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The Lost Game: Gridiron Memories of November 22, 1963

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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 south-west.

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 WWII 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 urgings 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.

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 the1964 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.

Now 43 years gone I am 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 43 years gone from that long lost childhood football game I find myself choking down one final coincidence – that the U.S. president gesturing at me from that screen 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

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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New Cold War in Ukraine

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historically speaking

This semester as I am teaching a class on the Cold War, it seems as if the major comparison we are discussing is the war in Ukraine. I am grateful this war is still on students’ minds, as often with tragedies like Ukraine there is a great deal of emotion at first that wanes over time. I assume that is what Putin was hoping for, waiting until the world stopped caring. Yet instead, we have recently learned the U.S. and others are sending the Ukraine tanks but stopped short of sending jets. The question my students have asked is would we have handled this differently during the Cold War? It’s a good question and one without a simple answer as each president is different, yet during the Cold War we did have the foreign policy of containment to help guide our decisions.

Considering it’s been 34 years since the fall of communism, it might be worth reviewing the concept of containment. It was, for good or bad, our foreign policy for the second half of the 20th century and influenced Americans in almost every aspect of their lives. The term and the concept came from a 1947 article in The Journal of Foreign Affairs, titled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” and written by someone calling himself Mr. X.  George Kennan had written the “long telegram” to the State Department the year before, but it had not received much traction. The following year he wrote basically the same thing anonymously for the journal.

Kennan was a career diplomat and a leading expert on the Soviet Union. He took a similar approach towards the Soviet Union as we take today, that the Russians are good people but are led by bad ones who cannot be trusted. While this sounds like common sense today, in 1945 we had just come off an alliance with Stalinist Russia in fighting WWII. During that time, we portrayed Stalin as a firm but fair leader and President Truman believed he could work with him. Kennan disagreed.

Kennan put forth two key concepts that he believed drove the Soviet government, the need for a repressive dictatorship at home and a belief that the West/Capitalism would never accept a communist government. It was the second that justified the first. Stalin had previously argued that eventually the world would divide into two “centres,” the socialists centers and the capitalist centers, and that the fate of the world would come down to which side won the battle between them.

Kennan also argued that for communism to survive it needed to expand but that Stalin was more concerned with security at home than expansion of communism. This is where containment came into play. The Soviets would only expand if allowed to by American weakness. If America and its allies showed enough strength, they could contain communism to its current borders with their military or economic strength. America did not always actually have to fight, just convince Stalin they would. This meant the U.S and allies would have to spend billions of dollars and be willing to send troops to remote corners of the globe to stop them. If Stalin believed the U.S. would fight, he would push but ultimately not risk war. We would have to fight proxy wars across Asia, South America, and the Middle East, but Russia would never go head-to-head against the U.S. so long as they believed we fought fight back. It was about containing communism, not pushing it back.

An early example of a successful containment policy was Berlin. After the World War II, both Germany and Berlin were divided between the Russian-controlled communist side and the American/British democratic side. Berlin was in the heart of communist East Germany and Stalin decided to cut off road access to the city from West Germany. Instead of attacking or allowing West Berlin to fall, America began a fifteen-month airlift where American pilots flew around the clock bringing West Berliners everything they needed to survive. Stalin could have stopped the U.S. by shooting down American planes but that would have led to war. Eventually, knowing the airlift made him look bad, Stalin opened the road back up.  With the Berlin Airlift, Russia acted and America reacted in kind and contained communism to its current borders. If only it was always so easy. Other containment examples include the Korean and Vietnam War, both of which cost American lives and only Korea was successful.

In the end, democracy won out over communism, but it is debatable whether containment was the cause. It was not always a perfect policy. It forced the U.S. to side with those who did not stand for what America believed in simply because regimes opposed communism, groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan or despotic governments like the Ngo Dinh Diem administration in Vietnam. However, the Soviet Union did fall. It is impossible to answer if containment would still work today, yet it is hard to imagine Russia’s invasion of Ukraine if they thought they would face American troops. It is difficult to know how Putin chose when to invade. He did so in 2014 when he captured Crimea and then again in 2022 with the current invasion. The space in between was during the Trump years. While Trump did use more Cold War rhetoric, future historians will have to decide once this crisis has passed.


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: The gas stove culture wars come to Virginia

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Gas stoves have been in the headlines a lot recently. On the heels of a study quantifying their contribution to childhood asthma, Consumer Product Safety Commission member Rich Trumka, Jr. issued a tweet suggesting the agency might take them off the market, a comment he later walked back.

Too late: cue the outrage from the right. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands,” tweeted Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas. A number of people tweeted back that they were eager to see this happen, but then it turned out no one in the White House actually wants to ban gas stoves, anyway.

What kind of stove you use might seem an odd contender for a culture war issue, but the outrage beast needs constant feeding. The ranting leaves no time for anyone to point out that electricity powers the great majority of U.S. stoves, methane gas isn’t even an option in much of the country, and — eh — we Americans don’t really cook that much, anyway. If we were arguing over microwave ovens, more of us would have a dog in this fight.

But the mere fact that you never gave your stove much thought before does not excuse you from taking sides now. If you are a Democrat, you must drool over induction stoves, even if you aren’t sure what they are or how they work. If you are a Republican, you must support burning fossil fuels in the kitchen and weep for the plight of Michelin-starred chefs whose restaurants you can’t afford to go to (and indeed, many of whom have been won over by induction, the ingrates).

One of the difficulties the gas industry faces in politicizing stoves is that it wins over the wrong people. An Energy Information Agency map shows the percentage of households that cook with gas is highest in a bunch of blue states like California and New York, and lowest in the deep-red South and the Dakotas.

The reasons are pragmatic, not political. Gas utilities in rural states like North Dakota are much less likely to have invested in the expensive network of distribution pipelines needed to bring service to far-flung communities. The rural geography problem affects much of the South as well, but weather is a factor, too. Since furnaces, not cookstoves, are the big fuel users, the relatively warm winters of the South make it a less lucrative market than the colder North. Thus, electricity dominates heating as well cooking in southern states.

If gas companies have chosen not to serve areas where they would make less money, who can blame them? On the other hand, with gas furnaces increasingly unable to compete with more efficient heat pumps, they now risk losing their northern customers to electric alternatives. Either they sit and stare into the abyss of an all-electric future in which they are obsolete, or they have to do what they can to slow their inevitable decline.

And so they set out to convince state legislatures to prevent local governments from barring new gas hookups in their communities, as many left-leaning cities have been doing in the interests of climate and health. Gas stove diehards are the industry’s unwitting (and sometimes witting) poster children.

On the face of it, the gas industry has been successful: at least 20 states controlled by Republican legislatures have enacted gas ban preemption laws. Sadly for the gas utilities, the wins have occurred in those southern and rural states where they don’t have as much business to protect anyway.

That’s what makes Virginia an important next target. Almost one-third of Virginia households are customers of natural gas utilities, and only a handful of rural Virginia counties have no gas service at all. There is certainly room for growth. Yet a number of urban and suburban localities have adopted climate goals that call on their governments to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The gas industry fears these localities may decide banning new gas hookups could be one step towards the goal.

The risk seems slight. Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, meaning local governments have only the authority delegated to them by the General Assembly. Given the difficulty Virginia localities have had even getting authority to ban single-use plastic bags (they still can only tax them, not pry them from your cold, dead hands), it seems unlikely they would seek, or get, authority to ban new gas hookups any time soon.

Indeed, when the General Assembly first considered legislation to preempt gas bans last year, the focus was on the City of Richmond and the incompatibility of the city’s 2050 carbon-neutrality pledge with its continued operation of its own gas utility. The city itself didn’t seem to be thinking that far ahead, and climate activists have since complained that Richmond is more intent on upgrading its gas infrastructure than in phasing it out. Still, the gas industry had a target to point to.

The House was willing to adopt the full gas preemption ban, but a Senate committee reworked the legislation to focus on the problem at hand. The law that passed imposed a requirement that any municipality with a gas utility notify its customers and put the utility up for sale before exiting the business. All parties pronounced themselves satisfied, declared victory and went home.

This year the gas industry has no threat to point to but is nonetheless again trying to get the preemption bill passed. The bill language includes a kind of culture war code term, a declaration that “energy justice” means you have the right to buy gas if you can afford it and the gas company has the right not to supply you if you can’t, or if serving you isn’t profitable for the company.

The better description for this, surely, is the free market, which is quite distinct from justice. So, is it justice or merely irony that even if it were to pass, many Republicans who voted for the bill still wouldn’t get gas service for their constituents because serving rural areas is not in the interests of the industry?

As it did last year, the Republican-led House has passed the industry’s bill along party lines. In the Democratic-controlled Senate, though, matters get interesting. This year the gas industry secured a Senate patron, Democrat Joe Morrissey. Though Morrissey is hardly popular in the party, he is still at least one Democratic vote for the bill in a closely divided chamber.

It seems obvious enough that the preemption ban is on the wrong side of history, at a time when our burning of fossil fuels is already causing climate chaos. It’s also not going to stave off the inevitable for long. Building electrification will continue. Over time, more consumers will choose heat pumps and induction stoves over methane gas, not for political reasons but for health reasons and because the technology is better.

But if we agree the gas industry will lose out in the end, is it really a big deal if Virginia localities are barred from doing something they don’t seem to have authority to do anyway?

Well, actually, yes. Even if Virginia localities can’t make a blanket prohibition on new gas connections, it’s not hard to imagine that a locality might choose to reject a particular gas connection to a particular construction project or subdivision where the gas line would cross parkland or wetland, or be problematic for some other very specific, very local and very legitimate reason.

Virginia’s balance of power has always recognized that land-use decisions should be made at the local level. This legislation hands a cudgel to the gas industry and developers to override a legitimate local land use decision.

For that, legislators should have a better reason than taking sides in a culture war.

 

by Ivy Main, 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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Is your child in middle school? Take time now to review survey being asked of our children

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URGENT Message for Parents re: 2023 Virginia School Survey of Climate & Working Conditions

Please find attached a copy of my address to the Warren County Public School Board last evening, Feb. 1, 2023. I was the ONLY public participant to address the Board and could not fully complete this message within the 3-minute limit. I politely stated that since I was the only one, could I please be able to finish? The Chair declined and said I could email them. I had the packets ready for all 5 Board members and left them with the clerk, which included:
*My address (speech)
*The letter to SMS Parents
*Superintendent’s memo #191-22
*Full survey questions (102)
*VA Code 22.1-279.8 B
*HB30 Item 135

I am a “passionate” driven individual, and I left feeling as if I failed the youth in making sure their parents were aware of this taking place, and ask you to PLEASE publish my address ASAP so parents to have still the opportunity to opt out their students if they wish to? I am aware that our SMS hasn’t taken the survey just yet, and the window is Jan. 9 – Feb. 24 (but no specific date) is being told. I, like other parents, have to make time to go online and click “links” to find out what this is all about, and some don’t have the time, but I feel if this is put out with a strong caption – they’ll be able to take notice.

Presented to the Warren County Public School Board – Feb. 1, 2023.
I am here this evening to present my concerns about the 2023 Virginia School Survey of Climate & Working Conditions that is being presented to 6th – 8th-grade students.

I am confident that this Board is aware of this survey and want to express my gratitude for receiving the parent’s letter in December from Interim Director Shamika McDonald and the school Principal providing the survey link and informing us that we will not have access to our child’s survey answers, even as parents, and gave the option to opt-out.

After reviewing the survey questions, I began a thorough online search and found the Superintendent’s Memo #191-22 from the VDOE, dated August 26, 2022.

• It states the VDOE and VA Dept of Criminal Justice Services are in partnership to coordinate the survey, which meets both VDOE’s legislative requirement and VDCJS’s mandate, but through reading the Legislative Item and the Virginia State Code listed on the memo.

• The VDOE’s legislative REQUIREMENT – Item 135-G does NOT require that students be surveyed. In fact, it makes no mention of students, only licensed personnel.

• The Virginia Code 22.1-279.8 B that the VDOE & VDCJS are using to back the “mandate” of this survey . . .is about the Virginia School and Campus Safety. It says . . . The Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, in consultation with the Dept of Education, shall develop a list of items to be reviewed and evaluated, including incidents reported to school authorities and school inspection walk-throughs using a checklist. Each school board requires all schools to annually conduct school safety audits in collaboration with the chief law enforcement officer of the locality. Requiring a floor plan of each school building sufficiently detailed and accurate, etc.

• VA Code 22.1-279.9 C, which is not listed on the Memo, but is next in line in the VA Codes, states: the Superintendent shall establish a school safety audit committee to include representatives of parents, teachers, local law enforcement, emergency services agencies, local community service boards, and judicial and public safety personnel to review the completed safety audits and submit plans as needed to improve our schools’ safety. – Is there a Committee of such here in Warren County? What does it comprise? And is it active?

This survey is said to be a component of the annual school safety audit, and this audit itself is what is required. This survey is also said to be a tool provided by the VDOE & the DCJS to schools to help them meet their audit requirements. They claim it’s valuable information to assess student/teacher perceptions and can be used to improve school discipline and student support practices in order to maintain a safe and orderly school environment conducive to learning. I ask – has this Board looked to see if there are other possibilities out there to use instead of this survey that will help meet the audit requirements for the safety in our schools?

And the reason I ask is that this survey consists of 102 questions. It starts out positive, then takes a HUGE left turn! The following are just a few questions that are being asked of our 6th, 7th, and 8th-grade students (ages 11, 12 & 13) . . .

  • The things I learn at this school reflect multiple cultural backgrounds, ethnicities, and identities?
  • Questions 58-63 ask if students at this school are being bullied about their race or ethnicity, their sexual orientation, their physical appearance, they’re having too little or too much money or their disability.
  • Questions 81-88 – ask the student if they ever feel sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks in a row. Then ask them to rate it on a scale, then goes on to ask whether the adults in the school care about their mental health.
  • Question 90 – asks if they ever seriously considered attempted suicide in the past 12 months. If they answer yes, they get asked “how many times?” and whether they have participated in suicide prevention or mental health training.
  • Questions 98-102 asks the student to clarify themselves. How do you describe your gender? Is your ethnic background Hispanic or Latino? What best describes your race? Do you have any of the following educational plans? IEP, 504 or LEP Plan? How old are you?

This Superintendent memo states that any schools with regular education programs serving students in grades 6-8 are required to administer the student survey, but the laws they use for backing this requirement do NOT state such.

The VDOE strongly encourages schools to achieve a participation rate of 80% for both students and adults, stating that low rates may mask areas of concern and celebration. For that reason, the random sample option of the survey has been eliminated! The window dates for schools to conduct this survey is January 9 – February 24, 2023.

The Interim Director of WCPS gave parents until December 21, 2022 (right at the start of Christmas Break) to opt-out if requested. That reason alone is so the VDOE could receive back a percentile of how many students each school district is going to survey. I strongly encourage parents to make time to review this survey before your child is administered this, and should you disapprove, contact your school’s principal immediately to opt your child out.

Leslie Mathews
Warren County

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Commentary: Let’s keep the Shenandoah clean

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Paddling on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River in the George Washington National Forest. (Virginia.org)

For years, herds of cattle wading and defecating in our rivers caused pollution and rendered the waters disgusting and, in some cases, dangerous for contact by those seeking recreation and drinking water. That’s why in 2020, Virginia passed legislation providing farmers with increased funding to fence herds of cattle out of streams and a deadline of 2025 by which to complete the process. Most farmers took advantage of funding and put in exclusionary fencing, which protects public health, the health of the river, the hospitality industry, and even the cattle themselves from getting mastitis from standing in a contaminated stream.

Now, as reported in these pages, a small group of those who failed to act responsibly to put in fences using those cost-share dollars want to delay the benefits of clean water for the rest of us by extending the deadline to 2030.

This sensible legislation, passed with bipartisan support, was necessary because having cattle in our rivers and perennial streams is a trifecta of bad things. First, cattle hooves destroy the streambank and cause erosion; the resulting mud makes life difficult for critters living on the river bottom. Second, the direct deposit of cattle fecal matter in rivers adds to elevated bacteria levels. Third, the nitrogen and phosphorus from cattle manure contributes to the significant rise in algal mats we have been experiencing throughout the Shenandoah River system – dangerous enough that in 2021, more than 50 miles of the North Fork were closed to human contact because of floating mats of the stuff.

 

Algae in the North Fork of the Shenandoah in August 2021. (Matt Kowalski/Chesapeake Bay Foundation)

Those supporting an extension plead that the COVID-19 pandemic created the need for delay. However, on the Shenandoah River’s Main Stem and North and South Forks, farmers have succeeded in reducing the number of cattle herds with access to the waterways from almost 80 down to single digits; this was accomplished over a period that included the pandemic.

And the pandemic is an easy excuse – but how about evidence that it really is the basis for a needed delay? Why doesn’t the soil and water conservation district make at least a preliminary investigation to determine whether the delay is warranted? If the facts show that there has been progress but supply chain issues impeded, fair enough. But if an investigation shows nothing but inaction, we should not reward laziness with an additional delay.

Any extension is unwise and unwarranted and should not be supported. We already know that the longer cattle stay in the river, the longer the persistent problem of algae growth will go unanswered. What’s the cost of that? In addition to making the Shenandoah, one of the nation’s most attractive waterways, undesirable to be near, there is the economic impact.  River users who support the region’s considerable river outfitter economy will stay home – and who then is paying the price? The river outfitters and fishing guides. An even more dramatic and pervasive impact will result from a downturn in tourism, as those who want a day in the Valley will stay at home rather than facing the sight of disgusting mats of algae in the waters where they had wanted to wade, swim and paddle.

We also should not ignore the real health problem associated with algae in the river. In 2021, when Virginia’s Department of Health closed 50 miles of river on account of it, there were also scores of reports filed with the same authority regarding potentially dangerous algae elsewhere. Small children and pets are particularly susceptible to harm because of their enthusiasm and lack of caution; is this a worthwhile risk?

Further, the money has been allocated to support farmers to create fencing. What possibly can be gained by waiting five years when those same dollars will buy much less as a result of inflation?

To his credit, Gov. Youngkin’s current budget contains far more in agricultural cost-share dollars than any previous Virginia budget, including $81 million for Chesapeake Bay watershed cost-share best management practices, $15 million for soil and water conservation districts to provide technical assistance to farmers and $11 million to bolster operations and maintenance needs.

The Governor is also on record that Virginia will not meet the Chesapeake Bay 2025 cleanup goals, which the cattle exclusion would go some way to achieve. Pushing back the cattle herd deadline by five years will only worsen the problem. The commonwealth has no reason to sit on its hands for five years, especially when a cleaner Shenandoah River is within our sight and we have exercised the will to make it happen.

By Mark Frondorf

Mark Frondorf joined Potomac Riverkeeper Network in 2015 as the official Shenandoah Riverkeeper. Having guided on the Shenandoah and Potomac for almost twenty years, Mark Frondorf comes to the Shenandoah Riverkeeper position used to hard work and recognizing the importance of a hands-on approach to protecting our rivers. 


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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Opinion

Closing the Fitness Center is a poor decision – we deserve better

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Valley Health is taking away another community outreach and wellness program in order to increase the Corporation’s profit. In a letter dated Jan.16th, 2023, Valley Health’s Director of Fitness Services, Jeffery Jehren, abruptly announced that Valley Health would permanently end Front Royal’s popular fitness program, incidentally firing several trained and skilled healthcare professionals in the process.

Where are our elderly, or those of us with Parkinson’s Disease, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, and other like diseases and/or injuries, going to go to work against our declining health issues without the valuable health care benefits provided by our Fitness Center? I am 69 years old. Other local fitness centers cannot provide the same services that we are losing because of this ill-timed callous decision.

We urge you to let Valley Health know that closing the Fitness Center is a poor decision and that we deserve better treatment from our healthcare providers as a community.

Doug & Lyn Bement
Warren County

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Opinion

Commentary: Credit company’s laxness jacked up my info; I got a lousy 5 bucks

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Equifax’s financial mea culpa arrived in my mailbox the other day. I eagerly tore open the envelope the credit reporting firm sent me.

Would the check be a cool $125, as the feds originally touted in helping reach the class-action settlement? Or, given the humongous number of claimants, something much, much less?

The company’s inattention to detail led to a massive data hack in 2017. The intrusion compromised the personal data of 147 million people – nearly half the U.S. population.

I had to file a claim and keep abreast of developments. It took several years for the payouts to start.

In 2019, then-Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said that, despite knowing about a key vulnerability in its software, Equifax didn’t fully patch its system or replace software that monitored its network for suspicious activity.

I was among 4 million Virginians affected. Our names, birthdates, and Social Security numbers were imperiled, though Equifax still says there’s no proof the data “has been sold or used.”

We’ll see.

Would the settlement check let me go on a mini-shopping spree? Or could I barely afford a combo meal?

Drum roll: It was a measly $5.21.

With millions of plaintiffs, class-action lawsuits like this one usually mean individuals receive negligible amounts. Besides, the lawyers representing the class get a major cut.

A $425 million consumer restitution fund was established as part of the Equifax settlement, but the “fine print” said just $31 million was being used for reimbursements. If more than 248,000 people submitted claims – a tiny percentage of 147 million – payments would be lower than $125 to each person. Folks could opt for free credit monitoring instead.

I tried reaching Kenneth Canfield in Atlanta and Norman Siegel in Kansas City, two of the attorneys representing consumers as part of “class counsel.” I wanted to know, in part, how much they received. Neither responded to my messages by Tuesday afternoon.

A legal website noted plaintiffs’ counsel often “receives 25 to 33 percent of the amount of damages as their attorney fees.”

A spokeswoman for Equifax directed me to a company statement on the disbursements and the settlement administrator’s website.

You bet I’m cashing the check.

And cursing Equifax for its cavalier and cheap response to data security.

 

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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