Category Archives: Uncategorized

Starbucks Past and Future

From hole-in-the-wall…

For coffee lovers like Laura and myself, no trip to Seattle would be complete without a pilgrimage to Starbucks. Down at the city’s famous farmer’s market, the retail giant still maintains the very first store it opened (pictured above). The progenitor Starbucks shop sold coffee, pastries and spices. You won’t find spices there anymore. The king of caffeine finds it more profitable to peddle Starbucks-branded kitsch to a stream of tourists so endless that they line up outside and, to prevent overcrowding in the hole-in-a-wall shop, are waved through in twos and threes.

As Starbucks has grown into a globe-straddling enterprise, it experiments with new concepts. You can get a feel for the company’s new directions by visiting the Starbucks Reserve complex on Pike Street (pictured below). Don’t be surprised if some of these retail ideas appear in a shopping center near you.

…to sprawling retail mega-center

Continue reading

2018 Hate Crimes Down

Looks like Attorney General Mark Herring will have to come up with a new campaign theme in his run for governor.  It’s bad enough that he got caught up in the blackface scandal. Now the central premise of his campaign launch — that the nation was in the grip of a surge of white supremacist violence — rings more hollow than ever.

The Virginia State Police has issued its 2018 Crime in Virginia report, and sadly for Herring (but good for the rest of us), the number of reported hate crimes was only 161 — down from 202 the previous year. The number of anti-black hate crimes fell to 62 from 68 the previous year.

The 2017 hate crime surge hyped by Herring turned out to be a blip in a long-term decline. The fact is, despite the best effort of politicians to stir up racial grievances, Americans and Virginians get along pretty well with one another.

Update: I updated some of these numbers when I returned from vacation and re-gained access to a PC.

Blackface Mystery Solved: Ralph Northam as Michael Jackson

Published in the Roanoke Times today, a concise synthesize of my blog posts about Ralph Northam costumed as Michael Jackson:

Ralph Northam’s racism controversy has tumbled down the memory hole. The governor has struck with the story that the photograph appearing in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of a man in blackface was not of him, and a McGuire Woods inquiry failed to find any evidence to prove otherwise. Critics who once called for his resignation have fallen silent as the governor pivoted left on social justice issues. And the media, which normally loves a good scandal, apparently has concluded that there is little left to be discovered.

But politicians and reporters are overlooking the obvious identity of the man in the yearbook photo — it is of Ralph Northam dressed in Michael Jackson costume. Continue reading

JLARC and the Virginia Cloud

Facebook data center in Henrico

Some years ago, the General Assembly made considerable use of the time between sessions. There were special study commissions that met fairly frequently, as well as meetings of subcommittees of standing committees. For various reasons, that does not happen much now. As a result, the legislature has struggle with tough issues, with little time for research and reflection, during the crowded regular sessions.

More and more, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is filling the void, providing the legislature with analyses and background on a number of thorny issues. This is a positive development.

Originally, the primary function of JLARC was to conduct regular, thorough analyses of agency operations. Gradually, that function has evolved to consist of (i) ongoing oversight over VITA, VRS, economic development incentives, Virginia529 (college savings plan), and Cardinal (the state’s new accounting system); (ii) several annual reports on state spending; and (iii) specific topics referred to it by the legislature or taken up on its own initiative.

This year the agency has one of its heaviest study loads ever. In addition to the ongoing oversight and state spending studies, the workload includes studies on community services board funding, implementation of STEP-VA (reform of the state’s behavioral health system),  the Office of the State Inspector General, VITA’s new infrastructure, Office of the Attorney General, gaming in the Commonwealth, Medicaid expansion, Workers’ compensation, and the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Two Reasons to Be Worried, and One Reason Not

Be afraid, very afraid. How frequent is cell phone use? According to a team of Old Dominion University researchers tallying seat belt use, some 4% of drivers they spot are on the phone or texting. So reports the Daily Press. Clearly, cell phone use is a problem. But I would argue that texting (which I never do) is far worse than yakking on the phone (which I do do… occasionally). Both may be a distraction, but the one requires drivers to take their eyes off the road, while the other doesn’t. If distractions are the issue, then the General Assembly should ban husbands and wives driving in the same car together. There’s nothing like a side-seat driver to grab one’s attention and increase the risk of accidents!

Virginia lost a big one. I have long hoped that the Wallops Space Flight facility might engender the rise of a space industry in Virginia. But the odds of the Old Dominion developing a critical mass in this industry of the future suffered a significant setback yesterday when Boeing announced that it would relocate the headquarters of its Space and Launch division from Arlington to Titusville, on Florida’s Space Coast. States the aerospace giant: “Looking to the future, this storied Florida space community will be the center of gravity for Boeing’s space programs as we continue to build our company’s leadership beyond gravity.”

Scary ignorance about coal ash. Coal ash is a potential hazard to human health, but the risks it poses are extremely low level. Unfortunately, an article in the Prince William Times, describing how Governor Ralph Northam signed a coal ash regulation bill into law, incorporates some of the hysterical rhetoric that has infiltrated our discourse. The article refers to the coal combustion residue as “toxic coal ash” and describes it as “composed of lead, mercury, cobalt, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other heavy metals, many of which are carcinogens.” In truth, coal ash is comprised mainly of rock mixed with coal that is not removed in the coal cleaning process and does not combust in boilers used for electric generation. The ash does contain trace amounts of all the aforesaid metals, which can leach in minute quantities into ground water, but is toxic only when it rises above certain levels. If the ash itself were toxic, then the new law requiring utilities to recycle at least 25 percent of it into cinderblocks and pavers would the greatest folly indeed.

Musings: Jim Crow Laws

Governor Ralph Northam has initiated an effort to find and expunge Jim Crow-related laws. He has established a commission to oversee the project and assigned one of his executive staff to head up the task. At first blush, I thought this was a good idea, but I have had second thoughts. This smacks of erasing history. As long as the statutes are not enforceable, why not leave them on the books as reminders to current and future generations of the wrongs inflicted by the Commonwealth on some of its citizens? On the other hand, the older Code books in the archives will show these statutes, so they will not really be lost to history and there is something to be said for cleaning up the Code of all obsolete provisions.

Remembering Fathers from the Greatest Generation


by Peter Galuszka

A few days ago, Bacon’s Rebellion featured a tribute to the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. The critically important invasion opened up a second front against Nazi Germany, leading to its defeat and the end of its terror.

This weekend, I propose another commemoration – that of the 75th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean. It is also a Father’s Day tribute of sorts that has links to Bacons Rebellion.

Saipan is in the Mariana Islands in the Central Pacific. Admiral Chester Nimitz wanted to seize the islands for air bases from which aircraft could bomb the Japanese mainland and. The Marianas also could serve as a staging ground for the eventual invasion of Japan.

On June 15, 1944, an invasion force led by the U.S. Marine Corps attacked Saipan after days of bombardment. The campaign would run until July 9 and would cost the lives of more than 29,000 troops on both sides. Continue reading

The Virtues of Incremental Development

Would you rather live here….

One more angle to think about when appraising Amazon’s HQ2 project in Arlington… A single developer, JBG Smith, will have a disproportionate impact on the evolution of the urban fabric in the National Landing district of Arlington and Alexandria. In theory, a single big developer can mobilize more resources, carry out better planning and execute a more uniform standard of design than could an uncoordinated army of small builders.

… or here?

Not so fast. Over on the Strong Towns blog, Daniel Herriges compares “Texas donut” approach typical of Dallas, Texas – a monumental ediface consuming an entire city block — with the incremental approach of traditional development in Charleston, S.C.

“Incremental development doesn’t mean slow, small, or cautious. Incremental means many hands,” Herriges writes. “The ‘increment of development’ is how big each project is, but says nothing about how many projects are taking place. Continue reading

What is Going On?

Can someone from Northern Virginia please tell me what is going on when almost a million dollars is being raised in each of two primary contests for Commonwealth’s Attorney?  I can understand the money being raised, as reported by VPAP, in the primary for chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors.  That is a political position and there are four candidates.  But, the money being raised for Commonwealth’s Attorney, a supposedly nonpolitical position, with only two candidates in each election, is astounding.

Dispatches. 75 Years Ago Tonight, Now, It Was On.

American Cemetery, Coleville-sur-Mer.  Personal photos from a 2017 visit. Click for larger view.

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (AP) — Allied troops landed on the Normandy coast of France in tremendous strength by cloudy daylight today and stormed several miles inland with tanks and infantry in the grand assault which Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

German broadcasts said the Allies penetrated several kilometers between Caen and Isigny, which are 35 miles apart and respectively nine and two miles from the sea.    Continue reading

Ain’t No Negatives Here

In the recent past, the website of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) featured a prominent dashboard or scoreboard showing the cumulative number of jobs “created” since the beginning of the current administration.  Governors used these numbers when touting their economic development programs. It did not matter that these were jobs projected, not necessarily available or filled, or that some of those jobs would never materialize.

I was reminded of this scoreboard by a story in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch about a printing company in Henrico closing, with a resultant loss of 240 jobs.  My counterpart at DPB who handled VEDP’s budget and I used to have a standing joke about the VEDP jobs scoreboard. Whenever I would point out a company closing or downsizing, especially at the beginning of the Great Recession, or a corporation moving out of Virginia and ask whether VEDP was including those job losses in its calculations, he would laugh and reply, “Oh no, Dick, we don’t include the negative numbers!”

It is a welcome sign that the “new” VEDP does not engage in this misleading boosterism.

Enjoy Tuition Freezes While You Can. They Won’t Last.

Citing $53 million in additional state support for higher education this year, the boards of Virginia’s public colleges and universities have decided to keep tuition flat for in-state undergraduate students in the upcoming academic year — the first such freeze in nearly two decades, reports the Washington Post.

James Toscano, president of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, paints the freeze as a “significant victory for students and families in Virginia.” As state revenue flows have recovered in states across the country, legislatures are once again investing in higher education. Meanwhile, public institutions recognize that consumers “have reached a pain point that is greater than they can bear.”

Any moderation in higher-ed tuition increases is welcome, for whatever reason and from whatever source. But I am less sanguine than Toscano. I feel certain for two reasons that the cost of attendance will shortly resume its rise. First, the General Assembly is unlikely to sustain $50+ million increases in state support year after year. Between competing demands from other core state responsibilities and the inevitability of an economic downturn at some point in the not-so-distant future, the legislature will be hard-pressed to match this year’s generosity. Second, there is no sign that Virginia’s public institutions have done anything to quell the underlying inflationary forces driving up costs. Continue reading

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.