A Few More Pictures from New Year’s Eve

The site’s been getting loads of hits from folks still abuzz from Carytown’s New Year’s Eve celebration. In a shameless effort to cater to popular demand, here are a few more moderate quality pictures from between 12:30 and 1 a.m. that night. Sadly, I don’t have any of the crowd at its peak–as we were right in the middle of it, I wouldn’t have been able to lift my arms up to take a photo anyway.

Anyway here goes:

(Update 1/4/07, 6:45 p.m. Links fixed…)

Shake That Fist!

Another Shot of the Band

A Fuzzy Crowd Shot

Right Out of Times Square

Some of What the Clean-Up Crew Had To Deal With

Published in: on January 3, 2007 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  

Getting It (At Least Somewhat) Right on Robertson and Latin America: The RTD Has a Decent Day at the Office

Monday’s Times-Dispatch includes two noteworthy editorials which deserve some positive note. The first is its endorsement of councilwoman Ellen Robertson’s efforts to regulate and ensure accountability for mayoral commissions. Robertson’s proposal to ensure basic oversight and accountability for such commissions is a worthy effort to promote transparency in government, and might even help spare the Wilder regime from the embarrassment of a future scandal.

Also noteworthy is the editorial titled “Latin America.” Noting the marked trend toward the left in recent elections in the regions, the RTD expresses regret at the failure of “classical liberalism” to take root in the region.  But it does acknowledge that the recent trends has taken place through democratic elections, and that the recent success of the left has much to do with the failure of neoliberalism to deliver the goods in ending poverty and raising living standards.

The RTD claims that that failure has more to do with local corruption than the bankruptcy of neoliberal economic policies. I disagree, but we can save that discussion for another day. For now, credit the paper for showing the ability to talk about a broad political trend it doesn’t like without descending into hysterics.

Published in: on December 18, 2006 at 3:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

Changing of the Guard at the Times-Dispatch Editorial Pages; What Todd Culbertson Should Do

The Richmond Times-Dispatch today announced that deputy editorial page editor Todd Culbertson will take over the reins from retiring head editor Ross Mackenzie, who retires January 17. Columnist Barton Hinkle also gets a bump up to the deputy position.

At first glance, this succession appears to be an endorsement by the RTD publishers of the status quo. In the news article discussing the transition today, Culbertson praised MacKenzie and in effect promised “more of the same.”

That could turn out to be the case, which would be most unfortunate for the newspaper’s readers and the city of Richmond itself.

But until proven otherwise, I’d like to hold out the possibility that the tone of the RTD pages might change. Sometimes reformers come in unlikely clothing. Few predicted the demise of apartheid when F.W. De Klerk took power in South Africa, just as few predicted the fall of Soviet Communism when Mikhail Gorbachev gained control in the USSR.

This not to say that a dramatic overhaul of the RTD’s editorial philosophy is a realistic possibility. The newspaper is still going to maintain a right-of-center orientation; that much is clear.

But there are few things Culbertson and Hinkle could do over the next year or so that would dramatically improve the content of the editorial pages. Here are my top five “doable” reforms for the RTD:

1. Stop writing and printing intellectually lazy editorials and op-eds that are poorly researched and feature significant inaccuracies. (Case in point: this fall’s unsigned editorial about food stamps, which falsely implied that California is trying to get illegal aliens signed up for food stamps.)

2. Stop making illogical, off-the-point comments or attacks that add nothing of substance to the debate. (Case in point: the recent Election Day editorial which cited the 1989 Central Park jogger attack as an argument against New York City’s proposed ban on trans fats in restaurant food.)

3. Print more guest columnists who represent the true face of Richmond.  Poverty and all that goes with it is a grinding reality in the city of Richmond, yet how often do we hear the voices of the poor, especially of poor African-Americans in the RTD’s editorial pages? How often do we hear from leaders of groups who work with and on behalf of the poor? Not very often. Far more frequently, we’re treated to explanations from syndicated conservative columnists of why poverty isn’t such a big deal or is the poor’s own fault.

4. Draw more on the intellectual capital in the city. Between VCU, UR, VUU and neighboring academic institutions, there’s a wealth of substantive knowledge in this city about practical problems facing the city, state, nation, and world. Very little of this finds its way into the Times-Dispatch, and I don’t think it’s unfair to suggest that many local academics feel utterly alienated from the newspaper. Culbertson and Hinkle could change that by actively reaching out to local experts.

5. Hire a regular columnist representing a liberal point of view. Finally, the RTD, which it claims it prints a variety of perspectives, should follow up its words with concrete action. Take the plunge, and hire a regular columnist who dissents from the paper’s own editorial philosophy. Print that person twice a week, and give him or her complete editorial freedom. Nothing could do more to enhance the intellectual credibility of the newspaper than taking that step.

Moreover, there’s a natural candidate for the job already on the newspaper’s staff: Metro columnist Michael Paul Williams, a lifelong Richmond-area resident who is deeply knowledgeable about this region and also more than capable of commenting on national and international affairs.

That’s my agenda for change at the RTD; I sincerely hope that in time, at least some of it becomes Culbertson and Hinkle’s agenda as well.

Meanwhile, here at Richmond Talks Back, we’ll keep on doing what we always do: responding to whatever the paper chooses to print, trying to hold the paper accountable when it makes bad arguments or presents misleading information, and giving credit when credit is due. 

Published in: on December 15, 2006 at 4:30 pm  Comments (1)  

If You Ain’t Got a Friend, You’ve Still Got the Radio

Just a quick note to let readers know that this blog will be the subject of a radio interview Tuesday at 12:30, on WRIR. I’ll be on the Richmond Indymedia News show, hosted by Rebecca Farris. Tune it at 97.3 FM, or listen to the site’s live web stream.

Published in: on December 11, 2006 at 8:05 pm  Comments (1)  

RTD Gets the Scoop on New UR President!

Stick a feather in the cap of the news department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which ran the news this morning of the University of Richmond’s impending appointment of Edward Ayers, Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia, as it next president.

Sources around UR say that the community is well, ecstatic, about this news. Ayers has a very impressive scholarly, teaching, and administrative record and is well known to many in these parts.

Check out the comments section of the Times-Dispatch’s article for some interesting remarks by UR community members about the news.


Published in: on November 10, 2006 at 5:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Correction: Richmond Votes Progressive in Senate Race AND on Marriage Amendment

Updated and Amended, 1 a.m; thanks to reader VoteNova for calling attention to the error on the SBE amendment numbers.

Let’s break down the vote here locally and see what Tuesday reveals about this region’s political culture.

As of 12:20, with 94% of Richmond precincts reporting, Webb was carrying 72.4% of the city’s vote in the Senate race, according to the State Board of Elections. In Henrico, the race nearly mirrored the state as a whole, with Allen tallying 49.9% of the vote compared to Webb’s 48.9%. In Chesterfield and Hanover, Allen racked up much larger majorities of 59% and 67% respectively.

How did Richmond vote on Constitutonal Amendment 1? Contrary to the State Board of Elections’s apparent error Tuesday evening in reporting a 74.3% “yes” vote on all 3 amendments, the City of Richmond’s website reports a city-wide vote of “no” on amendment 1 of 69.6%.

In Henrico, the “no” vote was 49.2%, compared to just 39.6% in Chesterfield and 35.2% in Hanover.
We’ll update the numbers in this post once the remaining Richmond precincts are tallied.

Published in: on November 8, 2006 at 6:12 am  Comments (1)  


One of the distinctive features of the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s editorial page is its willingness to comment upon and criticize laws and policies enacted in other localities across the United States. Since, lo and behold, many other states and localities have implemented interesting policies which have not yet found their way to Richmond, there is much to keep the RTD staff busy.

Tuesday’s target is a proposal in New York City to severely limit artificial trans-fats in restuarant foods. While there is a strong public health rationale for the proposed regulation, reasonable people can oppose it, and make reasonable arguments against it.

What the RTD does is link the NYC’s consideration of the law to the Central Park jogger case of the 1980s, concluding “Rough luck for her that she was being assaulted instead of eating a burger and an extra-large order of fries.” The conclusion we are supposed to draw is that New Yorkers are willing to meddle with each other’s personal habits, but indifferent to violent crime.

So much for post 9/11 solidarity with the city of New York and respect for the many heroic responses from firefighters, policemen, and ordinary citizens that day.

I’m quite sure that the RTD would not want New York editorial writers doing a little investigation about Richmond’s own past, and writing barbed editorials that judge an entire city on the basis of its worst moments. The results would not be pretty.

Published in: on November 7, 2006 at 3:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Contradictions of the RTD

Deputy editorial page editor Todd Culbertson penned a column for Sunday describing the Times-Dispatch’s candidate endorsement process. The column describes the hours of face-to-face meetings the newspaper’s editorial board conducted with candidates, and the great effort the board spent in careful deliberation about its choices.

Culbertson explains that the editorial side of the newspaper does not affect the news coverage; editorial board members are blocked from campaigning for or donating to candidates; the editorial staff collects information from “trusted sources,” looking and listening, and reading; and above all from careful evaluation of how candidates present themselves in one-on-one individuals.

It’s almost as if we were supposed to believe that winning an RTD endorsement is equivalent to gaining favor from a Nobel Prize committee or some other high-minded set of dignitaries.

The reality is that the Times-Dispatch editorial page, on balance, is a blatantly partisan advocate of conservatism and the Republican Party. (Can one imagine any circumstances, short of being charged with a felony, in which George Allen would have failed to win the newspaper’s endorsement?)

Culbertson presents some fairly direct evidence of this in his own column, in stating the “principles embraced by Media General, our corporate parent.” These include “individual freedom and responsibility; self-determination; free enterprise; fiscal conservatism; a strong national defense; integrity, innovation and high quality; and a commitment to community.”

Notably missing from that list are other values, such as social equality, democratic participation, reducing poverty and needless human suffering. Any reasonably experienced observer of American politics would read the RTD’s list and come to the straightforward conclusion that the RTD is a conservative newspaper, and that the supposedly “neutral’ application of those stated principles to evaluating candidates will produce endorsements for Republican candidates.

In that sense, all of Culbertson’s insistence on the integrity of the RTD’s internal endorsement process utterly misses the point: by virtue of the values the RTD says it stands for, the final endorsements in any given campaign are (barring quite unusual circumstances) predictable and essentially preordained. Essentially, Culbertson’s column is trying to claim for the newspaper the credibility that comes with being a truly dispassionate observer, when in fact the newspaper (by its own stated principles) is far from neutral.

But it’s worse than that. When Culbertson notes that the editorial staff members are not permitted to be part of campaigns, the implication is that the RTD’s staffers are not mere partisans who condescend to actively campaign for candidates.

But how does that claim square with the publication of columns like Ross Mackenzie’s on Sunday? The column, once again, offers no substantive evaluation of a particular issue and reflects no original research or thinking. The sum total of his argument as to why Allen wins “on the issues and the company he keeps” is that Jim Webb is a Democrat, that other prominent Democrats endorse him, and that Webb takes Democratic positions. No substantial argument is offered as to why the Democratic positions are wrong; it’s just assumed or asserted. As we have said before here, this is tautological reasoning at its finest.

It’s also ad hominem, mean-spirited, and partisan (in the worst sense) to the core. Is there any real difference between Mackenzie’s column and that of a paid GOP pamphlet, other than the occasional presence of some high-falutin’ vocabularly? And can anyone imagine that the RTD would publish a single column, let alone a regular column, which (with little or nothing in the way of substantiaton) referred to Republicans as “arrogant,” ‘incoherent,” and full of “nonsense”?

The contradiction between what the RTD says it is or wants to be and what it actually is will remain clear for all to see so long as the newspaper sees fit to print Mackenzie’s column (and those unsigned editorials which bear his unmistakeable influence).

Published in: on November 5, 2006 at 4:04 pm  Comments (4)  

The Curious Political Vocabulary of Ross Mackenzie: A Guide (In Progress) For the Perplexed

There are certain days of the week when one can pick up the pages of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and think, “well I may disagree with much of what these folks have to say, but at least they are speaking in intelligible terms, and are recognizable members of the same cognitive universe as myself.”

 Then there are the days Ross Mackenzie’s column runs. Read his work, and one is transported to an entirely different cognitive universe, one which intersects at important points with our own but that is also unique, idiosyncratic, and at times requires translation.

Take today’s column on Senate candidate Jim Webb, describing his “leftism, temperament, and inconstancy.” At one point Mackenzie writes, “Webb says he and Allen ‘are so opposed on every major issue that is confronting the country.’ Yet Webb’s positions display no originality. They’re largely leftist platitudes right out of the Democratic playbook.”

This prototypical Mackenzie formulation is puzzling on several grounds. For instance, why the “yet”? Given that Allen is a staunch Republican, and Webb is saying that they are opposed on the issues, doesn’t it logically follow that Webb’s positions would in fact be those characteristic of the Democratic Party? The “yet” makes it seem that there is some logical inconsistency in this, some failure or contradiction on Webb’s part where none exists.

Secondly, Webb is here taken to task for lack of originality of ideas. Does this mean Mackenzie is prepared to defend George Allen as an original policy thinker, with many innovative ideas that are not simply pulled from the conservative playbook but reflect original thought and study? If not, why the double standard?

Third, in the column Mackenzie goes on to note that Webb “would use the tax code as a hammer to enforce `economic justice.’ He has railed against corporate profits and says corporations should pay greatly more in excess-profits taxes. He would roll back ‘some’ of Bush’s tax cut . . .”

All of this is accurate enough, but then Mackenzie in the following paragraph says that this position is an instance of “going wobbly.” Surely Mackenzie cannot mean “wobbly” as a synonym for flip-flopping, since Webb has been quite clear and consistent about his views on excsessive economic inequality throughout the campaign. But what does he mean, then, by the phrase “going wobbly”?

That one, I’m not sure I can answer. I am starting to come to grips, however, with Mackenzie’s repeated use of the term “leftism” and “leftist” in recent columns, to describe a wide variety of Democratic politicians.

Here is a clear-cut case of Mackenzie using a different political vocabulary than most of the rest of us. In the cognitive universe I inhabit, for instance, “leftists” are people who advocate fundamental restructuring of the political and economic institutions of capitalism, and replacing it with some version of economic democracy or democratic socialism. Occasionally activist folks who are simply anti-corporate or pro-labor in some generic sense–folks who challenge aspects of corporate hegemony (there’s an authentic leftist term for you)  without necessarily challenging the system itself–can be counted as “leftist” as well without excessive confusion or distortion of meaning.

People who simply support higher taxes on the wealthy and better pay for the poor, but don’t challenge the fundamentals of the political-economic system itself, are not “leftists.” They’re liberals. Webb is (at least on economic issues) a liberal, and so are John Edwards and similar figures. Because of the right’s success in tarnishing the world “liberal” such figures may these days be more likely to describe themselves as “progressive,” but in most cases that’s a distinction without a difference.

But back to Ross Mackenzie’s universe. In his world, there is no meaningful distinction to be made between liberals and “leftists”–they’re all the same. (Perhaps Mackenzie has in his unique vocabulary a special word to describe folks who really are leftists, but I haven’t seen it yet.) Anyone who would use the lever of government in a proactive way to lessen inequality, poverty, or the like can be grouped together as one and the same.

Now, it’s hardly necessary to belabor the obvious point that such a reductive analysis blurs over the huge variations among different varieties of liberalism, social democracy, and radicalism–as well as masks the fact that all modern economies (including the United States) are mixed economies, involving a mixture of government and private enterprise, planning and the market. (I see nothing in Mackenzie’s work yet indicating that he’s ready to disband the Federal Reserve system or put an end to federal insurance of bank deposits.)

But what’s most curious to me is why Mackenzie defines his terms this way. Politically, from a conservative perspective, it makes little sense. The attack on the word “liberal” was a brilliant success, because not long ago many Democratic and progressive politicans did call themselves “liberal” and proudly so. Now, for the most part, they don’t embrace the label or bother to defend the term.

But very few significant Democrats (or even third-party figures) have ever described themselves as “leftist.” A figure like Webb is not going to be put on the back foot if asked in a debate, “are you kind of a leftist?” Webb, I submit, would be utterly perplexed by such a question and might ask the questioner, “what are you talking about?”

Put another way, attacking an ideology that one’s opponent does not in fact embrace doesn’t seem very useful as a political tactic. This leaves two other possibile interpretations of Mackenzie’s vocabularly.

One is that he simply doesn’t see any meaningful distinction between liberal and more radical positions.

The second is that the word “leftist” is a deliberate exaggeration or smear intended to get his conservative readers fired up and reminded how very, very dangerous it would be if a place like Virginia ever elected a Democratic senator.

Either one of those interpretations appears quite plausible, and they’re not mutually exclusive. But perhaps those who’ve read Mackenzie’s work for much longer than myself can contribute your comments on how to interpret the columnist’s  highly unique political vocabulary–any further insight on this highly perplexing question readers can provide would be most welcome.

Published in: on November 2, 2006 at 5:26 pm  Comments (4)  

Why History–And Editorial Pages–Matter

What’s the most important book about Richmond and its history published in the past twelve months? I’ll give you a hint: the book has been favorably reviewed in the nationally read Boston Review, and the author has been designated by the History News Network as one of the nation’s “Top Young Historians,” but no review of nor reference to the book has yet appeared in the Times-Dispatch.

The book in question is Matthew D. Lassiter’s The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South, published earlier this year by Princeton University Press. Lassiter, a historian at the University of Michigan, describes and critically assesses how the suburbanization of the 1960s and 70s affected local politics in Atlanta, Charlotte, and Richmond.

The crucial issue in that history, of course, is race, and in particular how whites responded to the reality of the end of formal racial segregation and the incorporation of African-Americans into the political process. Lassiter skillfully tells the story of how Richmond failed to create a regional political structure based on the idea that we’re all in it together, and instead opted for a system which perpetuates rather than alleviates racial inequalities.

The central episode of that failure, depicted at length in Chapter 11 of Lassiter’s book, was the busing crisis of the early 1970s and the Richmond region’s refusal during those years to create a system of effectively integrated public schools, achieved through the “consolidation of urban and suburban school systems.”

Lassiter gives particular attention to the role Richmond’s local newspapers played in defeating integration proposals. “In an extension of their enthusiasm for defiance during the massive resistance era of the 1950s, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and the Richmond News Leader maintained a shrill tone and encouraged an obstructionist stance throughout the three-year busing crisis. Expressing open hostility toward the black plaintiffs and the federal courts, the Times-Dispatch repeatedly invoked a doomsday scenario of coercive integration where ‘thousands of children ould be hauled away from their own neighborhoods to strange schools in strange communities miles away.’ . . .

The editorial pages launched a campaign of personal vituperation against [Governor] Linwood Holton after his refusal to exploit the crisis, which the Times-Dispatch attributed to the governor’s solicitation of black voters for the Republican party. The News Leader actively participated in the antibusing movement by circulating its own freedom of choice petition, signed by 29,122 readers and delivered to the steps of the Supreme Court by editor Ross Mackenzie and Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. . . . A community study of the Richmond crisis concluded that the editorial pages jointly created ‘an atmosphere of mass hysteria and defiance by fanning the flames of emotionalism and racial biogtry, which only served to poison race relations between blacks and whites at a time when understanding and mutual cooperation were desperately needed.'”

As Lassiter writes, the ultimate failure of efforts to create a unified metropolitan school system in Richmond “guaranteed an urban system debilitated by a fusion of race and class hypersegregation.” The disparity between Richmond public schools and those of the suburban counties, and the many consequences that follow from that disparity, remains the most fundamental structural problem facing the Richmond region.

Unfortunately, it’s also a problem that rarely gets acknowledged or addressed in the pages of the RTD in any meaningful way (other than in the columns of Michael Paul Williams). Indeed, there’s little in the pages of the RTD to suggest that the editorial board regards the educational disparities between its namesake city and the surrounding suburbs as a problem at all.

But there are one or two signs that just maybe the RTD is at least willing to revisit the legacy of white resistance to the civil rights movement. On October 3 and 10, the newspaper printed two letters regarding the massive resistance movement of the 1950s in Virginia, one by a Republican and one by a Democrat.

That’s a start. If the newspaper wants to go further and is wiling to take the difficult step of not only re-examing Virginia’s past but the paper’s own role in that past–and in creating the structure of inequality that characterizes the Richmond regions–they could do worse than taking the time to review Lassiter’s book or interview the author.

That would be a terrific step towards using the newspaper’s influence to address the sources of Richmond’s real problems, and might also mark a welcome turn away from the editorial politics of “personal vituperation” that still persist in good measure at the RTD. (Exhibit A: Sunday’s column by Mackenzie concerning Mark Warner’s withdrawal last week from the presidential race, which can only be characterized as a case study in ungraciousness.)

Published in: on October 16, 2006 at 6:49 am  Comments (5)