Category Archives: Commentary

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

Criminal Justice Reform Summary

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Now that I have some time and before it slips completely out of our minds, this is a good opportunity to review the final criminal justice reforms enacted by the recently-concluded special session of the General Assembly. (For those of you for whom the special session has slipped mercifully from your consciousness and you do not want to be reminded of it, feel free to skip this post.)

I have updated the scorecard I previously created and you can find it here to peruse at your leisure. As a reminder, I compiled this list of proposals and issues from the agendas announced during the summer by the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and the Senate Democratic caucus, along with a few other major items that surfaced in the session. The items that did not pass, or for which legislation was not introduced, are shown in red. Continue reading

Unemployment of Blacks Exceed that of Whites at Every Level of Educational Attainment

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Here is another salvo in the culture wars that have been reflected on this blog. An article in a newspaper today begins with this sentence: “From advanced-degree holders to high-school dropouts, Black workers have substantially higher unemployment rates at every level of educational attainment than white workers….”

And which woke newspaper with a critical race theory bias ran this article? Why, the Wall Street Journal, of course!

The article goes on to say that the disparity between Blacks and whites increased this year during the pandemic. (Black unemployment levels exceed those of Hispanics at every educational level, as well.) Finally, not only are Blacks more likely than whites to be unemployed, they are more likely to be underemployed. “Black employees with full-time jobs also earn less than similarly educated white workers.”  The article quotes one economist as saying, “Frequently, Black workers need to send additional signals about their qualifications to get the same job. That’s why you’ll see a Black person with a master’s degree in a job that only requires a bachelor’s.”

The article suggests several reasons for these discrepancies:

  • “Black Americans more frequently attend lower-quality elementary and high schools in racially segregated neighborhoods, which may leave them less prepared to succeed in college or at their first jobs.”
  • “Black workers also can lack access to better, more stable jobs because they may not have the network of contacts to know about them.”
  • “They may face challenges like lack of access to transportation or child care.”
  • Finally, the economists interviewed in the article suggest that old fashioned discrimination plays a part. “There are negative penalties in the labor market associated with gender and race that can’t be explained by anything else,” they contend.

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

COVID Is Still News

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

I seem to recall that contributors and comments on this blog often said that “come November 4, COVID will no longer be a big news item.” The implication, of course, was that the main national news organizations were hyping the COVID issue in order to damage the Trump administration.

Well, it is now November 9, almost one week after the election and Biden has been declared the winner. Let’s check on how COVID is being covered.

Washington Post

  • Print edition–lead story:  Biden Moves Fast on Virus and Economy.  Additional story:  Latest COVID surge is breaking records
  • website, 5:00 a.m. today — President-elect Biden announces coronavirus task force made up of physicians and health experts

New York Times 

  • Front page, print edition: “Terrifying” Surge Awaits a New Administration, sub-head: U.S. Virus Cases Pass 10 Million as Colder Weather Looms

Richmond Times-Dispatch Continue reading

Virginia Rocks

Old Rag Mountain

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

It is time to take a break and talk about something entirely different related to Virginia — how the current physical structure of the Commonwealth in the 21st century came to be.

I have been taking an introductory geology course this fall from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. (Virtual, of course.)  I became fascinated with geology many years ago and determined to take a course when I retired and had the time. My class project was a short paper and presentation on the geology of Shenandoah National Park.

So, to give your mind some relief from constantly checking your computer for any updates on the ongoing ballot counting in other states, here are some of the things I have learned about our mountains: 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

The “Rat Pack” Makes the Point

By Peter Galuszka

On July 26, 1948, President Harry S. Truman took the historically enormous step of integrating the U.S. Armed Forces. The Virginia Military Institute, which prides itself on its warrior panache, didn’t get around to that until 1968 and even today there are serious questions about racism at the state-supported school.

The past few days have seen story after story about charges of widespread racism at the school that led to Gov. Ralph Northam, a VMI graduate, ordering an investigation. The school’s superintendent, an 80-year-old retired four-star Army general has resigned.

The Washington Post got big play for its investigative report about the atmosphere in Lexington, where the school is located. Actually, the Roanoke Times first had a story this summer that Black alumni were concerned that racism was getting out of hand. This morning, the Post has a story about anonymous posts that VMI students apparently made on Jodel, a Website.

If anything, the posts prove the media’s point. Black athletes are referred to insultingly as “permits” because they are excused from normal military exercise because they work out in sports. They are said to be at VMI because they are not good enough at sports to get into a better college. 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.

Continue reading

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