Was Bob McDonnell Convicted with Tainted Testimony?

Was Bob McDonnell Convicted with Tainted Testimony?

Jonnie Williams' trial testimony about a critical meeting with the former governor was contradictory, implausible and sometimes incoherent. But the jury bought it anyway

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Building Connectivity in Suburbia

Building Connectivity in Suburbia

Sunnyvale, Calif., wants to reinvent a 60's-era industrial office park as an innovation district. It's making progress but suburban sprawl is not an easy habit to break.

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The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

The Great U.S. 460 Swamp

VDOT had loads of warning that wetlands could kill the U.S. 460 project but the state charged ahead with a design-build contract that everyone knew could explode.

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Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

Coming up: Car-Lite Burbs

A California developer is teaming with Daimler AG to bring buses, shuttles and ride sharing to an Orange County community -- with no government subsidies.

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Putting the “Garden” in Rain Garden

Putting the Garden in Rain Garden

Soon Virginians will start spending billions to meet tough storm-water regs. Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden wants to show how we can save the bay – and look really good doing it.

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UVa: Can We All Calm Down Now?

What would T.J. say?

What would T.J. say?

So, the credibility of the Rolling Stone article about the gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity has been demolished. I’ll let others sort through the wreckage to determine how much, if any, of the rape story can be believed. The more interesting question now is, where does that leave the University of Virginia leadership? What’s the next move?

The first thing President Teresa Sullivan should do is reverse the shut-down of fraternity and sorority social functions until the spring semester. The crackdown on the Greek social organizations was a panicked reaction to horrifying allegations that the university administration and Board of Trustees appeared all too willing to accept at face value. The shut-down also was indiscriminate, punishing all fraternities and sororities, even though the rape was alleged to have occurred at only one. First the UVa leadership acted before the facts were known; then it punished the innocent.

The next thing Sullivan needs to do is get a handle on whether there is, in fact, an “epidemic of rape” at UVa and, if so, what the nature of that epidemic is. Is it a matter of predatory frat boys drugging or coercing young women into unwanted sex on a massive scale? Is a matter of rampant and promiscuous drunken couplings which the women later regret? Is it a jumble of the two or something else altogether?

It also would be worthwhile to know whether the epidemic of rape/regret sex is confined to the alcohol-soaked fraternity scene, or whether it also takes place in university dormitories or off-grounds housing. Is it fair to blame the fraternities or is the problem wider in scope?

A highly vocal feminist movement has been largely successful in imposing its epidemic-of-rape narrative upon the ongoing controversy. Perhaps predator males are unleashing an epidemic of rape — clearly there is a problem of some sort — but I’m not going to believe it just on the say-so of ideologically motivated activists. As an alumnus, I want to see a dispassionate presentation of the facts.

– JAB

Rolling Stone Backs Down on Rape Story

 By Peter Galuszka

This just in. I am sure there will be plenty of comment. It seems that the descriptions that “Jackie” had of her alleged rapists don’t match reality. The very fact that Rolling Stone now says it has “misplaced” its trust is a huge and troubling step that will seriously damage its credibility.

Be Patient: NextGen Energy Technology Coming Soon

new_technologies_paperA new generation of advanced technologies reaching the commercialization stage could enable Virginia to generate all the electric power it needs without air pollution and carbon-dioxide emissions. While the dialogue over “alternative energy” focuses mainly on wind and solar power, new technologies such as small, modular nuclear reactors and electric generators using waste heat could provide viable alternatives as well.

Rob Hartwell, president of Hartwell Capitol Consulting, highlights some of the more promising technologies in a new paper, “New Technologies for Coping with Climate Change in Virginia,” published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

Mini nukes. The next generation of nuclear power, Hartwell asserts, will come in bite-size portions — less than 300 megawatts per unit, which makes them more economical because capacity can be brought on incrementally, as needed, rather than in gargantuan chunks. New designs are said to be even safer than conventional nuclear power and to be less vulnerable to catastrophic failure.

Waste heat. Berken Energy, a Colorado company, has developed a promising electric generator using waste heat as a power source. “Almost every industrial process in the world … creates wasted heat. Even the most efficient power plants are roughly only 30% efficient, thus losing nearly 70% of their initial baseload power in creating electricity,” writes Hartwell. As much as 20% of the power in electric generation can be recaptured through thermo voltaic power generation. Building costs are comparable to the cost of fossil fuel plants but there are no fuel costs, no moving parts and virtually no maintenance costs.

Waste-to-energy. eCycling USA, a Vienna, Virginia, company, is bringing the most advanced raw materials recovery processes from Germany to the U.S. Not only can its technology capture valuable resources such as copper, gold, platinum and aluminum, Hartwell writes, “even our garbage (all organics and plastics) can be turned into fuels and any ash or glass left over into insulation. In short, nearly 100% of all items in our waste stream can be converted to energy, raw materials or usable commodities to be sold and reused again.”

These technologies, Hartwell contends, will allow Virginians (and everyone else) to use carbon-based energies significantly more efficiently and in environmentally sensitive ways. “Virginia and our nation should find a way to formally test and evaluate these technologies to help them get to market sooner,” he writes.

Bacon’s bottom line: Hartwell’s paper has obvious implications for the debate over Renewable Portfolio Standards, which some people would like to make mandatory in Virginia. If Virginia electric companies were required to adopt solar, wind and biomass power at current cost levels, we would lock expensive energy into our rate base for the full life-cycle of those assets — in other word, for decades. If we were willing to wait just a few years, it is possible that these new technologies could provide comparable environmental benefits at lower cost. In effect, we can have our cake and eat it, too — cheap, abundant energy and less impact on the environment.

Freeways, New and Improved!

Freewaysby Michael Brown

Urban freeways provided unprecedented mobility for decades, and helped the United States sustain a strong economy throughout those decades.  But their success eventually became their demise.  They enabled far-flung lifestyles, which induced demand and congested them faster than we expected.  At first it was cheap and easy to convert medians and shoulders to lanes. Unfortunately that enabled even further driving from the next wave of fringe residents. Now it is getting too expensive to expand, and we know that congestion will return soon anyway.

But hey, we’re Americans! Big things are what we do!  Yes, the spirit is able, but when we think about that federal debt clock getting close to $20-trillion, a small voice inside gnaws at us, “You already spent all the money, and your children’s money too. Fort Knox is full of IOU’s to who-knows-who?  Even if you can get another loan from China – they’re figuring out that you’ll never pay them back – how can you do this in good conscience?”  And we respond, “But how can we not?  Mobility is life!  Mobility is the economy!  We can’t earn the money we need to get out of our debts if we can’t get around!”

There Are Solutions!  Before you get liquored up at the “Build-Your-Way-Out Bar & Grill” once more, READ THIS!!  Earlier articles in this series articulated the benefits of two freeway optimization strategies – congestion pricing and preventive ramp metering (sometimes called “Managed Motorways”).  Either system can optimize traffic flow (i.e., eliminate mainline congestion), but both come with negative side effects and political hurdles.  That’s why there are few examples!  HOT lanes are the baby steps we’ve been able to make because they’re politically acceptable.  But the bang-for-buck of HOT lanes is much less impressive than pricing or preventive metering.

Combining Win-Lose, Lose-Win, to Get Win-Win

Congestion drags the economy and creates frowny-faces. I believe that with congestion pricing, virtually everyone comes out a winner in some way. There are huge wins for sustainability and everyone has the option for fast travel at any time of day. But paying to access a freeway is also a visible loss to everyone, and that makes the strategy politically problematic.

Preventive metering also has positive economic effects — new efficiency means things will move!  But traditional activity centers may continue to lose out to the fringe because the preventive metering of Managed Motorways tends to reward long trips.  That could accelerate sprawl and increase Vehicle Miles Traveled, making its positive effects more temporary than pricing. More on that momentarily…

This article articulates a way to combine these separate ideas to get the benefits of pricing and metering without the negatives, resulting in an “advanced new formula” for freeways that can potentially support 30-50% more peak-period traffic without any new lanes!  This advanced formula could guarantee high speeds, but also counteract the sprawl caused by high speeds. This idea requires very little construction to implement on existing freeways, and in contrast to congestion pricing, which requires 100% of people to pay for a 5 p.m. drive, this hybrid system can be free to many and maybe most users at 5 p.m., making it more politically practical.

But wait! There’s more!  The first region to implement this new concept will become billionaires! Not only will they free themselves from billions in “Big Dig” construction debt, but they will also gain a major competitive advantage over other states worth billions in higher Gross Regional Product.  As mentioned in Who Wants to Be a Billionaire, we used the EDRG’s Transportation Economic Development Impact System, or TREDIS, to test this concept for Salt Lake. That effort suggests that the 30-year accumulated societal value of time saved could be over $50-billion, and the value of more and better paying jobs could be around $12-billion.  But before introducing this new concept, first consider its cousins which have many positives, but also many negatives.

Cousin #1:  HOT Lanes.

Freeways2Earlier in this series, I pointed out that when freeways are overwhelmed, they will lose 30-50% of their throughput – dropping from 2,200 vehicles per hour per lane (their maximum potential) down to 1,500 vphpl or less in actual measured flow.  That was the case with SR-191 in Riverside, California, which reported average speeds of 15 mph, and average throughput of only 800 vphpl prior to adding HOT lanes.  Afterwards, the HOT lanes achieved 65 mph speeds and throughput of 1,600 vphpl, a tremendous improvement!  Eighty percent of low-income residents had a positive opinion of the project, since they did pay for the fast lanes sometimes and were grateful for the option.

But the Riverside example has several problems, which are observable from the photos below and their own data. While an improvement from 800 to 1,600 vphpl is very impressive, why didn’t they get to 2,000 or 2,100, given that the opportunity is about 2,200?  There won’t be much elbow room at 2,100, but a freeway lane can carry that much without breaking down.  In the photo, you can see the free lanes are clearly overwhelmed, while the priced lanes are relatively empty (presumably not higher than 1,600, but visually this looks to be even less than that).  This suggests that they are not trying to maximize throughput, but may instead be trying to maximize revenue to pay for HOT lane construction.  Or maybe they are trying to guarantee great service – “elbow room” to those who pay the high fare.  When facing imminent failure, the system cannot remain free without failing.  But if your goal is maximum throughput, then you also cannot charge too much or the lanes end up with low flow because few will pay the excessively high price.  With high prices, you create Lexus Lanes that don’t need as much elbow room as you are creating. Continue reading

A Pyrrhic Victory: Henrico Keeps McKesson in Henrico

The old Circuit City building -- all full!

The old Circuit City building — all full!

by James A. Bacon

Henrico County has just scored an economic development coup — for the measly cost of $500,000, it has persuaded McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc., a major distributor of medical supplies, to occupy the remaining space at the old Circuit City headquarters building. The state will match the sum with another $500,000. Said county Supervisor David A. Kaechele: “It’s good news all around.”

Just one little problem: McKesson Medical-Surgical is already headquartered in Henrico County. The million dollars in government funds merely moves McKesson from one county location to another. It’s not as if Henrico is recruiting a new business enterprise to the region.

Gary McLaren, Henrico’s economic development director, justifies the incentive payment on the grounds that the company was looking at other locations in the Richmond region and potentially outside the region, according to the Times-Dispatch. The company, he says, had a site outside the state “under serious consideration.” The stakes were high: Over five years, the growing company plans to add 225 employees with compensation averaging more than $100,000 a year.

I suppose one could argue that $500,000 ($1 million, if you include the state funds) is cheap insurance against the risk of losing a major corporate citizen to another state. There is no way for us as taxpayers, however, to know how serious that threat was. Certainly, the cost to McKesson of relocating would be extremely expensive and disruptive — far more than $1 million. But if the competing jurisdiction was dangling incentives, too, it’s conceivable that Henrico’s subsidy was justified.

While recognizing the necessity of preserving the region’s business base — and McKesson is one of the larger, more successful companies headquartered in the Richmond region — corporate welfare rubs me the wrong way. McKesson doesn’t need this money to prosper. It’s taking the money because it can. No such consideration is given to citizens or small businesses.

Perhaps most frustrating is the way this transaction symbolizes the bankruptcy in thinking about economic development in Henrico — the way to keep business is to bribe companies to stay. Needless to say, only big, highly visible businesses need apply. Meanwhile, I hear rumbles of how the county is alienating other businesses by shaking them down over utility fees.

The biggest problem is the failure to comprehend how labor markets and the corporate site-location calculus are changing, and the failure to make the necessary adjustments. It takes more than a low property tax rate to entice business to stay in Henrico County. Increasingly, employers are looking for the kind of amenities typically found in traditional core cities — the experience commonly referred to as “walkable urbanism.” Henrico is creating scattered pockets of walkable urbanism but the initiative is coming almost entirely from developers. The county isn’t making the transition any easier. Our elected officials are providing no strategic vision. They’re simply responding to events as they occur and declaring a victory when a company like McKesson can be bribed to stay.

It won’t be much of a victory if every other major employer in the county has to be bribed the same way.

The Tragedy of Unregulated Home Child Care

Joseph Allen

Joseph Matthew Allen

By Peter Galuszka

Virginia’s attitudes about light regulation are coming home to roost in a most sensitive area – day care for toddlers.

The point was underlined Wednesday when Chesterfield County charged Laurie F. Underwood, 46, with only a misdemeanor  involving the death of one–year-old Joseph Matthew Allen who died after a fire at Underwood’s house Oct. 21. She had been operating her day care operation without proper state licenses — a common occurrence in the state.

The death was a little more than a month after two children — 21-month-old Kayden Curtis and 9-month-old Dakota Penn-Williams – died at another unregulated home day care operation in Lynchburg.

Both operations were supposed to be licensed but neither had permits. And, in the Chesterfield case, no government agency cross-checked to see that Underwood’s home day care operation had proper licensing. Underwood did have a county business license.

Home day care centers handling from five to 12 children are supposed to be licensed by the state Department of Social Services. But no one checks on unlicensed day care centers, Joron Planter, a department spokesperson, told me in October. The only time they do check is if someone complains. She said: “we have no way of knowing [the child care provider] even exists.”

Home day care centers must get businesses licenses from their localities. In Chesterfield, there are 344 listed but the Department of Social Services has only 156 on its tally. One way to check would be for the county and the state to check each others’ records and investigate, but no one does that.

And that is why Virginia is among the eight worst states for proper home day care regulation, according to Virginia child resource group.ranks among the bottom eight states for its regulation of in-home day cares, according to Child Care Aware of America, a national watchdog group.

Even more jarring is the fact that The Washington Post ran a deeply reported series of stories earlier this year noting that since 2004, there were 60 children killed in home day care centers. Of them, the majority, 43, were in unlicensed operations.

In the Chesterfield case, a fire caused by disposed cinders began in a garage and spread to the rest of the house. Underwood tried to get the seven children out, but in the confusion, the one-year-old was left behind. He had been strapped in a car seat in the home. He was removed by fire fighters but later died of acute thermal inhalation.

The parents of the boy, Matthew and Jacquelyn Allen, have told reporters they are upset at the laxity of the criminal charges.

But then, this is Virginia, where pandering to the anti-regulation dogma is more important than protecting toddlers’ lives.

Virginia’s Very Own Keystone XL

acl pipeline map By Peter Galuszka

The rise of natural gas keeps raising more questions about the proper future of Virginia’s and the nation’s energy policies. What just a little while ago seemed a benign source of energy has gushed into a mass of controversy and advantage.

One focus of the conflict – good and bad – is the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline that Dominion Transmission and three other southern utilities want to build from the booming natural gas fracklands of northern West Virginia, across sensitive Appalachian terrain and on through Virginia and North Carolina.

The pipeline is unusual since it doesn’t follow the usual post World War II path – Gulf States to the industrial northeast — but it shows just how the U.S. energy picture is being turned on its head.

People in West Virginia have faced the raw end of energy issues for a century and a half, but it is a new matter for the bucolic areas of Nelson County and some of Virginia’s most pristine and appealing mountain country.

Here is a story I wrote for Style Weekly on the promises and problems of Virginia’s very own Keystone XL.

Transience and Fresh Blood, Two Sides of the Same Coin

fresh_blood

Every community needs fresh blood — newcomers who bring  different perspectives and creative ideas. But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing. If everyone is a newcomer, communities lose social cohesion. Transients don’t have the same stake in a community that the old-timers do and they’re less likely, all other things being equal, to participate in the political process, engage civically and contribute to local causes.

I thought it would be interesting to see which localities in Virginia are most dominated by newcomers. Working with Internal Revenue Service migration data, which tracks the movement of tax filers between 2010 and 2011, I calculated the percentage of in-migrant tax filers for that year as a percentage of all tax filers, and then ranked Virginia’s localities. (Click here to view a spreadsheet of all Virginia localities.)

Though not especially surprising, the findings are interesting. The most transient localities in Virginia, as seen in the chart above, are cities and the state’s most urbanized county, Arlington. Prince George County, southeast of the Richmond-Petersburg region, is the only anomaly.

fresh_blood_low

The localities with the least fresh blood tend to be rural, poor and geographically isolated, predominantly in the mountain regions of Virginia, but some from the red clay country of the Southern Piedmont.

There is an extraordinary difference in the degree of transience. Fredericksburg had almost nine times the number of newcomers expressed as a percentage of all tax filers in 2011 that Dickenson County did.

By itself, this data is little more than a curiosity. It becomes useful when correlated with transience/fresh blood with economic indicators such as job growth, income growth, housing prices and other cost of living indicators, education, voting participation and various indices of social engagement.

-- JAB

Chart of the Day: K-12 Demographics

enrollments

Enrollment of Hispanics in Virginia schools surged in 2010 and hasn’t slowed down since. If the trend line continues — and there is no assurance that it will — Hispanics could become the second largest ethnic/racial group within ten to fifteen years. Asians are gaining ground as a percentage of the school population as well, though far more slowly.

(Thanks to Jim Weigand for the chart.)

– JAB

Before Panicking, Can We Get the Facts, Please?

Animal House

Animal House

by James A. Bacon

Let me make this clear up front. I have zero interest in defending the behavior that goes on at University of Virginia fraternities. I never joined a fraternity when I attended UVa back in the early 1970s. Indeed, it only took two frat parties before I reached the conclusion that getting wasted and puking in the gutter was not my idea of entertainment. I never set foot back in a frat house after that. As time passed, my contempt for the frat house culture only grew stronger. I still have vivid memories of moronic frat boys who intermittently attended a class on West Indian history, did none of the reading and contributed nothing to the discussion. They’d heard that the class was a “gut,” and they successfully persuaded the soft-hearted professor not to flunk them on the grounds that they wouldn’t graduate if he did. My contempt for them was boundless. How dare they occupy slots at UVa when so many others with a genuine desire to learn were denied admittance?

So, when it comes to dissecting events at UVa in the wake of Rolling Stone‘s gang-rape story, I feel akin to a Jewish member of the American Civil Liberties Union defending the right of Nazis to march in public parades. Just as the Jewish ACLU lawyer isn’t defending Nazis, he’s defending free speech, I’m not defending fraternities, I’m defending student associations against the indiscriminate over-reaction of the UVa administration.

Not only has UVa President Teresa Sullivan canceled all fraternity and sorority events until the Spring semester, she has amped up her rhetoric. “U.Va. is too good a place to allow this evil to reside,” she said Monday, outlining steps she is taking to overhaul the way the university deals with sexual assault. So, now we’re pitching this as a battle of good versus evil — no shades of gray allowed. Meanwhile, state legislators are stumbling over themselves to introduce legislation to require university authorities across the state to report alleged sexual assaults to police and prosecutors.

One thing we all can agree upon is that the Rolling Stone allegations of a gang rape of a first-year University woman at Phi Kappa Psi fraternity were absolutely horrifying and, if true, that the alleged rapists deserve to spend a long time in jail. The horror of the crime, compounded by the failure of the victim, her friends or university authorities to report the crime, have fueled the furor. What few here in Virginia have yet done, however, is to ask if the allegations are true.

If there is one thing we should have learned from recent news frenzies, it’s that the initial reports are horrifying… and almost always incomplete. The Duke lacrosse team rape. The Trayvon Martin shooting. The Michael Brown shooting. We have fallen into a depressing pattern. An event occurs. First reports confirm a prevailing narrative (usually revolving around racism or sexism, or both). Passions flare, views harden. Facts leak out contradicting the narrative, either in whole or in part. But people dig into their positions and no one changes their mind. It turns out that the Duke lacrosse team did not rape the stripper, and the circumstances surrounding the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were far more complicated than first billed and fraught with uncertainties lending themselves to multiple interpretations.

Could that be the case with the UVa gang rape? Hopefully, now that the case has been turned over to the Charlottesville police for investigation, we’ll get a more authoritative account of what happened at the Phi Kappa Psi frat house than what we’ve read in Rolling Stone. That account may turn out in the end to be 100% accurate. But it’s far from authoritative, and university authorities should not assume that it reflects the full unvarnished truth without at least checking it out first.

Why do I say the Rolling Stone article is less than authoritative? Because the narrative of the rape itself relies upon the account of one person, the victim.  The reporter was unable to confirm her version of the story with the three friends whom she told about the rape later that evening. Needless to say, the reporter didn’t talk to any of the alleged rapists or even the instigator, a student identified as “Drew.” And, of course, UVa authorities refused to discuss the case on the grounds of protecting privacy.

Meanwhile, there are details within the story that call out for explanation or clarification. The room where the rape allegedly occurred was described as “pitch black.” The victim, identified as Jackie, “detected movement” in the room and “felt someone bump into her.” Yet toward the end of her three-hour ordeal,  she was able to “recognize” one of her assailants as a classmate in an anthropology class. Maybe there’s a logical explanation for the seeming contradiction — maybe her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Or maybe it’s a flawed narrative. We don’t know. It would help to find out.

Similarly Jackie described falling backward onto a low glass table and shattering the glass as the first rapist assaulted her. “Sharp shards” dug into her back. Multiple rapes ensued. Her body was bleeding, her dress “splattered with blood.” After she fled the fraternity house, one of the three friends thought the injuries looked severe enough to take her to the hospital. Yet she never went — her friends talked her out of it.  These, at least, are details of the narrative can be factually checked. Police can interview the friends for corroborating testimony. They can interview her roommate to see if she noticed the injuries or the bloody dress. They can check Jackie’s body for scars from untreated cuts.

The bottom line here is to gather some facts before jumping to conclusions. If the facts support the rape allegations, then let’s proceed full steam ahead to indict the rapists and send them to jail for a very long time. If they don’t, let’s everybody calm down, please.

Ascertaining the facts on the gang rape won’t settle the broader issue of the “culture of rape” at UVa. Clearly, something bad is going on. As W. Bradford Wilcox, a UVa sociologist and self-described conservative writes in National Review, seven of the 103 female students in his classes reported in an anonymous survey that they had been “forced into a sexual act against [their] will,” and an additional 33 reported that a “UVA friend” has experienced such a violation. Seven of 103, less than 7%, is  a far cry from the commonly touted figure of 20%, but it’s still way too high.

As I have noted before, however, most of these incidents occur in the context of the drunken college hook-up culture in which students drink themselves silly and engage in high-risk behavior. Sometimes, men cross the line of consent. Such behavior needs to stop. While clearly there is a problem that needs to be fixed, the UVa administration is going overboard by shutting down all fraternity and sorority events until someone figures out what needs to be done. Is it justified to punish the innocent along with the guilty? Or do we just suppose that all Greek organizations are guilty, even the sororities? Writes Wilcox:

On most college campuses, some fraternities have a reputation for misogyny and bad behavior. Plugged-in students and administrators usually know which fraternities treat women badly. These fraternities should be identified and reformed or shut down.

I agree. There well may be fraternity houses where the sins are so egregious that they deserve to be shut down entirely. But we don’t know that right now. All we have are vague charges leveled against fraternities generally and one single horrifying charge leveled against Phi Kappa Psi. Shutting down all Greek social events strikes me as one of blind, unthinking panic. The UVa administration and board are reacting on the basis of emotion, not facts. And that can lead to no good.