Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Unpaid Bills, Debt Collection, and Hospital Profits

Carlos Ortiz. Photo credit: Wall Street Journal

Carlos Ortiz underwent tests last year at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg for dizziness stemming from an inner-ear problem. When the 65-year-old uninsured gardener couldn’t pay his $15,000 bill, the nonprofit institution took him to court. Mary Washington was suing so many patients that day that the circuit court had cleared the docket to hear all the cases.

As it turns out nonprofit hospitals are more likely than for-profit hospitals to garnish patients’ wages to collect their bills, according to a study of Virginia hospitals published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported upon by the Wall Street Journal. In 2017 Virginia nonprofits filed 20,000 lawsuits against patients for unpaid debt.

Remarkably, the study found, nonprofits are more likely than for-profits to file lawsuits against patients for unpaid debt. These numbers do raise fundamental questions about Virginia’s social compact with its nonprofit hospitals. But hasty judgments are not in order. Continue reading

The Transgender Wars — Part III

This is the third of a five-part series on Virginia’s transgender wars.

by Tom Pafford

The Left is waging a very successful War to manipulate the public into accepting Transgender identity as normal. Neither the LGB crowd, nor the “Right-Wingers” who do not accept Trans, have successfully countered this War. The Left’s agenda moves forward daily, e.g., the recently passed Equality Act by the House. And, it is based on a simple precept: “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.”

Little is known for certain about the causes of Trans. But there is no lack of studies.

Identical Twin Studies: When one identical twin is Trans, more often both are Trans. This frequency is not seen in fraternal twins, indicating that there may be a genetic influence for this identity.

Neurobiological Studies: The volume of the central subdivision of the bed nucleus of the stria terminals (BSTc), a brain area essential for sexual behavior, is larger in men than in women. Studies show that Trans females had female-sized BSTc; the Trans males had male-sized BSTc. (Also see.) Continue reading

Herring Wrestles with Root Causes of Crime — and Comes up Short

Michael Herring, who has just announced his resignation as Richmond Commonwealth Attorney to become a law partner at McGuireWoods, has been an effective prosecutor. He has worked hand-in-glove with Richmond police, and the city has one of the highest murder-clearance rates of any inner-city jurisdiction in the country. But he’s become increasingly frustrated. After a lengthy period of decline, violent crimes are on the rise again.

“We couldn’t correlate it to the drug markets in the way that we used to be able to do in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s.” Herring told Community Idea Stations. “We have literally used every arrow in our quiver, that is us, the police department, city hall, to try to tamp down the violence.” Even though Richmond police emphasize community policing and building trust, Herring said residents in communities most affected by the violence are less willing to cooperate. “We would go out and say to communities, if you don’t help us, we can’t prosecute the cases and prevent the crime. A pretty simply message, right? And yet, it didn’t seem to resonate.”

In his effort to understand what was happening, Herring co-researched and co-authored an inquiry into the root causes of crime. That inquiry, “Beyond Containment,” provides few answers, advocates few remedies, and is notable for its humility in purporting to understand complex reality. “Crime, like any behavior, is a complex function of individual traits and external realities,” he and co-author Iman Shabazz write. “Economic factors, housing patterns, peer culture, school experiences, family dynamics, and health issues can all contribute to criminal behavior.” Mostly, the treatise raises questions for discussion. Continue reading

Die, Robocallers, Die!

Attorney General Mark R. Herring has filed suit against two Roanoke-based telemarketing companies, charging them with illegal robocalling and deceptive sales practices. The complaint alleges that Roanoker Bryant Cass and his companies, Aventis, Inc., and Skyline Metrics, LLC, made 586,870 unsolicited robocalls nationwide between 2014 and 2017, pitching car-selling services to people who listed cars for sale on Craiglist, Autotrader.com and other sites.

“While robocalls are extremely annoying, they can also be dangerous and could potentially scam Virginians out of hundreds if not thousands of dollars,” said Herring in a press release. “My team and I will continue to do everything we can to protect consumers and shut illegal robocall operations like this one down.”

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m not a fan of Herring, but he’s got my full support on this one. As punishment, $500-per-call fines are inadequate. Cass should be confined to a cell and forced to endure his 586,870 robocall sales pitches through the rest of his natural life. And if there were a way to pump the robocalls into hell, I’d be for that, too.

The Transgender Wars — Part II

This is the second part of a five-part series on the transgender wars in Virginia.

by Tom Pafford

A behind-the-scenes tug-of-war is happening between the Left and many in the LBG movement. You certainly won’t read about it in USA Today! But you can in Gay news outlets where Gay intellectuals state their concern over Gender Identity.

One such outlet is the Intelligencer:

As many of us [Gays] saw our goals largely completed and moved on, the far left filled the void. The movement is now rhetorically as much about race and gender as it is about sexual orientation. [intersectionality] prefers alternatives to marriage to marriage equality, sees white men as ‘problematic,’ masculinity as toxic, gender as fluid, and race as fundamental. They have no desire to seem ‘virtually normal’; they are contemptuous of “respectability politics” — which means most politics outside the left. Above all, they have advocated transgenderism, an ideology that goes far beyond recognizing the dignity and humanity and civil equality of trans people into a critique of gender, masculinity, femininity, and heterosexuality. ‘Live and let live’ became: “If you don’t believe gender is nonbinary, you’re a bigot.” I would be shocked if this sudden lurch in the message didn’t in some way negatively affect some straight people’s views of gays…. If the gay-rights movement decides to throw in with this new leftism, and abandon the moderation and integrationism of the recent past, they risk turning gay equality from being about a win-win process for gays and straights into a war between ‘LGBT’ people and the rest. That’s a battle none of us need to fight. Especially after the real war was won.

Continue reading

Transgender Wars — Part I

This is the first of a five-part series on Virginia’s transgender wars.

by Tom Pafford

With only 1% of the population claiming transgender status, Trans issues are not a common topic at the dinner table. It wasn’t until I got into the race for a Fairfax County School Board seat this year that I became aware of the Transgender Wars.

For those ignorant about the War or the word “transgender” or the folks who claim to be transgender, let’s start with Bruce Jenner, aka, Caitlyn. As reported in Vanity Fair in July 2015, Bruce’s life was long conflicted, torn between being a biological man and obsessive thoughts that he was really a woman. His Trans journey started in the 1980s with hormones, the removal of body hair and surgery to make his face more feminine. By 2014, he announced his identity as the woman Caitlyn.

As Bruce (Caitlyn) illustrates, every Trans is at war with him (her) self over his (her) body and their gender. Trans want to separate their gender (boy/girl) from their biological body (male/female). Until recently, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) defined the Trans phenomenon as Gender Identity Disorder, labeling it as a mental disorder.

The controversy over Trans identity is especially intense in LGBTQ circles. Not all Gays are happy with including Trans in their movement. This struggle is played out forcefully on Reddit and other online forums where you’ll find arguments for both sides. A Reddit user, Defsnotmymainaccount, posted the following: Continue reading

Natural Gas Shortage? What Natural Gas Shortage?

Chickahominy LLC’s natural gas-powered generating plant would dwarf Dominion Energy’s Greensville facility (shown here), currently the state’s largest gas-generating plant.

by Peter Galuszka

Historic and quaint Charles City County southeast of Richmond is home to a number of restored plantations, Native American tribes and, its centerpiece, the placid, marsh-lined Chickahominy River. Yet, quietly and without much media attention, Charles City is on its way to becoming a fossil fuel powerhouse as two proposed natural gas plants move forward.

On June 21, the Air Pollution Control Board voted 6-1 to grant Chickahominy L.L.C. a permit to build a 1,650-megawatt natural gas generating station. If built, the plant would be the largest fossil fuel generating station in the state, surpassing Dominion Virginia Power’s 1,640-megawatt Chesterfield power station that is largely coal-fired. Also planned for Charles City County is a 1,100-megawatt natural gas generating plant planned by Michigan-based NOVI Energy.

The plants will tap a Virginia Natural Gas pipeline linked to the giant Transco pipeline that runs through from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast. The electricity will apparently be supplied to the PJM grid that runs from Illinois to the East Coast. Continue reading

Blackface Mystery Solved: Ralph Northam as Michael Jackson

Published in the Roanoke Times today, a concise synthesize of my blog posts about Ralph Northam costumed as Michael Jackson:

Ralph Northam’s racism controversy has tumbled down the memory hole. The governor has struck with the story that the photograph appearing in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of a man in blackface was not of him, and a McGuire Woods inquiry failed to find any evidence to prove otherwise. Critics who once called for his resignation have fallen silent as the governor pivoted left on social justice issues. And the media, which normally loves a good scandal, apparently has concluded that there is little left to be discovered.

But politicians and reporters are overlooking the obvious identity of the man in the yearbook photo — it is of Ralph Northam dressed in Michael Jackson costume. Continue reading

Virginia’s Ten-Year Pedestrian Death Toll: 865

Unsafe roads are ubiquitous in sprawling, low-density settlement patterns

Smart Growth America’s 2019 “Dangerous By Design” report compiles a Pedestrian Danger Index based on annual pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people between 2008 and 2017. Among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas, the safest metro in the country for pedestrians is Provo, Utah. The most dangerous is Orlando, Fla.

Washington-Arlington ranked 24th safest in the country. The region’s 764 pedestrian fatalities over the decade amounted to a rate of 1.25 death per 100,000 residents.

Virginia Beach-Norfolk was close behind, ranking 26th safest. The region’s 213 pedestrian fatalities amount to a rate of 1.24 deaths per 100,000. Continue reading

Is the VMFA Aligning with the Left in America’s Culture Wars?

Kehinde Wiley is unquestionably a very talented artist. His mastery of painting is abundantly visible in his renderings of African-Americans in contemporary garb posing in the style of European masterpieces such as Jacques-Louis David’s “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” (as seen to the right). Inspired by the debate over Civil War statues, Wiley will display in New York this September a monumental statue of a young African-American in urban street-wear sitting astride a horse in a pose reminiscent of Richmond’s J.E.B. Stuart monument. In December, the statue will be installed in front of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Arthur Ashe Boulevard — about a mile from the Stuart statue. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Wiley statue will be the most expensive acquisition made in the museum’s history.

I don’t have a problem with either Wiley or his creation. Wiley is exercising his right to free expression. His work shatters stereotypes and provokes thought. His work displays a mastery of technique, unlike much of the trash that passes for contemporary “art” in museums today. Further, he’s not tearing down or vandalizing Richmond’s Civil War statues; he’s mocking them. I don’t even have a problem with the VMFA displaying the controversial, in-your-face piece outside the museum. I appreciate a diversity of artistic viewpoints and perspectives.

Rather, I see the VMFA’s huge investment in Wiley’s artwork as a sign that the state museum has taken sides in the nation’s culture wars. Indeed, I would go one step further in suggesting that the museum sector in Richmond is being increasingly captured by political progressives and weaponized to challenge — even to assault — the values and beliefs of a large segment of the population. I will develop this theme in future posts. Meanwhile, back to the VMFA… Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Hydroponics, Seawalls, and Emotional Support Critters

The future of Virginia agriculture? Shenandoah Growers, an indoor agriculture company, is undertaking a $100 million expansion of its three locations in Virginia over the next year. The facilities not only grow vegetables and spices in greenhouses, they package and ship the produce, reports the Daily News-RecordLocating the greenhouses next door to the packaging facilities speeds the movement of produce from farm to market, preserving freshness. The website of the Rockingham County-based company describes its grand ambitious: “We are leveraging our indoor bioponic growing technology, national customer network, and distribution channels to be the world’s leading consumer brand of affordable, organic fresh produce.” 

Thirty-one billion bucks for seawalls? Protecting Virginia coastal communities from sea-level rise by building sea walls would cost $31.2 billion to build 4,063 miles of hardened infrastructure, according to a study by the Center for Climate Integrity. That price tag is exceeded only by the cost for Florida, Louisiana and North Carolina. Don’t take it too seriously. This is more environmental doom mongering, which the Virginian-Pilot of course accepts uncritically. The calculations are based on the unrealistic assumption that adaptation to rising sea levels takes the form of building sea walls. For example, the study tabulates the cost of building 645 miles of seawall in Accomack County, 299 miles in Gloucester, 231 miles in Mathews, and 218 miles in Northumberland — an economically idiotic approach to dealing with rising tides and flooding in sparsely populated areas. For the seven densely populated cities of Hampton Roads the cost would run $4.6 billion — a large number but doable, if spread over many years.

Tide turning against “emotional support animal” scam. Virginia landlords have long been frustrated by tenants who skirt lease restrictions by faking disability certifications to qualify their pets as emotional support animals. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Two Reasons to Be Worried, and One Reason Not

Be afraid, very afraid. How frequent is cell phone use? According to a team of Old Dominion University researchers tallying seat belt use, some 4% of drivers they spot are on the phone or texting. So reports the Daily Press. Clearly, cell phone use is a problem. But I would argue that texting (which I never do) is far worse than yakking on the phone (which I do do… occasionally). Both may be a distraction, but the one requires drivers to take their eyes off the road, while the other doesn’t. If distractions are the issue, then the General Assembly should ban husbands and wives driving in the same car together. There’s nothing like a side-seat driver to grab one’s attention and increase the risk of accidents!

Virginia lost a big one. I have long hoped that the Wallops Space Flight facility might engender the rise of a space industry in Virginia. But the odds of the Old Dominion developing a critical mass in this industry of the future suffered a significant setback yesterday when Boeing announced that it would relocate the headquarters of its Space and Launch division from Arlington to Titusville, on Florida’s Space Coast. States the aerospace giant: “Looking to the future, this storied Florida space community will be the center of gravity for Boeing’s space programs as we continue to build our company’s leadership beyond gravity.”

Scary ignorance about coal ash. Coal ash is a potential hazard to human health, but the risks it poses are extremely low level. Unfortunately, an article in the Prince William Times, describing how Governor Ralph Northam signed a coal ash regulation bill into law, incorporates some of the hysterical rhetoric that has infiltrated our discourse. The article refers to the coal combustion residue as “toxic coal ash” and describes it as “composed of lead, mercury, cobalt, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other heavy metals, many of which are carcinogens.” In truth, coal ash is comprised mainly of rock mixed with coal that is not removed in the coal cleaning process and does not combust in boilers used for electric generation. The ash does contain trace amounts of all the aforesaid metals, which can leach in minute quantities into ground water, but is toxic only when it rises above certain levels. If the ash itself were toxic, then the new law requiring utilities to recycle at least 25 percent of it into cinderblocks and pavers would the greatest folly indeed.

Danville’s Revival: Historic Architecture + Walkable Urbanism

The new Danville — more of this….

In Part II of his extended essay on the revitalization of downtown Danville, Va., The Atlantic magazine writer James Fallows dates the beginning of the city’s revival to the decision to demolish The Downtowner, a classic example of atrocious 60s-era architecture. In retrospect, it now obvious that the “modernist” architecture of the 50s and 6os was so hideous that it is not only not worth preserving, it is a blight. Or, as Fallows put it: “Most people believed that the old buildings had timeless-classic potential, and the Downtowner did not.”

… and less of this.

When the city took the wrecking ball to the Downtowner in 2012, only 400 or so people worked or lived in the downtown tobacco warehouse district now known as the River District. After several years the renovation and retrofit of old industrial buildings, the number now stands at 6,000.

Classic architecture (even if it is industrial architecture) + a traditional downtown street grid + views of the Dan River have proved to be a winning combination. Who ever would have thought that Danville would reinvent itself as a center of walkable urbanism? But it has, and therein lies its hope for sustainable economic growth. Continue reading

Norfolk to Create Special Service Districts for Flood-Prone Areas

The City of Norfolk has created a new mechanism for citizens to adapt to flooding and eroding coastlines. Neighborhoods now can vote to form “special service districts” that raise property taxes for projects dealing with flood mitigation, dredging, water quality improvement, and coastal protection, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

Property owners can initiate projects by submitting a petition with signatures from 30% of the homeowners in a proposed district. Once the city has estimated the cost of project, the service district and tax must be approved by 75% of the affected property owners and also by owners of at least 50% of the property value. If the neighborhood votes yes, the district still requires City Council approval.

The Pilot cited the low-lying Hague neighborhood on the edge of downtown Norfolk that might use a district to jump-start much-needed stormwater improvements and floodgate construction.

Bacon’s bottom line: The creation of special service districts represents a huge step forward in building resilience into Virginia’s low-lying communities, although it is only one reform among many that must be made. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Dominion Energy Updates

Holy mackerel, is this for real? After years of controversy, Dominion Energy finally built its $400 million electric transmission line across a historic stretch of the James River, ensuring a secure supply of electricity to the Virginia Peninsula. Now a legal challenge puts the project in jeopardy — after the transmission line has been built! It is not clear whether an unfavorable court ruling would require Dominion to tear down the line, reports The Virginia Mercury. Whether you’re pro-Dominion or anti-Dominion, there is something acutely dysfunctional about a system of governance that would allow a power company to build a $400 million transmission line and then force the company to tear it down.

Step aside, Uber! Step aside, Tesla! With financial support from Dominion Energy, Fairfax County will launch a self-driving, electric-powered shuttle between the Dunn Loring Metro station and the Mosaic District, reports WTOP. The Fairfax County bus would be the first state-funded autonomous electric shuttle for public use in Virginia, and the first to run on roads that are open to the public. I have no idea if this idea will prove to be economically sustainable. But I do believe in small experiments. It makes far more sense to test the concept than to roll out a full-fledged program. Test. Learn. Modify. Test again. Scale up when you’ve got it right.

Pumped storage or battery storage? Having eliminated a proposed Wise County location from consideration, Dominion Energy has narrowed its search for a hydroelectric pumped-storage site to Tazewell County, reports the Roanoke Times. Continue reading