Saturday, December 15, 2012

The End Always Surprises the Bully

As stupefyingly powerful as world-class bullies Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist have become over the last 20 years, I'm guessing both of them vividly imagined the political clout they coveted before they acquired it. And, since amassing that hefty say-so, like a couple of little poobahs, they certainly have both reveled in it.

Still, bullies are always cowards at heart. Furthermore, once the position on high is assumed, recognizing what an approaching downfall will look like inevitably becomes difficult for a bully out of touch with everyday people. That sort of indifference used to be called "riding for a fall."

Limbaugh and Norquist aren't alone. In general, it seems, rightwing political bosses who have prospered from throwing sand in the gears of progress can’t yet grasp the truth -- change has happened.

Although no one should mistake most of today’s Democrats for staunch defenders of what the liberal champions of the previous century accomplished, the nation’s long slow drift to the right -- away from its moorings -- appears to have ended.

The culture has shifted. Now the people seem to be leading the so-called leaders. With 2013 on the horizon a goodly portion of the electorate suddenly appears to be more left-leaning than most elected Democrats. 

It’s obvious the noisy influence of the Tea Party is shriveling like a drenched witch. Rush and Grover are in denial -- they still don’t see the lengthening shadows creeping over their day in the sun as bosses.

The end always surprises the bully.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Lamest Duck in Town

Virginia is unique in that it doesn’t allow a sitting governor to run for reelection. So once they’re done with their gubernatorial gig, in recent cycles former governors have been tending to run for the U.S. Senate … with varying degrees of success.

Click on image to enlarge.
Elected governor in 1989, Doug Wilder split with the Democratic Party and ran for the Senate as an Independent in a wild four-way race in 1994. About a month before Election Day, the mercurial Wilder suddenly withdrew and the incumbent, Chuck Robb, a former Democratic governor, himself, was reelected.

Robb then lost the next time out to George Allen, who took the seat from him in 2000. In 2006 Allen lost his bid for reelection to Sen. Jim Webb, who is enjoying his last month at that job. With the seat opening back up, this year, Allen thought he saw an opportunity for redemption, but it turned out Virginians had already had more than enough of him.

You can stick a fork in Allen's career as a politician who can raise money to run for office in Virginia; it's done.    

Over the last four years the senatorial races have matched the commonwealth‘s last four governors: Jim Gilmore lost to Mark Warner in 2008. This year Allen lost to Tim Kaine, who will be replacing Webb.

So, counting Webb’s rather surprising victory six years ago, with regard to the Senate, that’s a trend. Three statewide elections over six years is a winning streak and the next time up in 2014 isn’t looking so good for Republicans, either.

Put together with the fact that Barack Obama has carried Virginia twice, and it makes Bob McDonnell’s win in 2009 look like it was perhaps a fluke. It was the year of the Tea Party’s noisy emergence and the Democrats nominated a nice guy who proved to be an exceptionally weak candidate.

Given the most recent election results to consider, the Tea Party's influence in Virginia, and elsewhere, seems to be declining. And, like it or not, Virginia’s thought-to-be purple electorate is looking more bluish every day.

As a Republican governor going into his last year in office, no doubt, McDonnell must wonder about his future. His blatant campaigning to be Mitt Romney’s running mate this year left McDonnell looking more foolish than eager.

With the emergence of Ken Cuccinelli as the presumptive gubernatorial nominee for the GOP, instead of McDonnell’s man -- Bill, ah, what’s his name? -- Gov. McDonnell doesn’t even seem to be wielding much power within his own political party. And, running against the ever popular Warner in 2014 can’t look but so inviting to McDonnell.

How much influence McDonnell -- the lamest duck in town -- will have over the upcoming General Assembly session remains to be seen. With stubbornness being what it is, no one should be surprised to see more demonstrations in Capitol Square protesting his party's most controversial proposals. All of which will probably put the clumsy McDonnell in a bad light, again.

As far as the Flat-Earth-ers are concerned, they’ve got one of their stars, The Cooch, in place to carry their heavy, backward-looking brand of conservatism forth. With his various failed legal actions, supposedly done in the interests of all Virginians, he has become a partisan hero to those on the Tea Party side of the split within the Republican Party.

Which, speaking of political history in the Old Dominion, will bitterly divide the Virginia GOP, once again. Don't forget what Ollie North and Marshall Coleman did in 1994 to help reelect Robb. This fault line in the GOP has been there for decades. And, the way it looks now, there's not much this sitting governor can do to prevent the divide from widening again in 2013.


-- The illustrations are from a series of cards I did in 1994 about the U.S. Senate race that year. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Redskins Bandwagon, Not So Fast

On March 8, writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Michael Martz and John O‘Connor reported that the Washington Redskins and the City of Richmond had been talking about the pro football team conducting some of its preseason practices in Richmond in years to come.

Although I was somewhat puzzled with why the team’s front office would want to leave Northern Virginia, to hold three weeks of preseason football practices in Richmond, in July! it was delightful news. Naturally, I hoped for the best. After all, I’ve been a Washington Redskins fan longer than I can remember. It goes back to when I was a little boy watching games with my grandfather, who was a Redskins fan.

He was also a WWI veteran, so I’m thinking about him today.

On June 6, the RT-D’s Olympia Meola  reported bigger news about the Redskins, this time from Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office.
The Washington Redskins will move their summer training camp to the city of Richmond in 2013, at a site not yet identified. 
Although "a site not yet identified" seemed strange, at first that didn't worry me. Hail to the Redskins!

On June 30, Robert Zullo wrote in the RT-D about a search committee devoted to finding the best site for the Redskins to conduct their practices next summer. The article said the committee would report its finding in mid-September.
A panel appointed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones will consider at least 10 city sites for the Washington Redskins summer training camp that is planned to arrive in Richmond next year. The 18-member committee is composed chiefly of representatives from local business, banking and higher education and is tasked with advising the mayor's office on locations and financing related to hosting the three-week training camp.
The process that followed did begin to raise worries. At first I thought they were doing it backwards. Why conduct a study that should have been done before the Redskins and Richmond announced they had come to an agreement for a deal?

On Aug. 31 Michael Martz reported on the site-choosing process.
Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones says he has two "very good" sites for the Washington Redskins to bring their training camp next summer — City Stadium or behind the Science Museum of Virginia. Now, the city has to find $9 million to $10 million to build the facilities the NFL franchise expects at one of the sites by July.

"Now we are in a position to put our (funding and sponsorship subcommittee) to work and figure out how we're going to bring in the money to get the job done," Jones said at a news conference Thursday at the McGuireWoods law firm in downtown Richmond.
By this time it looked to me like the decision had been made behind closed doors to use the behind the Science Museum option, but for some reason the mystery was being perpetuated. Why the dog and pony show?

It reminded me of when the Richmond Flying Squirrels pretended they were letting the fans pick the nickname for the team. But for a baseball franchise to use an old radio station type of phony contest, to drum up interest, was fine. And, it worked like a charm.

However, for a city to indulge in such a bogus promotion didn't make much sense to me. So, I wondered, what else could it be?

Then, on Oct. 23, came the devilish details: The Redskins/Richmond deal involves Bon Secours Health System, the old Westhampton school building and the grounds surrounding it. It also involves another development in the East End by Bon Secours. It's very complicated. Ordinarily, it would take months for a Richmond City Council to properly study such a far-flung agreement.  

And, this piece by STYLE Weekly's Scott Bass followed on Oct. 30.
"We don't think a 'rush job' is fair to the public nor in the best interests of the city," Loupassi and Goldman write.

Indeed, the mayor gleefully tells reporters at the Leigh Street Redskins site Oct. 22 that construction could start as soon as that afternoon. "The Redskins want to be ready to use this in 2013 so you might see something happening before you leave here today," Jones says to hearty chuckles. "It's got to happen very fast."
Today’s RT-D story, “Richmond council set to vote on Redskins deal tonight,” by Robert Zullo, adds more to my sense that timing had a lot to do with the way this has played out. Now City Council is under the gun to act swiftly. Members don’t have much time to ask questions about all the facets of this deal.

It looks to me like the mayor is trying to steamroll this thing through. That doesn’t mean anything illegal has been done. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad deal for tax payers in Richmond. What it does mean is that the mayor needs to be taught a lesson about what can happen to a guy who is too pushy.

Vote on Redskins deal tonight?

Please, not so fast. And, didn't we just have an election? What do new members of council think?

City Hall needs to sell us this deal. City Council members, new and old, need to ask lots of questions of the salesmen who are in such a hurry.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Can Stop the GOP’s Meltdown?

The day after the election, Wednesday, I declared a one-day moratorium on gloating and sarcasm over the election results. In the same spirit, I resisted the urge to offer advice to any Republicans I encountered. At happy hour at Chiocca’s, facing a few grumbling conservatives who were itching to harass a handy liberal, it wasn’t easy to stay true to that spirit of restraint.

Now the moratorium is over.

Accordingly, on Thursday, the Republicans who got their collective ass kicked royally on Tuesday, ought to take a good look at some bad moves they’ve made since they celebrated their midterm victories in 2010. They need to cast off their my-way-or-no-way blinders, pronto.

If they do they might see that the explanation for several of the losses the Republican Party absorbed on Tuesday was tied to how much the USA has changed in recent years. The percentage of the total vote that is white male has been steadily shrinking and it's going to continue to do so.

Which means it’s time for some conservative old goats to face the music.

Speaking of goats, if the Republican Party continues to allow the likes of Karl Rove, Grover Norquist and Rush Limbaugh to shape its agenda, while those three guys will do just fine, the GOP itself will continue its meltdown.

The Tea Party-driven strategy the congressional Republicans have used for the last two years blatantly turned its back on solving problems. Their only goal was to deny any success whatsoever to the president, in order to defeat him on Nov. 6. No doubt, if they continue to try to sell their obstructionism as patriotism, they do so at their own peril.

Given Tuesday’s results, it seems that nefarious strategy backfired. Now, facilitated by their own noisy denials of post-election reality, the meltdown process is intensifying.

Conservatives who despise the union movement have been bashing teachers as if they are the problem with government spending. Forget about borrowing money to prosecute wars, it’s the teachers! In doing so, Republicans come off as anti-public education and that will never set well with middle class parents and young voters.

Last night, professional wiseass Andy Borowitz wrote on his Facebook page: “To survive as a party, the Republicans need to welcome people who believe in different things than they do, like science and math.”

Feeling it had the momentum to elect almost anybody, the arrogant GOP fielded some Looney Tunes villains as candidates in 2012.

At the top of that list was Missouri’s senatorial candidate, Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin. As Akin is a plain fool, the Republican powers that be in the Show Me State had to know that. But it looks like they mistakenly thought anybody could beat Claire McCaskill.

In Virginia, George “Macaca” Allen was another obviously bad candidate. He was damaged goods and Virginia Republicans knew that. But they must have figured it was in the bag, anyway.

Hey, couldn’t almost anybody could beat that liberal Obama ally, Chairman Tim Kaine?

Apparently there was a good amount of ticket splitting in the Old Dominion, where Romney voters couldn’t vote the straight ticket, if it meant supporting Allen, a man widely viewed as an obnoxious bully.

A big part of how Republicans in Missouri and Virginia could believe those two Democratic candidates would be easy to beat was that so many conservatives live in a virtual echo chamber when it comes to following politics. They see most of the mainstream media as prevaricating liberal tools, so they put their faith in the Fox News brand of truth and parrot its talking points.

No one should be surprised when bad candidates lose.

Like it or not, running a national campaign is the test for president. It may not be the best way to audition candidates for the job and campaign finance reform is sorely needed, but as of 2012, it’s what our system provides.

Well, Obama’s advisers just ran a masterful campaign. They targeted the key battleground states and won them. Colorado! Iowa! Nevada! New Hampshire! Ohio! Virginia! Wisconsin! Lots of young voters look at those results without seeing ideology.

No, they see competency.

At long last, Republicans have to accept that when they use thinly-veiled appeals to racists, as they did repeatedly during the 2012 campaign, they are constricting their party’s growth. Such tone-deaf reaching out to the most hateful elements of the electorate has to stop.

The same goes with opposing same-sex marriage and trying to outlaw abortion. The justification for those two backward positions is tied to old time religion, and they are both killer millstones.

While I could easily go on lecturing my stubborn happy hour pals and their ilk, instead I’ll sum it up this way:

Unless Republicans can learn from their mistakes and start to articulate a smart, up-to-date approach to conservatism, one that appeals to tomorrow’s multicultural voters that might want to see more imagination, efficiency and prudence in the way government does business … then, tha, tha, that’s all folks!

-- 30 --

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Behind the Conservative Mask

Many of today’s most outspoken conservatives are merely anti-liberals, people who wouldn‘t know a traditional conservative ideal if they stepped in it.


Over the last 20 years the political education of the blowhard wing of the Republican Party has come primarily by way of living within a talk radio echo chamber. They've learned to consider liberals as book-learned pansies who favor socialism … whatever that particular ism might be.

Millions of so-called conservatives are supporting former-Gov. Mitt Romney this year. Many of them aren't so keen on Romney. But since they see President Barack Obama as a flaming liberal, they can eagerly embrace Romney, the anti-liberal candidate. 

Legions of today’s conservatives have been taught by self-styled pundits to hate a government that wants to take their money and give it to foreigners and lazy people who deserve nothing. These Dittohead conservatives view those who favor such a forced redistribution of wealth -- tax-and-spend liberals! -- as their sworn enemies.  

Yet, when it came to financing collective endeavors, such as roads and schools, old fashioned conservatives, like Virginia's Sen. Harry F. Byrd, believed it was more prudent to tax than borrow. In the past, conservatives in Virginia supported the principle that government-backed banks should be extra careful with other people’s money.

At one time, American conservatives generally opposed risky military adventures overseas. Too many of today's trash-talking conservatives seem to believe the White House can and should decide who occupies the seats of power in lots of other countries.

Destroying nature in pursuit of profits does not conserve, it doesn‘t cherish and protect what was left to us. To a hedonist, squandering an inheritance might sound like fun. Still, it’s anything but conservative.

Saying the world was created in six days and that it is only 10,000 years old isn't as conservative as it is stubbornly ignorant. While it might be fun to pretend the Flintstones cartoons are documentaries, with dinosaurs and people living together, it's too bad some children are still being taught to ignore science.  

Conservatives on abortion?

Hey, it’s more totalitarian than it is conservative to insist women surrender their bodies over to the will of the government, with regard to pregnancies. When right-to-lifers seek to impose their religious beliefs about personhood on others that may seem conservative, because it harkens back to a God-fearing past. Others might call such throwback thinking simply Un-American. 

Likewise, fanning the dying embers of racism, in order to thwart a president’s reelection, is more backward than it is conservative. It's hardly about the future. Conservatism can't be anti-future.

A conservative used to have ideas. Conservative icon William F. Buckley didn't need to torture the truth to back up his ideas. There is no Buckley of today's Tea Party-driven conservative movement. Instead, we get smug spin doctors.

Behind their masks of conservatism, anti-liberals have more passion than ideas. This year their man is Romney. It doesn't matter so much what sort of temporary conservative he might be, this time around Romney is the candidate who is not a liberal ... and, of course, he's white.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Through an Endorsement Darkly

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has found its way to endorsing the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, for president. That news probably comes as no surprise to most of those familiar with the consistent tone and purpose of the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial page over the last several decades. 

The editorial which was published on Sun., Oct. 28, begins this way:
The tone of the 2012 campaign might best be captured by the need to begin with an emphasis on what the Republican candidate will not do. Mitt Romney will not raise taxes on the middle class. He will not destroy Medicare. And he will not lie to the American people every time he opens his mouth.
The obvious implication being that Barack Obama has done/is doing these things. Of course, those thinly-veiled accusations have been borrowed from the most partisan of rightwing poppycock -- the sort of Obama-bashing rhetoric easily available on talk radio.

So, it’s hard to be persuaded by an essay that shyly parrots the sloganeering of hacks who laugh at the poor suckers who buy their brand of shinola.    

Later the same editorial says: 
In the service of accuracy, let's look at the generally straightforward proposals and philosophy espoused by Romney, who strikes us as both more earnest and more accomplished than your average presidential candidate.
Well, the newspaper isn’t exactly setting the bar all that high, when it comes to earnestness. Have you ever heard anyone say, "Yes, that's an earnest group of presidential hopefuls"?

OK, Romney, who oozes artificiality, does come off as somewhat more sincere than Herman Cain or Sarah Palin, but Romney is nowhere near as funny as either of them. And, almost anyone might be seen as more sincere than Newt Gingrich.

However, when someone tells me I should put a lot of trust in a person, because they are “generally straightforward,” I usually check to make sure I still have my wallet.

So, at this point I have to ask the author(s) of the piece, if they are so keen on Romney, why did they load it up with weasel words? So much so, the endorsement itself reeks of insincerity.

Seeing Romney as “accomplished,” is less of a stretch, in a generic sense. Yes, he has some noteworthy accomplishments. Whether one should take from his record in business and as governor that he would make a good president is debatable.

The notion that a high-powered businessman is what this country needs to turn around the economy can be supported by history. The last presidential candidate to run primarily on his wild success in business was Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928. The economy certainly did change directions during his one term in office. Cleaning up the mess that was the Great Depression took a few years for the Democrat who followed Hoover. 

With how Romney has shifted his positions, when he tries to obscure and explain away bothersome aspects about his business and political past -- no tax returns! Romneycare! abortion! -- there’s just no way the shape-shifting son of a governor inspires trust in a prudent person’s mind.

This endorsement is what anti-liberals and Obama-haters need to throw a cloak over the truth: They don’t like Romney, either, but they pray they can live with him ... easier than they did Bush II.

This sort of conservative philosophy is only about having the power. And, it’s backward. Which, in some ways, makes the choice for president on Election Day a matter of direction. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Horses, Bayonets and Maybe a Bad Clam

On Mon., Oct. 22, the third presidential debate took place on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Florida. The topics covered were supposed to be about foreign policy.

Perhaps some Mitt Romney supporters would say otherwise, but I suspect it will be remembered as the Horses and Bayonets Debate. 

After each of his three debate moderator predecessors were lampooned for their performances, Bob Schieffer of CBS News did a solid job as the questioner and referee. He allowed both debaters to wander, which included forays into what sounded like domestic policy areas, but Schieffer eventually called time on them, to change subjects when it seemed appropriate.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I scored it this way: Barack Obama won seven rounds, Romney won two rounds, with six rounds even.

The two instant polls I've looked at today found in Obama’s favor, too: CBS had it Obama 53 percent, Romney 23 percent; CNN had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 40 percent.

Romney landed some punches on Pakistan and future threats. But his decision to agree with so many of his opponent’s policies didn’t earn him better than a draw in too many rounds. Romney even broke some news, along those lines: He now supports the 2014 deadline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. After all his previous criticism of the strategy of announcing an end date, who knew?

At times Romney looked decidedly uncomfortable, too, which is never a good thing in a presidential debate. In this category, Romney looked about as bad as Obama did in the first debate, but in a different way.

In Denver, Obama appeared passive and aloof. In Boca Raton, Romney looked like he had eaten a bad clam. 

Obama scored well on Libya, America’s role in the world, Israel, Iran, bin Laden and the auto industry. At times Obama schooled his opponent. For instance, when Romney chided Obama about the Navy having fewer ships than in World War I that’s when Obama lowered the boom:

“Governor,” said Obama, “we also have fewer horses and bayonets.”

Then the president went on to point out how the modern Navy’s capability hasn’t got much to do with having more or less ships than 95 years ago. In other words, comparing the power of nuclear submarines to WWI class battleships is strictly apples and oranges.

The exchange made Romney look particularly foolish. Obama obviously enjoyed twisting the bayonet. 

Obama stunned Romney when he brought up the president's “apology tour,” suggesting that Obama's popularity abroad is a sign of weakness. Obama promptly labeled that assertion the “biggest whopper” of the campaign. 

Which brought to mind the utter strangeness of modern Republican thinking that would have us believe that it’s a strength for an American president to be seen as arrogant and out of touch in as many countries as possible.

Maybe Romney went into this third debate scared of making a gaffe and believing he had a lead to protect. Because rather than hit back when Obama tagged him with sharp jabs, Romney complained about how his opponent was “attacking” him, rather than offering solutions.

Anyway, in several respects Romney was less forceful this time around. Whether it was according to plan or not, Obama was the more aggressive player in the last debate.

Whether winning the last debate will change any minds, at this late date, is debatable.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Obama 9, Romney 3, with 3 rounds even

On Tues., Oct. 16, the second presidential debate took place on the Hofstra University campus in Hempstead, N.Y. It will likely be remembered for the tense confrontation over Libya, when both the Republican Mitt Romney and the Democrat Barack Obama plainly revealed what scant admiration they have for one another.

Both men were well aware they could not allow the viewing audience to perceive from their words or demeanor that they were being dominated by the other guy. At times that prickly aspect of the hour-and-a-half of questioning, answering and posturing put the moderator, Candy Crowley, in a position something like that of a put upon referee for an athletic competition. 

Depending on one’s point of view, Crowley either did a good job with a tough assignment, or the CNN political reporter overstepped her bounds as moderator.

As a 15-round boxing match, roughly with 15 questions, I had it scored with Obama winning nine rounds, Romney winning three rounds, with three rounds even.

The instant polls I've seen today found in Obama’s favor, too: Reuters had it Obama 48 percent, Romney 33 percent; CBS had it Obama 37 percent, Romney 30 percent; CNN had it Obama 46 percent, Romney 39 percent.

The debate’s noteworthy Libya moment had Romney saying Obama and his administration waited a couple of weeks to label the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans on Tues., Sept. 11, as a terrorist act.

Obama pounced on the opportunity and corrected Romney. In his defense Obama pointed to his own comments on the day after the incident: “The United States condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack ... no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation."

Nonetheless, Romney challenged the veracity of his opponent and then Crowley spoke up to say the president was right about what he had said, even if at the time there was still considerable confusion about actually happened in Benghazi.

Obama also bristled at Romney’s suggestion that politics somehow had played into the scenario, and he chastised the former Massachusetts governor that it was “offensive” for him to make such insinuations.

Romney never explained why it is so important for the White House to rush to label every act of violence in the world as terrorism, or something else, before all the facts have been studied.

Both candidates ducked some questions. Both candidates milled around uncomfortably on their feet. At times the stage didn’t seem big enough for both of them.

Romney’s best moments were spent talking about the need to create more jobs, energy policy and tax cuts.

Obama’s best moments were spent talking about saving the automobile industry, equality for women in the workplace and foreign policy.

Complaining about how bad the refs were is what sports fans who are disappointed with the results of a game do. The fans of the winners of the game don't usually have much to say about referees.    

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Biden, 8 to 3, with 4 even

Two debates down, with two to go. We’re halfway through a process, an aspect of the campaign being covered this year with an unprecedented breathlessness by the press.

No doubt, most Republicans liked the way the Oct. 3 presidential debate went in Denver. Mitt Romney’s focused salesmanship played better on the television screen than Barack Obama’s studied nonchalance.

Democrats seemed to be happier about how the vice presidential debate unfolded in Danville on Oct. 11. Joe Biden’s repeated schooling of Paul Ryan eventually made the younger man look uncomfortable.  

So, if the debates are to be seen in a sporting context, Romney won his match-up with Obama. Then Biden defeated Ryan, although perhaps less decisively so. The shrill complaints voiced by spokespersons for both parties, immediately after the debate they thought they lost, have been either annoying or comical, depending on your point of view.  

History tells us similar debates have proven to be significant factors in some presidential races, not so much in others. Still, by putting the debates in such a broad context, it can inspire complaints. One reader, in particular, chided me about my analysis of the first debate, because I didn‘t judge it as an event, all to itself ... like a game with a final score.

So, what follows about Ryan vs. Biden is being written with that helpful reader’s criticism in mind. I suppose I should mention he is a lawyer.

As I watched the Veep debate I took notes and scored it as I might a boxing match. Although the moderator, Martha Raddatz, said at the onset there would be nine questions, I ended up with what seemed to be 15 questions. By the way, I have to say she did her tricky job reasonably well.

My scorecard had it this way: On eight questions Biden did better. On three questions Ryan did better. On four questions they tied. So, if it was a 15-round boxing match, I judged Biden the winner by eight to three, with four rounds even.

Neither man was seriously stunned or knocked off of his feet by the other. In general, I have to say the efforts of both debaters probably pleased their partisan backers. I'd like to think an undecided, unbiased voter would judge the match similarly to how I did, but I really don't know many undecideds. So I'm just guessing about that.    

With the first question about Libya, Ryan opened with a stiff jab and did better than did Biden. When the discussion moved on to Iran, the Democrat seized the moment to cast a telling light on Ryan’s rather shallow understanding of a dangerously complicated situation.

The Republican tried to recover by talking about how the minds of Ayatollahs need to be changed. It only made him look more naïve.

Naturally, Biden was happy to mix it up over the automobile industry's escape from what seemed to have been doom in 2009. After being reminded of his running mate's famous line, "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Ryan was not able to get off the ropes.

Biden was slightly more effective than Ryan when talking about Medicare and Social Security, but he missed his opportunity to land punches on taxes and loopholes. Ryan scored during the tax cuts round.

It was on Afghanistan and Syria that Ryan looked most uncomfortable.

Religion and abortion were next on Raddatz's list of questions and Biden handled them both better, with Ryan still trying to gather himself from body punches he had absorbed to do with Romney's ambiguous positions on foreign policy and how to use armed forces.

The question about what each of them have to offer the country that is unique was too off-the-wall to risk improvisation, so neither landed a good punch. Then neither of them said much to change minds with their closing remarks.

Much has been made by Ryan’s supporters of Biden’s smiles and interruptions. Yet, as debates go, this one didn’t strike me as particularly uncivil. Both debaters used tactics designed to needle his opponent.

Dwelling on that picky aspect of it is for people who thought their man lost. It’s like old Finley Peter Dunne used to say, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

The next 90-minute debate, to be staged on the Hoftra University campus in Hempstead -- Romney vs. Obama II -- will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and many other channels at 9 p.m. on Tues., Oct. 16. You can keep score for yourself, it doesn’t cost a penny extra.  

-- 30 --

Monday, October 8, 2012

All Shook Up

On March 21, when Mitt Romney’s communications director, Eric Fehrnstrom, told us via CNN, just how his candidate would campaign in October, many observers laughed. A lot of people, especially Democrats, saw that quip as a gaffe.

“Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign,” Fehrnstrom said. “Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch-A- Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.”

Much to the delight of the press, in the course of the first presidential debate Romney shook it up.

In doing so, Romney pivoted toward the center, much as Fehrnstrom told us he would. To his credit, Romney’s salesmanship of his new talking points was on the money. Post-debate polls suggest some undecided voters may have bought what he was selling. Maybe that's true, for the time being. What his salesmanship surely did was stoke Republicans' enthusiasm.

On the other hand, Barack Obama’s presentation was lackluster, at best. Whether he was flabbergasted by his opponent’s sudden changes in his positions, or he and his strategists had decided in advance not to attack Romney -- either way -- the president’s performance didn’t serve his cause.

The Romney from the Republican debates and the campaign trail was not much in evidence in Denver. October's Romney didn’t try to bet Obama $10,000. This time Romney didn't say: “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate.” He didn’t say: “I like being able to fire people.” He didn’t say: “Corporations are people, my friend … of course they are.” And, he certainly didn’t say: “I was a severely conservative Republican governor.”

But a condescending Romney stood behind a podium, faced Obama and did say: “Look, I have five boys, I'm used to people saying something that isn't always true and keep on saying it hoping ultimately I will believe it.”

After Romney’s debate-winning, Etch-A-Sketching denial of his longstanding tax plan and much of what he had been repeating on the campaign trail for months, we know more about how his five sons came by their penchant for telling lies.

Romney’s debate strategy was a gamble aimed at undecided voters. It had two prongs: Romney figured the ultra conservatives now have nowhere else to go, so they won‘t abandon him for abruptly changing a few positions at this late date. Secondly, he figured most undecided voters haven’t been paying much attention, so they wouldn’t notice that he was flip-flopping, once again.

Moreover, the day after the debate, Romney guessed that undecideds wouldn’t care so much if Democrats and left-leaning pundits call him out on his latest flip-flopping episode, because to the undecideds it would sound like more boring spin doctor noise ... like, so what? 

Romney couldn’t have counted on Obama’s passiveness on stage in Denver. That must have been a welcomed bonus. But it was one debate. If Obama repeats that same bemused reaction to what Romney says on stage on October 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., then the president’s bid for reelection will be in a lot more trouble than it is today.

Romney has now demonstrated he is a good salesman. For the time being, he has halted what had the appearance of a death spiral. We already knew Obama is a good writer, which has been largely responsible for his wordsmith reputation. Before October runs its course, we'll have a better idea which candidate is actually the better debater.

On Election Day, November 6, we'll find out how much that matters to all the eligible voters who vote.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oct. 3 Debate Analysis

Political campaigns are often likened to horse races, or boxing matches, or poker games. Any of them could be useful today as a handy device to characterize last night’s presidential debate as a chapter in the story of the 2012 presidential contest.

Whatever metaphor you prefer, you have to remember that winning a debate is not the ultimate goal. Winning the election is.

However, in the debate in Denver, Mitt Romney was facing a mission quite different from that of his opponent. After a summer of stumbles and gaffes that concluded with a convention that fizzled, in September Romney’s campaign looked to be falling into a circling pattern indicative of a death spiral. The recent release of his telling 47 percent tape only tightened the nose-diving spiral.

In desperation, on October 3rd Romney knew he had to do something to change the momentum. He had to take a big chance with some freshly scripted lines ... perhaps pivoting-to-the-middle lines that could outrage his most strident Tea Party backers.

In contrast, Barack Obama's mission was to avoid making a big mistake by falling for a gambit.

As it played out last night, Romney obviously wanted to tie Obama up with calling out his Etch-A-Sketch lies, which would have left little time for anything else. Romney wanted to force Obama to call him a liar, or a flip-flopper. Obama was smart not to take the bait that could have made him look like a scolding negative campaigner.

Instead, Obama played the game like a guy who was way ahead on points, and would be content to let the Thursday morning quarterbacks and outraged pundits do the fact-checking and hyperventilating.

That Obama allowed his opponent to be the aggressor and perhaps breathe new life into his campaign was disappointing to many Democrats. Notably, MSNBC’s primetime roster of lefty pundits acted like they had been abruptly jilted, left alone and in tears at the alter.

If Romney wins the election, no doubt, his miracle comeback will be traced back to winning the first presidential debate. If he loses, the bad reviews of Obama's performance will rate no more than a short paragraph in the history of the Romney vs. Obama horse race across the nation's metaphorical countryside.

Satisfying all the Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow fans who expected to see Romney’s ears get pinned back was not a priority for the front-running incumbent. It's not important to the president whether cable news channels get the ratings-enhancing, nose-to-nose horse race they crave.

Obama is smart enough to know he doesn't have to say everything that ought to be said about Romney's tactics. That will become more obvious in the days ahead.

If this was a championship boxing match Obama had a comfortable lead and Romney needed an 11th- or 12th-round knockout to win. Last night was not a knock out.

So, Democrats who are worried about the sky falling should take a dose of whatever medicine they use to soothe their roiling anxiety. And, they should stand aside to let the Republicans crow and strut their premature jubilation. After all, politics-wise, it's the first good day they've had in a while.    

If it was a large-stakes poker game, Obama deliberately lost a hand with a small pot, in order to set up a chump for a subsequent hand, when all the chips will be on the line.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Diradour vs. Samuels: About Arts and Entertainment

One of the liveliest contests in local politics this fall is playing out in Richmond’s Second District councilmanic race. The district includes most of the Fan District, all of Scott’s Addition, some near-in aspects of Northside and most of the artsy blocks of the official Arts and Cultural District.

The incumbent is Charles Samuels, 36, an attorney. The challenger is Charlie Diradour, 48, a real estate developer/landlord.

Both men are members of the Democratic Party. Both have been active in the Fan District Association. Both have had a lot to say about Richmond’s arts and entertainment scene. Both have raised enough money to conduct serious campaigns, no one should be surprised if the race stays close all the way.

In August, via telephone and email, the two busy candidates agreed to answer questions about local government’s interaction with arts and entertainment.

Question: Are you happy or unhappy with the City of Richmond’s current laws that seek to control noise emanating from entertainment venues, restaurants, happenings at art galleries, etc.? Please explain what you plan to do about this issue, if anything, should you be elected.

Diradour: The noise ordinance is a great concept. The ordinance, however was poorly written. In fact the first ordinance as passed by Council was deemed unconstitutional. For a city as alive as RVA, we need to consider that noise is part of life in an active social community.

If I am elected, I will bring business owners, residents, The Richmond Police Department, and attorneys together to craft a new ordinance that better reflects the needs of our community. Noise pollution is one thing, but stifling arts and entertainment is quite another.

Samuels: As the member of Council who drafted and introduced the measure to limit noise, I feel it is about the best that we could do in terms of balancing the quality of life rights of all parties, specifically the right to have fun and the right to the peaceful enjoyment of your home.

Noise emanating from commercial and business establishments are not governed by the current noise ordinance (unless they are heard inside multi-unit dwellings or on residential single unit dwellings). However, there have been zoning laws on the books for decades that regulate noise from businesses in some zones. As we learned during the drafting process of the current sound control ordinance, there are always ways to improve ordinances like this, but I’m proud that community leaders, stakeholders and residents came together to make it work in the end. I am certainly open to tweaking it if it can be improved.

Analysis: Diradour seems to get it when he says “noise is part of life” in the city. How he might get “business owners, residents,” etc., to all agree on where to draw the line on what’s acceptable in the way of noise is another matter. No doubt, Samuels was trying to do something along those lines, but then it got complicated…

There are many quiet neighborhoods in Richmond. Others less so. Most Fan District residents, who’ve lived with its shops, offices, schools, busy sidewalks and streets, and its bars, have grown accustomed to what noise routinely exists in their neighborhood. Trying to make the Fan or the Arts and Cultural District as quiet as Windsor Farms won’t improve Richmond.

Noise has to be judged in context. A city cop ought to be able to determine whether an offensive noise constitutes disorderly conduct within the moment’s context. A noise patrol searching for bad decibels isn’t going to make Richmond a better city, either.

Question: Are you in favor of abolishing Richmond’s seven percent admissions tax? If “yes,” what is wrong with the tax? If, “no,” why should it remain on the books? If elected, what, if anything, do you plan to do about this issue next year?

Diradour: The 7% admissions tax is punitive in it's nature, in that it keeps small businesses from opening and, in fact, may indeed be a reason for some to have closed. Often, one hears the argument that the tax is borne by those who come from outside RVA's boundaries and is therefore a tax that doesn't effect city dwellers. I would make the argument, that lost revenue due to what amounts to a doubling down of the gross receipts tax is weighing down our arts and entertainment communities. I would vote to abolish it.

Samuels: Yes, but local government revenues are down substantially due to significant cutbacks in state funding and declining real estate revenues. I am not convinced we can afford to cut one source of revenues without replacing those dollars from another source. The admissions tax is much like the City’s meals tax. Only customers of entertainment venues pay it. Yes, it adds to the total cost of the experience, but it is not paid by the host or promoter, it is part of the ticket cost paid by guests. Interestingly, the City may provide a lower rate for non-government owned civic centers, stadiums or amphitheaters, but there is no authority regarding movie theaters, theaters or other venues. I am also considering returning to the General Assembly to lobby to address this issue.

How much does it actually account for? The admissions tax city wide accounts for .4% of tax revenue for 16 cities. Richmond is below the median and collects approximately 1.2 – 2 million from this tax. The median admissions tax rate for cities in Virginia is 7.5% with a maximum of 10% in 7 of those cities.

Analysis: Diradour says he will vote to abolish the admissions tax. Yet, while he seems to know it should go, it’s less clear by his answer why he thinks so.

When Samuels says the admissions tax is “much like the meals tax,” he reveals a lack of understanding of how those two very different taxes work. As it actually plays out, in effect, the hosts and promoters do pay the tax.

The public is mostly unaware that an admissions tax has been included in the price of a ticket. With the meals tax the customers can see the tax on their checks, it isn’t built into the price listed on the menu.

Taxes on meals are collected in all jurisdictions, the percentage varies. Samuels doesn’t mention that the surrounding counties, Chesterfield and Henrico, don’t have an admissions tax, which puts their theaters at a marked advantage over theaters in the city.

If a theater in Henrico and one in Richmond take in the same amount on a day’s gross receipts at the box office -- where the ticket price was the same -- the venue in the city yields seven percent less to its owner and the movie’s distributor.

Charlottesville doesn’t have such an admissions tax, either. Which is a significant reason why that particular city’s live music scene is thriving.

Note: In conversations prior to receiving this set of questions, Diradour seemed much more interested in finding a way to get rid of the admissions tax than did Samuels. The incumbent was less impressed with the notion that doing away with that one tax would spawn new streams of revenue for the City, to more than make up for what is now being collected on ticket sales.

Question: Beyond what’s already been covered, what do you think City Hall ought to do to help those who work in Richmond’s entertainment industry to make a better living? And, what measures can the next council take to encourage more privately-financed show biz venues to open in this city, initiatives that you will support?

Diradour: If anything, The City needs to support artists by creating tax incentivized live/work spaces in The Arts District. The creative class will help bring RVA back. According to Richard Florida, Author of The Rise Of The Creative Class, 40 million Americans create for a living. Creativity is found in the sciences, arts, trades, and a broad spectrum of other financial endeavors. The creative class has an immense impact on cities, as they choose to live and work in an environment that fosters their best opportunity for success.

Samuels: I was active in lobbying the General Assembly to win approval for localities to create more than one Arts & Culture Districts and I wrote the City’s initial Arts & Culture District ordinance. I am pleased that the expanded district that was ultimately approved includes my original boundaries as its core, with increased incentives to encourage private sector initiatives and development.

Aside from reducing City government waste, I want to focus on ways the City can encourage job creation. We have the ability to create additional Arts & Culture District and to use that a template to create Tourism District(s). I also want to pursue exempting new qualifying businesses from the BPOL taxes in revenue neutral way. That would certainly benefit newcomers to our entertainment industry and all industries. Job creation is key.

But in addition to the Art and Culture ordinance I drafted, I also wrote and introduced the nightclub licensing paper that was approved by my colleagues last year.

Admittedly, Council got some push-back on this issue, but after a string of violent crimes and deaths near clubs in our City, something had to be done. The deaths of young people that just went out to have a good time is not an appealing part of a nightclub area – it actually discourages many from going there. I’m not opposed to nightlife. I’m trying to stop night death.

And this ordinance has worked. Violent crime is down around these previously dangerous areas in the Bottom, and I am further convinced that this measure has forced nightclubs to take better responsibility for their patrons as they leave their premises. Having safer streets and better accountability can only further enhance the entertainment industry in Richmond.

Analysis: Both guys see the need for crafting a better noise ordinance, while they may disagree on where to draw the line for too loud.

Samuels seems more interested in having the local government closely monitoring the nightlife scene than does Diradour. One has to wonder whether “nightclub licensing” will really have the long-term positive effect on Richmond’s crime rate that Samuels suggests it has, to date. What such oversight could do to address any of the violence embedded in today’s culture isn’t clear.

Samuels wants to wait for the economy to improve before trying to do away with the admissions tax. But in good times, over the last 40 years, nobody in City Hall has talked much about getting rid of that tax.

Samuels shrugs off what show business insiders say about how more shows of all kinds would come to Richmond without that tax in place. They say Richmond needs to wise up to what cities like Nashville and Austin already know -- admission taxes are bad business, because they stifle the growth of an entertainment scene. Those insiders aren’t saying all taxes are bad, or too high; their complaint is just about one bad tax.

Diradour’s mention of Dr. Richard Florida will please some of the people who have had a direct hand in establishing Richmond’s Arts and Cultural District -- the pioneers/the creative class.

Samuels’ mention of lobbying the General Assembly to help the Arts and Cultural District will be seen in a favorable light by the developers who are investing in the area’s future -- the second wave/the money.

To be located at Belvidere and Broad Sts., VCU’s new Institute for Contemporary Art will surely have a positive ripple effect on the surrounding neighborhood, especially the Arts and Cultural District to the east. Adding to what’s already going on in that area, the new galleries, shops, theaters and restaurants currently in various planning stages will eventually open to bring more tourists into the middle of the city.

Now City Hall is on the arts and entertainment bandwagon and next year either Diradour or Samuels will be trying to speak on behalf of the best hopes for the Arts and Cultural District’s future.

The winner of their contest will have a lot to say about whether the new bandwagon stays on the road to brighter days for Downtown Richmond, or it breaks an axle on a familiar pothole.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Conventions aren't irrelevant, they’re theater

Other than providing honest work for those who build the sets and semi-honest work for those who produce the lavish infomercials, what good are political conventions? Do they still matter?

Political conventions are different things to different people. Primarily, I see them as theater. On a Broadway stage or a Hollywood movie set none of the props are there by accident. Everything was put there for a purpose. The same goes for what the public sees of a national political convention.

You see, dear reader, I’ve been watching the political conventions since 1964, when I was a 16-year-old juvenile delinquent/would-be boy-wonder. I can vividly remember staring at a black-and-white TV and taking notes in a Spiral notebook, as I watched the Republican convention in San Francisco.

That convention took place in the days when such affairs were more fluid, much less scripted than what they‘ve become. Which meant that plenty of the best action in the hall took place in the wee hours. Eventually, Arizona’s Barry Goldwater won the nomination. His slogan was: “In your heart, you know he's right.”

My answer to the question above is, yes, conventions still matter. Beyond the predictable, meticulous polishing of the luster of the ticket, conventions still offer us a look at what both parties would like to believe are their best ideas, their most trustworthy leaders and their up-and-coming stars.

Those who watched the conventions saw what may have been Bill Clinton’s last great speech, perhaps his best ever. And, we surely saw what will be Clint Eastwood’s last appearance at a political convention. And, like all props, the now famous chair was put there for a purpose. We should expect to see the chair's encore on Saturday Night Live.

In one word descriptions, one might say the Republicans elected to present kitsch; the Democrats chose to present boilerplate.

In Tampa there was a list of Republicans who were quite conspicuous by their absence. Neither George W. Bush or Dick Cheney were there. Nor were significant players from the party’s recent past, such as Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell or even Sarah Palin (depicted above), which had to disappoint SNL's writers.

What you did have was a series of state governors who all had a personal story to tell about how they, themselves, built their own success; they had all risen up from difficult circumstances. What I took away from that collection of similar stories was that the convention’s theme -- We Built It -- was being reinforced by hungry politicians who, when given the chance, were all happy to brag about themselves.

Curiously, not much was said about Mitt Romney during this aspect of the programming, and the governors' success stories hardly rubbed off on Romney.

What did seem to be in the air was a collective sense of yearning for recapturing what was good about a previous time, certainly before Barack Obama became president. What was less clear is what period of time the Tampa Republicans actually had in mind. Clearly, it was not a call to return to the Bush presidency.

Skipping to the chase, I have to say the Republicans in Tampa were yearning to take the country back to something that never existed. What they seem to want is Ronald Reagan acting as president, but perhaps serving in the time before the start of World War I, when everyone knew their place -- including women -- and people didn't bellyache all the time about their lot in life. 

Take-the-country-back Republicans seem to have left Tampa, still dwelling on a gaudy nostalgia that represents mostly imaginary stuff. They’re still pining away for a lost world of dungeons and wizards and flying monkeys, or maybe "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

To me, this all suggests one word -- “kitsch.”

Moving on to Charlotte, viewers looking for a bold new vision for the future needed to change channels. What they got from the second convention was a thousand little ways in which Democrats are trying to solve real problems ... even if trying is about all they can do. For what it's worth, their slogan this year is "Forward."

What saved the convention for Team Donkey, and probably provided the lift in the polls Obama has received since then, was one huge factor -- the Clinton speech.

Take Clinton’s wonky but lyrical speech out of the middle of the Democratic convention and the main story coming out of Charlotte would have been about a missed opportunity. Without Clinton's words, defining what it is to be a modern Democrat, nothing said from the podium the following night would have saved the convention from being branded as a fizzler.

Still, on live television, anything can happen. So, the symbol of all the Republicans staged for primetime consumption will always be Eastwood’s empty chair. Whereas, the Democrats confab will be remembered for a flight of soaring rhetoric from a party elder.

Between now and November 6th, no amount of dark dollar TV ads can rewrite those snippets of political convention history. Too many viewers saw them unfold, so there isn't time for that much of a rewrite. Moreover, neither of those happenings would have mattered so much had they not taken place live, on stage, at the conventions.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Nixon, the relentless know-it-all

Last week, I contended with what felt like a touch of pneumonia, maybe some West Nile virus, mixed in. After no sleep for a couple of nights, I finally dozed off. Wouldn’t you know it, the ghost of Richard Nixon came to me in a dream. He said he had a message for Paul Ryan.

"Hey, I don't like Ryan a bit," I said. So, I told Nixon to quit bothering me, he should just tell Ryan himself.

Frowning and shaking his jowls, Nixon said he’d stop pestering me when I promise to never draw another mean caricature of him.

Naturally, I chuckled, “No dice.”

So, Nixon instructed me, “Tell that Ryan not to let anybody discourage him from twisting the truth into whatever shape he likes, whenever the hell he feels like it. You tell him that when a Republican Vice President-elect says it during his run for office, it isn't called lying. No sir! It’s called, advertising.”    

Nixon waited for me to laugh. I didn't. Then he wanted to talk about the genius of his famous Checkers Speech.

To shut his trap, I woke up and ambled toward the bathroom. Covered in sweat, I was hoping my fever had broken ... but that would take another day-and-a-half.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Time-Warping in Tampa: Romney’s Step to the Right

 …And then a step to the right
With your hands on your hips
You bring your knees in tight
But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane,
Let's do the Time Warp again!

-- From “The Time Warp” by Richard O’Brien
With the Cold War moving from front pages into history books, it was during Bill Clinton’s stint in the White House that ideology began to go out of style in the national dialogue. Clinton was such an unapologetic capitalist and so many people were making money, it was useless to call him a "pinko."

Most of the time Clinton's two-term presidency was rather loosely tethered to what had been traditional liberal thinking in the USA. Likewise, the compassionate conservatives and neoconservatives of George W. Bush's eight years in the White House hardly fit the mold of what conservatism had generally meant during the previous half-century. And, in spite of what some partisans like to pretend, Pres. Barack Obama didn’t really campaign as a dyed-in-the-wool lefty, New Deal/Great Society Democrat in 2008.

But as soon as Obama was elected, along came the Tea Party bandwagon, fueled by raw anger at government and a rabid disliking for the new president. The new wave conservative momentum established by the bandwagon took a couple of years to be assimilated by the Grand Old Party.

Now the eager leadership of 2012’s remodeled Republican Party wants to round us all up and schlep us back across the bridge to yesteryear. Back to before Medicare. Before Roe vs. Wade. Before the Voting Rights Act. Before Social Security.

So, for the first time since the 1980s, ideology for its own sake is back in the forefront of what’s being argued over in a national election. In tapping Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin as his running mate, Mitt Romney -- the former governor of Massachusetts -- took his party's image yet another step to the right on the crooked road to its jamboree in Tampa ... fade out.


...Fade in: As you picture the putative presidential nominee at the upcoming Republican convention the tune in the hall is familiar. Under his perfect hairdo, Romney is in front of a chorus row of superdelegates on a huge stage, all festooned in red, white and blue. Wearing shades and tuxes they are performing a number straight out of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Hands on hips, they're singing, “Let’s do the Time Warp again!”

OK, in all likelihood, the GOP probably won’t use “The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (1975) for its theme in Tampa. Still, it says here that if the Republicans were all outfitted in costumes inspired by that cult movie the convention's TV ratings would be boffo.

Meanwhile, the Republican wish to recapture the commonly shared happiness of the Gilded Age actually has something in common with this musical from the midnight show vault of classics. In part, both are about a longing for a total fantasy -- a world of faux nostalgia that never existed in the first place.

With his pivot to the right Romney’s campaign strategists are saying they believe there are more uncommitted voters for Republicans to win over out on the Flat-Earth fringe than what votes might be found languishing in the indifferent center. The Romney camp must also be hoping the right-face turn will help seal off their candidate's well-documented moderate past in Massachusetts, to retroactively paint Willard Mitt Romney as a lifelong conservative.

Consequently, this fall Republican talking heads will be selling a lot of warmed-over ideology. We’re going to hear plenty about the intrinsic evils of socialism and trade unions. The manly strut of the GOP’s 1964 candidate, Barry Goldwater, will be lauded. Once again, Ronald Reagan will be hailed as a saint.

Speaking of nostalgia, even Ayn Rand‘s ideas are being dusted off.

And, speaking of juvenile pop philosophy, over his long career as a public person, Romney’s flip-flopping, wannabe hunger to have it all his way -- all ways -- brings to mind the unquenchable lust of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Frank-N-Furter’s approach to dealing with reality was: “Don’t dream it, be it.”

Which is a twist on what conservatives believed when Goldwater was their nominee in 1964. In that high-contrast era Republicans consistently painted themselves as hard-edged realists and problem-solvers. The Democrats were depicted as fuzzy-thinking dreamers ... fade out.


…Fade in: Now it’s the pragmatic Democrats who seem much more concerned with solving real-world problems than anyone on the other side of the aisle. You don’t have to like Obamacare to see that it was an attempt to solve a very real problem. Solving society’s most vexing real problems doesn’t seem to be important to today’s power-coveting conservatives.

Instead, they invent a problem to solve, as they have with voter fraud legislation in several states. Their answer to global climate change is, “Drill, baby, drill!" Their solution for the economic meltdown that put millions out of their jobs is to unshackle Wall Street's bankers from pesky regulations.

Famously, Romney’s 2008 advice about the automobile industry was, “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”

From today’s GOP, instead of a fresh vision for America's future, we’re just getting more political kitsch. Ayn Rand, indeed!

Yes, it’s the same old song and dance -- let’s do the Time Warp forever.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Penn State football must be suspended

In the wake of the firing of Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky’s convictions and the independent report from Judge Louis Freeh, what should happen to Penn State’s football program?

What does decency demand? What’s best in the long run? Beyond what the justice system hands out in the way of punishments, what role should atonement play in trying to facilitate a proper healing of all the wounds Sandusky (depicted above right) has created? 

Paul Woody’s opinions on sports are always worth considering. More often than not I agree with Woody, but in his column on Sunday, “Penn State has much to do but disbanding football isn't one of them,” he wrote that he thinks the Nittany Lions’ football program should not be suspended.
We are judged by how we treat the most vulnerable among us. That is where Paterno, Spanier, Schultz and Curley failed. They gave scant thought to the victims they knew about and no thought to the victims they created by their inaction.

These men face punishment for that shortcoming. Punishing everyone now involved in the Penn State football program only creates more innocent victims.

There already are enough of those.
This time I disagree with Paul. You see, I can’t hear the cries of the indirect “innocent victims” he’s worried about, because the cries of Sandusky’s many direct victims are still ringing too loudly in my ears.

No, it’s too soon to go back to football, as usual, in Happy Valley. 

Saying that Penn State football generates too much money for the university and the community surrounding it is sort of the same argument that was made for banks that were said to be “too big to fail.”

With that argument it seems we’re supposed to let feeling sorry for hot dog and T-shirt vendors who will be out of a job outweigh cleaning up thoroughly after the worst scandal in college sports history. In this case it’s also saying money is more important than properly looking over the safety of children, when we send our kids off to a sports camp, or enroll them in a school. 

In this unprecedented case money concerns simply have to wait, while other concerns are given their just due. This week there were yet more men coming out of the woodwork, to say Sandusky abused them, this time from 30 years ago. There will be more. 

As far as Penn State’s football players are concerned, the NCAA could grant them waivers to let them transfer immediately to other schools, if those student-athletes want to put football over matriculating at Penn State.

Speaking of the NCAA, it is not ruling out the so-called “death penalty” in this case. However, my hope is that the powers that be at Penn State will quickly realize that they have to voluntarily shut down the program, themselves.

In 1982 Rev. John Lo Schiavo, the president of University of San Francisco, disbanded his school’s men’s basketball program. For some good reasons, including crimes, he decided the corruption had gotten so bad it was the only thing to do. After a thorough house-cleaning the hoops program was resurrected three years later. (For in-depth background on that episode, go here.)  

If Penn State doesn’t fall on its sword, then the NCAA should compel the university to do it. This is the perfect time for the money-chasing hypocrites who run the NCAA to get something right. How many years will it take to get things mended at Penn State?

Maybe one year would be enough, maybe it will take longer.

Woody and I agree about cleansing Paterno’s name from the campus. And, I honestly do feel sorry for all the people who loved Paterno who are suffering. Still, some of them haven't really faced up to what was wrong with making Paterno a god. That's going to take time.

And, I also know from having played sports over a lifetime that Sandusky isn’t the only mean and twisted coach in this country who ought not to be around children. 

Remember this: This scandal isn't about kinky sex. It's about raping children. Violence that ruins lives.

Little kids by the millions are watching this story. Some portion of them have been abused. They will learn lessons from how this all plays out. An example has to be made of what went wrong at Penn State. A year without football may cost some money, but it will also allow for some soul searching.

Maybe even some atonement.

-- 30 --

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Complex problem, simple solution -- universal heath care

The most import reason for extending health care to all citizens should rest on something solid. While many softhearted liberals might say morality compels us to provide minimal health care -- at the least -- to all citizens, practical considerations will always insist with maximum volume that we deal with them first.

Fine, I happen to have the answer to the health care stalemate. And, it's not buried in a mountain of details, it's a fairly simple concept: 

America’s greatest natural resource is its citizenry -- it’s everyday workforce. The federal government should protect that resource above all others, in every way it can that's available to it. Without workers and consumers there is no economy.

Without a healthy middle class America's future is dim.

Whether they like their jobs or not, America’s sons and daughters go to work on good days and bad to pursue happiness, such as it might be. Toward that end they establish families and create communities. Just as society has recognized that our vital natural resources need to be protected from fast-buck artists, why would we not also protect our families' wage-earners in the most efficient and effective way we can?

Otherwise, what's the point of protecting the water we drink, the air we breathe, or the animals with which we share the planet?

A few years ago there was a scandal in this country over poisonous toys that had been imported from China. It was found that some of the materials weren’t safe, health-wise, for children to handle. The toys were pulled off retailers’ shelves. Hopefully it was done in time.

Those bad toys never made it into France. Like some other civilized countries, the French regulators never let them across their border in the first place.

France had rigorous standards and inspections that kept those tainted toys out of the curious hands and mouths of French kids. They didn't have to recall the dangerous products, because in France the standards were higher and the regulations were already in place. People were put before profits.


It’s actually simple -- France picks up the tab on everybody’s hospital bills.

Since France’s government has a heavy stake in keeping all French children healthy, rich and poor, its government naturally feels obliged to move proactively to reduce risks. Dig it: one day those French kids will either be healthy or unhealthy workers ... or too sick to work.

Although conservatives still like to mock France for all sorts of silly things, its government cares much more about French workers than our government does about American workers. How happy are you that France is doing plenty more to protect its future workforce than we are?

When the French government pays the health care bills, it follows that it will take more of an interest in protecting everyone’s health. In the long run, as far as paying for a nation’s health care goes, investing in prevention is sensible because it will save money. More importantly, it protects the vital workforce.

Universal health care, with periodic mandatory examinations, is the only way to monitor the spread of dangerous diseases that could become epidemics. Such diseases have the potential to put the kibosh on any nation's economy, to say the least.

Eventually, America will come around to embracing a single-payer universal health care system. It will join its European allies in this respect, one day.

The real question is: When that day comes, will it be a healthy America that chooses to walk upright to that inevitability? Or, will America be crawling toward it on its belly, sick and tired?

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Picture Your Corporate Sponsorship Here

With the news of Altria’s $10 million deal with the City of Richmond to have the tobacco products company's name put on what has been known since 1995 as the Landmark Theatre, I remembered a piece I wrote for in 1999. It was one of several attempts I made in those days to have a little fun with the news.

Satire aside, in looking the 13-year-old commentary over I had to chuckle at all that’s changed in Richmond since then … and all that hasn’t changed. Of course, the Landmark Theatre was called The Mosque from its opening in 1927 until it became the Landmark. And, Altria used to be called Philip Morris, but that's another story, for another day.

The original piece is posted below:   
Picture Your Corporate Sponsorship Here
F.T. Rea
Mon., Nov. 22, 1999
Richmond City Manager Calvin D. Jamison is looking for a company to buy "naming rights" for The Coliseum. If he is successful, Richmond would be in step with many cities in the country that have taken on corporate sponsors for their arenas, ball fields, and other municipal facilities that lend themselves to such exploitation.

Of course, just because the opportunity is there doesn't mean it will happen. The City of Richmond has been waiting since 1995 for an entity to throw some bucks into the kitty for the right to put its name on the storied hall that is being temporarily called the Landmark Theater.

With the budget for the operation of the city growing every year, it's no wonder Jamison is looking for new ways to make ends meet. And since it costs Richmond six figures every year to subsidize The Coliseum, why shouldn't the City Manager listen to a company that wants to cough up seven figures to install their logo onto such a high-profile facility?

Apparently Circuit City is considering it. If the deal goes down, we might soon see the circus and annual basketball tournaments held at the Circuit City Coliseum. And why not?

We applaud Mr. Jamison's state-of-the-art thinking and wonder what other publicly owned properties might become cash cows for the city. Humbly, we submit the following suggestions:

Let's go for the gold: The monuments on Monument Avenue should take on corporate sponsors. Why wouldn't Colonial Downs go for the equestrian theme? Maybe the best horse for them would be J.E.B. Stuart's, since it seems to be in motion. Just slap that racetrack logo onto the horse's ass and listen for the sound of the gravy train.

Then there's Matthew Maury, "Pathfinder of the Seas," with that big globe. How about a travel agency for Maury? A quick look at The Yellow Pages suggests Cruises Unlimited as a possible sponsor.


Next, we go for another one of those perfect fits. Instead of The Coliseum, we steer Circuit City toward sponsoring City Hall. That way we could call it Circuit City Hall.

Along the same lines, we could focus on a little local trivia and sell the naming right of the Lee Bridge to Sara Lee; making it the Sara Lee Bridge. (Sara Lee's happens to have been the original name of Sally Bell's Kitchen on West Grace Street. Maybe the first hundred grand could go to pay off Sally Bell's disputed tax tab with the City.)

The 6th Street Marketplace has been a drain on Richmond's resources for a long time. Maybe we could change that by selling the naming rights to a company that fits its image. How about The Forest Lawn Cemetery and Crematorium?

The most visible pieces of city property may be its police cars since they are mobile. Why not sell display advertising space on the patrol cars, just like cabs and buses?

The cars could have a Richbrau logo on their sides. And an ad for fightin' Joe Morrissey on the back.

Everybody makes money.

There's no limit to what fortune could flow from this concept. There will always be yet another space for an ad that could bring in some dough. A few more ads can't hurt us any more than the zillion our pickled brains have already been exposed to.

Finally, when he's making public appearances, Mayor Tim Kaine could wear a special mayor's suit adapted after the fashion of a NASCAR driver. On his official get-up there would be logos for sponsoring companies. There's no way Ukrops, Ethyl, or CSX can pass up this opportunity.

Come to think of it, didn't Richmond already do much the same thing when it hired Calvin Jamison from Ethyl?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Richmond's show biz-stifling tax

Commentary by F.T Rea
(This piece was originally published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch 
on June 19, 2011)

Over the past 10 years, how many cool nightclubs and edgy theaters didn't open in Richmond? How many popular touring shows skipped Virginia's capital city, chiefly because the risk-and-reward ratio — the chance to make a profit — was better somewhere else?

Since it's hard to prove what might have happened, any numbers offered here would just be guesses. However, Richmond's 7 percent admissions tax is surely the villain in this story about lost opportunities.

How this tax works to hobble show business is something few Richmonders understand. (By the way, this is not a tax issue that cuts along ideological fault lines, so there's no need to look for that aspect of it.)

In a nutshell, smart operators know Richmond is not an entertainment-industry-friendly town.

Noise ordinances and efforts to prevent dancing aside, at the top of the list of reasons the part of downtown around the convention center isn't already dotted with live stages — and doesn't already have a thriving live music scene — is the admissions tax. The few venues that are open are getting by in spite of City Hall's anti-show biz attitude.


Richmond's admissions tax comes off the top of the gross for every event that has a ticket price of 50 cents or more. That means live music, movies, ball games, lectures and so on.

By the way, Chesterfield County and Henrico County don't have an admissions tax. Which means it's usually smarter for a movie distributor to ship a print of its feature film to a cinema in the suburbs.

Here's the reason why: Exhibitors and distributors usually agree to split what revenue comes in at the box office. The percentages can vary greatly, depending on the situation.

Let's say the distributor of "Blood Feast VII" agrees to a 50/50 deal with two area theaters. The Blue Cinema in Henrico County and the Orange Theater in Richmond will open the picture on the same Friday; both exhibitors will pay the movie's distributor 50 percent of the box-office take.

Unfortunately, "Blood Feast VII" flops; it plays in this market just one week. Both cinemas take in the same amount of money — just $2,000 each. The distributor will get a check for $1,000 from the Blue and a check for $930 from the Orange, which had to send the city $140.

Of course, the Orange Theater will also have to pay all the other ordinary taxes and fees that businesses in Richmond must pay. Even a nonprofit like the struggling Byrd Theatre in Carytown has to cough up the 7 percent admissions tax.


The same problem plays out with live shows, too. If you want to rent 15 music halls for a Bruce Springsteen tour of the East Coast, you will consider several factors in choosing the best situations. In this region, one will stand out: If you rent a Charlottesville music hall, zero in admissions tax will come out of the gross.

Seven percent off the top of a $1 million gross from a live Springsteen show is $70,000 — a number hard to ignore.

The problem with the admissions tax is not so much that consumers object to paying it. It's that promoters don't want to bring their shows here. And, for a small club, having to pay 7 percent of what comes in at the door, when the band of local musicians usually gets that money, takes a nasty bite out of profits.

Consequently, there are fewer clubs and fewer gigs. Fewer gigs mean more area musicians have to keep a day job, or they just leave town.

Richmond takes in about $1.4 million a year in admissions taxes. Yet, if you ask how much it costs to collect that money, curiously, no one who works for the city seems to know the answer.

The admissions tax in Richmond is not unique. Unlike, Charlottesville, most cities in Virginia do have such a tax; the rate varies.


In April of this year, a delegation of Richmond's leaders visited Austin, Texas — the so-called Live Music Capital of the World — to study what that city might be doing right. Among other things, the visitors learned that cultivating a live music scene is good for business.

With no admissions tax in the way, Austin encouraged a world-class live music scene to develop. Its best musicians don't have to leave town to make a living.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, our government officials are wishing they could charge a 7 percent admissions tax on a hot show that didn't come here. They're dreaming of taxing trendy venues that don't exist.

Perhaps some are even wondering about jobs that didn't come here, because yet another company chose a city more friendly to its creative class for its new headquarters.


Note: My latest post on this topic is here at SLANTblog.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Richmond’s Bloody Interregnum

Commentary by F.T. Rea

A ballot box was stolen from this Jackson Ward building
142 years ago. Now it houses Gallery 5.

When I hear stubborn politicians talking about absolutely refusing to compromise with their opponents, it brings to mind what tragedy can flow from such foolishness. When I hear angry activists talking about “second amendment solutions,” it reminds me of how a supposedly civilized group of people can lose its moorings. In its long history Richmond has had its share of bloody "solutions."

It was less than five years ago that Richmond’s government split into pieces and turned against itself. That happened with the Friday Night Fiasco (Sept. 21, 2007). But, if the reader thinks that strange stunt, engineered by then-Mayor Doug Wilder — to evict local public schools officials from City Hall — was totally unprecedented, in that it had the local government at odds with itself, then please read on.

That little tiff was small potatoes compared to what happened in these parts in 1870-71. Here's a glance at the disastrous outcome of allowing a perpetual feud to take root. It's a scary example of what can happen when people refuse to accept the results of elections or a ruling handed down by a court.

The Bloody Interregnum was the name given to the politics-gone-wrong brouhaha over whether George Chahoon or Henry K. Ellyson was the lawful mayor of Richmond.

When the five-year military occupation of Virginia following the Civil War ended on January 26, 1870, Gov. Gilbert C. Walker promptly appointed a new City Council for Richmond. That body in turn selected Henry K. Ellyson, publisher of The Dispatch — forerunner to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch — as the city’s mayor.

However, George Chahoon, who had served as mayor during the last two years of Reconstruction, refused to recognize the validity of the process. Although the transplanted New Yorker had a considerable following around town, he was seen by Ellyson’s backers as a lowdown “carpetbagger.” After all, Chahoon had served at the pleasure of the military overlords.

When neither man would give ground, the city itself fractured. As positions solidified, the split became a chasm; the result of which created two separate city governments. There were two police departments, two City Halls, etc. Brawls became commonplace as the supporters of both men sought to press their case on every street corner. Chaos, with gun-play aplenty, ensued.

Notably, in spite of the fact that Richmond served as the capital of the Confederacy during a portion of the Civil War, it was not without its Union sympathizers. In fact, Richmond was quite divided on the topic of secession before the war. During and after the war there were substantial elements present that could have been characterized as pro-Union.

Like the USA’s 2000 presidential election, in 1870 the impasse found its way into court. On April 27, the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals met to hear arguments from the two camps on the third floor of the state Capitol building.

The anxious citizens shouldered onto the balcony to witness the spectacle. Suddenly it collapsed under all the weight. The balcony and spectators crashed onto the hapless below. Widely known as The Capitol Disaster, when the smoke cleared the tragedy left 62 people dead and 251 injured.

Two days later, the court reconvened at City Hall. In due time, a verdict favorable to Ellyson was returned. A month later, a citywide election took place. But no clear winner emerged from that exercise, either.

This time the contentiousness stemmed from the disappearance of a ballot box from a precinct friendly to Chahoon. Same as ever, both sides traded more accusations. Although Ellyson was certified as the winner by the election board, he declined to serve because the election results were tainted, therefore inconclusive. Thus, the battle raged on.

Eventually Chahoon left town to avoid facing the consequences of several felony indictments — supposedly of a nonpolitical nature — that had been heaped upon him. For his part, Ellyson grew weary of the struggle and withdrew from the race.

It finally ended on July 1, 1871, with the election of Anthony Keily as the one and only mayor of the exhausted city of Richmond. The actions of those who were most caught up in the 17 months of The Bloody Interregnum left stains that perpetuated grudges in Richmond for generations to come.

As a child growing up in Richmond, I heard adventure tales from my grandfather about this bizarre time. He claimed his salty old Uncle George (who was a sheriff, among other things) told him that most men in Richmond carried guns on the street in those wild days, much like what we’ve seen in western movies.

Formal duels and spontaneous gunfights were not unusual in Richmond in that time. The Bloody Interregnum was set in motion by grudges. Those Richmonders saw only what supported their point. Blinded by prejudices and driven by insatiable desires to win, neither side was willing to recognize any authority with which it disagreed. 

Rather than give ground, to compromise, they were willing to lose everything. They have their counterparts today. 

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