Category Archives: Consumer protection

Consumer protection

Elmer Gantry In Lynchburg

Jerry Falwell, Jr., and wife Becki

By Peter Galuszka

The resignation of Jerry Falwell Jr. amid a series of scandals may have a strong impact in Virginia where his late father built an extraordinary, ultra-conservative evangelical university in Lynchburg that later became highly politicized lightning rod supporting President Donald Trump.

Falwell has been caught up in a number of controversies including limiting speech on campus, going after The New York Times for trespassing when it reported he insisted that student ignore wearing anti-viral pandemic masks and so on.

What happened with Falwell Jr is as  an American story as apple pie topped with a Cross. It might have some straight out of the pages of Elmer Gantry.

After touting strict school policies that forbid students from drinking alcohol, watching “R”-rated movies or engaging in pre-marital sex, Falwell was pictured aboard a NASCAR mogul’s yacht half dressed with a semi-clad, pregnant woman who was said to be his wife Becki’s assistant. Falwell was holding a wine glass with a liquid in it but Falwell said it wasn’t wine.

Shortly afterwards, he gave an interview to the right-leaning Washington Examiner stating that his wife had been involved with a multi-year sexual affair with Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami Beach pool boy whom Falwell funded to set up a hostel business. Continue reading

We Underpaid Dominion in 2019? Not Really.

Future Dominion price increases. Source: SCC.  Actually, 1000 kWh per month is a bit low for the average residential customer, so many Virginians will be paying much more. Click for large view.

By Steve Haner

You will be shocked to learn that we customers of Dominion Energy Virginia did not pay it enough money in 2019. The shareholders did not get the profit margin they were due, the utility reported to the State Corporation Commission, which subsequently reported it to us on August 18.

Actually, these guys were not utility accountants, but they were on the right track.

We’ve entered the realm of energy comedy. The utility accounting process now mirrors the famous movie “The Producers,” with the goal being to book little or no actual profit so high rates can be maintained or even made higher. There is honest accounting, show-biz accounting, but for real whiz bang results there is utility accounting.

The SCC’s annual report to the General Assembly on utility accounting, now including projections of future rate costs, normally comes out closer to September. I was tipped to expect it early by a Dominion big wig, which should have told me it was a report they wanted publicized. This is Dominion playing the long game, preparing for the 2021 showdown on its rates and profits in a formal SCC audit and rate case.

The rules for this long game have been rigged in the utility’s favor over several years by a compliant General Assembly. This is not news to Bacon’s Rebellion readers. But here we go again.  Continue reading

A College-Student Bill of Rights

by James A. Bacon

College students should be reimbursed if they don’t receive the full benefits they pay for in tuition, fees, room, and board, declares the Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust.

“COVID-19 has illuminated the long over-due need for basic consumer protections for those who are struggling to pay for the cost of college,” said Partners president James Toscano in a statement launching the Tuition Payer Bill of Rights.  “As we saw in the spring when campuses were forced to close, colleges and universities cannot guarantee delivery of the quality of instruction, services and benefits they advertise. Still, very few are offering tuition discounts or are refunding fees, and in fact, some are actually raising their tuition.”

Over 100 class action lawsuits have been filed against institutions across the country for breach of services delivered. Toscano believes the litigation would be unnecessary if consumer protection policies existed. “For any other investment the size of college tuition, there are fundamental consumer rights in place to make sure that consumers are fully informed of the cost and benefits of the services for which they are paying, and they have a recourse if these are not delivered.”

The situation in Virginia is in flux as public and private universities receive an influx of college students for the new academic year. Higher-ed institutions are adopting an array of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, including frequent testing, contact tracing, and social distancing. Athletic events are being canceled. More classes are being taught online. While the policy mix varies from institution to institution, campus life will not be the same, and in many cases neither will the learning experience. Continue reading

The Systemic Racism of Monument Avenue

By Peter Galuszka

Richmond’s grand Monument Avenue, a double lane, tree lined thoroughfare, has been the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter campaign that has focused on the statues of several Confederate figures one the road, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Jefferson Davis.

All are up for removal, but the same foot-dragging that has for years protected the statues that some consider racist is at work today. Protestors have torn down Davis and have defaced the rest. On Sunday night, they nearly ripped down the Stuart statue as two city council members urged that it be removed on an emergency basis.

Lee’s statue has been ordered down by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the effort has been tied up in lawsuits by several property owners. One claims either that the original deed that gave the state the site for Lee included language that it could not be removed. Other plaintiffs, most anonymous,  claim that removing the statues would hurt their property values and their special tax status.

If anything smacks of white privilege and entitlement, this is it. But for more perspective, this article in The Atlantic neatly sums up the history behind the statues and the Avenue, noting that the issue has everything to do with rewriting Richmond’s history and making a marketing play to sell expensive and exclusive real estate decades after the Confederacy was suppressed. Continue reading

Who Pays The Unpaid Bills? Watch Out.

By Steve Haner

This was published this morning in The Roanoke Times and then distributed by the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy.

There may be a second wave of COVID-19 disease coming, but the secondary effects of various pandemic economic decisions may hit us sooner. Rent and utility bills customers can delay paying because of the crisis will eventually come due.But for whom?

The Legal Aid Justice Center looked at U.S. Census survey data that indicated many Virginians have fallen behind on their rent and did not expect to pay their next bill. It predicted an “eviction catastrophe” as eviction and foreclosure bans end, and lenders and landlords rush into newly reopened courts for judgments.

“The Governor should use emergency powers to immediately enact a moratorium on evictions or should allow localities to enact their own until the General Assembly can address tenants’ mounting debt. The General Assembly should create relief for tenants who are significantly behind in rent payments through a waiver or rent cancellation plan,” the advocacy group asserted.

Governor Ralph Northam took up the call, and the Virginia Supreme Court has agreed to hold off eviction proceedings a few more weeks, until June 28.   Continue reading

Construction: Virginia’s Quiet, Strong Man

Scene from Micron’s $3 billion construction project in Manassas. Photo credit: Inside NoVa

By Peter Galuszka

For all the complaints about the COVID-19 pandemic in Virginia – the shut-down restaurants and (temporarily) closed beaches – one industry has been working steadily and quietly all along – the state’s construction sector.

Builders haven’t missed much of a beat since the “state at home” orders started going out a couple of months ago.

In Pentagon City, works still progresses on the two, 22-story towers for Amazon’s new eastern headquarters. In suburban Chesterfield County near Richmond, workers toil adding new drain pipes and four-laning once- rural roads. Four-story apartments overlooking Swift Creek Reservoir are taking shape for the over-55 crowd.

At a loud and garish protest next to the State Capitol against Gov. Ralph Norham’s work-stoppage plans last month, Mark Carter, a contractor from Hanover County, made his views known. “We‘re still working,” he told me. “I’m not for Trump and I’m not a Democrat. People need to work.”

In Virginia, some are. After all, New York state and Boston stopped construction work due to the pandemic. Continue reading

WTJU Podcast: COVID-19 and the Economy

By Peter Galuszka

Here’s is the twice-monthly podcast produced by WTJU, the official radio station of the University of Virginia. With me on this podcast  are Nathan Moore, the station general manager, and Sarah Vogelsong, who covers, labor, energy and environmental issues across the state for the Virginia Mercury, a fairly new and highly regarded non-profit news outlet. Our topic is how Virginia is handling the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Screwing Workers On Safety and Liability

A GRTC bus driver in better times

By Peter Galuszka

At 4:30 a.m. on April 27, about 100 workers of the Greater Richmond Transit Company — half of the total – failed to show up for work.

Worried about the health of its membership, Local 1220 of the International Amalgamated Transit Union demanded additional safety measures such as full personal protection equipment, time and a half hazardous pay, limits on the numbers of passenger and testing.

GRTC management threatened to fire workers who stayed away from work but agreed to talk. A resolution may come at a May 19 board meeting.

Indeed, stories are showing up throughout Virginia and across the country as workers most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 often have the least protection and no guarantees their employers will provide testing, hospitalization and sick pay.

In Timberville near Harrisonburg, workers at a Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant worry that they are required to work at less than six feet –- considered safe distancing –- from each other. In Norfolk, non-union workers at a General Dynamics ship facility were required to do electrical work until they refused, citing exposure threats and a death. Continue reading

Why Northam Is Such An Important Governor

By Peter Galuszka

This is a bit like throwing chum at a school of sharks, but here is my latest in Style Weekly.

I wrote an assessment of Gov. Ralph Northam that is overall, quite positive. My take goes against much of the sentiment of other contributors on this blog.

They are entitled to their views but, to be honest, I find some of the essays shrill and not really fact based. If Northam wants to delay elective surgeries at hospitals for a week or so, some want to empanel a grand jury.

An acute care health facility in Henrico County becomes one of the most notorious hot spots for coronavirus deaths and it is immediately Northam’s fault even though the care center has had serious problems that long predated the governor’s term in office.

He’s a trained physician who served as an Army doctor in combat during the Iraq War yet he is vilified as being incompetent and incapable of understanding the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s like the constant repetition of the “Sins of Hillary” on Breitbart and Fox News about emails and Benghazi.

Like him or not, Northam is bound to be one of the most consequential governors in Virginia history given the gigantic problem of the pandemic. He’s not a showboat salesman like Terry McAuliffe nor a smarmy, small-time crook like Robert F. McDonnell.

Anyway, here’s the piece.

Notes from the Right Wing Echo Chamber

By Peter Galuszka

On Wednesday, I was standing next to the Capitol grounds in Richmond watching brightly decorated cars and pickups drive on 9th Street, their horns blaring.

I was attending the drive by protest rally on assignment for Style Weekly and happened to speak to Jason Roberge, a Spotsylvania County resident who is one of several Republicans hoping to oust U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former covert CIA officer who represents the 7th Congressional district.

Roberge was there to protest what he says is Gov. Ralph Northam’s “terrible job” in temporarily shutting down businesses to prevent the spread of the COVID 19 virus. The rally was part of a series of protests across the country that are being set up on cue from right-wing activists.

Roberge told me: ”I hear he’s (Northam’s) down on North Carolina beach while this is going on.” As he spoke the House of Delegates was holding a special session under an outdoor tent nearby while the Senate presided at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Northam at the beach? It turns out that the conservative echo chamber has been peddling a story, firmly denied by Northam’s office, that he was at his house in Manteo, N.C. not far from the beaches at Nags Head during the special General Assembly session. Continue reading

Upper Big Branch: Ten Years After

By Peter Galuszka

This week is the tenth anniversary of one of the worst coal mine disasters in recent U.S. history. The massive explosion at the Upper Big Branch at Montcoal, W.Va. on the afternoon of April 5, 2010 killed 29 miners, the largest number in 40 years.

The disaster meant the undoing of Massey Energy, a Richmond-based company that had been widely called out for its safety violations and mountain-top removal mining practices.

I wrote a book about the firm and Central Appalachian coal that was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2012. West Virginia University Press bought paperback rights to the book and we published an expanded and updated version in 2016.

Today, I have a remembrance in today’s Washington Post. It will be in print this Sunday on the Local Opinions page in the Metro section.

For many years, Massey Energy and its predecessor firm, A.T. Massey, operated a headquarters in a chunky building in downtown Richmond. The Massey family has been generous with its local donations and has helped such institutions as the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The Massey family was notorious for breaking labor unions but during the two years it took to research the book, I learned that miners felt the firm listened to them and tried to take care of them.

Then a stocky man with a moustache, Don Blankenship, took over. He became notorious for skimping on safety and micro-managing. He served a year in federal prison for ignoring safety at UBB. Continue reading

Right Wing Uses Virus To Stifle Needed Reforms

Statue of Gov. Harry F. Byrd on the state capitol grounds.

By Peter Galuszka

Right-wingers in Virginia have been apoplectic for months that Democrats finally captured the General Assembly after years of Republican control.

They also were enraged that the legislature this winter passed a number of reforms that would draw Virginia into the 21st Century such raising the minimum wage, boosting collective bargaining, tightening rules on carbon pollution and raising taxes for cigarettes, a deadly product.

Now such conservatives are using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to throttle or delay such needed reforms. They have banded into groups such as the Coalition fort a Strong Virginia Economy. They have used the Virginia Municipal League’s complaints against the reforms, claiming they cost too much, as a way to derail new measures.

According to the left-leaning blog site Blue Virginia, one of the more extreme advocates for scrambling changes is Dave LaRock, a far-right Republican delegate from Loudoun County. A pronounced gay-basher, LaRock wants to squelch all of the reforms made by the more progressive General Assembly. Continue reading

Photo Project Spotlights Pipeline Impact


By Peter Galuszka

Veteran photographer Karen Kasmauski, who grew up in Norfolk, has a brilliant online project that shows the human and environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

She is a senior fellow with the International League of Conservation Photographers, a non-profit group that funded her project that centers mostly in rural Nelson and Buckingham Counties that would be dissected by the natural gas pipeline.

She combines spectacular aerial photos with deep close ups of people.

One of her subjects is Ella Rose, a retiree who lives in a small house in Union Hill. She was living a quiet happy life in her natural setting until she got a letter from Dominion Energy stating that they would be routing the ACP about 150-feet from her house.

Union Hill is a touchpoint for pipeline controversy since it is largely African-American community that ACP officials have selected for a compressor station. It is one of similar localities that seem to be targeted with other loud and disruptive equipment along the pipeline route. Continue reading

Virginians Hit the Sauce

By Peter Galuszka

Virginians are stocking up on spirits, fearing that the ABC store system might shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week saw sales of $30.1 million up from $4.5 million the previous week. While big, the volume has not surpassed the holiday seasons last year.

For days, there have been rumors that ABC stores would shut down.

Not so, says the ABC system. They are changing store hours to open at noon and close at 7 p.m., seven days a week

So far, one store in downtown Richmond has been temporarily shut down because an employee tested positive for the virus.

Governor Ralph Northam, hoping to ease the financial pain of restaurants now closed to dining inside, has urged them to ramp up their takeout and delivery sales by letting them include wine and beer.

There had been talk that cocktails might be included, but the ABC says no.

A local ABC store employee told me that there are big runs on large bottles and there are some shortages but generally, the delivery system seems to be working. ABC also offers online sales.

Among the best- selling brands are Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Tito’s vodka.

Bottoms up!

A Look at Richmond and COVID-19

By Peter Galuszka

Here is a roundup story I wrote for Style Weekly that was published today that explains the effects of COVID-19 on the Richmond area. Hopefully, BR readers will find it of interest.

It was a tough piece to report. The impacts of the deadly virus are very complicated and multi-faceted. An especially hard part was trying to keep with the fast-changing news, notably the number of new cases and deaths. We were updating right up until the story closed Monday afternoon. It was hard to talk to people with social-distancing and closings.

The experience shows the delicate balancing act between taking tough measures to stem the contagion and keeping the economy going. My view is that tough measures are needed because without them, it will all be much worse, particularly more illness and death as the experience in Italy has shown.

Incredibly, our utterly incompetent president, Donald Trump, now wants to focus on the economy more than taking necessary containment steps. It’s far too soon for that. Regrettably, a number of Bacon’s Rebellion commenters are sounding the same irresponsible tune in keeping with their big business and anti-regulation laud of free market capitalism. Continue reading