Author Archives: sherlockj

“A People’s History” and its Role in Progressive Rage

by James C. Sherlock

A People’s History of the United States

In pursuit of an understanding of the sources of so much nihilistic rage by some of America’s young people in the streets, I recently read Howard Zinn’s book, ‘A People’s History of the United States’, originally published in 1980. It has sold more than 2.5 million copies. At 729 pages it is a heavy lift.  

It’s genre is specified as non-fiction – history. We’ll see.

It is assigned in high school and college classrooms to teach students that American history is an endless rosary of oppression, slavery, and exploitation, hoping to establish truth by early and repeated assertion, after which the case is closed.

Zinn’s book, first published in 1980, is perhaps the most famous American history textbook ever written, and certainly the most pessimistic. His goal was to change the way Americans saw their own history by writing his interpretation of the perspective of those not discussed in most histories.  

Remember that in 1980, the type of proud Marxist that Zinn represented could still see in the Soviet Union and Cuba models they admired and thought most surely would succeed.  

Fair enough. He is entitled to his ideals. And certainly America historically has struggled to achieve the goals so clearly laid out in founding documents. Slavery will always be a stain. But those truths were explored by historians long before 1980.  

Any objective historian when discussing the shortfalls in 500 years of American history must explain why America has lasted so long, accomplished so much, is the freest land on the planet and is still the place where the world’s strivers want to come and stay. 

So what does Mr. Zinn’s book do, how does it do it and why?

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Maybe We Can Sue

by James C. Sherlock

Updated August 30, 3:30 pm

I wrote yesterday about a House of Delegates bill that ultimately was passed by the House Committee for Courts of Justice as House Bill No. 5074 Amendment In the Nature of A Substitute (the bill).  

I wrote of its effects on public officials and owners and managers of private companies for violations of COVID-19 regulations. The bill makes them not just accountable to state and federal regulators, but also personally civilly liable for the slightest violation of any part of the virtually unclimbable wall of applicable regulations. And Virginia has the strictest COVID-19 occupational safety regulations in the nation.

This essay will discuss the ethics of two different original bills and reveal the secretive process by which the final substitute was developed in committee. It will ask the General Assembly to clean up a scandal of its own making.

Some may say this “goes on all the time.” It may, but that does not mean it should.

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Just A Bill in the Virginia House of Delegates

by James C. Sherlock

Remember the educational cartoon video “I’m Just a Bill”?  Well this is different. This is the Virginia General Assembly in emergency session 2020.

I offer here an example captured in the brief history of a single bill in the House of Delegates that is very illustrative of the vast differences between the attitudes of the two parties.

Let’s see what happened to a bill to provide immunity from civil claims related to the transmission of or exposure to the COVID-19 virus when it got into the House Committee for Courts of Justice.

We will first examine House Bill 5037 offered by Republican Jason Miyares. It was designed to grant immunity, except in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct, to public officials and businesses who followed the rules.

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For Virginia, Nobody’s Home in the Congressional Infrastructure and Appropriations Committees

by James C. Sherlock

Incredible and statistically unlikely as it sounds, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not a single member on either of the Congressional House or Senate Committees that decide what infrastructure projects are authorized, or on either Appropriations Committee that decides what is spent on such projects and on everything else.

Those projects include the water resources projects such as hurricane and flood mitigation that we have been discussing this week.

The Committees in question are:

  • Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (11 R, 10 D),
  • House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (37D, 30R) and
  • Appropriations Committees of the House (23 R and 30 D) and Senate (16 R 15 D).

That is a total of 120 House members and 52 senators. And we got swept. Virginia may be unique among the states with zero representation on any of those committees. Continue reading

If You Pay Full Price for Flood Insurance, Ask our City/County Manager Why

Roanoke flooding in 1985

by James C. Sherlock

There were lots of comments in my last post about government programs to mitigate flooding damage in flood plains, specifically about buying and tearing down houses that repeatedly flood.

One of the carrots to do so is Community Rating System (CRS) discounts to flood insurance in communities that take an active role in flood plain risk mitigation.

CRS is a part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).  It is an incentive program that recognizes and encourages community floodplain management activities that exceed the minimum program requirements.

When that happens, not only is the risk of flooding diminished, but flood insurance premium rates for all citizens of a community that accomplishes the goals are appropriately discounted to reflect the reduced flood risk.

To quote the program web page,

“For National Flood Insurance Program Community Rating System participating communities, flood insurance premium rates are discounted in increments of 5 percent.

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Virginia’s Return on Investment in Corps of Engineers Civil Works Projects

by James C. Sherlock

In response to my suggestion to use the Corps of Engineers to assess Virginia’s needs for hurricane and flood control, libertarian commenters on this blog used the argument that only oceanfront landowners will benefit.

That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how the process works.  I ran into that same level of ignorance in the General Assembly.

No plan can defend everything everywhere, but a proper plan will do a cost-benefit analysis, and the USACE by law does that in every plan. Corps plans will protect what that its cost-benefit analysis indicates can be protected with a significant return on investment.   The value of people, disadvantaged communities, historically minority communities and areas of historical and ecological significance are counted in that assessment, not just property.

The Corps is a designated federal enforcer of environmental laws with regards to water and water related projects. They first will do everything they can with natural solutions before shifting to such construction projects as levies, pumps, seawalls, flood gates and berms.

The Corps uses a Regional Economic System (RECONS) model, which is a program used to assess the regional, state, and national impacts of projects. It is constantly assessed and updated. Continue reading

Virginia Has a Prayer

by James C. Sherlock

Updated Aug 27 at 9:46 AM

From the latest weather forecast:

Hurricane Laura is expected to strengthen into a Category 4 as it heads for a destructive landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border Wednesday night into early Thursday morning. A catastrophic storm surge and damaging winds will batter the region and a threat of flooding rain and strong winds will extend well inland. …

The hurricane is now a Category 3 with 125 mph winds and is expected to continue strengthening. Laura is forecast to become a Category 4 hurricane later today as it approaches the northwest Gulf Coast.

Laura’s maximum sustained winds jumped from 75 mph to 125 mph in the 24 hours ending 10 a.m. CDT Wednesday. That increase in maximum sustained winds easily meets the definition of rapid intensification in a hurricane.

Laura has prompted hurricane and storm surge warnings for the northwest Gulf Coast.

A huge amount of money over the past 13 years has been spent to create hurricane protection systems not only for Northwestern Texas, but especially in Louisiana. The Louisiana projects have been led by the Corps of Engineers and Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and have completely transformed that region, not only with levees and pumping stations, but also with restoration of nearly 48,000 acres of land and 60 miles of barrier islands and berms. In Texas, the Galveston District of the Corps of Engineers has built seven major federal levees.

This storm will likely test the systems like no other.

So, while this is of interest to all Americans, why highlight it on a Virginia blog?

We care here because the two areas of the United States other than in Texas and Louisiana most threatened by a combination of sea level rise and storm surge are Miami and Hampton Roads.  The great Chesapeake and Potomac hurricane of 1933 flooded downtown Norfolk streets six feet deep — before the last 87 years of sea level rise and subsidence. Continue reading

Reform K-12 Education to Increase Diversity in Virginia’s Colleges — and in Life

by James C. Sherlock

Much is appropriately made of the relative lack of diversity in Virginia’s state-supported colleges and universities. Some trace that exclusively to racial discrimination. My research indicates it may also reflect the educational disadvantages of being poor.  

Here I will offer a path to begin to fix both.

I have researched and written a good bit about the wide variations in K-12 student SOL pass rates among Virginia’s poorest school districts. See Rev 1 Reading and Math Virginia 2018-2019 SOL results by State and Division by Subject by Subgroup.

Some students, parents and school districts in Virginia’s poorest communities exhibit extraordinary success in those standardized tests across all races and among economically disadvantaged students. That success is measured not against other poor districts, but among districts statewide.  

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Virginia Educational Reform – Place, Class, Race — Or All Three?

by James C. Sherlock

I am an optimist by nature. Optimism wins elections, and optimism can bring about democratic change.  

Governments at their most basic level are created by people to protect themselves from outsiders and to minimize conflicts within their own ranks. From a condo association to Congress, that is a core role.   

I believe that representative government is the only form of democracy that scales and the form most likely to protect the weak. I believe in the rule of law and in traditions and institutions as stabilizing forces. I defend the individual rights embedded in our constitution.

I believe our republic needs to help Americans ensure they and theirs are secure in the basic necessities of life and their are children educated. Call me a class theorist. People of good character can and do get in fierce arguments about what constitute the basic necessities of life and whether assistance should be couched as a helping hand or a new bill of rights.  

I believe that self reliance is a core value of America. So is compassion. I support a policy of writing checks to help the disadvantaged in a crisis, but long-term policies that help them pull themselves up. There is dignity in that. People need dignity.

I oppose a distorted rationalism that seeks to put every responsibility on government and a rationalist government that inevitably settles on picking favorites and attacking religion. 

I regret the cascading failure of the regional newspapers as perhaps the biggest internal threat to representative government in my lifetime.

On June 17, 2020 in Areo magazine , Gabriel Scorgie wrote: Continue reading

Place, Class and Race and K-12 Educational Success in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

In order to better understand the contributions of place, class and race on K-12 academic achievement in Virginia, I did a great deal of research over a period of several days and from it constructed a spreadsheet, Reading and Math Virginia 2018-2019 SOL results by State and Division by Subject by Subgroup.

I have found the results very informative, even stunning. If you think you understand Virginia at this level of granularity, you may be surprised.

My experiment (and the spreadsheet) is anchored by the bottom quartile of 133 Virginia counties and cities as ranked by health outcomes by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for 2020. Poor health outcomes not only represent a major obstacle for academic achievement, but are an excellent proxy for the relative poverty of that bottom quartile.

I recorded English Reading and Mathematics 2018-2019 SOL results (Virginia Department of Education) among the public school students in each locality. Results are broken out by race, economic disadvantage, English Learners, gender and students with disabilities.

I then listed for comparison the identical SOL results for Fairfax County, Arlington County, Loudon County and Falls Church City, unsurprisingly the top four Virginia localities in health outcomes.

Finally, I compiled 2017 demographic information (U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Commerce) for three of these disadvantaged counties that had outstanding SOL scores. You will I think be astonished at some of those data standing alone, much less when put in context of the results in their public schools. Continue reading

Dr. King’s Dream or George Orwell’s Nightmare – the University of Virginia at a Crossroads

by James C. Sherlock  Updated Aug. 17 at 8:24 AM

This letter is a response to the recommendations of the University of Virginia’s Racial Equity Task Force which are to be taken up this week by President Jim Ryan and the University’s Board of Visitors.

Dear President Ryan,

Martin Luther King dreamed of the day that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The University seems poised to go in a different direction. You charged your racial equality task force to focus on the color of skin.

A focus on class would have produced a far better and more constitutionally sound set of recommendations and honored Dr. King’s vision. Picking a racial group for preferential treatment runs head on into constitutional equal protection guarantees and any sense of true equity.

In doing so you assured a very racially divisive and highly politicized result. Regrettably but unsurprisingly, the recommendations of the task force view education as a means by which to advance a form of race-based social justice that aligns with a specific political viewpoint.

The report asserts controversial and arguable positions as dogmatic certainties. Some schools of the University have already adopted those same critical theory positions. Course listings and reading lists and the writings of many professors in the University’s humanities and social science departments and the Curry school already indicate large-scale enforcement of this viewpoint. Continue reading

Covid-19 Testing for Nursing Homes – the Strange Case of Heritage Hall

By Carol J. Bova and James C. Sherlock

The Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would begin to provide 2000 nursing homes with a point of care (POC) rapid-response testing assessment instrument and an initial supply of COVID-19 test assays starting July 20th.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said, “It gives nursing homes the ability to swiftly identify residents that need to be isolated and mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Eventually, 15,000 analyzer instruments and an initial supply of SARS test assays for those instruments will be distributed nationally directly to nursing homes.

Devices have been allocated to the first 23 of Virginia’s nearly 300 nursing homes.

Heritage Hall. Tommy East is the President and CEO of American Healthcare, LLC, which controls Heritage Hall nursing homes. Mr. East is also listed as a director and officer for each Heritage Hall facility. He is the sole nursing home industry representative on the Virginia Board of Health.

Seven of 18 Heritage Hall nursing homes made it to the head of the line for the first 23 analyzer systems and test assays distributed in Virginia by the CMS program. Heritage Hall is the largest Commonwealth-based operator of nursing homes.

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A Constitutional Approach to Avoiding Evictions in Virginia

by James C. Sherlock

There has been extensive discussion here about minimizing residential evictions in Virginia in the time of COVID. I will offer a constitutional approach to achieving that objective.

A Broad Consensus

The Governor and General Assembly want to avoid evictions of residential tenants who are unable to pay rent due to COVID-related issues beyond tenant control. So does every landlord in Virginia. And indeed I think every citizen. We have broad consensus on that point.

The Democratic Governor and Democratic majorities in both houses of the General Assembly can do whatever they wish with legislation. In this case they may wish to create a temporary, COVID-related rent payment program.

But they will have to pay for it, as opposed to asking landlords to eat the costs.  That seems to me a valid and effective use for federal COVID money.

And the executive branch will have to administer it, not the courts and not the landlords.

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Renters Didn’t Make the Governor’s List

by James C. Sherlock

I just completed a survey of the 50 states to see how many of their legislatures were in regular session or special sessions called to deal with COVID issues between April 1 and August 15, 2020.

That 4.5-month period started when enough was known about COVID to start taking legislative action to back up Governors’ emergency decrees. It ends just before Virginia’s General Assembly will convene in special session to deal with COVID-related measures and other issues.

Thirty-eight of the 50 state legislatures have been either in regular session during that period or in special sessions called to deal with the COVID emergency.

Virginia is one of the 12 whose legislatures have not been in session. The others are Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and West Virginia. Continue reading

Fool Me Once

By James C. Sherlock

I want every tenant who cannot pay his rent because of COVID to be able to stay in his home. I want every landlord who supports them to be paid for their forbearance so they can pay their own bills.

This post starts with both of those goals in mind.

It is about a Governor and a Virginia Supreme Court who created horrible judicial precedents that never needed to happen.

Jim Bacon’s column this morning well summarized the issues with the Virginia Supreme Court’s August 7 order: IN RE: AMENDMENT OF EIGHTH ORDER EXTENDING DECLARATION OF JUDICIAL EMERGENCY IN RESPONSE TO COVID-19 EMERGENCY.

That order reimposed until September 7 a previous Supreme Court denial of residential landlords’ access to the courts to gain adjudication of unlawful detainer actions by tenants accused of failure to pay rent and it banned eviction orders on that same basis.

The Governor and the General Assembly

Governor Northam has been hesitant to call the General Assembly into session because he cannot ultimately control what legislators do when they meet. Republicans and some Democrats appear poised to try to limit, especially in duration, some his virtually unlimited emergency authorities under Virginia law. When written, the drafters of that law simply did not imagine an emergency that would last for more than a month or two.

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