Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Northam’s Apology Tour: Reconciling with the Left

I’ve been somewhat sympathetic to Governor Ralph Northam during his blackface ordeal, arguing (a) that we should not reach a judgment until all the facts were in, and (b) that we should not judge a man solely upon the basis of an act committed 35 years ago but upon his lifetime’s work.

Well, all the facts are in (at least a lot more of the facts than we knew when Northam issued his first mea culpa), and we can say with confidence a couple of things we could not when the blackface fracas began: While it may be true that neither the man in blackface nor the KKK hood in the infamous yearbook photo was Northam, the governor has yet to offer a plausible explanation of how he came to submit that particular photo for publication. The protocol was for Eastern Virginia Medical School students to select their own photos, put them in sealed envelopes and submit them to the publication. Unless someone working for the publication surreptitiously inserted the notorious photo — a claim that no one is making — Northam was the one who selected it. Thus, one can legitimately press the point: Why did he choose that photo? Even if he was not wearing the blackface or KKK hood, it appears that he had no problem publicly associating himself with the people who did. His dissimulation on the subject is as almost as troubling as the offense itself.

Now Northam is embarking upon an apology tour, starting with an appearance next week at Virginia Union University in Richmond. Continue reading

The Politics of Empty Symbolism


Every day gets crazier here in Virginia. The politics of symbolism have taken over, and real problems requiring careful analysis and sustained attention go neglected.

For an example of a festering problem with real-world consequences for African-Americans, read the previous post by Richard Hall-Sizemore. An electronic health records system would improve the quality of medical care of Virginia’s prison inmate population, which is disproportionately African-American, but the Commonwealth of Virginia has struggled for years to fund one. The obstacle has not been lack of money but the inability to sort out competing bureaucratic agendas. Meanwhile, Virginians are treated to stories like this…

Governor Ralph Northam, we read on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch this morning, committed the cardinal sin of referring to the first Africans setting foot on Virginia soil as “indentured servants.” They were sold by Dutch slavers, but Virginia law had not yet codified slavery, so, technically, slavery did not exist. As PBS summarized the status of these Africans: “With no slave laws in place, they were initially treated as indentured servants, and given the same opportunities for freedom dues as whites.” Continue reading

Why Whites Are More Hard-Line than Blacks about Blackface

Image credit: Washington Post

A Washington Post poll finds that Virginians are split about 50/50 on the question of whether Governor Ralph Northam should step down from office after revelations of his use of blackface during medical school some 35 years ago. The most fascinating finding within that poll was that whites are more likely (48%) than African-Americans (37%) to hold that position.

If whites are more outraged by the blackface incident than blacks, an interesting question arises: How much is white outrage driven by virtue signaling? Continue reading

Mob Justice for Justin Fairfax

Wow, that was fast. One day Justin Fairfax was measuring the drapes for the Governor’s Mansion, now the grandees of the Virginia Democratic Party say he should step down as Lieutenant Governor. The sexual-assault charges against him are serious and his accusers deserve to be heard. But can we give it just a little bit of time before assuming his guilt and tossing him into the trash heap of history?

Fairfax, according to the Washington Post, is asking for an “appropriate and impartial” investigation into the accusations against him by Meredith Watson and Vanessa Tyson. “I am asking,” he said, “that no one rush to judgment and I am asking for there to be space in this moment for due process.”

Is that really too much to ask? It astonishes me that so many people believe that there mere existence of accusations is sufficient to remove Fairfax from office. Continue reading

More Medical Insurance Mandates on the Way

Kara Murdoch. Photo credit: The Virginia Mercury

Kara Murdock, 28, lost her right hand and forearm five years ago due to a blood clot, and she has been trying without success to get a prosthetic. Her health plan turned her down when she was covered by her parents’ insurance, and now that she’s on Medicaid under the Medicaid-expansion program, she wants to make sure that her new coverage will include prosthetic devices. So reports The Virginia Mercury in an article about proposed legislation to require all health plans operating in Virginia, including Medicaid, to cover prosthetics.

Murdock’s case is a tragic one — read the story for painful details — and I have no doubt that legislators will be moved by her plight. A bill to mandate prosthetics coverage has been forwarded to the Health Insurance reform Commission, where all new mandates must be studied before the General Asssembly can pass them.

But the argument for a mandate gets complicated. Continue reading

Blackface and the Theater of the Absurd

Al Sharpton at Virginia Union University. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

It can’t possibly get any crazier in Virginia. It just can’t. No satirist could dream up what now passes for news. On the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch today we see an extraordinary juxtaposition of stories:

  • Sen. Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, was an editor of a 1968 Virginia Military Institute yearbook that featured “at least one” image of people in blackface as well as some racially offensive language. The T-D and the Virginian-Pilot, which broke the story yesterday, informed readers in breath-taking prose what they couldn’t possibly have imagined: that many Virginians were, by today’s standards, racist 50 years ago.
  • Speaking at Virginia Union University, the Reverend Al Sharpton said there was no forgiveness for Governor Ralph Northam’s use of blackface in 1984 or Attorney General Mark Herring’s a few years before that. “If you sin, you must pay for the sin,” Sharpton said. “Blackface represents a deeper problem where people felt they could dehumanize and humiliate people based on their inferiority.”

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Virginia Hospital Profitability — How Big a Problem?

Community leaders are trying to reopen Lee Memorial Hospital, which closed in 2013.

The number of Virginia hospitals operating at a loss increased dramatically — 43% — between 2016 to 2017, according to the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association (VHHA). Overall, one third of Virginia’s acute-care, critical-access, children’s, psychiatric, and rehabilitation hospitals experienced negative operating margins in 2017.

The problem is most acute in Virginia’s rural areas, with 57% of hospitals classified as “rural” operating in the red, said the association in a press release issued yesterday based on data published by Virginia Health Information (VHI). In all 55 of Virginia’s 105 hospitals experienced declines in their operating margins between 2016 and 2017.

The VHHA described Medicaid expansion as “a welcome development that should strengthen the Commonwealth’s health care delivery system.” However, the latest VHI data are “a stark reminder that expansion alone isn’t sufficient to address many of the broader systemic challenges facing Virginia hospitals,” such as Medicare funding cuts, inadequate reimbursements, federal government charity care mandates, and the costs associated with expanding Medicaid.

Everyone should want Virginia to have financially healthy hospitals. It is worrisome if one third of the state’s hospitals are bleeding red. However, the picture is more complicated than presented in the VHHA press release. Maybe the association is making a legitimate point, maybe it’s not. It’s hard to say based on one year’s worth of context-free VHI data. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Scandal, Scandal, Scandal… and Dental Care

The Old Dominion is looking a lot like the Ante-Bellum Dominion. So, how are Virginia’s political scandals playing out nationally? Not very well. Headline from the New York Post: “Virginia is for Losers.” Lead story in the Wall Street Journal: “Virginia Faces Leadership Crisis as Attorney General Apologizes for Using  Blackface.”

The PC police strike again. But there’s no let-up in the racial identity wars. A fraternity and a sorority at the University of Virginia have been criticized for holding parties in which people dressed up wearing Native American attire in one instance and sombreros and maracas in another, according to the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily. The Inter-Fraternity Council issued a statement condemning the attire as “prejudiced and culturally insensitive.” “The IFC condemns these actions and any others that appropriate cultures.” Continue reading

Yikes! Now Herring Confesses to Black Face!

Pandora’s box: Unleash the furies!

I’m guessing that some media outlet must have been hot on Attorney General Mark Herring’s trail, otherwise I can’t imagine any other reason for him to make this confession in a statement just released:

In 1980, when I was a 19-year-old undergraduate in college, some friends suggested we attend a party dressed like rappers we listened to at the time, like Kurtis Blow, and perform a song. It sounds ridiculous even now writing it. But because of our ignorance and glib attitudes – and because we did not have an appreciation for the experiences and perspectives of others – we dressed up and put on wigs and brown makeup.

This was a onetime occurrence and I accept full responsibility for my conduct. That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then.

Continue reading

How UVa Can Make a Useful Contribution to the Northam Black Face Scandal

University of Virginia President James E. Ryan

Poor University of Virginia. The College of William & Mary hogged the glory among progressives when Katharine Rowe, W&M’s new president, gratuitously inserted herself into the Ralph Northam blackface controversy by uninviting the governor from attending the annual celebration of the university’s 1683 founding.

Responding to news of the racist image in Northam’s 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook, Rowe announced four days ago, “That behavior has no place in civil society – not 35 years ago, not today. It stands in stark opposition to William & Mary’s core values of equity and inclusion.”

How, oh, how could UVa signal its virtue as well? UVa’s newly installed president, James Ryan, had no event from which to retract a gubernatorial invitation. I have an idea on how UVa could make a useful contribution to the controversy, which I’ll get to in a moment. But Ryan opted for expressing his politically correctness in an open letter to the Board of Visitors and the university community:  Continue reading

Who Is the Dude in the Plaid Pants?

Who is the dude in the plaid pants?

This angle on the Northam blackface story is at least two days old — it appeared Sunday in Zerohedge — but it has yet to be reflected in any of the reporting I have seen on the controversy by Virginia mainstream media, so I summarize the details here. (I’m just back from traveling out of town, so I may have overlooked some reporting. If so, my apologies.)

Some resourceful Internet sleuth — I’m not sure if it’s Zerohedge blogger Tyler Durden or someone else — noticed the remarkable resemblance between a pair of plaid pants worn by Blackface Guy in the infamous 1984 yearbook photograph that threatens to take down Governor Ralph Northam and a pair of pants worn by an unidentified blond guy standing in front of a car below the title “Hi-Y,” the name of a YMCA high school program. A caption below the Hi-Y photo indicated that Northam was the group’s president.

The plaid-pants connection raises the interesting possibility that Blond Guy and Blackface Dude are one in the same, which would rule out the theory that Northam was the man in blackface — supporting his strained, widely mocked contention that he was not in the photo. Continue reading

More Land Use Tricks: Coconut Grove Edition


My wife and I have reached that stage in life where we’re too old to go sky diving, parasailing, rock-climbing or otherwise risking our lives, but we’re too young to spend all day sitting and watching the world go by. So when we travel, we like to walk and observe. We’re in Coconut Grove right now, which is part of the Miami metropolitan area, and we have spent considerable time strolling through the older neighborhoods and along the retail corridors. One building that struck me was the structure above, which provides office and retail at the ground level with a parking deck above, all done with whimsical Gaudi-eque touches.

From a functional perspective, the building provides public parking while also maintaining the integrity of the walkable streetscape. The modernist architecture, which might stick out like a sore thumb in downtown Richmond or Old Town Alexandria, works perfectly in Miami.

I like to keep zoning mandates to a minimum, so I don’t know if I would require parking deck builders to build with street-level office or retail, but I sure would encourage it. Every locality should review its zoning code to ensure that it does not prohibit this elegant approach to reconciling walkability and automobility.

Facts? We Don’t Need No More Stinking Facts!

As Donald Rumsfeld famously said of the Iraq War, there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns — things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t have a clue we don’t know. The same thing could be said of Governor Ralph Northam’s now-infamous medical school yearbook photo of a young man in black face and another in KKK attire — either one of whom, or neither, may be Northam himself.

Northam told the nation in a press conference that he believes he was not in the photo, and he doesn’t know how the photo came to appear on his personal page in the yearbook. No one appears to be paying much attention to his denial, which conflicted with an earlier apology and was undercut by his own admission in the press conference that he had appeared in black face during a Michael Jackson dance contest — in other words, that he’d dressed in black face, just not in the particular photo in question.

Democrats made up their minds about Northam’s irredeemable guilt even before the press conference. Almost every conceivable Democrat-affiliated group from the Democratic National Committee to the Virginia League of Democratic Dogcatchers has demanded his resignation. Republicans, only too happy to kneecap a Democratic governor, have called for the same.

Here’s what’s extraordinary about the episode: No one seems terribly interested in finding out if Northam’s version of events holds water. With minds already made up and political commitments made, no one is thinking about what we know, what we don’t, and what entirely unexpected evidence might be lurking out there. In another moment in our political history, people might say, “Yeah, this sure looks bad, but Northam says he’s innocent, so let’s sort through the facts.” What we hear now is, “Facts? We don’t need no more stinking facts. We’ve got all the facts we need.” Continue reading

What We Can Learn from Naples: Covered Sidewalks Edition

Here is a photo of a storefront on Naples, Fla.’s 3rd Street that extends over the sidewalk to the edge of the street — reminiscent of many buildings in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The addition of columns, archways and covered sidewalk creates visual interest, provides a variable experience for pedestrians along 3rd Street, and allows the property owner to gain a few dozen square feet of space on the second floor of his building.

To my mind, it’s all gain, no pain. There is no downside to this configuration. Yet I don’t recall seeing anything like this anywhere in Virginia. Why would that be? Could it be that local zoning codes prohibit it? Could it be that our public officials who write and vote upon our zoning ordinances have no imagination?

Static zoning codes are the enemy of creativity, innovation and evolution of the urban form.

Is There a Statute of Limitations for Racial Insensitivity?

This is just too rich. Ralph Northam in blackface… or is he the one in the KKK hood? Now, let’s sit back and watch how long the PC statute of limitation is for Democrats compared to that for Republicans.

Entirely predictably, Republicans have called for Northam’s resignation: “Racism has no place in Virginia,” said RPV Chairman Jack Wilson. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

Northam issued what is surely a sincere apology:

I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to make clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.

Continue reading