Tag Archives: DJ Rippert

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

The Jaw Dropping Political Contributions of UVa’s Board of Visitors

By DJ Rippert

Waiting for Godot. A recent article on this blog titled, “UVa Board Backs Ryan on Lawn Signage Issue,” seemed to suggest that The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors (BoV) was a critical link in UVa’s governance structure. My interpretation of the article was that the author (Jim Bacon) believed the BoV might rise up with indignant fury and put UVa President James Ryan in his place by insisting that a profane sign on university property be taken down. My own thinking was that such a belief was naive. I’ve always viewed UVa’s BoV as a club of well meaning rich people who were appointed to that board in appreciation for the large political donations they make rather than a serious oversight organization.

That view was reinforced in 2012 when the BoV tried to act like an honest to goodness board by ousting UVa’s underperforming president – Teresa Sullivan. Virginia’s political elite would have none of it. Republican Governor Bob McDonnell threatened to fire the entire board for having the temerity to put down their martini glasses and take action. Since that attempt at actual governance the BoV seems to have returned to its roots as an organization willing to rubber stamp whatever UVa’s leadership decides to do. The idea that the BoV might question Ryan’s acceptance of a sign on a university-owned dorm room door saying “F*** UVa” seemed far fetched to me. However, the article’s author – Jim Bacon – is wise in the ways of all things Virginia. Maybe he was right and the Board of Visitors was appointed based on their willingness to actively manage UVa rather than their political donations.

As a starting point, I decided to research the political donations of the board members. I was stunned by what I found. I defined the board by including the seventeen independent board members and the faculty representative. I did not include the student representative in the donation calculations. The 18 members of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, their employers and their spouses have donated $35,252,122 to Virginia politicians since 1997 (when records first started being tracked).  The individual board members and their spouses (to the extent I could determine their spouses) have donated $4,859,820 to the state’s political class since 1997. Their employers have donated $30,392,302 over the same period. These totals count donations to Republicans, Democrats and political organizations classified as “other” by VPAP. Continue reading

Contextualization in Talbot County, Md.

By DJ Rippert

The Talbot Boys. As the debate over contextualizing history rages in Virginia there is an example of historical contextualization from Easton, Md., the issue started, as they often do, with a Confederate statue. In this case the issue surrounds “The Talbot Boys” statue which has stood at the entrance to the Talbot County Courthouse since 1916. As described by The Smithsonian, “A young soldier stands with a C.S.A. flag on his left side, holding it with both hands. The flag curls behind him, covering his back. He wears a broad-rimmed hat and an open shirt. The youth is meant to represent youthful courage and enthusiasm as portrayed in Longfellow’s poem “Excelsior.” The statue is mounted atop an inscribed pedestal, which is atop a base with plaques. A brass box containing the names of contributors was placed in the base.”

Honest observers would naturally ask several questions. First, why a Confederate statue in Maryland? Maryland was a slaveholding border state during the Civil War and never seceded. Maryland’s Eastern Shore was a hotbed of Confederate sympathy in the Old Line State but for every Talbot County boy who fought for the Confederacy two fought for the Union. There is no statue honoring Union soldiers from Talbot County at the Courthouse. Second question —  why erect the statue in 1916 … 51 years after the end of the Civil War? Continue reading

Virginia Needs to Prepare for November’s Election

by DJ Rippert

Chaos. Violent riots have become a nightly occurrence across America. Portland is now over 100 nights of protests and riots. Meanwhile, Portland’s mayor expresses his solidarity with the protesters while moving from his residence because of the number of violent protests conducted on his doorstep. You can’t make this up. People are dying in big cities and small. Kenosha has been a war zone recently and another inexplicable police shooting in Los Angeles has that city on edge. In Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently had an epiphany … the riots and looting were not protests. Rather they were “planned attacks.”  Sharp thinkin’ from the Land of Lincoln. Sadly, the Labor Day weekend saw 51 shooting and 10 killings in Chicago. Closer to home D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is talking about a possible “race war” stirred up by “outside agitators.” Charles Manson is getting his “Helter Skelter” 50 years late. Virginia has been no stranger to street violence as looting and vandalism have come to Richmond and Hampton Roads.

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Murder and Marijuana in Northern Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Risky business, reccless behavior.  Federal prosecutors recently charged members of a Northern Virginia drug gang, the Reccless Tigers, with a variety of felonies.  A US News & World Report article claims multiple members of the gang have been charged with “murder in a sweeping new indictment that blames the northern Virginia street gang with two deaths, multiple fire bombings and a sophisticated bi-coastal drug operation that supplied marijuana-laced vape pens to kids throughout the region’s school systems.”  This is not the gang’s first brush with the law.  Nearly 20 members of the gang and associates of the gang already pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from drug related activities.

New kids in town.  Government sources say that the Reccless Tigers were formed in 2011 in the Centreville area of Fairfax County.  The gang mounted a fairly sophisticated operation.  Drug dealers would be induced to go into debt to the Reccless Tigers for the purchase of marijuana to be sold in Northern Virgina.  When the dealers struggled to pay back the debt they would be forced to work at a marijuana farm in Hayfork, California which had ties to the gang.  In essence, the gang operated a vertically integrated farm-to-vape-pen business.  The farm was raided in July 2019.

The cost of cooperation.  As the USN&WR article states, “Brandon White was given a choice, prosecutors say: If he opted not to testify against a member of the Reccless Tigers street gang who had assaulted him, a gang member would pay him $8,000 for his injuries. But if he testified, he’d be killed. White testified. Less than three months later, he was dead, his body left in the Virginia woods.”

The profit of illegality.  It’s hard to imagine how the Reccless Tigers would have been able to fund their criminal enterprise if Virginia was one of the eleven states which have legalized the recreational sale and use of marijuana.  In Virginia, the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana was decriminalized effective July 1.  However, there are still severe criminal penalties for the manufacture, transport and distribution of marijuana.  Criminals willing to bear the risks of providing the marijuana are able to profit handsomely.  And, as with almost all criminal enterprises, turf, territory and violence accompany the crimes.  The cost of Virginia’s intransigence on legalizing marijuana is more than lost taxes and lost legitimate jobs.  It also includes lost lives.

COVID-19’s Long-Term Changes in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

In the long run…  Over the past eight months COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the world, the United States and Virginia.  One hundred and twenty thousand cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Virginia  Over 2,500 people have died from COVID-19 . The cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to grow in the Old Dominion. One year ago unemployment in Virginia hovered at 3%. Today it is 8%. Protests and rioting, possibly catalyzed by the COVID-19 lockdowns, have occurred regularly in several Virginia cities as well as Washington, D.C. Schools in Virginia moved to virtual teaching last Spring and many schools will open this Fall with either fully or partially virtual teaching. Nobody doubts the short- and mid-term effects of COVID-19. But what of the long-term effects? What impacts of COVID-19 will be felt after this version of the Coronavirus is gone?

The Spanish Flu (1918), Polio (1916 – 1955), H2N2 (1957), HIV/AIDS (1980s -), Swine flu (2009), COVID-19 (2020 -). Epidemics have broken out in the United States since the colonial days. Smallpox, yellow fever and cholera outbreaks plagued the country for centuries. The Spanish Flu pandemic was far worse than COVID-19 (to date). That flu struck in four waves and is estimated to have killed up to 50 million people worldwide. However, most Americans today would say that the Spanish Flu didn’t create major long-term changes in the United States. Some would disagree. Academics like Andrew Price-Smith believe that flu tipped the balance toward the allies in World War I. The growth of predominantly female-led nursing in the US may have been a consequence. In utero exposure to the pandemic may have negatively affected the health and prosperity of those exposed. Some survivors of the Spanish Flu never fully recovered. Despite all that, the Spanish Flu was called “the forgotten pandemic” until COVID resurrected interest. Economically speaking, the end of the Spanish Flu coincided with the start of the Roaring Twenties, making it hard to find long -term negative economic impacts from that pandemic. Continue reading

Common Sense and Coronavirus in Virginia

by DJ Rippert

Stepping back. Over the past five months there has been an unending flood of information, guesses, misinformation and politicized ramblings about COVID-19.  Various factions put forth their experts and cherry picked data to support their agendas. It’s time to step back and synthesize all that has been written into a set of common sense observations and preliminary conclusions about COVID-19.

The virus isn’t going anywhere. Even the most aggressive attempts to contain the Coronavirus will not eradicate the virus. The spread can be slowed and the curve can be flattened but the infections continue and the outbreaks resurge. After a catastrophic bout with Coronavirus in the spring Spain thought it had the contagion under control. The country reopened in what the Spanish thought was a sober and controlled way. Today, cases are spiking – particularly in the Catalan region. In the San Francisco Bay area of California strict lockdown protocols were implemented. The tide seemed to have turned. Reopening commenced.  Now, many bay area counties are seeing a spike in Coronavirus. Continue reading

Racism, COVID19 and Marijuana Legalization in Virginia

By DJ Rippert

Unintended consequences.  Newspapers, websites and Bacon’s Rebellion have been full of articles describing and debating the COVID-19 pandemic and the police killing of George Floyd with the attendant protests. First-order consequences of these events have been widely discussed. However, as we enter into the “new normal” a number of secondary and tertiary questions arise. One such question pertains to the legalization of recreational marijuana in Virginia. My opinion is that both the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout and the new sense of urgency around racial justice should compel our state government to accelerate the legalization of adult use marijuana.

The COVID19 lockdown recession. The sudden stop to Virginia’s economy has resulted in predictable fiscal turmoil. While one can debate whether the lockdown was too restrictive, not sufficiently restrictive, too long or too short there can be no debate that closing large parts of the economy has caused deep financial issues. The US economy is in recession. Some will say that Virginia will be insulated from the worst of that recession by the flow of federal dollars through the state. To that I’d reply – “don’t be naive, Nancy” … stories of the impact on small businesses are being reported across the state. It should be obvious to everybody that Virginia faces a fiscal winter even if there is no second wave of Coronavirus this actual winter. Continue reading

Chap Petersen and Pete Snyder: Get Virginia Back to Work

By DJ Rippert

Odd bedfellows? In a recent Op-Ed entitled, “Time to get back to business, Virginia” State Senator Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, and entrepreneur and Republican activist Pete Snyder call for a more aggressive reopening of Virginia. The piece questions why large companies like Home Depot are allowed to thrive while “Mom and Pop” operations are being regulated out of existence. As the duo write, “Unlike the Wal-Marts and Home Depots whose sales have risen, small businesses have been devastated by the “shut down” economy of the past two months.” Their prescription for change is relatively simple: “What is needed is a defined plan for reopening Virginia’s small business economy, one that gets healthy workers back on the job, while still protecting the vulnerable from the spread of COVID-19.”

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Reopening: Know and Avoid the Risks

Musical chairs goes viral

By DJ Rippert

The Bromage Broadcast. Erin Bromage is a professor of biology and a blogger. She will tell you that she’s not an expert epidemiologist but she recently wrote a blog entry that proves she is an eloquent writer when it comes to explaining the physics of Coronavirus to the layman. As Virginia reopens after the lockdown people will have to make personal decisions about what activities to undertake and what activities to avoid. Ms. Bromage’s plain English explanations make a good starting point for making such decisions.

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Is Aubrey Layne Serious about a $2B “Hit” to Virginia’s Biennial General Fund from COVID-19?

By DJ Rippert

Penny Layne. Aubrey Layne is Virginia’s Secretary of Finance under the Northam Administration. Previously, Layne served as Secretary of Transportation under the McAuliffe regime. Prior to his time in government Layne held a number of executive positions in private enterprise including the presidency of Great Atlantic Properties. Layne is listed by Wikipedia as being a Republican. If true, he must have shown considerable competence and talent to be appointed to senior positions in two consecutive Democratic administrations.

Five days ago, during a Q&A with Richmond Times-Dispatch Magazine Layne effectively made an astonishing prediction. He was asked about the economic fallout from the COVID-19 epidemic in Virginia. The interviewer noted that COVID-19 would trim $2 billion from the state’s $48 billion General Fund budget within the $135 billion biennial budget. Here’s the question, “When the state budget was passed earlier this month, it was based on a full-throttled economy. Now the state is forecasted to lose potentially $2 billion in the upcoming two-year budget because of the coronavirus pandemic. How will the Northam administration address the drastic change facing the approved $135 billion budget?” Layne went on to answer that question and others without ever calling the $2 billion estimate into question.

Is it possible that the economic hit to Virginia from COVID-19 (even after federal bailout money) will only be $2 billion from the General Fund over two years? That’s just over 4% of the General Fund and just under 1.5% of the total budget.

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Expanding an Ineffective Government Solves Nothing

To see a larger version of this graph click here.

By DJ Rippert

The failure of American government at all levels is on display with COVID-19.

Is our ever expanding government working? The percentage of U.S. Gross Domestic Product spent on government has been increasing for the past 50 years. While the percentage rises during recessions and falls during good economic times the trend-line is clear. Government, at all levels, is consuming ever more of America’s economic output. Despite this continuing rise in government consumption, many progressive politicians press for even more government spending as a percentage of GDP. But what are we getting for all that spending? Is our ever-growing government becoming more effective, more capable, and better able to help and protect Americans? Evidence over the past 20 years casts doubt on the argument that more / bigger government means better government.

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Dare County, N.C., closes its borders

By DJ Rippert

From Outer Banks to Outer Mongolia. Dare County, N.C. issued orders last week closing its borders to non-residents. Dare is a coastal county just south of Currituck County, N.C., which borders Virginia. Many Virginians know Dare County from Outer Banks vacations in towns such as Duck or fishing trips launched from Manteo. Checkpoints into and out of Dare County are apparently now manned by law enforcement officers who will check IDs to ensure that travelers are residents of Dare County or have pre-authorized transit permits issued by Dare County. As of last week there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Dare County, and it seems county officials want to keep it that way.

Is it legal? Some are questioning whether officials in Dare County can legally enforce a prohibition against non-residents entering the county. Apparently they can. North Carolina law, specifically N.C. General Statute 166A-19.31, allows local officials to control access and ingress to their jurisdiction during times of emergency. Given the Coronavirus outbreak, local officials in Dare County have decided to invoke that law.

We want your taxes but not you. Dare County has many vacation homes owned by non-Dare County residents. These homes are typically expensive and generate a material amount of tax revenue for the county. Originally, non-resident owners of these homes were allowed entry into the county by showing their tax receipts for the property along with valid ID. Yesterday that changed. Dare County is now excluding non-resident property owners from entering the county.

Commentary. I was originally predisposed to giving Dare County officials the benefit of the doubt regarding the border closure. For one thing all those expensive and unoccupied beach homes could be targets for burglars taking advantage of the Coronavirus outbreak. However, my perception changed when those same officials decided to bar entry for non-resident property owners. These are people who have invested in the county, who pay taxes to the county and who should have every right to go to their properties. I have no idea if Virginia law would permit the same type of buffoonery from our local officials. Let’s hope not  However, even if such actions are allowed, I hope no Virginia jurisdiction would follow the selfish, arrogant and small minded actions of the officials in Dare County, N.C.

Northam Shuts Down Schools. What’s Next?

By DJ Rippert

Early Spring Break. Last Thursday Virginia Governor Northam somewhat suddenly decided to shut down all K-12 schools starting the next day. The shutdown is for “at least two weeks.” The question of how to manage continuing free and reduced price meals during the shutdown has been left up to the individual school districts. Yesterday a man in Virginia’s peninsula health district died of COVID-19. Today, Northam banned all gatherings of more than 100 people. As of this writing (1:30 p.m. .Sunday, March 15) there have been 45 cases of Coronavirus recorded in Virginia with one death.

After a “wait and see” start Northam now has Virginia taking actions in parallel with more aggressive U.S. states.  However, every state is taking action. West Virginia shut down its schools “indefinitely” despite the Mountain State being the only state in America to have no confirmed cases of Coronavirus. Future actions by the Virginia state government are hard to predict. Senior officials in the Trump Administration are urging a 14-day national shutdown which would obviously apply to Virginia. A good look at how the U.S. Coronavirus outbreak compares to other countries can be seen here. If the federal government does not declare a national shutdown, Virginia could still take any number of actions depending on the severity of the situation. Let’s look at what’s happening elsewhere.

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Northam Declares State of Emergency

Photo credit: Patch (McLean)

by DJ Rippert

Danger! Danger! Yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam declared that the Old Dominion was in a state of emergency due to the Coronavirus. Northam exercised these emergency powers five days after the first Coronavirus case was confirmed in the state. The online Patch newspaper from McLean reports that “a statement from the governor says the declaration gives the state flexibility to east [SIC] regulatory requirements and procurement rules, continue federal and multi-state coordination and continue access to critical services.” Northam also announced plans for state employees to work from home.

Northam’s declaration of emergency was considerably slower than in many other states. In Maryland, for example, Republican Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency on the same day that the first cases of Coronavirus were confirmed. Yesterday, Maryland detected the first case of Coronavirus caused by community spread. Continue reading