Why Is Expanding Broadband Still Such a Problem?

by Peter Galuszka

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-7th) has drawn lots of attention for her Rural Broadband Summit at Louisa County High School in Mineral on Aug. 17, which got plenty of comment from primarily rural residents unhappy that they can’t get access to quick, reliable Internet service.

Good for Spanberger, who beat Republican Dave Brat in last year’s hotly contested election. But this all brings questions: after so many years why are we still facing this?

I am now in my second decade of writing about the lack of broadband access in rural and inner city areas.

A piece I did for Chief Executive magazine about 10 years ago explored how mostly minority business owners in inner Philadelphia couldn’t afford broadband because the big providers, which would include Comcast and Verizon, cherry pick their locations. The firms wanted to boost margins so they pushed “triple play” (Internet, telephone and television) access in wealthier areas. Those not so privileged had to struggle with higher costs and access issues. “I don’t need 400 channels,” an inner city business owner told me. Continue reading

Those Tenant-Eviction Stats Are Valid

by Marty Wegbreit

The August 15, 2019 post, “A Closer Look at Those Tenant-Eviction Stats,” fails to stand up to statistical or critical analysis. The post blames Virginia’s Independent City/County form of government for high eviction rates. (Five of the highest ten eviction rates in large U.S. cities over 100,000 population are in Virginia.) Virginia’s independent cities do not incorporate the wealthier suburbs. Supposedly, this artificially raises the eviction rate. No data are presented to support this theory.

When you examine cities of similar population, similar area, and similar percentage of African-American population, Richmond still stands out with a high eviction rate.

Richmond’s eviction rate is substantially greater than Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. Something clearly is wrong in Richmond. The theory of cities that do not incorporate wealthier suburbs also fails when comparing Richmond to Chesapeake, an independent city more than 5½ times larger in area. Continue reading

Undercover Billionaire and the Opportunity Narrative

Billionaire sleeping in old pickup truck - Erie, Pa

Billionaire sleeping in old pickup truck, Erie PA

by Don Rippert

The show.  The Discovery Channel started airing a new series about a billionaire who goes to Erie, Pa with an old pickup truck, $100 and a cell phone with no contacts.  His goal is to build a business worth $1m in 90 days.  If he achieves the goal he will share ownership of the business with the employees.  If he fails he will finance the business with $1m of his own money.  This show strikes me as a laboratory experiment regarding Jim Bacon’s Opportunity Narrative. Continue reading

Fungible (and Vintage?) Green Virtue, For A Fee

Renewable energy certificates can have a vintage? Some might prefer fresh solar or wind power.

by Steve Haner

Like most major electric utilities now, Dominion Energy Virginia has a certain amount of energy generated by processes now designated “renewable.”  Hydro power has been around for a long time, and now that is supplemented by a growing number of solar generators – owned by the company or under contract to it.

All Dominion customers are getting some of their electricity from those sources.  Everyone is a little bit green.  But for an extra $4.21 per 1,000 kilowatt hours, some other customer can take away your green power and leave you less green or totally not green, at least on paper.  Overall the utility’s output stays the same, but it might pick up a few more dollars per month from up to 50,000 of its customers.  Continue reading

From Oppression Narrative to Opportunity Narrative

by James A. Bacon

I have fallen into a trap — a snare of my own making. Day after day, Americans are subjected to a barrage of commentary and “news” on the topic of racial/gender-driven victimhood and grievance, the most recent example being today’s New York Times‘ 16019 Project, which reinterprets American history through the lens of slavery and racism as if they were the sole defining attributes of the American experience. And I react to this stuff. When the issues hit home at a state/local level, I devote article after article detailing the falsehoods, unfounded assumptions, and sins of omission. Because there is a never-ending supply of victimhood-and-grievance stories, a never-ending rounds of rebuttals is called for. As a result, I spend far more time writing about what I’m against than what I’m for.

Today I shall devote myself today to outlining in broad brush strokes a positive vision for Virginia going forward. In the long run, parsing the  flaws of the Victimhood and Grievance Narrative will take us only so far. If those espousing conservative/libertarian principles wish to win converts, they need to formulate an alternative narrative — what I’ll call the Opportunity Narrative — that appeals to all peoples and creeds.

The Victimhood and Grievance Narrative is inherently backward looking, dwelling on past injustices to stoke the resentments of racial/ethnic groups. (It is important to note that some on the Right have adopted the rhetoric and logic of group-based grievance and victimhood, making them guilty of sins similar to those of the Left.) The forward-looking Opportunity Narrative asks, how do we empower individuals, regardless of racial/ethnic/gender identity, to improve their lives? Continue reading

Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

by Steve Haner

Proposed firearms regulations will pack a General Assembly meeting room Monday and Tuesday, and for that portion of the population not already locked into an ideological position either way, it could be useful to pay attention.

The Republican majorities have taken some political bashing for failing to act on the flood of proposals, many previously seen and rejected, that showed up when Governor Ralph Northam sought to railroad them through a hasty special session after the Virginia Beach shooting.  But the ideas are going to get a better hearing at the Crime Commission next week than they would have when introduced.  Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Whistling Past the Graveyard

Feel-good story of the day. Northern Virginia boy scouts have cleaned up the neglected Alexandria cemetery named for abolitionist Frederick Douglass. They raked leaves, trimmed trees, and installed a new sign, according to the Washington Post. The black cemetery fell into disrepair over the years because no Alexandria church or other nonprofit cares for it; the city of Alexandria allocates only a nominal sum for upkeep, mostly mowing.

Boomerang watch. The Mountain Valley Pipeline has suspended all construction activities that could negatively impact four endangered or threatened species: the Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat, the Roanoke logperch, and the candy darter, reports Virginia Mercury. For the time being, the pipeline company will refrain from tree-clearing, non-maintenance-related road building, grading and trenching, and stream-disturbing activities. Inquiring minds want to know: If such activities are permanently banned in and around habitat of threatened species, will it be possible to build wind turbines anywhere in the Blue Ridge or Allegheny Mountains?

The real structural racism. John Butcher delves into the latest SOL scores for Richmond’s Carver Elementary school, where cheating by teachers and administrators had artificially elevated SOL test scores last year. Now that the testing issues have been resolved, the tragic dimensions of students’ educational under-performance have been laid bare. Students rated as “economically disadvantaged” passed reading, writing, math, history and science at rates in the 20% to 32% range — far lower than the rate for economically disadvantaged children in most other schools. Richmond school officials blame racial bias and under-funding. But the real racism is that poor kids are trapped in a failing because Virginia’s educational establishment does everything in its power to block escape hatches in the form of charter schools or tax-favored scholarships. Continue reading

Can VT Thrive If It Alienates Half the Population?

Virginia Tech is hot right now — very hot. The university is building a high-tech campus in Alexandria, its fund-raising efforts are collecting unprecedented sums of money, its faculty members are snaring serious venture capital funding. And in a new Money magazine survey ranking U.S. universities by “value,” it logged a very respectable position at No. 34.

The big question is whether Tech can sustain this momentum while transforming its campus culture into such an in-your-face caricature of political correctness that it risks offending large swaths of its customer base — middle-class parents who hew to more conservative values. The indoctrination of leftist values on issues of gender, sexuality, and race in this fall’s orientation was offensive to some.

Writes Penny Nance in the Federalist, “I was shocked to experience what I can only describe as extreme and overtly leftist propaganda. … The school constantly defined and showcased identity group politics. … As a mom, part of me wanted to load my son in the car and head up the road to Liberty University.” Continue reading

What Does Dominion Lose When Customers Leave?

With a competitive service provider, you pay it and not the utility for generation, transmission and fuel – the elements of electricity supply service.

When you use a competitive service provider (CSP) instead of the monopoly electricity company, what does the monopoly provider stop collecting?  Just what part of the electric bill are big customers such as Costco and Kroger and Walmart seeking to avoid by leaving Dominion Energy Virginia?

The answer is most of it, everything covered under the bill heading “Electricity Supply Service” on the sample bill illustrated above.  With a CSP, customers would stop paying Dominion for generation, transmission and fuel.  If future legislation makes retail choice the rule in Virginia, customers could leave the utility and pay a CSP for their energy and the cost to make or buy it and get it to Virginia’s local grid.  Continue reading

My Three Days of Peace and Music

Fifty years ago, when I was 16 years old, a classmate from my high school in suburban Washington, D.C., called and asked if I wanted to go to Woodstock.

I  wasn’t exactly sure what it was about but I had some time off since I had just finished a summer journalism course at a D.C. college and wasn’t due back at school until the first of September. I packed my sleeping bag. I was less than transparent with my parents, telling them I would be gone for a few days to a camping outing in New York State.

Seven of us connected and rode in a station wagon borrowed from a friend’s mother. We knew the line up of music was phenomenal but we didn’t know what to expect.

As we approached Bethel, N.Y. and Max Yasgur’s farm we were overwhelmed by car traffic. We had to park seven miles from the entrance. By the time we reached the gate, it had been crashed open and the event was free. I naively paid $20 for a ticket anyway.

An unimaginable number of kids wandered everywhere. The designation was a huge stage at the base of a half-moon shaped side of a grassy hill. Continue reading

Delay-and-Block for Pipelines… and Solar?

Last December the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond found that the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is part of the National Park System, which blocks federal agencies from authorizing a pipeline crossing. Depending upon U.S. Supreme Court action, the ruling in the Cowpasture River Preservation Association v. U.S. Forest Service case could well doom the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which crosses the trail in order to connect Midwest shale gas with Southeastern markets.

Noah Sachs, an environmental law professor at the University of Richmond, asks a provocative question: “Did the Fourth Circuit really turn the Appalachian Trail into a ‘Great Wall’ that blocks all energy transport from the Midwest to the East Coast, as many energy industry analysts have suggested?”

In an essay in The American Prospect, Sachs argues that Cowpasture doesn’t preclude all crossings of the Appalachian Trail, so the “great wall” analogy may not be apt. But here’s a passage that I found profoundly disturbing:

The real significance of the Cowpasture case is that it uses the Appalachian Trail crossing as a legal hook to delay and block the pipeline and raise its costs. There’s nothing wrong with delay-and-block tactics. It’s a strategy that environmentalists have been using since the 1960s. And as the climate crisis heats up, it’s a virtuous one.

Continue reading

A Closer Look at those Tenant-Eviction Stats

Graphic credit: VPM

Virginia’s eviction-reform movement gained considerable momentum last year when the New York Times, citing data of the Princeton Eviction Lab, published a story asserting that four Virginia cities numbered in the top 10 cities with the highest eviction rates in the country. Richmond supposedly had an eviction rate five times the national average. Armed with this scandalous data, renters rights advocates pressed successfully for changes to state law that make it somewhat easier for tenants to avoid eviction.

Now a VPM (Virginia Public Media) investigation has revealed significant flaws in the data. The first problem is one that I identified shortly after the Times article was published: The reason Virginia cities stood out so prominently in the Top 10 list was not that Virginia laws are tougher on renters but because Virginia’s city/county form of government skewed the data.

A second problem is that Princeton Eviction Lab cobbled together different data sets for different states. The Lab was able to obtain court data directly from 12 states, including Virginia. For the others, they used data from private sources. Continue reading

Unintended Consequences and SOLs

It has been fascinating to observe the reaction to the disappointing news that Standards of Learning (SOL) test scores for reading and writing for Virginia’s major racial/ethnic groups declined in the 2018-19 school year, and that, despite strenuous efforts of school administrators to address racial inequities, the gap between blacks and whites grew wider.

The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the (Charlottesville) Daily Progress all duly noted the erosion of black and Hispanic educational attainment. In none of the articles, however, did state education officials proffer an explanation for the regression. Certainly no one suggested that Virginia Department of Education’s relentless implementation of “restorative justice” disciplinary policies, designed to reduce the disparity in suspensions between black and white students, might have had unintended consequences.

I have warned that the emphasis on therapeutic interventions over suspensions and other traditional disciplinary policies was contributing to the erosion of classroom discipline, particularly in predominantly black schools. As far as I know, I am the only member of Virginia’s chattering class to stick out his neck and predict that black students, whose educations were disproportionately disrupted by this social engineering, would suffer the most. The proof, I suggested, would be seen in lower SOL scores for black students.

Well, the results are in. While all racial/ethic groups lost ground in reading and writing — the two disciplines in which apples-to-apples comparisons are possible this year — blacks and Hispanics backtracked the most. Continue reading

Marijuana legalization in Colorado: the good, the bad and the ugly

High there!  As Virginia politicians scramble to stake out positions on reforming marijuana laws in the Old Dominion ahead of this November’s elections, it is useful to look at the actual experience in Colorado after five years of legal recreational marijuana sales.  There is no universally accepted source of truth regarding the success or failure of Colorado’s marijuana legalization. However, many articles have been written regarding Colorado’s experience and the general perception seems to be positive albeit with some significant concerns. As Virginia moves down the road of marijuana reform its political class would be well advised to heed the lessons of those who have already gone down that path. Continue reading

Latest SOLS: More Declines in Reading, Writing

Source: Virginia Department of Education

The Virginia Department of Education has released the results of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests for the 2018-19 school year. While changes to the test methods make it difficult to make valid comparisons for math and history/social sciences, reading and writing test scores declined somewhat, most markedly for blacks, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students.

Here are the top-line results for the state:

  • Reading: 78% pass rate, down 2 percentage points from the previous year.
  • Writing: 76% pass rate, down 2 percentage points.
  • Math: 82% pass rate, up 5 percentage points.
  • Science: 81% pass rate, unchanged
  • History/social science: 80% pass, down 4 percentage points

Asians, as usual, out-performed all other racial/ethnic groups, followed by whites, Hispanics, and blacks. Despite a heavy emphasis by the Northam administration to address racial inequities in schools, the black-white achievement gap grew wider last year in reading and writing, while remaining the same for science. Continue reading