Category Archives: Uncategorized

Barbara Favola Makes Disingenuous Statements about Dominion Funding

A clarification has been added to the end of this article.

Setup. Barbara Favola is the Democratic State Senator from Virginia’s 31st district.  That district is centered in Arlington but includes areas of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties as well.  Favola is a politician-for-life having served on the Arlington County Board from 1997 through 2012 and in the Virginia State Senate since then.  She is seeking to extend her 22 consecutive years in politics to 26 in the upcoming General Assembly election.  However, Sen Favola’s well laid plans hit a snag.  She will face a challenger named Nicole Merlene in the June 11 Democratic primary.  Ms. Merlene has astutely called Sen Favola’s ethics and independence into question based on Favola’s non-legislative position as the head of a lobbying organization representing clients in Richmond.  An article in ggwash summarized a debate between Favola and Merlene:

“In her opening statement, Merlene referred to a December 2016 proposal to build a 325-foot tall tower on Virginia Department of Transportation land in Rosslyn. Favola, the sitting state senator for the district, was an advisor for the project.

Merlene said this type of behavior was pervasive, citing her opponent’s relationship with Marymount University and Virginia Hospital Center, which are both clients of a lobbying organization that Favola leads when she is not working in Richmond.“This is an issue where our representative was using public office for private benefit,” she said.”

Favola responded by employing what has become known as “the Saslaw – Norment defense” which holds that no amount of money from any source could ever be corrupting based on the genetic honesty of long time Virginia politicians. Continue reading

Newspapers Are “Toast,” Says Owner of Virginia’s Biggest Newspaper Chain

Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., may be one of the nation’s largest owners of newspapers in the country, but the multi-billionaire investor has largely written them off. Repeating observations he has made previously, he told Yahoo News that other than the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, newspapers in the U.S. are “toast.”

In the golden age of print, Buffett said, it was “survival of the fattest.” He with the fattest newspapers — packed with the most ads — won. But the rise of digital media eviscerated newspapers’ most profitable revenue stream, classified ads. (He didn’t say so specifically in the brief interview clip, but digital media also are eroding newspapers’ remaining revenue streams, display ads and subscriptions.) Newspapers, he says, are “disappearing.”

The Sage of Omaha appears to have made his peace with the passing of a great American institution. BH Media no longer manages its newspapers, which include the Richmond times-Dispatch, the Roanoke Times, and franchises in Charlottesville, Lynchburg, Danville, and Bristol. The conglomerate has outsourced that job to Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Continue reading

VRS Not Out of Woods Yet

Following up on Jim’s recent post about the WMATA pension problems, I decided to check on the recent performance of the Virginia Retirement System.  Now that I get a monthly check from these folks, my interest is more active than in the past.

Analysis of pension plans is out of my league, but there is a recent report that does create some concern and even I understand it.  VRS is required by statute to conduct periodic stress tests.  The latest one was released in December.  For those who are interested in digging into the weeds, here it is .  Toward the end of the report, the authors point out that VRS lost about 25% of its value in the first couple of years of the Great Recession.  They warn that, if there is another great shock or even a period of a few years of returns lower than needed, the plan would be in a worse position to absorb the shock than it was in 2009.  The Free Lance-Star had a good summary of the issue in this editorial.

In summary, to keep VRS able to meet its pension obligations, the General Assembly needs to continue its recent practice of paying down the plan’s unfunded obligations.

A Visual Refresh for the Rebellion

My wife is my toughest critic (other than Blue Virginia, maybe), and she suggested that I need to freshen up the Bacon’s Rebellion header. A lithograph of Nathaniel Bacon and his fellow rebels burning down Jamestown in 1676, she contended, doesn’t jive with the tagline, “Reinventing Virginia for the 21st Century.” After hemming and hawing for a few months, I finally decided she was right.

So… I have replaced the old Nathaniel Bacon header with rotating images from around Virginia. They include Back Bay, the Blue Ridge mountains, the Richmond skyline, the Tysons skyline, the Norfolk Naval Base, Monticello, and the Virginia capitol building.

I am totally open to adding to or deleting these images. Indeed, I invite readers to submit photographs for consideration. The key criteria are simple: Do they say something about Virginia today? Can they be cropped in a long horizontal image? Will they reproduce well without digital fuzzing? And do they reside in the public domain? (I don’t want to steal anyone’s copyright.)

If you have better versions of the images I’ve got in the rotation list (a couple of them could be sharper), by all means, let’s see them!

Coming to Higher-Ed Near You: Transparency, Tuition Freezes

by James Toscano

The year 2019 has been a historic one for public higher education in the Commonwealth.  Thanks to a series of recent state and institutional policy decisions, Virginia’s colleges and universities are on a track to more transparency, accountability, and affordability.

Click for more legible image.

Until this year, the trendline of skyrocketing tuition and fees in Virginia — an 80% increase over the past decade — showed no signs of slowing. In a springtime ritual, some institutions had raised tuition for 17 straight years.

Just last year, tuition and fees increased an average 5% across all public two- and four-year institutions in the Commonwealth, bumping Virginia up one spot to #6 for highest tuition and fees in the nation for public four-year institutions. Continue reading

How About Them Hoos!

Blossom Explosion

Yesterday was gorgeous, so Laura and I walked down to the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., to soak up the splendor of the cherry blossoms. I’d guess that 50,000 to 100,000 other people had the same idea. I took this photo mid-morning when the crowds were bearable. By mid-afternoon, this same spot was a near-impenetrable crush of humanity. We brunched with a Washingtonian friend of ours who had never bothered to make the trip from his Northwest D.C. townhouse — he figured he’d get around to seeing the blossoms eventually. Meanwhile, judging by the Babel of languages spoken all around us, people had come from around this world to view the spectacle.

Virginians don’t have to travel half way around the globe. They should make the pilgrimage at least once in their lives. Weather willing, I can promise that it will be worth the effort. Continue reading

Best Slavery Exhibit Ever at the Museum of African American History

Laura and I played hooky today and slipped up to Washington, D.C., on Amtrak to look at the cherry blossoms. It was gloomy and drizzly, so we opted instead for visiting the Museum of African American history. Laura breezed through the history portion of the museum and made it to the Oprah Winfrey exhibit. As is my habit — most annoying to other members of my family who visit any museum with me — I anally compulsively view and read each display.

I was pleased to note that the floor on slavery had a small booth in the “Chesapeake” slavery alcove dedicated to Bacon’s Rebellion. I was even more pleased to see that the commentary defied the current Leftist fashion of describing Nathaniel Bacon as racist for his conflict with Native Americans, and instead highlighted the multiracial nature of the rebellion he led. Reads the placard:

White landowners were terrified to see black and white workers united in any cause. In 1676 Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion of black and white colonists against the governor of Virginia, William Berkeley. They demanded that Berkeley open up new lands for settlement, end Native American raids, and regulate the abuse of servants.  The short-lived rebellion resulted in the government limiting European indentured servitude. The scales tipped. Europeans gained new rights and Africans lost their freedom.

Continue reading

Food Trucks Can Create Oases in Food Deserts

Food desert theory.  Food deserts in cities can be defined as urban areas where it is difficult to buy high quality fresh foods at an affordable price.  This lack of access to healthy food causes problems for people living within these food deserts.  Instead of eating healthily people living in food deserts buy the “junk food” that is available. This, in turn, causes a variety of predictable health problems such as heart disease, malnutrition and diabetes.

Food desert solutions. Over the years, many well meaning people have proposed a series of solutions designed to solve the food desert problem. One example, described on Bacon’s Rebellion, involves the sale of collard greens in the small grocery and convenience stores in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond. Another involves not only selling healthy foods in Richmond but growing those vegetables in Richmond too. There have even been efforts by local health care organizations to provide “the Class-A-Roll” … a truck with a teaching kitchen inside to provide healthy food cooking lessons. Given that Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, was conducting a town hall yesterday in Richmond to address food insecurity, one can only assume that these well intended ideas didn’t work. Of course they didn’t work. They miss the real point. Continue reading

Time to Stop Kicking the Can

The hypocrisy of General Assembly members is astounding sometimes.  They complain about vexing problems, but create obstacles to fixing those problems.

Governor Northam included funding in his proposed budget to begin detailed architectural and engineering planning for replacing Central State Hospital in Petersburg, one of the state’s major mental health hospitals.  There is a consensus that the facility is badly outmoded and needs replacing.

The General Assembly cut the planning money, but said that it was open to a different  approach if the Governor were to propose one  for the reconvened session.  The Governor has announced that he will be proposing a slightly different project.

The main reason given by the General Assembly for cutting the planning money was that the proposed project was going to take too long (seven years to plan and complete construction).  That complaint is worth examining: Continue reading

The Marijuana Legalization Debate in Virginia: Lessons from Colorado

It’s a long way from Colorado to Virginia!

Elevated thinking.  I recently had the opportunity to do some skiing in Colorado. I hadn’t been to Colorado since the state legalized recreational marijuana use in 2014. I expected to see a Cheech and Chong movie played out on a vast scale high in the Rocky Mountains. That expectation went unmet.  Instead, I saw an American town where legal marijuana use has been incorporated into everyday life in a barely noticeable manner. Colorado has more pot shops than Starbucks outlets but you wouldn’t know that from a cursory visit. All of which got me thinking – what has been the marijuana legalization experience in Colorado and what lessons are there for Virginia?

Nil sine numine. “Nothing without providence.”  Residents of The Centennial State believe Colorado is guided by a “divine will.” After five years of “divine will” has legal pot turned into Rastafarian revelry or Puritanical perfidy? My unscientific poll of Coloradans riding various chairlifts and gondolas with me established a consensus of … “more good than bad”. Continue reading

Next Up: Carbon Tax, Cap and Trade On Your SUV

They are coming next for your SUV.

While the Air Pollution Control Board still has steps to take, it is safe to consider Virginia’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative a done deal.  That will quickly hit you in your electric bill, as Virginia’s two major electricity generators will have to pay a tax on their carbon emissions and alter their generation fleets to steadily reduce their CO2 output.

Here is what’s next:  The counterpart to RGGI for another major sector of the economy is the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), which Virginia announced it would join in September.   In addition to Virginia, the current TCI member jurisdictions are Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont, with policy support from Georgetown University.   Continue reading

Let Your Light Shine

I have been reluctant to weigh in on the recent discussions dealing with electricity demand and related topics because such topics are way beyond my experience.   However, a recent New York Times article highlighted one topic that has come up in our discussions—energy conservation—that I found fascinating.  The article points out that the residential demand for electricity per household in the U.S. rose steadily from 1970 to about 2010, but then began to decline.

A primary reason given for the decline, cited in both the NYT article and in more detail by an energy economist from UC Berkley?   The large-scale switch to more efficient light bulbs.

The catalyst for the switch was 2007 Congressional legislation mandating efficiency standards for bulbs.  When the second phase of that legislation takes effect next year, only compact fluorescent and LED bulbs will meet the standards.  LED bulbs use up to 85 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs and can last up to 25 years.  And, as with most new technology, the price has come down as it has been more widely accepted.

This is a good example of government-set standards that have spurred a new industry, reduced costs for consumers, and conserved energy, with only minor disruptions.

Proffers: They’re Baaaaack!

Gentlemen may prefer blondes but localities prefer proffers.  A proffer is an arrangement between a locality and a land developer whereby the developer offers something of value in order to get a rezoning request approved.  Why do developers want land rezoned?  For residential development they want to build more homes on the land than the land’s current zoning allows.  Why would localities object to these rezoning requests?  Theoretically, the locality’s strategic and financial plans are based on providing services at an overall population density dictated by the current zoning.  Adding more density increases the locality’s costs for services like public schools.  Localities are understandably worried about the unfunded mandates that up-zoning can cause.  How do proffers help?  Items of value (money, land, astroturf, etc) are given to the locality by the developer in order to fully or partly cover the additional costs to the locality of development at higher density than was planned.  These proffers reduce the developer’s profit margin on the project at hand so they are not popular with the development community. Continue reading

Amazon in Northern Virginia: 5 Positives

The road to the Silicon Swamp is paved with gold.

1-The Future. In 2011 Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal titled, “Why Software is Eating the World.” The eight years since Andreessen’s essay was published have served to vindicate, validate and verify the accuracy of his thesis. Yet while software eats the world, it doesn’t necessarily dine in the same old restaurants.  Car making used to be centered in Detroit. Now Silicon Valley is the new Detroit. Not only are upstarts like Tesla centered in The Valley but traditional car manufacturers are heading west too. As Andreessen noted, traditional non-technology companies all need to become software companies in order to survive. Metropolitan areas with strong software skills will attract not only technology companies but non-technology companies as well. Embrace software or be eaten by it. The future belongs to those who code.

2-Ecosystem. Silicon Valley isn’t Bentonville, Arkansas. No one company dominates Silicon valley and therein lies its enduring strength. The Valley is an economic growth machine fueled by start-ups, spin-outs, mergers, acquisitions, bankruptcies and oceans of venture capital. The idea that NoVa’s benefits from the Amazon deal start and stop with Amazon is myopic. Talented employees will come to National Landing, work for Amazon, and then leave to start new ventures. The 25,000 Amazon jobs should be seen as a starting point rather than a final outcome. In fact, startups founded by Amazon veterans like Fugue are already operating in the area. Continue reading