Tag Archives: Guest contributors

Another Call for Face Masks

Photo credit: AP/Chiang Ying-ying

Should people don face masks when they go out in public? The question has caromed around the Internet with many conflicting opinions. A previous contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion has argued that Virginians should wear them. Contributor Hans Bader agrees. — JAB  

by Hans Bader

You should wear a mask when you leave the house. In East Asia and the Czech Republic, huge numbers of people now wear masks, and that has greatly reduced the spread of coronavirus. Mask-wearing isF a key reason why the virus spread less in East Asia than in Western countries like Italy, Spain, and the United States.

“More Americans should probably wear masks for protection,” notes the New York Times. “Places like Hong Kong and Taiwan that jumped to action early with social distancing and universal mask wearing have gotten their cases under much greater control.” The Times quotes Dr. Neil Fishman, the chief medical officer of the University of Pennsylvania hospital, explaining that “if everyone in the community wears a mask, it could decrease transmission.” Continue reading

Yes, You Should Wear Masks — to Protect Others, If Not Yourself

— by a contributing writer

This week Governor Ralph Northam restated what we have all been hearing for weeks: “Hospitals and medical facilities in Virginia and around the country are in desperate need of additional masks, gowns, gloves, and other personal protective equipment.” HCA Virginia reiterated the need Monday when announcing that it had set up donation boxes to receive extra masks from the public.

Virginia is still at the front end of the COVID-19 storm. Maybe a state-wide shut down and self-isolation will “flatten the curve” until better treatments are available. Until then, what should individual citizens do? Haven’t we heard medical experts claim that masks really won’t help us? That we probably don’t know how to use masks properly anyway?

It’s time to think this through. If you absolutely must venture out and interact with others, it makes sense to cover your face, even if it is only with a bandana. No, this is not so much to protect you, although it helps a little. It’s to protect others from you. Continue reading

Wartime Governor

by Chris Braunlich

If Donald Trump is a “wartime president”, Ralph Northam is now a “wartime governor.”

Unless one has been isolated on a Pacific isle (or wears tinfoil hats to block evil radio waves), Virginians understand that the pandemic we are in is deadly serious, growing exponentially, and requires radical steps to reduce its disastrous effects on our health and our economy. Unlike Nazis during World War II, COVID-19 has already landed on our shores.

But like World War II, mobilizing to fight our new enemy requires redirecting large numbers of resources. And winning will take “not playing by the rules.”

In the last 75 years, government has done what Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, accused King George of doing:  “… erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers…” in the form of a regulatory regime designed to protect Americans from abuses and from each other.

In fighting a common enemy, those rules and regulations serve mostly to hinder. The answer is better found by freeing up those regulations, permitting flexibility, and waiving requirements in key areas needed to win. And, by all accounts, Virginia’s Governor – when emergency powers are invoked – can cut through those regulations. Continue reading

How to Optimize the Lives/Jobs Tradeoff in the COVID-19 Epidemic

by James. B. Murray, Jr.

The debate now raging over the tradeoffs between saving lives and economic disruption is clouded by oversimplification. The solutions we ultimately adopt will not be some groundless elimination of protective measures on Easter Sunday, any more than they will call for quarantining everyone, everywhere until some arbitrary date in July or September. The answer must be much more nuanced.

America has three strategic goals to address, in this order: First, buy time until we can get our health care system capacity upgraded to handle the flood of cases that epidemiologists can predict are coming to each city and region of the country. Second, get our testing capacity and the infrastructure needed to deploy it, distributed across America so we can tell who is infected and begin the random testing needed to model mathematically where and when the virus will spread. Third, quickly develop a set of protocols that can be used to identify those who can go back to work and who may circulate publicly without risk to the most vulnerable.

We need only look at New York City, Italy and Spain to see what happens when the virus peaks in a community before the health care system is prepared. Everywhere across America, including here in Virginia, our hospitals are running low on personal protective equipment (“PPE” – like N-95 face masks, gowns, and gloves). Our doctors and nurses can’t care for the critically ill if they themselves are infected. Continue reading

Keep Cash Flowing

by Chris Braunlich

The government actions taken to flatten the coronavirus pandemic will most effect the smallest of businesses, as well as part-time and lower income workers such as restaurant wait staff, and ‘gig’ economy workers without benefits

For small businesses, an SBA loan (even at discounted interest) is no substitute for customers and cash flow. For workers, $1,200 checks from the feds (and unemployment checks) will be no substitute for a job.

When the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board president predicts unemployment will hit 30% and GDP will be cut 50%, it’s appropriate to assume that many of those small businesses may be gone when this is over. And if the businesses are gone, the workers they hire will be out of work even longer.

Steve Haner, the Thomas Jefferson Institute’s Senior Fellow for State and Local Tax correctly notes the best way to moderate the economic drop is to keep cash flowing through the economy. That is a role many of us can play. Continue reading

Freeman Dyson, Scientific Consensus and Virginia Politics

Freeman Dyson. What’s a “scientific consensus” without him?

by Irfan K. Ali

One of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century, Freeman Dyson, recently passed away. This most unassuming man hobnobbed with the likes of Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other giants of science and technology. He was a true giant in the world of science.

The excerpt below from The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), where he worked until his death at age 96, describes his greatest contribution to science:

In the spring of 1948, Dyson accompanied [Richard] Feynman on a fabled cross-country road trip that culminated in one of the most remarkable breakthroughs of 20th century physics. After being steeped in the work of Feynman for months and spending six weeks listening to Julian Schwinger’s ideas in Ann Arbor, Dyson was able to prove the equivalency of their two competing theories of quantum electrodynamics (QED), which describes how light and matter interact. Dyson recalled the moment of discovery as a “flash of illumination on the Greyhound bus.” He had been traveling alone for more than 48 hours, making his way to Princeton, NJ to begin his first Membership at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Dyson wanted to have nothing to do with the so called “scientific consensus”. Had he lived in the times of Giordano Bruno, a brilliant 17th century scientist, he may have met a similar fate of being burned at the stake for his unapologetic skepticism about the notion of man-made climate change. Continue reading

Dems Win Big on Renewable Energy, But Issues Remain

by Jane Twitmyer

In the 2019 election, Virginia voters finally figured out the one weird trick that allows any jurisdiction to pass good climate and clean-energy legislation, according to Dave Roberts at VOX. “They put Democrats in charge.”

Virginia is the first southern state in the U.S. to set a goal of sourcing 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. The recently passed “Clean Economy Act” mandates major change. All coal, oil burning and wood pellet plants must be retired, and all in-state power plant carbon emissions eliminated by 2050. Going forward, renewable resources such as energy efficiency, battery storage and expanded solar are now required. Net-metered solar will expand from 1% to 6%. The state’s commitment for offshore wind is the third largest in the country.

These new CEA requirements are being celebrated by the newly elected Democratic majority and the climate activists who all worked vigorously to pass them. During the Session, 53 House bills and 29 Senate bills were introduced relating to creating clean energy. So, although Virginia’s utilities and the South’s two other major utilities have lagged the rest of the country in developing their energy efficiency and renewable strategies, Virginia is now on the way to building a system resourced with clean energy. Continue reading

Surviving COVID-19 with Video Chat, Netflix and Amazon Prime

Northern Virginia reader Allen Barringer responded to my request yesterday for readers to describe how they are coping with COVID-19. He started writing this piece as a comment, but it became so comprehensive that we decided to publish it as a full-fledged post. — JAB

by Allen Barringer

We live in a surreal moment: On the one hand our health care system’s response to this pandemic is vintage 1918; on the other, we live in the age of the internet. We can do amazing things on-line, both to entertain ourselves and to socialize with friends.

The dichotomy has brought to the fore the generational divides between those who grew up with on-line technology, those who are familiar with what it can deliver but can DIY only primitively, and those who are overwhelmed by it. The sine qua non, of course, is  a decently fast internet service.

We attend a church that has put worship services on-line and is experimenting with the use of Zoom for just about everything meeting-wise. A hard-core group is committed to overcoming these barriers to keep the sense of community going. Fortunately, that includes a majority of the vestry.

The dilemma is everyone else: It is difficult to get people thinking creatively “outside the box” when so much about daily life has changed and individual circumstances differ so greatly. It’s difficult to reach out to the isolated without on-line tools, or to help them overcome their technophobia without at
least a home visit and perhaps some training sessions, both of which are breaches of SD (social distancing) protocols. Continue reading

Collective Bargaining in Schools: a Prescription for Problems

Joseph Ocol — booted from teacher’s union

by Chris Braunlich

Joseph Ocol is the kind of teacher most parents would fight to have teach their daughter.

His Englewood, Chicago, girls’ chess team won the national championship in 2016 against 60 other schools, an achievement noted in the Congressional Record, by news media and by the mayor and city council. And the girls have gone back since then, placing 4th last year.

But back in 2016, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) went on a one-day strike and Ocol made the decision that, if they were to have a chance at winning, his chess team couldn’t afford to take a day off from training. So Ocol skipped the strike to coach his kids.

For his efforts, the teachers’ union threw Ocol out. CTU simply put union needs above the needs of children from a community in which 45% are below the poverty line. Those who strayed from the party line were to be punished. Continue reading

Is Carbon Capture Technology Scalable?

by Jane Twitmyer

When talking about the future of Dominion Energy in a recent TV interview, Dominion Energy CEO Tom Farrell mentioned carbon sequestration as an approach for reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the company moves toward a “zero net” carbon energy mix.  In the past, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) seemed to be going nowhere. But Farrell’s comments prompted me to wonder what the current status of CCS technology was. 

Today, according to the Global CCS Institute, there are 19 large-scale commercial carbon capture and sequestration facilities operating around the world, ten of which are in the United States. All of them are pulling carbon dioxide from the emissions of an associated factory or power plant. Trouble is … the carbon has nowhere to go, so both removing and sequestering the carbon adds major costs to electricity generation.

Once you’ve captured the large amounts of carbon dioxide emitted from the electricity plants, there’s the small matter of where you store it. Under everyday conditions carbon dioxide is a gas, so it takes up a huge amount of space, and we’re producing it in vast quantities. An option with its own set of complications is to turn the carbon dioxide into a liquid (so it takes up a tiny fraction as much volume) and then pump it deep underground where it hopefully will remain. The thought of storing it deep in the ocean has been discarded because the ocean has already acted as a CO2 sink and appears to be reaching its limit absorbing CO2 without creating great damage.

Continue reading

Virginia Values Act: Trial Lawyers Win, Business Climate Loses

by Hans Bader

Both houses of the Virginia legislature passed the Virginia Values Act yesterday. Media coverage of the bill has focused on the fact that it will add sexual orientation and gender identity (transgender status) to state laws against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. As the media note, this is the first time a state legislature in the south has enacted such a ban.

But media coverage has virtually ignored how the bill will change other aspects of state law, in ways that are far more significant in economic terms. The bill will create major risks for business owners. It will also make the state’s business climate less inviting for companies considering whether to relocate to Virginia. Continue reading

Update: Geriatric Prison Release Bill Advances

The Virginia Senate has voted 21-to-19 to make prison inmates (including many murderers) eligible for “geriatric release” as early as age 50. The vote was largely along party lines, with all Democrats except Lynwood Lewis voting for the bill, and all Republicans except Emmett Hanger voting against it. Continue reading

Bill Broadens Definition of Sexual Harassment

by Hans Bader

On January 30, a subcommittee in Virginia’s House of Delegates voted 5-to-2 to adopt a revised version of HB 1418, a bill to expand employers’ liability for sexual harassment. The bill originally applied to employers with six to 14 employees. Now it applies to all employers with more than five.

Originally, while the bill provided for unlimited damages in sexual harassment cases, it limited court-ordered attorney fees payable to the plaintiff’s lawyer to 25% of the damages awarded. Now, the limit on attorneys fees has been removed, so an employer can be ordered to pay far more in attorney fees than it ends up paying in damages to the plaintiff.

The revised version also changes the definition of sexual harassment, and makes employers liable for “workplace harassment” based on additional factors other than sex. Its sexual harassment definition omits a critical element of the definition of sexual harassment according to the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appeals courts, “unwelcomeness.” The amended version of HB 1418 adopted on January 30 has a long list of “rules” that “shall apply” in defining sexual harassment (probably found in no other state or federal law), yet it omits the core element of “unwelcomeness” that the Supreme Court says defines sexual harassment.

Unwelcome means unsolicited and uninvited. If a worker invites or solicits something from a co-worker, they can’t later sue over that something, even if it offended them. Continue reading

Rocket Fuel for Health Care Costs

Virginia health insurance premiums

James C. Sherlock

Elections have consequences. Democrats won fairly at the ballot box the right to pass anything they wish. I simply request that they consider the costs of legislation to their constituents, to business balance sheets, and to jobs before submitting health insurance-related bills.

Virginians who get their health insurance both at work – which includes most of us – and get it through the Affordable Care Act website paid the highest premiums in America in 2018. The employee share of those premiums is a major and growing part of the personal budget for individuals and families statewide. The employer share comes out of employee pockets in the form of lower wages.

Bills in front of the General Assembly this year will cause those costs to skyrocket by mandating coverage of a lengthy list of additional conditions and lowering co-pays for others. Insurers will assess the costs and raise rates to cover them.

Every time the cost of health insurance goes up, businesses have to consider how to pay it. There will be layoffs. Some businesses will close. Others will look elsewhere to locate.

Eight attempt to deal with surprise billing.

Several deal with association health plans, both for and against. Continue reading

Senate Committee Votes to Raise Minimum Wage

by Hans Bader

The Virginia Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee has voted to raise Virginia’s minimum wage. As NPR notes, “business groups maintain that Virginia will lose jobs — and its business-friendly reputation” — as a result. The Virginia chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business estimates that the increase would slash 130,000 jobs in Virginia over 10 years.

(The original version of the bill would have increased the minimum wage to $15. In approving the bill, the committee amended it, but the text of the amended bill is not currently available. One person attending the General Assembly session told me the increase was to only $11.75, but I have not independently confirmed that. I have updated this story to reflect the new information.)

The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Before voting on the bill, the Finance Committee should study the cost of such a large minimum wage increase to state taxpayers. A big minimum wage increase will increase the cost of products and services purchased by the state government, and the state’s own labor costs. Continue reading