Category Archives: Crime and corrections

The Strange Story of Health Diagnostic Laboratory

HDL's Mallory before her fall.

HDL’s Mallory before her fall.

By Peter Galuszka

The biggest problem facing the health care industry in Virginia and the rest of the country isn’t Obamacare or the lack of new medical discoveries. It the lack of transparency that hides what is really going on with pricing tests, drugs and hospital and doctors’ fees. Big Insurance and Big and Small Pharma cut secret deals. We are all affected.

I’ve been wanting to blog about this – especially after Jim Bacon’s recent post on the supposed tech trend in health care – but I wanted to wait until a story I’ve been working on for a few weeks was posted at Style Weekly, where I am a contributing editor.

In it, I explore the strange story of Health Diagnostic Laboratory, a famed Richmond start-up that went from zero to $383 million in revenues and 800 employees in a few short years. The firm said it was developing advanced bio-marker tests that could predict heart disease and diabetes long before they took root. HDL’s officials thought it would transform the $1.6 trillion health care industry.

Richmond’s business elite applauded HDL founder Tonya Mallory, a woman who grew up just north of the city and had the strong personality and drive to create the HDL behemoth. Badly wanting a high tech champion in a not-so high tech town, the city’s boosters did much to publicize HDL and Mallory, believing they could draw in more startups.

The story was too good to be true. It start to deflate last summer when the federal government noted that HDL was one of several testing labs being probed for paying doctors $17 for using HDL tests for Medicare patients when Medicare authorized $3 per test. Mallory resigned Dept. 23. Several lawsuits by Mallory’s former employer, Cigna health insurance and another have accused HDL of fraud. HDL has responded in court.

One legal picture suggests that HDL wasn’t a true tech startup but a new firm that stole intellectual property and sales staff. HDL says no, but its new leader Joe McConnell has taken steps to reform sales and marketing and is said to be working with the U.S. Department of Justice to settle a federal investigation.

The HDL affair raises issues about the inside marketing and apparent payoffs that are the biggest problem the health care industry faces. It doesn’t matter what kind of “market magic” combined with new technology comes up if something like this keeps happening.

This is all the more reason for a universal payer system. That may be “socialized” medicine but in my opinion it is the only logical way to go.

Campus Rapes Must be Reported to Police

hunting groundBy Peter Galuszka

You can’t have it both ways.

The Virginia General Assembly is taking steps to make it mandatory that officials at state universities report to police allegations of sexual assault, except for crisis counselors.

The move follows the incident at the University of Virginia which was turned upside down by a flawed report in Rolling Stone magazine that a female student had been gang raped in 2012.

Although there are strong doubts that the rape took place in that case, it broached the issue that if a student reports rape on campus, school administrators may not be inclined to do much about it. The assaults often occur at parties where alcohol is readily available.

After the Rolling Stone bombshell hit, U.Va. officials temporarily suspended activities at fraternities and sororities to sort matters out. The university now has rules that ban mixed drinks and require sober monitors at Greek parties.

That’s a good step, but I think the General Assembly is wise to take it a step further with its requirement that alleged rapes be referred to law enforcement. Why not? Rape is a serious felony nearly up there with murder. Would school officials not report that one student had apparently killed another? Crisis counselors would be exempt from the requirement, so students in pain and unsure of what to do would still have a protected outlet to find help.

The Washington Post editorialized today that the legislature should take slower steps when considering new laws to help prevent campus rape. The newspaper believes that pushing ahead with mandatory rules on reporting rape would make victims not want to report anything at all. It wants to wait until a state commission tasked with reviewing campus rape issues deliver its report.

The Post is wrong here. Rape is rape. Of course it is incredibly personal, but if it is a crime, it should be reported as one. Doing so not only would affirm the rights of the victim, it also might help exonerate supposed perpetrators who have been falsely accused.

Having rape regarded as a true crime would demystify it and allow all sides to deal with it properly. And it’s not as if rape is suddenly no longer a college problem after the Rolling Stone story evaporated. A new documentary released at the recent Sundance film festival called “The Hunting Ground” is said to uproot rape cultures at schools such as Harvard, Notre Dame and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

If the film is accurate, Virginia legislators are right to address the problem, regardless of how the University of Virginia situation played out.

Incidentally,  poll taken by the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University shows that 90 percent of voters survey think the police must be informed  of campus rape allegations rather than have them handle internally. The results were released today.

Police Shootings in Virginia — a Social Injustice?

Protests in Ferguson

Protests in Ferguson. Photo credit: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

As the national debate rages over police killing of blacks, Mark Bowes has conducted some excellent reporting for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. It’s easy to argue by media-fueled anecdote, as the United States has been doing for months now. But at some point, we need to look at the numbers. Bowes has compiled a list of all “justifiable homicide” police killings in Virginia between 1990 and 2013. While the numbers do not conclusively settle the question as to whether blacks are being unfairly singled out for state-sanctioned, police violence, they do narrow the parameters of the debate significantly.

According to Bowes, Virginia police have reported 130 people killed by police in “justifiable homicides” since 1990. Of those, 59 were black (45.5%), 70 were white and one was Asian. (The percentages for more recent years, 2000 to 2013, were roughly the same.) The African-American population in Virginia is about 20%.

By the most superficial measure imaginable, then, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to get killed by police. But the picture changes when  the fatal-shooting ratio is compared to the percentage of violent crimes committed by African-Americans, about 60%. If we’re comparing people who engage in violent crime, blacks are less likely to be shot by police than whites. On the other hand, if we compare the fate of people assaulting law enforcement officers, blacks are somewhat more likely to be killed than whites. The experts quoted by Bowes agree that raw numbers will only take the analysis so far. It’s important to know the circumstances surrounding each shooting.

“Police killings are not random, and we shouldn’t expect killings to be proportionate to the population percentages, but instead proportionate with potentially violent encounters with police,” said Thomas R. Baker, a criminologist at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Baker homed in on another critical dynamic. Scholarly research indicates that blacks have more negative views of police officers than whites do, and they are less likely to cooperate with police.

Much of this distrust and dissatisfaction comes from negative direct and vicarious experiences with the police, including media accounts, and has unfortunately become inculcated among many black Americans. At the same time, police officers are not insensitive to this distrust and dissatisfaction, and may enter encounters with blacks on highest alert.

Providing additional training for police likely will have little effect unless accompanied by cultural changes on how police are perceived in the African-American community, Baker said.

Blacks have legitimate reasons, based in history, to distrust the fairness and objectivity of police. The question is the extent to which that distrust is justified today. Those who are committed to the idea of America as a fundamentally unjust society will say, of course, that it is fully justified. By picking a handful of incidents from across a nation of 320 million people, which then are magnified by the media, they can generate powerful images in support of their position.

But anyone can prove anything by cherry picking the data. Colin Flaherty, author of “White Girl Bleed a Lot,” has built a franchise around the documentation of black-on-white crime, most of which is ignored by mainstream media. Does this anecdotal data prove the existence of a black-on-white crime wave? No. We need to see the numbers.

Let us hope that Virginia never descends into the racial turmoil seen in St. Louis, New York, Cleveland and other cities. People of good will of all ethnicities and ideologies, especially those involved in the criminal justice system, need to work the problem described by Baker: Reduce the negative perceptions blacks have of police and reduce the hair-trigger responses of police active in black communities. As long as the negative perceptions of police are continually fed by national media, however, that won’t be easy to do.

The Importance of “Selma”

Selma_posterBy Peter Galuszka

“Selma” is one of those fairly rare films that underline a crucial time and place in history while thrusting important issues forward to the present day.

Ably directed by Ava DuVernay, the movie depicts the fight for the Voting Rights Act culminating in the dramatic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. in 1965. It portrays the brutality and racism that kept Alabama’s white power structure firmly in charge and how brave, non-violent and very smart tactics by African-American agitators shook things loose.

Holding it all together is British actor David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oyelowo’s subtle and vulnerable approach while dealing with infighting among his colleagues and revelations of his marital infidelities contrast with his brilliant skill at oratory. During the two hours or so of the film, Oyelowo’s booming speeches and sermons never bored me. By contrast, the recent “Lincoln,” the Steven Spielberg flick filmed in Richmond, was a bit of a snoozer.

To its credit, “Selma” never gets too clichéd even with the extremely overexposed Oprah Winfrey assuming roles as a film producer and also as an actress portraying a middle-aged nursing home working who gets beaten up several times protesting white officials who kept her from registering to vote.

“Selma” has been controversial because nit-picking critics claim the film misrepresents the role President Lyndon B. Johnson played in getting the Voting Rights Act passed. The film shows him as reluctant and the Selma event was staged to push him to move proposed legislation to Congress. A series of LBJ biographies by highly-regarded historian Robert A. Caro show the opposite – that Johnson, a Southern white from Texas — was very much the driver of civil rights bills. In fact, his deft ability to knock political heads on Capitol Hill was probably the reason why they passed. It was a feat that even the Kennedys probably couldn’t have achieved.

One scene in the movie bothered me at first. King leads protestors to the Selma court house to register. When a brutal sheriff stands in their way, they all kneel down on the pavement with their arms behind their heads in a manner very reminiscent of last year’s protests against a police killing in Ferguson, Mo.

I thought, “Hey, I don’t care how they present LBJ, but fast-forwarding to 2014 is a bit of stretch.”

Then I decided that maybe not, history aside, the same thing is really happening now. There’s not just Ferguson, but Cleveland, Brooklyn and other places. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports this morning that over the past 14 years, police in the state killed 31 blacks and 32 whites. Only 20 percent of the state’s population is black. Now that is a disturbing figure.

Another disturbing allusion to the present is the widespread move mostly by Republican politicians in the South and Southwest make it harder for people to register to vote. In one move scene, Oprah Winfrey wants to register before an arrogant white clerk. He asks her to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. She does. He then asks her how many judges there are in Alabama. She gives the correct number. He then demands that she name all of them, which very few might have been able to do. She is rejected.

The moves to blunt new voters today is focused more on Hispanic immigrants but it is just as racist and wrong. And, Virginia is still stuck with the anti-voter policies of the Byrd Organization that was in power at the time of the Selma march. The idea, equally racist, was to keep ALL voters from participating in the political process as much as possible. That is why we have off-year elections and gerrymandered districts.

I was only 12 years old when Selma occurred but I remember watching it on television. I was living at the time in West Virginia which didn’t have that much racial tension. But I do remember flying out of National Airport in DC on the day that King was assassinated. The center of town, mostly 14th Street, appeared to be in flames.

The Real “War on Coal”

Blankenship at 2009 Labor Day rally

Blankenship at 2009 Labor Day rally

By Peter Galuszka

Over in West Virginia, some things never seem to change.

Families of the 29 miners killed on April 5, 2010 at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch are asking a federal judge to lift her gag order so they can testify before West Virginia legislators considering tougher rules that would make it easier for workers to sue employers over job-related injuries and deaths.

U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued the gag order last year after Donald L. Blankenship, the former chief of Richmond-based Massey Energy, was indicted on four criminal charges for his role in the disaster – the worst one in 40 years. He is scheduled to go on trial in Beckley on April 20.

The question seems to be that the judge is protecting Blankenship’s rights over those of the people hurt by his management. It is not really news in the Mountain State that has always supported Coal Barons over workers. It’s a weird, neo-colonialist thing that never seems to change.

This month, Berger denied a move by several news agencies, including the Charleston Gazette and The Wall Street Journal, to lift the gag order.

As head of Massey Energy, which has since been taken over by Bristol-based Alpha Natural Resources, Blankenship was a true publicity hog. He was never shy about pushing his arch-conservative, pro-business views or bankrolling politicians and judges. Worrying about protecting his legal rights at the expense of free speech is a real travesty.

Yes, there is a “War on Coal” – but the other way around. The conflict is how coal bosses wage war on their employees and their families.

Empty Protest

The “black lives matter” protests in Richmond continued yesterday as about 50 demonstrators laid down on the street at the intersection of West Broad and North Harrison Streets, blocking traffic at a major intersection near Virginia Commonwealth University. What is remarkable about participants in this group is their inability to articulate grievances beyond poster-board slogans like “Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe.”

Richmond Police Major Steve Drew took the protesters by surprise by offering to discuss their grievances in a public forum and talk about police brutality and what Richmond police can do “to make things better,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Several protesters responded positively to the suggestion. But it’s not clear if they even have grievances with Richmond police specifically.

“Protesters chanted ‘black lives matter,’ calling for action and threatening to ‘shut it down.’ Several sang a song about “the violence of the racist police,'” writes reporter Brandon Shulleeta. But…

Reporters pressed protesters on what they were asking for. Some gave broad answers about inequality, some said they couldn’t speak for others, and several simply said the protests would continue.

Demonstrators can’t point to any cause celebre of unjustified police violence here in Richmond. Indeed, their protests are tuned entirely to national news, not local events. It’s not even clear how many of the protesters were local. At least one citizen told the TV cameras, “I’m not a Richmond citizen, and I can’t speak for the Richmond community….”

Here’s a news flash: In Richmond, the African-American mayor is working with the African-American sheriff and the African-American commonwealth attorney to reform the criminal justice system to reduce the number of inmates (overwhelmingly African-American) incarcerated in the city jail without jeopardizing public safety. I wrote about that initiative about a year or so ago, and I’m not sure how it’s going. But that’s where the action is. If the protesters (a group comprised of whites and blacks) want to dialogue about something meaningful, they need to stop blocking traffic and start boning up on the real issues.

Meanwhile, here are some follow-up questions for local media: Who organizes these events? Where are the organizers from? How do they make a living? Who, if anyone, is funding them? Is this a genuine, local grass roots movement or the work of outside agitators with zero knowledge of local issues?

– JAB

Chutzpah, Thy Name Is Joe Morrissey

Fighting Joe -- showboating with an assault rifle in the General Assembly.

Fighting Joe — showboating with an assault rifle in the General Assembly.

by James A. Bacon

“Chutzpah” is a Yiddish word for cheek and audacity. Eastern European Jews may have invented the term, but Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Richmond, personifies it. Convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, he won re-election to the House of Delegates in a snap election yesterday while cooling his heels in Henrico County jail,

I know Joe Morrissey. I like Joe Morrissey. He’s smart, curious and outgoing, and he has an infectious enthusiasm. When I published my book, “Boomergeddon,” four years ago, he invited me to lunch to talk about it. He disagreed with my thesis — that the United States was heading for a fiscal breakdown in 15 to 20 years — but he was open to discussing it. When he’s on good behavior, he’s interesting, well-informed and entertaining. Fortunately for me in my dealings with him, I’ve only encountered the good Joe Morrissey.

But the bad Joe Morrissey is very bad. He’s hot headed, infamously getting into a courthouse brawl with another attorney years ago and later assaulting a handyman who worked for him. The latter incident resulted in a suspension of his law license. He’s also fathered three children out of wedlock with three different women — and that doesn’t include the young woman, 17 years old at the time and now 18, with whom he allegedly had sex in a dalliance that landed him his current spell in jail. That woman, who worked in his office, now is pregnant and won’t identify the father.

Morrissey has parlayed his colorful past into an electoral asset. He portrays himself as a fighter and a scrapper, willing to stand up for the little guy — a message that resonates in his predominantly African-American legislative district in Richmond, eastern Henrico County and Charles City County. African-American voters apparently are more forgiving of his moral foibles than straight-laced political leaders such as Governor Terry McAuliffe and House Speaker William Howell, who find Morrissey an embarrassment and would like to see him gone from the legislature.

I’m inclined to forgive Morrissey a lot. In the 19th century, his ready resort to fisticuffs would have been considered ordinary. And one can argue that his irregular domestic affairs are his own business. But there is one big problem I cannot overlook: He appears to be an outrageous liar. Rather than admit to his misdeeds with his under-age receptionist, he launched an all-out denial. He never had sex with the girl, he said, and, besides, he thought she was older than 17.

What about the incriminating photos and text messages on his cell phone that prove otherwise? You can’t match Joe Morrissey for chutzpah. The photos and messages, he claims, were planted by the girl’s jealous lesbian lover who hacked his phone! Somewhere in New York, Anthony Weiner must be kicking himself for not thinking of that line.

Cynics can argue that politicians lie all the time, so what’s the big deal? Well, it is a big deal when we catch them. And few lies have been as flagrant as the whoppers that Morrissey wants the public to swallow. He has repeatedly shown bad judgment and he has no credibility with fellow legislators. He cannot possibly provide effective representation. He should do his constituents a favor and step down. Of course, he won’t. He wouldn’t be Fighting Joe Morrissey if he did.

Addendum: Here’s the Alford plea agreement summarizing the commonwealth’s case against Morrissey and Morrissey’s defense. Decide for yourself.

How to Make Enemies and Lose Influence with People

richmond_council

Photo credit: Times-Dispatch

The traveling radical minstrel show has moved from Charlottesville to Richmond, it appears. Last night, a group of activists paraded through City Council chambers beating drums and making a series of demands, from stronger citizen oversight of police, care for the homeless, more money for schools and public transit, ending mass incarceration and “respect for black life,” according to the Times-Dispatch.

The crowd also threatened to “disrupt” the world championship bicycle races in Richmond next year if their demands were not met.

Forced to take a 15-minute recess, Council postponed action on many of the issues on its agenda.

If Richmond’s village radicals want “respect for black life,” perhaps they should start showing respect to others. Try playing by the same political rules everyone else abides by and working for change by presenting evidence, disseminating information, lobbying and getting sympathetic people elected. Issuing threats and disrupting the business of government accomplishes nothing good. Indeed, it just ticks people off — especially people like me. My reaction to threats is, “Bite me.”

Does this crowd have anything to offer other than ignorance and belligerence? Let’s see the evidence that the City of Richmond — a black majority city with a black mayor, black commonwealth attorney, black sheriff and (on again/off again) a black police chief — lacks respect for black life. I’m open to hearing about it. But present me evidence, not chants, drum beating and disruption. If you act like a mob, people are inclined to think that you think like a mob and deserve to be treated like a mob. They will write off your concerns as ill-informed demogoguery.

– JAB

Is U.Va. Possessed by the Devil?

the exorcistBy Peter Galuszka

Over the past weeks there’s been plenty of blogging about Rolling Stone’s coverage of the University of Virginia and lots of comment by two conservatives who believe there is an evil “hook up” culture that involves casual sex and today’s loss of morality.

Well, I’ve been feeling sort of down recently (maybe post holiday-related), so to cheer myself up, I got an old paperback copy of William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist.”

Imagine what I found! The “hook-up” culture has been around for centuries and may involve possession by the Devil!

Consider this passage:

“The nuns at the convent at Lille. Possessed. In early-seventeenth-century France. They’d confessed to their exorcists that while helpless in the state of possession, they had regularly attended Satanic orgies; had regularly varied their erotic fare; Mondays and Tuesdays, heterosexual copulation; Thursdays, sodomy, fellatio and cunnilingus, with homosexual partners; Saturday, bestiality with domestic animals and dragons. And dragons! The Jesuit shook his head.”

So that might be the problem — and the solution — up in Charlottesville. I suggest we send busloads of Jesuit priests to do what is necessary.

Jim Bacon and Reed Fawell could ride in the first bus.

The Sexual Politics of Nine Males for Eleven Females

Girls' night out in Chapel Hill. Lucky guy. Photo credit: New York Times.

Girls’ night out in Chapel Hill. Lucky guy. Photo credit: New York Times.

by James A. Bacon

I had sworn to myself to stop writing about the University of Virginia sexual-assault debate, but I have come across an angle that, I believe, has received insufficient attention. In comments to a previous post, Reed Fawell III referred readers to an article by Peter Augustine Lawler on the Weekly Standard discussing the sexual dynamics of college campuses. I agree with some commenters that Lawler’s prose was often dense and overly academic, but I think he made one exceedingly value contribution to the debate: He drew attention to the increasingly lopsided sex ratios on college campuses. Writes Lawler:

The increasing scarcity of men on the residential (and especially residential liberal arts) campus is a headache for administrators, who know that if the disparity grows too large it will discourage applications from young women who want a normal social life. The “enrollment management” news at my college has recently been quite good, with the exception that the gender disparity crept beyond the 60-40 mark that is thought to be a comfort zone.

The proposition that the skewing of sex ratios might affect the sexual culture of a college is not the fevered imaging of conservative pundits only. The New York Times drew attention to the phenomenon as far back as 2010, citing the American Council on Education statistic that 57% of enrollees in American colleges are female. The skewed sex ratio, while a promising sign of women’s ability to succeed in American society, bequeaths an advantage in the mating game to those males who do make it to campus. As the Times wrote:

This puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major … said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”

In China, where the abortion of female fetuses has skewed the population heavily to males, females have used their relative scarcity to bargain more favorable terms in the mating game. Chinese men (or their families) are willing to pay the families of females as much as three times their annual salary in bride price, far more than in the past. A similar phenomenon is occurring in reverse on American college campuses. Men are getting more of what they want (sex) on more advantageous terms (less emotional entanglement) than in the past.

The sex ratio at the University of Virginia is almost as skewed as the national average — 56% female and 44% male, according to US News & World-Report. I would conjecture that this skewed sex ratio feeds a hook-up culture in which women are more likely to provide sex without strings, leading to more of emotionally disconnected sexual encounters than they would prefer. The casual sex of the hook-up culture, when combined with binge drinking, contributes to a range of encounters that the anti-rape movement now describes as “an epidemic of rape.”

Insofar as the skewed sex ratio results from a meritocratic system for identifying students likely to excel in college, there is little we can do about it. As a principled conservative, I do not support affirmative action for males. (I do marvel, though, that liberals seem willing to suspend their usual logic when women, a favored victim group, seem to be the systemic beneficiaries of institutional standards). I highlight the skewed sex ratio because it illuminates what’s happening on campus and it needs to be part of the discussion about sexual assault.