Tag Archives: James A. Bacon

Virginia Tech on a Fund-Raising Tear

Virginia Tech collected more than $162 million in donations and commitments in the last fiscal year, blowing through its previous record of $101.45 million. Almost 35,000 donors, up from 32,000 the previous year, gave money, reports the Roanoke Times. The money will help the Virginia Tech Foundation meet its goal of growing its endowment to $1.6 billion in the coming years. The endowment at the end of the fiscal year was $843 million.

“We asked our alumni and friends to help Virginia Tech have a bigger impact on the world. Their response makes it possible for us to grow as a global university, launch new programs, serve more students and communities, and create productive environments for learning and research,” Tech President Timothy Sands said in a written statement.

Bacon’s bottom line: I’m of mixed minds. On the one hand, state support is inconsistent. Given past history, Virginia Tech has every reason to fear future cuts. No one can blame the university for trying to buffer itself from budgetary vagaries. Further, I’ll say that Tech has done a better job than Virginia’s other research universities of restraining its tuition increases. I’m not sure how Tech did it, but the university has managed to grow its research base without shifting costs to students as sharply as peer institutions have done. Finally, plowing money into Tech augments its ability to function as an economic-development engine for Southwest Virginia.

On the other hand, building big, fat endowments shifts power within the university to the school administration by insulating the feudal empire of presidents, deans, deanlets, provosts, assistant provosts, and associate assistant provosts from market forces (collecting tuition from students), oversight (the General Assembly), and even the faculty. As Benjamin Ginsberg argues in his 2011 book, “The Fall of the Faculty,” big endowments free the administrative bureaucracy to pursue its own inward-looking agenda, which creates little value for anyone but the administrators themselves.

“Fund-raising represents a more attractive income source than tuition,” Ginsberg writes.

To administrators anxious to generate new revenues, an increased emphasis on fund-raising usually seems a far more attractive strategy than seeking additional tuition dollars. Fund-raising is almost entirely under the control of the administration and requires minimal, if any, faculty involvement. …

Today, thanks to schools’ major emphasis on development, gifts to colleges and universities total about 40 percent of their tuition income. … The larger the endowment, the greater the power and independence of the school’s administration. Perhaps this notion helps to explain why many schools — particularly the wealthiest — hoard the earnings from their endowments, reinvesting a large fraction of their annual endowment income so that their endowment and future income will grow.

I’m not suggesting that the critique necessarily applies to Virginia Tech, which has a relatively modest endowment — but it might. Ginsberg describes a behavioral trope common to the richest institutions that must be guarded against. College development officers are wizards at cultivating a sense of tribal loyalty among alumni (football, basketball, reunions, pageantry, rah! rah! sis-boom-bah!) and crafting sales pitches to maximize giving. Alumni are ripe for the picking, for they typically have no source of information other than what administrators spoon feed them.

A humble proposal: Someone should publish a “Virginia Tech Alumni Donor’s Guide” (and like publications for other institutions) which compiles a wide array of data regarding institutional performance. This series of guides would include data available through the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) website and other sources documenting, just for starters, the history of tuition increases, student fees, student indebtedness, administrative staff ratios, faculty ratios (tenured-track versus instructors and adjunct faculty) and various financial indicators. One set of indicators would describe how the university is administering its endowment. What percentage of income is spent on programs, and what percentage is reinvested to grow the endowment?

Perhaps an organization such as Partners 4 Educational Excellence @ EDU,  a sponsor of this blog, would find value in such an exercise. Just a thought, guys!

Statue Controversy a Fixation of the Elites

Twilight of the Confederate statues

Last night I engaged in a deep and satisfying discussion about the Charlottesville tragedy with a group of men with whom I have met monthly over some 15 years to discuss politics and philosophy. Although I would describe those in attendance last night as  seven moderate liberals and one libertarian/ conservative (me), we shared common ground not only in our rejection of far Right extremism but in our concern about violence emanating from the far Left as well as the nation’s increasing political polarization. And, while I was the odd man out on the issue of statues honoring Civil War heroes — the others mostly favored removing them — I was impressed by the range and nuance of views expressed, and by the fact that everyone seemed to acknowledge that competing principles were at play. It was a far superior, and more civil, discussion than anything I have witnessed in the media, and it gives me hope that the nation is not as deeply divided as we tend to believe.

Naturally, as all conversations inevitably do, the discussion turned to President Trump, in particular his pronouncements on the subject of the Charlottesville violence and the fate of the Civil War statues. Some of my friends speculated that Trump at long last had gone too far, lunging so far beyond the pale of civilized discourse, that he had virtually no chance of being re-elected.

I said I wasn’t so sure. While America’s intelligentsia, whose views are magnified by media loudspeakers, is united in its visceral opposition to Trump, we have little sense of what the working class thinks. If Trump’s economic policies succeed (or if by plain dumb luck the economy continues to improve on his watch), and if the unemployment rate continues to decline, and the working class and middle class start seeing solid wage gains for the first time in a decade, he might well get re-elected. Indeed, I suggested, Trump might even see an increase in Hispanic and African-American votes. After all, the primary preoccupation of the working class is jobs and wages. 

I had no data to back up my propositions; I was simply voicing a hunch. Fortuitously, however, a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll of 1,125 adults across the country was published this morning that confirms that hunch.

The headliner finding was that only 35% of adults approve of “the job Donald Trump is doing as president” while 51% disapprove. I’m not sure how insightful that question is given the fact that some might support his policies despite finding him grotesque as a person and inadequate as a leader. (As coincidence would have it, I talked to my brother this morning, and he expressed that very opinion.)

Regardless, here’s what’s remarkable. Among those who approve of Trump, the racial breakdown was as follows:

White – 43%
African-American – 10%
Latino – 25%

According to exit polls, Trump claimed 8% of the African-American vote last year, and 29% of the Hispanic vote. For all the controversy, he has lost no ground with minorities. Let’s see what happens as the economy continues to grow.

Will Trump’s stance on the Civil War statues, roundly denounced in the media, hurt him with voters? The pollsters asked the following question: “Do you think statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should: Remain as a historical symbol, or Be removed because they are offensive to some people?”

Sixty-two percent of all Americans want to leave the statues alone, compared to 27% who want to get rid of them — a margin of more than two to one. Among lower-income households (making less than $50,000 per year), 65% favored letting them remain as a historical symbol. Among non-college graduates, 68% favored letting them remain. Among the racial/ethnic groups, the breakdown looked like this:


Latinos apparently don’t feel like they have a dog in this fight. Like whites, they favor leaving the statues alone by a 2 1/2-to-one margin. The most astonishing finding was that the African-Americans community is evenly divided on the issue. For all their hyper-ventilating outrage, talking heads on CNN and MSNBC evidently do not speak for all African-Americans. My guess is that working-class African-Americans have other concerns. Agitation over Civil War statues is the luxury of the well fed, well dressed and financially secure.

Update: Some of the poll data was scary and, frankly, hard to believe. When asked, “From what you have heard or seen about each of the following, do you mostly agree or disagree with their beliefs: the white supremacy movement?” Mostly agree:

Whites – 3%
African-Americans – 4%
Latinos – 7%

More African-Americans agree with the beliefs of the white supremacy movement than whites? C’mon. Must be a fluke. But, then, look at the answers to the question asking respondents if they mostly agreed with “white nationalists”:

Whites – 4%
African-Americans – 3%
Latinos – 11%

And the “Alt-Right”:

Whites – 4%
African-Americans – 4%
Latinos – 11%

And the Ku Klux Klan:

Whites – 1%
African-Americans – 2%
Latinos – 6%

??????

A 40-Year Lease on Life for Transmission Tower Foundations

James River transmission-line towers near Newport News sporting new foundations. Photo credits: Dominion Energy.

In 1968 Dominion Energy Virginia erected a series of 18 towers across the James River to carry two transmission lines from south of the river to points in Newport News. The company built the tower foundations with marine-grade, corrosion-resistant steel that was billed to last for decades. By the 1990s, however, it was evident that the steel foundations were eroding. If they deteriorated sufficiently, one of the towers would collapse, putting the Virginia Peninsula at risk of disruption to its electric service.

The utility encapsulated the steel “H pile” foundations with a fiberglass jacket under the waterline and with a putty-like compound above in the hope of preventing further corrosion. The fix didn’t work. A 2013 inspection revealed rust still eating away at the foundation.

“While the 2013 inspection revealed we had a corrosion problem, further investigation found that we had a bigger problem than we thought,” says Mark Allen, Dominion’s director of transmission construction. There was no way of knowing precisely when, he says, but “eventually the towers would have collapsed.”

One remedy would be to build parallel towers and power lines, but that option would cost $50 million. It would be far preferable to repair the foundations in place. But Dominion could not take a chance of knocking the transmission line out of commission by cutting out the bad steel beneath the water and replacing it with good. In 2013, Dominion was under orders to close the two main coal-fired boilers at its Yorktown plant and was struggling to gain regulatory permission to build a new transmission line upriver near Jamestown. There were only two sets of transmission lines serving the Virginia Peninsula, so taking down the Surry-Winchester and Chuckatuck-Newport News lines would have left the entire region vulnerable to blackouts.

Dominion’s engineering staff came up with a solution that wound up costing rate payers only $25 million. The story was chronicled by local media but never given attention elsewhere in the state. When the project garnered recognition by the Southeastern Electric Exchange earlier this year, Bacon’s Rebellion thought it worth re-telling as an example of the trials and tribulations of maintaining an electric transmission grid.

Previous efforts to protect the H piles had not stopped the corrosion.

No one had tackled a job like this before. The foundations of the 18 towers varied in depth between four feet near the riverbanks to 40 feet near the navigation channel, and the company had to cap the foundations to about 15 feet above the waterline, says Allen. The company also had to maneuver around restrictions on time and location due to protections for osprey and cormorant nests on multiple towers, a peregrine falcon nest on the nearby James River Bridge, and fish migrations from Feb. 15 to June 30, not to mention weather conditions.

Divers entered the water, which was so dark at times that they couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces, to install clips on the side of each H pile. To these clips they fastened rebar cages. Around the rebar cages, the construction contractor put in an epoxy-fiberglass jacket to facilitate the pouring of a “cementitous grout” that would become the new foundations for the towers. The design, which fully shielded the old “H-pile” foundations from the concrete caps above water to four feet below the water line, eliminated the need to cut out existing steel below the water surface.

“We were able to use what was there,” says Allen, who commends the creativity of the engineering team. “Instead of an H pile supporting the tower, we have a rebar cage and concrete encapsulation.”

The retrofit, which was completed in 2015, should last another 40 years.

Demanding Truth from Those in Power

Terry McAuliffe speaking to CBS News. Who’s telling the truth — the governor or the state police spokesperson?

The national media rightfully calls out President Trump for making outrageous statements such as his infamous line that there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the deadly confrontation in Charlottesville Saturday. Really?

I know that there were some “very fine” people among the peaceful counter-protesters in Charlottesville — one, a gentle and peaceful woman, was a friend who conducted my daughter’s wedding ceremony and also led a family prayer wishing me a speedy recovery from my hip replacement surgery. (If there is a God, it appears that the Big Guy listened. My recovery is going splendidly.) Would the president care to enumerate the “very fine” people among the Nazis, Klansmen and affiliated white supremacists who traveled from around the country to participate in an event designed to stir up trouble? He can’t name any. He deserves the lambasting he’s received for making such a statement.

The question here in the Old Dominion is, will Virginia’s media call out Governor Terry McAuliffe for making unsubstantiated (though less emotionally charged) statements, the likes of which, had they issued from the mouth of Donald Trump, would be branded immediately as lies?

C.J. Ciaramella with the Reason Foundation’s  Hit & Run blog writes the following:

In an interview Monday on the Pod Save the People podcast, hosted by Black Lives Matter activist DeRay Mckesson, McAuliffe claimed the white nationalists who streamed into Charlottesville that weekend hid weapons throughout the town.

“They had battering rams and we had picked up different weapons that they had stashed around the city,” McAuliffe told Mckesson.

The Virginia State Police also disputed McAuliffe’s claims that Virginia State Police were underequipped to deal with the heavily armed militia members at Saturday’s rally.

“The governor was referencing the weapons and tactical gear the members of various groups attending the rally had on their persons,” Geller says. “I can assure you that the Virginia State Police personnel were equipped with more-than-adequate specialized tactical and protective gear for the purpose of fulfilling their duties to serve and protect those in attendance of the August 12 event in Charlottesville.”

McAuliffe claimed in an interview with The New York Times that law enforcement arrived to find a line of militia members who “had better equipment than our State Police had.” In longer comments that were later edited out of the Times‘ story, McAuliffe said that up to 80 percent of the rally attendees were carrying semi-automatic weapons. “You saw the militia walking down the street, you would have thought they were an army,” he said.

That’s Ciaramella’s framing of the issue. The Reason Foundation, a Libertarian organization, is a credible group and certainly no apologist for Nazis and Klansmen or their white-identity politics. Assuming this is a fair summary of the facts, someone needs to dig to the bottom of these conflicting statements. Who gave the accurate accounting — McAuliffe or the Virginia State Police spokesperson? If McAuliffe misspoke, will anyone call him on it?

These questions are part of a larger issue that Virginia’s media have been tip-toeing around. Did the Charlottesville police and State Police bungle the handling of the Saturday demonstration? According to some reports, when clearing the demonstration area at McIntire Park, the police herded the white supremacists into close proximity to the counter-protesters, and that’s when the worst melees broke out. Of course, anyone can claim anything. But do we have a clear idea from authoritative sources what did happen? Do we know who made the command decisions? I’ve seen a lot of ass-covering statements, but no systematic sorting of the facts. Are Virginia’s media interested in finding out, or are they satisfied with the narrative concocted by the national media? 

Here’s one reason people will want answers in the future, even if they are not clamoring for them right now. The Alt Right is developing a line of argumentation that James Allen Fields, driver of the car that killed Heather Heyer, undoubtedly will adopt in his defense. Fields, they say, was driving around disoriented in a strange town when he was set upon by Lefties. He accelerated his car to escape them, accidentally plowing into the crowd, put on his brakes when he realized what was happening. Within seconds (and this is viewable on videotape), armed counter-protesters swarmed the vehicle, struck the car with sticks and clubs, and bashed in the rear window. Panicking, Fields threw the car into reverse, toppling attackers like bowling pins.

Please note, I am not making this argument, I’m not excusing Fields, I’m not blaming the counter-protesters, and I’m not engaging in moral equivalency. I’m noting arguments circulated on the Internet that will likely preview Field’s defense. In what is shaping up to be Charlottesville’s trial of the century, Field’s attorneys assuredly will try to shift the blame to others. Besides blaming the counter-protesters, they will blame city and state authorities for making the decisions that unleashed the chaos and precipitated the chain of events leading to the car killing.

It won’t help the cause of justice if McAuliffe is caught making stuff up.

In closing, let me reiterate that I’m not defending white supremacists. Nazis are evil. Klansmen are evil. White supremacists are evil. They picked Charlottesville, Charlottesville didn’t pick them. They spewed hatred and vitriol. They came prepared for violence, and they dished it out. They deserve the full punishment of the law. I wish they had never come to Virginia, and I hope they all go home and never come back. But McAuliffe, who didn’t have a credibility problem before, might have one now.

Motels as Housing of Last Resort

Flagship Inn, Petersburg

Two Sundays ago the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a disturbing special report on poverty and housing insecurity along the Jefferson Davis Highway in Chesterfield County. Hundreds of people live in shabby motels, paying $200 or more per week to live in conditions almost as deplorable as Richmond’s public housing projects. These hotels, the housing equivalent of pawn shops and payday lenders, serve the poor and the desperate who have nowhere else to turn. It is depressing to think that people live this way.

People pay huge sums — $200 per week translates into more than $800 per month, enough to rent a nice, two-room apartment in a decent neighborhood — to dwell amidst deplorable conditions. Many hotel rooms have roaches, bedbugs and other insect infestations. The article cites leaking sewage, mold, mice droppings, and inoperable door locks. Conditions sound similar to those of the public housing projects — without the same level of crime.

The plight of some of the residents is truly pitiable. Latisha Ragland, a single mother with three children, lives in the Flagship Inn in Petersburg. The 39-year-old had most of her right leg amputated because of complications from diabetes and high blood pressure. She receives dialysis three times a week, and is waiting for a kidney transplant. She receives $735 a month in disabilities benefits but spends $220 a week for rent. Any unexpected expense is devastating. Stressful insecurity adds to the misery of her circumstances.

It seems absurd that someone must pay the equivalent of nearly $950 per month in rent (4.3 weeks per month x $220) for a literally lousy hotel room. The article prompts the question of why tenants have to pay so much. Are people like Ragland being exploited by greedy motel landlords?

That’s hard to say because landlords would not talk to the reporters. The lawyer for one responded, “There’s plenty of other hotels. Obviously, it’s not that bad or she would leave.” That’s not much of an answer.

But there are hints in the special report as to why the rents are so high. People who live in hotel rooms come only when they can’t find housing anywhere else. Other than living in a tent in the woods, this is truly housing of last resort. Who are these people? For the most part, they live hand-to-mouth and have terrible credit. Who would pay $950 per month if they could qualify to rent their own apartment?

Evidently, some tenants fail to pay their rent. Consider the predicament of the landlord. Anyone who stays at a motel for longer than 90 days has rights under the Landlord-Tentant Act. Landlords can evict clients for non-payment only after giving them a reprieve to allow them to come up with the money, and only after a court proceeding. Sometimes unpaid rent can accumulate to substantial sums.

The T-D cites the situation of Trimaine Reed, living at the America’s Best Value Inn, who took the motel to court after living with cockroaches for three years. In return, the motel tried to remove her for failing to pay $4,016 in rent. The judge ruled against her, she claimed, because she had forgotten the paperwork laying out her defense.

The larger point is not whether Reed was fairly or unfairly evicted. The point is that motel owners are dealing with clients with terrible credit quality who frequently fail to pay their rent. Motel owners either eat the lost rent or attorneys to collect it in court. In either case, they bear a substantial cost which must be compensated for by charging what seems to be unconscionably high rents. The situation is directly analogous to payday lenders who charge what seem to be unconscionably high interest rates to clients with a high propensity for default.

What is to be done? How does society at large deal with the heart-breaking stories of people who live in these motels? Cracking down on the motels does not seem to be a viable option. Driving the motels out of business will leave the tenants with no place to live. Some say Chesterfield County should encourage more affordable housing by requiring developers to add affordable-housing units as a condition of development. That’s fine if you’re OK with wealth transfers from the middle-class to a lucky few who qualify for those apartments; regardless, the lucky few won’t come from the ranks of the motel people because landlords would accept only lower-income tenants with the very best credit. Another option mentioned by the T-D is to create rental subsidy program funded in part by the county. That’s fine if you’re OK with tapping middle-class taxpayers.

None of the traditional remedies look good. But let me throw out an idea. There does seem to be an opportunity to create a charity-based enterprise. Because of their poor credit, motel tenants are paying outrageous sums for terrible living conditions. Address the credit issue, and a charitable entity can get the motel people into better housing at lower rents. Perhaps a charitable enterprise could bundle a couple hundred of these people, in effect pooling the risk and functioning as a co-signor so tenants can qualify for better housing under more favorable terms. Inevitably, some clients would default and the charitable entity would have to eat some bad debt, so it would be necessary to inject some charitable capital or public housing funds to maintain solvency. But in theory, tenants will be at lower risk of falling behind on their rent because they will be paying a significantly smaller percentage of their income. It’s an idea worth noodling.

The Shamanistic Logic of Climate Science

Lowell Feld.

I’ve been mixing it up with Lowell Feld, publisher of Blue Virginia, who took exception to my argument that the debacle in Charlottesville represented a clash between the far Right and far Left. He accused me of “moral equivalency,” which is absurd, for I have thoroughly denounced the white nationalists who provoked the confrontation and made it clear that their crimes (including alleged murder) far exceed those of the Antifa and other Leftist elements in this particular instance. You can read his fulminations here, in which he hilariously highlights statements I made that he finds outrageous yet are undeniably true. And he renews his ongoing campaign to lambaste Dominion for sponsoring a blog that expresses opinions so far beyond the pale.

Among the many offenses I have committed, one is “climate science denialism.” I responded to his post as follows (with minor changes):

I love the way you proclaim to be an advocate of “science” in the global warming debate, in contrast to me, a supposed “denier.” But you have shown no indication of understanding what science is. The scientific method creates falsifiable hypotheses, then tests those hypotheses to see if they are valid, modifies the hypotheses to account for the data, and re-tests them in an iterative process. Climate models represent hypotheses regarding the relationship between various climatic variables and the effect they will have on future temperatures increases.

It’s frustratingly slow to test climate hypotheses because it takes many years to accumulate useful data. But enough time has passed since the creation of the early climate models, and the results are clear — the overwhelming majority of models failed to predict the modest temperature increase of the past 20 years.

Climate scientists are wrestling with this outcome and trying to find an explanation. While some scientists are modifying their hypothesis (predicting smaller temperature increases over the years ahead), some are sticking to the catastrophic-global-warming hypothesis and searching for explanations — the heat is hidden in the deep ocean, aerosols reflected the sunlight, whatever — that allows them to maintain predictions that temperatures will increase to an alarming degree.

This mental process reminds me of the writing of a certain Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, an anthropologist who studied the Dinka and Nuer tribes of the southern Sudan in the 1930s, with a particular emphasis on their practice of magic. Shamans would tell their customers, do X, Y, and Z, and your sickness will be cured, your husband will stay faithful, your rival will be struck dead, whatever. If the desired outcome came to fruition, the shaman would take full credit. If the husband continued to stray, the shaman would concoct an explanation — oh, you should have used eye of newt, not eye of frog, or you should have said the incantation this way, not that way. By such rhetorical devices, the shaman maintained a belief among the people in the efficacy of his magic. Evans-Pritchard called these explanations “secondary elaborations.”

As the most politically vocal Climate Change scientists confront the reality of data that don’t conform to the temperature predictions of their models, they are engaged in a vast exercise of secondary elaboration — they’re insisting upon the efficacy of their hypothesis (catastrophic global warming is coming) and creating explanations of why the predicted temperature increases are not yet visible.

So, you can call me a climate “denier,” which is a form of an ad hominem attack, not an argument. And you can make your appeals to authority — 97% of all scientists believe in global warming, etc. — echoing the Catholic Church’s attacks on Copernicus and Galileo. But at the end of the day, your arguments mimic those of the Dinka-Nuer shaman. Your reasoning is pre-scientific and based on faith. Your dogma is catastrophic global warming, and the pseudo-scientific justification for your dogma evolves as needed.

Feld replied that he would not dignify my post with a response. Perhaps that’s because he has no intelligible response.

As for Dominion, I have no idea what the company’s position is on climate change, or if it has a position on climate change at all.

SOL Scores Flat This Year

Student achievement in Standard of Learning (SOL) test scores tread water in the 2016-2017 school year compared to the previous year, according to new data by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). Slight gains in English writing were offset by a slight slippage in math and science.

“Students continue to perform at substantially higher levels on the commonwealth’s rigorous assessments in mathematics, English and science than when these tests were first introduced in 2012 and 2013,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples said in a press release. “This long-term, upward trend is far more important than a snapshot for a single year and reflects the hard work of thousands of teachers, principals and other educators and their dedication to helping students meet high expectations.”

Traditional disparities in academic achievement persist, with Asian out-performing all other racial/ethnic groups, followed by whites, Hispanics and blacks. Among the classifications followed by VDOE, “students with disabilities” fared worst, followed by English learners, and economically disadvantaged.

Update: Here’s John Butcher’s cranky view on the Richmond school system SOLs: “Bedden Blew It.

Good Job, *&#$-Heads

The white nationalists who sparked violent confrontations in Charlottesville Saturday pose as champions of Western Civilization, white rights, Confederate heritage, and the like, but they managed only to discredit what they supposedly value. Photographs and video images of Confederate battle flags interspersed with Nazi and KKK regalia indelibly reinforced the association in the public mind between the battle flag, hate and prejudice. An appreciation of Southern heritage, including the statues of Civil War generals, need not equate with bigotry. But it will be a lot harder to persuade anyone of that now.

Meanwhile, the morning news brings the revelation that Bragdon Bowling, who had applied for permission to hold a pro-statue rally at the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, may reconsider holding the rally on the grounds that he doesn’t want violent people showing up. Bowling had hoped to hold the rally in the context of the (mostly) civil debate initiated by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney over how to contextualize the history of the city’s Civil War statuary.

“Things have changed somewhat thanks to the Charlottesville problems,” Bowling told the Richmond Times-Dispatch yesterday. “I’m not saying we’ll call it off. I kind of have to watch and see what goes on. I don’t want to see David Duke at this rally. I don’t want to see Antifa. I don’t want to see Black Lives Matter. I don’t want them there.”

Update: The T-D reports this morning that Bowling has withdrawn his permit request: “I do not want to be part of an event where people are hurt or killed. Our purpose is to save monuments, not be engaged in social and racial issues.”

Congratulations, white nationalists, the violence you brought to Virginia has effectively suppressed the right of monument-heritage supporters to assemble and be heard. Good job, *&#$-heads.

As I wrote yesterday, it takes two to tango. Among the mostly non-violent protesters there was a confrontation-seeking minority — generically referred to as Antifa (for antifascist) — that contributed to the mayhem. But Antifa didn’t murder anyone — a neo-Nazi did. And the only reason the Antifa radicals came to Charlottesville was because you white nationalists came to Charlottesville.

So, as a Virginia citizen, I repeat my call to all white nationalists, if you haven’t left already, go home. And don’t ever come back. And take your vile, foreign ideologies with you. You are alien bodies. You are HIV, ebola, and bubonic plague bacillus rolled into one. Nobody here shares your way of thinking. (OK, maybe one or two tenths of a percent do, but that’s almost nobody). We’re trying to build a civil society here. All you do is stir up ugly passions, legitimize the Left, strengthen the forces of political correctness, and leave death and destruction in your wake.

It Takes Two to Tango

The discourse over Saturday’s events in Charlottesville has evolved so rapidly that it is hard to keep up. If there’s one thing that most of us can agree upon, it’s that the mayhem and murder may have taken place in Virginia, but it does not define Virginia. Heather Heyer, victim of the car attack, was a Virginian. But the advocates and violence and the man who (allegedly) struck her down, came from Ohio. We Virginians may disagree about the merits of placing statues of Civil War generals in public spaces, but we are not Klansmen, Nazis, white supremacists or murderers.

To the contrary, as my friend Jon Wight observed on his Economics and Ethics blog, while out-of-state protesters and counter-protesters were bashing heads in Charlottesville, “thousands of people of all races gathered 70 miles away to celebrate ideas that unite us—the sounds of blues, jazz, and everything in-between at the Richmond Jazz Festival. The races of humanity mingled, laughed, shared food and fans, danced, and enjoyed each other’s company.”

It has been remarkable to see how the incident in Charlottesville has been hijacked by the national media to serve national political agendas and to observe how the battle has begun to frame the meaning of the violence. The national media seems particularly fixated on President Trump’s reluctance to denounce white supremacist groups by name in his formal remarks condemning “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” But even before Trump made his scripted and oddly detached comments, media pundits had been depicting the violence as exclusively the handiwork of the radical right — even as videos flashed on our TV screens showing confrontation between the far Right and the far Left.

Insofar as the most devastating crime that occurred yesterday can be attributed James Alex Fields, Jr., a white supremacist from Ohio, and insofar as participants in the rally came armed with shields and batons in expectation of conflict, the white nationalist movement deserves the lion’s share of odium for recent events. But that expectation of violence did not occur in a vacuum. It takes two to tango, folks. And it takes two to whack each other with sticks and clubs. The white nationalists we saw on those videos were not wailing away at phantoms.

I bring this up not because it is the most significant part of the story but because it is the most neglected part of the story and the most likely to be white-washed by the national media.

Here’s the truth: Both the far Right and far Left came to Charlottesville spoiling for a fight. Virginia authorities had plenty of advance notice. As Governor Terry McAuliffe said in a press release issued the day before the rally took place:

In advance of tomorrow’s rally there have been communications from extremist groups, many of which are located outside of Virginia, who may seek to commit acts of violence against rally participants or law enforcement officials. In the event that such violent or unlawful conduct occurs, I have instructed state public safety officials to act quickly and decisively in order to keep the public and themselves safe.

One can argue how effectively the Charlottesville police and State Police handled the events. Right-wing rally participants have already begun blaming them for letting the violence running out of control. But plenty of evidence suggests that both sides came ready to rumble. As Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Ned Oliver reported:

Attendees ranged from clean-cut young men in pressed white shirts to heavily armed militia members in body armor and camouflage. Others were outfitted more crudely, but nonetheless ready for battle, carrying homemade shields, sticks, and wearing all manner of helmets and face masks. Many attendees embraced Nazi imagery and chanted racist slogans. …

At least as many counter protesters, some also militarized and clearly prepared to fight, surrounded the square. By 10:30 a.m., extremely violent skirmishes broke out between the two groups.

Both groups repeatedly fired pepper spray and other chemical weapons at each other. At one point, the rally attendees launched at least four tear gas canisters on the counterprotesters, scattering them in search of medical attention. Sticks and batons also figured prominently in the clashes, which would flare up in a wild melee and then quickly die down as both sides retreated to regroup.

The reporting I’ve seen suggests that most (though not all) of the white nationalists came from outside Virginia. I have not seen a comparable level of journalistic curiosity about the identity of the counter-demonstrators, although perhaps someone will fill in those details. Based on my superficial impressions, the counter-demonstrators appear to have been a mixed bag. Most were Virginians — a friend of my son’s, who was hit by Field’s car, had come from Fairfax County — and their intention was to protest peacefully against racism. But I have questions about those who came to confront the white nationalists. Were they locals, or were they part of the so-called Antifa movement from outside Virginia looking for confrontation?

Some readers of Bacon’s Rebellion seem to think that violence emanates exclusively from the right side of the political spectrum. Yet the man who shot the Republican congressmen in Alexandria was a Bernie Bro. The murderers of police in Dallas and New York were agitated by Black Lives Matter rhetoric. Radicals have used violence to shut down conservative speakers on multiple campuses. The sad reality is that both the far Left and far Right are prone to violence. Further, the interests of both groups are served by confrontations like the one that occurred in Charlottesville. Both sides seek to polarize public opinion, and both benefit when violence and raw emotion encourage people to seek refuge in tribal (racial, ethnic, religious or class) identities.

It is the responsibility of those who don’t want the United States to descend into downward spiral of anarchy to push back. And that requires an honest appraisal of the dynamics driving the violence. Not surprisingly, I have seen no such honest appraisal in the mainstream media. (I do not purport to have conducted an exhaustive analysis, so my impressions must be regarded as anecdotal.)

Judging by the response to my previous post, I expect to be accused of drawing moral equivalence between the far Left and the far Right, so I want to make a few points crystal clear. Nazism is a loathsome ideology. KKK racism is abomination. The volatile mix of these strains of evil on display with the so-called white nationalists who demonstrated in Charlottesville yesterday is an affront t0 core American values and to the conservative/libertarian principles that I espouse.

But I’m not blind. What happened Saturday is part of a larger struggle between far Left and far Right. I expect the events in Charlottesville to further inflame both sides and to inspire even more violence. This time, the rightists committed the most heinous crime. Next time, it will be the leftists. People of moderation and good will serve no useful purpose by denying the reality that threatens to consume us all.

Update: Excellent piece by Robert Tracinski, a conservative, Charlottesville-based writer, who makes many of the same points I do. Hat tip: Reed Fawell.

Update: I took down a picture of Heather Heyer, victim of the terrorist-style attack by a white nationalist in Charlottesville, and replaced it with a photo depicting the melee between white nationalists and counter protesters. The photo in combination — “It Takes Two to Tango” — with the headline was potentially misleading. The photo of the physical altercation better illustrates the thrust of the post.

Hey, White Nationalists, Go Away

White nationalists marching in Charlottesville. Image credit: Washington Post

Hey, white nationalists, go away. We don’t want you. Nobody wants you. I, too, am a white person, and I, too, am appalled by the identity politics of the Left. But the answer is not to match La Raza and Black Lives Matter with an identity politics of right-wing whiteness. You and your torch-light marches only fuel the Left’s narrative that America is an irredeemably racist nation. The opposite of left-wing tribalism isn’t right-wing tribalism, it’s individualism. If you want to stand up to Leftist identity politics, work to build a society that provides equal treatment under the law to all and empowers Americans to rely upon their own initiative, not the government, to better their condition.

Update: I made this post this morning before the violence took place. I share the sentiments of Governor Terry McAuliffe who said this afternoon that there is no place in Virginia — or the United States — for the kind of violence we saw this afternoon or the hateful sentiments that motivated it. The perpetrators of violence need to be prosecuted with the full power of the law.

I also support the statement of the House Republican leadership:

The rhetoric and actions of racists, white supremacists, and Nazi-ideologues in Charlottesville last night and today are disgusting and vile. We are heartbroken that innocent life was taken in what appears to be a violent act of terrorism. This is not what Virginia believes in or stands for and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. We are grateful for the bravery and professionalism of local law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia National Guard. They are heroic public servants.”