Is This a Wise Expenditure or Not?

A news release from the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission touts the the fact that it’s Commuter Choice transit program, funded by tolls on the Interstate 66, Interstate 94 and Interstate 395 corridors, has eliminated 3.5 million single-occupancy vehicle trips over five years.

Wow, 3.5 million trips sounds significant. But, wait. That’s only 700,000 trips per year, and 1,920 trips per day on average over the five-year period. (NVTC says it now moves 4,000 people each weekday.) The number of daily car trips taken by Northern Virginians runs in the millions.

How much did Commuter Choice cost? Oh, yes, $92.7 million. That amounts to a cost of about $26.50 per trip saved over five years.

Is that a productive use of resources? I don’t know. Continue reading

Enrollment Winners and Losers

by James A. Bacon

The fall 2022-23 enrollment numbers are in for Virginia’s institutions of higher education. Collectively, the state’s public colleges and universities held their own in a year in which enrollment continued to decline nationally. The community colleges staunched their bleeding after a couple of years of severe losses, keeping numbers stable, while the four-year institutions turned in a mixed performance.

In percentage terms the big winners were Virginia’s two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities): Virginia State University with a 9.7% gain, and Norfolk State University, with a 5.9% gain. In absolute numbers Virginia Tech fared best, while George Mason University eked out a modest increase.

All other public institutions lost enrollment, with the most devastating declines taking place at Radford University, down 14.7%, and the Virginia Military Institute, down 6.4%. Small liberal-arts institutions generally fared the worst while big research universities held up better.

There’s more to enrollment numbers than bragging rights. Higher enrollments translate directly into higher revenue. Institutions that lose students also lose revenues, even though their cost structure in terms of departments, programs, and physical plant remains the same. Persistent erosion of enrollment can threaten a university’s financial integrity, as has been seen in innumerable private non-profit institutions across the country that have closed their doors. Continue reading

Boiling Blood, Aching Heart

by Jon Baliles

This appalling story will make your blood boil with rage and your heart ache with sadness, followed by gratitude for those that work to defend the defenseless. I have said before and again reiterate that people who abuse helpless animals deserve and hopefully receive a non-stop express ticket to hell. I’ll put them on the train myself, if need be.

Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) this week announced the recovery of 56 animals that were abused and neglected beyond description and in such bad condition that they declined to detail some of the abuses the animals had suffered or publish pictures of their condition.

All told, RACC officers rescued 19 dogs, 33 cats, a rabbit, a turtle, a pot belly pig and a raccoon. Of all the animals, the only picture that they could release is this one:

The other pictures and conditions were too graphic for publication, according to RACC.

Ashley Hendricks at NBC 12 reported: “All of them needed immediate intervention, which we typically don’t see in such a large volume – we just kept finding more,” Christie Chipps-Peters, director at RACC. Continue reading

Physicians, Hospitals and Gender Dysphoria in Minors- Fundamental Disputes

By James C. Sherlock

What about the doctors in this controversy?  What about hospital and state oversight?  What do laws and regulations require and on what are they silent?

We’ll look.

The dispute among physicians on the treatment of gender dysphoria in minors is primarily an ethical one.  They agree on the diagnosis and some of the medical effects of hormone treatments.  They agree:

  • that gender dysphoria (GD) in childhood describes a psychological condition in which children experience a marked incongruence between their experienced gender and the gender associated with their biological sex;
  • that with the onset of puberty, the emotional turmoil can be significant and needs to be dealt with. (They disagree on how to deal with it);
  • that puberty blockers stop puberty;
  • that puberty blockers cause emotional distress and some increasingly concerning side effects, but achieve the physical results sought;
  • that once a child has puberty blocked, he or she is very likely to proceed to cross-gender hormones;
  • that cross-gender hormones also “work” in a medical sense, meaning they cause the physical changes sought by the physician, and at some level sterilize the patient;
  • that, once transitioned with cross-gender hormones, the minor will be dependent upon them for the rest of his or her life to maintain the gender reassignment; and
  • that there are no scientific clinical studies that have tracked the health of transitioned minors as they have grown into adults.  What little is available are surveys, not clinical follow-ups.

They agree that transitioned persons as a group go on to have very difficult lives. We have the data on that, just not on their health outcomes from the transition treatments.

They also agree that action or inaction and the types of action chosen involve moral judgments. But they disagree on what is moral here.

The progressive view is that these interventions are life-saving and gender-choice-affirming.  Those who oppose the interventions consider them unethical and dangerous experiments on minors unequipped to make such decisions. Some also consider them immoral.

The ethical debates among physicians start early in the process with different interpretations of “first, do no harm.”

In Virginia in 2020, Governor Northam and the General Assembly put a thumb on the scale.

Continue reading

A Tale Of Two Bridge Projects

by Kerry Dougherty

Some would say it’s not fair to compare the rapid repairs to a hurricane-damaged bridge in Florida to the desultory progress of the Laskin Road bridge project in Virginia Beach.

I don’t care.

For those of us getting our cars realigned every few months and learning to zigzag as we attempt to navigate the moonscape that Laskin Road has been for three years – with no end in sight – it was impossible not to marvel at the miracle in Florida.

And pine for Pine Island.

Let’s back up.

When Hurricane Ian unexpectedly slammed Into Lee County on the Gulf Coast, the largely rural Pine Island communities saw their only bridge to the mainland buckle. It appeared that the several thousand permanent residents of the coral island would be marooned for some time.

But then this happened:

Continue reading

Coming Soon to a School Near You: “Equitable Grading”

by James A. Bacon

The inexorable logic of “equity” has come to the dispensing of grades in Virginia public schools. Having effectively abandoned the hard work of raising the educational achievement of minority students, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is lowering standards — implementing “equitable grading” practices in order to combat “institutional bias” and eliminate racial disparities in grade outcomes, reports the Washington Examiner.

What does this mean in practice? Removing grade penalties for late assignments. Allowing students to retake tests and redo assignments. Eliminating zeros as grades and setting a grade floor of 50 on a 1-to-100 scale, even if the student never submits the assignment.

Incredibly, advocates of equitable grading contend that it can promote learning and improve educational outcomes. “Despite what some might posit, this change has resulted in real increases in student learning and not masking a lack of learning,” said the FCPS High School Principals’ Association in a June 14 letter to outgoing Superintendent Scott Braband.

The Fairfax County Parents’ Association begs to differ. Continue reading

Virginia as Tech Worker Paradise?

There is good news and bad news in a recent ranking of the best places in the U.S. “to work in tech” by Zurich, Switzerland-based SmallPDF, a company that converts PDF files to Word files.

The good news is that Virginia ranks at the top of the list. From the press release:

The research found “that Virginia is the best state to work in tech right now due to high average wages in the Computer and Mathematical Occupations field with $110,510 a year, 58.44 employed in the field per 1,000 jobs, and the highest current tech vacancies with 128.97 openings per 100,000 people in the industry.”

“When measuring the average salary against the average annual rent spend, those employed in the field would only be spending 21.68% of their salary on rent. Those wanting to work in tech remotely also have lots of options, with 27,563 remote openings available at the time of the study.”

The bad news is that Virginia stands out as having more tech vacancies per 100,000 people by far than the other top 10 states. A high level of tech vacancies may be advantageous to the workers, but it’s a restraint on economic growth generally.

Why the high level of vacancies? Continue reading

UVa Children’s Takes Step Forward in Support to Gender Dysphoric Minors

by James C. Sherlock

I congratulate UVa Children’s Hospital for taking a step forward in the treatment of gender dysphoric minors.

One of the criticisms of that service was its singular focus on endocrinology.

Moving from mental health support to hormone therapy is, as Mayo Clinic warns, a big step.

Starting this week, comprehensive services in the Teen & Young Adult Health Center Transgender Health Services will for the first time include treatment by clinical psychologists of gender dysphoric minors for anxiety, depression and ongoing emotional issues.

UVa Children’s has added Professor Laura Shaffer, Ph.D., the chief of the hospital’s section of pediatric psychology, to the staff of that service. She is joined there by Assistant Professor Haley Stephens, Ph.D. and Assistant Professor Sara Groff Stephens, Ph.D.

This welcome change should ensure:

  • that a child arriving at that clinic will be thoroughly and professionally assessed and treated by a clinical psychologist;
  • that no child is referred to hormone treatment who can be effectively treated with psychotherapy; and
  • that both the minor and his parents will fully understand the risks of hormone therapy and, while being supportive, the psychologist will emphasize to parents the importance of allowing their child the freedom to return to a gender identity that aligns with his or her sex assigned at birth.

Continue reading

The Shockley-Goldsby Debate: The Rest of the Story

Image credit: 1975 Corks & Curls

by James A. Bacon

In August The Cavalier Daily ignited a furor over Bert Ellis, a conservative businessman whom Governor Glenn Youngkin appointed to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors. In a lengthy article, the student newspaper detailed Ellis’ role, as a tri-committee chairman of the University Union, in bringing Nobel Prize winner William Shockley to the University for a debate about race and IQ.

Shockley’s views about Black intellectual inferiority have been broadly rejected by American society in the 47 years since Shockley went mano a mano with African-American biologist Richard Goldsby. But the event has been cited as the most damning of multiple reasons to demand Ellis’ resignation from the Board. As the UVa Student Council, the Democratic Party of Virginia and various media outlets have repeated the story, it has morphed into a narrative in which, to quote The Washington Post editorial board, Ellis “organized a campus talk” by a racist. No mention of a debate. No mention of Goldsby. No mention of the fact that Ellis was one of three student chairmen who ran the University Union.

Here’s what the narrative underplays or omits entirely: first, the University Union had reached out to local African-American groups in 1974 when planning the debate. Second, Ellis was one of three tri-chairmen who called the shots, although, as spokesman for the group, he was the only one quoted in The Cavalier Daily coverage of the controversy. Third, when the three tri-chairmen made the final decision, Ellis voted to cancel the debate. But he was in the minority, and he was overruled.

In sum, the portrayal of Ellis’ role in the controversy is so shorn of context that it amounts to character assassination. Here follows the full story: Continue reading

Graph of the Day: Virginia CO2 Emissions

Source: The Commonwealth of Virginia’s 2022 Energy Plan

For the record: Virginia’s electric utility sector reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 43% between 2010 and 2020. Globally, CO2 emissions continued to increase during that decade.

The vast majority of the decline can be attributed to the shift from coal- to gas-fired generation. As of December 2021, only 3% of the state’s power supply came from “intermittent” (wind and solar) energy sources.

Virginia gets only 11% of its electricity from coal now, which means that the displacement of coal is mostly spent as a source of additional CO2 reductions. To reach the goal of zero carbon emissions by mid-century, the bulk of future cuts must come from replacing natural gas with wind and solar. The unresolved questions: How much will that cost and how will the shift impact reliability?

— JAB

Disabilities and Discipline

by James A. Bacon

The American Institutes for Research has published a review of the Fairfax County Public Schools special-education programs for students with disabilities. Here’s the lead paragraph of The Washington Post: “Students with disabilities in Fairfax County Public Schools are more likely than their peers without disabilities to be suspended and to fail state tests, a new report has found.”

While the study praised Fairfax schools for its commitment to teaching children with disabilities, the Post reported, “In the time period studied, students with disabilities were 3.1 times more likely to receive an in-school suspension and 4.4 times more likely to receive an out-of-school suspension than their peers who do not have disabilities.”

The article didn’t engage in the overt editorializing we often see from WaPo reporters. But my spidey senses tingle whenever the angle of a story highlights disparities that can be used to argue that someone somewhere is being discriminated against. I like to dig deeper and look for missing context. So, I actually perused the report. And, lo and behold, I found plenty of missing context.

The long and short of it: there are many types of disabilities, from deafness, blindness, and orthopedic impairment to autism and emotional disturbance. The study does not distinguish between different types of disability in its analysis of in- and out-of-school suspensions. If blind kids and kids with stutters are getting suspended at four times the rate of other kids, that would tell you one thing. If kids classified as having “emotional disturbance” are getting suspended, well, that says something quite different. Continue reading

Good Energy Plan But It Needs to Pass

The energy cliff created if Virginia actually closes all its natural gas plants as the current law requires. Source: Youngkin’s Energy Plan using Dominion Energy data.  Click for larger view.

by Steve Haner

First published this morning by Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

In his newly released energy plan, Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) makes it clear he sees the economic abyss created by the unrealistic and ideological green utopia demanded by his predecessor. Seeing a looming disaster and stopping it are two different things.

The new document is not a full 180-degree change from the previous plan concocted by former Governor Ralph Northam (D). For example, Youngkin is not reversing his previous endorsement of Dominion Energy Virginia’s planned $10 billion offshore wind project, a central part of the Northam plan. Also, Youngkin apparently is sufficiently convinced that carbon dioxide is harmful that he wants to spend your money on carbon capture and storage.

Nor does Youngkin call for outright repeal of the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA), but rather he endorses removing its rigid mandates as to how rapidly to retire fossil fuel energy generation, and its mandatory replacement with wind, solar and related battery technology. The problem is that even tweaks require amending state law, and previous efforts to do that were thwarted by the Democrats who still control the Virginia Senate and who still accept the Green New Deal catechism in full. Continue reading

Solar Farms Trump Environmental Justice in Virginia

Dominion’s Amazon Solar Farm in Pittsylvania County – Courtesy New York Times.

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia is a solar energy boom state.

The Commonwealth ranked 4th in total generating capacity of new solar installations in 2020. The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) in 2021 ranked Virginia 6th nationally for projected growth in solar capacity over the next 5 years.

The left is consumed by concern for environmental justice. Except when it isn’t. Like when it wants green energy.

Take the location of utility-scale (>5 MW) solar farms in Virginia. Virtually all of them were sited during the administrations of Democratic governors. Each was subject to environmental reviews by multiple agencies of the state government, coordinated by the Department of Environmental Quality.

And yet let’s look where they have been built and are planned.

Places like Emporia. Places like Essex, Buckingham, Charlotte and Lunenburg Counties where new solar farms are under development.

Environmental justice did not make the cut during the Northam and McAuliffe administrations’ rush for green energy.

Poor, rural Black people, and Republicans, apparently needed to take one for the team. Continue reading

The War on Virginia’s History

Anarchy and nihilism. Mural at the University of Virginia. Photo credit: Ann McLean

by Scott S. Powell and Ann McLean

The United States is under a cultural and ideological attack that threatens its continuity and survival more than at any previous time in the 239-year history of the nation. And since the leaders of this attack think strategically, it should come as no surprise that Virginia would be in the crosshairs of a new kind of battle to transform America.

Virginia is the key state that gave birth to the United States, and this state has more historical sites than any other — approximately 130 in all. Yorktown and Appomattox Courthouse, both in Virginia, were the sites of the final battles of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Thus, America-haters know that if the history and culture of Virginia can be denigrated and rewritten, the rest of the country will be easier to take down.

Four of the first five U.S. presidents came from Virginia. George Washington, who led the Continental Army to victory in the War of Independence, would become the first president. Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence, became the third president. James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, drafted the Constitution. James Monroe, the fifth and last president among the Founding Fathers, was the brave 18-year-old volunteer soldier holding the American flag in Emanuel Leutze’s famous 1850 painting, “Washington Crossing the Delaware,” sitting in the boat right behind resolute commander-in-chief Washington. Continue reading

Youngkin Energy Plan Restores Emphasis on Cost and Reliability

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s energy policy needs to establish a better balance between cost, reliability, and environmental sustainability, says the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 2022 Energy Plan. In practice, that means backing off rigid timelines to achieve a net zero carbon electric grid and investing in emerging technologies such as hydrogen, carbon capture, and small modular nuclear reactors.

“The plan adopted in recent years by the previous administration goes too far in establishing rigid and inflexible rules for the transition in energy generation in Virginia,” stated Governor Glenn Youngkin in the introduction. “We need to recognize that a clean energy future does not have to come at the cost of a healthy, resilient, and growing economy.”

The Virginia Clean Energy Act (VCEA), which sets Virginia’s electricity policy, calls for phasing out all coal and natural gas plants by 2045 in Dominion Energy’s service territory, and 2050 in the rest of the state. That timetable, says the 2022 Energy Plan, is arbitrary. Virginia policy needs to “embrace a measure of humility” regarding the ability to predict energy demand and technological innovation 30 years from now.

“The only way to confidently move towards a reliable, affordable and clean energy future in Virginia,” wrote Youngkin, “is to go all-in on innovation in nuclear, carbon capture, and new technology like hydrogen generation, along with building on our leadership in offshore wind and solar.” Continue reading