Health Care and the Oppression Narrative

County health rankings. Source: Robert Woods Johnson Foundation

Correlation does not equal causality. That’s a fundamental tenet of statistics, but the concept apparently is so rarefied that a Virginia Mercury article based the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings appears to be unfamiliar with it. The result is a headline — “In Virginia, health outcomes follow geographic and racial lines” — that has become standard fare in the ongoing Oppression Narrative embraced by most of Virginia’s media outlets. By misdiagnosing the problem, the Oppression Narrative does a grave dis-service to Virginia’s poor and minorities.

Writes the Virginia Mercury today:

More than 20 percent of Virginia’s black, American Indian and Hispanic populations report poor or fair health, compared to 14 percent of the state’s white residents. …

Year over year, the rankings essentially tell the same story: Virginia’s healthy counties, many of which are nestled in the northern part of the state, remain healthy, while its unhealthy localities, clumped together in the south and southwest, continue to struggle with poor outcomes. …

Continue reading

Energy Bacon Bits: VNG Case, LED, APCo’s Grid

LED Street Lights

The State Corporation Commission has approved a challenged natural gas contract between Virginia Natural Gas and an affiliated asset management firm, but the next request for proposal process will start this coming summer with substantially greater oversight.  The March 15 opinion is here.

As reported on Bacon’s Rebellion a few weeks ago, losing bidders for the contract to serve the Hampton Roads region gas distributor had complained that the RFP process they went through was not fair, a complaint that drew some support from an SCC hearing examiner.  VNG’s existing contract with Sequent Energy Management was about to run out, so the hearing examiner suggested a one-year approval followed by a re-do.

The commission granted two years, but that will allow more than a year for the SCC itself to review the next RFP process.  In the meantime, the order includes a long list of requirements – 26 in all – demanding information and issuing directives to VNG and Sequent over how the work will proceed.

Virginia Natural Gas and Sequent are both owned by Southern Company Gas, and because they are affiliates, the SCC must approve any contractual relationship to make sure it is fair to the utility’s customers.  After a long sole source relationship between the companies, it was the SCC which ordered the first RFP process for this latest contract period.   Continue reading

Innovation Sharing in Virginia Schools

Virginia School Consortium for Learning logo

This may be the most promising initiative I’ve seen coming out of Virginia’s educational establishment in a couple of years. Press release from the Virginia Department of Education:

Teams of educators from 31 school divisions gathered last week [in Chesterfield County] to share ideas on how to accelerate innovation and promote deeper learning in the commonwealth’s public schools. The educators make up the first cohort of the Virginia Is for Learners Innovation Network. …

The innovation network’s goals are to promote deeper learning at all grade levels and to align instruction and assessment across the state with the expectations of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate. The profile — which was adopted by the state Board of Education in November 2016 — describes the knowledge, skills, attributes, and experiences identified by the board, higher education and employers as critical for future success.

Of course, the sharing of educational best practices does nothing to advance the Narrative of Endemic Racism, so it’s not surprising that we read nothing of it in any of Virginia’s newspapers. I didn’t attend the gathering, so I can’t vouch for the quality of ideas exchanged. But the meeting sounds like a win-win proposition.

Gentrification, Racism and the Democratic Electoral Coalition

Washington Post headline today: “D.C. has the highest ‘intensity’ of gentrification of any U.S. city, study says. More than 20,000 African American residents were displaced from low-income neighborhoods from 2000 to 2013, researchers say.”

Forbes magazine, circa June 2018: “Washington DC is being sued for gentrification. The 82-page class action lawsuit, filed by Aristotle Theresa, brought grievances against the city for its alleged discriminatory policies favoring creatives and millennials at the expense of the city’s historically African American, low-income residents.”

Reminder: Washington, D.C., also is one of the most liberal and Democratic jurisdictions in the country. In the 2016 presidential election, 91% of the population voted for Hillary Clinton.

Question: How long can the electoral alliance between creatives/millennials and African-Americans persist?

Virginia Manufacturing Jobs Still in Decline

Source: StatChat blog

Virginia has lost nearly 136,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, a 36% decrease, according to Kyaw Khine writing in the StatChat blog. The losses occurred mostly in the latter phases of the 2000 and 2007 recessions, but, far from making up the losses during the last eight years of economic expansion, manufacturing jobs have been treading water.

Further, Khine cites long-term industry projections by the Virginia Employment Commission that employment in Virginia’s manufacturing sector will decrease by another 5.7% between 2016 and 2026.

Khine’s numbers call into question the economic-development priorities of Virginia’s non-metropolitan areas which continue to invest resources in building a manufacturing base as well as the Northam administration’s well-intentioned goal of ensuring that no region gets left behind economically. Continue reading

SCC Details High Customer Cost of RGGI

RGGI states

The State Corporation Commission staff has “shown its work” on an earlier estimate of electricity rate increases resulting from Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, despite a Democratic legislator’s complaint in Sunday’s Washington Post it was not being transparent.

“Even if you agree with the SCC, its analyses should be public information designed to inform the public debate. The SCC, however, has chosen a less transparent route, disadvantaging the public and the legislature from having all the necessary information to determine energy policy in the commonwealth,” Delegate David Toscano of Charlottesville wrote.

Here it is.  The report was shared with Bacon’s Rebellion by Department of Environmental Quality staff.  DEQ requested that the SCC provide additional details on its claim in a short letter that RGGI compliance would cost Dominion Energy Virginia $3.3 to $5.9 billion and could add $7-$12 to a monthly residential bill.    Continue reading

Richmond Schools Weaken Anti-Truancy Initiative

Attendance officer Breon Eppes. Photo credit: Richmond Free Press

It has long been a pillar of Virginia education policy to increase the high school graduation rate. To advance that goal, several school districts have cracked down on students skipping school. The Richmond Public School system, for instance, has long employed a team of “school attendance officers” to round up truants and get them back into the classroom.

Then last year, in a move that generated little publicity, the General Assembly gutted a 20-year-old anti-truancy law. That bill, according to the Richmond Free-Press, did four things: It (1) doubled from five to 10 the number of days that a student could miss, (2) allowed schools to wait another 10 days before meeting with parents, (3) eliminated most of the authority of school attendance officers to be involved, and (4) allowed school districts to use volunteers instead of paid staff to work on attendance issues.

Now, with support from the Richmond school board, Superintendent Jason Kamras proposes to save $500,000 by eliminating 21 positions slotted for attendance officers and replacing them with seven “attendance liaisons.”

The Richmond Free-Press quoted Bacon’s Rebellion’s friend and comrade-in-arms John Butcher, author of Cranky’s Blog and the first person outside the educational establishment to notice the change:

Update: In an important comment, Dick Hall-Sizemore takes exception to the way the Richmond Free-Press characterized changes to the anti-truancy law, and suggests that the tweaks might have stemmed from issues specific to Fairfax County, and anything happening in Richmond was unintended consequence. Continue reading

Enjoy the Basketball Game — and Thank a Student

As a basketball fan, I’m delighted that five Virginia teams — UVa, Virginia Tech, VCU, ODU and Liberty — will participate in the NCAA tournament this month. That’s more than basketball powerhouse North Carolina (heh! heh!), and it may be more teams than from any other state. After UVa chokes early in the tournament, I’ll still have up to four other teams to root for!

I’m less enthralled, however, by the fact that the teams’ success has been funded in part by an increase in student fees, thus contributing to the higher-ed affordability crisis.

According to Richmond BizSense, revenue from the Virginia Commonwealth University athletics program has more than doubled in the past eight years, zooming from $16.3 million in FY 2010 to $34.2 million in FY 2017. The largest source of athletics revenue was student fees. Continue reading

More Power for States: Good or Bad?

One of the most pleasant surprises that I discovered upon becoming a frequent follower of this blog was the whole world of energy regulation. RGGI, and, now, TCI, were new terms for me. I became aware of the cap- and-trade concept in its first widespread use in dealing with sulfur dioxide emissions, but was not aware of its current use for carbon dioxide.

Steve Haner’s recent post on TCI referred to RGGI and TCI as interstate compacts. That caught my attention. Long ago, in my political science courses, I learned about interstate compacts (my professor wrote what was then the definitive study on interstate compacts). The U.S. Constitution provides, “No state shall, without the consent of Congress…enter into any agreement or compact with another state….” (Article I, Section 10) Virginia has entered into a number of agreements with other states that fall under the ambit of this provision.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets limits on the catches of certain fish species, is one example. Another, more familiar, example is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. But  RGGI and TCI have not been approved by Congress, which puzzled me.

It turns out that not all agreements among states constitute an “interstate compact” in the Constitutional sense. The Supreme Court in its first case dealing with interstate compacts (Tennessee v. Virginia, 1895), and confirmed in 1985 in its most recent case on this subject, declared that an agreement among states does not require the consent of Congress if it does not infringe on, or encroach upon, federal supremacy. Continue reading

Arlington Welcomes Amazon 5-0 As Crowd Screams

Crowd at Arlington Board meeting Saturday March 16. Source: Arlington Now

The Arlington Board of Supervisors endured six hours of public hearing marked by local hooligans screaming at Amazon company representatives, then voted 5-0 Saturday for the modest local incentive package negotiated to bring the tech giant to a new location near Reagan National Airport and Crystal City.

A review of the final county staff presentation (here) puts the $51 million in identified incentives, spread out over several years, side by side with the $174 million in projected local taxes over the first 12 years, and the $342 million in local taxes over the first 16 years.  Those assume Amazon hits 25,000 employees by around 2030 and 37,850 employees by around 2034, and ultimately occupies 6 million square feet of owned and rented office space.   Continue reading

Next Up: Carbon Tax, Cap and Trade On Your SUV

They are coming next for your SUV.

While the Air Pollution Control Board still has steps to take, it is safe to consider Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative a done deal.  That will quickly hit you in your electric bill, as Virginia’s two major electricity generators will have to pay a tax on their carbon emissions and alter their generation fleets to steadily reduce their CO2 output.

Here is what’s next:  The counterpart to RGGI for another major sector of the economy is the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which Virginia announced it would join in September.   In addition to Virginia, the current TCI member jurisdictions are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, with policy support from Georgetown University.   Continue reading

Moral Measures, Skin in the Game, and K-12 Education

Four former state secretaries of education banded together to publish an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today in support of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s proposal to raise real estate and cigarette taxes to fund the Richmond public school system’s strategic plan. In the op-ed they made a statement that is core to liberal thought:

The moral measure of any community is its commitment to investing in opportunities for its neediest citizens. About 40 percent of children in the city of Richmond live below the poverty line, and nearly three-quarters are economically disadvantaged. All of Richmond’s children deserve the opportunity to reach their potential to be contributing members of society. When that happens, our entire community will benefit.

The answer, of course, is mo’ money. The answer is always mo’ money.

I may not speak for everyone with conservative or libertarian leanings, but I speak for many. We, too, want to create a society in which every Virginia child has access to a good education. We, too, want to see African-American children in Virginia’s inner cities escape the clutches of poverty. We, too, want everyone from every county, city and town in Virginia to become a productive and contributing member of society enjoying a decent standard of living.

We disagree on how to achieve those aims. Continue reading

Too Many Problem School Kids? Hire More Counselors!

In its ongoing transformation from an organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties into an organization dedicated to advancing social justice causes, the ACLU has issued a report, “Cops and No Counselors,” which makes the case that “the lack of school mental health staff is harming students.” (The study was picked up obligingly by Richmond’s WRIC TV.)

The ACLU, which has taken the lead in instituting a social justice model of school discipline in Virginia schools, argues that Virginia should reallocate resources from law enforcement and “school resource” officers to more mental health counseling.

The study documents that 86% of Virginia students attend schools that fail to meet the benchmark of American and Virginia school counselor associations of at least one counselor per every 250 students. As WVIR notes, mental health support for schools was a focus of the General Assembly this year. Among other measures enacted, the budget set aside $12 million to cover the cost of hiring about 250 more counselors across the state, enough to reduce the ratio of counselors to high school students from 1-to-350-to 1-to-325.

Another bill requires counselors to spend 80% of their day working with students. Apparently, counselors aren’t doing enough counseling. Continue reading

Conservation Vs. Solar in Powhatan County

Conservation easements don’t just block projects like pipelines, highways and electric transmission lines. As demonstrated in Powhatan County Monday, they can block solar farms as well.

Faced with skepticism from the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors, Cartersville Solar LLC has withdrawn a proposal to build a solar farm on a 3,000-acre tract of property, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The proposal had encountered opposition from Powhatan residents. Citizens commenting at public hearings cited negative ecological impact on protected wetlands — the only remaining wildlife corridor connecting the James and Appomattox rivers — and on rare and endangered species.

Cartersville Solar had acquired 2,998 acres near the intersection of Cartersville and Duke roads for the purpose of building a solar farm. (The RTD article does not say how much power it would generate.) In November, the Powhatan County Planning Commission voted to recommend denial of the project on the grounds that the proposed use is not consistent with the 2010 Long-Range Comprehensive Plan. Part of the project would fall into an area designed Priority Conservation Area and Protected Land. Continue reading

Scrap the Truman? Make Your Case, Navy

USS Harry S. Truman, CVN 75. Navy Photo.

Despite 12 years of work for the Virginia shipyard where these magnificent beasts are born, maintained and where they go to die, I am no expert on nuclear aircraft carriers.  Political games around budgets, however? There I have a bit of experience.

A few years back the United States Navy made what appeared to be a serious effort to retire the USS George Washington at the mid-point of its life, but it fizzled, and the ship is currently undergoing the overhaul needed for an additional 25 years of service.  The work is employing thousands of craftsmen and contractors and consuming plenty of taxpayer dollars.    Continue reading