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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.

In Defense of Out-of-State Students

There are reasons to value foreign and out-of-state students over and above the tuition revenue they bring in.

There are reasons to value foreign and out-of-state students over and above the tuition revenue they bring in.

As recently as the 1990s, the Commonwealth of Virginia did something that would be considered unthinkable in today’s political environment — it subsidized 25% of the tuition of out-of-state students enrolled in Virginia’s public colleges and universities. Legislators believed there was a value to attracting bright young people to the Old Dominion.

In two-and-a-half decades, says Peter Blake, director of the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), public policy has done a U-turn: Now legislators demand that out-of-state students underwrite the education of Virginians. Students from beyond the state line pay in tuition about 160% of what it costs to educate them.

The treatment of out-of-state students has always been a prickly public policy issue, especially at Virginia’s elite, highly selective universities that turn away many Virginians. Every slot given to an outsider is one less for a Virginian. As tuition at state institutions of higher education has ratcheted ever higher over the years, making the cost of college increasingly burdensome, out-of-staters are valued for the revenue they generate.

But there are non-pecuniary reasons for recruiting non-Virginia talent. Students from other parts of the country and even overseas bring diverse perspectives that enrich the educational experience of home-grown students — what economists call the “peer” effect. They also tend to have higher SAT scores, which boosts the average SATs for the student body, lending prestige to an institution.

And now they bring in more tuition revenue than they cost. Indeed the impulse to recruit out-of-state students is so strong that universities reduce tuition through the back door — by providing financial aid to lower income students — to entice less-affluent students. The average amount of aid granted to out-of-staters exceeds the average amount awarded to in-state students at every public four-year institution by a wide margin, inspiring bills in the General Assembly to cap or limit that aid in the hope of providing tuition relief for Virginians. State law already prohibits colleges from using revenue from in-state tuition to fund aid to out-of-staters, but measures proposed (but not yet passed) by the legislature would enact even tighter limits.

The logic for capping aid to out-of-state students is self-evident: It would free up resources to make higher education more affordable for Virginians. (I discussed this issue in the previous post.)

Reasons for supporting financial aid to out-of-staters are more subtle. Think of higher education as an industry and degrees as a product, suggests Blake. “Higher ed is a great export product.” Out-of-state students pump money into the Virginia economy.

Another advantage is that many out-of-state students stay in Virginia. Some 20% stick around at least 18 months, according to a study conducted several years ago. Higher ed is a great tool for recruiting human capital to the state, says Blake. “Virginia’s economy doesn’t end at the border.”

Virginia is part of a complex, inter-connected national economy, adds Tod Massa, SCHEV research director. “We can’t think strictly in isolationist terms.”

Coal Ash Clean-up: Duke’s Bill Exceeds $5 Billion

A truck embarks upon coal ash clean-up at a Duke Energy.

A truck embarks upon coal ash clean-up at a Duke Energy. Photo credit: Charlotte Observer.

Cleaning up coal ash in North Carolina will cost Duke Energy $5.2 billion, 50% more than previously estimated, and the electric utility has indicated it will seek rate hikes beginning next year to recoup its costs.

Duke has spent $770 million so far on the clean-up, which entails recycling and landfilling more than half its coal ash ponds, and the utility wants to charge the cost to North Carolina rate payers, reports the Charlotte Observer. Clean-up in the Carolinas could total $2.5 billion by 2021, and would continue accumulating beyond that.

Duke’s move is sure to be watched here in Virginia, where Dominion Virginia Power is under heavy pressure from environmental groups and elected officials with coal ash ponds in their districts. Citing the example of utilities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, foes of Dominion’s cap-in-place approach have argued that the utility should instead recycle coal ash where possible and bury the rest in state-of-the-art landfills.

Dominion has argued that cap-in-place is both safe and significantly less expensive. Pursuing the recycling-landfilling approach at all four power stations would increase costs from a few hundred million dollars to $3 billion.

Bacon’s bottom line: If there was ever any question that recycling/landfilling is an order of magnitude more expensive than closure-in-place, the Duke numbers should settle the matter.

A higher cost doesn’t rule out pursuing the option, but it does give pause. Dominion’s closure-in-place plan does entail a higher risk of groundwater contamination, although the company’s containment basins will be monitored for 30 years and the utility will be required to ameliorate any damage. On the other hand, the costs will be highly localized and modest in magnitude compared to the alternative..

The cost of contamination isn’t modest to the homeowners living near the Possum Point Power Station, however, as evidenced by a large turnout and heated testimony at a public hearing last night in Prince William County. The main concern expressed was contamination of well water, although some citizens worry about the effect on aquatic wildlife as well.

Here in Virginia, we have yet to quantify the risks and potential costs to the public and environment of different coal ash clean-up strategies.

If, to pick numbers out of a hat, it would cost $10 million to compensate Dominion’s Possum Point neighbors for contaminated well water by hooking them up to municipal water, would that not make more sense than spending $750 million to remove the coal to a landfill? Of course, those numbers aren’t real. We need to get better numbers. But you get the principle: We need to weigh costs and benefits. Otherwise, we’re shooting blunderbusses in the dark.

Complicating the picture even more… According to the Charlotte Observer, Duke is treating coal ash clean-up costs as an operating expense. In Virginia, operating expenses are included in the “base” electric rate. And base rates are frozen through 2022 under a legislative deal worked out in 2015.

Dominion has said publicly that it has already eaten nearly $300 million in coal ash-related expenses. So, maybe the full $3 billion cost of the recycling/ landfilling approach wouldn’t get passed on to ratepayers after all. If that’s the case, Dominion would take the hit, not rate payers, although the exact amount of damage would depend on what costs the company could defer until after the freeze ends. If Duke is any guide, half the expense could be pushed out beyond 2022.

“Blood on the Mountain”

Jeff Thomas, author of “Virginia Politics & Government in a New Century” and podcaster, interviews former Bacon’s Rebellion contributor Peter Galuszka about the “war on coal” and the Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia.

Peter also appears as a prominent “talking head” (his words, not mine) in a documentary, “Blood on the Mountain,” coming out later this month in DVD, Netflix and Amazon. Look for it.

Exploring the “American Lake”

View from Fort Cabrits, Dominica, the island where the Godspeed replenished provisions on the way to Jamestown.

Here’s what the Virginia Band of Goat Eaters, Rum Guzzlers and Low-Adrenaline Adventure Seekers learned from a week-long excursion to the Lesser Antilles: Cruise ships use their market dominance in small islands to extract lucrative terms – 30% to 70% of revenue from what we heard – from their local tour operators. Fortunately, the Internet has changed the economics of the business by allowing passengers and tour guides to cut out the middleman. And that’s exactly what we did, thanks to the pre-vacation exertions of our traveling companion Steve Nash, whom some readers may recall from his book, “Virginia Climate Fever.”

Steve patched together a string of top-rate tour guides to explore the theme of America’s role in the Caribbean, sometimes known as the “American lake.” Instead of joining least-common-denominator tours organized by cruise ships, we went on excursions adapted to the quirky interests of our six-person group. We enjoyed the guides’ full attention, we bombarded them with questions, and we engaged in memorable conversations about history, culture and current events.

The tours were no more expensive than what we would have paid through our cruise ship, but they were far more enjoyable, and the tour operator got 100% of the revenue. In such a manner did we Virginians deploy our vacation dollars to combat the cartel-like exploitation of poor, developing Caribbean nations by the cartel of European-owned cruise lines! (Nice twist, huh? Jim Bacon – capitalist social justice warrior!)

Herewith is a small  portion of what we learned.

The Hogensborg estate on St. Croix, circa 1833

The harshest slave owners. We started our tour in Puerto Rico, which I have already blogged about, and then stopped in St. Croix. One of the three main islands of the American Virgin Islands, St. Croix was settled originally by the Danes. The U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark during World War I for military purposes, and the islands remain a U.S. possession to this day.

The Danes used slave labor to work their sugar plantations, and were reputed to be among the harshest of slave owners. Although Denmark can boast that their nation freed its slaves in 1848, years before the Americans did, the Scandinavians did not exactly cover themselves with glory. Governor Peter von Scholten issued a proclamation freeing slaves on the three islands, but in so doing he defied the wishes of the Danish king. Furthermore, the act was hardly magnanimous. Slaves in St. Croix were in open revolt at the time. When excitement over the end of slavery settled down, the plantation owners struck back, enacting strict labor laws to maintain control over their workforce. But the now-free slaves would have none of it, and erupted in labor riots. Eventually, the Danes abandoned their plantations, and the colony’s economy went into decline. The U.S. bought the islands in 1917 for $25 million.

Lennox Honeychurch tells of the Virginia delegation that presented the Godspeed plaque.

First stop for the Godspeed. We found little of interest from an American history perspective on St. Maartin, a prosperous Dutch island (shared with the French). But in Dominica we had the good fortune to engage Lennox Honychurch, arguably the most knowledgeable tour guide in the Caribbean. Honychurch authored the only comprehensive history of Dominica, served in the island nation’s legislature, and worked as press secretary for Prime Minister Eugenia Charles, an ally of the U.S. during the 1983 invasion of Grenada. Among his many accomplishments, he spearheaded the decades-long restoration of Fort Cabrits, an 18th century-era fortification protecting the island city of Portsmouth.

Inside the main building there resides a plaque presented by the Commonwealth of Virginia as part of a 1985 reenactment of the voyage of the Godspeed from England to Jamestown. Following currents and trade winds, the English settlers bound for Virginia sailed south to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, then crossed the Atlantic with favorable winds in the tropical latitudes. Their first landfall in the New World was Dominica where, according to Captain John Smith’s account, “we traded with the Savages.” Only then did they follow the Gulf Stream north to Virginia.

George Washington’s home during his two-month stay in Barbados.

George Washington slept here, or how Barbados saved the American Revolution. In Barbados, the locals have preserved a handsome colonial-era house where George Washington lived for about two months with his older half-brother Lawrence, who had traveled to the tropics in the hope of recuperating from tuberculosis. In the mid-1700s, Barbados was the jewel of the English empire; its sugar plantations were the greatest wealth generators of the era. The plantation aristocracy there was far more cosmopolitan than the provincial tobacco farmers of Virginia. In the Barbadian interpretation of history, the impressionable, 19-year-old Washington widened his horizons in the company of his worldly hosts.

Among his less enjoyable experiences on the island, Washington contracted small pox. But the Barbadians spin this incident, only partially in jest, as a history-changing event. When small pox ravaged the colonial army during the American Revolution, Washington was immune to its ravages. Had he not been exposed to the disease in Barbados, he surely would have died or been incapacitated at the most inopportune time possible!

Memorial commemorating America’s dead during the invasion of Grenada.

Keeping the world safe for democracy. In 1983, the island of Grenada fell under the rule despotic rule of a Marxist-Leninist regime aligned with Cuba and the Soviet Union. When one faction liquidated the leadership of another faction, bringing about a violent change of power, the leaders of Barbados and Dominica appealed to the Reagan administration to intervene. The cold war was raging at full force at the time. Leftist Sandinistas had seized control of Nicaragua, and 36,000 Cuban troops were supporting a communist regime in Angola against a guerilla insurgency. The Cubans were building an airfield that would forge a transportation link to Africa, the Soviets were flooding the island with armaments, and the Grenadian regime was building the most militarized society (other than Cuba) in the Caribbean. President Reagan saw an opportunity to halt the expansion of communism in the Caribbean Basin, and he acted decisively. (Protecting the students at the St. George’s University medical school was a pretext for the invasion, not the real reason.)

The resulting conflict was a fiasco, plagued by abominable military intelligence, inadequate time for planning, and poor communications between army, navy and special forces. The Grenadians and Cuban airport construction workers put up tougher-than-expected resistance, and some two dozen Americans died during the conflict.

The Low-Adrenaline Adventurers visited the memorial to fallen American soldiers located at the airport, where the heaviest fighting occurred, and paid our respects. The U.S. soldiers’ sacrifice was not in vain. Grenada represented the high-water mark of communist influence in the western hemisphere, and Reagan demonstrated that the U.S. was serious about confronting the expansion of Soviet power across the world. The rest is history.

Mofongo!

The Bacon family is on the road again. Well, on the “road” is perhaps not an accurate description. We’ve made our way to San Juan, Puerto Rico. As always, I try to partake of the local cuisine (unless it’s something disgusting like sheep eyeballs or monkey brains). In Puerto Rico, that means eating mofongo.

The base ingredient of mofongo is plantain. The Puerto Ricans shred the banana-like plant, add garlic and other spices I couldn’t identify, sprinkle with carrots and meat, and drown in a delicious sauce. I’m not a huge plantain fan, but I found the mofongo I ate at an unremarkable neighborhood restaurant to be pretty tasty. If you’re looking for a different taste sensation, it’s worth sampling.

Chesterfield Finds $83 Million Unfunded Liabilities

Somehow Chesterfield County schools missed $83 million in unfunded liabilities until late last year.

Somehow Chesterfield County schools missed $83 million in unfunded liabilities until late last year.

Our society is riddled with unfunded liabilities. Nowhere is the magnitude of short-term thinking more egregious than the federal government. As case in point, the U.S. military has put off maintenance and repairs to the point where we don’t have the money for the military we have, much less the military we would like to have.

“The Department of Defense “has breathtaking liabilities — as much as $88 billion a year — that ought to be addressed before procuring a single additional plane, ship, or tank,” says Tom Spehr, as quoted by Robin Beres in her Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed today.

But Virginians can’t get sanctimonious. Not only do we have the example of Petersburg to to keep us humble, we now hear of scandalous inattention to hidden liabilities afflicts one of Virginia’s most populous jurisdictions — and one with the reputation, no less, of being exceptionally well run.

In Chesterfield County, school officials are grappling with massive unfunded liabilities for a supplementary teacher retirement benefit. Under the program, teachers can retire then get re-hired under the program working part-time, temporary jobs similar to their pre-retirement work. As incentive, they get a lucrative supplement to their normal Virginia Retirement System benefits.

In 2014, reports the Times-Dispatch, unfunded liabilities were found to be $58.7 million. Now they are $83 million.

Here’s the amazing part. The T-D quotes Donald Wilms, president of the Chesterfield Education Association, as being shocked when he learned of the program’s underfunding for the past five years. “Teachers were continually told that the program isn’t going away. So I think it was natural to assume that the program was healthy,” he said. “Nobody told you it was in danger.”

Nobody, that is, except for MGT America, which provided an efficiency review of Chesterfield schools in 2010 (!!!) and noted that the  supplemental retirement plan faced a large unfunded liability in the next few years as Baby Boomer teachers began retiring. “The increased number of participants will dramatically increase the cost of this program,” warned the report.

Somebody wasn’t paying attention.

Forget the federal government. Let Donald Trump and Congress worry about that. Here in the provinces, we need to worry about how we handle our own business. Do other school systems have supplemental retirement programs like Chesterfield’s? How many other unfunded liabilities, the existence of which lurk deep within Comprehensive Annual Financial Statements, are ticking time bombs? Is anyone paying attention?