Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Prince William Republicans Walk Out of “Bias” Training Session

Prince William Supervisor Pete Candland

by James A. Bacon

First comes bias training, then comes anti-bias enforcement. Can the thought police be far behind?

In Prince William County last week, three Republican members of the Board of Supervisors walked out of a presentation, “Raising Awareness of Unconscious Bias to Foster Inclusivity and Equity,” at a joint meeting of the supervisors and county school board.

Supervisor Pete Candland said he found “insulting” a presentation that insinuated that board members held racial biases. Furthermore, he said the issue was a distraction from the pressing issue of how best to educate children during the COVID-19 epidemic. “During this critical time of the global pandemic, kids having issues at home, concerns about funding our schools moving forward, they decided to take this time to talk about Implicit Bias Critical Race Theory.”

“I felt that it was important to walk out and not just sit there, because I refuse to legitimize this notion that we are all somehow racist,” concurred Supervisor Yesli Vega, as reported by Bristow Beat. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Good News for a Change

More wind turbines off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Electricity from the Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project 27 miles off the coast of Corolla, N.C., construction of which could begin as soon as 2024, will be funneled into the electric grid via a substation in Virginia Beach’s Sandbridge community. Roughly 600 jobs will be generated within the Hampton Roads statistical area, which includes part of North Carolina. The project is expected to generate 2,500 megawatts of electricity eventually, enough to power 700,000 homes, reports Virginia Business. From Sandbridge a combination of underground and overhead cables will make the electricity available for resale by developer Avangrid Inc., to Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Appalachian Power, and others.

No aggressive enforcement of COVID curfew. Chesterfield County police will not enforce Governor Ralph Northam’s midnight-to-5 p.m. COVID-19 curfew by stopping motorists who are otherwise driving lawfully. “The law requires officers to have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver,” wrote Police Chief Colonel Jeffery S. Katz on Facebook. “There are completely lawful reasons for people to be out and about during these times and therefore mere operation of a motor vehicle does not remotely meet the legal burden necessary to justify a lawful stop.” Responding to queries from The Virginia Star, Henrico County police and the Hanover County sheriffs department confirmed that they, too, require reasonable suspicion for conducting traffic stops.

Satellite broadband for Southwest Virginia. Wise County Public Schools will be the first school district in Virginia to use the Starlink satellite internet constellation founded by Elon Musk. The entrepreneur, better known for his Tesla electric vehicles, touts Starlink as delivering broadband to “locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Continue reading

Legal Futility of Virginia’s Online Petitions

by Emilio Jaksetic

Currently, online petitions are advocating the removal of the superintendent of the Fairfax County Public Schools and the principal of Thomas Jefferson High School. (See the petitions here and here.)

Such online petitions are legally futile.

Under Virginia law, removal of elected officials such as Fairfax County school board members is handled differently from removal of appointed officials such as a principal or superintendent. According to Virginia Code, Section 24.2-230:

Appointed officials. “[A]n appointed officer shall be removed from office only by the person or authority who appointed him unless he is sentenced for a crime as provided for in [Section] 24.2-231 or is determined to be ‘mentally incompetent’ as provided for in [Section] 24.2-232.”

Accordingly, no petition signed by Virginians — regardless of the number of signers — can force the removal of an appointed official in Virginia. At best, a petition signed by Virginians can be presented in the hope of persuading the appointing authority. Continue reading

Virginians Are Loading the COVIDWISE App. Does It Make a Difference?

by James A. Bacon

Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of citizens who have downloaded the COVIDWISE smart phone app that alerts users when they might have been exposed to the virus, reports Virginia Business.

The state has spent $1.5 million promoting sign-ups. Jeff Stover, executive adviser to the health commissioner, says that downloads have been averaging 2,000 to 5,000 per day. Nearly 900,000 people, 10% of the population, how have the app.

Stover cites a model by Google, Stanford University and Oxford University that predicts if a locality has a 15% app adoption rate, infections can be reduced by about 8% and deaths by 6%.

Could COVIDWISE partially explain the lower rate of spread in Virginia, even as the virus induces panic in other states? According to Statista, Virginia had the 8th lowest rate — 3,303 confirmed cases per 100,000 population — among the 52 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Continue reading

Ranking Virginia Colleges for COVID Performance, Round II

by James A. Bacon

It is a legitimate question to ask: Which of Virginia’s colleges and universities are doing the best and worst job of managing the COVID-19 epidemic? Over the weekend, I posted some numbers showing that Virginia Tech, James Madison University, and the University of Virginia had posted the largest numbers of confirmed COVID cases in the state. But the raw numbers don’t tell us much by themselves. As large public universities, those three institutions have among the biggest student bodies. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare the colleges after adjusting for the number of students enrolled. That’s what I’ve done here.

Continue reading

Northam’s New Rules. Worse Than the Old Ones

by Kerry Dougherty

I missed Gov. Ralph Northam’s Thursday presser. But I heard and read all about it.

Two things stand out: First, his idiotic curfew is simply the action of a little man attempting to flex his muscles for a populace that is growing weary of his arbitrary and capricious rules. Second, this secular leader is dancing dangerously close to telling Virginians how to worship.

Careful, there, Ralph.

As usual, Northam’s edicts had nothing to do with science or data, despite his insistence that he was being guided by both.

Will someone please tell this man that simply saying “science” over and over doesn’t make it so. While you’re at it, tell Joe Biden too. Continue reading

UVa Builds Scholarship Endowment to Half-Billion Dollars

by James A. Bacon

Over the past four years the University of Virginia has raised $500 million, enough to endow 350 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, President Jim Ryan informed the Board of Visitors Friday. He highlighted two programs in particular that share the goal of “fostering excellence and diversity of the student population, and ensuring their success.”

The University Achievement Awards, inaugurated during the presidency of John T. Casteen are given to Virginia students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Blue Ridge Scholars program, launched in 2014 with a $4 million gift from alumnus John Griffin, supports undergraduate students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.

The need for financial assistance has intensified over the years as UVa has aggressively increased tuition, fees, and charges for room and board. The annual cost of attendance (including books and modest personal expenses) runs around $34,000 for undergraduate Virginians and $69,000 for out-of-state students before financial aid is taken into account. Continue reading

As It Turns Out, UVa Has Third Most COVID Cases in Virginia Higher-Ed

by James A. Bacon

In my previous post I reported how the University of Virginia has handled the COVID-19 epidemic, noting that the state’s flagship university had experienced 1,250 cases since reopening this fall and only seven hospitalizations. Having no basis for comparison, I withheld judgment on whether UVa had done a superior job compared to other public institutions. As it happens, the New York Times has just published data for most of the higher-ed institutions across the country. It turns out that UVa ranks third among Virginia colleges and universities for total confirmed cases — hardly an endorsement of the Ryan administration’s handling of the epidemic.

This data from the NYT database lists all cases since the beginning of the pandemic, not just this semester:

Continue reading

How UVa Dodged the COVID-19 Bullet

University of Virginia President Jim Ryan addressing the Board of Visitors in a virtual meeting.

by James A. Bacon

The major challenge facing the University of Virginia this fall was controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus when reconvening for the new academic year. With a combined student and employee population of about 45,000 the UVa administration had a gargantuan task. Fear was running rampant. Many people thought the university’s decision to reopen was reckless. Some told President Jim Ryan he would have blood on his hands. 

Like other public universities in Virginia, UVa plowed ahead. The normally hide-bound institution moved more nimbly than anyone thought it was capable of. Professors and grad students took crash courses on virtual learning and converted their classes to an online or hybrid virtual/in-person format. The health system ramped up testing capacity. A COVID call center was set up, contract tracers were organized, and isolation/quarantine rooms were set aside in student housing.

The result: Between move-in day and Thanksgiving, UVa had confirmed 1,250 cases in the university community, mostly among students. Zero students were hospitalized. Only seven non-students were hospitalized.  There was no evidence of transmission in classrooms, nor from UVa students to members of the community, Ryan told the Board of Visitors in its December meeting today. The percentage of positive hits on the tests declined through the semester even as it was rising across Virginia. “We learned we can do hard things,” he said. “Everyone rose to the challenge.” Continue reading

Vacation Homes as Virginia Rural Resource

Vacation-home share of housing, 2018. Credit: StatChat blog

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has more than 88,000 vacation homes, about 2.5% of all homes in the Commonwealth, according to the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group. These “seasonally vacant homes” intended mainly for recreational use are overwhelmingly located in amenity-rich rural locales along the Chesapeake Bay, the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, or man-made lakes.

Moreover, reports StatChat, the vacation share of housing has increased since 2018 in most jurisdictions — more than 7.5 percent in some cases.

Bacon’s Rebellion has argued that Virginia’s rural counties should position themselves as destinations for retirement and vacation housing as an economic development strategy. Retirement and rental properties boost the tax base and create service jobs in localities where employment opportunities are otherwise scarce. Continue reading

Virginia Parents Fear COVID in Schools, Also Worry Children Are Falling Behind

Credit: Don Harder on Flickr

by James A. Bacon

If today’s Wason Center poll results are any indication, more than half of Virginia parents have children in school systems delivering instruction online, about one fourth have children in hybrid online/in-person schools, and only one in eight have children receiving in-person education.

The Northam administration has released no estimates of its own, an exercise that would entail tabulating figures from the state’s 134 school system. The Wason Center, affiliated with Christopher Newport University, conducted 906 interviews in mid November. Thirty-four percent had children in schools. Of those:

12% had children receiving in-person instruction only
56% had children receiving online instruction only
27% had children receiving a mix of online and in-person
3% were home schooling their children

With an effective sample of only 300 or so parents, there’s probably a fairly wide margin of error, but that’s the only statewide estimate I’ve seen so far. Continue reading

Wow, Huge Majority of Virginians Supports Public-Sector Bargaining

Chicago teachers strike, 2019. Credit: Orinoco Tribune

by James A. Bacon

The Wason Center at Christopher Newport University issued a new poll today which finds, among other things, that Virginians favor collective bargaining rights for public employees by a whopping 68% to 25% margin.

If that’s not scary enough, the poll likely understates the support for public-sector collective bargaining. Thirty-six percent of poll respondents identified themselves as Republicans compared to 34% Democrats — clearly under-sampling Democrats in a state which voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump for president by a 54% to 45% margin. Equally disturbing, 44% of the respondents identified themselves as various shades of “conservative” compared to 4o% who described themselves as various shades of “liberal.”

How is it possible that a strong majority from this particular pool of people supports allowing public employees to join unions and negotiate for higher wages and pensions — a practice that is laying waste to state and local finances in states from California to Illinois, New Jersey to Connecticut? 

Something has gone very, very awry. Continue reading

Reminder: Virginia Imports 31% of Its Electricity

Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

On a percentage basis, Virginia is the fourth largest electricity importer in the United States, following California, Ohio and Massachusetts, according to data published this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. On a net basis, the Old Dominion imports 31% of its electricity from other states.

Why does that matter? That’s economic activity, along with local multiplier effects, that we’re shipping outside the state.

Environmentalists argue that if Virginia moves to a 100% renewable electric grid, most of that electricity will be produced in the form of solar farms and wind turbines located within the state, paying leases to landowners, generating taxes for state and local governments, and supporting Virginia jobs. I think there’s something to that argument. While the 100% renewable grid will cost Virginians billions in higher electric rates and create challenges for maintaining reliability, the repatriation of energy-related economic activity to Virginia would be a silver lining. 

— JAB 

What Fresh Hell Awaits Virginia Today?

by Kerry Dougherty

Shhhh. Listen carefully.

Hear that? That’s the sound of 8.5 million Virginia sphincters tightening as we anticipate how Gov. Ralph Northam will punish us today for a surge in COVID-19 infections.

We deserve it. The virus is spreading and it has to be our fault. It couldn’t possibly be that a respiratory virus is damned near impossible to stop.

As Virginia waits to learn what fresh hell is waiting for us at Northam’s presser we get to experience an American dictatorship, where all power rests in a single individual.

What liberties will His Excellency stomp on today? Continue reading

High Housing Costs and Virginia’s Brain Drain

Hasta la vista!

Between 2010 and 2018 Virginia’s population grew by more than half a million residents, ranking 9th in the nation, due to strong natural increase (births over deaths) and steady international immigration. But the Old Dominion was only one of two states in the top 10 — the other was California — to experience negative net domestic migration, reports Lisa Sturtevant, chief economist for the Virginia Realtor’s Association in the Realtors’ blog.

Nearby southeastern states have shown strong domestic in-migration. What’s Virginia’s problem?

According to Sturtevant, the state’s biggest challenge is recruiting and retaining young workers. In continuation of a decade-long trend, about 6,00 more 25- to 34-year-olds moved out of Virginia in 2018 than moved in 2017 and 2018. These young people aren’t fleeing economically deprived rural areas. They’re leaving the high-cost areas, particularly Northern Virginia.

Says Sturtevant: “Even though professional opportunities are attractive and wages are high, home prices have gotten so high that it is increasingly challenging for young adults to buy homes. Many have been moving to places where jobs are still good but the cost of living is lower and it is easier to buy a home.”

— JAB