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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
All I need is the air that I breathe. Recent research indicates that the coronavirus can live in air for 3 hours post aerosolization. The Hill reports that, “A study awaiting peer review from scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted online Wednesday indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air up to 3 hours post aerosolization, while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days.” Previous media reports maintained that the Coronavirus required direct human contact in order to be transmitted. To be clear, this research has not been peer reviewed. However, public policy decisions would seem to be impacted if the Coronavirus can survive for hours suspended in air.
Overstaying your welcome. Researchers have evidence that people infected with the Coronavirus will remain infectious longer than previously believed. The Hill reports on a study by The Lancet, a British medical journal, indicating that people suffering from COVID-19 may be able to spread the disease for up to 37 days. If true, this finding calls into question the previously held expert opinion that recommended an isolation period of 14 days after infection.
Cancel culture. Cancellations of anything and almost everything continue to pile up. Examples include Ireland closing its schools and colleges, the NCAA Men’s National Basketball Tournament being held without fans in the audience, Italy closing almost all shops (other than grocery stores and pharmacies) and the NBA suspending its season starting today.
Implications for Virginia. Virginia’s response to the COVID-19 breakout remains sporadic at best. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
Timing. As Jim Bacon wrote, “Now comes COVID-19. Everyone is in a blind panic. The concern may be overwrought, whipped up by the media. Or maybe things could get worse than anyone could imagine. Nobody knows. Uncertainty reigns.” Jim is right. Uncertainty does reign. But what are the costs of indecision if things do get worse than anybody can imagine? The graph at the left qualitatively describes how early action can change the shape of the infection curve and avoid a peak that overwhelms our health care system. Do Virginia’s leaders understand this?
By DJ Rippert
OK, Boomer. A study conducted last month from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides statistics about the lethality of COVID-19. Those statistics were analyzed by Business Insider. You can see those statistics in the graph on the left. Younger people have a one in 10,000 (0.01%) chance of dying from the flu and a one in 500 (0.2%) chance of dying from COVID-19. So, COVID-19 is 20 times more lethal for a 15 year old than the flu. That mortality rate rises quickly as the victims get older. Between one and two 55 year olds out of 100 who contract COVID-19 will die of the disease. That’s 22 times the mortality rate of the flu. However, the real jump occurs in those who are 60 and above. Almost 15% of those aged 80+ will die if they contract the coronavirus.
Old Dominion. The average age of a Virginia resident is 38.1 years. There are 142,300 Virginians over the age of 80, 518,900 between 70 and 79 and 934,400 between 60 and 69. That’s 1,595,600 Virginians (19% of the population) with more than a 3.5% chance of dying if they develop COVID-19.
Hysteria? There is no vaccine against COVID-19. There is no cure. The only way for a 60+ year old Virginian to avoid a 3.6% – 14.8% chance of dying is to avoid the disease. The real odds of dying are the infection rate multiplied by the mortality rate. But once you contract the disease you are far more likely to die than if you contracted the flu. Is there any activity on Earth that a rational person would undertake with a 3.6% – 14.8% chance of dying? For comparison purposes an American sent to fight in Vietnam had about a 0.5% chance of dying. Given those odds, is it really “hysteria” to cancel fan participation at sporting events or to insist that people in contact with the public wear gloves? Our only defense is containment and containment comes with a fair amount of inconvenience. What is the alternative? Hope, as they say, is not a strategy.
Health care workers in protective suits, Wuhan China. Photo credit: China Daily / Reuters
By DJ Rippert
Sprichst du panik? Liz Specht is an biologist and engineer. She is currently the Associate Director of Science and Technology at The Good Food Institute. On Friday Dr. Specht (who holds a Ph.D. from UCSD) posted a long series of tweets regarding the spread of Coronavirus and the limitations of America’s healthcare system. You can read her tweets here.
Dr. Specht is vitally concerned about COVID-19 and the supply of hospital beds and protective masks in the U.S. She calculates that by May 8 all the hospital beds in the U.S. will be filled. That’s just over two months from now. She further believes that America’s low inventory of N-95 and surgical masks required for healthcare workers will only make matters worse. As those tending to COVID19 patients get sick we may run out of healthcare workers as well as hospital beds.
This may differentially impact Virginia. As Bacon’s Rebellion guest commentator James C Sherlock noted, Virginia has a shortage of docs and nurses. In addition, experience in Italy shows that up to 10% of cases which tested positive required mechanical ventilators as part of the treatment. Whether Virginia’s very questionable COPN practices have held down the number of hospital beds and / or mechanical ventilators is an open question. Meanwhile, as Jim Bacon notes, our state government’s reaction to COVID-19 is somewhere between “just trust us” and “what, me worry?”
Very important note — Dr. Specht is a trained biologist who certainly holds some strong opinions as to the public health severity of COVID-19 in the United States. However, she is not an epidemiologist. Other equally expert people, including some epidemiologists, do not share her pessimism. The crux of Specht’s argument is that the number of Coronavirus cases will double every six days. I have no idea whether Dr. Specht will be proven right or wrong on that count. I do know that if she is right, Virginia is in a world of trouble. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
And then there were two. Today, Elizabeth Warren announced that she will withdraw from the presidential race. That leaves Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard (yes, she’s still running) as the remaining candidates for the Democratic nomination. Given that Tulsi Gabbard has exactly one delegate (from American Samoa where she was born), the odds of her prevailing are so low that the race can safely be considered a two- man contest. Two weeks ago Joe Biden’s campaign seemed deader than disco. Then came Super Tuesday. Now he’s the front runner.
It seems worthwhile, then, to consider how Biden’s announced policies would affect Virginia if he were elected president this November. Politico keeps an updated list of the candidates’ positions on the issues which you can see here. Politico records the candidates’ positions using fifteen categories. This blog post examines the first five categories — criminal justice, economy (excluding taxes which is a separate category), education, elections and energy (including the environment and climate change). The remaining ten categories will be examined in future articles.
Posted in Business and Economy, Courts and law, Crime , corrections and law enforcement, Education (K-12), Elections, Federal, Finance (government), Money in politics, Politics, Taxes
Tagged DJ Rippert, Don Rippert, Joe Biden
Trophy rockfish from the good old days
By DJ Rippert
Political action regarding the Chesapeake Bay is increasing. Here is a summary of some key issues ….
Menhaden victory. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation reports, “The Virginia House and Senate have passed bipartisan legislation to transfer management of Virginia’s menhaden fisheries from the General Assembly to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).” The long-running battle over who should regulate Virginia’s menhaden fishery has been extensively covered by Bacon’s Rebellion. You can read some of the more recent posts here, here and here. This change in regulatory venue has been long demanded by environmentalists and opposed by reduction fishery Goliath Omega Protein.
Commentary: This is a very positive change for the Chesapeake Bay. Menhaden will still be caught in Virginia waters but the regulation of that fishery will now be scientifically managed by the VMRC. The simple fact is that the Democrats have removed one corrupt burr from under the saddle of Virginia’s state government. This change in attitude was catalyzed by aggressive federal action by the Trump Administration. Good for both Virginia’s Democrats and Trump’s Commerce Department. Specific kudos to state Senator Linwood Lewis, D-Accomack, Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, Senate committee chair Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, Governor Ralph Northam, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Continue reading
Courtesy of AmericanMarijuana.Org
By DJ Rippert
The lesser of two evils. The ongoing 2020 Virginia General Assembly session has generated a lot of debate over gun control. Proponents of stricter firearms regulation cite reduced gun violence as a goal. While gun-related deaths (including murder) are a real problem, those deaths are less frequent than fatal opioid overdoses. In 2017, there were 455 murders in Virginia versus 1,241 drug overdose deaths involving opioids. The number of fatal opioid overdoses in Virginia rose from about 500 in 2010 to over 1,200 in 2018 while the number of gun related deaths (of all types) rose from 868 to 1036 over the same period. While it’s fair to say that Virginia has taken many steps to deal with the opioid crisis there is one step that has not been taken: legalization of medical marijuana. Recent studies point to the fact that most states adopting legal medical marijuana see an immediate reduction in opioid prescriptions after medical marijuana is legally available. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
They’ll be back (in office forever). The USC Schwarzennegger Institute released a report finding that Virginia had the highest degree of partisan gerrymandering among all U.S. states. The report analyzed the “statewide popular vote in 2017 or 2018 state legislative elections and the partisan composition of the state legislative chambers in 2019.” While other studies draw somewhat different results, Virginia is often near the top of the list of “most gerrymandered states.” In mid-2019 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lawsuit by Virginia voters challenging Virginia’s voting districts on racial grounds.
As the USC report states, “Self-interested legislators who seek reelection have long attempted to draw their own districts to protect their personal reelection chances and to improve the electoral odds of their political party.” Repeating for emphasis, Virginia is not only one of many states with extreme gerrymandering, it is rated by this study as the most extreme case of partisan gerrymandering. This is no accident. It is the result of deliberate actions by members of our General Assembly hailing from both parties.
Partisan gerrymandering is a form of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. It should not be allowed and Virginia should certainly never be the worst offender. Beyond that, the Virginia Constitution states, “Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district.” A state does not become the worst example of partisan gerrymandering in the United States by using contiguous and compact districts. Once again our General Assembly’s actions show that they believe laws are for the little people and not for themselves. Continue reading
By DJ Rippert
Almost heaven. West Virginia state legislator Gary Howell is spearheading an effort to allow Virginia jurisdictions frustrated by Richmond a chance to join West Virginia. While this might seem like gimmickry, Howell claims that “43 out of 100 West Virginia house members are sponsoring a resolution that would let West Virginia accept some of the largely rural Virginia counties unhappy with how things are being run in Richmond.” More specifically, West Virginia State Senator Charles Trump (no relation, I don’t think) has invited Frederick County, Va., to cross over to the Mountain State. An editorial in the Roanoke Times says Sen. Trump is on “firm legal ground.” A good summary of the matter written by Hoppy Kercheval, dean of West Virginia talk radio, can be found here.
Plantation elite. Before West Virginia’s offer is pushed aside as nonsense, it makes sense to examine some of the history behind such a proposition. After all, as Kercheval points out, western Virginians getting fed up with Richmond-based rule is not exactly a new or unique thought. In my mind, Virginia has long been under the yoke of a minority of Virginians from the plantations of central and southeast Virginia. This “plantation elite” are led by families who claim to be descended from Pocahontas and who further self-define themselves as “the first families of Virginia.” Continue reading