“I Love Mankind. It’s Just People I Can’t Stand.”

Counter protesters professing their love of humanity. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

On Sept. 9, 12-year-old Bethany Harper and her nine-year-old friend Solai Coleman were sitting on the front porch of their house on Fifth Avenue in Richmond. Bethany heard the crackling pop of gunfire, and a random bullet struck Solai in the hip.

“We had nothing to do with the transaction [that led to the shooting] Saturday, but they shot at our children” Bethany’s father Thomas told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We have a new rule in this house: ‘You’re not allowed to go beyond this line,’ he said, planting his foot on the front of the family’s wooden porch.

The number of killings in Richmond has surged this year, reaching 59 so far compared with 45 at the same point last year, which itself was the worst in a decade. Many victims are innocent bystanders. So far, the 2016-17 school year has seen 25 students in Richmond city schools shot, along with a one-year-old child of two students. Fourteen others were victims of aggravated assault or malicious wounding.

No one will hold a vigil for Solai Coleman. No one will protest the injustice of criminal actions that confine Bethany Harper to the inside of her home. There will be no marches, no placards, and no made-for-TV media spectacles. Apparently, black lives don’t matter when the killers are black. Black lives matter only when the shooter is white or a police officer. Or when when the sight of Civil War statues offend the sensibilities of those who view the world through the filter of white oppression.

The Times-Dispatch ran the article about Coleman’s shooting atop the front page of its Sunday edition. With no sense of irony, it published underneath an article about a Saturday rally around the Robert E. Lee statue that drew about seven pro-Confederate, heritage-not-hate types and a crowd of counter protesters estimated to be a couple hundred in number.

The counter protesters were incensed by the handful of neo-Confederates (most of whom came from out of state), just as they are incensed by the KKK, Nazis, white supremacists, President Trump, and “haters” generally. But neo-Confederates didn’t shoot Solai Coleman. Nazis didn’t shoot her. The KKK didn’t shoot her. Nor did white hate groups shoot any of the other 59 homicide victims in Richmond this year. Aside from occasional vigils held by victims’ family members and immediate neighbors, however, the social justice warriors have not ginned up much outrage or marched in protest of the black-on-black slaughter in Richmond’s inner city.

If the social justice warriors cared about real people instead of abstractions like “institutional racism,” which serve mainly to validate their sense of moral superiority, they would volunteer to tutor inner-city school children. Or befriend an adolescent through the Big Brother/Big Sister program. Or pound nails with Habit for Humanity to build affordable housing. Or ladle out soup in a community kitchen to serve the hungry. Or help felons build a productive life outside jail. But that takes real effort, sustained effort. And it’s not nearly as rewarding as virtue signalling to your peers how politically correct you are or venting about the evils of KKK/Fascists/Trump.

As an aside, I have to commend Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Police Chief Alfred Durham for making sure that the Richmond rally didn’t turn into another Charlottesville. They made it clear from the very beginning that violence would not be tolerated, and they worked to separate the protesters from the counter-protesters. By broadcasting their intent, they snuffed out interest in the rally by right- and left-wing radicals looking to bang heads and make headlines long before the event took place. Job well done.

Sometimes Schools Need the Carl Smith Treatment

Reader Larry Gross wants to know why John Butcher (aka Cranky) is always picking on the city of Richmond. In the previous blog post republished from Cranky’s Blog, John shows the yawning gap in educational performance between Richmond schools and schools statewide. The problem isn’t just that Richmond schools are educating so many kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. He breaks out the SOL scores of disadvantaged kids and non-disadvantaged kids and compares them to their peers statewide. There’s a chasm in performance for each, which suggests to John that something is amiss in the Richmond city school system, not the kids themselves.

Larry is displeased with the negative tone of John’s posts. He thinks people should use data to help schools improve, not to “castigate the current system.” He adds, “I continue to point to places like Henrico which is an affluent county with some of the better public schools in Va but also with an astounding number of schools denied accreditation or in danger of being denied accreditation. I’d like to see Cranky and Jim do some similar data-looks at Henrico to see if we learn anything… how about it?”

Wish granted. In the chart above, the two blue lines compare the performance of “non-disadvantaged” kids in Henrico school and schools statewide. The performance is almost identical: Henrico matches the state average.

The yellow/orange lines compare the performance of disadvantaged kids. Henrico exceeds the statewide margins by a narrow margin. There is no yawning chasm in performance, as there is with Richmond. That suggests one of two things to me: (1) the disadvantaged kids in Henrico and Richmond are different somehow, or (2) Henrico schools do a better job of teaching disadvantaged children.

I don’t believe that disadvantaged kids are much different in Henrico and Richmond. Henrico has schools with concentrated poverty just like Richmond does. Perhaps Henrico just does a better job of running its schools, even though it spends significantly less money per student than Richmond does.

Yes, I suppose someone could describe this as negative, scolding, harping analysis, but I don’t look at it that way. I can’t speak for John, but I’ll explain why I highlight his columns on this blog: You can’t begin to solve a problem until you properly define it. And you can’t begin to solve the problem of Richmond schools’ atrocious under-achievement as long as you define the problem as “too many poor kids” or “not enough money” or “decrepit, run-down school buildings you wouldn’t use as a dog house.” The more someone wiggles and squirms and tries to evade responsibility, the harder you have to try to pin them down.

I used to work for coal-industry entrepreneur named Carl Smith. Now deceased, he was president of the AMVEST Corporation in Charlottesville. (The University of Virginia’s Carl Smith Stadium was named after him). He could sniff out B.S. a mile away, and when someone tried to bluff an answer to one of Carl’s questions, Carl had a way of relentlessly pinning him down. Carl didn’t yell. He didn’t even raise his voice. He just followed up remorselessly with question after question until he reduced the dissembler to a quivering mass of jelly. Sometimes you’ve got to give schools the ol’ Carl Smith treatment before you can get to the root of the problem.

Update: Cranky has created an amazing spreadsheet that allows you, with a click of a single button, to reproduce the statewide/local comparisons between advantaged and disadvantaged students for 2016-17 SOL pass rates. Click here to download the spreadsheet, and select the jurisdiction you want to view as seen below. Cranky’s spreadsheet does the rest.

It’s Performance, Not Poverty

by John Butcher

The popular sport in the Richmond “education” establishment has been to blame the kids for the awful performance of our schools. We particularly hear about our less affluent (the official euphemism is “economically disadvantaged”) students.

We have some data on that. Again.

Here are the average reading pass rates by grade of the economically disadvantaged (”ED”) and non-ED students in Richmond and the state.  “EOC” indicates the End of Course tests that generally must be passed to receive “verified credits” that count toward a diploma.

Both in Richmond and on average, the ED group underperforms the non-ED group.

To the point here, the Richmond ED students underperform their peers in the state averages, as do the non-ED Richmond students.

We can calculate the differences between the Richmond groups and state average to measure that underperformance.

Here we see Richmond’s ED students underperforming their peers by about 7% in elementary school while our non-ED students average some 9% below that group statewide.  In middle school the difference increases to roughly 19% for the non-ED students and 25% for the ED group.

The math test results show a similar pattern.

These data tell us two things:

  • Richmond students, both ED and not, underperform their statewide peer groups on average; and
  • The average SOL performance of Richmond students, ED and not, deteriorates dramatically in middle school.

As I have demonstrated elsewhere, the large percentage of ED students in Richmond (64% in 2017) does not explain our low pass rates.  So we are left with (at least) two possible explanations: Either Richmond students are less capable on average than students statewide or our schools are less effective than average.

If Richmond’s students were just less capable, it would explain the low elementary school scores but not the drop in pass rates after the fifth grade.

The plummeting performance of our students when they reach middle school tells us there’s a (big!) problem with our middle schools.  And there’s every reason to think that the school system that has terrible middle schools might also have problems with its elementary schools. Continue reading

Ryan Selected to Lead UVa

The University of Virginia has selected a new president, James E. Ryan, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A former law school professor at the UVa law school, he has a strong ties to the institution, and he has an impressive background and resume.

Read more about his background here.

“The University of Virginia has occupied a special place in my heart since the day I first stepped on Grounds,” said Ryan in a prepared statement. “Returning here to continue playing a role in the extraordinary work of this University community is deeply humbling, and an opportunity that I will strive every day to honor.”

In explaining the section, Rector Frank M. Conner III and former Rector William H. Goodwin stated:

We believe that the next 15 years will be critical in determining the future of higher education in the United States and the role of the University of Virginia in that future. As a leading public institution, we fully embrace the public service mission that we have to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world to develop citizen leaders in all fields of endeavor and to contribute to the common good in solving the most challenging issues of our time. We know that Jim shares a passion for this purpose. We are confident that he is the perfect leader for this institution at this precise time in history. And we intend to support him in every manner we can in achieving our shared vision.

Neither Conner, Goodwin nor Ryan elaborated upon what that shared vision might be. In a five-minute video accompanying the announcement, Ryan stuck to personal ruminations and gave no hint of what the board expects him to accomplish. Stay tuned. Bacon’s Rebellion will do its best to divine whether the university sticks to its present course or sets out in a new direction.

The Long, Painful Slog to Resolving the Net Metering Debate

Graphic credit: SolaireGen

After a two-hour telephone discussion Thursday, participants in a “net metering” sub-group of the Solar Policy Collaborative Workgroup didn’t seem to agree on much other than which issues need to be resolved. But that represented progress of a sort toward promoting small-scale, distributed solar energy in Virginia by businesses, homeowners and nonprofits.

“These are very difficult and complex problems. We made a run at it last  year, and didn’t get there,” Mark Rubin, the Virginia Commonwealth University professor and mediator behind the policy collaborative, said at the beginning of the session. “From a process perspective,” he said at the end, “this has been a helpful, productive call.”

The solar policy group, which worked out compromise legislation enabling “community” solar in the 2017 session, tackled the net metering issue without success last year. Two-thirds of the way through the current year, the group still seems far from formulating a consensus on net metering. But the conference-call discussion Thursday, which included a diverse set of participants ranging from electric utilities to smaller solar developers and environmental groups, did at least illuminate the main fault lines of debate.

“Net metering” refers to the regulatory system governing how small solar power producers, usually businesses and households putting solar panels on their roofs, connect with power companies. Solar panels often produce more electricity than property owners can absorb during peak periods, and a policy question arises as to the terms and conditions under which they sell their surplus to the electric companies. Solar advocates say utilities should pay small producers the full retail rate. Utilities respond that (a) the full retail rate is higher than the wholesale price of electricity they can purchase on the open market, and (b) they should be compensated for maintaining the electric transmission and distribution grid that solar producers periodically draw upon.

Long a laggard in solar energy, Virginia now has a big pipeline of solar deals in the works, and environmentally conscious consumers soon will be able to purchase renewable energy developed by community groups and marketed and sold through the utilities. But most solar production is large scale generation in vast tracts farms owned and operated by the state’s electric utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power. Progress has been much slower for small-scale, rooftop solar for the masses.

The most intractable issue facing the net-metering workgroup centered on standby charges. While the impact of rooftop solar on Virginia’s electric grid is minimal now — less than 1% of the power supply — participants are looking 20 to 30 years down the road to when it could become a major contributor. If hundreds of thousands of customers generated most of their own electricity, cutting into utility revenues, other customers would be stuck with the cost of building and maintaining the distribution and transmission lines that even those with rooftop solar rely upon from time to time. To offset this erosion of market share, utilities want to charge solar businesses and households a stand-by charge amounting to several dollars per month.

Katherine Bond, Dominion’s senior policy adviser, noted that a minimum bill of $7 monthly would not cover the company’s costs.

Solar advocates and environmental groups counter that solar is cost positive — that solar has a value that benefits utilities. For example, solar panels emit no carbon dioxide emissions, thereby making it easier for states to attain regulatory goals. Also, peak solar production overlaps with peak electricity demand, reducing the need for utilities to purchase expensive, peak-load electricity on wholesale electricity markets.

These issues are all well known, as they have been hashed out in many other states. What’s not known are the particulars here in Virginia. Because each state has unique geography, solar exposure, and regulatory systems, cost-benefit numbers that might apply to California or North Carolina may not necessarily apply to Virginia.

Aaron Sutch, program director of VA SUN, expressed the view of many that he wants to see more data. “We really do appreciate a respectful dialogue,” he said. But he added, “We haven’t seen any data from the utility side on the issue of cost recovery. … This should be a data-driven process.”

Will Cleveland, a staff attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, agreed. “If you want stakeholder buy-in, present the data so we can see [that cost recovery] is a legitimate problem. It’s hard from an optics perspective to hear that you can’t share the data. It makes it hard for [solar] advocates to agree to any solution if the data isn’t provided.”

“I understand your point that you’d like it to be disseminated more broadly,” said Rubin, the lead mediator of the workgroup. Core members of the net metering sub-group have been exchanging detailed data. But due to the proprietary nature of the data, participants have been held to strict confidentiality. Perhaps, once a particular path forward has been chosen, it might be possible to share more detailed data, he added.

A related issue is the necessity of attributing a monetary value to the positive impact of rooftop solar.  It wasn’t clear from the discussion whether the electric utilities had any data to formulate an estimate.

The sub-group discussed other, seemingly less contentious, issues. No one voiced opposition to the proposition that anyone investing in solar energy today should be grandfathered, or protected, from changes in the law that would harm the financial return on their investment. Rubin said Virginia needs to create a “glide path” to a new system. “How do you go forward without hurting those people who have already committed to solar?”

Virginia to Prepare “Robust” Response to Amazon Project

The latest news on the great Amazon elephant hunt comes from Virginia Business magazine.  Managing Editor Paula Squires quotes Stephen Moret, CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership:

Virginia has a keen interest in the Amazon HQ2 opportunity. We are thoroughly reviewing the company’s RFP, which includes a formidable set of site-selection criteria appropriate for a company with Amazon’s scale and ambition. … VEDP is committed to working closely with Governor McAuliffe and Commerce and Trade Secretary [Todd] Haymore to prepare a robust response in concert with our economic development partners at the local, regional and state levels.

Update: The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 100 cities have indicated an interest in responding to Amazon’s RFP. (Hat tip: Rick Gechter.)

Second Chart of the Day: Unemployment

Source: Commonwealth Institute

Another chart from the Commonwealth Institute based on the latest U.S. Census data: poverty rates across Virginia metro areas.

Here’s what leaped out at me: Every single metro area, from Harrisonburg to Winchester, had a poverty rate below the statewide average of 11%. How high must the poverty rate for non-metro (aka rural) Virginia be to skew the numbers in such a way? As Augie Wallmeyer says, there are two Virginias.

Chart of the Day: Median Household Income

Source: Commonwealth Institute

Here’s the latest data on median household income from the Census Bureau, courtesy of the Commonwealth Institute. Nothing much new here: Residents of the Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area make 50% or more than inhabitants of Virginia’s other metros, more than $90,000, just like they always have.

There is a well-defined second tier: Hampton Roads (Virginia Beach-Norfolk), Richmond, Charlottesville and Winchester. I haven’t looked into it, but my porky sense tells me  (if you don’t get the feeble joke, porky sense is Bacon’s analogy to spidey sense) that Charlottesville is on the rise. All those horse country gentry and handsomely paid University of Virginia administrators may be pulling up median incomes.

The smaller metros — Roanoke, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, Blacksburg, Staunton/Waynesboro — constitute a third income tier. And then there’s non-metro Virginia, which is not included in this chart, which I expect constitutes a fourth tier.

Overall, Virginians’ median income rose 1.8% last year. While incomes in the Old Dominion are relatively high — $68,100 statewide compared to the national median of $57,600 — the growth in income lagged the national average of 2.4%. Sequestration still haunts the commonwealth. Incomes in the Washington metro, only 1.5%, dragged down the state average. Once the highest-income metro in the United States, Washington now lags San Jose and San Francisco.

As an aside… the Commonwealth Institute notes that “communities of color” — African-Americans and Hispanics — tend to have much lower incomes on average, citing “structural barriers” such as poor schools, housing discrimination and employment discrimination. Given the fact that it was citing Census data on household income, the think tank appears to have missed an excellent opportunity to examine the contribution of household size and structure on income levels.

One of the biggest contributors to household income is the number of bread winners in the household. If African-American and Hispanic households are more likely than communities of pallor to consist of single-income households — as, in fact, they are — the breakdown of the family contributes in a direct and measurable way to reduced median household income.

Supremes Say General Assembly Can Order Electric Rate Freeze

Virginia Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan.

In a six to one ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the General Assembly does possess the right under the state constitution to put limits on the State Corporation Commission’s ability to regulate electric utilities. As a practical matter, that means that the multi-year freeze in base electric rates for Appalachian Power Company and Dominion Energy Virginia will stay in effect.

The Old Dominion Committee for Fair Electric rates, representing major industrial customers, the VML/VACO APCO Steering Committee, representing local government, and Karen E. Torrent, a Dominion customer, had challenged the freeze, which they claim lock in electric rates at levels that otherwise would have required potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to customers.

While giving the General Assembly “wide latitude to determine the standards” that must be used in setting rates, argued the Old Dominion lawsuit, “The Constitution reserves for the Commission — and the Commission alone — the power to set electric utility rates.

By suspending biennial reviews and prohibiting the Commission from changing base rates (except at the utility’s request, on a temporary basis,” the plaintiffs argued, state code “unconstitutionally ‘fixes the base rates that a utility will charge its customers for a period well into the future, and deprives the Commission of any power to reduce or otherwise regulate those rates.”

In an opinion written by Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan, however, the court majority upheld the General Assembly’s primacy over the SCC. Under the 1902 Constitution of Virginia, the SCC did not enjoy constitutional authority to set rates — authority was bequeathed by the General Assembly. The 1971 constitution did provide constitutional authority to the SCC, but “subject to such criteria and other requirements as may be prescribed by law.”

The General Assembly has limited the SCC rate-setting authority at least twice before the 2015 rate freeze. In 1999, in enacting the Virginia Electric Utility Restructuring Act to introduce competition among providers of electric generation, the legislature capped base rates for electric utilities for seven years. In 2007 when the General Assembly ended the deregulation program, lawmakers required a rate hearing every two years and prescribed that the SCC could not order a rate reduction unless it found that the utility had excess earnings in two consecutive biennial reviews.

“We have repeatedly stated in other cases since the passage of the 1971 Constitution of Virginia that the Commission’s authority to regulate the rates of electric companies has been ‘delegated’ to it by the General Assembly under various legislative enactments,” McClanahan wrote.

Justice William C. Mims wrote a dissenting opinion: “I reject the premise that the rate-making authority granted to the Constitution is subordinate to the General Assembly.” The majority was wrong in this case, and it was wrong in previous cases when it upheld the same principle, he declared. “The General Assembly may impose standards and prerequisites the Commission must adhere to when exercising its power and duty to set rates. It does not mean that the General Assembly may suspend that power and duty.”

Do Americans Really Have “Antiquated” Views on Race?

Source: Center for Politics. (Click for more legible image.)

The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics has just published the results of a poll on Civil War statues and race. To my mind, the questions about the Civil War statues are the least interesting. Nationally, Americans say by a two-to-one margin to leave the statues alone, which tells us nothing that previous polls haven’t revealed. More interesting is the spin that the Center put on the answers to its questions about attitudes towards race.

While few Americans surveyed expressed direct support for hate groups like the KKK, Nazis and Antifa, stated the press release accompanying the poll, “it will be disturbing to many that a not insubstantial proportion of those polled demonstrated neutrality and indifference or, worse, expressed support for antiquated views on race.”

Large numbers agreed with the statement that “white people are under attack,” and disagreed that “nonwhites are under attack,” while a third of respondents agreed that the country needs to “protect and preserve its White European heritage.” Then the press release said this (the emphasis is the Center’s):

Fifty years after the United States Supreme Court struck down bans on mixed-race marriage in Loving v. Virginia, about one-sixth of respondents (16%) agreed with the statement that “marriage should only be allowed between two people of the same race” and an additional 14% neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement, while 4% said they didn’t know. In total, about a third failed to express tolerance of interracial marriage. Among whites, 17% agreed that marriage should be restricted to the same race, with 15% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. This was slightly higher than nonwhites (15% agreed, 12% neither agreed nor disagreed).

Moreover, it appears that those Nazis and Klansmen marching in Charlottesville (and perhaps this weekend in Richmond) have lots of closet sympathizers. Six percent of the 5,360 people polled said they strongly or somewhat supported the “alt-right,” another 8% white nationalism, and another 4% neo-Nazism.

Let’s deconstruct this analysis. First, it should be reassuring that despite the surge of identity politics in the nation, 80% of Americans said they “strongly agree” and 9% said they “somewhat agree” with the question that “all races should be treated equally.” I do find it disturbing that 11% disagree with this fundamental proposition or simply aren’t sure about it. I would like to know who those people are. Many would jump to the conclusion that anyone expressing retrograde sentiments must be racist whites. But the Center’s crosstabs don’t support that conclusion.

Whites are more likely to agree than other groups with the proposition that all races should be treated equally.

A related question is whether “all races are equal.”

Whites agree with the statement by a significantly larger margin than blacks — 85% to 68%. But what does that mean? If someone one disagrees, does that mean he or she is an old-style racist who believes in black inferiority? Does it mean that the respondent does not believe the races are treated equally? Or does it mean something else entirely? Given the ambiguity of the question, it is almost worthless.

How about the question that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage?”

The tenor of the question invokes Klan and neo-Nazi rhetoric that Americans of European descent are oppressed… or whatever it is they whine about. But the question lends itself to a white variety of interpretations, as should be made clear by the fact that almost as Hispanics and Others (a group consisting primarily of Asians) agreed with the statement as did whites. I would conjecture that many who answered in the positive interpreted the question to mean that America must protect its “Western European heritage,” including everything from Christianity and the spirit of inquiry to democracy, free markets, human rights and the rule of law. Indeed, had I been asked, that how I might have interpreted it. Continue reading