By Steve Haner
Faulty Absentee Ballot Tracker Still Losing Track
Complaints continue about an absentee ballot tracking system on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Someone with a problem similar to what I encountered in September reached out to Richmond’s WTVR-TV 6 News, which reported that the problem lies with the United States Postal Service. The tracking system is provided by an outside vendor.
Jessenia Eliza, the Director of Government Initiatives at Democracy Works (the outside vendor), told CBS 6 the issue the Duszaks were facing was as a result of their ballot barcodes not being scanned by USPS.
“Ballot Scout relies entirely on USPS data in the state of Virginia. How it works is that as the intelligent mail barcode on ballots are scanned, that information is sent to our tool, and it updates the associated voter record,” explained Eliza. “We’re seeing this here and there with ballots that aren’t moving beyond that ‘in-transit’ status. That typically means just that the USPS didn’t scan it further, not necessarily that the ballot isn’t moving.”
The reporter then spoke with somebody at the state, who said: Continue reading
by Asra Q. Nomani
Last month, Suparna Dutta spent countless hours researching how her son could safely return to school this fall as a rising sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a sprawling campus of classrooms, laboratories and open spaces with names like “Gandhi Commons” and “Einstein Commons,” outside the nation’s capital here off Braddock Road. Little did she know that a secretive “task force” assembled by orders of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was quietly meeting to discuss legislating radical changes to the school that would threaten the very future of the school.
Unbeknownst to Dutta — and me, also a TJ mother — Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, a former teacher, met remotely on Friday, July 24, with a carefully curated list of Democratic lawmakers, state education officials and others in a “Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Group” to make recommendations to the Virginia State Legislature on how to increase the number of Black, Hispanic and low-income students at the state’s 19 Governor’s Schools, specialized public school programs with admissions requirements. The group met again on Friday, July 31, and last week on Friday, August 7, and is expected to issue its recommendations in the coming days.
In its final meeting last week, the group weighed several options that would gut TJ’s merit-based, race-blind admissions process and replace it with standards that they even admitted in their private meetings would essentially be race-based. They are expected this week to issue several recommendations to the Virginia General Assembly before it convenes in special session next week, including: quotas from every middle school in the county (to boost acceptance from certain middle schools with underrepresented minorities); a second-step lottery in the admissions process; and an admissions bump for students with “socioeconomic disadvantage” (also a backdoor way to increase underrepresented minorities). Continue reading
by Kerry Dougherty
With each passing day the Virginia Department of Health looks more like a purveyor of panic than an agency protecting the health of Virginians with factual, up-to-date information.
As the governor stubbornly clings to his overly-restrictive lockdowns and mask mandate, the department has proven useful to him as it supplies the public with half-baked information that often seems designed to frighten and obscure rather than inform.
First, the inexplicable secrecy surrounding what can only be described as Virginia’s nursing home slaughter. Since the beginning of March, 879 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19. (Check back later today, that number will rise, as it has every single day so far.) In fact, almost 57 percent of all Virginia deaths are nursing home residents.
Yet just try to find out WHICH nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks and the total number of deaths inside each facility. This information is a closely guarded secret that only a few tenacious reporters have managed to uncover. Continue reading
by Carol J. Bova
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) published an interim final rule with comment period (IFC) on May 8 that provided more flexibility for health care providers “to respond effectively to the serious health threats posed by the spread of COVID-19.” The rule amended Medicare policies on an interim basis to allow any healthcare professional authorized under state law to order COVID-19 serological and antibody testing to do so and pay new collection fees during the public health emergency.
The IFC added a number of other adjustments and changes. Perhaps the most watched is the one that established “explicit reporting requirements for long-term care (LTC) facilities for information related to COVID-19 cases and deaths among facility residents and staff,” including deaths of hospitalized residents.
CMS sent a Memorandum Summary to State Survey Agency Directors about the IFC and described the requirements for nursing homes to report COVID-19 facility data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), residents, their representatives, and families of residents in facilities. CMS said it would post the data for viewing by facilities, stakeholders, or the general public at https://data.cms.gov.
Facilities which fail to submit complete and accurate information will receive a deficiency citation and be subject to a fine. Unfortunately, the fines are unlikely to ensure compliance. Those who fail to report after a two-week grace period will receive a one-day civil money penalty (CMP) of $1,000, which will increase by $500 for each subsequent week. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA) publish a wide variety of data about COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the numbers, yet the data is woefully incomplete. Perhaps the greatest deficiency is that we have no ability to track what is happening with medical conditions that are not COVID-related.
That’s a huge issue because as Tomislav Mihaljevic and Gianrico Garrugia, CEOs of the Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinice, point out in a New York Times column, as many people may die from the fear of COVID-19 as from the virus itself. Writes respectively:
More than 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19. Beyond those deaths are other casualties of the pandemic — Americans seriously ill with other ailments who avoided care because they feared contracting the coronavirus at hospitals and clinics.
The toll from their deaths may be close to the toll from Covid-19. The trends are clear and concerning. Government orders to shelter in place and health care leaders’ decisions to defer nonessential care successfully prevented the spread of the virus. But these policies — complicated by the loss of employer-provided health insurance as people lost their jobs — have had the unintended effect of delaying care for some of our sickest patients.
By Peter Galuszka
On June 24, 2015, Nikki Haley, a Republican who was South Carolina’s first non-white governor, called for the removal of a Confederate flag that had been flying over the state’s capitol grounds for years.
“This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state,” she said. Her action came a few days after an avowed white supremacist walked into an African-American church and opened fire, killing church members attending a service.
I was watching the news on TV when she made her gutsy move. I was deeply impressed.
And now, Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is governor of Virginia, has taken a similarly gutsy move. He has ordered that the state-owned statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee be removed from its stand on Monument Avenue in Richmond. It has been there for about 130 years, erected by white supremacists with deep sentiment for their romantic myths of Southern history.
“I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from our past and we all know that our country needs that example right now,” Northam said. Continue reading
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The Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia
By Peter Galuszka
Around midnight Monday, reporters in downtown Washington D.C., stood by ready to cover the next round of protests about the slaying of African Americans by police.
They started getting tweets marked #dcblackout suggesting that internet service was being interrupted because of a secret program presumably run by the government that would cut them off.
The curious thing, NBC News reported, is that the reporters’ cell phones worked just fine. Later Twitter was contacted and began to investigate. It was curious that the questionable tweet seemed to be coming from the left-wing ANTIFA group that is said to have helped organize protests around the country.
A tweet labeled as been sourced with ANTIFA proclaimed “Tonight’s the night, comrades. Tonight we say F&*^The city and we move into the residential areas, the white hoods and we take what’s ours.”
Twitter quickly uncovered the problem. The tweets were fakes put out by a far-right white nationalist group called Identity Evropa. Twitter took down the sites because they violated the company’s policy against using social media to incite violence, NBC reported. Continue reading
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By Peter Galuszka
Get ready. The names of all kinds of leftist organizations are going to be kicked around as the masterminds behind violent, cop-beating looters, especially the so-called ANTIFA movement in Virginia and across the country..
But what is reality? I don’t have clear answers but I have some ideas to share since I have been dealing with activist groups since I was in high school in the late 1960s. I hope they help this blog’s discussion.
First, there’s plenty of research available about ANTIFA and there are already plenty of reports about it. It is not a single group but a very loose collection of autonomous activist groups, most of which do not advocate violence. For reference, see yesterday’s Daily Beast piece with the blunt headline, “Trump’s ‘ANTIFA Threat Is Total Bullshit – And Totally Dangerous.”
That article and plenty of others note that ANTIFA, or whatever it is, has no clear chain of command and uses ultra-fast social media to alert other activists about rallies and protests but has no control over them. If you are thinking about the tightly-controlled and secretive Communist cells of the past century, you are not getting it. Continue reading
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by Kerry Dougherty
Anyone remember why the country is locked down?
With images of Italy’s collapsing healthcare system and Italian death panels doling out beds and ventilators in early March, we were told we had to take radical steps so that American hospitals would not be similarly overwhelmed by the COVID-19 virus.
“Fifteen days to slow the spread,” they told us.
And we complied.
Fifteen days became 30, which then became 45 and in some places — like Virginia — the shutdowns have no end in sight.
As you sit at home, worrying about your mental health, your job, your finances and your family do you ever wonder just how many beds are occupied by COVID patients in the hospital nearest you?
Good luck finding out. Continue reading
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
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Tagged Peter Galuszka
by James A. Bacon
The General Assembly is considering three bills that would improve transparency and governance in higher education. If enacted, they would a add small measure of accountability to Virginia’s colleges and universities.
A better accounting of costs. HB 927, introduced by Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, would provide for the State Council 0f Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) to collect financial data from public colleges and universities broken down by program and discipline. The data would include operational or instructional costs, General Fund and Nongeneral Fund revenue, and planned expenditures.
This would be fantastic. For years I have been calling for deeper analysis of the cost structures of Virginia’s public universities, and SCHEV is the logical organization to collect and examine the data. SCHEV is already doing some of this. For instance, right now it embarking upon a five-year review of the number of degrees granted and majors declared in different programs and departments. HB 927 would drill deeper.
Universities love to grow new programs but hate to shrink old ones. Continue reading
“Reported” entertainment events for the 2018-2019 cycle, a fraction of the actual number due to loopholes in Virginia law. Click for larger view.
By Steve Haner
‘Our friends at the Virginia Public Access Project are a bit later this year with their data and visuals on Virginia’s embarrassingly weak and intentionally vague lobbyist entertainment reporting. It is still nothing but a sham, exactly how the legislators and lobbyists want it.
The 2018 VPAP coverage was subject of a May 2018 Bacon’s Rebellion report, but this time we are five weeks away from tight elections in both bodies. Voters are not short of things to get outraged about, but we can add this to the list.
The basic 2019 report is little changed from VPAP’s 2018 data. Last year 109 of the 140 legislators admitted accepting at least one entertainment event, and this year it appears 111 did. The number who report accepting five or more has dropped. The key word in that sentence is “reporting”.
UPDATE: VPAP has now added this year’s graphic on the high number of lobbyist disclosures that simply ignore the directive to be specific about the “matters” that get their attention. A few well placed $100 fines and red faces would fix that, but of course, the point is to PRETEND to disclose….