Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Virginia’s Energy Future Is Fast Approaching

Two big energy news updates today:

Dominion files for large-scale offshore wind project. Dominion Energy has filed an application with PJM, the regional transmission organization of which Virginia is part, to interconnect 220 wind turbines off the Virginia Coast with the electric grid, the company announced this morning. Dominion has begun work already on the installation of a two-turbine demonstration project. The PJM filing for the $7.8 billion project represents “a vital first step to move forward in developing Virginia’s full offshore wind potential,” the company stated.

Apco to offer time-of-day pricing for EVs. Appalachian Power will offer residential owners of plug-in electric vehicles a discount for charging their cars when power demand is lower, the company announced today. A residential customer with a a typical car consumption will save about $86.50 annually for home-charging the vehicle during off-peak hours, generally during the night. Recent data indicate that nearly 700 plug-in EVs are registered to owners in Apco’s Virginia service territory.

Virginia’s Dark Money Legal Machine

Sen. Jill Vogel

When the deep-pocketed corporate backers of “Doctor Patient Unity” set up their dark money entity, they registered the partnership in Virginia. The State Corporation Commission filing listed the partnership’s registered agent as North Rock Reports, LLC, in Warrenton.

North Rock, reports the New York Times in an article about Doctor Patient Unity’s $28 million advertising campaign to influence Congress on legislation affecting surprise medical billing (see previous post), is common to more than 150 other political action groups. North Rock’s name surfaced a couple of years ago in news reports about “Protect America’s Consumers,” a group that attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a creation of the Obama administration criticized by conservatives for engaging in regulatory overkill. The LLC also has ties to the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

It turns out that North Rock Reports LLC has its own SCC registration filing, and North Rock’s registered agent is Jason Torchinsky, who, coincidentally enough, listed the very same business address as North Rock — 45 North Hill Dr., Suite 100, Warrenton — and is a partner of the HoltzmanVogelJosefiakTorchinsky PLLC law firm at the same address. The “Holzman Vogel” in the firm refers to founding partner Jill Holtzman Vogel, a state senator from Winchester and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. Continue reading

National Dark Money Campaign Sloshes into Virginia

Rep. Ben Cline — one of 50 Congressmen targeted by $28 million dark money campaign

A lot of things are happening in our dysfunctional health care system outside the public view. But every so often, a piece of flotsam pops to the surface that reveals the rent-seeking behavior by private interests in a system regulated at every level by government. The latest revelation concerns two private equity-backed physician-staffing groups behind a $28 million national ad campaign aimed at pressuring members of Congress, including Rep. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge.

This particular incident also illustrates the role of dark money in our political system. Rather than influence elected officials directly by contributing to their campaigns, this initiative sought to pressure them by influencing their constituents.

By way of background, many hospitals — including those in Virginia — staff their emergency departments with physicians who belong to TeamHealth, Envision Healthcare, or other groups that specialize in operating emergency rooms. Emergency medicine is a specialized niche, and these firms claim to do a better job of managing emergency rooms than most hospitals can themselves. This TeamHealth white paper describes how outsourcing can “transform” hospital emergency departments when “patient flow is crawling, outcome measures are flagging, and there’s bad blood among physicians.” Continue reading

Bacon Bits: River Preservation, Truth in Tuition, and Election Interference

Goat Island

Good deed of the day. Riverside Outfitters, which provides guided kayak, raft, tube, and paddleboard trips, has paid $11,000 to purchase Goat Island, a one-acre islet in the James River. The outfitting company will make the island openly available for public use as a destination for canoers and paddleboarders, reports Richmond BizSense. The company plans to rid non-native plants from the islet and, if legal, bring back some goats, but has no plans to develop it. The James River may not be as big and powerful as other rivers, but it is more beautiful than most. While other metropolitan develop their riverfronts, the Richmond region has moved to preserve the James as an environmental and recreational treasure. Smart move!

Truth in tuition. Randolph College has slashed its list price for tuition, room, and board from $54,101 to $36,000. Pursuing a high-tuition, high-discount model, the small liberal arts college near Lynchburg had been discounting heavily from that price. But administrators concluded that the high sticker price was scaring away potential applicants, reports the News & Advance. Not realizing that the average discount rate for freshmen at private colleges averages more than 50%, many families don’t even bother applying to schools with high list prices. Randolph College, which has 620 students enrolled, hopes to increase the entering class by 5% yearly over the next five years.

Dodge Challenger has become a verb. Daniel McMahon of Brandon, Fla., has been arrested for charges relating to cyber-stalking and threats that led to an African-American activist, Don Gathers, dropping out of a race for Charlottesville City Council. McMahon, a white supremacist, “was motivated by racial animus and used his social-media accounts to threaten and intimidate a potential candidate for elective office,” said U.S. Attorney Thomas T. Cullen, in a statement. “Hey Antifa, it’s simple,” McMahon wrote online, reports the Washington Post. “Wanna know how to not get Dodge Challenged or shot? Don’t attack Right Wingers ever.” James Fields, the white supremacist who killed Heather Heyer during the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville two years ago, drove a Dodge Challenger. Disgusting.

— JAB

More Reason for Cynicism about Medicaid Expansion

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital: emergency room admissions up 7%

by James A. Bacon

More than 300,000 Virginians have something today they didn’t have last year — health insurance through Medicaid, observes Virginia Public Radio. What they don’t have is a primary care physician. Many are still seeking primary care treatment at hospital emergency rooms.

Admissions to the emergency room of Norfolk General Hospital have increased 7% this year. One hoped-for benefit of Medicaid expansion is that more patients would seek treatment outside the emergency room, one of the most expensive settings for medical treatment. Clearly, that benefit has not materialized. “There’s a whole behavior modification and teaching and education that needs to happen,” says Sentara Norfolk General President Carolyn Carpenter.

Yeah, that…. and there’s a Medicaid-patients-finding-a-doctor thing that needs to happen, too. Due to low reimbursement rates, many primary care physicians cap the number of Medicaid patients they treat.

One would think that Governor Ralph Northam, a physician, would appreciate this. But other than allowing more latitude for nurse practitioners to treat patients, I have seen no remedies proposed by Virginia’s ruling class to address the most significant of all barriers to health care. The inaction calls into question how serious people really are about expanding real health care coverage for the poor. Continue reading

What Does It Mean to Be “White” or “Black” These Days?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and family. Using Census definitions, three of the four Cruz family members picture here are “people of color.”

by James A. Bacon

As President Bill Clinton famously predicted in 1998 based on Census Bureau forecasts, white Americans would lose their majority status in the United States by the 2040s. The prospect of “people of color” comprising an “emerging Democratic majority” has undergirded the Democratic Party strategy of making racial/ethnic identity politics the core of their appeal. In parallel, fear of becoming a minority has inflamed the passions of many white voters. Ironically, due to an increase in the number of Hispanics and the offspring of inter-racial marriages, the percentage of Americans identifying as white is barely declining.

It is increasingly evident that the U.S. government’s system of racial classification is archaic. Indeed, recent numbers call into question what it even means to be “white” or “black,” both of which are classifications reflecting the obsessions of a by-gone era.

“The same Census projections that predict Americans who identify as white alone will become a minority during the 2040s also predict that about 75 percent of the U.S. population is expected to mark the box next to White on their Census form, either alone or in combination with another race or ethnicity,” writes Hamilton Lombard, a University of Virginia demographer, on the StatChat blog. “The race categories we use are struggling to keep up with our changing population.” Continue reading

Northam: 100% Clean Energy by 2050

by James A. Bacon

Governor Ralph Northam has issued an executive order outlining how Virginia can reach the goals of producing 30% of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% from carbon-free sources by 2050. The governor’s vision relies heavily upon solar power, offshore wind, and energy storage, while emphasizing “energy equity” for “communities of color” and lower-income Virginians.

Northam’s plan relies heavily upon Virginia’s investor-owned utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power Co., to make investments in solar, wind, and energy-storage, and contemplates no significant changes to the existing electric-utility framework. The plan also has won the blessing of at least one of Virginia’s leading environmental groups.

“Governor Northam’s announcement today shows real leadership on climate change in the face of its absence at the federal level,” said Will Cleveland, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in a prepared statement. “It’s time for this kind of cost effective, smart and modern solution to bring Virginia into the future.” Continue reading

Richmond’s Progressive Petri Dish…. Where Black Kids Are the Science Project

by James A. Bacon

One of the more interesting questions of 2019 is whether public figures like Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras are more interested in striking poses that make them look enlightened on racial issues or in actually bettering the lives of African-Americans. In many cases, I would argue, progressive social policies are all about making educated elites feel righteous, not about the people they purport to help.

The latest example is a proposal under study by Richmond schools to “spread the cream,” so to speak — to distribute the relatively small percentage of white students among a larger number of of schools. The justification for scrapping the neighborhood-based school system, according to Kamras, is that “diverse” schools improve academic performance. The plan, he has said, “will provide academic and social benefits to all children of all backgrounds.”

But will it? Remarkably enough, that proposition can be tested with data from Richmond public schools. John Butcher, of Cranky’s Blog fame, has pulled Standards of Learning pass-rate data for white-majority Mary Munford Elementary and William Fox Elementary with that for two predominantly black elementary schools, Barack Obama Elementary and John B. Cary Elementary.(Cary would be merged with Munford under one of the proposals.) Continue reading

Big Money Update

by James A. Bacon

Looks like my post of a few days ago arguing that the Democrats were the party of Big Money in Virginia requires an update. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Republican state Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, will report a $500,000 campaign donation from top GOP contributor Richard Uihlein, an Illinois industrialist.

Taking this monster contribution into account, instead of out-raising Republicans in Big Money donations by a 3½-to-1 ratio, Dems are out-raising them by a mere 3-to-1 ratio. Any authoritative conclusions will have to await the final filings after the election.

Richmond Schools: Changing Names, Acting White, and Serving Hispanics

by James A. Bacon

Look, there’s nothing wrong with re-naming public schools. I take no issue with the Richmond Public Schools changing the name of one of its predominantly black schools from J.E.B. Stuart Elementary to Barack Obama Elementary. And if Richmond school officials want to swap out the name of slave-owner George Mason for an African-American hero, that’s up to them. Personally, I feel that Mason’s positive contributions warrant recognition, but inherently local decisions should reflect community values.

“Mr. Mason obviously made many contributions to the country, but I think it is time to move beyond naming schools for individuals who were slave owners,” Superintendent Jason Kamras told the Richmond Times-DispatchThere are five city schools named for slave owners and three for Confederates. 

It’s good to know that Kamras is fearlessly tackling the big issues that afflict Richmond Public Schools, one of the worst-performing school districts in Virginia even after adjusting for the large disadvantaged student body. OK, I was being sarcastic there. But at least renaming schools does no harm, you say. That’s true. When social justice progressives are diverted by purely symbolic issues from actively undermining the educational system, one can argue that is a good thing.

Still, there are many other problems that the school board could be dealing with. We could start with issues raised in separate op-eds and news articles published today. Continue reading

More Restrictions Proposed for Culpeper Solar Farms

Off limits to utility-scale solar? Civil War battlefield locations in Virginia.

by James A. Bacon

Culpeper County prohibits construction of solar farms on Civil War battlefields. Now a proposal under consideration by the Board of Supervisors would discourage large solar projects adjacent to battlefield land held in historic easement, reports the Culpeper Star-Exponent. And that restriction is just one of many changes to the county’s Utility Scale Solar Facility Development Policy under review by the board.

Last year the board approved the 1,000-acre Greenwood Solar project over local opposition. Since then resistance to the land-consuming facilities has gotten more organized. One group, Citizens for Responsible Solar,  has actively pursued a policy of delay and encumber to restrict development of large-scale solar farms. Last month Cricket Solar pulled a proposal for a 1,600-acre solar farm in the county. Meanwhile, local opposition has stalled progress on utility-scale projects in other counties.

On the state level, it is the policy of the Northam administration, the General Assembly, the environmental community, and Dominion Energy to boost the contribution of solar power to Virginia’s energy mix. People may disagree about how far and how fast to go, but just about everyone agrees on the desirability of having more solar than we have now. But opposition at the local level has emerged as a significant barrier to large-scale deployment of solar. Continue reading

How Artificial Stupidity Is Ruining Our Lives

Evil contraption. A wood-burning stove is looking really good right now.

by James A. Bacon

Periodically, Bacon’s Rebellion asks whether the increasing complexity of society is out of control. Personally, I don’t worry much about Artificial Intelligence wiping out our jobs or taking control of humanity because so much putative “intelligence” of the artificial variety is incredibly stupid.

Case in point: my microwave oven.

Just as my elderly parents wanted a cell phone that just made phone calls, I want a microwave oven that just re-heats food. All I ask is for the machine to respond to few simple commands. Instead, I have a digital monster connected to the Internet that promises a dazzling display of versatility but is, in fact, functionally useless. Continue reading

Down to the Nitty Gritty on Solar Farm Development

by James A. Bacon

If Virginians want more renewable energy, they need to solve a number of practical problems. One of those is how to decommission old solar panels and wind turbines. When their useful lives have expired, we can’t just let these devices litter the landscape and collect rust. In particular the question of what happens to old solar panels, which contain high levels of heavy metals like cadmium, is one that has concerned many residents of rural counties where solar farms have been proposed.

SolUnesco, a Reston-based developer of solar farms, has given considerable thought to how to plan for the end of utility-scale solar projects. As Lea Maamari and Melody S. Gee write in a company blog post, “finding a good balance of shared benefits, costs, and risks is in the best interest of all stakeholders.” Continue reading

Want More Affordable Housing? Build More Luxury Apartments.

Camden Fairfax Corner luxury apartments. Yes, building more housing like this is part of addressing the affordable housing crisis.

by James A. Bacon

Planners in the Washington metropolitan area are worried, as they well should be, that continued population growth coupled with housing shortages could turn the region into another unaffordable hellhole like San Francisco or Los Angeles where legions of homeless people are taking over the public spaces and making life miserable for everyone. The solution, says the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), is to build more housing.

“You can’t afford to live in San Francisco — the workforce [there] is being displaced,” said COG Vice Chair Derrick Leon Davis, from Prince George County, Md. “We don’t want to be that region.”

Davis is absolutely right about that. Unfortunately, the solutions proffered by the regional planning organization aren’t practicable. COG says the region needs to add 320,000 housing units between 2020 and 2030, 75,000 more than previously forecast. Of those, reports the Washington Post, at least three-quarters should be “affordable to low- and middle-income households.” That, in turn, likely requires increasing public subsidies such as rental vouchers and low-cost loans or redirecting funds from schools, transportation or other priorities.

In other words, COG planners have set a goal and then established preconditions that make fulfillment of that goal politically and fiscally impossible. Continue reading

A Shaft of Light in the Dark Money Gloom

by James A. Bacon

As a follow-up to yesterday’s “dark money” post comparing the resources available to the conservative Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (TJI) and the liberal Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CI), it is only fair for me to note that CI did disclose its major donors in its 2016 990 form. In numerous posts, I have lamented the lack of full disclosure by nonprofits active in the public-policy arena. However, some groups have voluntarily provided that information. CI is one of them, and it deserves credit for its transparency.

An inspection of CI’s major contributors is revealing. I present the details here not out any sense of “exposing” the think tank but to provide a glimpse of the routine things occurring outside the public eye. As an old journalistic saying goes, “Follow the money.” Virginia journalists have shown little interest in following the money unless it leads to a deep-pocketed corporation. But there are billions of dollars sloshing around the nonprofit sector. If citizens have any interest in developing a full understanding of how public policy is made in Virginia, they should agitate for universal disclosure of the kind of information that CI provided voluntarily.

CI, which reported $1,295,000 in revenue in 2016, relied most heavily upon funding from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — $265,000, to be exact. That Washington, D.C.-based research and policy institute describes its mission as analyzing state and federal budget proposals, “focusing especially on programs for low- and moderate-income families.” CI notes that it is one of 40 similar organizations in the State Priorities Partnership — coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — which share “credible, independent and accessible information and analyses of fiscal and economic issues with particular attention to the impacts on low- and moderate-income persons.” Continue reading