Tancredo proposes legislation to translate state name into English
6 June 2007, Denver, CO (Bench Press)—Making good on his insistence that “only the English language can hold the union together” in last night’s Republican presidential debate, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) today announced that he will introduce legislation to change the Spanish name of the state of Colorado to its English equivalent, “Colored.”
“Changing our state’s name to Colored is simply a logical extension of my Official English policy. Colorado is a word that comes from the Spanish language and such Spanish-language terms should not be used by the United States government,” said the congressman. “Colorado” is the past participle of the Spanish verb “colorear”, meaning “to color”.
Tancredo is known for his extremist views on immigration, including reducing the number of new legal immigrants to zero and the immediate deportation of all immigrants illegally residing in the United States. Despite criticism from within his own party that his positions resemble those of the Know-Nothing politicians of Abraham Lincoln’s era, he has repeatedly denied that his views on immigration border on racism and xenophobia.
During that debate Congressman Tancredo also said he opposes biligualism, arguing that learning a second language or keeping alive a second language in the home is fundamentally “anti-American,” as all immigrants to this country must lose their identity and be “reborn” as Americans. The congressman had no answer when asked if his position applied to the Native American languages spoken by the original inhabitants of the United States.
Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) is expected to oppose Tancredo’s legislation on the grounds that it is simply absurd grandstanding, but sources close to the Senator privately admit that he is worried that Tancredo could expand his Official English legislation and propose that Arizona be renamed “Dry Zone.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s staff said they had no concerns that the renaming proposal could affect state names that are derived from Native American words, such as Romney’s former state of Massachusetts. “Frankly, I don’t even think anyone one knows what Massachusetts means any more,” said the staffer. Echoing one of the former governor’s most memorable answers in the debate, the staffer continued: “It is a null set, a non sequitur, a non-starter.”
In response, Tancredo said he would also try to ban Latin terms such as “non sequitur” from future presidential debates on the grounds that he can’t understand them.
Bench Press–“Light Matters for Heavy Minds”
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Please cite with caution and laugh with gusto.
Comcast has finally silenced Keith Olbermann’s biting special comments that assail the foolishness of the Bush administration’s policies. Olbermann, the anchor of MS-NBC’s news program Countdown, has been airing a series of Edward R. Murrow-like special comments that have been an astonishing departure from the bland DoubleSpeak of network news broadcasts. Olbermann’s special commentaries exhibit a degree of critical thinking that is unmatched by any other news program on cable or broadcast television, excepting of course the satirical Daily Show and Colbert Report. While it is undoubtedly a sad commentary on the state of media that the most accurate and truthful television news shows are satires, Olbermann’s well-researched criticisms, delivered with genuine outrage, at least constituted a hopeful sign that the more traditional news media is beginning to abandon its cheerleadering of the Bush administration for a sobering look at reality. As a result, Countdown’s (and MSNBC’s) ratings have started to go through the roof.
But Comcast is now denying viewers the chance to see Olbermann speaking truth to power–unless we fork over an additional $50 a month or so for its digital service to receive MSNBC. Moreover, at the same time Comcast has yanked the public affairs channel C-SPAN from its Denver analog lineup.
Why does a licensed monopoly act with such callous disregard for the public’s right to be informed? Why do they censor not only Olbermann but Congress? Could it perhaps have something to do with the fact that with the tenor of the debate in Congress has changed after the election of the Democrats in 2006? Comcast may claim it was only a business decision, but then why were these two channels singled out–why not FakeNews (er–FoxNews) or the Christian Broadcasting Network? Does Comcast hope to influence the 2008 election cycle by limiting the news outlets available to hundreds of thousands of its subscribers?
Comcast’s transparent efforts at political censorship are despicable and should stop. Write Comcast and let them know that this move will make you consider switching to DirectTV or another alternative.
And in case you haven’t seen any of Olbermann’s special commentaries, they are still readily available online from MSNBC or on YouTube. For example, in one special comment he assails the president for equating criticism of his policies on terror and the conduct of the Iraq war as ’supporting terrorism.’ In another special comment he has asked whether the GOP’s cynical exploitation of the fear of terror in their campaign commercials amounts to legitimizing terrorism as a weapon: “Bin Laden puts out what amounts to a commercial of fear; The Republicans put out what is unmistakable as a commercial of fear. The Republicans are paying to have the messages of bin Laden and the others broadcast into your home.” While in a more recent special comment he argues that when Republican presidential candidate Giuliani invokes such fear-mongering in an attempt try to “terrorize the electorate into viewing a vote for a Democrat, not as a reasonable alternative and an inalienable right … but as an act of suicide,” he thereby undermines any reasonable discussion as to which party is better qualified to lead the country. Moreover, on the rest of the show Olbermann raises substantive issues frequently ignored or glossed over by other television news, such as in his recent segment (1 and 2) questioning whether the Department of Homeland Security press conferences are being timed to obscure the political news cycle when the competing ‘big’ news stories happen to be politically embarassing for the Republican party. When biting editorials and stories like these began to hit the airwaves I began to wonder how long it would be before someone caught on and censored Olbermann.
At least Comcast hasn’t yet censored the Comedy Central and the Daily Show with John Stewart. But can they be far behind? Comcast’s blind support of the Republican Party reminds me of what a Russian friend told me about the differences in the media before and after the fall of Communist Party: It is better now, because before we could only tell the truth by pretending to tell a joke.
Greg Ching has asked me to blog again in support of the Chings’ Aspen Meadows house concert series, at which he and his wife invited folk musicians to perform in their living room and asked those attending to donate funds toward the musician’s traveling costs. As I blogged earlier, their house concert series was shut down due to a poorly reasoned decision by the Boulder County land use Board of Adjustment. Among other Humpdty-Dumpty-isms, the county land use director claimed that suggested donations were synonymous with mandatory fees (and I can’t wait for my next chance to try to pay my county permit fees with a donation based on what I think the county’s performance will be worth!). According to the county land use director, any organized attempt to share costs by non-resident guests converts the event from a private party into a business.
Now Greg is asking that supporters attend the public comment period at the June 5th meeting of the County Commissioners (11 a.m., Boulder County Courthouse, 14th and Pearl Street) when he plans to ask that the commissioners expedite adopting an amendment to the land use code that specifically allows house concerts. If you wish to speak at the meeting, you’ll probably have to sign up beforehand to speak during the public comment period starting at 11 a.m. (call to check); however, your presence simply filling the meeting room would also be appreciated. Writing supportive letters to the editor addressed to the Daily Camera, the Colorado Daily and Boulder Weekly are also an option if you can’t attend a public comment period scheduled in the middle of a day on a Tuesday.
Moreover, note the county’s reasoning could be applied to virtually any social activity in which the guests make a financial contribution toward the cost of the entertainment. So the county could:
- prevent five friends who chip in to purchase a series of Japanese animation DVDs from gathering to watch them together at a home in the county where one of them has a home theater setup
- prevent my siblings and I from hosting a 50th anniversary party for my parents at their home in the county if we kids agreed to share the costs of paying for a chamber quartet
- prevent two neighbors from throwing a joint birthday party for their kids at one of their homes in the county if they shared in the cost of paying for a clown or similar entertainment
So even if you’ve never been to a house concert or prefer clowns or movies to live music, please consider coming out in support of house concerts and standing up against this absurd decision. For more background, you can read about the Aspen Meadows house concert series history on the Chings’ website, complete with links to local and national press coverage such as this excellent article.
About two weeks ago I saw Joe Wilson speak at the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder, and Wilson’s talk also made salient a issue which has been ruminating around in my mind for some time now. Over the last six years of the Bush administration, time and time again, we have observed the same pattern of character assassination by Karl Rove’s political machine whenever someone in the public eye disagrees with the Bush agenda. Wilson, for example, was attacked after he wrote his well known New York Times op-ed debunking the phony Iraq-Nigerian nuclear materials transfer that the Bushies wanted to trumpet as part of their case for going to war in Iraq. We saw the same thing happen to Scott Ritter before the Iraq war, and now again with Sheryl Crowe’s encounter with Rove at the Washington Correspondents Association Dinner.
Only with Wilson and Plame did we see it backfire–with the end-result a criminal conviction of Scooter Libby for perjury for his role in the cover-up operation–and it only backfired there because, as Wilson put it, in the Wilson-Plame case the Bushies committed treason by exposing a covert CIA agent. But that makes me think–what of all of the other cases of character assassination? What about what happened to Natalie Means of the country music group the Dixie Chicks? To Sean Penn? To Representative John Murtha? To former Sen. Max Cleland? To Senator James Webb? To Scott Ritter? To John Brady Kiesling? To Speaker Nancy Pelosi on her Syria visit? To dead-soldier mom Cindy Sheehan? The swift-boating of Sen. John Kerry? How about the administration’s attempts to muzzle James Hansen for speaking out about global warming? And why did all the stories about Sheryl Crowe and using one square of tp per visit hit the airwaves right at the same time she told Rove that he works for the American people and not just for Bush?
My point is that there has been a series of these sort of character assassinations, carried out by the administration’s willing toadies at Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting group, Clear Channel corporation and other media megaphones. I’ve been toying the idea of creating a web site dedicated to documenting Rove and the art of character assassination, though there are probably already others out there. If anyone has any thoughts or other examples to contribute, please post them here.
Anyway, Rove was right about one thing during his encounter with Sheryl Crowe–Karl Rove works for G.W. Bush and NOT for the American people. As John Bolton recently told Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, Bolton believes he and the other members of this administration work for Bush and that segment of the American people who voted for Bush, not for all of us. I don’t recall that limitation being in the oath of office that all U.S. public servants are supposed to take. In fact, I believe the oath implies precisely the opposite, in that public servants swear to uphold the American Constitution, and that implies that they must serve the American people in their entirety. Why? Because the constitution reposes the final decision-making power in the American people, not a group of Washington elites. But Bolton, Rove, Gonzalez, Bolton, Hadley, Abrams, Wolfowitz and their ilk among Bush’s chorus of yes-men pretend otherwise, serving their president with a blind allegiance that is wholly detached from reality. And in doing so, they do a disservice not just to their oath of office, but to the American people.
Today Randi and I hiked the Foothills and Lower Old Kiln trails in north Boulder for 5.2 miles. That kind of makes up for a couple of slow hiking days where my only walk was along the Boulder Creek Path going to the Conference on World Affairs.
By the way, I thought Joe Biden’s talk at the CWA was at best average–to me Biden came off as an East Coast patrician, unable to speak directly to the emotion in questions from the audience and immersed instead in policy and numbers. While that might be fine for a policy wonk like myself, I don’t think it bodes well for Biden’s ability to connect with the general populace… and as for his patrician nature, his tone throughout just reminded me of what he once said to Scott Ritter (the U.S. Marine Capt./U.N. Nuclear Weapons Inspector), who was the only public voice from the establishment that was correct in his assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program as non-existent: “The decision of whether or not the country should go to war is slightly above your pay grade.” Ahem–and this to the only public figure whose views on WMD capability were eventually proved right all along, even after the Iraq war. As McCain rebutted Biden at the time, “I wish we had listened to people of Ritter’s pay grade before the Vietnam war…”
Just afterward I stayed to hear the Princeton economist/New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, whose talk was even more awful. If these people are the brains of the Democratic party, the party needs a brain transplant. Krugman was uninspiringly bland. For example, he prattled on about “universal health care.” Why not just reframe that as “affordable health care for all?” It amounts to the same thing, and it is probably a more accurate depiction of the likely mix of public and private insurance that would eventually be the result of a universal care policy–I don’t think anyone seriously believes that a Canadian style single-payer plan is possible in our current political climate. More importantly “affordable health care for all” is a phrase that plays well with the general public, uses the market-based rhetoric that the GOP has stolen for their own, and isn’t “foreign-sounding” to the average American. But that’s too simple language for a Hillary-esque political operative like Krugman. But of course this was a talk to the party faithful–the audience was mostly composed of well-educated, grey-haired seniors (where was the reserved student section, CWA planners?), so perhaps the phrase “universal health care” didn’t come off as badly there as I think it does in general. But the point remains–when will the Democrats learn how important it is to frame the issues properly?
Last, I’ll briefly mention the talk I loved, the only one that was worth my time. On Thursday morning I went to see Joe Wilson–”the most famous husband in America.” Ambassador Wilson is, of course, the husband of Valerie Plame–the covert CIA agent outed by the Bushies and their armada of right-wing media mouthpieces like Bob Novak. Now Wilson was a great speaker–I’d love to see him run for President–and he moved up and down the ladder of policy abstractions with ease, interwove his family’s personal story with the elite political events of the recent past in a Shakespearean fashion, and had the clearest and sharpest descriptions of the on-the-ground reality of the Middle East I’ve ever heard. Wilson was of course the last American dignitary in Baghdad before the Gulf War broke out in 1991–he was handpicked by President Bush the Elder to negotiate during that tough time, even though Wilson was not a Republican. In fact, that last fact illustrates the key difference between two Bush administrations: at the least the elder Bush valued divergent opinions and reality-based descriptions over the fanciful (and incorrect!) geopolitical theories of likes of Wolfowitz or Hadley. The current Bushies, by contrast, are nothing more than a series of “yes-men” who pass up what they think their superiors want to hear and kick down on any responsible voices that raise objections to the pre-ordained views. This administration rules the U.S. not as a democracy–instead, we are now a sycophancy.
(note: I’ve posted further thoughts on this last subject in my entry Joe Wilson at the CWA and the art of character assassination.)
There’s nothing like a good zoning battle to bring out the libertarian streak in this liberal. This is a long entry, so be patient.
I became involved in this zoning dispute because I attended a local house concert a while back where one of my friends, a fine folk musician, played. House concerts are an amazingly intimate setting in which to see a performer–even the smallest commercial venue is likely to be larger than a living room.
Unfortunately someone complained to the Boulder County Land Use Department about another local couple who were very active in the folk and bluegrass music community and had held numerous house concerts at their mountain home. After reviewing the matter, the Boulder County Land Use Department made a determination that house concerts are an illegal business and a prohibited commercial use for a residental property zoned F (for forestry).
I only heard about the situation a couple of days before the appeal at the county courthouse. I quickly went online and read the Boulder County Land Use Code, and contacted the homeowners to get a copy of the letter of violation and other relevant documents.
Upon review the county land use department’s argument seemed very weak; they had merely asserted that the house concerts were a prohibited “commercial use” without citing any support from the land use code. In fact, the land use code never mentioned concerts specifically. For example, the section in which “commercial uses” are given a technical definition treats businesses such as machine shops, bakeries, and commercial laundries. None of those businesses are even close to covering a house concert or music in any way, shape or form. There were a couple of other sections that perhaps might be stretched to cover concerts and even house concerts, but I read them carefully and prepared some arguments as to why they did not apply either.
The first really interesting thing that happened at the Board of Adjustment meeting was that the county attorney, acknowledging that that were well over 100 people present at the hearing in support of house concerts, advised the Board that their role tonight was to be strictly adjudicatory. That is, the Board was to decide only if the county land use office had interpreted the county land use code correctly, not to make policy–as policy was the function of the county commissioners and of any committees to which the commissioners had delegated the authority to propose changes to the land use code. Fair enough, except as the evening progressed the Board clearly did not follow the county attorney’s advice.
The second interesting thing was that the chairman, noting the large volume of letters the Board had received and the large number of speakers present, moved to have a time limit of two minutes per speaker. Not unreasonable, but a bit disappointing to me as I had prepared some detailed arguments. Moreover, they admonished the speakers to try to limit their comments to new information that was not in letters written to the Board and not to speak about what a wonderful community event this was, or what upstanding members of the community the appellants were, and so on.
In doing so however, the Board of Adjustment unfairly stacked the deck against those of us who supported house concerts, because our very defense was that house concerts were a community activity and not a commercial activity as the land use department maintained. In fact the land use code contains many references to many community activities that are not commercial businesses, such as churches, schools, formal voluntary associations and informal social gatherings. Now oftentimes these activities do have an economic side to them–churches also collect voluntary donations, schools hold bake sales and sell school lunches, HOA meetings collect dues, parties cost money to throw, and forth–but no reasonable person would argue that they thereby become commercial businesses. Despite the loathsome tide to apply a “business” metaphor (e.g. “edu-business”) to any activity which has an economic side to it, the simple fact that an event costs the community money does not entail that a community activity constitutes a business. But the Board had made it clear that they had made up their minds already that they didn’t want to hear about how these were community-building informal social gatherings, and so there wasn’t much left that we could say to change their minds.
The third interesting thing that happened was that in his opening argument the county land use director asserted that the word “fee” was equivalent to “voluntary donation.” I couldn’t believe my ears; although I didn’t manage to squeeze it into my turn to speak, I wanted to ask him if that meant I could pay the fees at his office with “a voluntary donation.” It was clear somebody was playing Humpdty-Dumpdty with language.
My own brief comments to the Board came at a volatile moment in the hearing, right after both of the two neighbors who showed up to speak against house concerts gave their testimony. They gave the expected litany of complaints about vehicle noise, traffic, the frequency of the events and so on, as well as bringing up other, unrelated complaints about their neighbors’ (legal!) behaviors that were explicitly not under consideration, such as their cutting trees to mitigate wildfire danger and their home construction, remodelling and landscaping. Though their testimony was emotionally stirring and eloquent, I pointed out to the Board that while such concerns might be real they didn’t sit within the narrow purview of the land use department rulings that the board was supposed to adjudicate. Regulating noise, traffic, the frequency of such in-home events and other concerns resulting from house concerts was properly a political matter and hence better suited for the political wing of county government. I reminded them that such matters were not before the Board that night, and urged them not to take those matters into account in their decision.
I then tried to set out the two arguments that I thought might convince the Board and open their minds to overturning the land use department. I noted that the land use department had decided that the house concerts were a commercial business because the homeowners (or the artist) accepted voluntary donations to pay the musician for the performance, and that concerts were a prohibited use under the land use code. Earlier in the discussion, one of the Board members had pointed out that a key difference between the fee to attend a concert at a commercial establishment and the voluntary donations asked at a house concert was that in former case the business establishment (and not the attendee) decides the amount of the fee and excludes the attendee from the concert when the fee is not paid in full, while the case is precisely the opposite for the voluntary donation at a house concert. At house concerts the attendee decides how much and whether to contribute toward the expenses of the artist, and no effort is made to exclude an attendee who doesn’t contribute. Hence, I argued, house concerts are clearly not commercial businesses.
I probably should have stopped there, or tried to drive that one point home, but I continued by pointing out that there was no provision of the land use code that addressed–much less prohibited–house concerts at all, regardless of whether they were commercial or not. That was probably a tactical mistake, because while technically true the Board was not prepared to believe that someone couldn’t use the code to prohibit house concerts next door. I was trying to emphasize the point that the land use department had failed to reference a single provision of the land use code that prohibited concerts, and I stressed the fact that none of section 503 on “commercial uses” was remotely applicable. Unfortunately I was out of time before I could call attention to the other two sections of the code I had identified as possibly relevant, so I wrapped it up. Big mistake… I think the Board would have been willing to grant me more time to speak if I had told them I could discuss the applicable provisions because I was making a kind of argument that hadn’t already been made in their stack of letters. Instead, I concluded by asking the Board to focus on the code and its interpretation, on their role as an adjudicatory body, and on questioning the land use staff on what exact provisions they read as justifying a prohibition on house concerts.
In retrospect, I’m certain that in the final analysis there’s only one provision of the entire land use code (4-517C) that possibly could have applied had I and my compatriots been able to persuade the Board that house concerts were a community event and not a business. It is a provision which refers to “temporary uses for social group gatherings”–which is exactly what house concerts really are–and it sets out in its definition a two-part test for the county to determine whether such “temporary uses” rise to the level of requiring special approval by a Building Official in the county land use office. Moreover, it is clear that these house concerts did not meet both parts of the test and hence require any special approval.
But even that logic probably would not have mattered, as the land use staff was dug in on their position and the Board was disposed to support them. In fact, the only responses the Boulder County Land Use Director gave to my arguments was that he had used the term “commercial use” in its ordinary sense and not in the “capital letter” sense defined in the code. Secondly, he said that he read the land use code–and I kid you not–as “prohibiting all activities not expressly permitted by the land use code.” That’s a direct quote.
Consider a moment the (frightening) logic that the land use director would employ here. If we were to read the land use code this way, it would mean that a social gathering which didn’t rise high enough to meet the test of whether a Building Official must give special permission would then be prohibited. It would be prohibited because, after failing to meet the test, the smaller or shorter social gathering would not be expressly permitted–reasoning that is clearly absurd, but consistent with the land use director’s stated view. Moreover, this position implies that the crafters of the code foresaw every type of use that might be permissible, and allowed for those and only those uses by county landowners. Yet there is absolutely no support for that contention of the land use director within the county land use code itself–the closest would be a meta-level provision in the code that calls for the provisions of the code to be liberally interpreted.
I’m sorry, but that quote is not a liberal interpretation of the code. It is instead a totalitarian interpretation. Any use that isn’t expressly permitted is prohibited?
Well, it would be one thing if the land use code actually said such a thing, but it doesn’t. The land use director is overreaching. Now, I’ve often been confused whenever a few of my more conservative- or libertarian-minded friends argue that governmental staff inexorably seek to expand their powers in order to over-regulate and control the public’s behaviors, but the land use director’s statement finally made me see why they might sometimes have a point. And although I still think that this is more about a mistaken, overly-liberal interpretation of the land code (in the sense of liberal meaning “too broad” rather than a political viewpoint), I do have to say that…
I have to admit that perhaps there’s a little libertarian in this liberal after all.
That’s really the point of this post, but I’ll finish out the story. Although I wish I had had a chance to speak again at the hearing’s end to challenge this howler, the structure of the hearing dictated that I did not. If I had had the chance however, I also would have pointed out that the Board was explicitly compelled by its charter in the land use code to follow dictionary definitions for terms like business, fee and commercial when interpreting terms not given a technical definition in the land use code. Many of the other supporters of house concerts had read the dictionary definitions of “business” and “commercial” to the Board and into the record, arguing much as I had that the house concerts didn’t fit them. One fellow even read from a Colorado case law decision defining the term “business.” Other speakers continued to make the community-building argument, despite the Board’s admonishment not to raise it, eloquently trying to convince the Board that these house concerts were a community social gathering and not a business.
In the end, the Board of Adjustment ignored all of it and decided to uphold the land use director. What’s worse, in their discussion they clearly did what they weren’t supposed to do; the record is clear that they were making policy. For instance, the Board’s chairman said that the noise and traffic issues and the frequency of the events were what made the house concerts a business to him, using a “looks like a duck/quacks like a duck” test not mentioned anywhere in the land use code–even though frequency, traffic and noise issues would be matters for the political arm of the county government to address should it choose to regulate house concerts. One board member even brought up as yet unmentioned fire and safety issues concerning having a large number of people in a house’s living room–again something peripheral to the board’s adjudicatory role, and better suited for a committee charged with coming up a new regulation. And yet another member of the board said that while the board might feel that “you all are nice people, and folk concerts might not be all that disruptive, the next time it might be a rave or something we really need to prohibit, so we have to consider that the consequences of how we rule on this matter would affect every other case.”
Excuse me, but that last point is the very definition of what a political body should do, as opposed to what an adjudicatory one does. This Board was supposed to interpret the code and its regulations with respect to this particular case, not make new regulations up on the spot because they were worried about what interpreting the code as written might say about some other, hypothetical case in the future.
Now I know the Board is comprised of volunteers from among my fellow citizens and while I’m sure they did their best, I was hoping that they would have a better sense of the limitations of their adjudicatory role. I was also hoping that they would employ some critical thinking and actively question the land use department about what provisions of the code it had applied before the Board came to a decision. But the fact remains, the Board did not do so.
The land use code explicitly states that the Board was supposed to look first at the land use code itself. They did not even mention the code in their closing comments. Where the code failed them they were supposed to look to dictionary definitions and not to the arbitrary ones offered by the land use director. They did not. They were supposed to look at how related governmental documents and laws defined such terms for guidance. They did not.
And so absurdity reigns.