Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Promoting Social Mobility via STEM Education


Job openings outnumber job seekers by a record gap, the Wall Street Journal reports today. There were a seasonally adjusted 7.45 million unfilled jobs at the end of April compared to 6.2 million Americans looking for work. With workers so much in demand, there exists a never-seen-before-in-our-lifetimes opportunity to increase social mobility.

Here in Virginia, contend John Broderick, president of Old Dominion University, and co-author Ellen J. Neufeldt, the commonwealth can kill two birds with one stone: meeting the demand for tens of thousands of unfilled technology jobs and helping lower-income Virginians climb out of poverty and near-poverty by equipping the disadvantaged with the skills required for those jobs. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed published today they write:

It is our obligation, particularly at public universities,” “to enhance social mobility for the students we serve. By removing barriers to higher education and preparing students for STEM-H jobs, institutions will not only increase economic opportunity and social mobility, but also ensure that the jobs of the future are filled by a well-educated, career-ready and diverse workforce.

From a high-altitude perspective, Broderick and Neufeldt make an excellent point and their ideas are well worth exploring. However, their analysis fails to account for the bottleneck in the school-to-college pipeline for lower-income students, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, and a naive application of their ideas could have unintended negative consequences. Continue reading

Meanwhile, Back in the People’s Republic of Charlottesville…

City Councilor Cathy Galvin — divestment a step in the right direction.

Charlottesville City Council has voted to remove all operating investments in “weapons” and fossil-fuel companies from its $50 million-to-$100 million core investment portfolio, reports WVIR-TV.

Divestment proponents said fossil fuels and weapons do not align with the city’s vision and have negative impacts on community members. In response to calls that the measure does not go far enough, Treasurer Jason Vandever said the city is looking into divesting from fossil-fuel and weapons investments in the retirement fund as well.

Fossil-fuel and weapons companies make up only a small portion of the investment portfolio, so the measure will have a minimal budgetary impact, divestment advocates said.

Bacon’s bottom line: I wish there were some way Virginia could divest itself of Charlottesville, but no mechanism readily comes to mind. As a fall-back position, perhaps Commonwealth should divest itself of the University of Virginia, which sits at the epicenter of the city’s radical-chic culture. Continue reading

Moral Hazard and Sea Level Rise

Ann Phillips. Photo credit: Free Lance-Star

Why aren’t Virginia localities acting more aggressively to protect themselves from rising sea levels? You don’t have to believe in catastrophic global warming to acknowledge that sea levels are creeping steadily higher worldwide or that subsidence caused by shifting tectonic plates and shrinking aquifers is aggravating flooding in Virginia’s Tidewater.

A big reason for the complacency, says Navy Adm. Ann Phillips, is that people think someone will bail them out. Virginia’s coastal-adaptation czar, appointed by Governor Ralph Northam, drove home the point last month at a College of William & Mary forum. Reports the Free Lance-Star:

“As I talked to people about what options are, in passing, to deal with the future, I have a sense that many homeowners feel that the cities are going to bail them out. And that the cities feel that the states should bail them out, and that the state thinks the federal government should bail them out.”

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Sanctimonious Money in Politics

Grrrrr

The older I get, the more irritable I get. Perhaps, upon passing the threshold to Medicare eligibility, I became a cranky old man. In my defense, however, I do find myself continually provoked. The latest vexation comes from a Community Idea Stations article describing how an increasing number of Democratic Party candidates for General Assembly are self-righteously turning down campaign donations from corporations — not just Dominion Energy, mind you, but any corporation. One example:

Zachary Brown, a law student at the University of Richmond who is running against Eileen Bedell and Ghazala Hashmi in the 10th Senate District, only raised around $2,000 in April and May. But the 23-year-old law student says he came by it honestly.

“We can’t have our constituents second-guessing out votes because we take contributions from large corporations,” Brown said.

Such sentiments are consistent with Democrats’ conviction that the injection of corporate cash is a uniquely corrupting practice. Labor union money, extracted from union dues for causes members may or may not agree with… perfectly OK. Money laundered through Democratic Party PACs… just fine. Contributions from out-of-state billionaires like Tom Steyer… not a problem. But money collected from individual employees in a corporation and bundled through a corporate PACs… horrors! Continue reading

Northam Blackface Update: Head and Shoulders Analysis

As part of its examination into the Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS) yearbook scandal, in which an unidentified figure appeared in blackface on Ralph Northam’s profile page, investigators with the McGuire Woods law firm considered a piece of evidence submitted by Northam’s personal law firm, Alston & Bird: a facial recognition report. “This report, conducted by a reputable vendor,” summarized the McGuire Woods report, “found the image of the Photograph was not of sufficient quality to conduct a comparison with other photographs.”

While the photograph is of such poor quality that facial-recognition analysis may be impossible, there is much else than can be gleaned from the photo. I have made the argument in previous posts that the figure in blackface was dressed in Michael Jackson costume.

Now a clever reader, who asks to remain anonymous, suggests another thrust of analysis: measuring the slope of the person’s shoulders and the angle at which he holds his head.

States the reader: “I noticed that the figure in the yearbook photo stood in a somewhat awkward way, with his body leaning left but his head tilted to the right (from the vantage of the viewer).” He pulled photos of Northam off the Web for purposes of comparison. “This is not unbiased evidence because I selected photos that worked, rather than doing a random sampling of photos. But it does show that the way Northam stands at times does appear to be similar to the yearbook photo.  A chiropractor might be able to untangle this!” Continue reading

Northam in Blackface: Talk to the Hand

Several days ago I advanced the argument that the identity of the blackfaced individual in Ralph Northam’s infamous 1984 medical school yearbook was none other than Northam himself, garbed in the likeness of Michael Jackson. That theory landed with a resounding thud. No one in the media (or anywhere else, for I can tell) took note of the interpretation. But, then, no one offered any evidence to the contrary. Undeterred by the public’s extraordinary indifference to a fascinating question — c’mon, people, doesn’t anyone like a good whodunnit anymore? — I press on.

I have two more angles to explore. One angle demolishes one of Northam’s  explanations of why he believes the man in blackface was not him. But the other raises new questions, which, if answered, potentially could lead to information exonerating the governor — or convicting him.

Today, I focus on the hand of the man in blackface — the hand holding a can of beer.

But first, a refresher. Here are the specific reasons, cited in the McGuire Woods inquiry into the origins of the blackface photo, that Northam cited why he could not have been the man in blackface (hereinafter referred to as Blackface Dude). Continue reading

Special VPI Graduation Ceremonies for Everyone (Except for Straight White Christians)

I don’t know what was considered deficient with the main Virginia Tech commencement ceremony — too white? too heteronormative? insufficiently diverse? — but the university this year provided ten supplementary graduation programs for African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, gays, and other groups.

Apparently, the administration deemed it inadequate for some students to revel in what they shared in common as Hokies, graduates of one of America’s more prestigious universities, or as young people embarking upon their life journeys as adults, or even, dare I say, as Americans. They needed an opportunity to celebrate their cultural identities. Well, some of them did. If they were of English, German, Irish, Scotch-Irish, Italian, or Polish descent, or if they were Catholic, Protestant or some other denomination of Christianity, there were no special Cultural Achievement ceremonies to attend.

But if students were of African-American descent, they could participate in the university-sponsored Donning of the Kente ceremony. If they were of Hispanic-Latino background, there was the Gesta Latina. There was a ceremony for American Indians & indigenous people, and another one for Asians. There was a special ceremony for Jews and one for Muslims. There was a ceremony for international students, and a ceremony for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and ally community. Oh, and there was even one for students in recovery and one for veterans.

According to a Virginia Tech feature story, the special ceremonies advance the university’s mission to ensure the success of all students, particularly those from underrepresented and historically marginalized populations. Continue reading

Oops, We Did It Again

What a shock! Virginia’s Medicaid expansion isn’t working out as planned. Today we learn that Virginia’s private hospitals, which are paying a tax to defray the state’s 10% share of expansion (Uncle Sam pays the rest), is on track to receive only 78% of the Medicaid revenue they expected, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The big question is whether the shortfall is a one-time event caused by a slower-than-expected rollout of the program or a permanent feature of the healthcare landscape.

Department of Medicaid Assistance Services (DMAS) estimated that the influx of 300,000 to 400,000 Medicaid patients would increase hospital industry revenues by $247 million in the second half of the 2019 fiscal year. So far, the actual net increase is on pace for $192 million for the six-month period. The hospital lobby agreed to the tax in the expectation that a surge in Medicaid revenue would more than offset it.

“We’re rolling out a little bit more slowly than anticipated,” said Chris Gordon, chief financial officer for DMAS. “We’re continuing to monitor and adjust our forecast. We continue to learn from experience.”
Continue reading

Want More Affordable Housing? Try Free Markets.

More apartments needed… Affordable housing complex approved in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Exclusionary regulation at the local level is the root cause of unaffordable housing, and a rollback of exclusionary regulation is the best long-term solution, argue Salim Furth and Emily Hamilton, research fellows at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

“Contemporary American land use law embodies the bad idea that private land ought to be publicly planned. In practice, these plans routinely exclude low-income families by indirect means, causing income-based segregation,” they write in an attachment to April 2, 2019, testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services.

Exclusion is widespread: most jurisdictions, through zoning ordinances, ban apartments and manufactured homes in all but a few locations. Single-family homes are usually allowed, but only in specified areas and often on lots larger than many buyers want. As a consequence, those states that give the most power to planners and the least authority to property owners have abysmal housing growth rates. When wages rise in those states, rents and home prices soar.

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Mass Shootings a Multi-Faceted Phenomenon

Victims of the Virginia Beach shooting

Tragedy struck Virginia yesterday in the form of a mass shooting at the Virginia Beach municipal complex. The investigation into the shooter’s motive — undoubtedly tied to workplace violence — remains incomplete, but that probably won’t stop pundits and talking heads from indulging their usual tropes for and against guns.

I find both sides of the gun-rights debate to be tiresome. Gun control zealots act as if the availability of guns were the one and only issue: Limit access to guns and the country will be a safer place. Gun rights zealots act as if the ubiquity and easy availability of guns has nothing to do with the lone-shooter carnage that erupts periodically across the country.

To my mind, mass shootings are a complex social phenomenon for which there are no easy remedies. Permit me to advance a few propositions that, hopefully most reasonable people can agree upon.

Yes, the ubiquity and easily availability of guns is part of the problem. The fact that the overwhelming majority of mass killings are mass shootings is all the evidence we need to make this point. True, you can kill people by exploding bombs, running them down with trucks, and even stabbing them with knives (a growing phenomenon in countries with low rates of gun ownership). But alternative means of committing mass mayhem are either more difficult to execute, easier for law enforcement authorities to intercept, or less likely to be deadly. Continue reading

Enjoy Tuition Freezes While You Can. They Won’t Last.

Citing $53 million in additional state support for higher education this year, the boards of Virginia’s public colleges and universities have decided to keep tuition flat for in-state undergraduate students in the upcoming academic year — the first such freeze in nearly two decades, reports the Washington Post.

James Toscano, president of Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, paints the freeze as a “significant victory for students and families in Virginia.” As state revenue flows have recovered in states across the country, legislatures are once again investing in higher education. Meanwhile, public institutions recognize that consumers “have reached a pain point that is greater than they can bear.”

Any moderation in higher-ed tuition increases is welcome, for whatever reason and from whatever source. But I am less sanguine than Toscano. I feel certain for two reasons that the cost of attendance will shortly resume its rise. First, the General Assembly is unlikely to sustain $50+ million increases in state support year after year. Between competing demands from other core state responsibilities and the inevitability of an economic downturn at some point in the not-so-distant future, the legislature will be hard-pressed to match this year’s generosity. Second, there is no sign that Virginia’s public institutions have done anything to quell the underlying inflationary forces driving up costs. Continue reading

Amazon Campaign Contributions: $75,000 and Counting

Source: Virginia Public Access Project

Speaking of alien overlords (see previous post)… I believe I’m correct in saying that Bacon’s Rebellion’s Steve Haner was the first pundit to note that if you like Amazon as a major player in Virginia’s economy, you’d better get accustomed to Amazon as a major player in Virginia politics. Now comes the Washington Business Journal noting that the Seattle-based technology giant and its political action committee have reported $75,000 in contributions to major political groups in Virginia.

Amazon has spread its money pretty evenly between Democrats and Republicans. I have posted the Virginia Public Access Project summary above.

I, for One, Welcome Our New Alien Overlords

Alien from the popular XCom2 strategy game.

Navy pilots flying off the East Coast, including the Virginia coast, have reported numerous encounters with Unidentified Flying Objects, the New York Times informs us. The newspaper has recounted the pilots’ stories and now that the Trump-Russian collusion theory has melted like the Siberian tundra in summer, people are latching onto a new conspiracy theory. Could the UFOs be aliens (not the kind that sneak across the border)? What’s the government hiding? Even Robert Zullo with the Virginia Mercury is getting into the act, demanding answers in a light-hearted rant: “Tell us about the UFOs already, Mr. President.”

I have no explanation for the flying objects. Are they secret experimental aircraft? Are they meteorological phenomenon? Who knows? Whatever the case, I find no cause for alarm. Whatever they are, they are not extra-terrestrial aliens. I worry more about climate change than I worry about an alien invasion — and I worry about the scourge of feral cats more than I worry about climate change.

For the UFOs to be alien craft, several other things must be true:

Craft designed for atmospheric flight are also capable of space travel. First the UFOs had to reach earth. Then they had to be capable of flying in the atmosphere. I’m not aerospace engineer, but I’m pretty sure that spacecraft designed for interstellar flight at speeds of millions of miles per hour in the vacuum of space are not optimized for zipping around Earth with all of its atmospheric drag. Continue reading

Just How Smart Is the Smart-Scale Scoring System?

Over the past month Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, has criticized the state’s Smart Scale scoring system for allocating transportation dollars. By law, he says, the system is supposed to prioritize congestion mitigation. But the latest round of allocations was biased heavily in favor of land use and economic development. As a result, a Metro station project near the planned Amazon HQ2 project received funding while a Rt. 7 improvement project with greater congestion-mitigation benefits did not. This year the overwhelming majority of Northern Virginia transportation funds are going to projects inside the Beltway and only a pittance to counties on the metropolitan fringe. LaRock says the system is “seriously broken.”

Deputy Secretary of Transportation Nick Donohue defends the Smart Scale methodology. As it happened this year, yes, Northern Virginia road and highway funding did fall short. He offers two justifications. First, congestion mitigation is not the only factor considered in Smart Scale, and the other projects offered tremendous benefits in other areas. Second, Smart Scale measures congestion mitigation per dollar spent. Improvements to Rt. 7, benefiting LaRock’s Loudoun County constituents, would have ameliorated a lot of congestion, but it is also a very large, very expensive project.

LaRock has a response to that. Peculiarities in the Smart Scale methodology had the effect this year of diminishing the weight given congestion mitigation projects. The state’s top congestion-relief project, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion, offered benefits so far and above all other projects that it minimized the weighting of congestion benefits for those projects.

The issues here are arcane and difficult to explain. Thus the debate boils down to he-said, she-said with LaRock and Donohue on opposite sides of the controversy. But the annual allocation of roughly $800 million yearly in transportation construction dollars is at stake. LaRock, along with Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centreville, has launched the first major challenge to the scoring system, which was designed with the hope of taking politics out of transportation decision-making. Continue reading

Counseling, Jail Time, and the Cycle of Violence

Prayer vigil at Carter Jones Park

Families in south Richmond have long held community cookouts at the Carter Jones Park. Last Sunday evening, an altercation broke around at a basketball/skateboard facility nearby. Gunshots were fired. Nine-year-old Markiya Simone Dickson and an unnamed 11-year-old boy were struck by bullets. Markiya died.

Community members and city leaders gathered at a vigil yesterday to protest the violence. One of the city officials in attendance, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras, addressed the impact of trauma upon school children.

Dozens of children in the park witnessed the tragedy, said Kamras, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “They will carry that trauma into their lives, and certainly into their classrooms. Sadly, this is all too common for many of the young people in Richmond Public Schools.”

As Richmonders held their vigil, First Lady Pamela Northam was addressing Southwest Virginia’s Rural Summit for Childhood Success across the state in Abingdon. Shootings that kill random by-standers are rare in that part of Virginia, but child abuse and child neglect are far from uncommon. According to the Washington County News, Northam said: Continue reading