A Revolutionary Experience

The fireworks arching high above Market Square in Virginia’s restored colonial capital of Williamsburg were spectacular. The thundering martial music of the fife and drum corps brought goose bumps. 20,000 or more spectators — tourists and townspeople alike — were orderly but festive.

Cars are not allowed on the streets, so pedestrians, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages enjoy a quiet dominion. Through the air wafts the faint odor of burning hardwood from wrought-iron stands, along with the age-old smell of manure.

I came back to Williamsburg after retiring from the federal government to stay with my eighty-four year-old mother for a while — she’s a former tour escort for the Restoration. I’d attended high school here, then earned a degree through the humanities honors program at the College of William and Mary. My favorite book was Plato’s Republic, once viewed as a manual for enlightened government in the Western world.

The other night I stood outside the low brick wall that surrounds the reconstructed colonial capitol building talking with one of the tour guides about the events of 231 years ago. He told how in the original building the Fifth Virginia Convention had voted 112-0 on May 15, 1776, to instruct the Virginia delegation at the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to enter a motion for independence. Thus Williamsburg always had a good argument for being the “real” birthplace of the United States of America.

After the state capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, the town declined. But important people still lived here. In April 1841, John Tyler was awakened by a horseman who had ridden up to his house on Nicholson Street to tell him he was president of the United States. Tyler had been the running mate of William Henry Harrison, who took sick on his inauguration day and died a few weeks later of pneumonia.

By the time of the Civil War, Williamsburg was little more than a shadow. The College of William and Mary shut down during the war when the professors and students joined the Confederate army. Later, when the school closed for lack of funds, former college president Benjamin S. Ewell rang the bell of the Wren Building once a year on the day classes would have started. Eventually William and Mary re-opened as a state teachers’ institution.

The low point came in 1900. The election board in Richmond noticed that Williamsburg had not sent any returns. They phoned the courthouse. Oh, there was an election? We forgot. The town fathers were suitably embarrassed. The newspapers began to call the town “Lotus-land.”

The story of how Williamsburg was rediscovered and restored by the joint efforts of the local Episcopal minister, Reverend W.A.R. Goodwin, and American industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., is well-known.

Colonial Williamsburg has been around now for eighty years. It has struggled to keep up its visitation in the face of competition from Busch Gardens and Water Country, but still holds its own. Events like the Fourth of July celebration show that Williamsburg really is a critical piece of American lore.

But Williamsburg is still part of a larger world.

The big news here is that a recent study concluded that 50,000 more workers will be needed to work in the area’s tourist industry over the next decade. The trouble is that housing is so expensive there’s nowhere for them to live.

What will this well-off community with its hordes of comfortable retirees do? Pay them more than the minimum wage? Not likely, especially since Virginia is a “right-to-work” state with minimal union representation. Public or subsidized housing? Some, but nowhere near enough for such a large influx. Rent control? No way.

A related piece of news is that Ford’s Colony, a gated community west of downtown, will be using a parcel of land earlier earmarked for a school for new high density “workforce housing” for teachers, firemen, and the like. The starting price for a home? Only $215,000.

So the housing bubble and its aftermath have hit Williamsburg hard. My mother just got her 2008 tax assessment on the modest home she and my father built in 1963. Nationwide, housing prices have been going down during the last year, but not here. The city sent her a thirteen percent one-year increase on her assessment and property tax.

I sent the city manager’s office an e-mail asking what the city will be doing with the additional thirteen percent and what expenses they suggested my mother should cut back on. They sent a polite response that gave the obligatory bow to “market” forces — a euphemism for nationwide housing inflation — but did not answer my questions.

To be fair, Williamsburg’s tax rate is much lower than the surrounding cities, but the trend mirrors many other U.S. localities where the elderly and local natives are taxed out of their homes.

Meanwhile, President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney took time out from prosecuting their Iraq War to visit the Williamsburg area in connection with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of our “coalition” partner in the Middle East, also paid a call.

Last November, the American voters elected a Democratic majority to Congress to stop the war. Now the new Congress has continued funding, including the largest U.S. embassy in the world which is being built in Baghdad. The U.S. military has built permanent bases in Iraq, where they have said they plan to stay as long as we’ve been in Korea — i.e., forever.

In its funding legislation, Congress also stipulated that to retain our “assistance,” the Iraqi government must pass a “hydrocarbon” law. This would provide U.S. and British oil companies with privileged contracts to tap the country’s gigantic oil reserves.

Bush’s rating in popularity polls now hovers around thirty percent. That of the new Democratic Congress is deservedly lower — twenty-five percent. Three-quarters of our population believe that America is going in the wrong direction.

Some of it is the war, but much is economics. Debt among Americans is at an all-time high, and jobs continue to be outsourced to China and other low-wage nations. Middle-class income is in decline. The lack of health insurance is a national scandal. Commentators warn of a possible recession or worse.

Also on the Fourth of July, the Washington Post reported that the individual managers of unregulated hedge funds which borrow huge sums from the banks to bet on the rise and fall of the economy are earning $1 billion a year. None of the leading candidates for either party for the 2008 presidential nominations seem to have good answers to any of these issues. But they are accepting huge sums of campaign contributions from the Wall Street high rollers. Mitt Romney must be setting some kind of record with twenty-six fund raisers on his staff.

Back in Williamsburg the long hot summer has begun. Tomorrow is another day of tourists, actors on the streets pretending to be eighteenth century personalities, the slow creak of carriages, and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.

But maybe the spirit and energy of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Washington still hover.

Jefferson once said that, “Every generation needs a new revolution.” Being in Williamsburg against the background of the ominous events elsewhere in the world makes me think that is not a bad idea. President Ronald Reagan had his revolution in the 1980s when he deregulated the financial industry and set forth the Reagan Doctrine of permanent military engagement in
third-world countries.

Today a new American revolution is overdue — one on behalf of the ordinary people who are fighting and dying for the oil companies in Iraq while so many of their brothers, sisters, and parents are seeing their way of life disintegrate at home.

Richard C. Cook is the author of We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform, scheduled to appear by September 2007. A retired federal analyst, his career included service with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, and NASA, followed by twenty-one years with the U.S. Treasury Department. He is also author of Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan AdministrationCaused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age. Read other articles by Richard, or visit Richard's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Charlie Peters said on July 17th, 2007 at 10:30pm #

    Does fuel ethanol policy increase oil profit and oil use?

    Some folks think so

    Clean Air Performance Professionals

  2. gary schofield said on July 18th, 2007 at 7:47pm #

    the evolution begins now! good article. williamsburg sounds like a quiet and rational place. like a growing pocket of communities inhabited by people who don’t have to work. is anybody [outside of the influx of illegal aliens] working in america. what to do with all of the pent-up expertise and initiative. hey, maybe a revolution is not such a bad idea. we just need to give some form and structure, a position statement, the vision thing, and then the intent: what do we intend to do, and why? send not to know for whom the bells toll, it tolls for thee…

  3. Charlie Peters said on July 23rd, 2007 at 2:13pm #

    How about improving the system we have?

    Ask for a fuel ethanol waiver allowed in the 2005 energy bill

    Fuel ethanol uses lots of water

    Audit “Smog Check” to fix the fault in more of the failed cars

    Chief Sherry Mehl, DCA/BAR, has never found out if what is broken on a Smog Check failed car gets fixed, never

    Improving Smog Check and fuel policy can cut car impact in half in 1 year and save money

    About $20 billion in savings in first year

    I’m confused about promoting products from offshore rather than improving our system

    Clean Air Performance Professionals

  4. Charlie Peters said on August 8th, 2007 at 8:49pm #

    The Farce About Ethanol…

    By State Senator Tom McClintock, Free Republic, 06/28/2007

    In response to my blog, “Ethanol Economics,” Former Secretary of State Bill Jones (now Chairman of Pacific Ethanol), made five key points in his piece, “The Facts About Ethanol.” Just for fun, let’s run “The Facts About Ethanol” through the old fact-checker:

    “Today, ethanol is about 65 cents per gallon cheaper than gasoline in the California market.” That’s only after taxpayers and consumers have kicked in a subsidy of $1.50 per gallon – or $7 billion a year paid into the pockets of ethanol producers to hide the staggering price of ethanol production. And even with the subsidy, the California Energy Commission estimates that the new CARB edict will INCREASE the price per gallon by between 4.2 and 6.5 cents – on top of the tax subsidies. Ouch.

    “Allowing a 10 percent blend of ethanol into gasoline provides a 4 percent supply increase to the marketplace at a price far below current gasoline prices.” Not only is the price far ABOVE current gasoline prices (see above) but Bill ignores the fact that ethanol produces less energy than gasoline – meaning you’ll have to buy more gallons for the same mileage.

    “CARB’s recent vote reduces our reliance on oil from overseas…” Let’s walk through the numbers again. One acre of corn produces 350 gallons of ethanol; the CARB edict will require 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol, in turn requiring 4.3 million acres of corn for ethanol production. Yet California only has 11 million acres devoted to growing crops of any kind. And that, in turn, means an increasing reliance on foreign agricultural produce, shifting our energy dependence from King Abdullah to Hu Jintao.

    “Further, it sends a signal to companies like ours to continue to invest in California production to help make this state energy independent.” Yes, you can sell a lot more ethanol with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone. You got me there. But it also sends a signal to the market to raise prices on every product that relies upon corn for both food and grain feed – meaning skyrocketing prices for everything from corn meal to milk. Remember the tortilla riots in Mexico in January?

    “Pacific Ethanol uses state-of-the-art production practices that reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40 percent compared to conventional gasoline.” Unless Pacific Ethanol has re-written the laws of chemistry, ethanol is produced by converting glucose into two parts ethanol and two parts carbon dioxide. The chemical equation is C6H12O6 = 2C2H5OH + 2CO2. (Memo to Bill: If you’re not using this formula, you’re not producing ethanol. And if you are, you’re also producing lots of carbon dioxide. Better check.)


    * NO on “car tax” AB118 (Nunez)

    * Clean Air Performance Professionals (CAPP) supports a Smog Check inspection & repair audit, gasoline oxygen cap and elimination of dual fuel CAFÉ credit to cut car impact over 50% in 1 year.

    * Some folks believe corn ethanol in gasoline increases oil use and oil profit

    * Ethanol uses lots of water

    * A Smog Check audit would cut toxic car impact in ½ in 1 year. Chief Sherry Mehl, DCA/BAR, has never found out if what is broken on a Smog Check failed car gets fixed, never

    * A corn ethanol waiver would stop a $1 billion California oil refinery welfare program coming from the federal government @ $0.51 per gallon of ethanol used

    * About 60,000 barrels per day of the oil used by cars is allowed by the “renewable fuel” CAFE credit

  5. Charlie Peters said on August 15th, 2007 at 11:45pm #

    A Background Research Paper on Corn Ethanol


  6. David Kendall said on August 30th, 2007 at 1:35am #

    Good God. How did a Richard C. Cook essay on “The History of American Stupidity” turn into a Charlie Peters rant about “The Pros and Cons of Ethanol Fuel”? I don’t see the term “ethanol” mentioned even once in Mr. Cook’s essay, Chuck. So what’s your point?

    Are you suggesting that ethanol fuel is yet another way to impose artificial scarcity in a world of unlimited abundance? Do you really think the Barbie generation is silly enough to starve themselves for the prestige of an SUV? You really should have more respect for the little girls who wear the pants in this nation, Chuck.

    After all, they are driving the economic bus. You and I are just along for the ride — voluntarily chained to our seats by the irrational shackles of tradition and the unyielding chains of monopoly capitalism, terrorized and mocked by a bus-load of arrogant children, who don’t know any better than to point and laugh — as we all go merrily rolling over the cliff, into the rocky abyss below…

    “Hi honey! I’m home!”

  7. Charlie Peters said on October 7th, 2007 at 7:49am #

    Auto Club of Southern California

    Oct 05, 2007 12:01 ET

    Auto Club Asks Governor to Veto New $1 Billion Car Tax Bill

    LOS ANGELES, CA–(Marketwire – October 5, 2007) – The Automobile Club of Southern California is urging Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to veto Assembly Bill 118. According to the Auto Club, this legislation would violate the state constitution by unfairly and unlawfully raising taxes on motorists to fund programs unrelated to automobile use, ownership or operation.

    AB118, approved by the Legislature in September, would raise vehicle registration fees by $3 and increase smog abatement fees 66% by raising the fee on newer, cleaner cars to $20 annually. AB118 would cost motorists more than $150 million each year and well over $1 billion through the life of the bill.

    “If AB118 is enacted, motorists alone would bear the cost of multi-million dollar programs addressing pollution problems that they did not cause,” said Steve Lenzi, the Auto Club’s senior vice president for public affairs. “The bill would provide grants and loans to private enterprise, including venture capitalists, and pay to retrofit or replace engines of heavy duty trucks and lawn mowers. While these programs may be laudable, they are not responsibility of the average motorist.”

    According to the Auto Club, this bill directly contradicts the wishes of voters. Many of the programs in AB118 are similar to those contained in Proposition 87, decisively rejected by voters in November 2006. Now, in what the Auto Club believes is a direct slap in the face of those voters, the bill seeks to transfer taxpayer dollars to private enterprise to pay for research and development efforts that these businesses would then benefit from financially.

    AB118 does have sections that would benefit motorists, including a vehicle replacement program that the Auto Club believes has the potential to reduce vehicle-related air pollution even further. But according to the Auto Club, this one program does not justify an unwieldy and inappropriate scheme to burden motorists.

    “This bill is inequitable and unlawful, and we urge the governor to do the right thing and veto the bill,” Lenzi said.

    CONTACT:, Carol Thorp or Jeffrey Spring, (714) 885-2333


    Clean Air Performance Professionals

  8. Charlie Peters said on April 17th, 2008 at 12:29am #

    Should Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger consider a $17/gallon “fee” on corn fuel ethanol use?

    * Lower price for food, gas, water, beer and cleaner air… and… funds for the budget from oil profit

    * Clean Air Performance Professionals

  9. Charlie Peters said on May 3rd, 2008 at 8:24pm #

    What was the cause of death of Alexander Farrell, 46, expert on alternative fuels?


  10. Charlie Peters said on October 11th, 2008 at 12:40pm #

    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
    State Capitol Building
    Sacramento, CA 95814
    Phone: 916-445-2841
    Fax: 916-558-3160 ( new number )

    RE: IMRC policy

    Are carpetbaggers: Booz Allen, Carlyle Group, Applus, Meineke Car Care Centers and CARB working a deal to take CA small business “Smog Check”?

    —– Original Message —–
    From: vog.ac.acdnull@elsilraC_ykcoR
    To: ten.knilhtraenull@eilrahcppac
    Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 3:36 PM
    Subject: IMRC meeting

    Hi Charlie,

    You missed the first part of the last IMRC meeting when we announced we will no longer transcribe IMRC meetings since it is an extravagant expense that the state cannot afford. As you know, we are under no statutory requirement to do so. All that is required are meeting minutes. Therefore, when possible, we will record the meeting but when a recording is not possible, we will simply post the minutes of the meeting. Let me know of you have any questions.


    Rocky Carlisle
    Executive Officer
    (916) 322-8249

    Charlie Peters
    Cell: (415) 516-9909
    Fax: (510) 537-9675
    Clean Air Performance Professionals

    CAPP contact: Charlie Peters (510) 537-1796 ten.knilhtraenull@eilrahcppac