Author Archives: James A. Bacon

Blue Lives Don’t Matter

Newport News police officer Katherine M. “Katie” Thyne, 24, mother of two, and girl’s basketball coach, was killed in January during a traffic stop. In the incident, she was dragged about a block and pinned between the fleeing car and a tree.

by James A. Bacon

Last week Virginia Senate Democrats unveiled a 27-bill package of criminal justice “reforms” they will advance in the special session that Governor Ralph Northam has said he expects to call this August. Some have potential merit, such as a slew of proposals to hold law-enforcement officers accountable for unjustified use of force. But some seem to be scripted to ruin police morale.

The list released by the Senate Dems provides only a bare-bones description of what the initiatives entail. There is no way to know exactly what legislators have in mind until we see the bills. Even so, there’s reason enough to sound the sirens. Bacon’s Rebellion will take a closer look at the more alarming proposals as time permits. For now, I want to focus on one: “defelonizing” assaults on law enforcement officers.

Under current law, anyone convicted of assaulting a law enforcement officer is guilty of a Class 6 felony and subject to a mandatory minimum term of confinement of six months. The proposal would reduce assaults to misdemeanors. Continue reading

Who Cares about the Kids? Not the Teachers’ Unions.

Did school teachers abandon their students during the Spanish influenza? I suspect they were made of tougher stuff than teachers today. — JAB

by Kerry Dougherty

They hate it when we call them teachers’ unions. But when organizations act like trade unions, throw tantrums like unions, put their own needs before the people they serve, you’re looking at a union.

Make that unions. Plural.

In Fairfax County there are three: the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the Fairfax Education Association and the Association of Fairfax Professional Educators.

According to a piece in The Washington Post headlined, “Teachers in Fairfax Revolt Against Fall Plans, Refusing to Teach In-Person,” these three groups are acting in concert to force Fairfax County students to miss another year of school.

Maybe two years.

Heck, Fairfax County schools may never reopen since these teachers are demanding that all learning be virtual until a Covid-19 vaccine is available. Continue reading

Uh, Oh, COVID-19 Metrics No Longer Improving

Source: Virginia Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard

The bad news from recent COVID-19 statistics is that the numbers aren’t getting better. Virginia has hit a plateau in the number of confirmed cases, as seen in the chart above, which shows the seven-day moving average in the number of confirmed cases. To some degree, the tick upwards in COVID-19 cases may reflect increased testing. But it’s clear that the virus, which had been receding for a month, no longer is.

I’ve never worried overly much about the number of cases. The vast majority of cases cause no lasting harm. What matters is the number of hospitalizations and deaths. As it happens, the number of hospitalizations, which had undergone a month-long decline, also has hit a plateau, and the number of deaths has nudged noticeably higher than early June, as can be seen in the chart below. Continue reading

The Big Lie of Unequal Funding

by James A. Bacon

The Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) has unanimously adopted a statement regarding its commitment to provide equal access to a high-quality public education.

“Systemic racism and discrimination still exist in public education, and too often, a student’s skin color or socioeconomic status predicts the quality of their educational opportunities,” says the statement. The VBOE goes on to attribute the educational achievement gap between whites and “people of color” to unequal funding.

The current system of funding for our schools, codified as the Standards of Quality, has not resulted in meaningful changes in educational outcomes. In fact, in combined effect with the previously long-standing Standards of Accreditation, segregation in our schools has increased. We have seen resources, in terms of funding and personnel, migrate to schools and localities that disproportionately served fewer students of color. The result has been a recognized achievement gap that continues to persist.

There is one big problem with this statement. There is no meaningful black-white funding gap in Virginia. The VBOE provides no statistics whatsoever to back up its statement. Repetition of a falsehood does not make it true. Here are the average annual per-pupil expenditures for school operations across the state broken down by race/ethnicity:

From a statewide perspective, there is a funding gap in Virginia, but it’s between Asians and Hispanics on the one hand and blacks and whites on the other. If the BOE had restricted its claim to the existence of a white/black funding gap, not a gap between whites and “people of color,” it would have been on firmer ground, although that gap is barely more than one-tenth of one percent. Good luck trying to explain the educational achievement gap (which is very real) on a one-tenth of one percent difference in spending. Continue reading

School Shutdowns Will Aggravate Racial Disparities

Graphic source: McKinsey & Co., “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

A new report by the McKinsey & Company management-consulting firm contends that delaying in-class schooling to Jan. 2021 would result in a catastrophic loss of learning for students — a loss that would be even more pronounced among blacks and Hispanics than whites (and, presumably, Asians, who are not mentioned despite comprising 5.6% of the U.S. population).

The average loss of learning for all students would be 6.8 months. The loss would be slightly less for whites, about 6.0 months, but significantly greater for blacks (10.3 months) and Hispanics (9.2 months). The racial/ethnic achievement gap, which has defied all efforts of school administrators to close over the past decade, would grow significantly worse, says the article, “COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime.”

The McKinsey scenario does not describe the hybrid stay-at-home/back-to-school model proposed by the Northam administration for Virginia, but it highlights many of the problems that Virginia school districts would encounter by having students attend school only two days per week. Continue reading

“Equity” and the Performance of Virginia’s Black and White Students

by John Butcher

The estimable Jim Bacon suggests that the Northam administration’s emphasis on “equity” and “restorative-justice” is keeping disorderly students in the classroom to the detriment of the other students. As well, he posits that behavior problems are more common among black students so the effect should be larger in divisions with larger black populations.

VDOE has some data that might speak to those issues.

Elementary and middle school students mostly take the same tests at the same time. High school, not so much. So let’s look at the data for the elementary and middle school grades.

First, the disorder. The Safe Schools Information Resource goes back to 2015. For grades 3-8, the statewide counts there of individual offenders as a percentage of their ethnic population are:

Continue reading

COVID-19: Milder than We Thought

The latest numbers from the state and hospital-association COVID-19 dashboards suggest that the coronavirus in Virginia still is retreating. The seven-day moving average of test-positive cases for COVID-19 tests continues to fall, hitting a new low of 5.8%.

Meanwhile, two measures of intensive hospital utilization have hit new lows. The number of COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care Units fell t0 219 yesterday, down from a high of 469 in early April, while the number on ventilators declined to 99, from a high of 302 in mid-April.

New research from the federal Centers for Disease Control suggest that only one in ten COVID-19 cases have been identified through testing, so the number of confirmed cases, which stands at 60,570, is likely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If the national rate holds true here, more than 600,000 Virginians have contracted the virus. In other words, about 7% of the population has been infected. The bad news is that the virus still has a long way to run.

Here’s the good news: If that 600,000 figure holds up, and if the Virginia Department of Health’s 6,071 figure for the number of hospitalizations is reasonably accurate, it means that only 1% of the population that gets the disease ends up hospitalized for it. Given the 1,700 Virginia deaths so far, it also means that only three out of 1,000 who get the disease die from it. Continue reading

Richmond’s “Numbnuts” Cripple Busch Gardens

by Kerry Dougherty

Five more days until Virginia finally enters Phase 3 of the slo-mo reopening of the commonwealth.

But if you were planning to take the kids to Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion to celebrate, forget it.

Thanks to ridiculously small crowd limits, both sprawling theme parks said they can’t comply with Virginia’s rules. The management of the parks want to know why they are lumped in the same category as bowling alleys and skating rinks.
Under the governor’s rules “entertainment venues” can open at 50% capacity, but with no more than 1,000 visitors.

On a good summer day Busch Gardens draws upwards of 24,000 guests. Holding the 383-acre park to 1,000 visitors would be economic suicide for one of the biggest tourist attractions in Virginia.

So Busch Gardens will remain shuttered. And the economy of the so-called Historic Triangle of Williamsburg, Yorktown and Jamestown will continue to circle the drain.

“Our parks are largely outdoor facilities spread across hundreds of acres but we continue to be lumped in with unrelated models like bowling alleys and skating rinks,” said Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens. Continue reading

Beyond COVID-19: New Opportunities in Land Use

Vacant storefronts — a challenge and an opportunity

by James A. Bacon

The stay-at-home orders prompted by the COVID-19 epidemic accelerated a trend that was already reshaping the American economy: the shift of commerce from bricks-and-mortar retail to online delivery. Traditional retailers are retrenching; malls and shopping centers are hollowing out. If current trends continue, we’ll be seeing a lot more UPS and Amazon trucks cruising through our neighborhoods… and a lot of vacant retail space.

This seemingly irreversible trend will create dramatic challenges and opportunities for Virginia communities. Local governments rely upon the property taxes generated by malls and shopping centers. As those properties empty out and lose value, local governments will see an important revenue source erode. That is a problem, to be sure. But the decline of bricks-and-mortar also presents Virginia localities with once-in-a-generation opportunities. The potential exists to address two of Virginia’s chronic issues: affordable housing and traffic gridlock.

The scarcity of affordable housing in Virginia, especially in high-growth counties, has become increasingly acute in recent years. Construction of new dwelling units has not kept pace with household formation, and housing shortages have pushed up rents and sales prices faster than incomes have risen. Home builders would be more than happy to build more houses, if only they could find the land and gain zoning approvals from local governments to do so. Meanwhile, congestion is reasserting itself on Virginia’s Interstates, highways and arterials. There is not enough money to build our way out of gridlock.

While no solution is perfect, the least imperfect is to recycle old retail districts into “walkable urbanism” resembling pedestrian-friendly places such as Arlington, Reston, or downtown Richmond and Norfolk. Continue reading

How Greeniacs Destroy the Environment

by Paul Driessen

The US Supreme Court recently ruled 7-2 to reverse a lower court ruling invalidating a permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will bring West Virginia natural gas to Virginia and North Carolina, for home heating, factory power, electricity generation and manufacturing petrochemical feedstocks.

Environmentalists had claimed the U.S. Forest Service had no authority to issue the permit, because a 0.1-mile (530-foot) segment would cross 600 feet below the 2,200-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which is administered by the National Park Service. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion scuttled that assertion.

Pipeline project developers Dominion Resources and Duke Energy should receive the USFS and other permits relatively soon – and have the pipeline in operation by early 2022 – unless a Biden administration takes over in 2021 (with AOC as woke climate and energy advisor to Biden and Democrats) and imposes Green New Deal bans on drilling, fracking, pipelines, and eventually any use of natural gas, oil and coal.

Meanwhile, environmentalist groups plan more lawsuits. They insist the pipeline would put rivers and streams at risk of increased sedimentation, scar pristine landscapes, and harm sensitive species.

These plans and assertions underscore how inflexible they have become in opposing any US fossil fuel use. How incapable of recognizing or rationally discussing the far greater human and ecological impacts from energy systems they favor. How reliant on blatant double standards and mob rule, instead of on rational, cohesive, persuasive discussion. Continue reading

Up Next: School Bus Crisis

by Kerry Dougherty

Last week we marveled at Gov. Ralph Northam’s unworkable guidelines to reopen Virginia schools this fall.

Richmond’s bizarre restrictions on social distancing and class size make it impossible for kids to be in their classrooms five days a week.

Instead, most school districts seem to cooking up schemes to divide student bodies in half with 50% of children in school two days a week, the other half in school for two other days a week, and the fifth day given over for teacher planning.

In other words, we’re looking at a two-day-a-week school year.

Sure, school officials insist that students will also have three days of virtual learning, but it’s no secret that distance learning was a colossal disaster this spring.

I read a Washington Post piece on distance learning this week and spied this comment from a teacher who wants to go back to the classroom five days a week even if it puts her and her family in peril for Covid-19:

Continue reading

Another Use and Abuse of Statistics…

Sources: Fairfax County Police Department, U.S. Census Bureau

by James A. Bacon

The Fairfax County Police Department publishes a statistical report every year on the police use of force in the county. There were 594 use-of-force incidents reported in 2019, up from 510 the previous year. The publication provides data with minimal commentary.

This is the headline from the Reston Now article summarizing the report: “Fairfax County Police Disproportionately Use Force on Black Individuals.” The headline was backed up by this paragraph:

Black residents were involved in roughly 31 percent of use-of-force incidents, even though they make up a little over 8 percent of the total population. Roughly 48 percent of all use-of-force incidents involved whites, who make up 67 percent of the total population.

By placing the data in the context of the national uproar over the George Floyd killing and calls for police reform, as the story did, Reston Now feeds the standard media Oppression Narrative. But the story left a lot out, which seems to be the usual operating procedure. Cherry pick the facts that support the media narrative, and omit anything that might call it into question. Continue reading

Stop the Problem Before It Starts

by Chris Braunlich

With the General Assembly taking up policing reform in this summer’s special session, there should be at least one bill stopping a problem before it begins.

Most big problems are created by a small number of people. The same is true of police officer transgressions. Most police officers are good police officers, but Derek Chauvin was a bad cop with 18 prior complaints in 19 years at the time he killed George Floyd. His partner, Tou Thao, has six complaints, including an open one at the point he was fired. The head of their police union, Lt. Bob Kroll, is the subject of at least 29 complaints.

Their continued presence was an insult to the more than 680,000 good law enforcement officers who are guardians of our safety, who took the job to serve the public and who put their lives on the line.

Yet, instead of eliminating a narrow source of major abuse, they were allowed to continue their abuse of Minneapolis citizenry. Why?

Increasingly, we can point to provisions commonly found in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) negotiated between governments and the police union as part of the contract process. The issue has never arisen in Virginia before, because collective bargaining was prohibited. But Governor Ralph Northam has signed into law legislation that could mean local governments and their police unions next year will negotiate the conditions of the disciplinary process against misbehavior by individual police officers. Continue reading

Northam Gets a Couple of Things Right

by James A. Bacon

I do have my issues with Wise King Ralph, but I have to give credit where credit is due. He has done two things right in the past few days. He has given the OK to move to Phase 3 of the COVID-19 lockdown on July 1, and he has refused to buckle under to violent protests in Richmond. Virginia’s capital city will not turn into Portland or Seattle East.

It was not a foregone conclusion that the Governor would accede to a further relaxation of the emergency restrictions promulgated to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus. While Virginia metrics were all heading in the right direction, the national media were in full-blown hysteria mode over a rise in infection rates in other states that had moved to reopen their economies. Even local media, which reported on beach vacationers bringing the coronavirus with them back to the Roanoke region, were sounding the alarm. Indeed, Northam said explicitly that he was paying attention to what was happening in other states.

But in the end, Wise King Ralph did the right thing. Phase 3 represents a big step forward in getting back to normal. The measures it continues to maintain — restrictions on mass gatherings with the potential to turn into super-spreader events — are defensible.

Meanwhile, the Governor, while not exactly posing as Mr. Law and Order, defended city and state police officers who earlier yesterday used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear a sit-in outside of Richmond City Hall that was blocking traffic. As The Virginia Mercury put it, Northam expressed “befuddlement” at the ongoing protests against police brutality even though he had promised “future action on police reform and other important equity issues.” Continue reading

It’s About Time: Phase 3

by Kerry Dougherty

Finally.

After weeks of plummeting death rates, dwindling hospitalizations and a sharp drop in positive test results for COVID-19, slow-walking Gov. Ralph Northam announced that the  commonwealth can enter Phase Three.

But not until next week, on July 1.

Northam made the announcement at yesterday’s press conference.

For months, Northam’s pressers have been characterized by gloom and arbitrary rules that confounded the public.

From the governor’s nonsensical “we’re a commonwealth and we’re going to act like a commonwealth” to his ridiculous no-sitting-or-loud-music-on-the-beach edicts, these bi-weekly broadcasts have been a source of dread for many of us.

Phase Three should have happened weeks ago. Nevertheless, sometimes we must simply be grateful for the crumbs the governor sprinkles in our direction. Continue reading