The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Friday, September 29, 2006

Tee-Time in Prince Edward: abrupt change from celebration to financial crisis raises questions.

Is this a case of public resources being diverted for private profit?

Were taxpayers blindsided and ripped-off?

Responsible community leaders silent.

Familiar names emerge.

Regular readers of the Iconoclast may recall that I grew up in Southside Virginia as a kid. So here is a new story from my old stomping grounds, the background on which is provided through news clippings and other relevant documents.

If by any chance you happen to be a taxpayer who sometimes wonders where your tax dollars wind up (probably all of our readers) , this ought to get your attention.

Part I: Official Disclaimer-- My personal love of golf!

Not so long ago, I guess I was at my zenith as an aspiring golf champion... you know... the easy money, the chicks, the travel to exotic places.

I was always into sports and my grandfather absolutely loved golf. So I got the bug early and did pretty well as a teenager. But as I grew older other distractions, including a few sports injuries, girls, getting married and starting a family, tragically sidelined my career as a championship golfer.


Be that as it may, I still love golf and still hold the personal belief that there can not be enough golf courses. Every community should have a golf course. What the heck…every neighborhood should have a golf course. And, on top of that, they should all be free to the public or at least very cheap.

Dream on… it ain’t going to happen! Reason being: practical economics.

Golfing is a great sport... but...

Golfing is an expensive hobby. Golf courses are expensive. Unquestionably, golf is the biggest and most expensive "board game" that was ever invented. Golf courses require hundreds of acres to entertain a relatively small number of users... about 150 acres for a 18 hole course built to the latest recommended standards for high quality courses.

But that is not the least of it.

Have you recently checked into the cost of the cutting edge equipment that is a must if you are to be competitive?

I would not say that golf is a sport only for the rich, but it is for people with a fair amount of discretionary disposable income available for recreation. You have got to really love the game in order to willingly soak up those membership dues and green fees, the cost of a decent set of clubs, the travel and incidental costs that seem to just come with the turf. (Sorry about that pun.)

Fact is: The "sport" of golf is about money, real estate, and ... well.... money... Golf courses are often built as "centerpieces" of much larger real estate developments as a way to attract a certain caliber of clientel and their money.

Sometimes there are questions concerning the environmental impacts of golf courses on their host communities, but that is another story.

For the most part, golf courses are nice facilities to have in a community for those who can afford to use them and so long as such developments are paid for by private investors and users.

Having gotten my official disclaimer out of the way, we can now move on to our new unfolding story… a story that has been brought to the Iconoclast by our readers in Southside Virginia over the past several months.

PART II: No public resources at risk?

For months… no… years… the local newspaper, The Farmville Herald, has trumpeted the progress of the long awaited Poplar Hill Golf Course and all that it's supporters have promised in economic development and far reaching benefits to the community.

The new golf course and associated facilities including a suitably impressive clubhouse, inn /hotel, and conference center was to be developed through the publicly sanctioned Poplar Hill Community Development Authority (CDA).

As originally explained in official public records, the CDA project activities were not going to require any investment of County funds and would not put any tax dollars at risk. Official documents report that large "institutional investors" would bear all the risk for the CDA through their purchase of tax exempt bonds. On the basis of these assumptions, the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors created the Poplar Hill CDA in 1999.

Earlier this summer, June 14th to be exact, the Poplar Hill Community CDA celebrated a long awaited “Grand Opening” of their brand new and highly acclaimed 18 hole golf course. Other anticipated CDA developed facilities, including the planned club house (a temporary club house was built), the inn /hotel and the conference center would have to wait. The golf course "Grand Opening" was attended by local dignitaries and was reported with great fanfare in The Farmville Herald.

This facility was reputed to have the finest of grasses and was designed and built to “championship” standards as recommended by the United States Golfing Association (USGA).

This is the kind of golf course that aspires to host major golfing events drawing the biggest names in the sport and thousands of avid golfing groupies, who spend millions of dollars in lodging, meals, related entertainment, attire, etc. This is a major sports / leisure industry that communities like Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Pinehurst, to name a few, have cashed in on in recent years.

Just as a point of interest... Myrtle Beach claims to have over a hundred golf courses available to visitors. Hilton Head boasts 25 “championship” quality courses, and more for the less discriminating. Pinehurst, North Carolina, long know for its good golfing, has only a paltry 29 golf courses. But they are very nice ones with lots of amenities.

These kinds of world class facilities also tend to spin off some pretty impressive real estate ventures for upscale housing for knowledgeable investors or well connected insiders.

As wonderful as this may seem, Prince Edward County is not currently known as a major golfing destination in the known “world of golf.” It would seem that local Prince Edward County officials aspire to change that perception.

However, while the potential for profits may exist, there are some very real risks for those who put up the money to undertake these multi-million dollar developments.

So years back the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors set out on a mission and put into place the legal creation of the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority... otherwise known as the Poplar Hill CDA.

Under the auspices of the County Board of Supervisors the Poplar Hill CDA was created to develop a golf course and other support facilities, presumably to serve the public interest by stimulating local economic development. According to official records, the financial risks were to be born by "institutional investors" including large mutual funds, banks, insurance companies, etc. and not the taxpayers.

No risk to the taxpayers!

So far so good...

Except for one thing…

As reported in The Farmville Herald on July 12th, less than 30 days after the June 14th “Grand Opening” of this beautiful golf course, the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority was facing … gasp… foreclosure on key assets!


Part III: Opps... A do over please?

Foreclosure… such a nasty word…

The foreclosure notice established July 28th, for the public sale of approximately 120 acres of land owned by the Poplar Hill CDA.

The real estate involved in the foreclosure included the land that was previously planned for development as a inn /hotel and conference center and so called “snaking section” that could have become an additional nine holes of golf.

The local newspaper, The Farmville Herald, has reported that the anticipated foreclosure “…sale would have no direct impact on the golf course or a planned residential area…” The Herald also stated in their headlines that the foreclosure “could impact the inn, conference center site, not new golf course.”

Could impact the inn… conference center… but not the golf course?

Let us be charitable…

Seriously... at the very best... this editorial phraseology is not just questionable... it is down right ominous...a feeble attempt to put an optimistic face on a seriously troubling situation.

Of course the foreclosure on a significant real estate asset of the Poplar Hill CDA, that being the site reserved for the inn / hotel site and conference center would indeed impact the golf course! And not in a good way!

The whole idea for creating the Poplar Hill CDA in the first place was to generally benefit the economy of the area. Now critical elements of the "centerpiece" public facilities are in jeopardy.

Golf courses do not exist in a vacuum. They must be part of an overall community including lodging, restaurants, and a whole host of other services and amenities... the whole hospitality industry...

Golf courses need lots of paying golfers with cash to spend in support of the investments made, operations,routine maintenance, etc.

There may be a problem here!!!

Local observers report basic construction work on the development is still incomplete and relatively few golfers are showing up… at least… maybe not enough to pay the bills for a multi-million dollar development, including what has been publicly reported to be an $8.8 million dollar taxpayer backed U.S. Government loan guarantee.

This taxpayer backed loan guarantee is curious considering that the Poplar Hill CDA was originally portrayed as putting no tax dollars at risk.

This U.S. government loan guarantee, through Rural Development, is reported in The Farmville Herald to be due to the favorable political intervention of Congressman Virgil Goode, overriding concerns of Rural Development officials who were reported to have not been so enthusiatic about the risks and economics of the project. Considering that Rural Development's mission is to support essential public facilities and services, there may have been some other legitimate questions concerning the appropriatness of publicly financing a golf course to support speculative real estate development.

What few jobs there might have been for local workers are now in question for the foreseeable future. Without an inn / hotel and conference center, there will be no conferences, no tournaments, no masses of well healed golfers and tourists.

Obviously, this would not be an appropriate subject for the Iconoclast, or a public concern were it not for the considerable public resources that have been put at risk by public officials on the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors (and in Washington) on the faith that all will eventually work out satisfactorily.

So far things have not worked out so well for the public interests. Maybe the private investors are safe and out of harms way but the public interests are in jeopardy.

Given the recent foreclosure on a critical land asset, it would seem reasonable that the responsible local officials might have some explaining to do.

Part IV: Who has the answers?

Who is responsible?

The answer to the question… “Who is responsible?”… is literally a cavalcade of the “ who’s who” of the most important citizens of the area…

The public record is fairly clear…

When the idea of thePoplar Hill Community Development Authority (CDA)was first initiated, it was led by a number of influential citizens and representatives from prominent local institutions. Public records indicate favorable recommendations for the CDA from representatives from Longwood University, Hampton Sydney College, the local Chamber of Commerce, individual local business persons and investors. Some of these supporters appear to have had real estate or financial interests in common with the Poplar Hill CDA.

Then Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, one gentleman by the name of Hunter Watson, was known to be an “avid golfer” who coincidentally had certain financial /real estate interests that directly related to the creation of the Poplar Hill CDA.

A Declaration and Disclosure Statement was rerecorded in the June 8, 1999 Board minutes stating Chairman Watson's personal financial interests in Poplar Hill Associates, LLC as an investor, and declaring that he would not participate in the discussions or votes concerning the Poplar Hill CDA.

Notwithstanding this official declaration (June 8, 1999), Board minutes of July 13, 1999 record that then Chairman Watson not only recommended appointments to the Poplar Hill CDA board of directors, but also voted for the appointments he recommended. This was a controversial vote with three dissenting votes. These actions did raise questions about the potential of "conflicts of interest", but nothing ever came of it so far as public was concerned.

Sources close to the situation have provided news reports confirming that Mr. Watson resigned, mid-term, effective January 1, 2003, as Supervisor and Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. Chairman Watson’s resignation occurred only after Poplar Hill CDA was created by the Board of Supervisors and only after he had taken part in making key appointments to the Poplar Hill CDA board to oversee the planned developments... developments related to real estate holdings that he had interests in.

One of Chairman Watson’s choices, confirmed by the Board of Supervisors, to the CDA board of directors was Supervisor and Vice Chairman Howard Simpson… the same person who is still Supervisor and Vice Chairman of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors. He was appointed to represent the interests of the citizens of Prince Edward County on the Poplar Hill CDA in 1999 and has remained in that position to this day.

Vice Chairman Simpson is well known as being a "regular fixture" in the Courthouse, frequently in the offices of the County Administrator, but normally a man of few public words. Although he has been the official representative of the Board on the Poplar Hill CDA since 1999, he has rarely reported on the subject since his appointment to the Poplar Hill CDA in 1999.

Observers have asked what Vice Chairman Simpson has been doing all those hours that he has been hanging out out in the County Administrators office in recent years.

In early 2004 (Feburary 10, 2004), the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisor’s minutes report that the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority “is comprised of approximately 1,063 acres of which Hampden Sydney Poplar Hill LLC owns approximately 192 acres,: Poplar Hill Associates, LLC owns approximately 195 acres; and Poplar Hill Development Group, LLC owns approximately 238 acres. The remaining 435 acres are owned by the Poplar Hill Community Development Authority.”

This quote from the official records is confusing as the CDA is a publicly created organization and the LLCs are private for-profit organizations. However, the LLCs seem to be lumped all together as part of the CDA initiative. Related yes. The same thing no.

Remember, former Chairman Watson declared a personal financial interest in the Poplar Hill Associates, LLC.

The one obvious question is how the Poplar Hill CDA can go from celebration to financial crisis in less than 30 days?

It is inconceivable that the Poplar Hill CDA board members could not have been aware of the impending financial crisis on the day of the "Grand Opening". In fact, CDA attorney Harlan Horton has indicated to the local press that the CDA attempted to negotiate a "payout on the note" as far back as last October... almost a year ago. Why was this not publicly reported by responsible County officials earlier?

Also, there are questions concerning how anyone can logically claim that the forclosure of the 120 acre site which was to be the location of critical support facilities (inn / hotel and conference center) would have no impact on the golf course or planned residential area. Such claims defy common sense.

Most recently, on September 12, Prince Edward Board Supervisor Lacy Ward submitted a formal request to the Board to require that Vice Chairman Howard Simpson, the Board's long-time member of the Poplar Hill CDA, give a status report on the situation with the Poplar Hill CDA. This request asked that Vice Chairman Simpson specifically give "an in depth status report on the CDA operations" and " pay particular attention to the forclosure action and it's impact on the overall CDA plan, the overall financial status of the CDA to include loan balances, income for operation of the golf course, etc."

Sources who were present at the Board meeting reported that Vice Chairman Simpson, the Board's long time appointment to the CDA board reacted to the request with total silence!

In fact, the whole issue was met with silence by the entire Board. Chairman William "Buckie" Fore showed little reaction and moved on to the next item on the agenda after no discussion.

Readers of the Iconoclast may remember Chairman "Buckie" Fore, as the Board's Chairman since former Chairman Watson resigned. Local observers have suggested that Fore may have been a "favorite" (read "hand picked" ) by the former Chairman Hunter Watson to succeed him as Chairman. Furthermore, Chairman Fore is known to have a long time employee / employer relationship with the local newspaper, The Farmville Herald. (You may conclude from this fact whatever you wish.)

Contrary to earlier public representations, it is clear that public tax dollars have been put at risk to finance the developments of the Poplar Hill CDA. Other interests related to the golf course but privately owned included the Hampden Sydeny Poplar Hill LLC, Poplar Hill Associates LLC, and Poplar Hill Development Group LLC appear to be deriving advantage from the public initiative and risk through the Poplar Hill CDA.

Other significant investments of public funds have been in the past and may still be under consideration to support the Poplar Hill CDA and the various identified for-profit private entities (the LLCs). This may include grants from the Tobacco Commission and the Virginia Department of Transportation. VDOT is presently considering a major road project directly serving the project (U.S. Route 15). Also,former Chairman of the Poplar Hill CDA, Scott M. Harwood, was identified in a 2005 request to the Virginia Tobacco Commission for a $1.7 million special projects grant for activities specifically supporting the Poplar Hill Inn and Conference Center (the site for which has been recently forclosed on by the bank).

Mr. Harwood has since resigned from the Poplar Hill CDA and now serves on the board of directors for the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

Given the recent public revelation of the bank forclosure on significant real estate holdings of the Poplar Hill CDA and the possibility that OTHER public funds may still be under consideration for investment in the project, it is indeed necessary for responsible public officials to start answering questions.

For starters, why was the public blindsided? Why are public funds being used to support this speculative real estate venture? Are public funds being put at risk so that private for-profit entities may reap the profits? Who are the real beneficiaries of this project?

While non-committal during the September 12th Board meeting Chairman Fore and Vice Chairman Simpson owe it to the public to start providing some long overdue answers to these serious questions.

Presumably, the next shoe will drop in October.

Will the public get the long overdue answers?

This will be one to watch... to be sure!

Finally… as we know… the wheels of Prince Edward County Government... and its off-spring... the Poplar Hill CDA... could not have moved without the bureaucrats who work behind the scenes to make things happen. One such individual pictured (above) recently out on the fairway of the new golf course is none other than Prince Edward County Administrator Mildred B. Hampton… perhaps an avid golfer on vacation… perhaps something else...

You be the judge.

NOTE: Thanks to our contributors. As always, the Iconoclast appreciates the local tips on developing stories. Please send your confidential tips to

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Wizard Speaks

I am not going to waste a lot of time and words in explaining this newest story concerning Senator George Allen as was reported this morning in grueling detail in The Richmond Times Dispatch.

But, it seems that Senator George Allen’s recent problems with “Macaca-Gate” and his “identity crisis” involving his family heritage, may recede into the past as a distant and relatively pleasant memory in comparison to the latest story.

In this latest story, the Senator’s favorite topic… that being football… seems to be coming back to bite him.

Specifically, former football teammate Dr. Ken “Wizard” Shelton, has come forward with two other former teammates (choosing to remain anonymous) to report that they recall the then University of Virginia football quarterback, George Allen as demonstrating “racist” behavior and rhetoric.

In fact Dr. Shelton contends that his nickname “Wizard” was given to him by George Allen in recognition of the Dr. Shelton’s surname being the same as that of Robert Shelton, who happened to be the Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America in the 1960’s. While Senator Allen claims no credit for and asserts no knowledge of that specific source of the “Wizard” nickname, other sources have confirmed that Dr. Shelton’s nickname was indeed “Wizard”.


Interestingly, University of Virginia political analyst Larry Sabato has stated without qualms on national television (Chris Matthew’s “Hardball”), “I’m simply going… to say with what I know is the case and the fact is that he did use the n-word.”

This could be a problem.

For the record, Senator Allen vigorously denies the entire story.

The Iconoclast is not going to weigh in here with any kind of in-depth analysis as this story is just too new and too raw. However, this story deserves more examination to determine what the facts are and what it means to Senator Allen’s political future.

If the story can not be plausibly verified, Senator Allen is owed an apology. If the story turns out to be verified, Senator Allen probably has some more explaining to do.

NOTE: The photograph above is of Robert Shelton, the Imperial Wizard of the United Klans of America and not Dr. Ken Shelton, Senator Allen's former football teammate.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Senate Contest in Virginia heats up in the hereafter!

Allen or Webb: Who does the late President love the most?

Will the final word from the late President Ronald Reagan put issue to a final rest?

The Iconoclast spares no expense or effort to get answers!!!

As the political season continues to heat up, the average non-political citizen is inundated with all kinds of information, claims and counter-claims from the candidates, from their campaign organizations, from the parties they are affiliated with and from various talking heads who put themselves out to the public as knowing what the heck they are talking about.

Added to the confusion, in the contest between incumbent George F. Allen and Jim Webb for the junior United States Senate seat for Virginia we have the unusual situation where political commentary comes to us now from beyond the grave.

This makes things much more confusing for us mere mortal voters.

The controversy began earlier this month when the Webb for Senate camp unveiled their first big TV advertisement (30 seconds long) using video clips showing the late President Ronald W. Reagan introducing in highly complementary terms the then Assistant Secretary of Defense James Webb.

Subsequently, the same James Webb served in the Reagan Administration as the Secretary of Navy until he resigned in 1988 over disagreements with cutbacks in the number of Navy ships.

This advertisement is what might be termed in political circles as a decidedly “positive commercial” containing only information of a positive or favorable nature for the candidate without any critical information about the candidate’s political opponent. These kinds of advertisements are often touted by political observers as a good thing in contrast to the "negative commercials” that contain mostly critical or negative information concerning the political opponent.

So what is the problem?

Well… as the late President Reagan was fond of saying… while people say that positive campaigning is good, everybody knows that negative campaigning is much better. Oh yeah! Much, much better...

So, that being the case,the Allen camp is going negative with a new campaign attack add against Webb.

Allen's people are "crying foul" because the Webb advertisement seems to “imply” that the late President Reagan would support Virginia native and Democratic candidate James Webb as opposed to supporting California native and Republican candidate George Allen for the United States Senate in Virginia.

On top of this, the late President’s widow, Nancy Reagan, has asked Webb to not use the video clip from a 1985 public event showing her late husband complementing then Assistant Defense Secretary Webb (an appointment by the Reagan administration), invoking the reason being as the lack of her express authorization to use the public video records in which her late-husband, the former President appeared.

According to the Allen people, Webb’s actions are outrageous and disrespectful of the late-President’s widow. How brazenly disrespectful can a political candidate be... the gall of using historical records for political advantage?

The Allen people have gone on to explain that the 30 second video clip implies that the late President would support Webb whose only claim to legitimacy was being born in Virginia, being an outstanding graduate of the United States Naval Academy, a decorated combat war veteran, a former high ranking official in the United States defense establishment, and a successful writer.

By extension of the Allen team arguments we voters may fairly conclude that the late President would never do that but rather prefers California born George Allen, whose dad was a national sports icon, and who presently holds the junior Senate seat in Virginia.


Who do we believe? It is so hard to know for sure. Who can possibly know what or who the late President Ronald Reagan would support today considering that he died over two years ago?

Here at the Iconoclast, we do not let mere earthly technicalities stand in our way. We hate unresolved questions and within the limits of our budget, will spare no expense or effort to get to the bottom of this quandary.

So, we decided to go to the original source… that being the Gipper himself… "The Great Communicator" … the late President of the United States, Ronald W. Reagan.

You may be wondering: How can we do this?

Well… easy… if you believe in astrology… which we of course do! In fact, lots of important people believe in astrology.

To finally resolve once and for all this question, we have consulted with Sister Bling-Bling Chickenbone of Charlestown, West Virginia or there abouts. Sister Chickenbone comes to us highly recommended possessing both a certificate of attendance and crystal ball from the prestigious West Virginia Academy of Astrological and Spiritism Sciences and Candle Products Wholesale Warehouse, Inc.

After submitting our query by email to Sister Chickenbone’s web-site, along with the appropriate major credit card information and charge authorization for $19.95, we received the following prompt and professional written response.

“The spirit world sends you greetings and good will. Continue your quest for spiritual enlightenment and wisdom. You will be rewarded richly. Visit our candle and paranormal accessories shop on-line or at 1307 Elm Street, behind Ray’s Rent-to-Own, here in Charlestown. Bad credit, no credit? Not a problem.

President Reagan sends you his best wishes. He is doing well and continues to watch with interest the worldly matters of the living. However, he advises all interested parties that he has not endorsed either candidate for the United States Senate from Virginia preferring to leave that matter up to the good judgment of the voters. He has also indicated that he has not issued authorization to anyone, including Nancy, to guess what he may or may not think of today’s events, reminding all concerned that his job here on earth is done and today’s events are for the living to deal with as best they can.

The late President also offers the sage advice to those who may be confused or in doubt that the history is only what it is and that it can not be changed by mortal spin doctors even if they are employed by Republican Senator George Allen.

For the deluxe, enhanced reading (which comes with a special boxed set of candles suitable for home séances), at only $49.95, additional insights from the hereafter are available.”

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen… the final word from the hereafter from The Great Communicator himself. What more can anyone else say (unless they fork over the additional $49.95 for the deluxe enhanced reading).

If it was only possible to change history! Wouldn’t it be grand? Jim Webb would not have been standing on that stage back on May 22, 1985 with President Ronald W. Reagan, and the President wouldn’t have said those nice words.

History would be entirely different! If only!!!

But President Reagan and Jim Webb were there on May 22, 1985 at the United States Military Academy and those words were spoken.

What a rotten break for Senator Allen. Don't you just hate it when the facts get in the way of a perfectly good political campaign?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

“Ethnic Rally”…?

What does this mean?

Am I invited?

What shall I wear?

Ladies and gentlemen, I will admit it… I am confused, befuddled and perplexed…

Having been raised by a mother who attempted (sometimes in vain) to instill in me and my sisters the importance of good manners and proper etiquette, I perhaps worry too much about how to behave in various social and business venues.

So, you can imagine the quandary that I presently face concerning how to respond to Senator George Allen’s recently announced new campaign event format, that being the so called “Ethnic Rally.”

If Senator Allen should schedule one of these Ethnic Rallies in my community, should I attend?

How does one get invited to attend one of these Ethnic Rallies? Are blood tests required?

Is Caucasian considered to be an ethnicity? I have been told that I have a great tan. Does that help with whole “ethnic” look.

What if the ethnicities get all mixed up? You know… the Latinos, the Asians, the Africans, the Native Americans?

What does everyone talk about? Probably ought to stay away from anything political. I know... we can just smile a lot… A smile says a lot about a person.

What kind of finger food do they serve at these Ethnic Rallies and how does one properly eat it to avoid being seen as a non-ethnic buffoon? Tacos? Egg rolls? Ribs? Sushi?

What about choices of beverages? Tequila? Malt liquor? Saki?

What would one wear to an Ethnic Rally in contrast to normal rallies? Maybe some bright colors would be in order. Yeah… a bright yellow shirt would probably fit right in... one similar to those pictured above perhaps!

As you can see there are so many questions…

But I have a couple of final questions for Senator Allen…

What kind of Senate candidate would come up with the idea of having an Ethnic Rally in the first place?

What kind of Senate candidate would need to hold an Ethnic Rally?

Frankly, the whole idea just doesn't quite sound right.


My two-cents on Macaca Gate

Has Senator George F. Allen "jumped the shark"?

Politics and Eternity

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remember 9/11/2001...

Remember 9/11/2001…

What have we learned?

Are we safer today?

Will be ever be completely safe?

Words of wisdom from 1932 may hold answers for today's challenge!

Since 9/11/2001 the world has changed and will never be quite the same again. For the first time in over a half century, an enemy of the American way of life struck at our homeland.

On this day, the Iconoclast joins millions of Americans and friends around the world in remembering those whose lives were lost or horribly changed on that terrible day five years ago.

Before that fateful date, most of us probably did not give much thought to the idea that any conceivable enemy in the world would be so bold as to directly strike at the American people... regular people... civilians... innocent people...

In recent days and in the days to come, perhaps thousands of scholars and assorted pundits will speak and write millions of words attempting to explain what it all means and what the future holds. No one really knows in detail what the future holds… except that the world has changed.

Pundits and politicians are fond of asking the question: “are we safer today?” Who really knows? Have we ever been completely safe? Will we ever be completely safe? Safe from what?

Respectively the answers are: nobody; no; probably not; and any and all threats...but mostly the threat of some faceless enemy.

Fact is: the world has always been a dangerous place. None of us are going to get off this spinning ball of confusion alive... at least in the flesh.

There is little to be gained by wrapping our houses in duct tape and stocking up our bomb shelters with MREs, cases of extra ammo and bottled water. Living in fear is not the answer.

Reasonable precautions yes; society-wide paranoia no!

So, it seems to me, while we are here on planet earth, and regardless of our nationality, political affiliations, ethnicities or religious beliefs, we should all make it our first priority to enjoy our lives, our friends our neighbors and try to make the world a little better place while we are here.

In fact, we Americans probably enjoy the highest degree of personal safety that any culture anywhere on the face of the earth has ever experienced during any time in history.

Can we do better? Perhaps. But it is not a good thing to go off the deep end with worry and suspicion of people who are different from us and who have different ideas.

Perhaps we should ponder the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the occasion of his First Inaugural Address in 1932 when he said “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Nameless, unreasoning and unjustified terror... Do these words fit today's circumstances.

While the circumstances today are of course far different from 1932 (the Great Depression), the advice may still be good.

Let us as a civilization advance and not retreat into a mental cave of paranoia.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Happy anniversary Iconoclast readers!!!

Taking a moment to reflect…

Where we’ve been…

Where we’re going?

Happy anniversary Iconoclast readers… whoever you are… wherever you are!!!

Yes, it has been one whole year… but not really.

I am fudging the one year anniversary date a little here. The actual one year anniversary date for the blog named "The Commonwealth Iconoclast" was June 29, 2006… a couple of months ago.

I was too busy at the time and forgot to take note of this significant milestone.

In the blogosphere, one year is an eternity. Things happen fast. Much faster than any one individual can keep up with. Lots of blogs don’t even last a month let alone a year. Those of you, who, like me, grew up with the Internet, know that we live in a brave new and scary world… move along with it or get run over.

The Commonwealth Iconoclast blog was started officially on June 29, 2005 with a little post entitled “Legalized bribery” which discussed the unholy influence of big special interests money on American politics… this is still a huge issue and a threat to American democracy as we know it. (We will talk about it again in the future.)

Believe it or not, since that time, the Commonwealth Iconoclast has had featured nearly 200 posts, totaling approximately 200,000 words, on subjects ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. The estimated 200,000 words counts only the original writing by our little team of contributing writers (including Tom, Lowell and myself, plus a few other friendly contributors), but the links to these posts add up to literally many millions of words… some written by, arguably, the greatest minds in history (some maybe not so great).

Since we started, we have discussed world politics, national politics, Virginia politics, local politics and a number of other issues that defy any classification. We have taken on issues with far reaching implications such as social responsibility, energy policy, gun control (gum control also), religion, abuse of political power, political corruption, government incompetence, partisan politics, economic development, shady land deals, voter fraud, pork rinds, constitutional law, coon dogs, personal and pujblic ethics, various sports related issues and a fair amount of trivia.

We have talked about many personalities including Kim Jung Il, Che Guevera, Dick Chenney, Charles Taylor, Jerry Falwell, Tom Delay, Tim Kaine, Joseph Geobbels, Russ Potts, Mark Warner, George Allen, Barney Fife, and an almost endless list of local officials who have “distinguished themselves” usually by some boneheaded behavior.

We have covered a “beat” that includes the entire known universe, the planet earth, various countries around the world, the good old USA, various states, and of course, the Commonwealth of Virginia.

That is the nice thing about the blogosphere: we can talk about whatever we want, whenever we want and nobody can say “you can’t do that” or “you are over budget” or anything else rain on our little “idea parade”.

I think of all the things we write about, the most rewarding are the posts we make closest to home… the ones about the goings on here in Virginia and especially in the little communities all around our wonderful Commonwealth.

Many communities have enthusiastically stepped up to the cyber-podium to speak about what bothers them: Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Richmond, Cumberland, Lynchburg, Buckingham, Chesterfield, Charlotte, Appalachia, Prince William, Buchanan, Prince Edward, Roanoke, Henrico, Lunenburg, , etc.

But to our good friends in Elkton a special thanks. There is perhaps no community in Virginia with more active in the greater community discussion. Thanks for your continuing contributions to the Iconoclast.

The inspiration for this little blog comes from our readers where ever they come from (even some from beyond the USA). That was not the original intent but that is what it has become. It is a discussion among civilized, but diverse people without animosity, without violence, without bullets, without IEDs. Just words… that is all it is… just words.

Your thoughts… your comments… your confidential tips… This is what it is all about... Without these, the Iconoclast would have certainly ceased to exist a long time ago, perhaps after only a few months.

But, since June of 2005, the Iconoclast has had nearly 40 thousand hits according to Considering our limited operating budget, that is a fair number.

However, by blogging standards, 40 thousand hits in a year or so is not a lot of hits. Only a few hundred hits a day. The highest I recall was perhaps 600 hits in one day. We are not ready to go public. And our contributors still go without monetary compensation. Maybe next year… Our budget? That is classified.

But honestly, the Iconoclast probably has only a few hundred regular readers who have marked us as a “favorite”. For whatever reason, they come back to see what is going on here, there and where ever. Some of these folks send us confidential tips (we really appreciate this); some regularly submit thoughtful comments; some just watch.

That last category… the ones who just watch, they are the most interesting. They are the “voyeurs” who seem to carefully observe what is happening but never share with us their thoughts.

Amazingly, there are perhaps a few thousand “voyeurs” who keep checking in but do not choose to comment.

These people intrigue me. What are they thinking? Who are they?

Just anonymous bloggers … I suppose trying to understand the world they live in a little better. That's cool...

The Iconoclast thanks all those anonymous bloggers out there and invites all of them to take the next step… to participate in the great debate that is raging on in the blogosphere… where we peacefully challenge accepted notions and call for higher standards of social behavior. There is no censorship (so far). We don’t try to judge. The blogosphere is just about ideas… your ideas perhaps.

The Iconoclast may occasionally step on a few toes. If you personally have been offended in any way by anything appearing in this blog, it is my humble opinion that you may want to take a good look in the mirror and ask yourself if you did not play an important role in offending yourself. (Think about it.)

Hopefully you were not expecting an apology.

Somebody once said: “knowledge is power.” And this was way before the Internet and way, way before the blogosphere emerged as a phenomenon. Of course who ever said it was right… but what would they think if they could see the world-wide 24 hour news cycle now reduced to instantaneous “real time” discussion of the world we live in.

What would they think if the blogosphere was controlled by nobody and everybody? Scary thought to some perhaps?

Where is the Iconoclast going? Who knows? Who cares? The Iconoclast will continue as long as a few people care enough to keep it going… and not a second longer.

Where will Katie Couric be next year? And… wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the same PR budget that Katie Couric has?

Thanks again to all contributors. You have been great. Keep on blogging!!!

Happy anniversary!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Politics and Eternity

What it takes to succeed in politics.

The saga of Senator George Allen and his ups and downs on the campaign trail.

More downs than ups in recent weeks.

I am not going to beat a dead horse… but I will say one thing about the continuing saga of Senator George Allen and his little “macaca” mishap: In politics a few weeks is an eternity.

The story can be reviewed at the ABC News report entitled "The Macaca Heard Round the World."

The expression "macaca" apparently is some kind of monkey and in some circles used as a racial slur... guess we learn something every day. The "monkey" pictured with this post is not actually a "macaca" but is probably more acurately a fair depiction of the political personalities we are talking about.

Indeed, the past few weeks was a dazzling display of just how frail a political career can be.

Here today… gone tomorrow!

Perhaps it is not as bad as that, but this past few weeks has been nothing short of a disaster for junior Senator from Virginia, George F. Allen, all because of few poorly chosen words at a campaign stop in a little place called Breaks, Virginia.

Of course, no one knows this better now than Senator George Allen.

All summer long, Senator Allen enjoyed an enormous poll and money lead over Democratic opponent Jim Webb. The campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate was seen as a mere formality on the road to the Presidency in 2008.

All that heady speculation of becoming the next “Leader of the Free-World” came to an abrupt end on August 11th when the “macaca” mishap erupted.

How bad has the past few weeks been?

Pretty bad! Pretty damned bad!

There are lots of polls and other subjective measures but we will just show you one.

The July Wall Street Journal / Zogby interactive poll showed Allen soundly leading Webb by 10.6 points.

Pause and think about that lead for a minute...

By August, the same poll showed Webb in the lead by 1.3 points.

This is a 11.9 point shift in the same poll in less than 30 days.

Some polls are obviously loaded. Some are fairly objective and attempt to measure what is going on in the real world… oh… maybe we shouldn’t use that expression.

Say what you will about polls, but this is a very dramatic shift in a recognized poll that is not normally known for being all that frivolous.

Considering Allen’s previous history, his impressive cash war chest, his Presidential aspirations… the past several weeks has been nothing short of a disaster.

Allen’s problems started earlier this year with the article in The New Republic. Perhaps this was just a little bump in the road coming from a arguably “liberal leaning” publication.

If that was all the bad news there was, Allen would undoubtedly blow Webb away in November.

But then there was “macaca-gate” and several weeks of bad press in the mainstream media as well as a blistering beating in the blogosphere.

Now, just a couple of days ago (August 29th), The Nation brings up another little problem in an article entitled “Beyond Macaca: The Photograph That Haunts George Allen.”

This article rehashes the entire “macaca-gate” story and then goes on to resurrect the 1996 story of then Governor Allen’s apparent indiscrete posing with a little known organization known as the “Council of Conservative Citizens” , or the CCC. This organization has been characterized as being the successor organization to the segregationist “White Citizens Council” … a white supremacist group.

This is the same organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a “hate group”.

Let us make one thing perfectly clear, the Iconoclast is not calling Senator George Allen a "racist bigot" .

But there are questions.

On the basis of those questions, the Iconoclast is making the observation that what was considered a sure thing just a few weeks ago is no longer a sure thing. Senator Allen is no longer a sure thing.

We also wonder about the company he likes to keep.

Questions of Senator Allen’s suitability to hold a position of political leadership here in Virginia have emerged. We will go so far as to say that the idea of George Allen becoming the next “Leader of the Free World” has all but evaporated.

In our humble opinion, that is just not going to happen.

For the next two months, Senator Allen needs to be thinking about reestablishing his credibility with Virginia voters… and we mean all of them… even those who wear "yellow shirts" and may not otherwise share his own physiological features.

Senator Allen needs to be working on giving the citizens of Virginia some reason why we shouldn’t be turning to Jim Webb as a viable choice for new junior Senator from Virginia.

In all political campaigns, mistakes are made. We have seen that in recent weeks.

Are these little mistakes a symptom of bigger mistakes ahead? How is our government going to treat American citizens on such important issues as education, privacy, health care, economic opportunity, security and old age. What have we learned from this experience?

Think about it...

Let us hope that the monkey that Senator Allen introduced to Virginia Senate Campaign 2005 is not the just another man looking at himself in the mirror.