Author Archives: djrippert

Northam Administration Information Technology Failures Continue

Image by Mediamodifier from Pixabay

Help! WJLA is reporting that the State of Virginia is using a 35-year-old computer system to process unemployment checks. The system has buckled, leaving 70,000 Virginians without their unemployment benefits.  In a stunning admission, Bill Walker, Director of Unemployment Insurance with the Virginia Employment Commission says, “We are right at the first of July now” when asked how far behind the process stands.

It seems obvious that ineffective processing of unemployment claims disproportionately impacts less affluent and minority Virginians. Yet this issue has been missing from the Ralph Northam COVID-19 updates I have watched.  Those press conferences have included discussions of the presidential election and a description of court cases involving Confederate statues but nothing about the real pain that the ineptitude of the Northam Administration is visiting on 70,000 Virginians, including many people of color. Continue reading

Governor Northam: Do You Believe in Miracles?

by DJ Rippert

Come out with your masks on, we’ve got you surrounded. COVID-19 new cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in Virginia. However, the situation is not as dire in Virginia as elsewhere in the United States (see graphic above). At 229 new cases per million people Virginia is well below all neighboring jurisdictions. Kentucky at 814 per million tops the list of sick neighbors while D.C. at 302 is the second most healthy in our immediate vicinity. The question for Virginia’s governor Ralph Northam is, “Do you believe in miracles?” Or, perhaps somewhat less charitably, “Are you feeling lucky, punk?” Whether one prefers the Hot Chocolate version or the Dirty Harry version, we are in an interesting situation. Do we dare hope that Virginia will miraculously avoid the surge that is consuming most other states? Or, do we assume it is inevitable that we end up in the same situation as Kentucky, et al and start serious COVID abatement efforts (e.g. lockdown and partial lockdowns) now?

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Where Does Ralph Northam Go From Here with COVID-19?

Image by André Santana from Pixabay

by DJ Rippert

Marcel Marceau. Ralph “The COVID Mime” Northam dropped a bevy of increased Coronavirus restrictions on the state last Friday. Those new restrictions on Friday followed another rambling COVID press conference held by Northam the prior Tuesday. Anybody watching the Tuesday news conference could be forgiven for being shocked by The COVID Mime’s actions on Friday. Unlike governors such as Larry Hogan in Maryland Northam avoids any serious discussion of possible actions he might take to slow the spread of the resurgent virus in Virginia during his press conferences. Instead, Northam recites statistics about COVID-19 in Virginia and reminds people to wear masks, maintain social distance and wash their hands regularly. He also provides pithy commentary such as, “This is very concerning, especially because it is getting colder. The holidays are approaching and the temptation to gather with other people is high.” Then, as the news week winds to a close, Northam drops a COVID bomb. To say Jim Bacon was exasperated is putting it mildly. The virus has continued to spread internationally, nationally and in Virginia.  So, we get to play the next installment of the Bacons Rebellion game show “What will The Mime do next?” Continue reading

A Big Election Day for Marijuana

by DJ Rippert

Rolling stoned gathers no moss. Marijuana reform has been gaining momentum in the U.S. since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Today 36 states have either enacted medical marijuana access laws or are in the process of implementing such laws. In 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults. Today, 15 states have enacted recreational use laws or are in the process of doing so.

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Fifty Pounds of Weed in Arlington = Probation?

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

by DJ Rippert

This landing may get bumpy. In late 2018 a chap was on a plane that landed at Reagan National Airport. He undoubtedly had the usual tools of travel — toothbrush, shave kit and clean socks.  However, he also had 50 pounds of marijuana and 400 cartridges of hashish oil. Perhaps he got on the wrong plane expecting to land in Denver. The MWAA Police met him at baggage claim, offered to help him with his luggage and cuffed him up.

As arlnow.com reports, “Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti and the attorney representing the alleged drug carrier agreed that the defendant would plead guilty to two felony charges and be placed on probation. After completing the probation and 200 hours of community service, he would be able to withdraw the pleas to the felony charges and instead plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges while having a $100 fine imposed but then suspended.” Continue reading

Biden, Birx and COVID Lockdowns in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

Sine wave. The third wave of COVID-19 has been spreading across the world and has come to America.  As should have been expected it has also come to Virginia. Many European countries have enacted lockdowns that would be considered draconian by most Americans. Several U.S. governors have also dramatically reversed the re-opening of their states’ economies in order to thwart the spread of the virus. Federal infectious disease experts are sounding the alarm. “We are entering the most concerning and most deadly phase of this pandemic . . . leading to increasing mortality,” said the Monday report from Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. Birx predicts that the US will see more than 100,000 new cases per day this week.

In the Old Dominion, as WAVY reported yesterday, “Virginia’s [7-day] daily average of 1,306 cases per day is more than 100 cases per day above previous highs in August and May, mostly spurred by spikes in Southwest Virginia, and a notable increase in Northern Virginia. Virginia’s case incidence rate per 100,000 residents is now 15.3, which is considered especially high.” WAVY further reports that Virginia’s case per day total will reach 2,000 by the end of January per UVa’s COVID-19 model. Meanwhile, our governor is unconcerned, citing historical statistics that prove (to him) that Virginia has no real need for concern.

It seems that the stage is set in Virginia for a set of knee-jerk proclamations that will send our state’s economy back into the tail spin we experienced this spring.

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Northam’s Non-COVID Non-Update

Note: video starts at 4:50

by DJ Rippert

Northam fiddles. As a resurgence of COVID-19 spreads across Europe and the United States, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam held a press conference ostensibly to discuss the pandemic. The presser provided little new information about the coronavirus or Virginia’s plans to combat the disease. Northam did review statistics from the five health regions around the state but failed to provide any new guidance for Southwest Virginia where cases are spiking and the positivity rate has reached 8%. Northam’s useful advice was to wear masks, maintain social distance and wash your hands regularly. Continue reading

Does Northam Have a Plan to Battle a COVID Resurgence in Virginia?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

by DJ Rippert

The second (or third) time around. America’s polarized political situation has all eyes on the upcoming presidential election. Millions are voting early and millions more will vote by mail. There is a good chance that the final results will not be known on the morning after Election Day. If true, America’s attention will be riveted on the election through November and quite possibly into December. Meanwhile, COVID cases are surging in the U.S. and parts of Europe. Yesterday, the U.S. recorded 906 COVID-related deaths. That number had been averaging between 700 and 800 since early autumn. Virginia’s record in managing COVID has been mediocre to date. Not terrible but not great either. The state ranks 30th in per capita COVID-related deaths. Over the last seven days Virginia has recorded the 21st most cases of COVID among U.S. states. As evidence of a resurgence of COVID mounts, Virginians ought to wonder whether the state is ready to react to such a resurgence if it occurs.

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Joe Biden, the SALT Cap and Virginia’s Hidden Taxes

by DJ Rippert

SALT of the Earth. The Trump Administration pushed through a change to the US tax code which capped the deduction for State And Local Taxes (SALT) at $10,000 per year. Previously there had been no cap. The imposition of the cap effectively increased the federal taxes paid by high-income earners, especially in high tax states / localities. Given that many high-income, high-tax areas in the U.S .are solidly Democratic, this loophole reduction rankled Democrats in the Congress. Those Democrats have made several unsuccessful attempts to repeal the cap.

Democrats are likely to win the presidency in the upcoming election and may take control of the U.S. Senate as well. If that happens, it is likely that they will make good on their prior efforts to remove the SALT cap. In Virginia, Democrats control the House of Delegates, the Senate and the Governor’s mansion. They have used that control to raise state taxes including the passage of a number of hidden taxes that have been implemented through regulation. If Joe Biden is elected, will the hidden taxes imposed by Virginia’s Democrats put the state’s residents at a disadvantage since they won’t be deductible when the SALT cap is lifted? Continue reading

Virginia Needs to Stop Playing Politics with School Reopenings

by DJ Rippert

Politics over science. Michael Hartney is a national fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and an assistant professor of political science at Boston College. He and a collaborator have studied school reopening decisions across the United States looking for factors that correlate with the seemingly arbitrary differences in school reopening policies from one school system to the next. His conclusion is that the politics of the community and the strength of the teachers’ unions play a far greater role in reopening decisions than any application of science. As Hartney writes in an Newsweek op-ed piece, “Education policymakers should consider public health indicators like the number of COVID cases, deaths and the acuteness of the pandemic’s spread in a given community when deciding when and how much to reopen schools. But such factors have not driven decision-making. Instead, it is partisanship and the power of the teachers’ unions that have largely determined which schools opened and how much they opened.”

Facts are stubborn things. Hartley’s analysis seems thorough. He studied nearly 10,000 school districts. The correlation between political attitude and school reopening policies appears to be real. As Hartley writes, “Even when comparing schools in counties that experienced very similar case rates, partisanship best predicted whether schools opened. For example, counties that voted 60 percent for Hillary Clinton in 2016 were nearly 20 percentage points less likely to hold in-person classes than counties that backed Donald Trump to the same degree.” A look at Virginia’s reopening map shows a notable east – west division between the 68 school divisions that are fully remote and the 64 divisions that have some level of generalized in-person teaching. Continue reading

The November Election, Marijuana and Northern Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Up for grabs. In about three weeks Americans who haven’t already voted will go to the polls and vote. The presidency, the U,S, House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are all in play.  Regarding the impact of the legalized adult use of marijuana in Virginia, the U.S. Senate is the key. That belief makes the relatively safe assumption that the Democrats will maintain a majority in the House. The reason the Senate is the key to recreational marijuana use in Northern Virginia involves Washington, D.C. Washington has already legalized the recreational use of marijuana.  However, the implementation of a retail capability to buy and sell marijuana has been thwarted by Republicans using federal appropriations bills.  That thwarting will end if the Democrats control both the House and Senate.

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5G and Rural Virginia

A horse pulling fiber in Kentucky. Photo credit: Pro Publica

by DJ Rippert

A tale of two places.  The next generation of consumer wireless technology is called Fifth Generation or 5G. It is being rolled out in select parts of the United States right now. 5G will be a boon to urban and suburban Virginia. Absent heavy government subsidies, it will likely have a minimal direct effect on rural Virginia. Of course, any technology that favors high population density areas over low population density areas expands the rural-urban gap. The reasons for 5G’s value in high density areas vs low density areas run the gamut from physics to economics. However, there are some engineering scenarios and demographic situations where 5G might be effective in select rural areas without massive governmental subsidies. Those will be discussed later in this post. And, of course, massive government subsidies are always on the table. Continue reading

The Jaw Dropping Political Contributions of UVa’s Board of Visitors

By DJ Rippert

Waiting for Godot. A recent article on this blog titled, “UVa Board Backs Ryan on Lawn Signage Issue,” seemed to suggest that The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors (BoV) was a critical link in UVa’s governance structure. My interpretation of the article was that the author (Jim Bacon) believed the BoV might rise up with indignant fury and put UVa President James Ryan in his place by insisting that a profane sign on university property be taken down. My own thinking was that such a belief was naive. I’ve always viewed UVa’s BoV as a club of well meaning rich people who were appointed to that board in appreciation for the large political donations they make rather than a serious oversight organization.

That view was reinforced in 2012 when the BoV tried to act like an honest to goodness board by ousting UVa’s underperforming president – Teresa Sullivan. Virginia’s political elite would have none of it. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell threatened to fire the entire board for having the temerity to put down their martini glasses and take action. Since that attempt at actual governance the BoV seems to have returned to its roots as an organization willing to rubber stamp whatever UVa’s leadership decides to do. The idea that the BoV might question Ryan’s acceptance of a sign on a university-owned dorm room door saying “F*** UVa” seemed far fetched to me. However, the article’s author – Jim Bacon – is wise in the ways of all things Virginia. Maybe he was right and the Board of Visitors was appointed based on their willingness to actively manage UVa rather than their political donations.

As a starting point, I decided to research the political donations of the board members. I was stunned by what I found. I defined the board by including the seventeen independent board members and the faculty representative. I did not include the student representative in the donation calculations. The 18 members of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, their employers and their spouses have donated $35,252,122 to Virginia politicians since 1997 (when records first started being tracked).  The individual board members and their spouses (to the extent I could determine their spouses) have donated $4,859,820 to the state’s political class since 1997. Their employers have donated $30,392,302 over the same period. These totals count donations to Republicans, Democrats and political organizations classified as “other” by VPAP. Continue reading

Contextualization in Talbot County, Md.

By DJ Rippert

The Talbot Boys. As the debate over contextualizing history rages in Virginia there is an example of historical contextualization from Easton, Md., the issue started, as they often do, with a Confederate statue. In this case the issue surrounds “The Talbot Boys” statue which has stood at the entrance to the Talbot County Courthouse since 1916. As described by The Smithsonian, “A young soldier stands with a C.S.A. flag on his left side, holding it with both hands. The flag curls behind him, covering his back. He wears a broad-rimmed hat and an open shirt. The youth is meant to represent youthful courage and enthusiasm as portrayed in Longfellow’s poem “Excelsior.” The statue is mounted atop an inscribed pedestal, which is atop a base with plaques. A brass box containing the names of contributors was placed in the base.”

Honest observers would naturally ask several questions. First, why a Confederate statue in Maryland? Maryland was a slaveholding border state during the Civil War and never seceded. Maryland’s Eastern Shore was a hotbed of Confederate sympathy in the Old Line State but for every Talbot County boy who fought for the Confederacy two fought for the Union. There is no statue honoring Union soldiers from Talbot County at the Courthouse. Second question —  why erect the statue in 1916 … 51 years after the end of the Civil War? Continue reading

Virginia Needs to Prepare for November’s Election

by DJ Rippert

Chaos. Violent riots have become a nightly occurrence across America. Portland is now over 100 nights of protests and riots. Meanwhile, Portland’s mayor expresses his solidarity with the protesters while moving from his residence because of the number of violent protests conducted on his doorstep. You can’t make this up. People are dying in big cities and small. Kenosha has been a war zone recently and another inexplicable police shooting in Los Angeles has that city on edge. In Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently had an epiphany … the riots and looting were not protests. Rather they were “planned attacks.”  Sharp thinkin’ from the Land of Lincoln. Sadly, the Labor Day weekend saw 51 shooting and 10 killings in Chicago. Closer to home D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is talking about a possible “race war” stirred up by “outside agitators.” Charles Manson is getting his “Helter Skelter” 50 years late. Virginia has been no stranger to street violence as looting and vandalism have come to Richmond and Hampton Roads.

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