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Back in action / September 05, 2018
It sure was a nice Labor Day break while it lasted. Of course, nowadays there’s no such thing as a break from the headlines. Here’s one Monday from The Washington Post: “Colin Kaepernick to star in Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign.” That was followed by this gem in the same newspaper the next morning: “With viewership in decline, Mattel hopes the U.N. can revamp Thomas the Tank Engine with ‘woke’ messages.”

Hoo boy. Heads’ll be ‘sploding on Fox News any moment now. When my son was a little boy, Thomas the Tank Engine was a fixture around the household, along with Sir Topham Hat, the capitalist tool who bossed the rail yard where Thomas & Friends chugged their way through life. “The toy brand and the United Nations have been engaged in an 18-month collaboration that has the diplomatic body helping shape story lines and characters on the cable television series,” reports the Post. Are “woke” liberal messages just the ticket for juicing ratings and shoe sales in this day and age? Coming soon: “Kaep the Swoosh Caboose” guest stars on future episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, brought to you by the U.N.

The world spins fast. Let’s concentrate on our little patch of earth for a spell.


With the media sticking to the conceit that Labor Day marks the kickoff of the fall campaign (if only), now seems like a good time to check in on the 5th District candidates for Congress. On the Democratic side, Leslie Cockburn (pronounced Coe-burn) is out and about, campaigning all over the place: she hosted a Sunday afternoon fish fry in Danville, had an event in Campbell County on Wednesday and will be back here Sunday for a 5 p.m. fish fry at Elmo Grocery.

What about Denver Riggleman, the Republican contender for the seat that incumbent Thomas Garrett, a Buckingham Republican, is giving up? From looking at his Facebook page, one might conclude that Riggleman is up to … not much. He posted news of his participation in a Sept. 5 Rappahannock News candidate forum (Cockburn also was set to be there) and a few snippets from the campaign trail, with the rest of his Facebook page mostly featuring newspaper letters to the editor written by campaign supporters. Riggleman is set to visit the Town of Halifax on Tuesday for the opening of local Republican Party headquarters, but otherwise he has precious little notice of upcoming appearances.

Is this simply lazy staff work — not letting people know what the candidate is doing on the trail? Or is Riggleman preoccupied by other matters? To be fair, Riggleman is running as an emergency fill-in after Garrett dropped out of the race unexpectedly, and it takes time to ramp up a modern congressional campaign. Still.

Beset by ominous polling data and hard choices as far as the eye can see (Politico published an eye-opening piece this week on Congressional Republicans’ need to cut their losses in unwinnable races … not good news for Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District), one wonders if the GOP isn’t taking the 5th District for granted. After all, as Virginia’s most gerrymandered district, the 5th ordinarily could be expected to send a ham sandwich to Congress as long as it had an “R” behind its name. And yet, two of the top election prognosticators (Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball) have the 5th listed as mere “Lean Republican” territory. (A third service, Inside Elections, is more bullish on Riggleman’s candidacy, rating the 5th as “Likely Republican.”) The real eye opener, however, comes from the data-driven prognostication site, Five Thirty Eight, which gives Cockburn a 47 percent chance of winning the seat — significantly better than most pundits peg the race.

In fact, the Five Thirty Eight gang (the site’s editor is Nate Silver, of former New York Times fame) gives Cockburn a better chance of prevailing than Democratic candidates in the 2nd and 7th Congressional districts, currently represented by Scott Taylor (Virginia Beach) and Dave Brat (Glen Allen) respectively. All and all, I’m probably with the traditionalists in thinking Virginia Democrats have a better shot of flipping Congressional seats in other parts of Virginia, but Cockburn is making a strong run, without a doubt — and she certainly could win. It helps that Cockburn is actually talking about issues that matter to residents of the 5th — health care, persistent lack of economic and educational opportunity in all too many parts of the district, environmental protection and more — whereas Riggleman has barely sketched out his views on anything at all. In what threatens to be bad year for Republicans, running a sleepy campaign probably isn’t a recipe for success. And with the mid-term elections only about 60 days away, no one can use the excuse anymore that it’s still early.


The newspaper industry is celebrating a ruling last week by the U.S. International Trade Commission that overturned Trump Administration tariffs on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper — more commonly known as newsprint, the paper stock you’re holding in your hands. Here at our papers, the News & Record and The Sun, we’ve been hit with multiple paper price increases this year, and more pain was in the forecast for the second half of 2018. That, thankfully, no longer seems likely to happen. Other newspapers have been hurt a lot more than we have, but the tariffs were an unwelcome expense that publishers everywhere are all too happy to be rid of.

So what happens to the revenue that the federal government collected while the tariffs were in effect? “The ITC’s decision on Wednesday means that U.S. officials will stop collecting the penalties on imports and will begin refunding what importers have already paid, though that process could take several months,” reports Politico. Hmm. Reading this sentence, it certainly sounds like Canadian paper mills will get their money back after being penalized by this wrongheaded Trump policy. What about their customers, the newspapers themselves? No one in our business should hold their breath on this score.

There seems to be some confusion about what tariffs actually do, so let’s use the newspaper industry’s troubles for illustration purposes: tariffs are a tax on consumers, driving up prices on imported goods for the ostensible purpose of helping high-cost domestic producers compete on the international stage. But whether or not tariffs achieve their intended effect, they are an enormous sop for price setting firms — that is, big corporations, as opposed to small producers (i.e., the lone soybean farmer selling his crop to Cargill.) Tariffs are an excuse for major players in the marketplace to raise prices, often with no justification at all, and if the little people get squeezed, hey, that’s their problem. The fact that Canadian paper importers might walk away from the newsprint tariff misadventure with rebate cash spilling from their pockets is just another bonus — all courtesy of extremely ridiculous Commerce Department policy. Geez, how many times do we have to hear this story before the moral sinks in?

By the way, the Trump Administration has announced it is looking to impose tariffs on imported uranium from Australia, Canada and other producer nations, which would be an enormous boon for the U.S. uranium mining industry. With the Supreme Court poised to hear arguments this fall in Virginia Uranium’s lawsuit to overturn the state’s mining ban, it’s not hard to envision a one-two scenario that would crack open the Coles Hill ore deposit in Pittsylvania County. First, a right-wing majority on the court would have to affirm Virginia Uranium’s corporate right not to be constrained by pesky state regulations. Second, the Trump Administration, through administrative fiat, could turn the economically unfeasible business of mining uranium in the U.S. into a highly profitable one by raising prices on foreign competition. This is all a giant needle to thread and maybe for that reason it’ll never happen. That doesn’t mean people in high places won’t try.


Legendary investigative reporter Bob Woodward has a new book coming out, “Fear,” about the Trump presidency, and his old newspaper, The Washington Post (that outfit again) published a story on Tuesday on Woodward’s behind-the-scenes account that echoes some of what we’ve heard in other tell-all books about our president. Among the highlights: Trump is an “idiot” and “unhinged” (quotes that Woodward attributes to Chief of Staff John Kelly), with the understanding of a “fifth- or sixth-grader” (Defense Secretary James Mattis) and a “god—n dumbbell” (Trump’s personal attorney John Dowd.) It’s a festival of Trumpian insults, nothing new there, but Woodward also allows Trump to get in his own shots, telling Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross “you’re past your prime,” denigrating former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster for wearing cheap suits, “like a beer salesman” and calling former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus “a little rat.” My my, such a convivial workplace. (To that end, Woodward also quotes Priebus describing Team Trump as “natural predators”: ‘“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody,” Priebus says.” A rabbit?)

Trump saves his choicest bile for his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who is not only a “traitor” for the decision to recuse himself from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but also everyone’s worst stereotype of a knuckle-dragging Dixie dunderhead (“This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama,” Trump is quoted as saying in the book.) This comment tracks with something else I read recently, in Politico, wherein Trump has been heard to complain to aides that Sessions lacks an Ivy League pedigree, has a stupid accent and is an ineffective defender of the Trump White House because he “talks like he has marbles in his mouth.”

As a lifelong proud son of the South, I have only one thing to say about this Manhattan-style parade of calumny against the dignity and intonation of our forefathers:

“Ah told y’all so.”

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