The headlines for two seemingly unrelated news stories danced above the folds of America’s daily newspapers during 2013. One evoked the familiar haunts of a 50-year-old murder. The other revealed some details about overreaching surveillance having been conducted by the government. Our government.
Both stories brought to mind the countless troubles trying to keep too many secrets under wraps can set in motion.
Nov. 22, 2013 the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President
John F. Kennedy was observed. For the school children of 1963 that
sucker punch was stunning in a way nothing has been since.
President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy,
better known as the Warren Commission, published its report on Sept. 24,
1964: Lee Harvey Oswald was found to have been a lone wolf assassin.
Since he was put down by a self-styled executioner two days after
Kennedy fell, the commission’s investigators never heard Oswald's
Much of how those investigators operated and
too much of what they found was kept in the dark. Unfortunately, the
cloaked-in-secrecy aftermath of the JFK assassination created a void
that attracted speculation. Some aspects of the Warren Commission’s
findings were puzzling. For instance, its famous “single bullet theory”
had one projectile traveling circuitously, almost magically, through two
In 1965 gunmen murdered Malcolm X in an
auditorium in Manhattan. A sniper killed Martin Luther King as he stood
on a motel balcony in Memphis in 1968. Two months after that Robert F.
Kennedy was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel. Unfortunately, the
official stories on those three shootings were widely disbelieved, too.
Everything baby boomers have seen since this tumult has been tinted by
the cynicism it spawned.
More scrutiny of how those
assassination inquiries were conducted might have led to different
conclusions. Moreover, even if casting more sunlight on those probes had
yielded no significant changes in the bottom lines, millions of
citizens would surely have felt more comfortable about the good faith of
It took revelations that spoke of bad
faith to steer us away from blithely tolerating so much secrecy. Among
them were: the My Lai Massacre horrors; the publishing of the Pentagon
Papers; the Watergate Scandal hearings; the Iran-Contra Scandal
hearings; the bogus justification for invading Iraq.
the years such revelations changed America. Perhaps led by the baby
boomers we have become a people who expect their government to lie. We
also expect to be subjected to a steady stream of lies every day from
advertising for mammoth corporations -- companies that, like our
government, routinely spy on us.
It’s no wonder that
today there are those who see fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden as a
hero. He revealed to many of them that the Patriot Act of the Bush
administration's era wasn't so much about promoting patriotism. It was
about spying. Some people who read the news regularly already knew
Nonetheless, Snowden’s stunt put him on the
celebrity map. By simultaneously leaking classified information about
how far-flung our government’s surveillance has been and going on the
lam, Snowden instantly became the darling of at least two large groups:
1. Government haters, in general. 2. Folks who like pouring pop culture
into their tall glasses of politics, like a soft drink mixer.
a third group, Snowden’s weak imitation of some previous brave
whistleblowers has been at least as annoying as it has been edifying.
Still, Snowden does deserve plenty of credit for launching new
discussions of how much spying, by any entity, we the people should
Which, right away, leads straight to one
galling conclusion: to some extent, spying is here to stay. If you use
credit cards, cell phones and the Internet you're going to be tracked.
Plus, the practice of security cameras and phone cameras recording
images of everything is only going to increase.
rather than bellyaching about officials watching us, what we should be
doing is demanding to watch the watchers. We should be calling for
sunlight into the operation of governments at all levels. We should
insist on knowing the sources of all the money flowing into elections
and lawmaking. We should be able to see through corporate veils that
hide malfeasance, too.
We can also try to outlaw some
kinds of information gathering. Maybe that will work, but it’s more
important to accept that privacy, in its old fashioned sense, is a horse
that left the barn years ago. Wise up, rather than dwelling on
protecting an individual's privacy -- secrets, again -- society's more
important need is for openness where it counts most.
is more important than privacy. Sunlight should be a big political
issue of this election year, maybe the biggest. But it probably won't
be, because the people financing political campaigns don't want it to
Single Bullet Theory?
Great name for a band.
-- 30 --
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Five years ago I saw building a baseball in Shockoe Bottom as another build-it-and-they-will-come folly in the making. When the Highwoods plan was withdrawn from consideration that summer I was delighted. Thus, my opposition to building a baseball in the Bottom is nothing new. So much for disclosure.
Five months ago, when Mayor Dwight Jones' announcement revived the twice-killed idea of dropping a baseball stadium into that same neighborhood, it was disappointing. Although Jones once favored keeping professional baseball on the Boulevard, I won't try to explain his squirrelly change of mind.
However, my own thinking about the issue has evolved in the opposite direction. Since the critical and box office success of the Oscar-winning film, “12 Years a Slave” (2013), Richmond's slave jail history leading up to the Civil War has become more interesting to a lot of people, here and elsewhere. No doubt, there are folks at City Hall who wish that movie’s release could have been delayed a year or two.
Having grown up in Richmond, I’d like to better understand the slave market business that once thrived in this city. Accordingly, I’d also like to learn more about how that aspect of local history was rather effectively covered up for so long. Regarding the institution of slavery, it's time to shine a new light on how our history books were cooked, back in the day. A fresh look needs to be taken at how the truth was systematically processed into palatable lies -- denial.
For instance, in 1961 my seventh-grade history book, which was used in all of Virginia's public schools, had this to say at the end of Chapter 29:
Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those whom they worked. They were not so unhappy as some Northerners thought they were, nor were they so happy as some Southerners claimed. The Negroes had their problems and their troubles. But they were not worried by the furious arguments going on between Northerners and Southerners over what should be done with them. In fact, they paid little attention to those arguments.In 2014, to think building a baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom will really facilitate the scholarly investigation of that neighborhood’s history and archeology is just more denial.
Please do put me on the growing list of those who believe a world-class slavery museum in Shockoe Bottom, sans ballpark, will draw tourists from all over the world. Still, I don’t quarrel with those who oppose baseball in the Bottom for other reasons. Richmond residents who oppose building a new stadium anywhere, saying that with schoolhouse roofs caving in taxpayers ought not to spend another nickel on spectator sports, have a good point. Those who assert that a lot of Flying Squirrels fans aren't likely to go to the Bottom for games probably know more about local baseball fans than the mayor does.
So now I've become a member of an ad hoc group which advocates letting the voters weigh in. Although the Citizens Referendum Group has to collect a whopping 9,800 signatures on its referendum petitions, advocates for building Shockoe Stadium who stand opposed to our petition drive have a tough job on their hands, too. They have to convince voters that too much democracy can be a bad thing.
My personal reason for having taken up this cause stems, in part, from being asked to write a story about a benefit show in December for STYLE Weekly. Click here to read my review of the “Billy Ray Hatley Tribute Concert at the National.” After spending the afternoon backstage, watching the musicians and stage hands put the complicated show together, and then being there for the show to feel the vibe from the connection between those on stage and in the audience, I was knocked out.
The common desire to celebrate Hatley’s contributions as a musician/songwriter and to help out his family was uplifting. Filled with admiration for the effort it took to put that show together, I decided to act on something that I had been fretting about for months.
As a co-founder of the Facebook group Referendum? Bring It On!, my pump had been primed by the discussions that followed the failed referendum attempt last summer by Charles Samuels, the Second District's representative on City Council. When I saw the slick Loving/RVA public relations campaign come out, I realized that without a hard pushback from propaganda-savvy people, the developers would win this time around.
After so many years of watching the parade go by and making my wisecracks as a commentator, I decided to cross the line and become an activist. For a worthy cause, I decided to take on the rather frustrating job of helping to assemble a group of people to put a referendum on the ballot.
A meeting was held later in December at Gallery 5. The concept continued to take form with posts by several people on the Facebook page. In February Reva Trammell called for a referendum at a Council meeting. Then Don Harrison asked me to appear on WRIR’s Open Source show to talk about a referendum. Paul Goldman called with an offer to write the language for a referendum and the suggestion of a meeting to discuss the project. Subsequently, there was a series of meetings at the Main Library during March.
At the third meeting Goldman handed out court-approved petition forms with two propositions on them. Members of the group left the confab determined to get the job done. As April began the CRG’s website went live. After a decade of hearing from boosters and experts and politicians, we are working to let the people speak. Join us, if you like.
Now, I'll close with two questions: Who’s against democracy and why?