Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Court Fines and the Poverty Trap

Highest Fines & Fees in Areas with Most Black Residents. Source: The Commonwealth Institute

by James A. Bacon

Court-imposed fines and fees set poverty traps, disproportionately burden black communities, and “affront basic notions of equal protection under the law,” asserts The Commonwealth Institute (CI), a center-left think tank, in a new report, “Set Up to Fail.”

Fines and fees relating to traffic and criminal cases amount to less than $200 million in fiscal 2019, a modest sum in the context of Virginia’s $70 billion budget, says the report, but they lock people into cycles of debt they cannot escape. “Unpaid court debt, even when resulting from low-level offenses, often leads to additional costs, court hearings, wage garnishments, and even deductions from state tax refunds.”

The use of fines and fees does not afflict all poor Virginians equally, contends the Institute. “Race — explicitly or implicitly — is a factor that influences the level at which fines and fees are imposed. … Fines and fees are imposed at the highest rates in areas with the largest percentages of Black Virginians.”

I think it is fair to say that CI has highlighted a real social problem. Poor people in Virginia do get caught in cycles of fines, fees, unpaid debt, compounding interest, and second-round punishments and fees stemming from the first. In a related problem, not related in this report, courts often take away peoples’ driving licenses as punishment for their inability to repay the fines, thus hindering their ability to generate an income. But is race really a factor? CI’s case is much weaker. Continue reading

The House of Delegates’ Hidden Pay Raise

Like last year, members of the House of Delegates will get to pocket $211 daily per diems for attending the General Assembly — even though they’ll be sitting in virtually and incurring no meal and lodging expenses. Reports Virginia Public Media:

The so-called “session payment” rate is pegged to federal estimates of Richmond meal and hotel prices. Unlike formal per diems normally given to lawmakers who travel to Richmond during session, the 2021 payments are subject to taxes.

The payments are separate from part-time delegates’ annual salary ($17,640), office stipend ($15,000 for most delegates) and compensation for non-session meetings ($300 for a half-day, $400 for a full day). Each lawmaker’s legislative assistant will also collect the $211. Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) have declined the payments, according to Elizabeth Mancano, the House’s chief communications officer.

In a 30-day General Assembly session, the back-door pay raise amounts to about $6,000. Continue reading

Governor’s Spox Deflects Blame for Vaccine Rollout

by Kerry Dougherty

Uh-oh. Seems Virginia’s governor and his staff are a bit touchy about the commonwealth’s desultory COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

They ought to be apologizing.

As the rest of the country manages to open 24/7 vaccine centers, the Old Dominion — the only state with a medical doctor in the Governor’s Mansion — has fallen to 48th in the rate of vaccine use. A week ago, we were 38th.

This is especially worrisome because, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the feds will be releasing future batches of the vaccine based on how quickly the states use the ones they have.

Lucky us.

Northam and his minions can’t blame this on Donald Trump, either. States are in charge  of deciding how the vaccine will be administered and Virginia’s total lack of preparation is embarrassing. Continue reading

Virginia Pay Bill Will Be a Nightmare for Some Small Employers

by Hans Bader

Pay regulations that are a manageable hassle for the biggest employers can be a nightmare for small employers. One example is SB 1228, a bill pending in the Virginia legislature. If enacted, it would keep employers from setting employee pay based on employees’ past wages, even though wages are usually a sign of what an employee is worth, and often reveal more about an employee’s role in a company than the employee’s mere job title reveals. It would forbid any employer in Virginia, regardless of size, to “rely on the wage history of a prospective employee” in determining the employee’s wage. It would also forbid them from seeking “the wage history of a prospective employee.”

Since federal law permits such wage-setting, and small businesses often don’t have lawyers, some small businesses will likely get sued for violating it, before they even learn about the existence of this law.

SB 1228 also defines certain pay differences as discrimination even when they are unlikely to be due to bias — especially when they occur at small employers, where such pay differences affect only an isolated number of employees, and thus are statistically insignificant. SB 1228 requires pay equity for businesses of all sizes, for all protected classifications — not just sex, but also marital status, religion, race, disability, etc. Continue reading

Restructuring Higher Ed for Greater Produktivität

Pre-COVID, the UVa Kaffeestunde met every week. German speakers of all levels hung out to sprechen deutsch.

by James A. Bacon

Last month the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved a recommendation to eliminate the M.A. and PhD programs in the Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures. While UVa students retained a healthy appetite for learning to read and speak in German, only a few showed an interest in plumbing the depths of German literature.

The scaling back of the German department, which offered advanced courses in such authors as Freud and Kafka last semester, was part of a larger restructuring of UVa’s graduate foreign-language program. The board also voted to eliminate the M.A. program in Italian and the B.A. in Comparative Literature.

Whether the rollbacks result in a reduction in the number of courses, staff or expenses is as yet unknown. The University is “still assessing” the impact of the cutbacks, says spokesman Brian Coy. “Because the University makes a practice of fully supporting doctoral students, we expect the termination of the PhD in German to result in some small savings, however other changes within the department have not been made.” Continue reading

Update: Herring Hands Stoney Contract Investigation to State Police

by James A. Bacon

Attorney General Mark Herring has authorized the Virginia State Police to investigate Mayor Levar Stoney’s circumvention of procurement protocols to award a $1.8 million Confederate statue-removal contract to a campaign contributor, reports Virginia Public Media.

The investigation, requested by Kim Gray, Richmond City Councilwoman and rival candidate for Richmond mayor, had been handed to Timothy Martin, commonwealth’s attorney for August County, as special prosecutor. He kicked it over to Herring, and Herring has given it to the state police. I was concerned that Herring might simply bury the case, but I am pleased to see that he did not. Continue reading

Facebook, MailChimp Suspend Virginia Gun Rights Group’s Access

Philip Van Cleave. Credit: Rappahannock News

by James A. Bacon

Are the social media giants moving beyond de-platforming groups and individuals who participated in the mob assault on the U.S. Capitol building to de-platforming conservative groups indiscriminately?

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), says his personal Facebook account was suspended last week. That action followed Mailchip’s suspension of its email service to VCDL. Continue reading

Combating Past Racism with Reverse Racism

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun

by James A. Bacon

Del. David Reid, D-Loudoun, has introduced HB 1980, a bill that would establish the Enslaved Ancestors College Access Scholarship Program. Beginning in the 2022-2023 academic year, five public Virginia universities each would provide scholarships to at least one African-American Virginian student born in the Commonwealth sufficient to cover tuition, fees, room, board, books, other educational supplies, and even tutoring — a full ride.

To qualify, the student could come from a household earning up to four times the federal poverty guidelines (roughly $70,400 in 2020 for a family with a single parent and single child). The State Council of Higher Education (SCHEV) for Virginia would implement the program in collaboration with the institutions and report periodically to the General Assembly. Continue reading

What Is a “Low Dead Space” Syringe and Why Is It So Important?

by Verhaal Kenner

Governor Ralph Northam has shifted Virginia into phase “1B,” meaning that a “front line” worker, or anyone over 65 or with a chronic health condition, is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. That’s clearly a population several times the estimated 440,500 that are in the state’s  “1A” group  – only about half of whom have gotten a first dose. Expanding eligibility was needed because bureaucratic and resource constraints were clearly delaying getting shots out of the freezers and into people’s arms.

The next issue will quickly become managing events and appointments to avoid the type of long-line chaos in Florida. We also need to make sure we don’t waste the doses we have.

A surprising discovery that physicians made when they received the distribution of Pfizer vaccine is that the 5-dose vials actually contain enough for six doses, or in some cases enough for seven.* The key to getting this extra dose or two is to use syringes that don’t waste any of the vaccine. Waste normally occurs in a small dead space in the top of the syringe just below the needle. The low dead-space design often has the needle manufactured as an integral part of the syringe or with a greatly reduced cavity under the snap-on needle assembly. Even within low dead space versions, there are specific products that waste less and, thus more reliably offer the extra dose. Continue reading

Is Abolition of Life Without Parole Next?

by Hans Bader

Governor Ralph Northam and other Democratic Party leaders are backing legislation to abolish the death penalty. But that’s not all. A newly submitted bill would abolish life sentences without parole, even for serial killers and those who once would have been sentenced to death.

The powerful head of the state senate’s Courts of Justice Committee, Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, has just introduced a bill, SB 1370, to bring back parole and retroactively make people eligible for parole even if they were sentenced at a time at which there was no parole. Parole will be made available even to people who commit “a Class 1 felony,” which includes the worst murders, such as serial killers who commit the “willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of more than one person” in a single crime spree. If the death penalty is abolished, this legislation would mean that even the worst murderers could be paroled. Continue reading

Breath-Taking Hypocrisy

Northam’s opening words in his state-of-the-commonwealth address: “The chamber looks pretty good from up here, doesn’t it? You know, it’s a proud moment to look out and see a General Assembly that reflects more than ever the Virginia that we see every day.” The 200,000 citizens of Southwest Virginia’s 38th senatorial district whom Northam deprived of representation might beg to differ.

by James A. Bacon

When Governor Ralph Northam delivered his state-of-the-commonwealth speech two days ago, he gave a special nod to Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell County, who had died several days previously from complications relating to COVID-19. “He was my friend, and I miss him,” Northam said. “Whether on the Senate floor or in my office, his presence always brightened my day.”

“I hope that fond memories of Ben will help his family through these difficult times,” he added. “I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to honor Ben, and everyone who has lost their lives to COVID-19.” Then he briefly waxed philosophical. The epidemic, he said, has made everyone stop and ask some basic questions. “What’s really important? What do I believe in? Am I taking actions that reflect my values?”

One of the actions the Governor should be questioning is whether he honored Chafin’s memory by delaying the election of his successor until March 23 — after the General Assembly, effectively depriving the residents of Chafin’s district of representation during the 2021 session.

Equity was a big theme of Northam’s speech. Virginia needs to take steps to ensure more equity in public health, in education, in criminal justice, and in voting rights, he said. Indeed, one of his signature initiatives this session is changing the state constitution to provide automatic restoration of voting rights to felons. The concern for equity apparently does not extend, however, to the members of Chafin’s Republican-leaning district in impoverished Appalachia. Continue reading

Hark! A COVID Miracle!

by Kerry Dougherty

I tend to be cynical, but still I dismissed the folks who predicted that once Joe Biden was elected, the lockdowns and shutdowns that had crushed the American economy would start to fall away.

“Just wait till after the election,” they warned.

You’re insane, I thought. I believed — still do — that the Biden administration would pressure governors to close it all down, then, as the vaccine was widely distributed and warmer weather arrived, the new president could claim victory over the pandemic.

Maybe I was wrong. Look at what’s happened in just the past week even as COVID infections grow in many places, including Virginia.

Gov. Ralph Northam, the man who once outlawed sitting on the beach or playing loud music in the sand as bizarre COVID-curbing measures, and the first governor in the country to shutter schools for the entire 2020 school year, now says it’s imperative schools reopen because our kids are turning into dunces. Continue reading

Open Letter to the W&L Board and Community

The Generals Redoubt, a group of Washington and Lee University alumni, have published this open letter. The document explores major themes of interest to Bacon’s Rebellion readers, and we reproduce an abridged version here. — JAB


As the Washington and Lee Board of Trustees considers changing the name of the university, The Generals Redoubt (TGR) wishes to share statistical information and other research findings to aid them in their decision-making. …

Findings Supporting the Retention of the Name Washington and Lee University – It Conveys a High Quality Educational Experience

Washington and Lee consistently ranks in the top ten of liberal arts colleges and universities overall. U.S. News and World Report ranked W&L 9th among private colleges and universities in 2020. In that same year, College Factual ranked W&L as the #1 college or university in Virginia and #3 in the Southeast. Kiplinger notes that Washington and Lee is highly selective and accepted 21% of its applicants in 2019. In 2020, Niche listed W&L at 16th among national liberal arts college and universities for its low acceptance rate. …

Over the last several years, Washington and Lee has continued to attract an ever larger and diverse number of qualified applicants and enrollees. Applications to the undergraduate school have increased each of the last three years. And it has been reported that current applications to the law school are up about 40% over the same time last year. Continue reading

More People Left Virginia in 2020 than Moved In

by James A. Bacon

Virginia continued its multi-year losing streak in 2019 as a state where more people were moving out than moving in, according to the latest United Van Lines National Migration study. The moving company counted 4,008 households moving out while only 3,536 moving in, for a net loss of 472 households.

Fifty-three percent of Virginia’s moves were outbound. The outbound/inbound ratio was worse than all but twelve other states. Even West Virginia out-performed Virginia. Continue reading

Reward Teacher Heroes, Not Those Who Stayed Home

This teacher deserves society’s thanks.

by James A. Bacon

In his state of the Commonwealth speech last night, Governor Ralph Northam made some proposals worth cheering and some that bear closer scrutiny. I’ll get to them in future posts. But one remark in particular stands out as totally wrong-headed — the idea, in the year of COVID-19, of giving every teacher a pay raise. Said the Governor:

School staff and teachers have made great sacrifices this year, and I thank them. … Investing in education includes giving teachers a pay bonus.

A few weeks ago Northam proposed giving teachers a bonus bump in pay. With an improving revenue picture, he said in the speech, “We’re going to have more money than we thought. We need to make this teacher bonus a raise, and make it more than two percent.”

This teacher deserves nothing.

Time for a reality check. Some teachers and staff have made extraordinary efforts during the COVID-19 epidemic. They deserve society’s thanks, and they fully warrant a reward for their selflessness. But not all teachers and staff did. Continue reading