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Into the woods / February 06, 2020
After suggesting here last week that America was in truly sad shape if our best hope for political courage resided in the person of Mitt Romney, a correction is in order: the Utah Republican made history on Wednesday by becoming the first-ever U.S. Senator to vote to convict and remove an impeached president of his own party. Romney’s brave act of political heresy doesn’t change the fact that American democracy is a terrible mess, but it does offer at a least of glimmer of hope that this, too, shall pass.

Romney becomes one of two Republican officeholders in Washington — Congressman Justin Amash of Michigan is the other, although the GOP appellation isn’t quite right in the case of the libertarian-leaning Amash since he quit the party long ago in disgust — to stand up to the abuses of Donald Trump. The rest of Republican officialdom in Washington has utterly rolled over to Trump, showing themselves to be as useful as a warm bucket of spit and as stand-up as a potted plant in a windstorm. I would have put Romney in that category, too — and did, in my most recent column — but then he surprises everyone by conceding that Democrats are correct in wanting to remove Trump as a menace to representational government.

How is Trump a menace, you ask? The answer, of course, is that our president will never stop cheating at whatever he sets his mind to cheat on — whether it’s business, elections or one of his wives — unless someone hits him back and hits back hard. The wisdom of Democratic-led impeachment proceedings has drawn criticism from all quarters, but the principle behind the action is unassailable — presidents are not kings, they are not entitled to break the law, and they shouldn’t be free to fix their own elections by pressuring foreign leaders into falsely smearing a political rival. And please, don’t give me the usual guff about Joe Biden — yes, his son is a grifter; no, there’s no evidence whatsoever that the candidate himself did anything wrong, and besides, Hunter Biden is a piker compared to Don Jr., Eric, Ivanka and Jared, all of whom have their own ongoing scandals to account for. Also don’t act like Donald Trump isn’t the most corrupt commander-in-chief in American history, because he most certainly is.

Whether any of this shapes the outcome of the November election remains to be seen, but it’s worth stating the point loudly and often — Trump is grotesquely unfit to serve as president. With his vote to convict Trump of the impeachment charge of abusing his executive power, Mitt Romney just made that point better than anyone in America this week.

So count that as a job well done.


The richest man in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has spoken many times of his desire to spend his vast wealth on colonizing space, presumably because he believes humankind’s future on Earth is pretty much screwed. I prefer billionaires who devote their money to making our collective home — that is, Planet Earth — a healthier and more hospitable place.

Which brings us to the week’s big local news: the purchase of Falkland Farms by gaming industry titan Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games (based in Cary, N.C., not Silicon Valley). This is a development that everyone can lend an eyeball to: us old folks, many of whom grew up hearing about the legendary Vaughan family estate, one of those things you just inevitably learn about living in a small town; young folks, who know everything there is to know (hey, don’t look at me) about Fortnite, the signature game of Sweeney’s company; hunters, who have their own stories to tell of game roaming the 12-square mile Falkland Farms preserve; and environmentalists and conservationists, who have won the future at Falkland Farms with the help of an ally worth seven billion dollars and rising. (Sweeney’s company makes about a couple billion each quarter, and the Fortnite craze shows no signs of slowing down. For many young people, it’s their Snapchat or Facebook, only with shoot-em-up action to boot).

It’s way too early to say what will happen to Falkland Farms, except we can reliably take Tim Sweeney at his word when he says he wants to protect the property as a woodlands resource for all time. (Sweeney has a long and laudable record of forestland preservation in North Carolina; to my knowledge, this will be his first foray into Virginia.) Tracts like Falkland Farms are few and far between, and simply keeping its trees standing is a plus for the environment and any chance we have of arresting climate change, since trees act as carbon sinks. (Since I imagine there are one or two Trump voters who have hung in with me all this time only to give up at the mention of “climate change,” I hope you enjoy today’s weird-and way-too-warm rainfall, coming in the middle of winter when we’re supposed to see at least a little snow around these parts.)

Anyway, back to the point: while I am thrilled to know that Halifax County has a new property owner who is committed to saving one of our signature properties for posterity’s sake, I would really be ecstatic if it was annnounced that Falkland Farms, in part or as a whole, could be made accessible to the public. The land sits on Buggs Island Lake and the rivers Hyco, Banister and Dan; it really is an extraordinarily beautiful natural resource; and hunters, hikers and nature lovers would greatly benefit from its future (and loving) use. Someone would need to manage and keep up the site, which wouldn’t exactly be cheap, but the public benefits would be considerable.

It states on the Virginia State Parks website that Staunton River State Park encompasses 2,400 acres. Falkland Farms, which abuts the park, is 7,326 acres. The largest state park in Virginia is Pocahontas, at 7,604 acres. The largest state park in the United States is Wrangell-St. Elias, in Alaska, at 8,323,148 acres (if my 5-second Google search can be trusted.) So okay, Halifax County is never going to be home to one of the 15 largest state parks in America ... but can we at least lay claim to being King of State Parks in the Commonwealth?

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