Author Archives: djrippert

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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Murder and Marijuana in Northern Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Risky business, reccless behavior.  Federal prosecutors recently charged members of a Northern Virginia drug gang, the Reccless Tigers, with a variety of felonies.  A US News & World Report article claims multiple members of the gang have been charged with “murder in a sweeping new indictment that blames the northern Virginia street gang with two deaths, multiple fire bombings and a sophisticated bi-coastal drug operation that supplied marijuana-laced vape pens to kids throughout the region’s school systems.”  This is not the gang’s first brush with the law.  Nearly 20 members of the gang and associates of the gang already pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from drug related activities.

New kids in town.  Government sources say that the Reccless Tigers were formed in 2011 in the Centreville area of Fairfax County.  The gang mounted a fairly sophisticated operation.  Drug dealers would be induced to go into debt to the Reccless Tigers for the purchase of marijuana to be sold in Northern Virgina.  When the dealers struggled to pay back the debt they would be forced to work at a marijuana farm in Hayfork, California which had ties to the gang.  In essence, the gang operated a vertically integrated farm-to-vape-pen business.  The farm was raided in July 2019.

The cost of cooperation.  As the USN&WR article states, “Brandon White was given a choice, prosecutors say: If he opted not to testify against a member of the Reccless Tigers street gang who had assaulted him, a gang member would pay him $8,000 for his injuries. But if he testified, he’d be killed. White testified. Less than three months later, he was dead, his body left in the Virginia woods.”

The profit of illegality.  It’s hard to imagine how the Reccless Tigers would have been able to fund their criminal enterprise if Virginia was one of the eleven states which have legalized the recreational sale and use of marijuana.  In Virginia, the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized effective July 1.  However, there are still severe criminal penalties for the manufacture, transport and distribution of marijuana.  Criminals willing to bear the risks of providing the marijuana are able to profit handsomely.  And, as with almost all criminal enterprises, turf, territory and violence accompany the crimes.  The cost of Virginia’s intransigence on legalizing marijuana is more than lost taxes and lost legitimate jobs.  It also includes lost lives.

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

Boomergeddon vs Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

by DJ Rippert

Saving America’s bacon. In 2010 Jim Bacon, blogrunner of this site, wrote a book titled Boomergeddon. The sub-title of the book is, “How Runaway Deficits and the Age Wave Will Bankrupt the Federal Government and Devastate Retirement for Baby Boomers Unless We Act Now.” The book is well written and contains considerable supporting detail but that sub-title pretty much sums things up. At the time of publication Bacon’s book amplified the conventional wisdom of the day — deficits are bad and, as our president might say, big deficits are bad bigly. That traditional belief has come under scrutiny lately. One leading critic of the theories espoused by Boomergeddon is Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University and former advisor to the Sanders campaign. Her new book, published in 2020, is titled, The Deficit Myth.  One paragraph from the description of Kellon’s book on Amazon.Com sums up her thesis vis-a-vis Boomergeddon. “Kelton busts through the myths that prevent us from taking action: that the federal government should budget like a household, that deficits will harm the next generation, crowd out private investment, and undermine long-term growth, and that entitlements are propelling us toward a grave fiscal crisis.” Kelton believes the United States has considerably more room to incur debt without causing economic harm and we should get about the business of incurring more debt. Paying homage to her Democratic-Socialist roots, Kellon sub-titled her book, “Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy.”

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Common Sense and Coronavirus in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

Stepping back. Over the past five months there has been an unending flood of information, guesses, misinformation and politicized ramblings about COVID-19.  Various factions put forth their experts and cherry picked data to support their agendas. It’s time to step back and synthesize all that has been written into a set of common sense observations and preliminary conclusions about COVID-19.

The virus isn’t going anywhere. Even the most aggressive attempts to contain the Coronavirus will not eradicate the virus. The spread can be slowed and the curve can be flattened but the infections continue and the outbreaks resurge. After a catastrophic bout with Coronavirus in the spring Spain thought it had the contagion under control. The country reopened in what the Spanish thought was a sober and controlled way. Today, cases are spiking – particularly in the Catalan region. In the San Francisco Bay area of California strict lockdown protocols were implemented. The tide seemed to have turned. Reopening commenced.  Now, many bay area counties are seeing a spike in Coronavirus. Continue reading

Redskins Likely to Change Team Name

A new look for DC football?

by DJ Rippert

And so it goes. The Washington Redskins issued a somewhat surprising announcement today stating that the organization will “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name.” While the statement does not definitively say that the team name will be changed, it is almost guaranteed to change given today’s political climate. Even Dan Snyder wouldn’t undertake a review of the controversial name only to conclude that “everything is fine with the name.” Would he? Continue reading

Racism, COVID19 and Marijuana Legalization in Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Unintended consequences.  Newspapers, websites and Bacon’s Rebellion have been full of articles describing and debating the COVID-19 pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd with the attendant protests. First-order consequences of these events have been widely discussed. However, as we enter into the “new normal” a number of secondary and tertiary questions arise. One such question pertains to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Virginia. My opinion is that both the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout and the new sense of urgency around racial justice should compel our state government to accelerate the legalization of adult use marijuana.

The COVID19 lockdown recession. The sudden stop to Virginia’s economy has resulted in predictable fiscal turmoil. While one can debate whether the lockdown was too restrictive, not sufficiently restrictive, too long or too short there can be no debate that closing large parts of the economy has caused deep financial issues. The US economy is in recession. Some will say that Virginia will be insulated from the worst of that recession by the flow of federal dollars through the state. To that I’d reply – “don’t be naive, Nancy” … stories of the impact on small businesses are being reported across the state. It should be obvious to everybody that Virginia faces a fiscal winter even if there is no second wave of Coronavirus this actual winter. Continue reading

Chap Petersen and Pete Snyder: Get Virginia Back to Work

By DJ Rippert

Odd bedfellows? In a recent Op-Ed entitled, “Time to get back to business, Virginia” State Senator Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and entrepreneur and Republican activist Pete Snyder call for a more aggressive reopening of Virginia. The piece questions why large companies like Home Depot are allowed to thrive while “Mom and Pop” operations are being regulated out of existence. As the duo write, “Unlike the Wal-Marts and Home Depots whose sales have risen, small businesses have been devastated by the “shut down” economy of the past two months.” Their prescription for change is relatively simple: “What is needed is a defined plan for reopening Virginia’s small business economy, one that gets healthy workers back on the job, while still protecting the vulnerable from the spread of COVID-19.”

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Reopening: Know and Avoid the Risks

Musical chairs goes viral

By DJ Rippert

The Bromage Broadcast. Erin Bromage is a professor of biology and a blogger. She will tell you that she’s not an expert epidemiologist but she recently wrote a blog entry that proves she is an eloquent writer when it comes to explaining the physics of Coronavirus to the layman. As Virginia reopens after the lockdown people will have to make personal decisions about what activities to undertake and what activities to avoid. Ms. Bromage’s plain English explanations make a good starting point for making such decisions.

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