Category Archives: Children and families

Cruz, “Liberty” and Teletubbies

AP CRUZ A USA VA By Peter Galuszka

Where’s the “Liberty” in Liberty University?

The Christian school founded by the controversial televangelist Jerry Falwell required students under threat of a $10 “fine” and other punishments to attend a “convocation” Monday where hard-right U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for president.

Thus, Liberty produced a throng of people, some 10,000 strong, to cheer on Cruz who wants to throttle Obamacare, gay marriage, abolish the Internal Revenue Service and blunt immigration reform.

Some students stood up to the school for forcing them to become political props. Some wore T-Shirts proclaiming their support of libertarian Rand Paul while others protested the university’s coercion. “I just think it’s unfair. I wouldn’t say it’s dishonest, but it’s approaching dishonesty,” Titus Folks, a Liberty student, told reporters.

University officials, including Jerry Falwell, the son of the late founder, claim they have the right as a private institution to require students to attend “convocations” when they say so. But it doesn’t give them the power to take away the political rights of individual students not to be human displays  in a big and perhaps false show.

There’s another odd issue here. While Liberty obviously supports hard right Tea Party types, the traditional Republican Party in the state is struggling financially.

Russ Moulton, a GOP activist who helped Dave Brat unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a primary last summer, has emailed party members begging them to come up with $30,000 to help the cash-strapped state party.

GOP party officials downplay the money problem, but it is abundantly clear that the struggles among Virginia Republicans are as stressed out as ever. Brat won in part because he cast himself as a Tea Party favorite painting Cantor as toady for big money interests. The upset drew national attention.

Liberty University has grown from a collection of mobile homes to a successful school, but it always has had the deal with the shadow of its founder. The Rev. Falwell gained notoriety over the years for putting segregationists on his television show and opposing gay rights, going so far as to claim that “Teletubbies,” a cartoon production for young children, covertly backed homosexual role models.

Years ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story showing that the Rev. Falwell took liberties in promoting the school he founded in 1971. Brochures touting the school pictured a downtown Lynchburg bank building with the bank’s logo airbrushed off. This gave the impression that Liberty was thriving with stately miniature skyscrapers for its campus.

Some observers have noted that Liberty might be an appropriate place for the outspoken Cruz to launch his campaign. The setting tends to blunt the fact that he’s the product of an Ivy League education – something that might not go down too well with Tea Party types – and that he was actually born in Canada, although there is no question about his U.S. citizenship and eligibility to run for question.

Hard-line conservatives have questioned the eligibility of Barack Obama to run for U.S. president although he is likewise qualified.

With Cruz in the ring and Liberty cheering him, it will make for an interesting campaign.

Dominion’s Clever Legerdemain

Dominion's Chesterfield coal-fired plant is Virginia's largest air polluter

Dominion’s Chesterfield coal-fired plant is Virginia’s largest air polluter

By Peter Galuszka

You may have read thousands of words on this blog arguing about the proposed federal Clean Power Plan, its impact on Dominion Virginia Power and a new law passed by the 2015 General Assembly that freezes the utility’s base rates and exempts it from rate reviews for five years.

All of this makes some basic and dangerous assumptions about the future of Dominion’s coal-fired generating plants.

It has somehow gotten into the common mindset that the Environmental Protection Agency will automatically force Dominion to close most of its six coal-fired stations.

Is this really so? And, if it is not, doesn’t that make much of this, including Dominion’s arguments for its five-year holiday from rate reviews by the State Corporation Commission, moot?

In June 2014, the EPA unveiled the Clean Power Plan and asked for comments by this upcoming summer. The idea is to have Virginia cut its carbon emissions by 38 percent by 2025. Coal plants are the largest contributors to carbon emissions by 2025.

A few points:

Dominion announced in 2011 that it would phase out its 638-megawatt coal-fired Chesapeake Energy Center that was built between 1950 and 1958.

In 2011, it also announced plans to phase out coal at its three-unit, 1,141 megawatt Yorktown power plant by shutting one coal-fired unit and converting a second one to natural gas. The units at the station were built in 1957, 1958 and 1974.

Mind you, these announcements came about three years before the EPA asked for comments about its new carbon reduction plan. But somehow, a lack of precision in the debate makes it sound as if the new EPA carbon rules are directly responsible for their closure. But how can that be if Dominion announced the closings in 2011 and the EPA rules were made public in June, 2014? Where’s the link between the events?

When the Chesapeake and Yorktown changes were announced, Dominion Chairman and CEO Thomas F. Farrell II, said: “This is the most cost-effective course to meet expected environmental regulations and maintain reliability for our customers.” Now Dominion is raising the specter of huge bills and unreliable grid.

Dominion has other big coal-fired plants. The largest is the 1,600 megawatt Chesterfield Power Station that provides about 12 per cent of Dominion’s power. Four of its six units—built from 1952 to 1969 — burn coal. Two others built in 1990 and 1992 are combined cycle units that use natural gas and distillate oil.

Dominion has upgraded scrubbers at the units, but the Chesterfield station is the single largest air polluter in the state and one of the largest in the nation.

Another big coal-fired plant is Dominion’s 865-megawatt Clover Power Station. It is more recent, having gone online in 1995 and 1996. It is the second largest carbon emitter in the state.

Then there’s the 600 megawatt Virginia City Hybrid plant that burns both coal and biomass in Wise County. It went into service in 2012.

Dominion had a small coal-fired plant at Bremo Bluffs but has converted it to natural gas.

So, if you add it all up, which coal-fired plants are really in jeopardy of closure by the EPA’s new rules? Chesterfield, Clover or Virginia City?

It’s hard to get a straight answer. In a blog post by Jim Bacon today, he quotes Thomas Wohlfarth, a Dominion senior vice president, as saying “It’s not a foregone conclusion that [the four coal-fired power plants] will be shut down. It’s a very real risk, but not a foregone conclusion.” Another problem is that I count three possible coal-fired plants, and don’t know what the fourth one is.

In a story about the Chesterfield power plant, another spokesman from Dominion told the Chesterfield Observer that Dominion “has no timeline no to close power stations” but it might have to consider some closings if the Clean Power Plan goes ahead as currently drafted.

Environmental groups have said that because of Dominion’s already-announced coal-plant shutdowns and conversion, the state is already 80 percent on its way to meet the proposed Clean Power Plan’s carbon cuts. When I asked a State Corporation Commission spokesman about this last fall, I got no answer.

What seems to be happening is that Dominion is raising the specter of closings without providing specific details of what exactly might be closed and why.

Its previously announced coal-plant shutdowns have suddenly and mysteriously been put back on the table and everyone, including Jim Bacon, the General Assembly and the SCC, seems to be buying into it.

Although there have been significant improvements in cutting pollution, coal-fired plants still are said to be responsible for deaths and illnesses, not to mention climate change. This remains unaddressed. Why is it deemed so essential that coal-fired units built 40, 50 or 60 years ago be kept in operation? It’s like insisting on driving a Studebaker because getting rid of it might cost someone his job that actually vanished years ago.

Also unaddressed is why Virginia can’t get into some kind of carbon tax or market-based caps on carbon pollution that have seen success with cutting acid rain and fluorocarbons.

It’s as if the state’s collective brain is somehow blocking the very idea of exploring a carbon tax and automatically defaults to the idea that if the EPA and the Obama Administration get their way, Virginia ratepayers will be stuck with $6 billion in extra bills and an unreliable electricity grid.

Could it be that this is exactly the mental legerdemain that Dominion very cleverly is foisting on us? Could be. Meanwhile, they continue to get exactly the kind of legislation from the General Assembly they want.

More Sharks Found in N.C. Sound

Bulls sharks: some of the world's most dangerous

Bulls sharks: some of the world’s most dangerous

By Peter Galuszka

The Pamlico Sound in North Carolina has long been a bellwether of environmental changes. Different temperatures and salinity levels can affect everything from marsh grass to shrimp catches to fish kills.

Now scientists are finding that more potentially deadly sharks are in this shallow, broad estuary that separates the mainland from the Outer Banks. The reason: rising water temperatures.

More bull sharks are being found in the Pamlico Sound, according to Charles Bangley, a doctoral candidate at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

He found 36 juvenile bull sharks in the sound since 2012. Another study found 113 bull sharks from 1965 to 2011. “It’s possible the Pamlico Sound represents a new nursing area for bull sharks,” he told The Virginian-Pilot.

Why so? Warmer water means that female bull sharks are swimming into the sound through narrow ocean inlets to take advantage of more plentiful food. They tend to have their young in the sound.

That’s not all. Two great white sharks, potential man eaters, have been seen in the Outer Banks area. One 14-feet-long female was pinged by satellite on the far west side of the Pamlico Sound in January.

Shark fatalities are rare events on the tourist-heavy Outer Banks. The last fatality was in Corolla in 2009. About eight years before that, a man was killed in the surf near Avon.

I’ve seen plenty of sharks diving 20 miles off Cape Hatteras which is a good place to find them since the cold Labrador Current and the warm Gulf Stream meet there, bringing in different species.

And, many years ago, when I was working one college summer as a newspaper reporter in Beaufort County, a gill net fisherman came up with a 10-foot dusky shark in the brackish waters of the Pamlico River where sharks are almost never found. Unusually warm and dry weather that summer meant that less fresh water was flowing into the sound from the Pamlico River and the shark had been swimming into the saltier areas.

The weird thing about bull sharks is that their birthing areas are usually in Florida, scientists believe.

Is this more evidence of (dare I say it) climate change? Could be. A few years ago there was news revealing that breeding populations of alligators had moved farther north. They had been in East Lake, N.C. near Nags Head but now were up near the Virginia border.

I’ll let you know when they reach the Potomac.

Roanoke Gets Serious about Competing for Young Professionals

roanokeby James A. Bacon

Roanokers know they have a challenge stemming the drain of educated young people, just like every other small metropolitan area in the United States. At least they’re asking the right questions: What does it take to recruit and retain young professionals? The Roanoke Regional Chamber is hosting an event later this month, Xperience 2015, to communicate to young professionals that the Roanoke and New River valley regions “can be hip and happening places to live, work and find career mentors,” in the words of Duncan Adams writing in the Roanoke Times. Or put another way: “Roanoke doesn’t suck.”

The starting point for any conversation is to recognize that the economic realities of the Knowledge Economy are stacked against smaller metropolitan regions. Big metros offer young professionals two very important things that small metros don’t: larger mating pools and larger job markets. Educated young people who have options of where to live will tend to gravitate to larger metros that provide a wider choice of mates and careers.

But some do choose to live in places in Roanoke. The trick is to figure out what kind of people they are and what made them decide to settle there.

As the urban heart of Southwest Virginia, Roanoke does have some “cool” stuff, Adams observes: craft breweries, downtown lofts, greenways and quick access to outdoor recreational amenities. So, it’s not as if young professionals are moving to a cultural wasteland. I would add, from my own personal experience as a young professional who lived in Roanoke four years during the early 1980s, the city enjoys exceptional natural beauty and has a small but vibrant downtown, not to mention a lower cost of living than larger metros. I loved the city and was sad to leave for better career opportunities elsewhere.

The challenge isn’t reaching the young professionals who live in Roanoke already. They know what the region offers. If they see career opportunities, many if not most will stay. The challenge is persuading young people from outside the region, not drawn by ties of family and friends, to give it a chance.

I’m still waiting for a community like Roanoke to conduct a market segmentation analysis of young college graduates. If I would have to hazard a guess, I would say 90% of college grads would have no interest whatsoever in moving to a place like Roanoke. But maybe 10% would. What characteristics do they have? Do they have a strong preference for outdoor activities like hiking, spelunking and canoeing? Do they hail from smaller towns? Are they more likely to be religious? Do they tend to be more culturally or politically conservative? Identify those characteristics and then devise targeted marketing campaigns to people with those traits. In the age of social media, that may not be so hard to do.

Western Virginia has a remarkable number of colleges and universities, from Virginia Tech and James Madison to Washington & Lee, VMI, Bridgewater, Hollins, Eastern Mennonite, Roanoke College and Mary Baldwin — just to name institutions within a two-hour drive from Roanoke. I would conjecture that students who choose to attend such institutions are more likely to appreciate the assets that Western Virginia has to offer and would be more likely than graduates of other institutions to consider settling down in the region. Perhaps there is some way for Roanoke to tap into the steady stream of college graduates.

Small metros like Roanoke face an uphill climb. The task is not hopeless. But they have to take the next step of identifying the niche market where they can compete in the talent recruitment marketplace. And then they need to organize their communities around creating and supporting the assets those niche college grads are looking for.

Are We Reducing Food Insecurity or Aggravating It?

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Richmond schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, and US Rep. Bobby Scott work in the lunch line at Woodville Elementary on March 9, 2015. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Richmond schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden, and US Rep. Bobby Scott work in the lunch line at Woodville Elementary on March 9, 2015. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

by James A. Bacon

The federal government has awarded Virginia an $8.8 million grant, to support a program in the City of Richmond and seven localities in Southwest Virginia to fight child hunger. Elaborates the Times-Dispatch:

The children will receive a third meal before leaving school every day, and they will also participate in an off-hours program aimed at making sure they get healthy good when they’re not in school.

In Richmond, where 80% of school children qualify for free or reduced lunch, the program will aid some of the poorest students, stated Superintendent Dana T. Bedden.

Let us grant that child hunger is a real phenomenon and a serious one. No one wants children to go hungry, not even mean, heartless conservatives like myself. But I’ve got a lot of questions, starting with, what the hell is going on?

As I’ve noted before, the United States dispenses billions of dollars of food stamps every month. Every family who needs food stamps gets them. The families of the poor, hungry children targeted by this program get food stamps. Now, I can buy the argument that food stamps are a minimal form of food support and that it’s darn hard to feed a family on food stamps alone. But let’s say you have a mother and three children, who receive benefits based on a family of four who collectively consume 84 meals a week. Now let’s say three of those children are getting free lunches and breakfasts at schools (30 meals a week). Are we saying that the food stamps are such a pittance, and that the free food provided by churches and food pantries are so inadequate, that the mother can’t feed herself and her children for the other 51 meals a week?

This just doesn’t add up. Something is going on that the care giving class does not appreciate or understand.

Are the benefits of food stamps stretched thin, perhaps, because female heads of household are living with boyfriends contribute little to the family pot yet must be fed?

Do poor parents change their behavior based on the rational expectation that, if they don’t feed their children, they know the state or philanthropic organizations will step in?

Is the problem not poverty, per se, but the fact that mothers are strung out on drugs or otherwise so consumed with their own disordered lives that they can’t get it together to prepare meals for their children?

I don’t know the answer. All I know is that the more food we dispense, the worse food insecurity seems to get. And the only solution that anyone can think of is to shovel more money and more free food at the poor. I worry that we are enabling the very behavior that causes child hunger in the first place.

Why Sweet Briar Is Shutting Down

sweet briar girlsBy Peter Galuszka

Sweet Briar College, the all-female college sprawling on more than 3,000 acres of former plantation land north of Lynchburg, will be closing after 114 years.

The news March 4 stunned students and faculty alike. Forbidding trends, however, had been in place long before. Demographics, declining enrollment and funding quagmires are besetting colleges everywhere, especially those that occupy niche sectors of the market.

In this state, St. Paul’s College, an historically black college in Lawrenceville, and Virginia Intermont College in Bristol have closed their doors. Virginia State University in Petersburg faced a shakeup and the resignation of its president last fall after declining enrollment created an unexpected budget shortfall of $19 million.

At Sweet Briar, enrollment dropped from 760 to 700 during this academic year. Tuition and room and board is a hefty $47,000, but the school had been forced to discount that by 60 percent because it was drawing fewer students. On Tuesday, administrators announced the financial situation was unsustainable, despite an $84 million endowment.

Sweet Briar was known for its strong academics and even offered engineering to its all-female student body.

It also had a reputation, admittedly dated, of being something of a finishing school to prepare spouses for members of the state’s and nation’s white upper and upper middle classes. An equestrian center, the school attracted affluent girls who loved riding. One student was Janet Lee Bouvier, the mother of Jacqueline, wife of John F. Kennedy and the nation’s First Lady.

For decades, young men from schools such as Washington & Lee and the University of Virginia made Sweet Briar a popular destination for weekend road trips.

But these images belong in a different era. Today’s trend towards smaller enrollments is a national phenomenon. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that from 2012 to 2013, college enrollment had dropped by 463,000. The two-year drop was 930,000, the largest since the recession of 2007-2008.

Demographics may be one reason – that is fewer people are passing through their college-age years. Other problems are that student lending has gotten out of control and students balk at taking on hundreds of thousands of debt just to get a bachelor’s degree. At less affluent schools, like Virginia State, cutbacks in Pell Grants that help poor students go to school, have been chopped back, although VSU seems to be on the mend.

Meanwhile, critics say, colleges have become top heavy with administrators who get oversized salaries for jobs that are hard to define. As this happens, some universities rely on underpaid adjunct professors for more of the teaching load.

There’s also a trend that four-year college may not be as essential as it had been thought previously. High-skill blue-collar jobs may pay much better than ones available to college grads.

Some all-female colleges appear to be doing just fine, such as Barnard, but others found they could survive only by becoming co-ed. College administrators say they had had explored going coed, but it wouldn’t work out. There’s a “save” effort but the odds are against survival.

In memory of Isabelle Seftas

Isabel SeftasRemember the Tigers.  I graduated from Groveton High School in Fairfax County in 1977.  Through all of those years there are a few memories that stayed with me.   One memory was of a teacher I had for both Biology and AP Biology – Mrs. Isabelle Seftas.  Sadly, Mrs Seftas passed “ad astra” just a few weeks ago at the age of 87.  Happily, she led a long life and significantly impacted thousands of Virginians throughout her decades of teaching.  As we write on this blog of presidents, governors and their ilk I think it is appropriate to occasionally think of those “ordinary” Virginians who have had an extra-ordinary impact on the lives of many residents of the Old Dominion.  Mrs. Isabelle Seftas was one of those people.

And the best biology teacher was …  Ms Seftas was born in 1927 and studied at Spotsylvania High School, Mary Washington College and the University of Virginia.  A Virginian to the core Ms Seftas would start her career as a dietitian and move on to be a biology teacher par excellence.  During her tenure as a biology teacher at Groveton High School Ms. Seftas would lecture with the “fill in the blank” method of teaching.   “ATP is created in the cell by ….”. If she was looking your way you’d better say, “the mitochondria”. It’s been 38 years but I still get very confident when I see “Biology” on the top of a column of Jeopardy! questions (well, answers technically).  She was a dynamo and pretty much every student who she taught remembers not only her teaching technique but the material she taught as well.  Her passing brought forth an outpouring of both grief and fond memories from students; many of whom had not seen her in decades.  She made that much of an impression.

Teenage wasteland.  Ms. Seftas was about 4′ 11″ tall.  At least that’s how it seemed at the time.  However, she cast a moral and intellectual shadow more like that of Shaquille O’Neal.  On one memorable day I was playing a typically stupid game with one of my friends who sat across the table from me in biology class.  He’d put his hand in the gap between his table and mine and I’d try to slam the tables together trapping his hand.  He’d do the same and he’d try to crush my hand.  Pretty bright, eh?  As the biology lecture progressed we lost track of the game.  Unfortunately, I absent minded-ly let my hand slip between the tables and wham!  He got me.  I jumped up and went to hit him.  He jumped up and was ready to throw down.  He was the starting tackle on the football team, I was the starting guard.  Ms. Seftas took one look at this and said, “You two clowns sit down.”  That was that.  I would have fought the tackle and he would have fought me but neither of us would confront Mrs Seftas.

The old, gold Dominion.  Mrs. Seftas loved Virginia and Virginia sports, especially basketball. Even the most ardent jocks and sports addicts among us knew to shut up and listen when Mrs. Seftas started talking sports before class began. It was a sight I’ll never forget – a group of hulking 17 and 18 year old high school athletes standing around a very small woman and listening in stone silence as she ticked off the best college basketball players in the country at any moment in time.  Nobody ever argued with her opinions on sports.

Biology in heaven.  I was very sad to hear of Mrs. Seftas’ passing. She made an indelible impression on me during my time at Groveton High School. However, one thing is for sure – the residents of heaven are about to learn a whole lot about the Krebs Cycle and about the history of the turn around jumper.

 – Donald J. Rippert

Celebrating an Architectural Classic

bacons_castle

  Bacon’s Castle — history lost in the mists of time

by James A. Bacon

Bacon’s Castle, a 17th-century brick plantation house in Surry County, is vaguely known by Virginians for playing some kind of role in Bacon’s Rebellion, the first rebellion in the North American mainland against the English crown. Despite my passing interest in the conflict, I knew little about the building — other than the fact that the man it was named for, Nathaniel Bacon, never set foot in it.

But the story behind Bacon’s Castle is a fascinating one, I learned this morning during a tour of the building hosted by Preservation Virginia in connection with its 350th anniversary. All Virginians learn the story of Jamestown and its cast of characters from Pocahontas to John Rolfe. We revere Virginia’s founding fathers and the plantation aristocracy from which they sprang. We worship our Civil War heroes (well, some of us worship them). But there is a century-long gap between founding of Jamestown and the glories of Williamsburg about which we know almost nothing. Bacon’s Castle is a window into that forgotten era.

Built in 1665 Bacon’s Castle is one of the most architecturally significant buildings in Virginia. It is the oldest standing brick edifice in the English colonies. It also happens to be the only surviving example of Jacobean architecture on the North American mainland. (Barbados has two surviving structures.) The building was laid out in the form of a cross and it boasted spectacular triple-stacked Flemish gable chimneys. But the “castle” is more than bricks and mortar — it’s a place where history was made.

Preservation Virginia told that story as part of a fund-raising effort tied to the 350th anniversary of the building’s construction. Dedicated to preserving Virginia antiquities, the organization purchased Bacon’s Castle in 1974, made critical repairs and opened it to the public. Sad to say, it’s not one of Virginia’s hottest tourist attractions — it doesn’t exactly rank up there with Monticello, Mount Vernon or Williamsburg — and it’s showing signs of wear and tear. Over and above the flaking window paint and separating wood joints, the structure needs a new roof, repointed mortar and rehabilitation work on an 1820s-era smokehouse and a slave cabin. The total of repair bill amounts to $500,000, but Preservation Virginia hopes to raise $350,000 for the 350th anniversary.

Arthur Allen, a wealthy Englishman, arrived in Jamestown in the 1630s and obtained land across the James River in Surry County, where he cultivated tobacco. His enterprise prospered and by 1665 he completed construction of the building. By 1676 the Allen family’s land holdings had increased to 1,000 acres. Surviving documents listed eleven indentured servants and four African slaves in the household around that time.

Jennifer Hurst-Wender with Preservation Virginia talks about a romanticized stained-glass portrait, circa 1900, of Nathaniel Bacon.

Jennifer Hurst-Wender with Preservation Virginia desribes a romanticized stained-glass portrait, circa 1900, of Nathaniel Bacon.

Allen’s son, Arthur Allen II, was known as one of the wealthiest planters in the colony. The house is said to be the seventh largest in Virginia at that time, and it was possibly the first to have a formal English garden.  (There are only archaeological traces of it now.) Allen cultivated the native Norton grape and was wealthy enough to import from Germany glass wine bottles embossed with his initials. He served in the House of Burgesses and was a confidante of Governor William Berkeley. When the rebellion led by Nathaniel Bacon broke out, Allen sided with the Governor.

Bacon, like the elder Allen, was the son of an aristocratic English family, although he apparently left the old country in some ill repute. The father of his bride, Elizabeth Duke, disapproved of the marriage and disinherited them both. Bacon settled in eastern Henrico County, then the Virginia frontier, around 1674. Family connections allowed him entre into the highest levels of colonial society, but he soon came into conflict with Berkeley over Indian policy. The Susquehannock Indian tribe was migrating south to escape the marauding of the Iroquois. At some point the Indians raided one of Bacon’s plantations and killed an overseer. Bacon organized other frontiersmen — mostly small farmers also suffering from Indian raids — and carried the battle to the Indians. That set him in direct conflict with Berkeley, who counseled peace with the Indians.

Nathaniel Bacon -- he was one dapper dresser! Once revered as a revolutionary predecessor to the founding fathers, Bacon now is reviled by progressive historians projecting 21st-century sensibilities into the 17th century, as an anti-Indian racist.

Nathaniel Bacon — he was one dapper dresser! Once revered as a revolutionary predecessor to the founding fathers, Bacon now is reviled by progressive historians, projecting 21st-century sensibilities into the 17th century, as an anti-Indian bigot. Simplistic history forced into a mold. Preservation Virginia tells a more nuanced story.

Bacon then marched on Jamestown, the capital, collecting assorted indentured servants, free blacks, slaves and other disreputable elements, chased Berkeley to a refuge on the Eastern Shore, pillaged plantations and razed Jamestown. Although many historians have portrayed the rebellion in class-warfare terms, the picture was more complicated. While Allen sided with Berkeley, other Surry planters joined Bacon against the Governor, who had raised taxes to defend against the Dutch while neglecting the frontier.

Allen evacuated with Berkeley to the Eastern Shore, and Bacon dispatched some 70 rebels to occupy his home. It was that association that led to the name Bacon’s Castle.

When the rebellion collapsed the Allen family reoccupied the plantation and, like other planters, shifted to a slave workforce. Bacon’s Rebellion marked a turning point in the nature of slavery. Before the rebellion, there was little formal difference in status and rights between slaves and indentured servants. After the rebellion, the industrial revolution began sucking up the landless laborers from the English countryside and fewer signed up as indentured servants. Planters turned to African slaves to work their plantations and codified the law establishing race-based slavery.

Among other notable characters to live in the Allen house was Elizabeth Bray, who married Arthur Allen III. She resided in the house six decades, out-living three husbands as well as her children. She was an accomplished businesswoman, not only running the plantation and updating Bacon’s Castle with a Georgian-style makeover but she lent money to other tobacco planters. She also was a shrewd negotiator. She signed a contract with one of her husbands providing for her estate to be left to her children if she died, but she inherited his estate when he died. Which he did.

Get on down to Bacon’s Castle to hear those stories and many more. And while you’re at it, chip in a few bucks to restore a national historical treasure.

Are Do-Gooders Making Food Insecurity Worse?


by  James A. Bacon

Food deserts are back in the news here in Richmond with the premier of a documentary, “Living in a Food Desert,” at the Richmond International Film Festival. First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe, who has made food security her signature cause, attended the screening and addressed the audience. More than 300,000 Virginia children are food insecure, she said. “There needs to be a forceful call to action.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams picked up on the remarks in a column today. Mrs. McAuliffe, he wrote, “called it ironic that a state whose $70 billion agriculture industry feeds folks around the world is not reaching its neediest citizens.”

Yes, it is ironic indeed. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite an expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) to more people than ever in the program’s history. It is ironic that food insecurity exists despite the existence of school lunch and school breakfast programs for disadvantaged children. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite the efforts of groups like Tricycle Gardens to encourage inner-city Richmond residents to raise their own food. It is ironic that food insecurity persists despite the mobilization of the not-for-profit community through food banks, food pantries and church food drives in an unprecedented giving away of free food and free meals. It is ironic that Richmond’s Feedmore food bank has originated as an institution that provided food for emergency situations into one that fills chronic, ongoing needs. Food insecurity, one Feedmore official told me two years ago for an article I never completed, was becoming “the new normal.”

Everyone quoted by Williams laments the terrible state of affairs. And let me just say, before being condemned as a heartless, evil  conservative, that it is a terrible thing for children to go hungry. But when food insecurity evolves from a sometime thing to a permanent state affairs — and seven years after the Great Recession, it’s getting a little hard to continue blaming the economic downturn — it makes me wonder if we’re doing something wrong.

Here’s my question: How, despite the funneling of unprecedented government and philanthropic dollars to the feeding of the poor, has food insecurity has gotten worse? There are clues in Williams’ column.

A recurrent theme Sunday was that this issue represents an opportunity for folks to take charge of their lives by developing socially conscious economies around food.

It is important for any solution around food deserts to not be paternalistic in the sense that you just come in an drop food off and you’re gone,” Duron Chavis, project director of [Virginia State University’s] Indoor Farm, says in the documentary.

“The key word there is empowerment,” said panelist John Lewis, director of Renew Richmond. “We have the opportunity to empower communities that live in food deserts, especially low-income individuals, to take their food system back.”

Now, couple those comments with this: “As disciples of the Lord, we are commanded to feed the hungry. And we take that commandment seriously,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael A. Sanders of Mount Olive Baptist Church. “We have quickly become one of the largest food pantries in the city of Richmond.”

To what extent does the commandment “to feed the hungry” conflict with the imperative to “empower” the poor? Does society’s impulse to feed the poor result in behaviors that are the opposite of empowering? Why don’t poor people grow their own garden plots? Why don’t they organize community gardens? There are plenty of vacant plots of land in the East End of Richmond, the city’s biggest food desert. There are plenty of groups, like Tricycle Gardens, that are willing to provide the know-how. Why isn’t it happening? Is it possible that the more outsiders take on the obligation to feed Virginia’s poor, from Richmond’s East End to Appalachia, the less they do for themselves?

Are our charitable impulses making worse the very problem we decry? That’s the one question no one seems to be asking.

The McDonnell Saga Is Far From Over

maureen mcdonnell sentencedBy Peter Galuszka

Former Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell has been sentenced to 12 months and a day in federal prison, but the GiftGate saga is far from over.

She will appeal as has her husband, former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, who was sentenced to two years in prison last month. The now estranged couple was convicted of public corruption felonies, making McDonnell the only Virginia governor, past or present, to be convicted of a crime.

The next step is for the former governor’s appeals to be heard at the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in May. The issue is whether so-called “honest services fraud” for which both were convicted, should be interpreted broadly or narrowly.

During their trial, U.S. District Judge James Spencer took the broad approach, instructing the jury that there did not have to be a very strict “quid pro quo” for them to return a guilty verdict. He reiterated his stand on Friday by overruling a slew of motions from the defense relating to the issue.

The appeals could have far-reaching consequences, as I reported with a colleague on Bloomberg News this week. Charles James, a former federal prosecutor who works at the Williams Mullen law firm in Richmond, says the case “could be the next case to further restrict the use” of the honest-services fraud statute.

If the Robert McDonnell’s appeal is successful, then it would have a big impact on his wife, as well as loosen the interpretation nationally of how far “honest services” should go.

If the government is successful, then expect a crackdown on public official hankie-pankie.

At Friday’s sentencing, eight character witnesses described Ms. McDonnell, 60, as an empathetic, self-sacrificing woman who would do anything for her children and husband.

That image stands in marked contrast to the image defense lawyers for her husband painted during the trial. Incredibly, her own lawyers piled on with the idea that Maureen McDonnell was a naïve but abusive woman who hated being First Lady. She was so frustrated with her husband ignoring her for his political career that she got entangled with Jonnie (the serpent) Williams, who ran Star Scientific, a Henrico company that made and marketed vitamin supplements.

Williams gave the financially strapped McDonnells about $177,000 in gifts, loans and trips while the McDonnells set up meetings with state officials to the products of his money-losing firm. Ironically, the main product was Anatabloc, a skin cream, which has since been ordered off the market the Food and Drug Administration.

At the top of this blog, you see a teaser story that the convictions were corrupted by Williams’ dubious integrity. That’s nonsense, of course. Prosecutors use inside testimony, especially in organized crime and drug cases, all the time.

The bigger issue is whether “honest services” means bribery or whether it is a normal part of setting up appointments by public officials to consider projects that might benefit their city, state or country. This will be the key issue in the appeals.

Meanwhile, the soap opera has been weirdly painful, fascinating and entertaining. It’s also been rather crass. The former governor tries to come off like a Boy Scout yet refused a chance to cop a plea in exchange for Maureen not being indicted at all. She was not a public official, but non-public officials have been convicted in the past of honest services fraud.

Both defense teams made Maureen the scapegoat. She was portrayed as a greedy and unstable hustler who brought her husband down.

Before delivering the sentence to Maureen, who gave a tearful, first-time statement asking for mercy, Spencer made bitingly critical remarks of the defense lawyers. “The ‘Let’s throw Momma under the bus’ defense morphed into the ‘Let’s throw Momma off the train defense,’” he said. Ms. McDonnell seemed to be two very different people and Spencer had trouble figuring it out.

Her lawyers had asked for no prison time and 4,000 hours of community service. Federal guidelines could have given her more than six years but prosecutors asked for only 18 months in prison.

Spencer split the difference, mostly because he gave Mr. McDonnell a light sentence. He was more culpable since he was a public official, not to mention a former state prosecutor and the state attorney general.

He cut Maureen some slack, too. By sentencing her that extra day, he gave her the opportunity to get out in only 10 months for good behavior since that’s the rule under federal prison guidelines.