Category Archives: Government Oversight

Why Is Our Governor Ignoring His Own Orders?

By Steve Haner

If the overall case fatality rate for COVID-19 is 4 tenths of one percent, as the Centers for Disease Control just estimated, then perhaps 300,000 Virginians have or have had the disease.  That’s working the math backwards from the 1,200 Virginia deaths reported so far.

The chart below snipped from the CDC’s report shows four possible scenarios and the fifth column is marked “most likely” case fatality rate. As we all now know, age is the key factor, and the death rate for persons 65+ is the highest, perhaps as high as 3.2%. But the CDC thinks most likely it is 1.3% in that group, and as low as 0.05% for those under 50 (5 deaths in 10,000 infections).

Source: CDC. The right hand column is marked as the most likely case fatality rates, with other four columns showing the range. Click for larger view.

Here’s the similar chart from a recently-released antibody study in Spain, with a random sample of around 70,000 individuals. The Fear Mongers point to the conclusion that only 5% of the country’s population shows antibodies, although it is far higher where the disease was more common. But the first column is the calculated infection fatality rate, IFR, very similar to the CDC study.

 

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“The Dog Ate My Homework” Does Not Work for VEC

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

The Virginia Employment Commission has been inundated with unemployment insurance claims. Virginians seeking to file claims have been frustrated at not being able to get through to the agency with their questions and by delays in receiving payments.

All of this was the subject of a meeting and presentation to a Senate Committee on Tuesday as reported by the Daily Press. As has been speculated by Steve Haner in his comments on this blog, the Unemployment Trust Fund is in the hole. According to a presentation by the VEC to the Senate Committee, the trust fund balance has gone from $1.5 billion at the beginning of FY 2020 to a projected -$500 million.

None of that is too surprising. What did intrigue me, however, was an excuse often made by agencies — antiquated technology. A VEC spokeswoman explained that it was put into place in 1985.  As far as the VEC is concerned, that excuse will not suffice.

The 2004 Appropriation Act provided VEC almost $21 million to “upgrade obsolete information technology systems.” Two years later, the 2006 Appropriation Act included language authorizing VEC to utilize $51 million in federal funds “to upgrade obsolete information technology systems.” That identical language was included in every Appropriation Act since then. In a 2020 budget decision package submitted to the Department of Planning and Budget, VEC said that the upgrade “is scheduled to be completed prior to the end of fiscal year ending June 30, 2021” and offered to return $3.2 million of the appropriation.

There may be good reasons why it has taken VEC more than 15 years to upgrade its information technology systems. At the very least, VEC owes the General Assembly an explanation. Going further, JLARC should investigate this delay. Unemployed Virginians deserve better than a shrug and the modern version of “the dog ate my homework.”

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.

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

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

“We Are All Keynesians Now”

John Maynard Keynes

By Peter Galuszka

John Maynard Keynes, the British economist, advocated government spending and monetary intervention as suitable for modern economies.

When I was a student at a liberal college in New England in the early 1970s, we were taught that Keynes very much had the right idea. As evidence, we had the Great Society programs of Lyndon B. Johnson and, strangely, the Vietnam War. They all relied on vast amounts of deficit public spending.

Since then, free-market types came into favorable light and it all became the magic of the market, little regulation and other panaceas.

According to whom you read, pro-capitalism economist Milton Friedman admitted the necessity of Keynes’ thinking by stating, “We’re all Keynesians now.” President Richard Nixon, a Republican, is also credited with the quote when he took the U.S. off the gold standard.

The phrase is taking on increasing relevance with the COVID-19 pandemic. Virginia is no exception. Continue reading

VA to Examine Company Payrolls, Hunting Bias

By Steve Haner

How bad is the climate for business in Virginia now? Just how much does this New Blue General Assembly detest and distrust evil capitalists? Let’s look at one little bill first noticed Monday in the long string of bills rushing toward Tuesday’s deadline for action. House Bill 624 won’t be the worst bill of the session, but it is very revealing of the new mindset.

Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, sold this bill to the House of Delegates Monday with the common and debatable statistic that women earn 79 cents compared to every dollar earned by men. He wants the state to take on the role of ferreting that out worker by worker and devising a state-enforced solution. Doing so will mean $24 billion more paid to female Virginia workers, he claimed. Continue reading

Odd Bedfellows: Trump and Northam Administrations Combine to Protect Virginia’s Menhaden

By DJ Rippert

Cats and dogs sleeping together. The long running saga of the General Assembly and Omega Protein vs. environmentalists and the Virginia Marine Fisheries Commission (VMFC) took a major turn recently. Our General Assembly (buoyed by campaign cash from Omega Protein) sought to use inaction to thwart the VMFC’s scientific management of a small fish called the menhaden in Virginia waters. The VMFC enlisted its east coast umbrella organization, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), to cut Omega’s menhaden limits. Omega resisted citing General Assembly inaction on reduced limits as tacit approval of higher limits. The ASMFC (along with support from the Northam Administration) appealed to the Feds and won. The lower limits will stand whether the General Assembly likes that or not. The net result is that the General Assembly appears to have been forced into a corner. It seems that no amount of campaign contribution cash will get them out of that corner. Beyond the Battle of the Menhaden, this contest forces a question – is the unholy alliance between our state legislature and various special interests finally starting to crack? Continue reading

Tim Kaine and Mark Warner both embarrass Virginia with relief legislation vote

Midwest apocalypse.  As of March 30 satellite data shows that flooding caused at least one million acres of Midwest farmland to be covered in water for at least seven days in March. One million acres is 1,562 square miles. Up to a million calves may have died in Nebraska alone. This is a disaster of unprecedented magnitude. On April 1 a relief bill was put forth in the US Senate that earmarked $13.45 billion of aid for the Midwest and Puerto Rico.  Democrats killed the bill claiming that the amount allocated for Puerto Rico was too little. Both of Virginia’s U.S. Senators voted against providing relief to the U.S. Midwest and Puerto Rico.

Disgraceful.  Both Tim Kaine and Mark Warner claim to be members of the party dedicated to the little guy, the Democrats. To hear them tell it, the Republicans stay busy tending to corporate interests while ignoring the plight of average Americans. However, it was Kaine and Warner who decided to play petty politics with an aid bill that is desperately needed by our fellow Americans in the Midwest. Virginians should be ashamed to have elected these two senators. Continue reading

Uh, Why Does JLARC Scare AG Herring?

Virginia AG Mark Herring

Just what does Mark Herring have to hide?

One of my goals during four years as director of administration for Attorney Generals Mark Earley and Randy Beales was to keep the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission busy somewhere else.   Having JLARC combing through your office asking inconvenient questions is no fun.

But had JLARC shown interest, I don’t think our response would have been quite the whine about partisanship that is coming from the current incumbent in that office.  “No one should be under any illusions about the partisan, election-year motivations that led to this review,” says Attorney General Mark Herring in an AP article in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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