach):

The two candidates for Attorney General were next -- first, Delegate Steve Shannon (D-Fairfax County), followed by his opponent, State Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax County):

The final two candidates to speak are rivals for the 24th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, incumbent Delegate Ben Cline (R) and challenger Jeff Price (D):

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