Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What's Obama Done for Us Lately? This

Obama signs; VP Joe Biden watches.
The following is from a website called HubPages and it is a list of 14 accomplishments of the Obama Administration, presented simply here and with more detail here. These are properly sourced and are not partisan. They are simple facts.

1. We've now had 65 straight months of economic expansion.

2. We are enjoying the longest period of private sector job creation in American history.

 3. Unemployment has dropped from 10.1% in October of 2009 to 5.4% by Spring of 2015.

 4. The stock market continues to set new record highs since President Obama took office.

5. The Federal budget deficit is shrinking. It’s been reduced by two-thirds since 2009.

6. Under President Obama, government spending has increased only 3.3% annually, the lowest rate since Eisenhower was president.

7. For 95% of American taxpayers, income taxes are as low or lower than they were at almost any point in the last 50 years.

 8. Dependence on foreign oil has shrunk due to record domestic oil production and improved fuel efficiency standards.

9. At least 10 million more Americans now have health insurance than before.

10. The Affordable Care Act has added years to the life of Medicare.

11. Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, we are seeing the slowest rate of increase in healthcare costs since 1960.

12. We currently have fewer soldiers, sailors, and airmen in war zones than we did at any time in the last 11 years.

13. There have been zero successful attacks by al Qaeda on U.S. soil since Obama became president.

14. We now successfully catch and deport more illegal immigrants than ever before.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Delightful Day With My Grandgirl

Maddie shot this of my feet upon my exit from the water slide.
Madeline's turn on the slide.
Although my grandgirl Madeline has been in Roanoke for the past few weeks visiting for the summer, I haven't been able to spend a lot of time with her because of previous commitments. For the past two weeks, she's been at Camp Alta Mont. Today, we made up some ground.

Chocolate malt and blowing hair.
We swam and sailed down the water-slide at Green Ridge Rec Center, sang a duet ("Margaritaville"), turned somersaults, talked philosophy and I bought Maddie her first chocolate malted, which she consumed with considerable gusto.

Fun day that was proceeded by a run with my bud Janeson at Carvins Cove, where I got to show off my new Piggly Wiggly T-shirt, which I immediately stored in my "favorites" drawer.

Here's some of what we did.

Maddie and me at the slide.
Madeline's somersault.
New T-shirt ...
... already a favorite.
Bright summer view of the cove from one of the peninsulas.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taylor Grenloh's Star Continues to Shine

The players (from left): James Wise, Ed Sala, Neil David Seibel, (the superb) Shannon Robert, Mary Ellen Apgar, Elizabeth Hedrick, Michael Mansfield.
Tonight marked the third Taylor Gruenloh play I've seen in a little over a year and they just keep getting better. "A Sun-Wet Field" is a dazzling tale of the after-effects of the drug-induced suicide of a young girl. It was a suicide basically caused by fraud in the drug industry.

Gruenloh spares nobody in his script: the pharmaceutical companies, the marketers, the academic community, so eager to get in on the big money by signing off on drug tests, and, of course, Congress. This is a big story told small and tonight's sold-out reading at Mill Mountain Theatre in the second night of the Hollins Playwights Festival was beautifully performed and directed (by Katie Mack).

Roanoke's bench of solid actors has become so strong that putting on 10 plays in three days has not only become possible, but it is pretty much a lead pipe cinch. This one had a big case, featuring equity actor David Seibel and locals Shannon Robert (whose performance in this one was my favorite), Michael Mansfield, James Wise, Jr., Ed Sala, Mary Ellen Apgar (Hollins' Horizon director, who has been re-discovered as an actor) and recent Hollins grad Elizabeth Hedrick.

But it was Taylor's play that carried the evening with its personal touch to an international problem, one that could easily touch each of us--and kill many of us--in the name of mega-profits. It is a cynical and deeply serious work that has a small amount of development ahead before it is loosed on the world. One man in the audience suggested after the performance that it should open in Washington so Congress could see it. Good point.

The festival winds up with four more plays Sunday, beginning in the morning and going through to a windup at 8 p.m. with Will Coleman's musical. I highly recommend this event to those who love theater because it IS theater. The very best kind, in my world.

Director Katie Mack, Writer Taylor Gruenloh, Hollins' Todd Ristau.

Will Murdoch Besmirch Harper Lee's Name?

Harper Lee
“I think the thing that I most deplore about American writing … is a lack of craftsmanship. It comes right down to this — the lack of absolute love for language, the lack of sitting down and working a good idea into a gem of an idea.”

--Harper Lee in 1964, four years after To Kill a Mockingbird was published

Harper Lee's only book until recently was just about as perfect as an American novel gets, so it was with considerable sadness that I read Joe Nocera's column in today's NYTimes (here), essentially saying Go Set a Watchman, allegedly her new novel, is, in effect, a fraud.

That it is published by HarperCollins, a Rupert Murdoch-owned publisher, gives the accusation considerable credence. My guess is that the frail and very old Miss Lee had little or nothing to do with the publishing of what Nocera insists is a much weaker early draft of Mockingbird, one where Atticus Finch is something less than the icon of goodness he has become.

Everything the Murdochs touch turns to mud and this is simply disgusting.

Quote of the Day: Correcting the Correction

The following is the last paragraph (in italics) of a story by Sam Levine on HuffingtonPost (here) that was about Hillary Clinton correcting a NYTimes story on her e-mails:

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of inspectors general from the State Department who had referred an investigation to the Justice Department. It was one inspector general from the State Department and one from the Intelligence Community.

Apparently, the subtlety of language used by the Justice Department is a bit much for everybody concerned. It is not investigating Hillary Clinton. It is investigating ... uh ... something else.

Forgiveness: The Very Definition of Grace

Annette Patterson: "Let's get to work reaching out, opening doors, correcting wrongs."
My friend Annette Patterson doesn't just talk grace, she lives it.

Her cousin Ricky Schmid (46) was recently robbed and murdered on a Philadelphia street by two 18-year-olds. He was shot in the head July 14 and was left in a parking lot. His phone had been taken.

Annette reacted the way you would imagine her to, if you knew her:

"How very sad is our world that these two young people thought his life was worth less than a phone. Proof positive that we can not continue to turn a blind eye to the poor, suppressed and abused. These kids (barring mental illness) have been brought up in a world that let them down and now they lash out in ignorance.

"We are all drinking out of the same pond, so let's get to work reaching out, opening doors, correcting wrongs, eliminating the need for welfare by teaching and empowering citizens! Hope and dignity are the key."

Friday, July 24, 2015

Hollins Playwrights Fest Selling Out

A capacity house tonight was one of at least five for the weekend.
Emma Sala (from left), Will Coleman, Linsee Lewis.
It was just a couple of years ago, as I recall, that the Hollins Playwrights Festival had a hard time getting a quorum, let alone selling out the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre.

This weekend, the festival, which has entered a rich maturity, has at least five sellouts among its 10 new play readings and that could easily soar beyond the trio of 8 p.m. features on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and two others.

Tonight's reading, "Coupler," by the perceptive and talented Meredith Dayna Levy (she wrote the wildly popular "Decision Height" two years ago), was a marvelous comedic diversion, featuring Bob Moss's direction and a sparkling cast of locals. One of the cast members, Will Coleman, is the writer of Sunday's sellout.

This one dealt with the interconnected lives of a group of train travelers (and of the train, as a character), sprinkled with laughter and Shakespeare.

Erica Musyt and Owen Merritt.
It is not a finished play, but a work in progress, a script-in-hand presentation without costumes or sets. Like so many of these works, this was pure and delightful theater in the raw, a story that didn't need props to be effective.

The cast--Coleman, Erica Musyt, Emma Sala, Owen Merritt, Bonny Branch, Linsee Lewis and Debora Schwartz (wonderfully diversionary as the train)--is delightful and at times electric.

My guess is that many moments of theatrical adventure are to follow this weekend at the Waldron Stage.

You can be part of some of it, but you'll need tickets. They won't cost you anything and are available online here. This is your chance to be part of the development of individual plays (there is a talk-back session at the end) and of overall live theater in Roanoke. I can assure you it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Hollins guru Todd Ristau (left), writer Meredith Levy, director Bob Moss.

Photo Essay: Oh, Those Summer Days

A clear, bright summer day at the cove with puffy, light clouds. Nearly perfect.
A look down into the boat.
Today, it was hot. But it was clear, occasionally breezy and the cottony clouds gave this mid-July morning a clarity that reminded me of being 12 again.

Out on the cove, the traffic was light and the water occasionally choppy. It was a sweet, thoughtful paddle, one where my mind wandered and the boat meandered. The kind that hath charms to soothe the savage breast, as William Congreve might have seen it.

Sun dances on the water beside the boat.
A view at water level, astern.
Hat-less me: proof I have a head.

An Excellent Book Site from My Pal Darrell

Andrea Brunais
My friend Darrell Laurant has developed a books blog that gives the authors featured a chance to talk briefly and succinctly about their new books and to give you some insight into the creation of them. Snowflakes in a Blizzard is a novel approach (so to speak) and one that is catching on rapidly.

Darrell began the project with just a few books, but he is now churning quickly and featuring a wide range of new and old authors, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, young adult and the whole range of books you'll find at the store or online.

Today, his featured author is another good friend, Andrea Brunais of Blacksburg, whose Mercedes Wore Black came out last summer and was my favorite novel of the season (actually, my favorite book of any kind last year). Here's Darrell's feature on Andrea's book and it gives you a good idea what the site is about.

My novel, CLOG!, will be a feature a week from today (on my birthday). Lock into the site if you read. You'll be rewarded.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Social Security: Bad News, Bad News, Good News

First, the good news: "Social Security's retirement fund has enough money to pay full benefits until 2035, a year later than predicted last year. At that point, Social Security will collect enough in payroll taxes to pay about 75 percent of benefits."

Now, the bad news: The fund is running out of money in crucial benefits areas, like disability, and "there will be no cost-of-living increase in benefits at the end of the year. It would mark only the third year without an increase since automatic adjustments were adopted in 1975."

Full story here.

There are a combination of circumstances alive here, beginning with Ronald Reagan's raid on the trust fund 30 years ago, nearly draining it to pump up the general federal budget. Since then, Republicans have refused to make important adjustments (like removing the cap on taxable income for the wealthy) that could leave the programs healthy. And, of course, we have the Baby Boom moving into retirement wholesale.

If Republicans continue to oppose Social Security in the ways they have, its future is dark at best and non-existent at worst. Either scenario would please the GOP.

The Trump Effect: Duck, Repubs!

Trump: Hair today, gone tomorrow?
“Get ready for the worst mudslinging in modern American politics.”

--Frank Luntz, GOP Pollster

Donald Trump's effect on the Republican presidential has been unusually and unexpectedly pointed, stealing the thunder from the assumed leaders for the nomination and giving him a double-digit early lead in national polling. It is a lead that nobody expects to be there when the real campaigning begins in the fall, but it is also a lead that is worrisome to the serious candidates.

Some are cozying up to Trump--fearing his pointed criticisms--others are defying his criticism and swinging back. All this is taking the life out of any criticism they might have of Barack Obama or the Democratic candidates, led by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Republicans love to hate, but who is being virtually ignored now. Most of the 17 Democratic candidates (see, you didn't know that) are, in fact, not known by Repubs or Democrats, except the most hard-core insiders. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley are the only candidates in the Dem camp with even a smidge of recognition. Here's the list, which may surprise you. It did me.

The Trump effect has even slopped over to Fox News, the media outlet for the Republican Party. It has been suggested that several of the leading candidates team up and boycott the GOP debates (scheduled on Fox) if Trump, a Fox favorite, is included. "But none of the campaigns have shown any appetite for such solidarity, for reasons ranging from their strategic interests and not wanting to make Mr. Trump a martyr, to fear of making an enemy of Fox News," says the NYTimes in an article this morning (here).

We're learning a lot about the GOP and its presidential candidates these days because of Trump. None of it is pretty, but we didn't expect it would be. And it's a hell of a lot of fun to watch if you're me.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Morning Hike: It's the Little Things ...

A daisy relative of some sort is beautiful against the blue/purple backdrop of the woods.
A red cock's comb of some sort.
Sometimes it is good for me when I simply slow down and take a look at all I'm missing by speeding through whatever I'm doing.

This morning, I took an hour and 45 minutes to do an hour and 15 minutes worth of hiking on the Hollins greenway trail up the back of Tinker Mountain.

What I saw was delicacy, color, texture, life and reason.

Here are photos of some of what I saw ... and fully enjoyed.

Honeysuckle at peak season. Beautiful and tasty.
Love the elegent cheer of this little dude.
Want semytry? You got it.
Looks like a wedding might break out at any moment.
Don't know what it is. Do know it's lovely.
Peace, brothers and sisters.
Is this a knot or a hive? I didn't want to test it.
Mushroom in black and white ...
... and in color.
This is where the hike led me. Nice morning. Thanks, Mama Nature.

Domestic Violence from Pro Fighters? Well, Yeh

MMA fighter "War Machine" and his abused girlfriend Christy Mack.
The domestic violence figures in the HuffingtonPost story (here) today are counter-intuitive, to my mind. It doesn't make a lot of sense, for example to read that of every 100,000 American men 18-39, 360 are arrested for domestic violence, while just 216 NFL football players are busted for the same crime.

The story (which concentrates on a fighter named War Machine's alleged abuse of his girlfriend, Christy Mack), though, is about Mixed Martial Arts fighters, whose rate of arrest is an astonishing 750 per 100,000.

The NFL and most other high-profile sports have seriously instituted educational programs for their athletes, which, I would imagine, have had some effect.

The question for me, though, is this: why do we teach young men to be violent and then expect them not to be? Violent sports, the wartime military and a hyper-violent, gun-toting culture encourage violence. Why in the world do you think college football players are being arrested and convicted for domestic violence at such high rates? They are young, horney, entitled and taught to be mean and vicious. If they are anti-social borderline psychotics in addition to all that (and many are), you have a very real problem.

Mixed Martial Arts is likely a special case, a kind of bastard sport that grew out of the king's boxing and bar fighting in a Dublin pub, with emphasis on fighters hurting each other as much as possible. These guys are generally defined by violent tattoos, little education, macho bravado, childhood poverty and domestic violence and encouragement to be overtly angry and destructive. Why would that not carry over into their private lives?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

It's Heritage, Not Hate. Dammit!

This Reuters photo of some of our more culturally-challenged fellow citizens was shot at a rally in South Carolina over the weekend. It features a KKK symbol (upper right on the Confederate battle flag) and something of a "wizard" holding that flag (note his shirt).

We point out the cheerful finger on the man at the left and wonder if the person in front of him is ... well, singing. "Dixie," perhaps. The baseball caps (I wear baseball caps all the time) and tattoos scandalize some of us, by implication. My guess is that most of these showed up in pickup trucks (I drive a pickup truck) flying their specialty flags. One said they were a study group on the way to the library.

There is no audio with this photo, but I suspect we can imagine the invective.

But these citizens are not racist. Farthest thing from it. Just ask them. They're all about "heritage."

Virginia's Evil Little SR22 Strikes Again

This is an SR22. It is the cause of much grief in Virginia.
Today, I spent about an hour swapping out my home and automobile insurance, paying a higher rate for the vehicles (saving a smidge on the home)--all because of that fix I got myself in more than a year ago when I co-signed a car loan for a young woman I know.

I've told much of the story about how she missed a liability insurance payment and had her insurance cancelled, which led to my driver's license being suspended. I found out about the suspension eight months later in a routine traffic stop. Cop to me: "I have good news and bad news. Good news is you haven't done anything wrong; bad news is that your driver's license has been suspended."

That led to several weeks of grief, something more than $2,000 in expenses (not counting a $2,000 contract for writing that I had to turn down because I couldn't drive) and a lot of anxiety. We finally got it fixed. I thought.

Then, last month, The Travelers Insurance sent me a note telling me my automobile insurance was cancelled because I am required to file a form with the DMV for the next three years assuring it that I have insurance. I have never been without insurance. The young woman whom I helped has been without insurance.

In any case, I was left to search out another insurance company (Travelers cancelled my auto policy; I cancelled my home policy to get even), one that would not refuse me because of the SR22 form requirement. That was not easy and it was an added expense: another $400+ every year. I am beginning to believe this will never end, that I will have anxiety about driving for the rest of my natural life.

I have been in contact with the head of the DMV and with my general assembly representative, who is trying to help with this. The law that requires this is wrong and should be changed, but at the very least, the DMV should be required--any time it suspends a license or is considering suspension--to send a registered letter to the person whose license is in peril.

A good friend of mine has just faced a similar situation where the DMV actually sent her a threatening letter, postmarked five days after her deadline to comply. DMV said she had no insurance. Truth is that she had insurance twice. She'd just bought a new policy and it overlapped with the old one. That simply will not do.

OK, I'll shut up for now. But if any of you NRA types wants to bomb the DMV, I'll say something nice about you at your arraignment.

Flag Flap: Protecting the 1 Percent, 150 Years Ago

Confederate re-enactors in a recent parade in Roanoke.
Roanoke Times Metro Columnist Dan Casey has a follow today (here) of his Sunday column (here) about the Confederate battle flag flap (OK, I couldn't resist) and it is telling that the people preaching about a lack of understanding and lack of facts about the old South don't seem to have their stories straight.

Dan's original piece came about because Downtown Roanoke Inc. formed a committee (I'm on it) to determine what can/should be done about the flag's appearance in the annual Christmas parade. Many of us believe that military presence of any kind in a Christmas parade is inappropriate and it is not just the Confederate battle flag that is at issue, though that is significant in itself. I have suggested that the Confederate South could easily be represented on a float, occupied by young soldiers, surrounding a campfire, singing carols of the era. No guns, no flags. Just a bunch of lonely kids--which is what they were. It would be a distinctly humanizing float and could help polish the image of the SCV.

Today's column dealt with the issue of the cause of the Civil War, which many in the Sons/Daughters of the Confederacy insist had nothing to do with slavery, and they accuse those of us who disagree of gross ignorance of the history of the conflict. They do not--ever--mention that at least four of the Confederate states emphasized slavery (more than 80 times) in their articles of secession. They rarely talk about the designer of the Confederate battle flag saying flatly that the flag represented the superiority of white people over those with brown skin.

They talk about valor and states' rights (though almost never saying what those rights were). They talk about the young heroes of the South, who gave up their lives, their families and their fortunes to fight for "a way of life." One supposes that way of life was full of lawn parties, full ball gowns, gray and butternut uniforms, white horses, string quartets, mint juleps, and an occasional scrape or bruise following battle.

Rarely do they mention that most Southern soldiers--barely older than children--came from farms, had no education, had never seen a slave, died from venereal disease, explosions or horrible medical conditions, and were fighting a vicious war to protect the holdings of one percent of the people of the South.

Poor kids protecting the wealth of the elite. How novel. Is there nothing new?


Virginia Tech: 'We're No. 256!'

Virginia Tech: International university.
OK, so 256 is not No. 1 and doesn't sound all that hot, but the center for World University Rankings includes 25,000 colleges and universities and Tech's place is among the top 10 percent, 15 spots better than in the last ranking.

This is the "only global university ranking that measures the quality of education and training of students as well as the prestige of the faculty members and the quality of their research without relying on surveys and university data submissions," says the center's publicity.

Guru Ghosh, VP for Outreach and International Affairs (where my friend Andrea Brunais, the marvelous novelist, also works), says, "As we continue to advance our mission to expand our global reach – especially in academic research, publications, and scholarship – Virginia Tech's reputation will no doubt continue to gain momentum and recognition in world rankings such as this. Our aim is to be among the top universities in the world." 

I am among those who has bemoaned--but understood--Tech's need to appeal to foreign students. My son--a legacy; his grandpa was a football player of some note at Tech--was refused admission (though he was offered engineering scholarships elsewhere) to Tech.

A Tech official told me at the time that the university concentrates on foreign students because they pay the heavy freight (full, out-of-state tuition) for in-state kids. I understood, but I was not happy. (My son would not have gone to Tech had he been accepted, by the way. He applied because he thought I wanted him to. I had no thought on it. He got his physics degree from the University of Tennessee, which cost less, even as an out-of-state student.)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Trump's Military Record and Mine Are Similar

GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump has recently criticized five-year Vietnam-era POW Sen. John McCain's military record (McCain got caught, says The Donald). Trump had a distinguished military career, closely resembling mine, as the graphic above demonstarates.

(Graphic: HuffingtonPost.)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Attack of the Giant Zucchini

They lurk there in the near-dark, close to the ground under the broad leaves and amid the thick stems. They can be seen if you are looking for them, but mostly, they are invisible.

Until one day, you pull the leaves back and there lies Sampson or Goliath, something Biblical: the giant zucchini.

At the left, I have just picked one that is the size of my lower right leg. I will not eat my leg. I will likely eat the zucchini, though not as a pickle, which would be my preference. The damn thing is too big to slice into a Ball jar.

I think I'll do something like the zucchini pasta I read about last week. Just slice it thin, boil it, spice it (garlic and olive oil covers just about any contingency) and put some veggies over it.

That ought to be good. And less scary than picking the damn thing.

American Socialism: Why Are You So Afraid of It?

A week or so ago, Paul Rosenberg of Salon Magazine wrote a blog post trying to explain Bernie Sanders' "democratic socialism," a political philosophy that is regularly trashed by Republicans of all stripes.

"Socialist" has been so thoroughly trashed and demonized by people like Rush Limbaugh that its very definition has changed for many. It means "communist," in general, and "Chinese-style communism" in particular. Socialism is as far from communism as is democracy or the republican form of government. Socialism leans on a strong central government to provide important services for the people and it has nothing to do with totalitarian government as you see in most communist--or far right wing--countries today. It is about pooling resources to create services for all the people--not the 1 percent.

Recently, the Progressive Change Institute did a "Big Ideas" poll (with a million votes cast), weighing 2,600 government ideas. Americans favoring what are, essentially, socialist ideas were overwhelming in their majorities. Here is how some of the left's ideas weighed in:
  • Allow Government to Negotiate Drug Prices (79%) 
  • Give Students the Same Low Interest Rates as Big Banks (78%)
  • Universal Pre-Kindergarten (77%)
  • Fair Trade that Protects Workers, the Environment, and Jobs (75%) 
  • End Tax Loopholes for Corporations that Ship Jobs Overseas (74%) 
  • End Gerrymandering (73%) 
  • Let Homeowners Pay Down Mortgage With 401k (72%) 
  • Free College at All Public Universities (Message A) (71%) 
  • Infrastructure Jobs Program — $400 Billion / Year (71%) 
  • Require NSA to Get Warrants (71%) 
  • Disclose Corporate Spending on Politics/Lobbying (71%) 
  • Medicare Buy-In for All (71%) 
  • Close Offshore Corporate Tax Loopholes (70%) 
  • Green New Deal — Millions Of Clean-Energy Jobs (70%) 
  • Full Employment Act (70%)
  • Expand Social Security Benefits (70%)
Democrat Bernie Sanders includes these ideas as part of his populist campaign for president. I don't know of a Republican who approves of any of these and I'm not sure Hillary Clinton would go along with all of them, either.

Rosenberg notes that the infrastructure/jobs program has 91 percent support from Dems, 61 percent from independents and 55 percent from Republicans (with just 28 percent opposed).

So, what is American socialism? It is a series of proposals that would make life in the United States far better and more equitable than it is. The programs would re-establish the middle class (Republicans harp about returning to the 1950s--without mentioning that American was strong because of solid unions creating a huge, stable middle class). Health care for all, jobs, a clean planet, a financial system that didn't victimize all but the rich, education for everybody who wants it, spies under control ... It's all there and it works. 

(Cartoon: M. Wuerker, politico.com)

A Quick Paddle Before the Heat Settles

Not sure what Betty was pointing out here, but I'm sure it was important.
Reflection was nice in the calm cove.
My friend Betty Remington and I took off relatively early this a.m. for a quick paddle at Carvins Cove, before the searing heat took over.

We made it out just as the sun got serious, but we had a delightful paddle for more than an hour and a half beforehand.

The water was choppy and the breeze brisk, making for delightful paddling, but the sun was menacing and my guess is that by 1 p.m. it was oppressive. We had a good time, though.

Betty is enjoying the panorama that is the Cove.

Funding Christian Education in Virginia

Liberty's college of osteopathic medicine: state funded.
"At the beginning of the 21st Century, Liberty’s students received less than $20 million in total federal aid in a good year. That number has grown to well over $800 million every year courtesy of welfare from unwitting taxpayers; there is no data available for the billion-plus dollars taxpayers furnish the private Baptist school every year. Even though it is a private enterprise employing a Republican business model,  Liberty University is like every church in America and is exempt from paying taxes, but it is not exempt from collecting other Americans’ tax dollars."

--Politicususa.com's story today on Liberty University in Lynchburg

Politicususa is a left-wing organization that takes a look at situations it sees as serious threats to our form of life and government and this article on Liberty's financing is little short of a hit piece. It has some pertinent facts in it, but as with so many right- and left-wing screeds, it is full of unnecessary derogatory adjectives when it could simply tell the story and let the telling have its own impact.

What we get, instead, is a piece that is easily ignored by anybody not on the hard left or those who hate Christians. I have friends at Liberty and know that many of their teachers are excellent and many of their classes are quite good. I have seen little of the brain-washing talked about here, though my guess is that many of the students have been convinced of the politics of the right by family and friends before they ever got to Liberty.

Still, there is a lot of troubling information here about how the taxpayers of Virginia are paying a hell of a lot of money to a Christian school and many of us are not Christians. Even the ones who are, aren't necessarily Republicans. The awarding of a state osteopathic medical college a few years ago to Liberty was simply outlandish and probably illegal, but the Republican General Assembly didn't hesitate and a Democratic governor signed the authorization and the money to build it.

(Photo: liberty.edu)

Casey's Column Tackles Battle Flag, Parade

A black soldier joins Confederates and the battle flag at St. Patrick's parade.
My friend Dan Casey, the superb Roanoke Times metro columnist, is writing about the Roanoke Christmas Parade and the Confederate battle flag this morning and how we're trying to deal with it. The column is here.

As Dan points out (and has been pointed out here in the past), we can't just ban it because of the relationship with the parade's private organizer, Downtown Roanoke Inc., and the City of Roanoke, which runs the parade. If DRI ran the parade (and I'm on the committee looking into it, so I say "we"), we could ban the flag with no problem. Roanoke makes the parade a public event, however, and courts have unanimously ruled that these public events are open to all.

Gay Pride flag offends many, but is in parades.
"All" means anything that does not cause a public threat. The multi-color gay pride flag, so offensive to many, is just fine, but the swastika, likely would not be because it has been ruled a hate symbol. I'm not sure what we would be allowed to do if the KKK wanted to march--carrying the battle flag, as it likely would.

It is a difficult balance we seek and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has flown the flag prominently in past parades, proclaiming "heritage not hate," even though the heritage they are so proud of centers on slavery. Many of the SCV members deny their ancestors fought to preserve slavery, but the articles of secession in many of the Southern States directly allude to preservation of slavery as their reason for leaving the United States.

Regardless of the history (and I'll put my understanding of this issue against any of those in SCV), the fact is that the battle flag is a symbol of the worst institution in the history of our country. It offends an entire race of people--as well as many people, like me, who are not members of that race. I would dearly love to see the members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and their affiliates recognize that insult and pain and make adjustments. That would show me they are truly about "heritage and not hate," but until they do, we are left with no alternative but to believe they simply don't care if their actions are hurtful to millions of people. And that is sad.