Category Archives: Uncategorized

Senate Committee Passes Rural Job Destruction Act

Now Hiring sign in Centreville, Va. Image source:

Are you kidding me? The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee just voted to increase Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour by 2021. The measure won the backing of Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, and Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach. Now, it appears, even many Republicans believe that prosperity can be enacted by a legislative wave of the wand.

Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, summed up the argument for boosting the minimum wage: “We need to give working people opportunities, so that they don’t have to make the hard choice between food on the table or a roof over their head.”

Liberals feel sorry for people in poverty, so they mandate higher wages. My only question: Why stop at $15 an hour? Why settle for a mere “living” wage? Why not $30 an hour? Why not mandate a comfortable middle-class existence for everyone?  Continue reading

No Quick Fix for I-66

Image credit: Washington Post

When the Interstate 66 Express Lanes opened a year ago, they triggered a maelstrom of controversy as Northern Virginia commuters encountered new driving patterns. Motorists were particularly irate at peak rush-hour tolls rising as high as $47.50 to drive just a few miles on I-66 inside the Beltway. Virginia transportation officials said, never fear, people would adapt and the picture would improve.

So… Has it? The Washington Post has taken a close look at the numbers. And the newspaper’s verdict is: The express lanes have caused shifts in driving behavior — shifting more people to carpooling, more to mass transit — but for the most part commuters are as miserable as ever. Continue reading

Not Your Usual Grounds for Protesting Manger Scenes

So, it’s Christmas, which means, as night follows day, that I’m feeling crankier than usual. The holiday season brings out the carmudgeon in me. If I have to read one more explication of how “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is rapey, I think I’ll blow a gasket. I’ve had it with Christmas trees, too. Our tree deposits more mess on the floor than our hair-shedding felines. Note to DNA scientists: Stop cloning sheep. Do something useful and bio-engineer a Christmas tree that doesn’t shed its bloody needles everywhere!

But nothing irritates me during Christmas season like the historical inaccuracy of manger scenes. Continue reading

Unprecedented Details Available on Amazon Deal

The most unprecedented thing about the state and local incentive package for Amazon announced yesterday is its transparency.  Never has this much detailed information been provided to the general public immediately upon announcement, outside the protection of a non-disclosure agreement, and apparently the details will continue to flow.

Virginia Economic Development Partnership President Steve Moret had a long set of slides for the House Appropriations Committee meeting in Harrisonburg yesterday, and presumably will offer the same presentation to Senate Finance tomorrow in Williamsburg.  Please take some time to flip through it, along with the highlights on Governor Ralph Northam’s website.

No question, everybody involved knows there is a sales job ahead before the General Assembly votes on the elements it must approve.

The cash flow chart, reproduced above, shows the benefit of working with a company that is so wealthy, so confident of its economic future, that delayed gratification is fine.  Too often the C-Suite Occupants cannot wait beyond two or three quarters to collect the incentives, and really want them up front so the net present value of their own investment is reduced.

Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning saying there would be only a minor cost to the state in this current budget cycle, and the chart bears that out.  This is a deal for the long haul.  Which may add to the impression that Amazon really was coming to be close to the Capital Region all along and the incentives were not the driving force here.

Not that a company like Amazon in this corporate environment was going to come without incentives.  But the initial impression is New York had to fork over far more, an indication that location was the one truly in play for economic magnets.  For us the competition was Maryland.  The second location in New York also adds credence to earlier doubts that Virginia could really host and support the full proposed operation.

What the state and localities have promised to do for Amazon and its supply chain closely mirrors the specifications the company laid out in its request for proposals.  There are to be major investments in transportation assets, of obvious value to others in the region, and in higher education.  A similar, if smaller, investment in higher education was made to lure Rolls Royce to Petersburg, and while that plant has not met expectation, I suspect the high-value engineering programs created persist.

There is a somewhat symbolic promise of money to K-12 education, but that’s going to be the rub:   Can Virginia’s network of public and private K-12 schools produce the thousands of additional college-ready computer science applicants? Clearly Amazon is interested in building that supply chain locally, as well, and watch Maryland match Virginia’s efforts.   But right now more 7th and 8th graders need to buckle down in math.  Will the lure of working for Amazon focus them?

While the major cash incentive of $22,000 per job (and the company has said it might be hiring 37,850 eventually) is paid only after the jobs and tax flow are in place, it is still a massive precedent.  The next deal discussion will start there.  This package and the earlier Micron incentive package blow away previous examples, and while Virginia can continue to brag it is cautious, and the taxpayers have some protection, the word “conservative” is out of the discussion.

An interesting footnote in the outline of the proposed memorandum of understanding:  Jobs paying in excess of $850,000 will not count toward the promised average salary of $150,000.  Having negotiated deals on behalf of a shipyard paying hourly wages, that rarefied discussion is mind-bending to me.

Virginia is now right in there with everybody else, buying the business.  Yes, New York paid more and yes, many of the things being bought by Virginia taxpayers will have overall value to the region and the Commonwealth.  But the tail is wagging the dog.

Those who watch the business channels know that one of the lingering stories this week has been the slow death spiral of the Amazon of an earlier age, General Electric.  There are cycles to these things, and the excitement of the moment must be tempered with the truth that the disruptive innovation that built Amazon will take it down one day, or shatter it.  But if the 37,850 jobs, or even the 25,000, do not come to pass or do not linger, perhaps the roads and Metro enhancements and the higher education campus will.


I recently published a post asking why Asian students, not white students, shouldn’t be the benchmark for academic achievement in K-12 schools. I have had to take that post down for some major re-writing.

Who Pays for Health Care in Virginia?

Source: “State of the Region: Hampton Roads 2018:

Where do Virginians (and Hampton Roadsters) get their health insurance coverage? Like their compatriots in every state, Virginians rely upon an assortment of private- and public-sector programs. The table above, taken from “The State of the Region: 2018 Hampton Roads” report, shows that in 2016 a higher percentage of Virginians (59%) had employer-based coverage than Americans did nationally. Virginians also had a higher percentage (12%) of military Tricare coverage — with the percentage spiking to 27% in Hampton Roads.

Virginians relied slightly less in 2016 upon Medicare than other Americans, and much less upon Medicaid — a gap of nine percentage points. But the percentages will change as Medicaid expansion takes hold in Virginia, enrolling an estimated 400,000 near-poor.

Keep a close eye on the numbers. As the percentage of Medicaid recipients goes up, which categories will shrink? Ideally, the percentage of uninsured drops dramatically. We don’t want to see a drop in “employer based” insurance and “direct purchase” insurance (which I presume refers mainly to Obamacare), which would represent a shuffling of people from one insurance system to another, not an expansion of coverage. Let’s hope the ODU authors of the 2018 Hampton Roads report revisit the Medicaid issue next year.

The New Business Tax Climate Index Is In, And…

This just in: Virginia’s position in the Tax Foundation’s 2019 Business Tax Climate Index… 22nd in the country.

The Old Dominion scores pretty well on corporate taxes (10th) and sales taxes (10th), but poorly on property taxes (30th), individual taxes (35th), and unemployment insurance taxes (43rd).

If it’s any consolation, our neighbors to the north, Maryland and Washington, D.C., rank 40th and 46th respectively, which puts Northern Virginia in a superior competitive position. But our neighbors to the south, North Carolina and Tennessee, rank 12th and 16th respectively — bad news for the Rest of Virginia.

Who Were the Puerto Rico 3,000; How Did They Die?

The death rate per 10,000 rises after Hurricane Maria a year ago, but more in line with historical trends before a “displacement adjustment.” Source: George Washington University

So, who were those 3,000 Puerto Ricans who died because of Hurricane Maria last year?  What killed them?  The storm down south and the controversy swirling over our illustrious President’s defensive tweet sent me searching for data.

It turns out there is no list of names.   There is no accounting of what causes of death were attributable to the aftermath of the devastating storm.  In fact, having now scanned the George Washington University report at the heart of this all, I have an itching feeling they missed a big statistical point.

The bottom line is that the researchers developed a model and made a projected estimate of the number of deaths to be expected on the island during the six months following the storm, based on previous year’s death numbers.   They then factored in the fact that a full 8 percent of the population, 280,000 people roughly, left the island following the storm.

With that population change factored in, the “expected” number of deaths was about 3,000 fewer than the 16,000 deaths which were recorded September through February.  Those 3,000 “excess” deaths above the projection are the one’s being attributed to the effects of the storm.  I’m rounding because their report admits the projection is not exact.  The chart I included above notes the higher death rate per 10,000 people.

There are not 3,000 death certificates noting hurricane-related causes (loss of electricity, stress, poor transportation response) and the authors chide the local medical community for not being sufficiently exact in filling out their death certificates.  So they are left with models and projections and estimates, which have translated into MSM-accepted Truth.

Here’s my question, the itch not addressed in the report, that I saw:   Who left?  Who departed following the storm?  Would the elderly, infirm and impoverished have been the ones to decamp to the mainland?  Or would they have been the one’s left behind?  Doesn’t the shift in the baseline also at least in part explain this?  The death rate really only jumped dramatically when you reduce the baseline population.

Had those people who left stayed, the number of deaths might have been the same (and then more in line with past history.)  Are they assuming mortality should have gone down after the migration but didn’t, and that’s a sign the storm continued to kill 500 more per month?

We estimate that in mid-September 2017 there were 3,327,917 inhabitants and in mid-February 2018 there were 3,048,173 inhabitants of Puerto Rico, representing a population reduction by approximately 8%. We factored this into the migration “displacement scenario” and compared it with a “census scenario,” which assumed no displacement from migration in the hurricane’s aftermath. We found that, historically, mortality slowly decreased until August 2017, and that rates increased for the period of September 2017 through February 2018, with the most dramatic increase shown in the displacement scenario accounting for post-hurricane migration (emphasis added).”

No question, the number of deaths from this kind of disaster is not – and never has been – limited to the people killed at the height of the storm.  But are the numbers being fudged here just a bit?  You must consider who could and would leave and who could not, and the population left behind.  But that takes away this wonderful cudgel for beating Trump (and it’s his own damn fault for taking the bait).

Gee, if you take a population and subtract 8 percent – most of them younger, healthy and affluent – is there anyplace in the world where you would NOT see an uptick in the death rate among those left behind?  Just asking.

Florence Could Provide First Test of Dominion’s Undergrounding Program

Image source: Dominion. Click for larger image.

Hurricane Florence may not be the cataclysm for Virginia that everyone anticipated two or three days ago. Forecasts suggest that the hurricane will veer west, not north, when it hits the Carolina coast. But other hurricanes are spawning in the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia is still a potential target, and it is still worth exploring the implications of Dominion Energy’s grid transformation program for disaster preparedness.

A big part of Dominion’s proposed multibillion-dollar grid modernization program involves hardening infrastructure and burying vulnerable distribution lines to reduce the frequency and length of electricity outages in the event of a natural disaster.  The utility already has buried hundreds of the most outage-prone tap lines under a pilot program launched four years ago, and it proposes under the Grid Modernization and Security Act to bury thousands more, funded by profits over and above the level to which it normally would be entitled, in an expansion of the initiative.

No investments have been made under the auspices of legislation passed earlier this year. Dominion has submitted its modernization plan to the State Corporation Commission (SCC) for review, and it doesn’t expect a final order until January.

But Hurricane Florence could provide a test case for the value of the strategic undergrounding program. Over the past four years, Dominion has buried 968 miles of electric line. While undergrounding obviously increases reliability for the customers directly affected, there is a system-wide benefit, explains spokesman Rayhan Daudani. “The system wide benefit is seen when we can reallocate crews more quickly and respond to outages more quickly than we would have been able to before. Fewer down wires means fewer repair locations, which means our crews can respond to the outages remaining, restoring service more quickly for all customers.”

According to data filed with the SCC, distribution lines incorporated into the strategic undergrounding program experienced 29 outage events in 2017. That compares to 1,683 events that were predicted to have occurred in the absence of the burial program. The average outage duration for customers served was 1.05 minutes compared to a predicted 386 minutes.

The Dominion-supplied graphic above shows how the undergrounding program fits into larger disaster recovery efforts. The red bars schematically show the length of restoration time before the Strategic Undergrounding Program (SUP) and the green bars the length of time after. How accurate a reflection of reality this schematic is, I do not know, but it conveys what Dominion is talking about.

On a side note… For rate payers, there may be a silver lining to those hurricane storm clouds. In the past, the repair of storm damages was incorporated into base rates base and passed along to ratepayers. Under the Grid Modernization Act, Dominion’s base rates are frozen. If Hurricane Florence causes millions of dollars worth of damage, the utility will absorb the cost of repairs and restoration.

Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity

If you’ve been following Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger’s bid to unseat Rep. Dave Brat, R-7, you know that Republican operatives uncovered a boatload of sensitive personal information about the former CIA officer through a routine public records through from the U.S. Postal Service.

How could such a thing happen? Was skulduggery involved? Did the Republicans have an inside source? No. As the Washington Post puts it today, the release of information “resulted from an employee in a new position mishandling a public-information request.”

Never attribute to malignity or conspiracy what be blamed upon incompetence and stupidity. That applies equally to the Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and the Trump campaign Russia scandal.

Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, that Other Team Has Got to Go!

The former J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church has jettisoned the name of the old Civil War hero in favor of a new name: Justice High School, reports the Washington Post. The name change will cost about $428,000 to replace fixtures, equipment and clothing with a new name and logo. Donors have contributed $91,000 so far.

As part of its new image, Justice High School has adopted the wolf as its new school mascot. Just wondering: Isn’t that problematic?

The rapacious patriarchal/specie-ist/capitalist system of the United States has displaced wolves from their natural habitat across most of the continent, just as it displaced and subjugated native Indians. Who are the residents of Falls Church to adopt the wolf as a mascot? Isn’t that the inter-species equivalent to cultural appropriation? Aren’t Falls Churchers stereotyping the wolf as a violent, bloodthirsty creature and drawing a moral equivalence between the valuable ecological function performed by alpha predators (culling the herd) and the mindless violence of football and other school sports? I, for one, am deeply troubled by the insensitivity on display.

The choice of wolf as school mascot is all the more discouraging when there is such an obvious alternative that would highlight the crusading spirit of progressives and other correct-thinking Falls Church citizens: the Social Justice Warriors.

A Shiv to Virginia’s Middle Class

The Richmond Times-Dispatch commentary section has launched an all-out assault on Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal to recycle about half of the $500 million windfall from federal tax reform into tax benefits for the non-income tax-paying poor. (Steve Haner gave an excellent preview of the issue on Bacon’s Rebellion a week ago.)

To Northam’s way of thinking, federal tax reform primarily benefits higher-income Americans. He wants to use about half of the the windfall — lower federal tax deductions would mean higher taxes for Virginians unless the Commonwealth changes its tax code to conform with the federal law — to benefit lower-income workers by increasing payments under the Earned Income Tax Credit. The balance would increase “investments” in broadband and workforce develoment. The great thing for Northam is that he doesn’t have to lift a finger. The General Assembly needs to enact legislation to make the federal law tax-neutral for Virginia taxpayers. Good luck with that. There is no way the legislature, divided almost 50/50 between Dems and Republicans, can pass a bill that would survive a veto.

I’m not happy about this development, and neither is the Times-Dispatch editorial staff. Today’s Commentary page includes:

  • An op-ed by Michael Thompson, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. The implicit state tax increase resulting from non-action, he says, will claw back about 20% of the benefits of the federal tax cut.
  • An op-ed by Nicole Riley, Virginia state director of the NFIB, the nation’s leading small business association. The state tax increase would disproportionately impact Virginia’s small-business job creators, she says.
  • The lead editorial in the Commentary section. Far from hitting “the wealthy,” as claimed by Democrats, Northam’s proposal could cost middle-class families as much as $750 a year in state taxes.

I can’t add much to these columns other than a little perspective. Northam’s plan to stick the middle class must be viewed in the larger context of public policy in Virginia. First, Virginia just enacted the expansion of Medicaid to benefit the near-poor (which has a large overlap with the individuals who would get more money from EITC). Virginia’s 10% share of that expansion will be borne largely by the general taxpayer — in other words, the middle class.

Second, Virginia’s institutions of higher education have been relentlessly increasing college tuition, fees, room and board over the past two decades, thus making the main ticket to a middle-class career and life increasingly unaffordable. While boards of trustees have increased their financial aid, most assistance goes to the poor and near poor. The middle class gets little or nothing.

Don’t pay attention to what the politicians say. Pay attention to what they do. Here in Virginia, the politicians are full of soothing words to the middle class even as they sink in the shiv.

Fake News: Trump Deregulation Will Increase CO2 Emissions

It pays to read past the headline and lede paragraph of Washington Post news stories. Here’s a case in point. In an article published yesterday, the headline blasted, “New Trump power plant plan would release hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 into the air.”

The lede paragraph elaborated: An overhaul of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan “could significantly increase the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

Yet, according information appearing lower in the story, the Environmental Protection Agency’s impact analysis found that the administration’s proposal would make “slight cuts to overall emissions of pollutants, including CO2, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide.” The newspaper’s beef is that the Obama plan would have bigger cuts — twelve times as big.

Someone — whether the reporter, the editors, or both, I don’t know — apparently can’t grasp the difference between the concept that the administration’s plan would reduce CO2 emissions by a smaller amount and the concept that it would increase CO2 emissions.

And, oh, by the way, deep down in the article, the reporter, Juliet Eilperin, noted that electric utility carbon emissions will decline without regulatory intervention in any case “because of market pressures and other factors after the new rule takes place.”

I suppose we should give Eilperin credit for getting some basic facts straight in the story. But someone botched the interpretation of those facts up top. Either they are innumerate or blatantly biased — or possibly both. If “Democracy dies in darkness,” the WaPo is the one drawing the curtains.

The Washington Post keeps close track of President Trump’s lies, inaccuracies, and mis-statements. I wonder if it keeps track of its own.

Bacon Bits: Thursday Morning Edition

Mistakes were made. The University of Virginia’s new president, Jim Ryan, has offered an apology for the previous administration’s failure to deal adequately with the intrusion of Unite the Right demonstrators onto university grounds last year. “We must acknowledge mistakes, including those made last year, understanding and trusting that mistakes in times of crisis are inevitable,” Mr. Ryan said. “We do nothing more than to recognize our common humanity to say to those who were attacked around the statue last year, I am sorry. We are sorry.”

What mistakes, precisely, were made? And who made them? That’s not clear. But Reed Fawell has answers. Stay tuned to his upcoming posts dissecting last year’s path to violence in Charlottesville.

Loser. Speaking of United the Right… It turns out that Charlottesville’s Alt-Right provocateur Jason Kessler, 34, lives in his parents’ house. While Kessler was doing a livestream with a white supremacist, Patrick Little, his father was overheard yelling at him, “I want this to stop in my room, Jason. This is my room!” Kessler confessed on the livestream that his father was responsible for the disruption. (Read more on HotAir.)

I wonder how many Antifa warriors live at home with their parents, t00.

Mosque expansion approved. The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors has approved a rezoning that allows a local mosque to expand its current site. No one spoke in opposition. The approval followed anti-Islamic outbursts in 2015 against the Islamic Center’s plans to build a new mosque. The trustees changed their plans to sell the property to a residential developer and use the proceeds to purchase land to expand the existing mosque.

Good. I’m glad they worked it out.

The wimp factor. Virginia high schools in Charles City County, Manassas Park, and Sterling are canceling their football programs this season. The reason cited: Not enough players were showing up for practice. Enrollment in high school football programs have declined 4.5% nationally between 2006 and 2016.

This strikes me as another milestone in the ongoing wimp-ification of America. I speak from first-hand experience. Forty-some years ago, I attended a prep school with 65 kids in the graduating class, and we managed to field a football team. I wasn’t on the team. I ran cross country instead. I was a wimp. If more people make the same choice I did, I fear for our national character.

Bacon Bits, Your Tasty Morning Info Treat

More hidden deficit spending. Virginia devoted 33% less to capital spending on K-12 schools (inflation-adjusted) in 2016 than in 2008, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That compared to a 26% reduction nationally. The cuts, say CBPP, “mean less money to build new schools, renovate and expand facilities, and equip schools with more modern technologies, further diminishing the environment in which teachers educate and children learn.”

The CBPP made no effort to correlate the capital spending with K-12 enrollment, which has increased only modestly nationally since 2008 after years of strong growth. Presumably, stable enrollment limits the need to build new schools. However, it should surprise no one if school systems were engaging in hidden deficit spending by deferring maintenance and repairs.

Best colleges for the money. From Money magazine, which considered graduation rates, tuition charges, family borrowing, alumni earnings, and 22 other data points to rate educational value: University of Virginia, 10th best in the country; Washington & Lee University, 24th; Virginia Tech, 29th; James Madison University, 39th. Four Virginia colleges in the top 50. Not bad.

What if there aren’t any fascists to fight? When there weren’t any fascists to be found at weekend rallies in Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville, Antifa, the so-called anti-fascists, found someone else to fight. Yesterday, I noted how they turned on the police. Today, the Washington Post’s Avi Selk details how they turned on the media. “Videos show Antifa members accosting reporters specifically because they’re reporters.” Antifa uses the cause of anti-racism to shield the fact that they are enemies of a free society.

Coal mines and methane. Three hundred active and 200 inactive coal mines identified by Climate Home News account for one-tenth of all U.S. methane emissions into the atmosphere. Methane has 34 times the global warming effect of carbon dioxide.

Environmentalists have criticized natural gas as an electric power source. Although natural gas combustion produces less CO2 than coal combustion, the argument goes, when methane leakage from gas pipes and wells is taken into account, the natural gas supply chain is just as bad for global warming. I responded that the argument failed to take into account the massive outpouring of gas from coal mines, but I had no hard data. Now I do. Thanks Climate Home News!