Get out of jail free. Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve T. Descano formally announced Monday that his office will no longer seek cash bail, claiming that it exacerbates inequalities between rich and poor, reports The Washington Post. Poor people find it harder to post bail and end up languishing behind bars until trial. Sometimes they lose jobs, housing, and child custody rights as a result. Says Descano: “It creates a two-tiered system of justice — one for the rich and one for everyone else. It exacerbates existing racial inequalities.” In cases when defendants might pose a risk to the community, his office will continue to recommend no bond.
I’m not saying Descano is wrong. Perhaps the practice of requiring bail does contribute to mass incarceration, and perhaps it does do more harm than good. One should always question government practices, and the criminal justice system is no exception. I’d like to see the numbers, though. The WaPo provides none, and I have zero faith in the WaPo to present data that runs against its social-justice narrative.
Even better… Don’t put people in jail in the first place. As it happens, Descano does provide some numbers in an op-ed published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Virginia’s state prison population has grown by 235% since 1983, he writes. Despite constituting 20% of the state population, black Virginians account for 53% of the prison population. To combat what he describes as “racial and socioeconomic inequities rife within Virginia’s criminal justice system,” he says, his office recently announced that it will no longer rely upon mandatory minimum sentences in plea deals. Fairfax County prosecutors should seek alternatives to incarceration wherever possible. He’d like to extend those practice statewide through legislation. Continue reading
Mark-Paul Gosselaar (left) and Alexis Bledel.
by James A. Bacon
America’s media and cultural elites are increasingly obsessed with race and ethnicity, viewing every public policy issue through a racial prism. But the American people aren’t cooperating. In their real-world behavior, race and ethnicity are becoming less important. The distinction between “whites” and “Hispanics,” never clear to begin with, is steadily eroding. Meanwhile, the increase of intermarriage between all racial/ethnic groups has given rise to a category of people, numbering in the millions, who identify as members of two (sometimes more) races.
Those are the thoughts that come to mind as I read Hamilton Lombard’s latest contribution to the StatChat blog about the misleading narrative of a disappearing white majority.
As Lombard writes, media headlines have touted a population tipping point in which the “white” majority of Americans will be overtaken numerically by minorities of other races and ethnicities. This narrative, I would add, has fed the fears of white supremacists who vow they will not be “replaced” as well as the aspirations of leftist politicians who believe they can ride minority grievances to power. Continue reading
Amanda Chase anti-vaxxer. Republican gubernatorial candidate Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, has famously refused to wear face masks. Now, if a report from the liberal/left The Daily Beast can be believed, she will refuse to to get vaccinated. She would “absolutely not” get a shot because “many of the vaccines are actually manufactured in China,” she told a reporter. Aside from the fact that her information about the China connection is inaccurate, I wonder if Chase is experiencing any cognitive dissonance from the fact that she’s on the same side as leftist anti-vaxxers who spurn the COVID-19 vaccine because it was approved by the administration of her hero Donald Trump. Look, from a philosophical standpoint, I’m primed to be sympathetic to any politician who embraces small-government conservatism and individual liberties. But public policy positions need to be grounded in accurate facts and real data.
Hey, at least he’s acting out his values! A Fauquier County man who ran for Prince William County seats in Congress and the House of Delegates as a self-described “red pill libertarian” was arrested in Denver last week for allegedly coaxing a 12-year-old girl to send him pornographic images and sneak away from home to join him on a flight back to Virginia, reports the Prince William Times. Nathan Daniel Larson faces felony charges for kidnaping, child abduction, soliciting child pornography from a minor and meeting a child for the intention of sex. Larson previously was convicted of threatening to kill President George George Bush. As a convicted felon, he was barred from seeking state office in Virginia until Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to thousands of felons in 2016. According to Wikipedia, he admitted to raping his ex-spouse… who was transgender and committed suicide after the birth of their daughter. He advocates positions from the legalization of marijuana and child pornography to “benevolent white supremacy.” Seriously, dude, if anything, if your life history proves anything, it is the degeneracy of the white race.
Watch those social media posts! Robert Erhhart, a former King William County board of supervisor member and now a candidate for county treasurer, has gotten himself in hot water over his social media posts. The Tidewater Review cites a profanity-laden post referring to the county’s 2020 budget process. The newspaper also pointed out “homophobic” posts such as one in which he said of the Women’s National Basketball Association, “Who the hell goes to watch the WNBA anyway? I guess it’s a bunch of lesbians going to watch.” Ehrhart says that his personal views toward gays would not affect his conduct in elected office. Moral of the story: If you want to run for public office, be very careful what you say online. It will come back to haunt you.
Alex Hernandez, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Virginia.
by James A. Bacon
Eight years ago the forced resignation of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan embroiled Virginia’s flagship university in a controversy that played out nationally. Rector Helen E. Dragas saw an “existential threat to the greatness of UVa” from demographic, financial and technological forces reshaping the higher-education landscape. The most controversial of these was the emergence of online learning. Sullivan, Dragas said, had not moved aggressively enough to incorporate online learning into UVa’s strategic planning. In the turmoil that followed, Sullivan carried the day. She was reinstated as president and remained until replaced by Jim Ryan in 2018.
But the challenge of online learning did not go away. While change has not come as rapidly as some predicted, online learning has steadily gained higher-ed market share in the years since. Following Sullivan’s philosophy of incremental change, UVa remained committed to the traditional model of classroom teaching but experimented with online learning on the margins. Then, boom, along came the COVID-19 epidemic. Suddenly, every university in the country, including UVa, was compelled to convert in-person classes to an online format.
COVID has shifted the conversation dramatically.
“Today every student is learning online. Every faculty member is teaching online. Every parent has an online student.” Alex Hernandez, dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), told the Board of Visitors at its December meeting a week ago. “In a post-COVID-19 world,” he asked, “can we just go back to normal?” Continue reading
Bright shiny object: the proposed $48 million Data Science building.
by James A. Bacon
Alumni unhappy about recent developments at the University of Virginia claim to have withdrawn $150 million or more in pledged financial support for the institution. Money talks in academia as elsewhere. President Jim Ryan and Rector James Murray have engaged disgruntled grads in spoken and written communications and have given them the courtesy of thoughtful (albeit inadequate) responses.
But there is little indication that anything will change. In last week’s Board of Visitors meeting, not one of the issues raised by the insurgent alumni was discussed — not the “F— UVA” sign on the Lawn, not the purging of names from buildings and grounds of once-prominent figures now deemed racist, not the increasing intolerance of non-leftist viewpoints that is strangling intellectual diversity and leaving a majority of students reluctant to speak their opinions openly.
Indeed, a UVa Board of Visitors meeting reveals the vast administrative momentum that propels the university in its current direction, and reveals that the $150 million being withheld is barely a rounding error to a fund-raising powerhouse that rakes in billions of dollars. Consider some of the proceedings of this one board meeting. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In his proposed budget unveiled yesterday, Governor Ralph Northam provides $50 million to extend Amtrak passenger rail service from Roanoke to the New River Valley. The money would go to “right-of-way and easement acquisitions and anything that would help reduce bottlenecks to make way for a passenger train in the New River Valley,” reports the Roanoke Times.
“This is an important down payment on extending passenger rail connections in Southwest Virginia,” Northam said. But it’s not a done deal yet, says the Times. There is no firm timeline for when the state and Norfolk Southern Corp. will strike an agreement.
Fifty million dollars is a non-insubstantial sum. As Northam acknowledges, it is only a “down payment.” It does not cover, for instance, the cost of building an Amtrak station in Christiansburg. Some documentation exists online about projected ridership, revenue, and costs available, but I could not find a study that weighed the costs and benefits of the proposed route compared to alternative investments of the money.
Let’s review the numbers, such as we have them. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In a Tuesday Facebook post Sen. Amanda F. Chase, R-Chesterfield, a candidate for governor, called upon President Trump declare martial law and seize voting machines to find the voting fraud that resulted in Joe Biden’s election. “There needs to be a national audit,” she said.
President-elect Biden, elaborated Chase, is “not my President and never will be. The American people aren’t fools. We know you cheated to win and we’ll never accept the results. Fair elections we can accept but cheating to win, never. It’s not over yet. So thankful President Trump has a backbone and refuses to concede. President Trump should declare martial law as recommended by General Flynn.”
This is scary stuff. Chase’s comment has been appropriately rebuked by many fellow Republicans, including her opponent in the gubernatorial contest Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights. Chase’s comment comes treacherously close calling for a suspension of suspending democracy, overthrowing the rule of law, and declaring a dictatorship. It’s dangerous as hell and, as far as I’m concerned, disqualifies her as a serious candidate for public office.
But there is a larger point to make. Chase’s comment demonstrates the extent to which a large swath of the Trump-voting electorate has become thoroughly distrustful of political institutions, the media, and the opinions of America’s cultural elites. The same day that Chase’s comment was reported by the Washington Post, these stories were reported in local newspapers in Virginia: Continue reading
Prince William Supervisor Pete Candland
by James A. Bacon
First comes bias training, then comes anti-bias enforcement. Can the thought police be far behind?
In Prince William County last week, three Republican members of the Board of Supervisors walked out of a presentation, “Raising Awareness of Unconscious Bias to Foster Inclusivity and Equity,” at a joint meeting of the supervisors and county school board.
Supervisor Pete Candland said he found “insulting” a presentation that insinuated that board members held racial biases. Furthermore, he said the issue was a distraction from the pressing issue of how best to educate children during the COVID-19 epidemic. “During this critical time of the global pandemic, kids having issues at home, concerns about funding our schools moving forward, they decided to take this time to talk about Implicit Bias Critical Race Theory.”
“I felt that it was important to walk out and not just sit there, because I refuse to legitimize this notion that we are all somehow racist,” concurred Supervisor Yesli Vega, as reported by Bristow Beat. Continue reading
More wind turbines off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Electricity from the Kitty Hawk Offshore Wind project 27 miles off the coast of Corolla, N.C., construction of which could begin as soon as 2024, will be funneled into the electric grid via a substation in Virginia Beach’s Sandbridge community. Roughly 600 jobs will be generated within the Hampton Roads statistical area, which includes part of North Carolina. The project is expected to generate 2,500 megawatts of electricity eventually, enough to power 700,000 homes, reports Virginia Business. From Sandbridge a combination of underground and overhead cables will make the electricity available for resale by developer Avangrid Inc., to Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Appalachian Power, and others.
No aggressive enforcement of COVID curfew. Chesterfield County police will not enforce Governor Ralph Northam’s midnight-to-5 p.m. COVID-19 curfew by stopping motorists who are otherwise driving lawfully. “The law requires officers to have reasonable suspicion to stop a driver,” wrote Police Chief Colonel Jeffery S. Katz on Facebook. “There are completely lawful reasons for people to be out and about during these times and therefore mere operation of a motor vehicle does not remotely meet the legal burden necessary to justify a lawful stop.” Responding to queries from The Virginia Star, Henrico County police and the Hanover County sheriffs department confirmed that they, too, require reasonable suspicion for conducting traffic stops.
Satellite broadband for Southwest Virginia. Wise County Public Schools will be the first school district in Virginia to use the Starlink satellite internet constellation founded by Elon Musk. The entrepreneur, better known for his Tesla electric vehicles, touts Starlink as delivering broadband to “locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable.” Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
Virginia leads the nation in the percentage of citizens who have downloaded the COVIDWISE smart phone app that alerts users when they might have been exposed to the virus, reports Virginia Business.
The state has spent $1.5 million promoting sign-ups. Jeff Stover, executive adviser to the health commissioner, says that downloads have been averaging 2,000 to 5,000 per day. Nearly 900,000 people, 10% of the population, how have the app.
Stover cites a model by Google, Stanford University and Oxford University that predicts if a locality has a 15% app adoption rate, infections can be reduced by about 8% and deaths by 6%.
Could COVIDWISE partially explain the lower rate of spread in Virginia, even as the virus induces panic in other states? According to Statista, Virginia had the 8th lowest rate — 3,303 confirmed cases per 100,000 population — among the 52 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
It is a legitimate question to ask: Which of Virginia’s colleges and universities are doing the best and worst job of managing the COVID-19 epidemic? Over the weekend, I posted some numbers showing that Virginia Tech, James Madison University, and the University of Virginia had posted the largest numbers of confirmed COVID cases in the state. But the raw numbers don’t tell us much by themselves. As large public universities, those three institutions have among the biggest student bodies. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare the colleges after adjusting for the number of students enrolled. That’s what I’ve done here.
by James A. Bacon
Over the past four years the University of Virginia has raised $500 million, enough to endow 350 undergraduate and graduate scholarships, President Jim Ryan informed the Board of Visitors Friday. He highlighted two programs in particular that share the goal of “fostering excellence and diversity of the student population, and ensuring their success.”
The University Achievement Awards, inaugurated during the presidency of John T. Casteen are given to Virginia students who demonstrate outstanding leadership and character while overcoming personal hardship. The Blue Ridge Scholars program, launched in 2014 with a $4 million gift from alumnus John Griffin, supports undergraduate students with exceptional academic promise and significant financial need.
The need for financial assistance has intensified over the years as UVa has aggressively increased tuition, fees, and charges for room and board. The annual cost of attendance (including books and modest personal expenses) runs around $34,000 for undergraduate Virginians and $69,000 for out-of-state students before financial aid is taken into account. Continue reading
by James A. Bacon
In my previous post I reported how the University of Virginia has handled the COVID-19 epidemic, noting that the state’s flagship university had experienced 1,250 cases since reopening this fall and only seven hospitalizations. Having no basis for comparison, I withheld judgment on whether UVa had done a superior job compared to other public institutions. As it happens, the New York Times has just published data for most of the higher-ed institutions across the country. It turns out that UVa ranks third among Virginia colleges and universities for total confirmed cases — hardly an endorsement of the Ryan administration’s handling of the epidemic.
This data from the NYT database lists all cases since the beginning of the pandemic, not just this semester:
University of Virginia President Jim Ryan addressing the Board of Visitors in a virtual meeting.
by James A. Bacon
The major challenge facing the University of Virginia this fall was controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus when reconvening for the new academic year. With a combined student and employee population of about 45,000 the UVa administration had a gargantuan task. Fear was running rampant. Many people thought the university’s decision to reopen was reckless. Some told President Jim Ryan he would have blood on his hands.
Like other public universities in Virginia, UVa plowed ahead. The normally hide-bound institution moved more nimbly than anyone thought it was capable of. Professors and grad students took crash courses on virtual learning and converted their classes to an online or hybrid virtual/in-person format. The health system ramped up testing capacity. A COVID call center was set up, contract tracers were organized, and isolation/quarantine rooms were set aside in student housing.
The result: Between move-in day and Thanksgiving, UVa had confirmed 1,250 cases in the university community, mostly among students. Zero students were hospitalized. Only seven non-students were hospitalized. There was no evidence of transmission in classrooms, nor from UVa students to members of the community, Ryan told the Board of Visitors in its December meeting today. The percentage of positive hits on the tests declined through the semester even as it was rising across Virginia. “We learned we can do hard things,” he said. “Everyone rose to the challenge.” Continue reading
Vacation-home share of housing, 2018. Credit: StatChat blog
by James A. Bacon
Virginia has more than 88,000 vacation homes, about 2.5% of all homes in the Commonwealth, according to the University of Virginia’s Demographics Research Group. These “seasonally vacant homes” intended mainly for recreational use are overwhelmingly located in amenity-rich rural locales along the Chesapeake Bay, the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, or man-made lakes.
Moreover, reports StatChat, the vacation share of housing has increased since 2018 in most jurisdictions — more than 7.5 percent in some cases.
Bacon’s Rebellion has argued that Virginia’s rural counties should position themselves as destinations for retirement and vacation housing as an economic development strategy. Retirement and rental properties boost the tax base and create service jobs in localities where employment opportunities are otherwise scarce. Continue reading