No PAC for Disaster Preparedness and Response

By James C. Sherlock

Why is this man smiling?

Virginia’s responses to COVID were a continuing national embarrassment. 

  • Individual Virginia department and agencies had no operational pandemic response plans.  They ignored specific and prescient directions to build and exercise such plans in the dormant Virginia Pandemic Emergency Plan.  VDEM then attempted a coverup.
  • No PPE stockpiles.  Last in testing.  Last in vaccinations.  Hospitals first, physicians last in every decision by the VDH. 
  • Last in distribution of unemployment checks. 
  • The General Assembly was given and took no role in pandemic response for 15 months.
  • The Canterbury nursing home scandal.  State nursing home inspections that failed to report staffing shortages.  The directly related shortages in staffing of state inspectors.
  • The failure to sanction teachers unions for strike threats in Northern Virginia during COVID.  The officially sanctioned lapse in school accountability.
  • Poorly prepared official press conferences that often added confusion rather than clarity.

This was in its totality the biggest government scandal in Virginia history.

We should have learned from COVID, but I see no evidence of it, that we need to aggressively address the problems that led to those failures and build resilience in our state and local governments.

Any chance we are now preparing for the next one?

Has anyone seen an after-action assessment and plan of remedial action?  Has anyone seen any indication that there will ever be one?

Any possibility these issues will be talked about by candidates for state offices in the fall election?  Do they even know what happened?  Or if they know, will they  pretend the scandals never happened, ensuring they will happen again?

Looking for underlying causes, I note there is no PAC for disaster preparedness and response.

Continue reading

Wake Up, People! This Is Me Telling You That the Old Answers Are Not Working!

Photo credit: WTKR televison

by James A. Bacon

How many children have to be killed, wounded and traumatized before people wake up?

Headline from today’s Virginian-Pilot: “Nearly a dozen children have been shot this month in Norfolk. Communities are hurting…”

And then it adds this kicker: “and activists want change.”

The Virginian-Pilot spoke with elected officials, community organizers, the city’s police chief, and nearly two dozen families impacted by the violence. There are lots of ideas out there — more funding for recreation centers, expanded peer mentorship, getting guns off the street. The usual suspects… all of which have been tried and all found lacking.

The story does extract the beginnings of insight from one person. Councilman Paul Riddick cuts to the quick: “We have no one but ourselves to blame,” he says, referring to city leaders “We have lost control of our youngsters.”

But then he says the city needs to redistribute money from wealthy areas to poor areas to build more libraries and recreation centers. Libraries? Are you kidding me? The City of Norfolk needs to build more libraries to reduce the number of random shootings? Continue reading

Dominion Takes $206M From You Off the Top

by Steve Haner

As of late 2020, Dominion Energy Virginia had forgiven $206 million in unpaid electric bills for customers financially stressed by last year’s COVID-19 pandemic and recession. Those unpaid bills are not being covered by any of the billions in federal COVID emergency funding, nor are stockholders eating a loss.

We, the other Dominion customers, will pay them. As reported last year, this was decided by the Virginia General Assembly. How it happens is about to unfold.

The $206 million figure is prominently featured in Dominion’s initial filing in its pending triennial financial review by the State Corporation Commission, which actually covers a four-year period ending with 2020. The amount of bill relief is directly deducted from any calculation of excess profits, dollars which otherwise might justify rebates or even a rate cut.

This will be the first official review of the company’s cost of service and earnings since 2015, the hiatus being another little gift to the Dominion stockholders from legislators. It is a long and sordid tale how we got here, too often told. Thanks to a bipartisan fondness among legislators for accounting rules that favor Dominion, there may no way the SCC can order the company to pay rebates to us or cut our rates, excess profits notwithstanding. Continue reading

Delta Dawn at JMU?

by Joe Fitzgerald

More than 1 in 9 James Madison University students was infected with Covid-19 during the school year that ended in May. To date, the university has accepted little responsibility for those illnesses or for any associated spread in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

President Alger and members of the Senior Leadership Team have been predominantly silent about any mistakes the university may have made and what it will do to correct them this year as students return in the midst of the more virulent Delta Variant spread.

The university’s stance a week after classes began last year was “cautious optimism,” according to an email from Alger a few days before in-person classes were canceled. A few weeks later a university spokesperson, not Alger or any senior administrator, told the media, “There’s nothing at blame here except for the virus.”

Silence from the university and from Alger has continued this summer. The university has said it will require students to be vaccinated, but in effect the policy amounts to asking students to tell the university if they aren’t going to be vaccinated. Faculty and staff are explicitly not required to be vaccinated. Continue reading

“Model Polices” on Transgender Students vs. Laws Guaranteeing Parental Rights

by James C. Sherlock

Emilio Jaksetic wrote an excellent article this morning.

Mr. Jaksetic, a lawyer, commented on the decision by Judge J. Frederick Watson of the 24th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Virginia Board of Education’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools for lack of standing.  The judge did not rule on the substantive merits of lawsuit.

So, Christian Action Network did not have standing. I also believe that it sued under the wrong theory of law and in the wrong court. I told them so at the time.

One basic flaw in Model Policies is that it specifically permits portions of educational records to be withheld from parents by school personnel. That was not challenged by the Christian Action Network suit.

Yet it appears to be illegal under both federal and state laws.

School boards should take actions on Model Policies only with qualified legal advice. Continue reading

What Fun! Spending $4.3 Billion in “Free” Money!

Manna from heaven

by James A. Bacon

Before departing for the private sector, former Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne outlined his thinking for the disposition of $4.3 billion in federal COVID-helicopter money: The funds are a one-time windfall. Spend them on one-time projects. Do not use the money to fund programmatic expansions that will make an ongoing claim on future tax dollars.

In recent days, the Governor’s Office has been issuing press releases on how Governor Ralph Northam proposes to allocate the manna from heaven, technically known as the American Rescue Plan. To a significant degree, the Governor is hewing to what might be called the Layne Doctrine. Here are the ten announcements he has made so far, listed in the order in which he made them: Continue reading

Dueling Claims of Victory in Transgender Lawsuit

by Emilio Jaksetic

On July 27, 2021, Judge J. Frederick Watson, with the 24th Judicial Circuit of Virginia, issued a decision on a lawsuit challenging the adoption of the Virginia Board of Education’s Model Policies for the Treatment of Transgender Students in Virginia’s Public Schools, reports The Virginia Star. Because Judge Watson dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing, he properly did not rule on the substantive merits of lawsuit.

A copy of Judge Watson’s decision is available here. A copy of the Virginia Board of Education Model Policies is available here.

Despite dismissal of the lawsuit on procedural grounds, both sides claimed victory.

The Christian Action Network claimed victory on the grounds that Judge Watson’s decision included a ruling that the Model Policies is a guidance document and that school boards have the option to decide whether or not to follow it. Furthermore, the Christian Action network claimed “the judge is granting school boards the right to decline to act on Virginia’s ‘Model Policies,’ which is exactly what our lawsuit intended.”

The ACLU of Virginia claimed victory on the grounds that dismissal of the lawsuit was warranted, and asserted “[a]ll school boards in the state are legally required by law to pass policies aligning with the model policies for the 2021-22 school year.” Continue reading

Vaccine Shaming Will Backfire

by Kerry Dougherty

Lemme get the straight. The president wants everyone in the country to get vaccinated against Covid-19 — an admirable goal that would likely reduce the virus to a national head cold.

So how is he persuading those who are reluctant to take the vaccine to get a shot?

By insulting them.

Just this week Joe Biden said “If you’re not vaccinated, you are not nearly as smart as I thought you were!”

Way to go. I’m sure that calling the unvaxxed stupid ought to convince them to roll up their sleeves. Continue reading

Congrats UVa Health and Centra – the Right Kind of Healthcare Affiliation

by James C. Sherlock

Centra Health

Now for a kind word for my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Virginia.

In a press release yesterday, Lynchburg-based Centra and UVA Health announced a strategic clinical affiliation.

From what we know from the announcement, that is exactly the kind of healthcare affiliation Virginians need. Continue reading

Stoney Off the Hook for Statue-Removal Contract

Mayor Levar Stoney

by James A. Bacon

A special prosecutor has closed his investigation into Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s awarding of a $1.8 million statue-removal contract to NAH, LLC, set up by a former campaign contributor. Timothy Martin, Augusta County’s Commonwealth Attorney who was assigned to the case when Richmond’s chief prosecutor recused herself because of a conflict of interest, said he will not seek charges against Stoney. Authorities found no evidence of public corruption. “It’s over,” Martin said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“This is exactly what we said in July 2020; that there was no evidence of anything. The mayor had nothing do with the choice of this contractor,” said Stoney’s attorney Jeff Breit.

However, Martin said it is “still debatable” (the RTD’s words) whether the administration violated emergency procurement rules or the state’s law on war memorials. He would not consider charges based on those allegations because the scope of his investigation was focused on public corruption. Pursuing charges on the technicalities of procurement policy, he said, would be a “misuse of resources.” Continue reading

COVID School Closure Learning Losses in K-12 Students – a Generational Catastrophe

by James C. Sherlock

I have written here extensively about the pre-COVID state of learning in Virginia’s public schools and my concerns about COVID school closure learning losses exacerbating the issue.

Those learning losses have come to pass.

McKinsey & Company just published a study of the results from Curriculum Associates testing.  That in-school sample consisted of 1.6 million K–6 students in mathematics and 1.5 million in reading. The sampling that required in-school testing favored states that opened earliest for in-person schooling.

The outcomes were hugely troubling. Continue reading

Nuking the Schools

by James A. Bacon

The COVID-19-related shutdowns of K-12 schools across the country have been educational disaster of historic proportions, according to data published in a new McKinsey & Company report. McKinsey doesn’t use the phrase “disaster of historic proportions,” but how else can one describe a response to the pandemic that left students on average five months behind in mathematics and four months in reading?

Worse yet, the racial gap in educational achievement has widened. Students in majority Black neighborhoods ended the year with six months of unfinished learning and students in low-income schools with seven months, the report says.

Over and above the lost academic ground, the shutdowns had a tremendous adverse impact on children’s mental health. Thirty-five percent of parents say they are “very” or “extremely” worried, a significant increase from pre-pandemic levels.

The numbers are national in scope. McKinsey did not break down estimates by state, so there are no Virginia-specific numbers. But given the fact that the school shutdowns were more pervasive and longer lasting on average in parts of Virginia, especially in Northern Virginia and center-city jurisdictions, one can predict that the educational collapse is at least as catastrophic in the Old Dominion as in other states. Continue reading

SCC Starts Review of Dominion Wind Proposal

by Steve Haner

Acting on its own initiative, the State Corporation Commission has established a docket to consider the coming application from Dominion Energy Virginia for its massive offshore wind proposal, the centerpiece of Virginia Democrats’ plan to save us all from catastrophic climate change.

Earlier this month, the utility started the federal review process with a notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for the project. The clock on the first round of comments to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management runs out August 2.

If Dominion builds all future planned phases, a full 5,200 megawatts, the sticker price is more than $17 billion, which with profit and financing costs will ding customers in total $37 billion over a few decades.

In its July 26 order establishing the case, the SCC outlined a series of questions the utility will need to answer in its application when it comes. The questions provide just a glimpse into the issues that will develop in what may soon be recognized as the Second Battle of the Virginia Capes.

Cost is front and center:

What is the total cost and the lifetime revenue requirement of the transmission necessary to bring the energy generated by the OSW Project to shore? Of this total lifetime revenue requirement, how much is investment, and how much is the Company’s projected return on equity? Identify the rate recovery mechanism(s) Dominion proposes or will propose to use to recover such costs from eligible customers…. Continue reading

In Virginia, Only Inova, UVa Health and VA Hospitals Mandate Vaccinations for Staff

by James C. Sherlock

Among large Virginia health systems, only Inova, UVa Health and VA Medical Centers appear currently to mandate staff vaccinations.

Inova is the only one of those that is private.

On Monday, a Joint Statement in Support of COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates for All Workers in Health and Long-Term Care was issued by a long list of signatories including the American Medical Association (AMA), American Nurses Association (ANA); and the American Public Health Association (APHA):

“We call for all health care and long-term care employers to require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”

It is a coordinated plea.

The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, the lobbyist for non-profit hospitals in Virginia, on July 18 published a statement encouraging its own members to take action: Continue reading

DHR Sets the Fiscal Benchmark for Statue Removal

The Lee statue being removed from the U.S. Capitol building.

by James A. Bacon

Let us all praise Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources. The department may be part of the culture-cleansing machine taking down historical statues and moving them to locales where they don’t offend people, but at least it is looking out for the taxpayer.

The Northam administration, acting through DHR, made national news last December when a statue of Robert E. Lee was removed from the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U.S., Capitol and relocated to a Richmond storage facility. But news accounts, such as this Associated Press piece, didn’t tell the story behind the story.

DHR arranged for the removal and transport of the statue to Richmond for $11,700. Let that serve as a benchmark for appraising the procurement policies of governments and universities carrying out their purges. (For background, see Carol Bova’s recent article, “Making Money from Cultural Cleansing.”) Continue reading