Category Archives: Race and race relations

The Parental Backlash Against SOL Tests

SOL LogoBy Peter Galuszka

Although their numbers are small, more Virginia parents are refusing to have their children take the state’s Standards of Learning tests, saying that test preparation takes away from true education.

In the 2013 -14 school year, 681 SOL tests were coded as parent refusals out of the nearly three million given, with Northern Virginia, Prince William County in particular, having the highest number.

Some parents are annoyed that teachers in public schools spend so much time teaching how to take the SOLs, which are used to measure a child’s educational standing and also rate how well school districts are performing.

“Students can spend up to one-third of their time of the school year preparing for the tests and that is wrong,” says Gabriel Reich, an associate professor of teaching and learning at Virginia Commonwealth University. Last year, he refused to allow his fifth-grade daughter to take the tests.

It isn’t really clear if parents and their children have the legal right to take the tests or not. If parents refuse, the child gets a “zero.” That might go against the school’s overall rating.

How it affects the student isn’t clear. Continual refusals could keep children out of special programs, such as ones for gifted students. But students from private schools, where SOLs are not usually taken, regularly transfer to public schools with little problem.

In different parts of the state, parents have formed grass roots groups to educate and support parents who have concerns that the mania for standardized testing is hurting true education.

Throughout the state, ad hoc groups are forming where parents can meet and plan refusals. In Richmond, RVA Opt Out meets every third Monday evening of the month and has tripled its attendance in the past several years.

Confronting standardized testing is in part a reaction of politicians who insist that standardized testing is a primary – if not the only – way to make sure that students are being educated properly. Such tests have been around for years but got a strong boost in former President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program of 2002.

Standardized testing has also been used as a weapon against teachers’ unions. Some politicians have suggested that data from SOLs and other tests be collated and configured to give individual teachers ratings that could be made public – something teachers associations bitterly oppose.

What’s more, SOL and other similar data have been used for purposes that have little to do with education. Realtors often collect schools’ performance data to push home sales in certain neighborhoods to give for sale prospects snob appeal.

Critics say that multiple-choice testing doesn’t always reflect a student’s ability to think or show what he or she really understands. It also doesn’t reflect creativity to draw, paint or perform or write music.

The anti-testing movement is growing nationally. In one case in New York state, about 1.1 million children in grades three through eight typically take reading and math tests. Last year, about 67,000 children skipped the tests.

The push-back is growing.

Do Asians Face Discrimination at Top Virginia Universities?

racial_breakdownby James A. Bacon

Many Asian-Americans are getting frustrated with the enrollment caps on Asians at some of the United States’ most prestigious institutions of higher education. As Jason Riley recently opined in the Wall Street Journal, Asian-Americans are the new Jews, academic high achievers who are under-represented on top college campuses in comparison to their qualifications.

A coalition of more than 60 Asian-American groups is asking federal authorities to investigate possible racial bias in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University. Harvard, like many prestigious universities, makes extra room for “legacies,” mostly white, in appreciation of, or expectation of, generous alumni contributions. At the same time, Harvard also considers race/ethnicity among other factors when admitting African-Americans and Hispanics. That leaves non-legacy but high-achieving Asian-Americans in the cold at a competitive disadvantage. Writes Riley:

Asians have some of the highest academic credentials but the lowest acceptance rates at the nation’s top schools, a result that the coalition attributes to “just-for-Asians admissions standards that impose unfair and illegal burdens on Asian-American college applicants.” A 2009 paper by Princeton sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford found that “Asian-Americans have the lowest acceptance rate for each SAT test score bracket, having to score on average approximately 140 points higher than a white student, 270 points higher than a Hispanic student and 450 points higher than a black student on the SAT to be on equal footing.”

Bacon’s take. So, I began wondering, what is the track record of Virginia’s public universities? Are Asian-Americans getting a fair shake in the Old Dominion? I had no idea what to expect, but I crunched some numbers.

Asian-Americans represented 5.5% of Virginia’s population in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (The percentage is probably higher today.) But that’s not a proper basis for comparison. Asians out-perform all other racial/ethnic groups academically in high school, so a better basis of comparison is the percentage of academic high achievers. There may be different ways to calculate that number, and I welcome any input on different ways to do it. What I did was consult the Virginia Department of Education’s online build-a-database tool to ascertain a racial breakdown of students who scored “advanced pass” in their SOLs for all grades.  For each racial/ethnic group, I averaged the advanced-pass rate to derive a composite score, as seen in the pie chart above.

By this metric, Asian-Americans comprise 12% of the top-scoring students in Virginia K-12 schools. For purposes of the argument I’m making, this is a very conservative measure. The numbers could well be even more skewed for metrics of college-ready students such as SAT scores or AP exam results.

So, how does the Asian enrollment compare for Virginia’s most selective institutions of higher education? Here are the percentages for Asian undergraduate enrollees at Virginia’s highest-ranked public universities:

asian_enrollments

The University of Virginia is dead-on target but the other three fall far short. While suggestive enough to demand digging deeper, these numbers are not, by themselves, proof of discrimination against Asian-Americans. Perhaps one reason there are so few Asians at James Madison University, to take one example, is that the institution gets very few Asian-American applicants.  A better basis of comparison is the percentage of applicants accepted at each university.

uva_admissionsWhile I could not find current racial breakdowns of admission as a percentage of applicants in an online search this morning, I did locate a research paper that provided some statistics for fall 2003 admissions. The paper, “Affirmative Action at Three Universities,” compared undergraduate admissions at the University of Virginia and North Carolina State along with law school admissions at the College of William & Mary.

While Asians were admitted at a slightly lower rate than Hispanics or whites at the University of Virginia, the rate was not severely out of line. Any discrimination in admissions was markedly in favor of African-Americans, not against Asians. At the William & Mary law school, Hispanics were severely under-represented, while Asians were somewhat under-represented. (Please note: This data is more than 10 years old and not necessarily reflective of current patterns.)

This scatter-shot evidence suggests that Asians may face discrimination when applying to some of Virginia’s top-tier universities. But the evidence is impressionistic at best. It would be necessary to get better data before drawing definitive conclusions. On the other hand, I would argue that the evidence is strong enough to warrant taking a closer look.

How to Frame the “Loving” Movie

The Lovings

The Lovings

Hollywood is producing a new film about Richard and Mildred Loving, who were arrested in 1958 for violating a Virginia  law prohibiting interracial marriage. Ruling on a lawsuit they filed in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws against mixed marriages.

In a press release, Governor Terry McAuliffe Thursday said, “Loving is a significant American story that should be told.” The film will be shot in the state, creating local jobs and highlighting “Virginia’s historical significance.”

I’m not sure that Jim Crow-era laws forbidding “miscegenation” is the kind of “historical significance” Virginia wants to bring attention to. But there is an opportunity, if McAuliffe will embrace it, to highlight how much Virginia has changed since the 1950s. According to the Pew Research Center, between 2008 and 2010 Virginia had the highest rate  of black-white intermarriage of any state in the country. Of the 156,000 marriages involving whites in Virginia, 3.3% were with blacks. The only states that came close were North Carolina (3.2%) and Kansas (3.0%).

Let’s not let “Loving” give people the mistaken impression that Virginia is stuck in the 1950s. We’ve come a long way — longer than most. Let’s make sure we let people know it.

– JAB

A City No Longer Obsessed by Race

richmond_by_race

Source: Hamilton Lombard, StatChat

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond reached a quiet demographic tipping point about five years ago: It stopped being a majority-African-American city. Movement of blacks into suburban jurisdictions, an influx of whites into the city and a small-but-measurable increase in other races, including people who self-identified with two races, all contributed to the change.

Richmonders appear not to notice. There is a still a widespread perception of Richmond as a black-majority city (and, in fact, blacks still outnumber whites, although by a tiny margin.) African-Americans still dominate city government. Richmond has a black mayor, a black police chief, a black sheriff, a black school superintendent and a black commonwealth’s attorney.

I find it fascinating how little attention anyone is paying to the demographic shift – and what that lack of attention says about our times.

It wasn’t all that long ago — around 1980 — when Richmond, once a white-majority city, tipped into a black-majority jurisdiction, according to Hamilton Lombard, a demographer writing in StatChat, the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service blog. Political power shifted to blacks for the first time in a city that had been synonymous with Jim Crow segregation and massive resistance to integration. White flight, part of a national phenomenon, was highly publicized at the time, and local politics were racially polarized.

Now that the demographic pendulum has swing back, nobody seems to notice. Richmond City Council now is majority white, but the shift in racial representation has not resulted in calls for white racial patronage. Everybody’s focus seems to be on promoting economic development, addressing poverty and making city government function more effectively. (One can argue how well the city is faring on those fronts, but that’s where the focus is.)

Race is less of a divider in other ways. Although there remain hard-core pockets of concentrated, African-American poverty, most neighborhoods are less segregated than they once were, Lombard contends. “The concentration of blacks is beginning to lessen; in 2000, 13 census tracts in Richmond were over 95 percent black, but by 2013 only 4 of these census tracts were still over 95 percent black,” he writes. “During this same time period, the black population in the Richmond metro area’s suburban counties grew quickly as many of the city’s black residents moved to them.”

While the city continues to expand its housing base through infill and redevelopment, allowing for continued population growth, Lombard thinks it may never return to white-majority status. One big reason:

The number of people living in Richmond who describe themselves as being more than one race has tripled since 2000 to a little under 9,000. This is likely in part due to Virginia having the highest rate of marriage between blacks and whites in the country, but also because as racial identity means increasingly less today, many people are identifying with more than one race, some even writing in their own race. Considering how much publicity the last major demographic change in Richmond received, the lack of attention given to the current one reveals how much Richmond itself has changed.

Racial identity politics is such a powerful force nationally that it’s hard to imagine that Richmond — the former capital of the Confederacy and locus of massive resistance, as some like to continually remind us — could be so lackadaisical and unaware of a shift that once would have been regarded as so profound. That is a sign of tremendous progress, and it augurs well for the future.

This NRDC Report… Cough! Cough! … Has a Few Problems

sneezing_wheezingby James A. Bacon

Richmond has been awarded the dubious distinction of being the “sneeziest and wheeziest” city in the United States in a report issued yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. And thanks to global warming, says the NRDC, conditions are likely to get worse.

Scientific studies have also shown that our changing climate could favor the formation of more ozone smog in some areas and increase the production of allergenic pollen such as that released by the ragweed plant, the principal source of pollen associated with allergic rhinitis. This is bad news for allergy sufferers and asthmatics because both ragweed pollen and high levels of ozone smog can trigger asthma attacks and worsen allergic symptoms in adults and children.

Richmond, as it happens, suffers from both high ozone and high ragweed counts. As the report notes, Richmond was  was named the 2014 top U.S. Asthma Capital by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA. “Contributing to Richmond’s status as the number one Asthma Capital are high pollen levels, death rates from asthma, and numbers of asthma-related emergency room visits.”

As temperatures slowly ratchet higher, one would conclude from the parade of horribles revealed by study after study like this one that a warmer climate heaps nothing but harm harm and misery upon mankind. No doubt that explains why Americans have been migrating en mass from southern states to northern in search of cooler temperatures. … Oh, what’s that? It’s the reverse? Americans are migrating to states with warmer temperatures? Does not compute.

Permit me to play devil’s advocate. The NRDC may be absolutely correct in its appraisal but, at the risk of being denounced once more as a “climate denier,” it can’t hurt to subject its claims to some critical analysis.

The NRDC makes this interesting statement:

Richmond, Virginia, is—for the second time in a row—number one on this list. Although Richmond does not have an ozone monitoring station and is not ragweed-positive, we include it on the map because of its status as the number one Asthma Capital, as published by  the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Henrico County air quality monitoring station

Henrico County air quality monitoring station

Although the city of Richmond does not have an ozone monitoring station, neighboring Henrico and Chesterfield counties do. And what do those stations reveal? Despite higher temperatures, ozone levels got better, not worse, over the decade of 1999 to 2009.  The chart below, based on EPA data, show how the region’s average ozone levels declined markedly over that decade — dipping below the Virginia mean and the national mean.

ozone_index

A quick Internet search did not reveal comparable data for more recent years. But an American Lung Association ranking listed the average high-ozone days between 2010 and 2012 for several localities with monitoring stations. Chesterfield County had weighted average of 3.3 and Henrico of 6.2. Ozone in Northern Virginia was much worse: Alexandria had a weighted average of 8.5 high-ozone days, Arlington 11.2, and Fairfax 12.8. Yet the incidence of asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) cases as a percentage of the population was virtually identical.

ozone-asthma

Obviously, there are many factors other than ozone associated with asthma. What might those be? WebMD lists these risk factors:

  • Endotoxins in house dust.
  • Animal proteins (particularly cat and dog allergens), dust mites, cockroaches, fungi, and mold. Changes that have made houses more “energy-efficient” over the years are thought to increase exposure.
  • Indoor air pollution such as cigarette smoke, mold, and noxious fumes from household cleaners and paints.
  • Environmental factors such as pollution, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone, cold temperatures, and high humidity.

Whoah? What was that? Cold temperatures?

Yes, ozone is on the list. But it’s only one factor among many.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation, race is a major risk factor, too.  In recent years, the greatest rise in asthma was among African American children: One in six African-American children have asthma. For African Americans, the rate of emergency department visits is 330% higher and the rate of hospitalizations is 220% higher compared to whites. “Ethnic differences in asthma prevalence, morbidity and mortality are highly correlated with poverty, urban air quality, indoor allergens, and lack of patient education and inadequate medical care.”

Bacon’s bottom line: If we want to attack the  high incidence of asthma in the Richmond region, we’re probably better off focusing on the socio-economic conditions of African-Americans than worrying about the impact of climate change on ozone and ragweed. Those are only two factors among many affecting asthma, and arguably far from the most important. In any case, thanks to coal-plant emissions controls and cleaner automobile engines, ozone levels probably will continue to decrease.

Private Immigrant Jail May Face Woes

Farmville jail protest

Farmville jail protest

By Peter Galuszka

Privatization in Virginia has been a buzzword for years among both parties. In this tax-averse state, contracting off public functions is seen as a wise and worthy approach.

But then you get debacles such as the U.S. 460 highway project. And now, you might have one brewing down in Farmville.

The small college town is in Prince Edward County, which gained international notoriety from 1959 to 1964 when it decided to shut down its entire school system rather than integrate. Many white kids ended up in all-white private schools and many African-American children were cheated out of an education entirely.

About six years ago, another creepy project started there – a private, for-profit prison designed exclusively to imprison undocumented aliens. It’s a cozy little deal, as I outline in a piece in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Farmville gets a $1 per head, per day (sounds like slavery) from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Immigration Centers of America, the private firm run by Richmond executives Ken Newsome and Russell Harper, gets profits. Then, in turn, also pay taxes to Farmville and the county.

The ICA facility, whose logo includes an American flag, pays taxes as well and provides about 250 jobs locally. The project even got a $400,000 grant from the scandal-ridden Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission for water and sewer works.

What might sound like a no-lose operation, except for the mostly Hispanic inmates who might have entered the country illegally, overstayed their visas, or had other bureaucratic problems, may face problems.

The census now at the jail is about 75 percent of what it could be. President Obama has issued an executive order that could free some five million undocumented aliens. It is being challenged by 26 states but Virginia Atty. Gen Mark Herring has filed an amicus brief in favor of Obama.

So what happens to Farmville if Obama wins? It could affect 96,000 aliens in Virginia. Could there someday be no prisoners? Wouldn’t that be too bad for Farmville?

Recent history is instructive. Back in the 1990s, Gov. George Allen, a conservative darling, was pushing private prisons in Virginia as he successfully got rid of parole in part of his crime crackdown. Slave labor was part of the deal.

Executive Intelligence Weekly wrote in 1994:

“Slave labor in American prisons is increasingly being carried out in what are called “private prisons.” In his campaign to “reform” Virginia’s penal laws, Gov. George Allen pointed to prison privatization as the wave of the future, a moneymaking enterprise for the investor, and a source of good, cheap labor for Virginia’s municipalities. Indeed, after taxes, pay-back to the prison, and victim restitution are removed, the inmate earns an average of $1 per hour in these facilities.”

Well guess what happened. Allen pushed for more public and private prisons. They were overbuilt. Demographics changed. Crime rates dropped. Prisons had to be shut down.

So, if immigration reform ever comes about what happens in Farmville? Don’t forget, the private jail came at a time when a construction boom, especially in Northern Virginia had drawn in many immigrants especially from Latin America. Their papers may not have been in order.

Neo-racists like Corey Stewart, chairman of the board of supervisors of Prince William County, ordered a crackdown on brown-skinned people who spoke Spanish. But when the real estate market crashed, fewer Latinos arrived. And, if they did, they avoided Stewart’s home county.

Wither Farmville?

Police, Race and the Media

by James A. Bacon

Before people go into conniptions over the politically incorrect thrust of this column, let me make something Hubble telescope clear: I do not condone police brutality toward African-Americans. When incidents occur like the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in Baltimore, the death of Eric Garner on the streets of New York, and most horrifyingly the execution-style slaying of Michael Slager in Charleston, S.C., the facts need to be gathered and police need to be held to account. Police are human. Some make tragic mistakes. Some are no better than criminals themselves. Bad cops need to be demoted, fired or go to prison. And, yes, black lives do matter. All lives matter.

Nothing controversial about that. But someone has to tell another side of the story — an aspect of the story that has been, and I don’t use this word lightly, suppressed in the mainstream media. The fact is, the police in many inner-city African-American neighborhoods are not working with a docile, law-abiding population. While a majority of citizens are like those who, after the recent riot in Baltimore, showed up the next day to clean up the mess that the lawbreakers had made, or the feisty woman in yellow who bitch-slapped her 16-year-old son for throwing rocks at police, there is a significant hard-core criminal element that regards the police, especially white policemen, as the enemy. These criminals are armed and dangerous, and any encounter between them and the police has the potential to turn violent. It is not without reason that policemen regard every encounter as a possible life-and-death situation and approach it in a state of hyper-vigilance.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media is making matters worse — far worse. This is a country of 320 million people. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of encounters every day between police and the African-American population. Most are routine. But now that the Black Lives Matter narrative has taken hold, the media play up a tiny handful of encounters that confirm the narrative of omnipresent racism and ignore anything that might confound it. Thus, in recent months the media have magnified three or four incidents, playing them out in the headlines and news reels over weeks, as if they were somehow typical of the interaction between police and African-Americans.

In doing so, the media feeds the sense of grievance among African-Americans and encourages disruptive behavior like the Ferguson riots, the Baltimore riots and the New York shootings of two police officers. Yes, I blame the media for ignoring context, stoking resentments, and worsening the state of race relations in the United States.

Imagine, if you will, that the media were dominated by conservatives. And imagine that conservatives viewed race relations through the prism of black underclass criminality and violence. And imagine that such a media ran front-page headlines and led off national news broadcasts with stories of white policemen dying at the hands of black criminals, day after day… after day. Then, imagine that such coverage was shorn of any context, that evidence of police brutality and injustice were systematically ignored. That would be a right-wing analogue of what we see now.

Let’s throw out a few facts. Last year, 117 police officers died in the line of duty. Forty-eight were shot and 18 killed in “physical-related incidents,” according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Fund. Another 51,625 were victims of assaults, and 14,857 were injured in assaults. States the NLEOF:

Of the 50 firearms related fatalities in 2014, fifteen officers were shot and killed in ambush attacks, more than any other circumstance of fatal shootings in 2014. Nine officers were killed during disturbance calls. Eight officers were shot and killed during a traffic stop or pursuit and seven officers were killed while investigating suspicious persons or circumstances in 2014.

The NLEOF does not break down the number of police killed by African-American perpetrators, but if the percentage of killings is consistent with the number of crimes committed by African-Americans nationally, there would be enough shootings and ambushes for the media to cherry pick and keep one in the news every day of the year. If the media ran reality through a conservative filter instead of a liberal one, instead of discussing police brutality, we would be discussing the crisis of policemen under siege. But the media isn’t conservative. For the most part, reporters and broadcasters define the problem as poverty and racism, so the context of violence against policemen goes missing.

No one tracks the race of the police assailants, but I would hypothesize — that means I will not state it as fact but offer it as a proposition to be tested with real-world evidence — that a disproportionate number of police assailants are African-American. Why would I advance such a conjecture? Because African-Americans, as a result of their long and tortured history in this country, bear an outsized animus toward the police and other authority figures. Perhaps that animus is justified, perhaps it’s not — that’s a side point that does not change the reality that the animus exists and people act upon it.

An anti-police animus is integral to the sub-culture of gangsta rap, which embraces the term of “Nigga” as an assertive form of self-identification, revels in a hyper-masculine ideal of machismo, debases women as “hoes,” glorifies violence and the gun culture, voices continual defiance against white authority and specifically labels the police as the enemy. (View the YouTube compilation above of gangsta rap songs circulating this February; note the prevalence of guns in the videos and the aggressive, in-your-face style of the rappers.) Latinos have their own narco rap, but there is nothing comparable in the white underclass.

The reality of what’s happening in America’s inner cities is much more complex than the racism-and-poverty model. Insofar as people think of police as an occupying force, they will treat police as an occupying force. They will tend to respond more belligerently to police actions. In turn, police will respond in kind. While they may know that not all young black males are armed and hostile, they cannot know ahead of time who is and who isn’t. Not wanting to become one of those Officers Fund statistics, they will tend to treat every encounter as potentially dangerous, frequently responding more aggressively than they should. I do not say that to condone excessive force but to explain it in the context of a mutually reinforcing pattern of behavior between police and the criminal element.

Perhaps this interpretation puts the onus on police to emphasize community police, building bonds of trust in the inner city. Perhaps it means the police should halt tactics, such as stop-and-frisk, that feed the gangsta-rap narrative of police as occupiers. But this interpretation also undercuts the narrative of African-American hoodlums as victims in which every fatal encounter is presumed to be a reflection of racism. Only if we recognize the complexity of the forces of work can we ever hope to have an honest dialogue about race in America. A media fails to convey this complexity fails at the most elemental level to do its job.

Update: The original version of this post contained lyrics from a rap song. I have been informed that the lyrics were a parody. Accordingly, I have deleted the quote.

Dave Brat’s Bizarre Statements

 By Peter Galuszka

Almost a year ago, Dave Brat, an obscure economics professor at Randolph- Macon College, made national headlines when he defeated Eric Cantor, the powerful House Majority Leader, in the 7th District Brat Republican primary.

Brat’s victory was regarded as a sensation since it showed how the GOP was splintered between Main Street traditionalists such as Cantor and radically conservative, Tea Party favorites such as Brat. His ascendance has fueled the polarization that has seized national politics and prevented much from being accomplished in Congress.

So, nearly a year later, what has Brat actually done? From reading headlines, not much, except for making a number of bizarre and often false statements.
A few examples:

  • When the House Education and Workforce Committee was working on reauthorizing a law that spends about $14 billion to teach low-income students, Brat said such funding may not be necessary because: “Socrates trained Plato in on a rock and the Plato trained Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So, huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.”
  • Brat says that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is a step towards making the country be more like North Korea. He compares North and South Korea this way:  “. . . it’s the same culture, it’s the same people, look at a map at night, half the, one of the countries is not lit, there’s no lights, and the bottom free-market country, all Koreans is lit up. See you make your bet on which country you want to be, right? You want to go to the free market.” One problem with his argument:  Free market South Korea has had a single payer, government-subsidized health care system for 40 years. The conservative blog, BearingDrift, called him out on that one.
  • Politifact, the journalism group that tests the veracity of politicians’ statements, has been very busy with Brat. They have rated as “false” or “mostly false” such statements that repealing Obamacare would save the nation more than $3 trillion and that President Obama has issued 468,500 pages of regulations in the Federal Register. In the former case, Brat’s team used an old government report that estimated mandatory federal spending provisions for the ACA. In the latter case, Politifact found that there were actually more pages issued than Brat said, but they were not all regulations. They included notices about agency meetings and public comment periods. What’s more, during a comparable period under former President George W. Bush, the Federal Register had 465,948 pages, Politifact found. There were some cases, however, where Politifact verified what Brat said.
  • Last fall, after Obama issued an executive order that would protect up to five million undocumented aliens from arrest and deportation, Brat vowed that “not one thin dime” of public money should go to support Obama’s plan. He vowed to defund U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services but then was told he couldn’t do so because the agency was self-funded by fees from immigration applications. He then said he would examine how it spent its money.

The odd thing about Brat is that he has a doctorate in economics and has been a professor. Why is he making such bizarre, misleading and downright false statements?

Beware Stalling Growth in Northern Virginia

northern virginia mapBy Peter Galuszka

For at least a half a century, Fairfax County, Alexandria and Arlington County have been a growth engine that that has reshaped how things are in the Greater Washington area as well as the Old Dominion.

But now, apparently for the first time ever, these Northern Virginia localities have stopped growing, according to an intriguing article in The Washington Post.

In 2013, the county saw 4,673 arrivals but in 2014 saw 7,518 departures. For the same time period, Alexandria saw 493 arrivals and then 887 departures. Arlington County showed 2,004 arrivals in 2013 followed by 1,520 departures last year.

The chief reason appears to be sequestration and the reduction of federal spending. According to a George Mason University study, federal spending in the area was $11 billion less  last year than in 2010. From 2013 to 2014, the area lost 10,800 federal jobs and more private sectors ones that worked on government contracts. Many of the cuts are in defense which is being squeezed after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The most dramatic cuts appear to be in Fairfax which saw a huge burst of growth in 1970 when it had 450,000 people but has been slowing for the most part ever since. It still grew to 1.14 million people, but the negative growth last year is a vitally important trend.

Another reason for the drop offs is that residents are tired of the high cost and transit frustrations that living in Northern Virginia brings.

To be sure, Loudoun County still grew from 2013 to 2014, but the growth slowed last year from 8,904 newcomers in 2013 to 8,021 last year.

My takeaways are these:

  • The slowing growth in NOVA will likely put the brakes on Virginia’s move from being a “red” to a “blue” state. In 2010, Fairfax had become more diverse and older, with the county’s racial and ethnic minority population growing by 43 percent. This has been part of the reason why Virginia went for Barack Obama in the last two elections and has Democrats in the U.S. Senate and as governor. Will this trend change?
  • Economically, this is bad news for the rest of Virginia since NOVA is the economic engine for the state and pumps in plenty of tax revenues that end up being used in other regions. Usually, when people talk about Virginia out-migration, they mean people moving from the declining furniture and tobacco areas of Southside or the southwestern coalfields.
  • A shift in land use patterns and development is inevitable. The continued strong growth of an outer county like Loudoun suggests that suburban and exurban land use patterns, many of them wasteful, will continue there. The danger is that inner localities such as Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria, will be stuck with more lower-income residents and deteriorating neighborhoods. The result will be that localities won’t have as much tax money to pay for better roads, schools and other services.
  • Virginia Republicans pay lip service to the evils of government spending and have championed sequestration. Well, look what a fine mess they have gotten us into.

The rest of the Washington area is seeing slowing growth, but appears to be better off. The District’s in-migration was cut in half from 2013 to 2014 but it is still on the plus side. Ditto Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties.

NOVA has benefited enormously from both federal spending and the rise of telecommunications and Web-based businesses. It is uncertain where federal spending might go and maybe increased private sector investment could mitigate the decline. Another bad sign came in 2012 when ExxonMobil announced it was moving its headquarters from Fairfax to Houston.

In any event, this is very bad news for NOVA.

Amateur Hour at the General Assembly

virginia_state_capitol502By Peter Galuszka

If you are an ordinary Virginian with deep concerns about how the General Assembly passes laws that impact you greatly, you are pretty much out of luck.

That’s the conclusion of a study by Transparency Virginia, an informal coalition of non-profit public interest groups in a report released this week. Their findings  came after members studied how the 2015 General Assembly operated.

Among their points:

  • Notice of committee hearings was so short in some instances that public participation was nearly impossible.
  • Scores of bills were never given hearings.
  • In the House of Delegates, committees and subcommittees did not bother to record votes on 76 percent of the bills they killed.

“Despite a House rule that all bills shall be considered, not all are. Despite a Senate rule that recorded votes are required, not all are,” states the 21-page report, whose main author is Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. Transparency Virginia is made up of 30 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the the Virginia Education Association and the League of Women Voters in Virginia.

The scathing report underscores just how amateurish the General Assembly can be. It only meets for only 45 days in odd-numbered years and 60 days in even-numbered years. The pay is pin money. Delegates make only $17,640 a year and senators earn $18,000 annually.

It is not surprising then that a part-time group of 100 delegates and 40 senators can’t seem to handle their 101 committees and subcommittees that determine whether the consideration of thousands bills proceeds fairly and efficiently.

“A Senate committee chair did not take comment on any bills on the agenda except for the testimony from the guests of two senators who were presenting bills,” the report states. In other cases, legislators were criticized by colleagues for having too many witnesses. Some cut off ongoing debate by motioning to table bills. Bills were “left in committee” never to be considered.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires that open public meetings be announced three working days in advance. A General Assembly session is considered one, long open session. But the FOIA is often subverted by sly legislators who manipulate the agendas of committees or subcommittees or general sessions.

Agendas of the General Assembly are not covered by the FOIA because there is too much work to cram in 45 or 60 days. In the case of local and state governments, similar meetings are, presumably because they meet more regularly. House and Senate rules do not stipulate how much notice needs to be given before a committee or subcommittee session. So, crucial meetings that could kill a bill are sometimes announced suddenly.

The setup favors professional lobbyists who stand guard in the Capitol ready to swoop in to give testimony and peddle influence, alerted by such tools as “Lobbyist-in-a-Box” that tracks the status of bills as they proceed through the legislature. When something important is up, their beepers go off while non-lobbyist citizens with serious interests in bills may be hours away by car.

The report states: “While most of Virginia’s lobbyists and advocates are never more than a few minutes from the statehouse halls, citizens and groups without an advocacy presence may need to travel long distances.” Some may need to reschedule work or family obligations, yet they may get only two hours’ notice of an important meeting. That’s not enough time if they live more than a two-hour drive from Richmond.

The report didn’t address ethics, but this system it portrays obviously favors lobbyists who benefit from Virginia’s historically light-touch approach when it comes to limited gifts. That issue will be addressed today when the General Assembly meets to consider Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s insistence that a new ethics bill address the problem of allowing consecutive gifts of less than $100 to delegates or senators.

The only long-term solution is for Virginia to consider creating a legislature that works for longer periods, is better paid, more professional and must adhere to tighter rules on bill passage. True, some 24 states have a system somewhat like Virginia and only New York, Pennsylvania and California have truly professional legislatures.

The current system was created back in Virginia was more rural and less sophisticated. But it has grown tremendously in population and importance. It’s a travesty that Virginia is stuck with amateur hour when it comes to considering legislation crucial to its citizens’ well-being.