Category Archives: Uncategorized

Everything Is Better with Bacon

Ambrosia of the gods.

Quick, load up on bacon while you can! The national craving for bacon is pushing U.S. pork belly prices to record highs, reports the Wall Street Journal. Americans purchased 14% more bacon at stores in 2016 than the previous year, and stocks of bacon in commercial freezers have begun running low. Farmers increased the size of the national hog herd by 3% last year, but not fast enough to keep up with demand for the yummiest food ever created.

Fralin Assumes SCHEV Leadership

F. Heywood Fralin. Photo credit: Roanoke Times

The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) elected W. Heywood Fralin, a prominent Roanoke businessman and former rector of the University of Virginia, as chairman Wednesday.

Fralin replaces G. Gilmer Minor III, much beloved by SCHEV staff and fellow council members, who after two terms was ineligible for reappointment to the board. Minor, who also retired recently as chairman of medical distribution giant Owens & Minor, Inc., had been instrumental in persuading the McDonnell administration not to axe the once-troubled Council and then acted to restore its credibility with lawmakers.

“I look forward to working with my fellow Council members in leading Virginia’s system of higher education to even higher levels of excellence,” Fralin said. “Virginia is fortunate to have so many superb colleges, universities and career-training schools — they truly are our crown jewels. It is an honor to work with them for the good of the Commonwealth.”

G. Gilmer Minor. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

The consummate Virginia gentleman, the 72-year-old Minor was known for his self-effacing leadership style and his penchant for praising the contributions and accomplishments of others. When introducing staff and other speakers at SCHEV meetings, he would always find something positive to say — often expostulating at some length. At his final board meeting in May, Fralin and SCHEV Director Peter Blake lauded him for his eight-year contribution.

Minor joined SCHEV in 2009, at a low point in its history. The legislature had established the Council as the state entity responsible for coordinating Virginia’s highly decentralized system of higher education. The council had seen significant turnover in its senior staff, Minor told Bacon’s Rebellion, and relations were strained with the colleges and universities it oversaw. Minor, who had just come finished a term as chairman of the Virginia Military Institute, said VMI almost regarded SCHEV as the “enemy.”

When Bob McDonnell came into office in 2010 on a platform of cutting state government, he gave serious consideration to eliminating SCHEV. Minor made it his mission to save the council and rebuild its credibility. Thanks in large part to Minor’s efforts, McDonnell spared the council. Minor spent considerable time with legislators, explaining SCHEV’s role and advocating the interests of higher education. SCHEV has functioned without major controversy ever since.

Fralin will bring a different style to SCHEV — from my few months of covering the council, he seems more blunt-spoken than Minor — but I expect the 62-year-old chairman of the Medical Facilities of America, a provider of skilled nursing and rehabilitation services — to play a similar role as advocate for Virginia’s higher-ed system.

In addition to serving as rector, Fralin has given generously to UVa, most notably a 40-piece art collection, which includes works by John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt and Robert Henri. The donation was the largest single art gift in the University’s history.

An Extraordinary Ordinary Man

My dad was not a famous man, but he was a great man — at least in my eyes. He served his country in the military. He rose from humble beginnings to a high-level position in the corporate world. He was active in the community, helping those less fortunate than him. He loved his family, and his family loved him. The greatness of America lies not in its presidents, celebrities and billionaires, but in its ability to produce millions of men (and women) like my dad who work diligently, pay taxes, raise their families, practice their faith, give to the community and leave the world a better place. His death a week ago at the age of 90 warranted no news articles or paeans in the media. To a nation that did not know him, he was invisible. But the country is diminished by his passing. — JAB

Here follows the obituary that appeared in the Virginian-Pilot:

Norfolk – CMDR James Alton Bacon, USN, Ret., 90, died peacefully on April 16, 2017, in a local hospital. A native of Laurel, Del., he was the son of the late H. Alton and Evelyn Hastings Bacon.

A 1945 graduate of St. Andrew’s School, Middletown, Del., he was drafted into the U.S. Army in the closing months of World War II. After the war, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy and graduated with the class of 1951. He served at sea on five submarines, culminating with his command of the U.S.S. Tench SS 417. Subsequent duty included two tours on COMSUBLANT staff and other submarine-related billets.

Commander Bacon received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University, and a diploma in Naval Warfare from the U.S. Naval War College. He retired from the Navy after serving as submarine consultant at the Center for Naval Analysis. Following his naval career, he joined Sovran Financial Corporation (Bank of America) and retired in 1990 as Senior Vice President and Director of Corporate Planning.

In retirement he led a full, active life. An Episcopalian, he was an active member of the Church of the Good Shepherd and served as a member of its vestry. He was a member also of the Naval Academy Alumni Association and the Retired Officers Association, served on the Finance Committee of the Norfolk Botanical Garden, and joined the board of directors of Lee’s Friends. For many years, he volunteered his time delivering meals to the elderly and driving cancer patients to their medical appointments.

In his later years, he was an avid reader of Tom Clancy thrillers, an indefatigable fan of Navy football, and all things lacrosse. He enjoyed the occasional glass of white wine and had a weakness for chocolate Oreo cookies.

Throughout his life, he conducted himself as a gentleman: with kindness, courtesy and modesty. He upheld the ideals of honor and integrity, and served as an exemplar to his family and to all who knew him.

He is survived by his loving wife of 60 years, Marguerite Overbey Bacon and his daughter, Mary A. Bacon and her husband John Crowder of Richmond, Va.; his son James Alton Bacon, Jr. and his wife Laura of Richmond, Va.; and his son Jesse Cabell Bacon and his wife Rives of Berryville, Va.; and eight grandchildren.

Chesapeake Crabs Rejoice at Crab Picker Shortage

Even the H2-B visa program can't alleviate the crab picker shortage at Graham & Rollins.

Even the H2-B visa program can’t alleviate the crab picker shortage at Graham & Rollins. Photo credit: Daily Press.

For many years, the big challenge besetting Chesapeake Bay watermen was the declining crab population. As the number of crabs dropped from 680 million in 1990 to 300 million in 2014, so did harvests. The crab count rebounded to 553 million last year. Now the problem isn’t a shortage of crabs, it’s a shortage of crab pickers.

Hampton-based Graham & Rollins, Inc., one of only six crab houses remaining in Virginia, expects a strong 2017 harvest, reports the Daily Press. CEO Johnny Graham needs to staff up with crab pickers. Decades ago, he had hundreds of employees, but they have all left or retired.  This year he found only nine locals through online recruitment. Three showed up, one quit early, and only two have stuck it out.

Graham & Rollins is entitled through the H-2B visa program to hire 110 seasonal workers from Mexico. Paperwork is a hindrance. “I’d like to have all 110 here now,” Graham said. He’s expecting 25 soon but doesn’t know when the rest will arrive. Last year, he told the Daily Press, the company lost 37 days of the season because they could not bring in workers.

Bacon’s bottom line: I have two conflicting reactions regarding Graham’s labor dilemma.

First, with so many Americans unemployed or underemployed, why the heck can’t Graham find any workers? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Hampton residents find unemployment more attractive than working a tedious eight-hour day. When social safety net benefits are as generous as they are, unemployment is a viable career option.

Second, if so few people are interested in the work, perhaps Graham is not paying enough! I expect that the handful of surviving crab houses in Virginia are experiencing the same labor shortages. If Graham pays more, his costs go up but he hires more workers and moves a greater volume of product. His competitors might even follow his lead.

The only winners in the current state of affairs are the crabs. Maybe that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Josh Lief Releases Album

Josh Lief, an economic development official in the Gilmore administration, was in the starting line-up of Bacon’s Rebellion columnists when I started publishing in 2002. He moved on to run the Virginia International Raceway and, then, five years later, to practice law. I lost track of him, but he has resurfaced with the roll-out of his solo album. I’ve listened to several of his songs on YouTube, and they’re all worth listening to, but I like “Redemption” the best. Support a Virginia artist. Buy Josh’s music on iTunes!

How to Destroy a Small Town: Build More Stroads

Suck the soul out of your community and destroy its vitality: Build more stroads.

Want to suck the soul out of your community and destroy its vitality? Build more stroads. Photo credit: Strong Towns.

I have a meeting tomorrow with Augie Wallmeyer, author of “The Extremes of Virginia,” a book that highlights the perilous social and economic condition of rural/small town Virginia. In anticipation of the conversation, I have been reflecting upon what it takes to stabilize rural counties whose economies have been devastated by the decline of coal, tobacco, furniture, textiles and apparel. With all the challenges they face, which Wallmeyer has described in copious detail, can these hard-hit communities reinvent themselves for the 21st century?

There are at least two parts to this question. One, which tends to get the most attention, is economic development: how to stimulate jobs and investment. A second, which gets overlooked here in Virginia, is how to maintain essential government services in a jurisdiction with an eroding population and fragile economy. The latter task is as essential as the former. If counties and small cities can’t maintain basic services, how can they hope to compete for people and jobs?

In the course of these ruminations, I encountered a recent blog post by Charles Marohn, founder of the Strong Towns movement: “America’s Next Transportation System: Doing More While Spending Less.” This short essay reminds me that every supervisor, council person, city or county manager, and planning director in a rural Virginia jurisdiction needs to read Strong Towns regularly — or be fired!

This particular piece discusses basic principles of transportation policy — principles that are routinely ignored throughout most of Virginia, and in rural Virginia most of all, where politicians and civic boosters regard new roads and highways mainly as tools for economic development. The entire post is worth reading, but I want to focus on some points most pertinent to rural planning.

Marohn distinguishes between roads and streets. “Roads are for getting to a place,” he writes. “Streets are for being in a place.”

Roads and highways are connectors; they provide high-speed links between productive places. They enable trade and commerce. Travel speed and throughput are relevant metrics. But we ruin our roads by gumming them up with development, intersections, curb cuts, stop lights and many other hindrances to unimpeded travel. For classic examples of how to ruin a road, look to U.S. 29 north of Charlottesville, the Broad Street and Midlothian Turnpike corridors in Richmond, Route 1 in Fredericksburg, and any transportation corridor in Northern Virginia. Smaller-scale but no less grotesque examples can be seen outside of almost every small city or town in Virginia. Communities have choked off their access to the world through their failure to understand the function of a road.

Streets are what you find at the end of the road. They provide local access — not just for cars but for pedestrians and bicycles. They do not create economic value by allowing faster speeds. Indeed, speed kills economic value on streets by making people feel less safe. The function of streets is to create places where people interact. Streets that work well are marked by short, gridded blocks, slower speeds, fewer stoplights, wider sidewalks, buildings abutting the sidewalk, and a vibrant street life.

“The productivity of a street is improved by slowing traffic, by giving priority to walking, biking and transit over automobiles and by intensifying the adjacent land use,” Marohn writes. As he elaborates in other blog posts, more intensive development (two-, three-, four-story buildings in small towns) generates more property tax revenue per acre for a comparable investment in infrastructure. This insight is absolutely critical for any town intent upon preserving and building its tax base.

Marohn coined the term “stroads” for street-road hybrids that combine the worst attributes of streets and roads —  “a transportation investment that attempts to simultaneously provide a high-speed connection while also attempting to build wealth.” Writes Marohn:

These outcomes are incompatible. Stroads are the highest cost, lowest returning of all transportation investments. They are also the most dangerous. We must stop building stroads and actively seek to convert existing stroads into either high-performance roads or wealth producing streets.

The path to economic salvation for rural Virginia lies (1) in building better transportation connections between towns and cities, and (2) in designing wealth-creating places where people want to live and work. Instead, most rural Virginia communities are still building stroads and destroying what vitality they have.

How Kumbaya Disciplinary Policies Hurt Black Students

Here we go again… The Richmond Times-Dispatch tells us this morning that a “pattern” in Chesterfield and Henrico counties of suspending black students with disabilities at a disproportionately high rates has triggered a response from the state. Chesterfield, Henrico and the City of Richmond are among seven Virginia school districts mandated to set aside federal money under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to address the problem.

In the 2014-2015 school year, Chesterfield was four times more likely to give a long-term suspension to an African-American student with disabilities than other students with disabilities. Despite several years of trying to reduce suspensions, Henrico was 6.7 times more likely.

In Chesterfield, an “equity coordinator” will aim to get at the “root causes” for the disparity. “It’s not that people are racist. That’s too easy,” said Julie McConnell, an attorney who runs the Children’s Defense Clinic at the University of Richmond. The bias, she said, is subtler. “If a child doesn’t act like your child, it’s harder for people to understand.”

The implication here is that the pattern of disciplinary action is discriminatory in effect, if not in motivation. Accordingly, offending jurisdictions like Henrico and Chesterfield are singled out for revamping their disciplinary policies. The new thrust, as described by T-D reporter Vanessa Remmers, is to discipline students “in a nonpunitive way, by focusing on repairing harm done and engaging everyone involved rather than excluding the misbehaving child.” Thus, schools become an agent of let’s-all-hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya social welfare policy.

The article does not tell us how many children are being suspended, much less how many handicapped black children are being suspended, as justification for overhauling district-wide disciplinary programs. The article does not tell us whether the suspensions are commensurate with the number of number and severity offenses. The article does not tell us the number of victims, either students or faculty, of misbehaving students. The article does not tell us what impact poor school discipline has on the learning environment for other students, much less how black students might be adversely affected by disrupted classrooms.

In other words, the article frames the social problem as one of bias and discrimination against black children with disabilities without regard to the impact their behavior has on anyone else, such as black children who do not create trouble at school. Indeed, by ignoring the disproportionate impact of the supposed remedies upon the educational environment of four-fifths of African-American students, one could say that the undue focus on bad actors is itself a form of bias and discrimination.

Here is a quick look at some statistics that might present the issue in a different light. This data comes from the Center for Civil Rights Remedies:

In Virginia secondary schools in the 2011-2012 school year, males were disciplined at roughly twice the rate of females. By the logic of the Children’s Defense Clinic, the ACLU, the Obama administration and other advocates of “disparate impact” theory, the school system discriminates against males. This would seem incontestable. But no one raises this issue. No one seems remotely concerned.

Here’s the data for the suspension rate broken down by ethnic/racial/linguist groups for 2011-2012:

Here we learn that the disciplinary rate for African-Americans in secondary schools is three times that of whites — but that the disciplinary rate for whites is roughly the same as it is for Latinos and American Indians, higher than the rate for English learners, and more than four times the rate for Asians. Perhaps the most accurate way of presenting the data is to say that prevailing practices have a disparate impact on non-Asians!

Here is another way to frame this data: While 21% of African-American students were suspended in 2011-2012, 79% were not! These students did not create major disciplinary issues. But they had to suffer through the disruptions inflicted by their unruly peers. Again, social justice advocates never mention this.

Here’s another set of data, this from the 2014-2015 Virginia Department of Education “Discipline, Crime and Violence Annual Report.”

The incidents  highlighted at left are only the most severe. They do not include 22,388 incidents of defiance of authority/ insubordination, 17,450 incident of classroom or campus disruption, 15,894 disruptive demonstrations, 12,523 minor physical altercations or countless other offenses adding up to 145,413 in all. These numbers also do not include acts of indiscipline too routine to even bother reporting in a system where deviancy is continually defined down.

No one tracks the race/ethnicity/linguistic background of these victims.

Here are other data sets for which there is no data because no one collects it:

  • Number of classes disrupted.
  • Number of teaching hours disrupted.
  • Number of student learning hours disrupted.
  • Academic cost to students of lost learning hours.

Yes, school systems need to take into account the fact that many students come from extremely challenging home environments, and many may suffer from disabilities that make it difficult for them to plug into the normal school environment. We should feel compassion for these kids, and perhaps we should make special arrangements for them. Perhaps it’s time we question the commitment to mainstream them with other students. In the meantime, we should stop assuming that disparate impact equals discrimination, and we should stop contort school disciplinary policies to meet the needs of the few rather than the needs of the many.

Health Care as Entitlement for All

State involvement in health care can be traced back to 1773 when the "Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds" opened in Williamsburg.

Virginia”s state involvement in health care can be traced back to 1773 when the “Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds” opened in Williamsburg.

by Allen Barringer

For seven years now we have lived with “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act, and now we are engaged in rewriting it as the American Health Care Act, and, yes, it’s “all very complicated.” One thing already is clear: both Democrats and Republicans talk about “affordable, quality health coverage for all Americans” — but neither the ACA nor the proposed ACHA truly lives up to that description.

I understand that standards of health care are contentious. We don’t agree on what is “quality” or “adequate” care, let alone “humane,” and we don’t even agree how limited medical resources, such as transplantable organs, should be allocated. But until this year, I thought we did agree on equal access to whatever it is the government provides. If there is a health entitlement at all, it should be available to all.

Health care has long been a government responsibility. From medieval times, the established Church organized hospitals and administered the poor house and other components of the social safety net, while the King dealt with public sanitation, quarantines and military health. The Enlightenment brought about a greatly expanded government role in public improvements, including public health, during the 17th and 18th centuries. Those traditions were brought to the American Colonies; indeed, persons drafted for their medical skills were among the earliest settlers in Virginia and in New England. By the 19th century, and particularly after the Civil War, public health (including, individual care for the ill and the indigent) was generally recognized as a concern and a responsibility of the States.

In Virginia, the first mental hospital was built in Williamsburg in 1773 at the urging of Governor Fauquier, and Western State opened in Staunton in 1825. Jefferson’s Anatomical Hall, completed in 1826, was an early building for medical instruction at the University of Virginia. The Hampden-Sydney “Richmond Department of Medicine” opened in 1834, becoming the Medical College of Virginia in 1854. After the Civil War health activity in Virginia exploded due to the legacy of military health care and new learning about the importance of cleanliness, the source of infections and epidemics, and use of anesthesia.

Virginia’s State Board of Health came in 1872. Virginia mandated vaccinations and sanitary sewers and quarantine regulations in its port cities. In 1889, a young doctor recently trained in Vienna, Austria, in the latest medical and public health practices, was hired as Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia. He quickly convinced Charlottesville and university authorities that to maintain the good health of university students and faculty it was necessary to address the health of the whole community they lived in. Eventually he persuaded the General Assembly to support this approach also. Teaching students through the practice of public health was the hospital’s mission. Teaching better health practices to the community and abating communicable disease at the source was its outreach.

Health care for the community means everyone in the community. Disease afflicts rich and poor and all races and occupations alike; every occupation has its hazards. The University hospital which Professor Barringer, my grandfather, founded and promoted so tirelessly was from its inception open to the Charlottesville community without regard for university affiliation, status, gender, race, or ability to pay. Many medical professionals and hospital administrators in Virginia still provide medical care on those principles, although they try to obtain payment when they can. And health remains an object of State concern and appropriations. For example, just a few months ago, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced State measures to make counteragents available at little or no charge aimed at combating the growth of opioid addiction, which he described as “a public health emergency” in Virginia.

The involvement of our state and federal governments in providing health care is so pervasive that we cannot pretend this is, “by default,” a private responsibility. The details of how the government goes about providing “affordable, quality health coverage for all Americans” are not as important as the affordability, the quality, the coverage offered. And this is a Virginia issue, not just a federal one.

Medicaid has a state budget impact, and there is talk of turning the entire health entitlement spectrum into federal block grants to the States. When McAuliffe tried to expand Medicaid under the ACA (essentially “free” to Virginians for a time, at the expense of the federal government), the General Assembly turned him down. That seemed to many observers (including me) to be more a partisan rejection of Obamacare than a vote against the public health and economic welfare of Virginians — but it certainly had the latter effect. And according to the Congressional Budget Office, the ACHA as proposed would substantially aggravate that effect.

Government support for health care has two rationales. One is economic. A healthy community is more productive, with less missed work, less down-time, less family distraction and dysfunction, and less threat of a catastrophic epidemic. Even if it isn’t you who is ill, you have an economic stake in the health of those around you, and you receive a direct benefit from the investment of your tax dollars in health care for others, not to mention the indirect benefit of a higher quality of community life. There is no distinction between individual health and public health in this regard.

The other rationale, of course, is compassion. Compassion is a moral imperative, and while I hear very little about compassion from Republicans these days it’s high time they re-discover it. The parable of the Good Samaritan is in the Bible, not a book of etiquette. Working in health care is an intensely rewarding endeavor, which attracts churches, charities, and all those many individual volunteers who devote their time to helping others. Not incidentally, compassionate policies also appeal to voters. Continue reading

Fix the Broken Regulatory Process

There must be a better way for federal agencies to review infrastructure mega-projects.

A few days ago, I asked why, after three-and-a-half years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to give a yea or nay on Dominion Virginia Power’s permit request for the Surry-Skiffes Creek transmission line. The issue I’m raising isn’t what the Army Corps decides but how long it takes to reach a decision. Because of the interminable time spent pondering the permit application, citizens and businesses on the Virginia Peninsula will be at risk of blackouts this year and next, if not longer.

Today, the Richmond Times-Dispatch highlights the frustrations expressed by Diane Leopold, CEO of Dominion Transmission (DT), sister company of Dominion Virginia Power and managing partner of the proposed $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP).

“To make these beneficial investments we need certainty from federal agencies. Not a rubber stamp, but a rational path forward with clear processes, reasonable schedules and reasonable decisions,” said Leopold in testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The pipeline requires more than 18 major federal permits and authorizations from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Parks Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The most visible hang-up at the moment, as judged by Robert Zullo’s article in the T-D, appears to be with the Forest Service.

Dominion says it will use state-of-the-art technology and best practices that will minimize the risk of landslides and erosion on steep mountain slopes. But environmentalists claim that Dominion is under-estimating the landslide risk, and it appears that the Forest Service shares their concerns. Dominion is convinced that it’s right, and its foes are equally persuaded that they’re right. The debate will never be settled by having one side back down.

Why does this have to be so hard?

Instead of a time-consuming bureaucratic battle, why not just specify the desired erosion-and-sediment-control outcomes and require the pipeline to meet them? A reasonable approach would entail careful monitoring of land crossed by the pipeline to detect landslides and other forms of erosion — a cost that ACP would have to absorb. All monitoring data would be made available to the public so government agencies and environmental groups could inspect them to ensure the pipeline was fulfilling its responsibilities. ACP would be required to pay the full cost of restoring mountain slopes and compensate nearby landowners or water authorities for any damages. Perhaps ACP would be required to maintain insurance or post a bond sufficient to guarantee the damages are covered.

There should be one debate over the standards appropriate to steep mountain slopes, and those standards should apply to everyone who wants to build an interstate pipeline in comparable terrain. The purpose of regulation should not be to prescribe how pipelines do their jobs but to ensure that they achieve the desired outcomes. Finally, the review process should not require months and months of review. It should take no more than a week or two to ascertain that the pipeline applicant has the financial wherewithal to live up to its commitments.

Wouldn’t such an arrangement work better for everyone?

Tommy Norment: W&M’s Highest Paid Adjunct Prof

Tommy Norment. Photo credit: Daily Press.

The $60,000 a year that state Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, gets paid by the College of William & Mary makes him the highest-paid adjunct faculty working for the university, according to Travis Fain with the Daily News.

One hundred and fifty-five W&M adjunct faculty are paid less than $10,000 a  year. Of the 44 faculty members who get more, pay averaged $19,300. Writes Fain, who based his data data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act: Norment “makes more than judges who moonlight as professors, more than William and Mary adjuncts who manage campus legal assistance clinics and more than a long list of part-time professors outside the law school who have distinguished resumes in their fields.”

W&M spokesman Brian Whitson said that likening Norment’s compensation with that of other adjunct faculty members was an “apples and oranges” comparison. In addition to his teaching duties, Norment, who serves as Senate Majority Leader, advises W&M president Taylor Reveley on university matters.

Norment spiked several bills during the last session that would have limited tuition increases at Virginia’s public universities and affected their governance structures. Between the 2006-2007 academic year and the 2015-2016 academic year, the cost of attendance (tuition, fees, room, board, other expenses) at W&M increased 75%, outpacing the 53% rise for all public four-year institutions by a wide margin, according to data collected by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.