Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Two of Five Virginians Say Nix to COVID-19 Vaccine

by James A. Bacon

Don’t count on a vaccine to end the COVID-19 epidemic — not in Virginia anyway. Four out of 10 Virginians say they are likely to not get a vaccine, even if approved by the Food and Drug Administration and made available for free. Only 58% say they are “somewhat” or “very” likely to do so, according to a poll released yesterday by the Virginia Commonwealth University school of government.

Last month State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver said that he planned to mandate a COVID-19 immunization once it was safely released to the public. Focused on “accessibility, affordability and fair distribution” of a vaccine, Governor Ralph Northam said he was not planning a mandate at that time. As it turns out, two thirds of those responding to the VCU poll said they oppose requiring everyone to get a COVID-19 vaccine. 

As I have blogged previously, there are legitimate questions to ask about the efficacy of any vaccine. No vaccine is 100% effective. Various experts have opined that a vaccine likely to meet FDA approval would immunize between 75% and 90% of people exposed to the coronavirus. People have to balance the potential protection against the risks of side effects such as fever, fatigue and headaches.

In the poll, 63% of Independents and 59% of Democrats said they were very or somewhat likely to get the vaccine, while only 49% of Republicans saying they were. It will be fascinating to see if those numbers flip as the vaccine issue becomes polarized along partisan lines, as appears to be happening. Continue reading

Uh, Oh, Another Bad Year for VRS Investments

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Retirement System earned 1.4% on its $82 billion investment portfolio in fiscal year 2020, far below the long-term average of 6.75% the VRS Board of Trustees assumes that it will earn over the next 30 years, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch

VRS investments have returned 5.2% over the past three years, and 4.8% over the past five years, but the 10-year record looks better at 8.1%.

One year’s poor results are not a cause for concern. Markets go up and down, and so do investment returns. The long-term picture is worrisome, however. The ten-year VRS record reflects investment results during one of the great bull markets in both stocks and bonds in U.S. history. Many analysts expect returns in future years to be lower as the Federal Reserve Bank pursues a near-zero interest rate policy to goose the U.S. economy through the COVID-19 crisis and aftermath. There is no chance that investment performance over the next 10 years will replicate that of the past 10 years. To the contrary, if inflation picks up, as the Fed is aiming for, that could depress stock market multiples and stock prices. Continue reading

Arlington Scraps Sidewalk Restrictions

Recent Arlington sidewalk scene. OMG, they’re not even wearing masks! Image credit:

by James A. Bacon

Apparently, motorcycle riders and MAGA hat wearers are not the only people who resist complying with measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Yesterday the Arlington County Board repealed its ordinance restricting sidewalk gatherings after it was met “with defiance, confrontation and hostility,” reports the Washington Post.

The Board enacted the restriction in July at the height of the COVID-19 panic. The ordinance made it illegal for more than three people in a group to congregate in certain areas. The goal was to limit crowding as patrons waited for tables inside occupancy-limited bars and restaurants. The crowding is worst between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“Arlington police have determined that it is impractical to cite hundreds of violators at night,” said board member Christian Dorsey. “They have prioritized encouraging compliance and have not issued a single citation. I don’t see any reason to continue having something on the books that clearly doesn’t work.” Continue reading

Northern Virginia Still Dominates Data Centers

Image credit: CBRE

by James A. Bacon

Northern Virginia accounted for 64% of wholesale data-center construction in the U.S. during the first half of 2020, as measured by megawatts of electric power consued, according to a CBRE report, “Data Centers Critical to Business Operations.” The construction trend reinforces the region’s role as the biggest, baddest center for data warehousing in the U.S. and the world.

Led by Loudoun County, the region touts 1,275 megawatts of “inventory,” about three-and-a-half times that of the No. 2 data-center cluster, Dallas/Fort Worth, and more than four times that of Silicon Valley.

The national outlook for the industry is favorable, says the report. “Companies are prioritizing IT spending as they restructure their overall budgets. While every dollar of investment is subject to scrutiny, a focus on mission-critical IT spending will be important to support remote working, transition to online platforms and serves, and to support online marketing and sales to consumers.” (Hat tip: Bill Tracy) Continue reading

More Bad News for Our Local Newspapers

by Kerry Dougherty

Yes, yes, we all complain about the local newspaper.

Its editorials are too liberal. The news coverage is too thin. Mistakes are too frequent.

No one can deny that The Virginian-Pilot is a shadow of what it was 15 years ago when the paper was humming with reporters and editors, when its military coverage was the best in the nation, when the newspaper relentlessly collected scalps of corrupt businessmen and politicians.

There was a time — not that long ago — when The Pilot was also considered the most elegant paper in America, with a crack photo department and a genius artist and designer, Sam Hundley, who won award after award for his artistic pages.

The newsroom staff numbered close to 300 at its peak. Shoot, our Virginia Beach bureau, in the old Beacon building, may have housed as many reporters as are covering the entire area now. Continue reading

Metro’s Latest Breakdown: Control Room Operations

by James A. Bacon

The Silver Line extension of the Washington Metro might not open on time. The latest problem, according to Greater Greater Washington, is that the commuter rail system may not be able to hire, train and retain enough rail controllers to operate the system safely.

The Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) oversees train movement on tracks. The center is critical to the safe operation of the rail system. In its most recent safety audit, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission (WMSC) issued 21 findings requiring corrective action.

Metrorail has failed to follow its fatigue management policies that allow controllers at least one day off per week. Moreover, the control center is a toxic workplace.

The control center’s environment includes distractions, fear, threats and conflicting instructions that prevent overworked and undertrained controllers from fully and properly carrying out their duties. These serious safety concerns create a variety of safety risks for everyone who depends on Metrorail. … Continue reading

Mass Transit as the Newest Entitlement

by James A. Bacon

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed eliminating all transit fares, and in a sign of how far left the City of Richmond’s political center of gravity has moved, his two main competitors in the mayoral race, Kim Gray and Alexsis Rodgers, support the idea.

The city suspended fares during the COVID-19 epidemic, which has coincided with a 20% ridership decline for the GRTC (Greater Richmond Transit Company). Stoney endorsed making the fare cuts permanent as he unveiled a new “equity office” in the Department of Public Works, which will also oversee initiatives relating to pedestrian safety, bike lane development, and transit planning.

Rodgers, who is running as a progressive, criticized Stoney, in effect asking what took him so long. Gray, the most centrist of the candidates, said she supports the free-transit model but added the caveat that she didn’t want to raise taxes or make cuts to other services to achieve it. “At some point,’she said, “this will require a budgetary reckoning.” Continue reading

The Media Meltdown Accelerates

by James A. Bacon

First Norfolk’s Virginian-Pilot merged with the Daily Press in Newport News. Then, the parent company, Tribune Publishing Co., closed the Pilot’s Norfolk office, telling reporters, editors and other employees they could work either at the Pilot’s press operation in Virginia Beach or the Daily Press office across the river. Then, Tribune shuttered the press operation. And now, reports Virginia Business, Tribune is closing the Newport News office.

It seems that Tribune has violated the terms of its leases by failing to pay rent and other charges since May 2019. Pointe Hope LLC, owner of the property, sued the newspaper for $110,000 in June.

The COVID-19 epidemic forced many employees in the Virginian-Pilot and Daily News news staffs to operate from home, and it now looks like the “virtual newsroom” for everyone will become permanent. Continue reading

Another Bust: $90 Million Spent on Industrial Megasites

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission has invested $90 million to develop seven industrial “mega-sites” in Southside and Southwest Virginia, but so far only two sites have attracted tenants, reports the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in a review of state economic-development incentives, “Infrastructure and Regional Incentives.”

The two “successful” megasites are Commonwealth Crossing in Henry County and Oak Park in Washington County. Together, they accounted for two industrial investments totaling $48.4 million and creating 260 jobs. (A third tenant is a state job training program.) Press Glass, a European glass manufacturing company, is expected to open a 280,000-square-foot manufacturing facility this year. Blue Ridge Beverage, a wholesale beverage distribution company, started production in 2014.

The megasites could accommodate 4,400 workers after 10 years and 22,000 at full build-out. Two sites are not yet considered business ready. Continue reading

Coal Severance Tax Credits Obsolete, JLARC Says

by James A. Bacon

Virginia’s coal tax credits are obsolete, cannot forestall the decline of coal mining in the state, and should be eliminated, finds the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission in a new report, “Infrastructure and Regional Incentives.”

The state provides two tax credits to encourage coal production: The Coalfield Employment Enhancement Tax Credit and the Virginia Coal Employment and Production Incentive Tax Credit. The two programs have saved coal companies and electricity generators $291.5 million in income taxes between FY 2010 and FY 2018, according to the report on the cost-effectiveness of economic development incentives. But the credits ranked at the bottom of JLARC’s list of incentives based on economic benefits per $1 million in spending.

The  coalfield credit is not needed because Virginia’s remaining mines are competitive with mines in other states based on a labor productivity basis (tons per employee hour), JLARC contends. The credit targeting electricity generators is fast becoming irrelevant when the state is moving towards a 100% renewable electric grid and phasing out its remaining coal-fired power plants. Continue reading

Ray of Hope in Virginia Senate

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s not much. But it’s something. An anemic attempt to rein in some of the unfettered emergency powers that are being exercised by Virginia officials.

I’m referring to the unanimous vote to pass SB5025 late last week by the Virginia Senate. This is one of the very few measures before the General Assembly that legitimately deserves debate during this special session. It deals with Virginia’s ongoing and seemingly endless state of emergency.

The bill would curb the power of Virginia’s Health commissioner, Dr. Norman D. Oliver.

You know, the unelected official who refused to release details about Virginia’s nursing home carnage, by invoking a bizarre claim of privacy rights to conceal that information.

You know, the man who scared the bejaysus out of all of us in April when he speculated that the oppressive Phase One of Virginia’s reopening would last “at least two years.”

You know, the health chief who recently said that when a Covid-19 vaccine became available he’d make it mandatory. Continue reading

VCU Health to Launch Voter-Registration Drive on Hospital Premises

Image from a VotER voter registration kit.

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Commonwealth University Health System has informed employees that it will participate in the VotER Initiative to encourage patients to register to vote and vote by mail.

“A large body of research tells us that sick Americans are less likely to vote,” commences the communication from Sheryl L. Garland, chief of health impact for the health system. “This is especially true of individuals who also have significant social needs, such as a lack of stable food and housing. All to often, these voices are not heard when decisions that affect their health are made.”

The email explicitly tied the initiative, which will start today, to VCU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion: “VCU Health’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement states that ‘we will actively work to dismantle systemic racism and inequalities that may be entrenched in our health system.’ VCU Health’s participation in this initiative is a small but meaningful step toward fulfilling this commitment.”

According to the communique, VCU will place flyers in clinic waiting rooms and larger posters in high-traffic areas within the hospitals.  Continue reading

Media Waters Getting Colder and Colder

The shrinkage of newsrooms at Virginia’s commercial newspapers continues apace. Lee Enterprises, owners of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Daily Progress, and Roanoke Times, among other newspapers, have confirmed another round of layoffs.

The RTD has eliminated positions for a business reporter, a photojournalist, a multimedia content provider, and a sports producer. Meanwhile, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises has cut 10 copy editing and design jobs at the Roanoke Times as part of  plan to centralize page design. And the Daily Progress has lost two news staff, including a digital content coordinator, reports Virginia Business.

Also, disclosed Virginia Business, the Daily Progress‘ four-person copy desk in Charlottesville will be laid off in October as part of Lee Enterprises’ centralization of copy editing functions. While those important functions will continue to be fulfilled, there is no way that out-of-state copy editors can replicate the local knowledge of home-based editors. Continue reading

Protesters, Stay Away from Hospital ERs

by Kerry Dougherty

Since Virginia’s lawmakers are determined to waste our money and their time on a special session in Richmond where they’re ramming through laws that should wait until they officially meet again in January, here’s one more to put on their list:

How about making it a felony — with mandatory prison time — to demonstrate, protest or in any way interfere with the entrance to a hospital emergency room? I’ve combed the Code of Virginia and can’t find a statute to cover this.

You might remember that back on June 28th something went down outside the Atlantis Apartments in Virginia Beach. There were conflicting accounts. All of them disturbing.

According to The Virginian-Pilot, a man was badly injured in a motorcycle accident there. When rescue workers arrived, they were hassled by some in the crowd who had gathered around the injured man. In a later Pilot story, the fire chief walked back the account a bit, saying that the crowd was merely “emotional” when someone kicked and pushed fire fighters.

Continue reading

Will Virginia Teach Critical Race Theory to Kindergartners?

Robin Diangelo, critical race theorist.

by Hans Bader

This week, the Virginia Board of Education will meet to discuss a report that may promote destructive racial ideologies — the August 2020 “Report from the Governor’s African American History Education Commission.”

James Sherlock laments “the fiercely negative approach to the teaching of African American history offered by the Governor’s Commission.” He says its “Report is critical race theory brought to life. It represents the most thoroughly negative view of America’s history and pessimism about its future as a nation that I have ever encountered in a government document anywhere. Many universities have had success at radicalization. This recommends an earlier start. Kindergarten.”

After reading his assessment at Bacon’s Rebellion, I read the Report and was dismayed by it as well. Three authors cited in the Report — Robin DiAngelo, Ibram Kendi, and Glenn Singleton — give harmful advice which, if followed, will lead to civil-rights violations and spread racism in our schools.

So in comments I emailed to the Board of Education at [email protected], I objected to their inclusion. They are currently listed in Appendix F of the report, as “Scholars and Partners for Collaboration,” and their works are cited as “Resources to Support Implementation.” Continue reading