5G and Rural Virginia

A horse pulling fiber in Kentucky. Photo credit: Pro Publica

by DJ Rippert

A tale of two places.  The next generation of consumer wireless technology is called Fifth Generation or 5G. It is being rolled out in select parts of the United States right now. 5G will be a boon to urban and suburban Virginia. Absent heavy government subsidies, it will likely have a minimal direct effect on rural Virginia. Of course, any technology that favors high population density areas over low population density areas expands the rural-urban gap. The reasons for 5G’s value in high density areas vs low density areas run the gamut from physics to economics. However, there are some engineering scenarios and demographic situations where 5G might be effective in select rural areas without massive governmental subsidies. Those will be discussed later in this post. And, of course, massive government subsidies are always on the table. Continue reading

Lost Absentees, Found Roll Call, Missing Statues

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

The Plot to Nab Northam

By Peter Galuszka

Self-styled “militia” members based in Michigan accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also considered nabbing Ralph Northam, Virginia’s governor, according to court testimony Tuesday.

Both Democratic governors were considered fair game because they supposedly had taken strong measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

At a hearing in Grand Rapids, Mich., an FBI agent testified that the militia members, thought to be part of a hard-right group, targeted Northam along with several others because of their aggressive stances in containing COVID 19.

A total of 13 people have been charged in connection with the Michigan case. Some were plotting to instigate a “civil war” and the others were planning on kidnapping Gov. Whitmer.

According to testimony, the idea was the seize Whitmer, put her on a boat, take her to the middle of Lake Michigan, damage the motor, set her adrift and see if she would be rescued.

There was no information about what could have become of Northam or if another boating mishap was in planning stages for him. Continue reading

Latest Woke Madness: Stop Enforcing Minor Traffic Offenses

City of Richmond traffic citations by race/ethnicity and sex in 2018. Source: City of Richmond Police Department.

by James A. Bacon

The General Assembly has passed HB 5058, which would prevent law enforcement officers from stopping motorists for driving with busted mufflers, headlights, and brake lights, driving with an expired registration sticker, or failure to wear a seatbelt.

“This [legislation] bubbled up to a high level of concern because of the disproportionate number of black and brown communities that tend to be targeted for these pretextual [traffic] stops,” sponsor Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, told The Virginia Star. “We wanted to create a bill that would eliminate or at least significantly curve those number of interactions that frequently escalate. So that is what you have before you, a bill to try to eliminate those unnecessary interactions.”

Law enforcement spokesmen oppose the bill. Said Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman: “I think the bill in itself, from everything that I’ve read about it, is just an affront to common sense and public safety. And to have a bill like that pass through both the House and the Senate and go to the Governor for signage is really ill conceived and just a true detriment to the safety of our public.” Continue reading

The Cancel Culture Knows No Bounds. Where Does It End?

Contextualize this! Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Parade

by James A. Bacon

Thomas M. Neale, a lead organizer of the University of Virginia alumni revolt, has written a letter with 200 co-signatories to the Board of Visitors decrying the “cancel culture” permeating the university. The board has voted to rename the Curry School of Education, remove the George Rogers Clark statues, and contextualize the Thomas Jefferson Statue on the Lawn, he says. Intellectual consistency, he argues, would require eradication of all segregation-era university administrators, regardless of their contributions to society, on the grounds that they all shared some taint of oppression.

If Thomas Jefferson needs to be “contextualized” then so do 100% of all Southern leaders prior to the Civil War. This should be extended to 20th century leaders if they presided over universities, businesses, towns, counties, villages or military units that practiced segregated policies. Throw in US presidents prior to 1964 who did not make ending Jim Crow a priority. This is not hyperbole. It is a logical extension of the Racial Equity Task Force’s recommendations.

We ask again… where does this end?

Neal asks an important question: Where does it end? No one at the UVa — or anywhere, for that matter — has articulated logical bounds for the creeping de-legitimization and eradication of past leaders. Cancellations have been applied arbitrarily amidst inflamed passions, and only against targets of Leftist disapproval. No one, I would observe, has suggested contextualizing Martin Luther King, America’s greatest Civil Rights hero, even though his misogynistic behavior, which would make Donald Trump look like a choir boy, should be regarded as grotesque by the #metoo movement. (See “The troubling legacy of Martin Luther King” for a horrific summary of evidence from FBI documents.)

Here follows the full text of Neale’s letter: Continue reading

ODU’s Fumble

by Kerry Dougherty

Here’s an unsurprising, entirely predictable tale.

On Monday, The Virginian-Pilot published a story headlined, “With Few Students and No Fall Sports Business Dries Up Around ODU.”

Businesses near the campus of ODU have been through mandated closures and restrictions on their capacity, but the fall semester has brought with it more trouble: no sporting events and a decreased student presence on campus.

Yep, college towns around the country are suffering as students attend online classes and even those on campus are limiting their social activities. The Pilot reports that 58% of ODU students are entirely online this year.

Not good for local businesses.

Making matters worse, of course, was ODU’s boneheaded decision to cancel football this year. Continue reading

Energy “PIPP” Proposal Just the TIP of an Iceberg

The initial “PIPP” tax added to Dominion and APCo bills in 2021 may hide the full impact of the program.

By Steve Haner

As the State Corporation Commission prepares to set up Virginia’s first electricity cost shifting program, using a tax on all electric bills to provide discounts to low-income customers, advocates are already pushing to expand and enrich it.

An expert hired by an environmental group argues in testimony that the General Assembly erred when it capped electricity payments from poorer households at 6% of their monthly income if they did not have electric heat, and 10% if they did. Appalachian Voices’ expert wants the SCC to lower the rate to 5% and 8% respectively, greatly increasing the amount of revenue that must be extracted from other customers.

The Sierra Club’s expert ripped apart the assumptions behind the initial proposal from Dominion Energy Virginia. He then pushed for the immediate addition of $19 million to pay for additional energy efficiency programs for low-income customers, rejecting Dominion’s claims that it has sufficient programs in place or in the works for that purpose.

As previously discussed, pretty much only on Bacon’s Rebellion, the new program is called the Percentage of Income Payment Plan, or PIPP, and is similar to programs in other states. More detail on those other state programs also emerges in the testimony now on file.  Continue reading

UVa Lawn Controversy: Daniel Strikes Again

In the wake of the controversy over profane political statements posted on room doors on the Lawn, University of Virginia President Jim Ryan penned a defense early this month of the university’s decision not to compel removal of the offending signage. In the statement, entitled “Good and Great Revisited,” he argued that the University can be both good, as in exorcising racism, and great, as in achieving excellence; that the Thomas Jefferson statue on the grounds should be preserved but contextualized; and that it is the university’s obligation to stand firm in defense of free speech. In a separate missive, the University’s legal counsel Timothy Heaphy argued that the Constitutional right to free speech of Lawn residents was an absolute that could not be abridged…. although the University was working on changing the rules for next year’s residents.

Now Aubrey M. Daniel III, who had written a previous, widely disseminated letter condemning the University’s do-nothing posture, has delivered a riposte. While UVa officials have issued vague exclamations of “disappointment” at the student’s use of profanity in the phrase “Fuck UVA,” Daniel argues forcefully that Ryan and Heaphy have adopted a legal posture of defending the student’s right to free speech against alumni protests rather than articulating a legal argument for taking down the sign and letting the student (or her surrogates) mount her own legal defense of her action. While posing as a neutral arbiter between the student and angry alumni, Ryan is effectively siding with the student.

Daniel addresses his missive to Rector James B. Murray Jr., who had mounted his own defense of Ryan in a letter from the Board of Visitors. I publish the full text of Daniel’s letter below. — JAB Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Vaccines, the Home School Boom, and a Giant Drill

Getting ahead of the curve. It’s still not clear when a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will become available, but the Northam administration is preparing to accelerate the roll-out when it does. Virginia’s plan calls for spending nearly $71 million for mass vaccination clinics and $2.5 million for refrigerators and thermometers, reports The Virginia Mercury. The vaccine will be given first to residents of long-term care facilities, which have accounted for nearly 50% of COVID deaths, as well as health practitioners and other essential workers — potentially including first responders, teachers, and childcare providers. Priority also will be given to members of other elevated-risk groups such as Virginians 65 or older, “people from racial and ethnic minority groups,” and “people from tribal communities.”

Some hard numbers on home schooling. The COVID-19 epidemic has not been kind to Virginia public school enrollment. From an article in the Free Lance-Star: In Stafford County, as of early September, 471 students had withdrawn from the public school division for home schooling this year — that’s nearly three times the 162 home-school students the previous year. In Spotsylvania County the number of home-school students are 1,519 this year compared to 1,089 last year. The city of Fredericksburg saw 172 home-school requests this year, a jump of about 100. Another 52 Spotsylvania families indicated they were withdrawing for private schools. Local school officials lament the loss of state and federal aid.

Hampton Roads’ Deep Dig. Construction has begun at last on a $3.8 billion project to add twin two-lane tunnels and make other improvements to Interstate 64 linking Norfolk to Hampton. The existing four-lane Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel is one of the worst transportation bottlenecks in the state. Funded with regional transportation tax dollars, the tunnel will employ new tunnel-excavation technology, reports Virginia Business. A German-fabricated boring machine with a 46-foot-diameter rotating cutterhead will drill 50 feet deeper than the existing tunnels.

Metro vs. Transurban in the Age of COVID

Perceptions of safety on different transportation modes. Green bar = more safe. Blue bar = the same. Orange bar = less safe. Source: “Urban Mobility Trends from COVID-19”

by James A. Bacon

We are taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming about the culture wars to highlight a more traditional topic: government dysfunction. In so doing, we shall contrast the flailing, failing response of a quasi-governmental entity, the Washington Metro, with the proactive, enterprising response of a private toll road operator, Transurban, to the challenge of epidemic-induced declines in traffic.

The Washington Metro, an independent authority governed by a board of directors appointed by three states and the federal government, is a train wreck. For years the commuter-rail and bus system was plagued by maintenance backlogs, a toxic workplace, frequent accidents, deteriorating on-time service, and declining ridership. Then the epidemic hit, and people found it impossible to maintain social distance. Ridership was down 85% in July compared to the same month in 2019… which was down from previous years.

Ridership on the Silver line in Fairfax County is so sparse that it is now practicable for would-be rapists to assault people on trains. Last month a 21-year-old man sexually assaulted a woman who, with her child, was the only other rider in the car. The woman did manage to escape the train at East Falls Church Station, but it won’t bode well for ridership if the public concludes that riding the train is on a par with picking up random hitch-hikers. Continue reading

Budgeting in the Time of COVID

Photo credit: Pilot Online

by James A. Bacon

When last we read news reports about the ongoing budget negotiations between the General Assembly and Governor Ralph Northam, lawmakers said they were making “progress” but had not yet come to a resolution. One outstanding issue is how much money to put into General Fund reserve funds to buffer against revenue shortfalls stemming from the COVID-19 epidemic. Another is how much of the federal CARES Act revenue to spend now on coronavirus relief and how much to hold back for future needs.

I caught up with Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne over the weekend, and he shared the perspectives that are shaping his advice to Northam, whom he describes as “middle of the road” fiscally and not inclined to accommodate all the spending demands emanating from the House of Delegates. Says Layne: “His instinct is to be cautious.”

Caution is called for, he adds, when there are so many economic and fiscal unknowns arising from the epidemic and the presidential elections.

The good news, says Layne, is that Virginia escaped the fiscal battering experienced by other states. He attributes our good fortune to two factors. One, which is widely acknowledged, is the large contribution of the federal government to Virginia’s economy. Federal employment was barely affected by the virus. Less widely appreciated is the fact that the commonwealth’s major private-sector employers also provide a stable employment base. Continue reading

Investigative Journalism: Still Alive and Aimed at Dominion

By Dick Hall-Sizemore

Well, investigative journalism is still alive. The Richmond Times-Dispatch has teamed up with the national journalist investigative organization, ProPublica, to report on the political influence of Dominion Energy in Virginia.

The first result of this effort is a major, long article in today’s edition of the RTD.  By long, I mean a big front-page display and three full pages on the inside, plus another full page on utility influence in other states. For those BR readers who are stopped by the newspaper’s paywall, I would recommend that you try to read it. Continue reading

Fairfax Tax Rate the Same, but Tax Burden Up

Fairfax County Board of Taxaholics, er, Supervisors

by Emilio Jaksetic

The massive lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many businesses and workers to lose significant amounts of income and forced them into financially precarious situations. Despite the undeniable financial pain and suffering that many businesses, workers, and households are facing, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors insisted upon another increase in the real estate tax. Ignoring the request of Republican Supervisor Pat Herrity to hold off on the increase, all the Democratic Supervisors decided to stick to their usual taxaholic ways.

Technically, the board did not raise the real estate tax rate itself. Rather it allowed the tax burden to increase by not adjusting the rate — $1.15-per-hundred dollars of assessed value — downward to offset higher property assessments. If board members had wanted to provide meaningful tax relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, they could have “frozen” everyone’s real estate tax bills for 2020 at the same level as their real estate tax bills for 2019.

Everyone in Fairfax County, not just property owners, will feel the painful effects of the real estate tax increase. Continue reading

A Revolt in Williamsburg

By Dick Hall-Sizemore  (Class of 1970)

While some participants on this blog have been busy trying to foment an alumni revolt at the The University, there has been a real alumni revolt at The College. The alumni won.

On the surface, the turmoil was over sports. But, at its core, it was over what should be the values and priorities of the College of William and Mary.

The story started with the appointment of Samantha Huge as athletic director in the spring of 2018. That fall, the beloved football coach, Jimmye Laycock, announced his retirement. That could have been a coincidence, however, and not related to Huge. After all, Laycock had been the coach for 39 years.

In the spring of 2019, Huge fired Tony Shaver, the long-time (16 seasons) men’s basketball coach. Admittedly, Shaver’s career won/lost record was not sterling (226-268). But he was well-liked, his players graduated, and there had not been even the hint of a recruitment scandal. In recent years, his teams had been competitive and had gone to the final game in the conference tournament four times, more than any other school.

All these arguments in Shaver’s favor were offset by one factor, as far as Huge was concerned: W&M had never made it to the NCAA basketball tournament (March Madness). In her announcement, she made no bones about her motivation: “We have high expectations for our men’s basketball  program, including participating in the NCAA tournament, and we will not shy away from setting the bar high.” Continue reading

Profanity Proliferates on the Lawn

by James A. Bacon

After a resident of the Lawn at the University of Virginia posted signage saying, “Fuck UVa,” outraged alumni raised a stink in a series of letters to UVa President Jim Ryan. For the time being, said Ryan, Lawn residents’ free speech is protected by the First Amendment, but the administration is working on a longer-term solution. In the meantime, at least one other Lawn resident has joined the first in using the same profanity to express his/her/their/zir/its antipathy to the university (in the sign seen at left).

Rob Schilling, a talk radio host at WINA radio in Charlottesville, photographed that sign, as well as several others displayed on Lawn doors, and displayed them on a videocast. (No direct link, but you can find the videocast on The Schilling Show blog.) Continue reading