Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Flying the Flag for a Friend

by Kerry Dougherty

On the morning of the Fourth of July, on a leafy side street in Trenton, N.J., a tall, gray-haired man with a mustache will open his front door, step outside and solemnly hang an American flag.

He’ll pause for a minute, ponder the Stars and Stripes, and then he’ll whisper, “This is for you, Tom.”

Unlike those of us who catch flag fever only around Independence and Memorial days, this 80-something gent will simply be doing what he does every day.

Ever since my dad died in 1998.

He was my father’s closest friend for half a century. A widower now, the man lives alone in a house that once echoed with the sounds of young children, his wife’s piano and the barking of a long-gone beagle named Lady.

He’s the last surviving member of a quartet of friends. Continue reading

Who Rules America in 2020?

by James A. Bacon

One of my college textbooks back in the early 1970s was a book by G. William Domhoff, “Who Rules America?” He argued, as best I can remember, that a corporate elite wielded power through its influence over government as well its control of cultural institutions such as think tanks, foundations, academic departments. Apparently, Domhoff has updated his book several times over the years, but his fundamental thesis hasn’t changed.

It’s time for a fresh look at the question of who rules America. I would argue that America’s elites have fractured. A post-WWII corporate elite, based on wealth, still exists, but it has schismed. Some plutocrats remain relatively conservative on cultural issues, while others have embraced leftist nostrums. Moreover, there has arisen a cultural elite that is highly resentful of the power and privileges of the corporate elite. Members of the cultural elite aren’t mega-wealthy, but they are privileged and well-to-do, and they exercise enormous authority. They have captured the mainstream media, the universities, the foundations, the nonprofits, the museums and other cultural institutions, and through them, they frame the dominant narratives of our time.

The old corporate elite was motivated primarily by a desire to perpetuate its wealth. The new cultural elite is envious and would like to reappropriate much of that wealth for redistribution as it sees fit. Even more alarmingly, the cultural elite has a totalitarian instinct. Convinced of its righteousness, it is bent upon imposing its values and priorities upon the rest of the population. Continue reading

Why Is COVID-19 Trending Down in Virginia?

by James A. Bacon

As the COVID-19 virus continues to recede in Virginia, I’ve abandoned my day-to-day coverage of the numbers, but I think it’s still worthwhile to post periodic updates. The good news for Virginia as seen in the chart above, taken from the Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard, is that the number of confirmed cases and deaths reported daily continue to decline — even as the virus flares up in California, Texas, Florida and Arizona.

To what do we attribute Virginia’s good fortune? Has Governor Ralph Northam found the sweet spot in his policy mix of emergency measures? Are Virginians just better behaved — more likely  to wear masks and maintain social distance — than the citizens of other states? Does the Old Dominion have human settlement patterns — less density, fewer elevators, less mass transit — that lend themselves to the propagation of the disease? Do we look to demographic factors such as a smaller percentage of illegal immigrants living in overcrowded housing? Or, less likely but not inconceivable, is the population on a pathway to developing herd immunity?

Readers, weigh in.

— JAB

Unbiased Research on Race Becoming Taboo

As an aside to Hans’ column…. Much of what we believe to be true about race relations and racism in the United States comes from the social sciences. The hard sciences and the social sciences alike suffer from a “replication crisis,” that is, independent researchers cannot replicate the findings of the original experiment. The ability to replicate findings is crucial for moving past headline-grabbing announcements to something resembling a scientific consensus. The problem is most acute in the “soft” sciences such as psychology. The more ideologically fraught a subject matter is — and what is more fraught than the issue of race in America? — the more suspect it should be. The replicability crisis is compounded by the ubiquitous media practice of cherry picking studies that fit preferred narratives and failing to warn readers of any caveats or reservations. Be wary of any media coverage of a study that neatly fits preconceived political narratives. — JAB

by Hans Bader

It is now dangerous for an academic to conduct or even discuss research that shows an absence of racial bias in the criminal justice system. An Asian-American college official was forced to resign his position after discussing such research, as The College Fix reports in the article, “Scholar forced to resign over study that found police shootings not biased against blacks.” As it notes:

Michigan State University leaders have successfully pressured Stephen Hsu to resign from his position as vice president of research…The main thrust to oust Hsu came because the professor touted Michigan State research that found police are not more likely to shoot African-Americans….

“I interviewed MSU Psychology professor Joe Cesario, who studies police shootings,” he wrote in an email to The College Fix… Cesario is the Michigan State psychology professor who co-authored the study published July 2019 that debunked the notion that police are more likely to shoot African-Americans. Hsu wrote on his blog that the paper concluded “there is no widespread racial bias in police shooting.”

Cesario’s research had been cited in a widely shared Wall Street Journal op-ed headlined “The Myth of Systemic Police Racism” that was published June 3 amid racially charged protests against the death of George Floyd in police custody.

As Professor Hsu notes, “Cesario’s work (along with similar work by others, such as Roland Fryer at Harvard) is essential to understanding deadly force and how to improve policing.” Continue reading

Tragedy on Interstate 95

Southbound traffic on Interstate 95 near the Thornsburg exit was disrupted yesterday when several pigs wandered into traffic. Several of the animals were injured. It is heartening to hear that numerous motorists stopped to render aid to the suffering creatures.

It’s one thing to see deer roadkill. Deer are a menace to society. Pigs are intelligent beings deserving of human empathy and compassion. Read the story here. — JAB

Evictions as the New “Monuments to White Supremacy”

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The City of Richmond took down the statue of Stonewall Jackson yesterday in the hope, in Mayor Levar Stoney’s words, of protecting the public and starting the healing process. But across town enraged demonstrators were one step ahead of the Mayor, having switched the focus of their wrath from Civil War memorials to housing evictions.

Marchers downtown chanted, “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!” and “Eviction is violence.” Apparently, the demonstrators got disorderly, although the Richmond Times-Dispatch account is unclear. Deputies deployed pepper spray, a window was smashed, and two people were arrested. One is left to deduce from the photograph accompanying the story (shown above) that violence occurred, or was threatened, at the John Marshall Courts Building.

What is clear is that the mob has moved on. It has found a new cause.

“I find this incredibly insidious,” said organizer Naomi Isaac. “Especially when our elected officials are congratulating themselves for taking down monuments to white supremacy on Monument Avenue while replicating those same monuments to white supremacy at the courthouse against people who are fighting against [evictions] and fighting against the way that’s affected Black people for generations.” Continue reading

First Cops. Now Firefighters.

by Kerry Dougherty

I’ve had enough. Chances are you have too.

Enough of lawlessness. Enough of destruction of property. Enough of despicable disrespect for law enforcement.

It’s time to send a message to those bent on mayhem that there are some lines they may not cross.

Interfering with firefighters trying to save lives IS that line.

No doubt you heard. On Monday at about 9 p.m. a motorcyclist apparently lost control of his bike and slammed into a tree in the Seatack neighborhood of Virginia Beach.

As emergency workers arrived a crowd of gawkers materialized. The numbers quickly swelled to between 75 and 100, according to news reports.

For reasons that are unclear and can NEVER be justified, some of the spectators began pushing and kicking the first responders. Continue reading

The Kraken Cannot Be Appeased

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney informed City Council today that he would use his emergency powers to remove multiple monuments in the city, including Confederate statues. Failure to remove the monuments, it seems, presents a threat to public safety.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, and protestors attempt to take down Confederate statues themselves, or confront others who are doing so, the risk grows for serious illness, injury, or death,” the mayor said. “We have an urgent need to protect the public.”

Interesting: The statues are the threat to the public, not the crowds breaking the law by defying curfews, and not the mobs, too impatient to work through the judicial process, taking the law into their own hands by tearing the statues down.

Stoney also argued that immediate removal will expedite “the healing process” in the city.

To borrow a line from “Clash of the Titans,” the Kraken has been released. The Kraken is running amok. The Kraken is not interested in healing. The Kraken is not in the mood for compromise. The Kraken will move from Civil War statues to monuments to slaveholders like George Washington, and then to those who hold views now deemed racist… which includes just about any white Virginian who lived before 1960.

— JAB

Virginia Joins the Wind Power Club

Photo credit: Associated Press

Well, well, Virginia finally has an offshore wind turbine industry. The last 253-foot blade was attached Friday to a turbine and pylon off Virginia Beach. At a cost of $300 million, the two turbines owned by Dominion Energy will provide some of the world’s most expensive electricity, but they  do pave the way for a $8 billion, 180-turbine wind farm that Dominion plans to build next. The wind farm, endorsed by Virginia’s major environmental groups, will be free of CO2 emissions. It will also generate the highest-cost electricity in Dominion’s energy portfolio. Governor Ralph Northam hopes the wind farm will stimulate development of a cluster of major wind-power fabricators and service companies in Hampton Roads. We’ll see how that works out. Early indicators could be better: The two towers were assembled in Nova Scotia and transported to Virginia on a special ship.

— JAB

Students Gaining Bargaining Power with Colleges

Graphic credit: Wall Street Journal

by James A. Bacon

In  a properly functioning marketplace, consumers exert power through their ability to comparison shop and bargain with sellers. One of the main limits to this consumer power is something economists call “information asymmetry.” Information asymmetry occurs when sellers of a good or service possess more information than buyers, and it typically allows them to charge more.

Information asymmetry is likely a contributor to the runaway cost in the cost of college attendance over the past few decades. A major factor in any consumer’s decision is price; in the case of higher education, price refers to charges for tuition, fees, room, and board. Higher-ed institutions traditionally knew a lot more about a student’s finances than students knew about the institutions’. Enjoying a tremendous advantage through this information asymmetry, higher-ed institutions have been able to charge higher prices than they would have otherwise. But the asymmetry is eroding.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes how families are bargaining over college costs — and winning. After decades of runaway tuition increases, families are pushing back. Students are applying to more schools in the hope of having more options, and in the COVID-19-driven recession, in which enrollment is expected to decline, they are emboldened to press for bigger breaks on tuition. Desperate to fill dormitories as classrooms, many higher-ed institutions are yielding. Continue reading

Statues for Me But Not for Thee

A new law goes into effect today giving power to local governments to remove monuments and memorials for war veterans, making good on Governor Ralph Northam’s promise to use the process of law to rid the commonwealth of Confederate monuments. Numerous local governments across the state have indicated that they will use their new authority to purge the past.

Perhaps this has been noted elsewhere, but I don’t recall it: There is one exemption in the language of the law, which reads: “The bill … does not apply to a monument or memorial located on the property of a public institution of higher education within the City of Lexington.”

There is only one public institution of higher education in the City of Lexington — the Virginia Military Institute. VMI has two Civil War memorials: one a statue of Stonewall Jackson, an instructor at VMI before he earned renown as a military commander, and the other a monument to those, including several VMI cadets, who fell at the Battle of New Market, entitled, “Virginia Mourning Her Dead.” Continue reading

Catholic Schools: Boldly Putting Kids First

by Kerry Dougherty

Any parent of a kid with disabilities will tell you, more than anything else in the world, their child just wants to fit in.

Not easy when you’re a little different.

My son doesn’t mind if I tell you he has severe learning disabilities. He’s worked hard his whole life to overcome them. But I still remember his look of surprise and relief on the morning of his first day of 1st grade at St. Gregory the Great in Virginia Beach.

We held hands as we walked from the parking lot to the line for his class. He was taking deep breaths and squeezing my hand.

Then he caught sight of his classmates and his first-day nervousness evaporated .
“We’re all wearing the same thing!” he exclaimed.

The 26 or so children in his class were all dressed as he was, in khaki shorts, polo shirts with the school logo, brown shoes and socks.

In that moment I saw the genius behind school uniforms. They give every kid – even the ones who struggle to keep up – a sense of belonging. Continue reading

Chickahominy Power: Another Cynical Hijacking of “Environmental Justice”

by James A. Bacon

For many years we have heard how in our unjust capitalist system investment capital bypasses poor, minority neighborhoods. Under-investment means fewer jobs and economic opportunities for African-American workers and small businesses. The goal of much public policy, from government-subsidized urban redevelopment to tax-exempt enterprise zones, is to stimulate more investment in minority neighborhoods.

But when someone proposes an investment, it is not always welcome. Take, for example, the proposal to build the $1.6 billion Chickahominy Power Station in Charles City County, a poor, predominantly African-American county between Richmond and Hampton Roads.

With a capacity of 1,650 megawatts, the natural gas-fired power plant would sell electricity into the PJM wholesale market, in effect exporting electricity to the Mid-Atlantic states. But the facility, we hear from The Virginia Mercury, is an affront to environmental justice. As evidence, the Mercury cites a certain Stephen Metts of the New School in New York, who found the following:

Four census tracts surrounding the proposed Chickahominy Power Station site far exceed state averages for minority and economically disadvantaged populations. In three, minorities make up more than 65 percent of the population, compared to a statewide average of 37 percent, while in two, the percentage of residents living in poverty is between 21 and 26 percent, compared to 12 percent statewide.

Foes of the project have suggested that the proposed plant would have a negative environmental impact on minority communities by withdrawing groundwater and emitting air pollution. It’s not clear from that Mercury article or any other that I could find,  however, what precisely that negative impact might be. Continue reading

Sweet Briar Thrives Amidst Coronavirus Epidemic

The Sweet Briar campus. Photo credit: Heather Rousseau for the Washington Post.

by James A. Bacon

I’ve long admired Meredith Woo, president of Sweet Briar College, who salvaged the troubled liberal arts college three or four years back by radically restructuring its business model. Hacking out administrative costs, reorganizing the curriculum, and clarifying its mission, she slashed the cost of attendance by 32%. She then built on distinctive niches such as equestrian and artisinal agriculture programs where the college could stand out as unique. Now she’s plugging Sweet Briar’s bucolic rural setting north of Lynchburg as a refuge from COVID-19.

“We are one of the only colleges that can maintain social distancing,” Woo told the Washington Post. “We can be as safe as home — if not safer than home.”

The onslaught of COVID-19 is expected to be devastating to small liberal arts colleges generally, as parents and students weigh the pros and cons of attending college without assurances that the institutions won’t shut down again if the virus rebounds this fall. Sweet Briar seems well positioned to weather another viral storm. Writes the Post: Continue reading

COVID-19 Update: Mixed Signals on Viral Spread

Here are three COVID-19 trends in Virginia worth watching:

  1. The seven-day moving average of the test-positive rate ticked upwards yesterday for the first time in more than a month;
  2. Hospital utilization by COVID-19 patients dipped to the lowest point since the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association began tracking the data in early April; and
  3. It turns out that multisystem inflammatory syndrome was not much of a thing.

Positive-test rate. The percentage of COVID-19 tests confirming the presence of the virus hit a seven-day moving average of 5.9% yesterday, based on data published today on the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) COVID-19 dashboard. That’s up from 5.8% the previous day. That doesn’t sound like much, but the seven-day moving average smooths out daily fluctuations, and it reverses what had been a steady decline since May. This number is an indicator that the viral spread in the general population, which had been retreating steadily, may start picking back up. This metric bears watching.

Hospital utilization. On the other hand, there is no indication yet that the greater numbers of infected people is translating into more trips to the hospital. Continue reading