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Legitimacy of Political Parties

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historically speaking

With the government shutdown now over, it is historically intriguing that one of the central players, President Donald Trump, with help from the Democrats, is helping to destroy the political reality that his hero, Andrew Jackson, helped create–legitimate political parties.

The Founding Fathers all abhorred the idea of parties. George Washington made parties the subject of his farewell address, as he left office. Yet, as Washington preached against them, they were forming around him. The way the president was chosen in the original Constitution demonstrates that the Founders hoped to avoid parties. For the first four elections, the winner of the Electoral College became president while second place became Vice-President. Under this system Trump would be president and Hillary Clinton would have been his vice-president.

One reason the Founders detested parties is that parties are more concerned with the party’s welfare than the nation. A great example of this is that our current parties were more interested in claiming a political “win” over a border wall than they are at compromising and helping government workers get back on the job. Democrats are now claiming “victory,” and the media can report that Trump lost. Turning this into a win or lose situation will not help either side when it comes to the next big issue.

Another issue for the Founders was parties were not seen as legitimate. In other words, the opposing party was not seen as acceptable and their policies would destroy the experiment called “America.” Those calling themselves Republicans (while believing parties were wrong) believed the Federalists wanted to turn America into a monarchy, while the Federalists believed the Republicans wanted to start a “Reign of Terror” similar to France.

This is not like today’s rhetoric, such as, “If Trump wins, I am moving to Canada” and then no one actually leaves because they know America will survive until the next election. We know that parties are legitimate. They did not. I have written about the 1800 election and why I think it’s the most important ever–this was the first election we see some legitimacy in the opposing party.
We really do not see full legitimacy until the Jacksonian Era. During this time leaders, such as Jackson, argued that parties are not only legitimate, but positive. The man who deserves the most credit for this change is the brains behind Jackson, his second VP and eventual presidential replacement, Martin Van Buren. Van Buren began by building his own party, the Bucktails, in New York and eventually turned it into the Democratic Party. The new party organization helped Jackson win two elections and solidify his strength. The Democrats were so successful that the Whig Party was forced to follow suit if they ever hoped to win.

Van Buren believed parties benefitted Americans by having a side to choose on issues and the parties could contend against each other in an orderly manner. He also saw parties as the glue that would hold the nation together. As long as there were northern and southern Democrats and Whigs, he thought, America would not have a Civil War. But none of this was possible unless everyone saw parties as legitimate.

Today we are losing the idea of legitimate discord. Parties have always fought each other but, except on a few occasions, they have always been able to work out compromises. Recently, it seems that Democrats attack any proposal from the Republicans for the sole reason that Republicans proposed it, and vice versa for Republicans against Democrats. Past Democratic leaders made statements and speeches about border safety similar to our current president. So why are Democrats now suddenly against it?

With the Democrats in control of the House both parties chose “the wall” to make a stand on. Instead of truly working together to find a solution, they delegitimized the other party, and refused to budge an inch in order to claim victory. Yesterday was the wall, who knows what it will be tomorrow. Yet whatever it is, the parties will not care about the issues half as much as who will “win” the fight and hold the upper hand going into the next election.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at www.Historicallyspeaking.blog or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Blind Squirrel Finds Nut

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Great news to read in the Royal Examiner that the Council voted to fill the Town Manager and Town Attorney positions with Joe Waltz and George Sonnett, respectively.

Over the last several years, it appears we have seen the members of the Town Council make poor decisions that may have leaned toward self-interest that did not necessarily benefit the community. There has been little focus on the real issues, such as future water supply and infrastructure, or a real plan on how to attract both industrial and commercial businesses to pay living wages.

Even a blind squirrel can find a nut sometimes, which is what happened with our Council in selecting Mr. Walsh as Town manager and George Sonnett as Town Attorney. It does indicate that this lame-duck Council can make a decision that has a good long-term effect on the stability and growth of our community. Great strategic move.

Joe did an outstanding job during his first run as Town Manager and left for a better opportunity during the past three years. The town’s decision to bring him back on board is a wise decision because of Joe’s experience. As a result of his previous tenure, his selection offers very little downtime to get to know our community. Over the last several years, taxpayers have footed significant costs for the fees paid to consultants who bring qualified candidates to the table and the time required to go through the screening process.

This common-sense solution solved the challenge of sourcing candidates who would want to move to our unique rural community. Mr. Waltz brings his past Front Royal expertise along with his recently acquired experience to help us move away from the revolving door of town managers.

This will give the new incoming Council a great jump-start to focus on the real issues facing our community. And we will now have someone in the Town Manager’s office who has existing institutional knowledge of the town.

With the new Council coming on board in January and the addition of both Waltz and Sonnett in place, this should begin the process of change that we know needs to happen for the future success of our community. I’m excited about the potential; we need our citizens to support their efforts moving forward.

Michael Graham
Front Royal, Virginia

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An example of an Egyptian feminist for Iran today

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historically speaking

With all that is going on in our nation, it is understandable if you have not been paying attention to what is going on in Iran. However, it is something worth our attention. Suffice to say that back in September, a 22-year-old women named Mahsa Amini died in custody of the morality police for improperly wearing her hijab or head scarf. Her death has led to protests across Iran and a brutal crack-down from the government that has led to at least 300 deaths.

Historically speaking, this is not the first time women have protested the wearing of the hijab. Ironically, one of the most famous protests happened in Egypt in the 1920s. That protest was successful. Yet, one hundred years later, women are being forced again to make the same protests and this time with even greater risks to their lives.

Since Amini’s death, other women have been arrested. Most notably, Elnaz Rekabi, an elite Iranian competitive climber, was arrested after she returned from a climbing competition in Seoul where she did not wear her hijab as required of Iranian women competing abroad. After not being seen for about two weeks, she emerged only to report that it was an accident that she did not wear her hijab, stating it got tangled during her climb, so she took it off. Then there are women like Oscar-winning actress Taraheh Alidoosti, who posted a picture of herself unveiled to show support for the movement. What all these women are doing is brave, considering the cruelty of the regime. They are gaining more support for their cause, and even more are standing on the shoulders of giants who have come before them.

Next year will be the 100-year anniversary of arguably the most famous feminist event in the Middle East. Huda Sharawi was born in Egypt in 1879 to a prominent family. Though she was married at age 13 against her will, her husband, Ali Sharawi , was a nationalist who helped lead the fight against England for independence, a cause that was important to Huda as well. When Ali, who was several years her senior, died, Huda turned her attention to women’s equality. The early years of the twentieth century brought a great deal of change for women. Egypt, wanting to fit into the West, was attempting to modernize and so was opening the door for women’s rights. Egypt was suddenly open to women’s education and allowed them to not only attend schools at all levels but also form intellectual societies which published dozens of new journals dedicated to the advancement of women. Two of the most important groups were the Intellectual Association of Egyptian Women and the Egyptian Feminist Union, both founded by Sharawi.

In the beginning Sharawi’s principal fight was against England. Her husband was a founding member of the Waft Party, which was fighting for independence. Wanting to get involved in the fight and being inspired by international women, Sharawi organized the “March of Veiled Women” through the streets of Cairo, one of the largest anti-colonization marches in Egypt. She then organized the Wafdist Women’s Central Committee, which she served as president. In 1922, England folded to pressure and granted Egypt its independence, even though not full control. The Waft Party then took power of the government. Although women were instrumental in the success of the Waft Party, the women found there was no room for them at the seat of power. Discouraged by the lack of freedom for women that came from liberation, Sharawi organized the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923 and turned her efforts towards women’s suffrage.

In 1923 Sharawi’s husband died, granting her a certain amount of freedom. That year she attended a women’s conference in Rome, and on her return, she decided on an act of defiance that became symbolic for Islamic women everywhere. When she and her companions disembarked from the train, they stood on the station platform and removed their veils. They could not claim to be free anywhere if they were not free at home. She started a movement of women wearing the hijab only if they wanted out of religious devotion, not because of law or custom. Sharawi would go on to bring about many reforms in Egypt for women. In fact, from the 1930s to the 1960s, it became unfashionable to wear a hijab in public in many Middle Eastern nations. Fashion for both men and women became much closer to American styles than what we tend to associate with the Middle East. It was not until the 1970s that hijabs were seen in public again, after Islamic movements began to sweep through the Middle East. leading to calls to return to Islam and reject western culture. Of course, the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran changed everything in that nation, as government-sanctioned modesty became law and hijabs were required.

Women like Sharawi, did not face the same penalties as women do in Iran today for removing their veils. They faced family shame and cultural pressure whereas these modern women face possible death. Yet women like Sharawi were still incredibly brave and faced enormous odds. It was their fight for women’s rights that created a precedent and a good example for women today. It is a shame to see the regression in places like Iran after the work of Sharawi, yet the movement in Iran does not seem to be dying down. Inspired by women like Mahsa Amini and led by women motivated by Sharawi’s example, maybe things can change in Iran. Maybe all Iranians can someday be free to make their own choices.

As we move into this holiday season, I hope everyone enjoys their Thanksgiving. I for one am thankful that with all our problems we still live in the greatest nation in the world.


Dr. James Finck is a Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. To receive daily historical posts, follow Historically Speaking at Historicallyspeaking.blog or on Facebook.

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Commentary: Governor Glenn Youngkin, YIMBY-in-chief?

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin answers questions from the press at the Governor’s Housing Conference Nov. 18, 2022. (Wyatt Gordon / For the Virginia Mercury)

 

Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin and California Democrats could hardly be further apart politically; however, their diagnoses of what is wrong with America’s housing market sound uncannily similar: Excessive regulation has hindered new housing construction, driving up home prices to the point of hurting the broader economy.

After a string of big legislative wins in Sacramento this year, could the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) movement’s next policy champion prove to be Virginia’s ambitious governor?

‘There aren’t enough homes’

In a Friday speech at the Virginia Governor’s Housing Conference, Youngkin promised to introduce a legislative package before the upcoming General Assembly session to reduce regulations and promote housing production. Although further details won’t be debuted until December, the fact that both progressive Democrats and right-wing Republicans view the housing affordability crisis in a similar light is proof that pro-development politics do not follow neat ideological lines.

It’s also a sign of how painful high housing costs are for voters of all parties.

The results of a state study published this summer show just how broken the housing market has become across the commonwealth. In 2004, Virginia issued 63,215 new residential building permits. In recent years the state has barely built half as many homes per year despite adding over 1.1 million residents during that same period.

“There aren’t enough homes,” said Youngkin. “There aren’t enough units today. Full stop.”

Over the last decade, more than two-thirds of building permits have been issued for single-family homes. With the average price for such a structure in Virginia at $355,000 as of last year (an increase of 30% over 2016), this most expensive form of housing is increasingly out of reach for many middle-class households.

Renters face similar, if not more severe, struggles. Four in five renters in Virginia earn under 50% of their region’s area median income. The Department of Housing and Community Development and Virginia Housing, the state’s housing authority, estimates there’s a shortage of 200,000 affordable rental units across the commonwealth, meaning low earners have few options when rents rise rapidly.

In the Richmond region, the average rent is 21% higher than it was in 2021. In Hampton Roads, rents have risen on average 11.2% over the last year, with an additional 12% rise predicted for the coming year. In the first quarter of this year alone, rents increased 13% in Northern Virginia.  Even areas outside of the Urban Crescent, like the city of Roanoke, have faced a 15% jump in the average rent over 2021 as people flock to cities for better job opportunities.

If housing can’t be made more affordable, the governor fears fewer folks will choose to live and locate their businesses in the Commonwealth.

“We must align housing development with economic growth,” he said. “If you want a workforce, we have to have some place for them to live. We need to unleash housing development plans just like we are unleashing economic development plans.”

Regulatory reduction

In his closing remarks, Youngkin attributed the dearth of housing units to three factors: regulatory burdens that restrict the supply of buildable land, permitting complications that delay and prevent development, and restrictive land use controls that limit property owners’ rights to build.

To get out of Virginia’s housing hole, the governor offered three solutions he plans to put before the General Assembly in January. First, he wants to set deadlines for localities to approve land use and zoning reviews. Second, he wants the state to perform a review of land use and zoning laws with an eye toward increasing efficiency and transparency. Third, he wants to create a searchable database of residential-zoned, government-owned land on which developers could potentially build.

 

Homes under construction in Richmond, Va. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

 

What would happen if a locality doesn’t approve or deny a project by the deadline? In California, municipalities that don’t comply with state housing policy are subjected to a “builder’s remedy” whereby local zoning power is removed. Such a situation in Santa Monica this year may allow that city’s housing supply to jump 7%. Youngkin’s policy shop plans to present its own proposal next month.

Where the governor’s pro-development push could run off the rails is on wetland and stream credits. In his speech, he promised to streamline permitting, “operationalize” Virginia’s existing wetland and stream replacement fund, and release additional credits — all without lowering the quality of Virginia’s wetland and stream mitigation efforts.

Previous waves of growth have gobbled up farms, forests, and wetlands across the commonwealth in favor of far-flung, car-dependent suburbs.  A 2020 American Farmland Trust study calculated that “more than 31 million acres of U.S. agricultural land have been irrevocably lost to urban expansion since 1982, and an additional 175 acres of farm and ranchland are lost every hour to make way for housing and other industries.”

If the administration’s pro-housing proposals end up looking like a mandate for more sprawl, environmental advocates may try to tank Youngkin’s plans in the General Assembly.

YIMBY versus NIMBY

The governor’s pro-development legislative package may face a rocky road in the General Assembly. After Youngkin lambasted “overburdensome and inefficient local governments, restrictive zoning policies and an ideology of fighting tooth and nail against any new development” in a speech before the state’s joint money committee in August, senior members of his own party fired back.

“That is not how I would characterize it,” remarked Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City. “The people on city councils and boards of supervisors have the closest connection to the people they represent and the citizens they serve.”

Such intra-party tension comes as no surprise to Addison del Mastro, an Arlington-based contributor to the conservative publication The Bulwark.

“There are two ways conservatives think about development,” he said. “Pro-business and property rights is a natural fit for conservatives, but some of them view zoning as a property right to ensure that neighborhoods don’t change and can keep out apartments housing ‘those people.’ I hear both arguments even from the same people. One actually aligns with traditional conservative thinking on markets, and the other is an attitude you learn by osmosis if you’re an affluent suburbanite.”

Guardrails on government

With more than two decades of working on land use law under her belt, Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, understands the costs of development delays and broadly supports the governor’s desire to reduce regulation.

“It’s important we still have zoning at the local level because we don’t know everything at the state level,” she said. “But the state can come in, set guardrails and reframe what local governments are using as the tools in their toolbox to make local land use decisions.”

When contemplating how the commonwealth could end exclusionary zoning, Coyner points to how lawmakers dealt with proffers — the fees localities are allowed to charge homebuilders to offset the costs of their developments.

“We created this state system where localities could broadly define proffers and raise the cost of housing to keep certain people out,” she said. “When the state clawed back proffers discretion from the localities, it was an effort to align the intent of proffers to the original legislation more closely.”

According to Coyner, the other issue at play is a lack of communication.

“We have really failed to educate the average citizen and business owner,” she said. “Grocery stores don’t just show up because you want them. They draw a circle and look and see if that area meets their demographics. If we start letting people do their own analysis, they’ll realize local leaders are not just putting more houses in to irritate me, but they’re building houses here so we can have more services.”

Despite the initial support of lawmakers like Del. Coyner, the governor’s proposals to increase housing production will likely face an uphill battle. Beyond seeking the simultaneous support of a Democratic Senate and a Republican House, Youngkin will have to contend with the political power of Virginia’s cities and counties, which are always loath to lose any ounce of land use authority.

In his signature optimistic fashion, the governor believes he can find the right balance and get his bills passed: “We, in fact, have to respect landowners’ rights, and we have to make sure the zoning and permitting processes are set up to be pro-development,” he said. “We can do both. This is not an ‘or.’ It’s an ‘and.’ Oftentimes we find ourselves arguing and forgetting that we can do both.”

 

by Wyatt Gordon, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Lost Game: Gridiron Memories of November 22, 1963

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(Writer’s note: this was written in 2006. Small edits acknowledging the passage of time since are included toward the end of this updated version.)


I was playing quarterback in a high school intramural flag-football championship game around 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 22, 1963.

The game went into overtime as the class time ground into its last minutes. My team needed a score to even the alternating possession OT (we were ahead of our time) and extend things to the following day. Impatient, I lofted one deep and up for grabs – like Brett Favre occasionally does – that some defender out-jumped my guy for.

BANG! We lost, no tomorrow.

Little did I know that the bang of defeat that had just gone off in my head was the mere echo of a much louder bang that went off almost simultaneously 1,330 miles to the southwest.

That other bang I had yet to hear was one of another kind of defeat that I will, it seems, carry with me to the grave.

Somewhat dejected I headed back to the locker room to shower before heading to my fifth period English class. Someone ran out of the locker room to meet us and said, “The president’s been shot!” Bullshit, that kind of thing doesn’t happen except in history books, I thought, “That’s not funny,” I said.

Inside the Alexandria, Virginia high school, not eight miles from the White House, things seemed normal as I prepared to shower. No solemn faced coaches, no lock down to protect then Republican House Minority Whip Gerald Ford’s sons. “The president’s been shot” was lost beneath what seemed normal adolescent, locker room banter. I began to return to a 15-year-old’s reality: sport, the thought of the girl’s locker room on the other side of a thick cement wall.

Then the PA system crackled and the locker room went unnaturally silent as the principal’s voice, not a secretary’s, asked for attention. A chill went down my spine, perhaps as a subconscious premonition that things were about to change in previously unimaginable ways flashed along sub-atomic particles throughout my brain. The tone first, then the words “President Kennedy has been shot” gravely confirmed what I had immediately denied as a plausible reality. One kid, a little red around the edges for that suburban Alexandria high school said something to the effect of “good.” Though we were casual friends and recent teammates, I started swinging and we went into a pile on the floor only to be quickly pulled apart by classmates and coaches. I had never wanted to damage someone as irrevocably as I did at that moment and the two of us never spoke again, leaving a silent distance between us that precluded the necessity of re-engaging that primal impulse toward some sort of irreversible destruction.

President Kennedy leaves the White House for the final time.

The emotions were immediate, deep and apparently ran in the family. I didn’t find out until years later that at almost the same moment, following a similar remark, my father, a WW II Army veteran who had lived through Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, was decking a total stranger in a D.C. medical building on I Street where he was waiting for my mother to complete a routine checkup.

Across the Potomac River, we sat quietly in our classrooms: no teaching, no discussion, no emergency mentoring. We sat alone, grappling with our thoughts, as was our teacher. The principal came on again and said the president was dead. The reaction was subdued except for a girl named Jacqueline Kennedy – though I think she spelled her first name differently than the president’s wife. Spelling aside she went off, sobbing, hysteria rising. The teacher took her outside the room to settle her down. Didn’t work, she ended up in the infirmary. I sometimes wonder what happened to Jackie Kennedy, my classmate. How did she ride out that 15-year-old’s identification with the now blood-stained Queen of Camelot?

Forty-odd years later I know that day was the measurable beginning of the direction of the balance of my life. Despite the immediate profundity of a presidential assassination, I couldn’t have recognized that JFK’s violent death would lead directly through a five-year span of political upheaval between my formative 15th and 20th birthdays. This and three other domestic assassinations – of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Francis Kennedy – seemed to earmark the time through a litany of foreign political intrigue, murder and assassination that always seemed to lead in one direction – to the right, toward war, toward implicit corporate profiteering from war, toward social division, toward lies.

That is my perception, my belief – the bad guys won. That is my psychological watershed. Rather than living under the auspice of a state favored by both man and God, I was floating through the most recent episode of civilization in decline, fueled by greed, power, murder and conquest.

It took all of those next five years for me to begin to appreciate what had begun during that that lost football game. By 1969 it was becoming apparent that a hopeful youth-driven world counterculture, as well as the best and the brightest within the world political system reflecting or inspiring the social idealism that characterized that counterculture, the Americans named above, Salvadore Allende, Alexander Dubcek, Patrice Lumumba, Che Guevara and others were beaten.

Around the world we had lost.

We would either be annihilated or assimilated – a foolish, inaccurate footnote to American and World History X – the fiction written by the winners.

I left Alexandria in 1967 for college. I moved from the specter of the federal capital to Richmond, the historical capital of the American Confederacy that had fought the ascendance of that federal system just over a century earlier. In retrospect it seemed an unconsciously profound symbolic move. Though I was through and through a son of the federal government in whose shadow I was raised by two parents it employed, I was soon to become suspicious, some would say paranoid, about its machinations, its intent, its history.

I followed my intellectual instincts for the next five years, studying sociology and psychology – how society and the human mind work. I guess I wanted to know why I had grown so alienated from the culture in which I lived. Was I crazy or did I live in an insane world? I learned things about myself and my society between 1967 and 1973 and most of what I learned took me back to the day my team lost that high school, intramural football game.

In college I learned that three days before John Kennedy’s inauguration, his predecessor, Dwight David Eisenhower, made an astonishing observation in his farewell address to the nation. I had grown up thinking of Eisenhower as a doddering, old, golf-playing general rewarded with the presidency for a job well done holding the Allied war effort together in Europe during World War II. My interest in the fate of his successor led me to a different view of Eisenhower. It began with that farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961.

Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower at Camp David, April 22, 1961, five days after the first crisis of JFK’s presidency, the failed CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion.

On that day Eisenhower, the West Point graduate, career military man, general and president who led his country and its allies, first against Nazi Germany and then through the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, told his nation that the greatest threat it faced as he prepared to leave office was that born of its own military and corporate institutions in a profoundly changing American landscape.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” Eisenhower told the American people of the corporate, political, and military landscape that had arisen in the wake of World War II. “The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower concluded.

The career soldier turned politician had apparently not thought it a sin to normalize relations with the Soviet Union, then our recent military ally, and reduce the rapidly expanding American military budget. This belief, according to Eisenhower biographers, led to much behind-the-scene infighting with the evolving military and industrial institutions Eisenhower spoke of at the end of his eight-year presidency.

Less than three years after Eisenhower’s dour warning, his successor had his head blown off in the streets of Dallas, Texas, while I played football a half a continent away. That successor, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had also bucked the American military-corporate apparatus during his presidency, and perhaps fatally, more directly and in more immediate situations than Eisenhower had.

First, just three months in office Kennedy refused to commit to direct American military involvement during the 1961 invasion of Communist Cuba by a CIA-trained militia despite the urging of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and CIA Director Allen Dulles. As a result of the intelligence misinformation and personal coercion he endured during that experience, Kennedy fired Allen Dulles as director of the CIA. He also developed enough distrust of the U.S. military command to avoid the armed, likely nuclear confrontation they suggested over Cuba during the missile crisis less than two years later.

President Kennedy addresses the nation on live television during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the U.S. and Soviet Union came to the verge of nuclear war according to later unclassified Soviet intelligence documents. It appears that Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s willingness to negotiate a mutually satisfactory compromise – that the Soviets pull their offensive nuclear missiles out of Cuba, and America would dismantle its offensive nuclear missile bases from the Soviet border in Turkey – averted a potential nuclear holocaust.

Kennedy is even reported to have stated the intention of scattering what was threatening to become a rouge intelligence agency resistant to presidential oversight “into a thousand pieces” following a 1964 re-election that seemed a sure thing.

A great deal of debate still exists over whether Kennedy was planning implementation of another post-1964 election plan that would have flown further in the face of Eisenhower’s originally-named American “Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex”. That much-discussed plan was a lessening of direct American involvement in Vietnam. That involvement in the fall of 1963 was 16,000 “advisors” compared to the half million combat troops that would be sent there after his death. If true, as key Kennedy insiders assert, that plan reflected JFK’s growing belief that the Vietnam conflict was ultimately a civil war that would have to be won or lost by the South Vietnamese themselves – a decade and the bulk of 65,000 American and two million Vietnamese lives later that belief proved correct.

Many years after the fact I heard a European investigative report that quoted Kennedy archives indicating his ambassador to South Vietnam, Henry Cabot Lodge, reporting back to Washington that presidential directives relayed through the embassy in 1963 ordering CIA operatives in country to back off of aggressive covert actions, including assassinations, were simply being ignored in the field. I wondered then if those “rouge” CIA elements had an inkling those directives would soon change despite Kennedy’s overwhelming popularity as the 1964 election approached?

No, probably just a coincidence that Kennedy was soon shot down like a rabid dog on a parade route whose path had been realigned that day to go down Elm Street in front of the Texas School Book Depository in a town whose mayor was reportedly the brother of Allen Dulles’s former military liaison officer.

Coincidence too, I expect that a former Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald worked in that School Book Depository. Oswald was the prodigal American son, who had “defected” to the Soviet Union with a perfect command of the Russian language following his assignment to a top-secret American military intelligence base in Japan from which American U-2 spy flights were launched over the Soviet Union. Later, the prodigal son would reconsider that defection – perhaps because the Soviets thought he was an American spy and kept a close check on him. I sometimes wonder at the benevolence of a nation that would welcome back its prodigal son with camera equipment to start a “new” career, rather than a little prison time for his alleged departure with top-secret information that was claimed to have compromised America’s U-2 spy missions. But how could his native land stay mad at the whimsical Oswald, who despite his highly public pro-Castro activities in New Orleans, cultivated associations with a number of right-wing, anti-Castro associates based in both New Orleans and Miami as he “floundered” philosophically in the years between Russia and Dallas?

Above, JFK and Ike at Camp David in the days after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba – likely when the sitting president found out he had been lied to by the CIA about the previous president’s authorizations, or lack thereof, for a CIA-sponsored invasion of Cuba. Photographer Paul Vathis wrote ‘They looked so lonely.’ Below, Vathis’s photo juxtaposed on the wall of the Newseum in D.C. with mob-connected Jack Ruby’s silencing of Lee Harvey Oswald, who died claiming he was set up as a patsy in the JFK assassination. JFK photo sources, credits: Public Domain; White House Photographs; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston; Robert Knudson; Paul Vathis; Abraham Zapruder; “The Men Who Killed Kennedy” Nigel Turner-produced British TV documentary series; AP; Roger Bianchini at Newseum, Washington D.C.

Pondering these things after launching my own college term paper research on the JFK assassination in 1969, I told my mother, “There are circumstances leading a lot of people to think your old (CIA) bosses were behind it.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, the way they talked about him,” she surprised me with a frank appraisal of her early 1960s superiors at the top of the American intelligence apparatus.

And now 59 years gone from that day in 1963, I remain the paranoid-tinged, conspiracy freak sitting alone in the dark corners of dark bars, reflecting on the familiarity of low times and low lies glowering at me from the “enduring freedom” of a television screen hovering slightly above my still focused eye.

And now I recall, as I did in 2006 when this personal memoir was written 43 years gone from that long-lost childhood football game, I find myself still choking down one final coincidence – that the U.S. president (George W. Bush) gesturing at me from that screen, circa 2006, explaining the necessity of this country’s ongoing military-industrial occupation of Iraq, one of the world’s two primary oil fields, and the ultimate evil of its oil-rich neighbor Iran, is heir to a family legacy the roots of which run deep into Texas oil, American politics, and the directorship of the CIA.

Roger Bianchini
Front Royal, Virginia


(Writer’s note: First published on November 22, 2013 as part of a pull-out section of the Warren County Report on the ongoing significance of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy 50 years later.)

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Keep sexual materials out of the schools – period.

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The Warren County School Board, as with all school boards not only in the Commonwealth but throughout the United States, would not need any standards nor parental discussion if and when ALL sexual materials were removed and kept out of the schools—period.

This entire topic has no place in public or private schools and, until recently, was not a problem for students and their families. Why has it now?

Having the same materials in schools, which would result in severe penalties in the workplace, constituting sexual harassment, should be just as illegal. And any teachers’ unions that condone such adult materials should be prosecuted and sacked for encouraging such materials.

What is the point of allowing such materials in schools?

How does it benefit students, who, for millennia, have gotten this information from parents and families?

There is a place for such materials, referring to the precepts of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That place is in the world, NOT in public or private schools.

When this material is kept out of the schools, then there is no need for the policy that the local school board and the Virginia Department of Education are considering.

Keep the free flow of information between the schools and parents going—it is vital that schools share the curriculum with parents and maintain dialogue—but without the necessity to discuss sexually explicit materials when they are not part of what students have exposure to in schools.

Arthur Candenquist
Amissville, VA

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Opinion

Commentary: Be bold in overhauling state’s individual income tax system 

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Virginia’s income tax brackets have always shocked me, especially because of their glaring lack of fairness.

As a newspaper columnist in South Hampton Roads, I earned in the upper five figures annually. That placed me into the same category as someone who made just over $17,000 a year.

We both paid an income tax rate of 5.75%.

That dichotomy was crazy. It didn’t represent even a whiff of equity. The brackets are based on taxable income.

Why didn’t I shoulder a heavier burden? Why didn’t folks earning much less keep more of their desperately needed cash – and render unto Caesar a smaller percentage?

I bring this up because the state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission released a report recently about making the income tax system fairer – and saner. My Virginia Mercury colleague Graham Moomaw reported on the antiquated brackets and JLARC’s recommendations to the General Assembly.

The Assembly directed JLARC to study increasing the “progressivity” of the individual income tax system. That means taxing people according to their ability to pay, instead of setting the same tax rates for the rich and the poor or taxing the poor disproportionately.

Virginia’s highest tax bracket starts at $17K. Some say it’s time for an update.

Income taxes account for 70% of the state’s general fund revenue, so they’re the main source of spending.

The report noted the Assembly, thankfully, already had changed two components of income tax this year to make it more progressive. The legislature nearly doubled the standard deduction, and it made the state-earned income tax credit partly refundable.

Good.

The problem is the Assembly hasn’t altered the state’s four tax brackets since 1990. That practically begs claims of neglect against our legislators.

Virginia’s median income has risen 108% since then, “but income taxes owed by a single filer with median income increased 173%,” JLARC said.

At a minimum, the state could update the tax brackets to account for inflation.

The third-highest bracket now, for instance, covers folks earning just $5,001 to $17,000, and the highest has everybody above $17,000. Why someone earning six or seven figures annually is lumped in with a person making less than even $20,000 is mind-boggling.

“Thirty-two years ago, you were considered rich at $17,000 and hit the top tax bracket,” a delegate said earlier this year at a legislative hearing.

I don’t know of anywhere in America in 1990 that $17,000 was considered “rich” – especially not in Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads. That certainly wasn’t the case in Detroit, where I was living at the time.

Comments like the delegates make me ponder about the discernment process of the Honorables in Richmond. But I digress.

There’s been pushback from parts of the state Capitol on some of JLARC’s proposals, including possibly raising taxes on the rich. The report says that move would increase progressivity and state revenue, but Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the GOP-controlled House of Delegates prefer broad tax cuts (of course) rather than tax increases.

Youngkin and other pro-business leaders say lower taxes would help the commonwealth compete with North Carolina and other Southern states. They should be careful not to ignite a race to the bottom, where the quality of life could suffer just to lure companies to relocate here.

The state already approved $4 billion in tax cuts this year, though Youngkin wanted to go further. Before making additional tax cuts, legislators should tell Virginians exactly how they would deal with the reduced revenue.

For example, the state’s dismal performance in fully funding its own Standards of Quality is a sore spot with educators and localities. It’s a perennial problem. Virginia also ranks 41st in state per-pupil spending, according to an analysis by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis released in 2021.

Virginia’s legislators should create tax brackets that account for the inflation that’s occurred over the past few decades. Six brackets, instead of four, should be debated. A 10% rate for the state’s millionaires must not be out of the question, either.

What the Assembly shouldn’t do is continue to treat someone on the low end of the income scale like someone making tens of thousands more. That’s indefensible.

 

by Roger Chesley, Virginia Mercury


Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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