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Media Botching Second Biggest Political Story of 2020

By Peter Galuszka

(I left off the Virginia Mercury sorry)

Merry Christmas from the Bacon Family

Photo credit:

PSSST! Trump Got Impeached

By Peter Galuszka

You won’t hear much about this on Bacon’s Rebellion, but on Wednesday, Donald J. Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached.

The vote in the House of Representatives split right down party lines with Virginia’s Democrats voting for impeachment and Republicans voting against.

Leading the charge were Abigail Spanberger of the 7th District and Elaine Luri of the 2nd District. The former CIA operative and former Navy officer showed considerable guts because they flipped seats normally safely held by Republicans who promise to come after both of them next year.

The strictly bipartisan impeachment vote is being mirrored in Virginia now that Democrats have taken control of the General Assembly. A number of conservative Republicans who had been running the legislative show for years have retired and the state GOP is in serious disarray.

Gov. Ralph Northam is pushing a big $135 billion budget that provides long-needed spending for mental health and education. The Trump fallout is fueling an atmosphere that will embolden Democrats to push ahead with such measures and raising Virginia’s ridiculously low cigarette tax. Continue reading

Rethinking Afghanistan

By Peter Galuszka

On Feb. 15, 1989, I was standing amid reporters and people waving red flags and holding flowers at the northern end of a metal bridge linking Uzbekistan with Afghanistan. A row of Soviet BTR armored personnel carriers streamed home as their crews waved and smiled.

These were the last troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, where the nearly 10-year war had killed about 15,000 Soviet troops and 2 million civilians. The Soviet Foreign Ministry badly wanted foreign correspondents to record the last of the withdrawals.

They chartered a plane to take us from Moscow to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital. From there we went to a Soviet Air Force base where tough looking men loaded flares on the sides of gigantic cargo planes. They would shoot off the flares to distract U.S.-made Stinger missiles as they corkscrewed into Kabul.

Next on our trip was the small town of Termez where Russian helicopter gunships buzzed overhead. Near the bridge, was a parade ground covered with locals. I spoke with a teenage girl who said: “They’ve taken us out of school four times to practice this.”

The lesson was that Afghanistan is always going to be a remote quagmire. The British and Russian empires found that out in the 19th century and now the Americans are after a seemingly endless 18-year-long war that has left about 2,400 U.S. troops and more than 58,000 civilians dead. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Adventures in Transportation Policy

How “complete streets” helped revive a small town. Hopewell, best known for its kepone spill in the James River, is nobody’s idea of a progressive community. But perhaps it should be. The city of 22,000 is leading the way in designing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly “complete streets,” writes Greater Greater Washington‘s Virginia correspondent. Three years after City Council committed to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking, outdoor recreation and nutritious food, its streetscape improvements have won a designation as a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) platinum standard community. The shift to walkability has coincided with the creation of 25 new businesses downtown and 70 new jobs. Said Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership: “Hopewell is one of those cities in which 10 years ago not many people had much hope for the future, but following Main Street and complete streets principles have changed the city in a way few people thought possible.”

Richmond’s fare skipper problem. By one measure, Richmond’s transit system is doing great: Ridership is up 15% since the launch of the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system in June 2018. But lax enforcement on the transit line has lost revenue for the cash-strapped system, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The transit system, GRTC, cannot even quantify how prevalent fare skippers are. “Without an accurate fare evasion rate, GRTC may be unable to assess the severity of fare evasion and its financial impact,” states a new report from the Richmond city auditor. GRTC estimates that riders who evade the $1.50 fare account for 12% to 14% of the Pulse’s 5,400 average daily ridership. On paper, then, fare skippers account for some $360,000 a year in lost revenue. But who knows… if forced to pay their fares, how many would bother to take the Pulse in the first place?

Metro, Union strike contract deal. The Washington Metro has agreed to a four-year labor contract with its largest union. The transit agency will give up its strategy of privatizing some operations in exchange for… what… well, that’s not exactly clear, According to the Washington Post, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld moved to privatize several Metro operations in order to contain expenses and stay within a 3% cap on the annual growth in subsidies negotiated as a condition for a boost in financial support from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ATU Union Local 689, with about 800 members, has been on strike, shutting down or reduce Metrobus routes used by about 8,500 riders daily. Continue reading

UVa Gearing Up for Another Hike in Tuition & Fees

by James A. Bacon

Later this week the University of Virginia Board of Visitors will consider increasing tuition by 3% to 4% in the 2020-21 school year and jacking up fees between 3% to 6%. Here is a copy of the PowerPoint presentation showing the arguments and data that the administration presented the board in its November meeting.

As usual, the UVA administration blames tuition increases on declines in state support for higher education.  “Responsibility for funding educational costs has shifted from the taxpayer to the student,” states one slide. “Increases in tuition have not kept pace with declines in general funds, leaving a gap of $3,648 per student in 2020-2021.”

While those numbers may justify tuition increases in previous decades — UVa bases its calculations on trends going back to 1990-91 — it overlooks the fact that between 2012 and 2018 (the latest year for which I could obtain data from UVa’s annual financial reports), state support increased by $20 million even while academic (non-hospital) spending increased by $511 million! (See support for these numbers here.) The state is to blame for higher tuition? Really? In what universe? Continue reading

Happy Turkey Day

Everything’s better with bacon!

How Influence Is Played in Richmond

By Peter Galuszka

It helps to have an influential father, especially if you are Peter Farrell.

The 36 year-old former Republican delegate and financial investor has been named to the Board of Visitors of Virginia Commonwealth University by Gov. Ralph Northam.

Northam, a Democrat, has accepted thousands of dollars in political donations from Thomas Farrell, Peter’s father, who heads Dominion Energy, which has also contributed to Northam.

There’s nothing especially wrong with young Farrell’s appointment although his age and relative inexperience might raise eyebrows. He served in the House of Delegates from Henrico County from 2012 to 2018 when he said he wanted to “retire” to spend more time with his family and investment business.

But there’s always been a whiff of inside baseball with him. According to a 2016 book by Richmond author Jeff Thomas, the way was cleared for Farrell’s ascendance into politics literally behind closed doors. Continue reading

No Surprise Here

Speaker-designate Eileen Filler-Corn, Fairfax. Photo credit: CNN

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Both the RTD and Washington Post today reported on the new Speaker-to-be’s first committee chair appointments. (This is one of the real powers of the Speaker of the House of Delegates.  He/she gets to make all committee appointments, including the chair of each committee.)  The Post was a little more muted, but from the RTD’s headline, “3 members of  Va. black caucus to lead House panels”, one would have thought the appointments were a surprise and part of a Democratic plan to give special perks to the black caucus. The chairman of the black caucus even weighed in by praising the “historic appointments.”

What would have been surprising would have been not appointing those members to the chairmanships.  Each one is the Democratic delegate with the most seniority currently on the committee.  So far, the new Speaker-to-be (herself certainly far from what a traditional Speaker has been) is going with tradition.

Who’s Minding the Budget?

The Richmond-Times Dispatch reports today that Governor Northam will be leading a trade tour of the Middle East, beginning tomorrow.  This is not unusual; governors routinely tour foreign countries talking up Virginia with government and private leaders in foreign countries.

However, the governor’s budget bill for the next biennium, the only budget that he will have complete control over (development and implementation) must be finished by about December 10, less than a month away, with the Thanksgiving holiday in there as well.  Again, this is not unusual; other governors have scheduled their trade trips during the middle of November.  This was frustrating for the budget writers in the Department of Planning and Budget because a lot of decisions had to be delayed until the Governor got back, thereby piling the work on the budget into the last few days before it had to be sent to the printer. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Government Programs that Actually Work

Brace yourselves for an unfamiliar sensation — a round-up of state/local government initiatives that show promise of yielding positive results!

Good for the taxpayer, good for the environment. The Roanoke School Board has approved a $16.8 million plan that will generate $1.3 million in annual energy savings by replacing HVAC units, retrofitting lighting with LED fixtures and implementing other energy-efficiency measures. If the projected savings don’t materialize, energy-services contractor Trane will pay the difference, reports the Roanoke Times. The savings of $2.7 million over 15 years is modest, but it is extremely low risk.

Frankly, this is the type of project that schools, local government, state agencies, and universities across the state should be looking at. Upgrading HVAC and lighting systems is extremely common among commercial real estate companies because it makes economic and financial sense. I suggested years ago that the Commonwealth should issue bonds to fund in projects just like this, billing it as an efficiency and environmental initiative. What’s holding us back from rehabbing government buildings everywhere?

Speedy tickets for speeding tickets. Virginia State Police have inaugurated a two-year trial run in Northern Virginia of an electronic summons system that digitizes the ticket-writing process. Since June, troopers have seen average traffic-stop times drop from 26 minutes using the old paper-form system to 10 minutes per ticket, reports the Virginia Mercury. Rolling out the system statewide could require a new $5 fee for all state-police traffic and criminal cases. But digitization could save money by getting troopers back on the road quicker and reduce congestion caused by rubbernecking drivers. Assuming he values his time at more than $20 an hour, even the guy getting the ticket is better off. What’s not to like? Continue reading

Bacon Bits: This and That

Out with a whimper. After months of studying gun violence, the Virginia State Crime Commission issued a report with no recommendations on how to curb the deadly toll in Virginia. The report said crime commission staff “determined that inconclusive evidence exists to develop recommendations.” That pretty much sums up the final two years of Republican ascendancy in the General Assembly. The GOP legislature will be remembered for having had no new ideas and having accomplished nothing. Virginia now can look forward to a Democratic-controlled legislature with too many ideas, mostly bad ones, that will accomplish too much… of the wrong thing.

One man’s trash is another man’s… uh, trash. Virginians recycled 46% of their trash last year, up three percentage points from the previous year, according to data recently released by the Department of Environmental Quality data. The Central Virginia Waste Management Authority had the highest recycling rate in the state with 59%. The Virginia Peninsulas Public Service Authority had the lowest rate with 29%. So reports The Virginia Mercury.

And people wonder why there isn’t more support for mass transit. Nearly 40,000 Northern Virginia bus riders could lose their service as transit workers move closer to calling a second bus strike. A strike by Metrobus workers at the Lorton bus garage has shut down 15 routes for three weeks. Now workers with the Fairfax Connector have voted to authorize a strike, which could be called at any time, reports the Washington Post. For all the problems associated with private automobiles, at least the drivers don’t go out on strike! Continue reading

SOQ Examination

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a lot of commentary in recent posts over the state Board of Education’s proposed changes in the Standards of Quality, with a $950 million price tag. Rather than focusing on the total price tag and one component of the proposal (equity fund), it seems to me a more productive approach would be to look at each component and evaluate it separately. (The detailed descriptions of the items can be found here, the first item under “Action/Discussion Items.)

Before delving into the details, there are several considerations to keep in mind:

  1. The Board of Education can only propose changes to the Standards of Quality. The General  Assembly has the last word.
  2. Any new funding associated with any changes in the SOQ will be in addition to the amount needed for “rebasing.” This is the biennial exercise in which the SOQ funding is adjusted for changes in student enrollment and general increased costs.
  3. Educational funding is not my field of expertise. I am endeavoring to summarize what is proposed, based on the BOE document, and add my two cents’ worth for certain issues.

Continue reading

Hey, Sultan, Your Mother Swims out to Troop Ships!

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire

This is apropos of nothing in Virginia, and I’m not trying to make a political statement of any kind, but… With Turkey and Ukraine much in the news these days, a famous 19th-century Russian painting is making the rounds on the Internet: a rendering by Ilya Repin of free-wheeling Cossacks composing a ribald and insulting response to a demand by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed IV for their submission. In language even less diplomatic than that employed by our current president, the Cossacks literally told the Sultan in 1676 to shtup his mother. Read the hilarious letter on Wikipedia here. Russia had a history every bit as colorful as the U.S. wild west, but Americans aren’t taught it. Seeing this painting makes me want to learn more. I was so tickled that I had to share.