Thanksgiving in Roanoke

It’s 7 a.m. on Friday morning and I’m setting up shop in the front lobby of my favorite hotel, the Hotel Roanoke.  The old Southern style lobby, with its large rooms and historic murals, is decorated with about two dozen Christmas trees, each decorated by a local business or nonprofit.  Very cool.

Sharon and I drove down here yesterday with the kids; it was 3.5 hours down I-81.  No traffic.  Beautiful view of the mountains.

(I started Thanksgiving by running a 5K to benefit the Fairfax City Firefighters’ fund.  Up and around the GMU campus and back downtown.  Felt like I was running fast the whole way but finished in 23:30.  It’s been a slow year.)

We  had Thanksgiving dinner last night at “Billy’s” on Market Square.  Prime Rib, turkey, mashed potatoes, Virginia ham, fresh shrimp, biscuits, greens, need I go on?

Today, we’ll do some shopping and hang out at the Hotel until heading to the big game in Blacksburg this evening.  Hokie Fans, I love you …. but ten losses in a row is enough.

Cavaliers by a touchdown.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Rolling Stone and the University

It’s been five days since Rolling Stone published its article on sexual assault at the University of Virginia, a.k.a. the shot heard round the Cavalier world.  As a father of three daughters,  I found it profoundly disturbing.

I don’t envy President Sullivan.  In many ways, this wave of negative publicity is akin to Penn State’s child abuse scandal in 2012, but there are no football coaches to blame this time.   It’s the whole campus under scrutiny.

Right now, the allegations are anonymous.  So it’s impossible to verify the details or compare similar charges.  But the reaction of the University to this situation, as reported by Rolling Stone, leaves a lot to be desired.

Let’s start with Principle Number One, learned bitterly from Penn State.  Once a university learns about a violent crime (and a gang rape absolutely qualifies), it must report that crime to the law.  Without delay.   Reputation and privacy are important — but protecting the safety of other students is paramount.

The idea that a violent crime can be “resolved” within the confines of a college resource center or through a Honor Code investigation is the ultimate academic conceit.  There may be a role of colleges in handling conduct which is rude or threatening but not criminal.   A rape is not that case.  It should be handled by the police.

A related point is the ability to control young men, which is the sole population of potential offenders — and a group seemingly removed from the influence of persons who dictate campus policy.

Let me make an obvious point:  a “campus dialogue” or “conversation” on date rape may have some minimal effect on 19 year old males, who have spent the better part of their teenage years receiving lectures on good citizenship.  But it’s limited.

Locking up a fraternity brother for a five year sentence in a state prison or labeling him for life as a “sexual offender”, on the other hand, will definitely get their attention.  I dare say that one such criminal sentence will deter a lot more sexual assaults than a dozen campus rallies or candlelight vigils.

One final point:  the University, the best state university in the nation, has never suffered from a lack of confidence.  Sometimes, that comes across in its students as a sense of entitlement — a sense of immunity.  (I say this with some familiarity.  I attended a lot of UVA parties in the Eighties and then law school in the Nineties).

Sometimes you need to remind these young people that they are, in fact, young people.  In that vein, President Sullivan can put a lid on the worst excesses of Greek life — by requiring a set of parents to live in each fraternity house and make them responsible for any legal violations.  That may actually get fraternities back on track to being a place where men learn to be men, not animals.

It may sound boring, but it beats the hell out of a felony charge.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Few Numbers from Staunton

We learned a lot in Staunton.  Here’s a few numbers that will illustrate the economic trends in Virginia, most of which indicate the growth (or lack of it) in our state economy since the Great Recession, January 2008-March 2010, ended:

10.4, 7.5, 7.6.  The annual growth rate of our economy in the 1980′s, 1990′s and 2000′s.

3.9.  Our annual growth rate from 2010.

144,000  The number of jobs lost in manufacturing & construction in 2008-2010.

4,000  The number of jobs gained back in those sectors since.

51,000  The number of jobs gained in education/health services since 2010.  (note:  that’s our highest sector for job growth).

0.06%  Overall growth rate of Virginia economy in 2012-2013.

48th  Ranking by state of our economic growth in 2012-2013.  (MD is 49).

14  Consecutive months in which Virginia has lost professional and business service jobs, from June 2013 until today.

15  Consecutive months in which Virginia has lost Federal government jobs from June 2013 until today.

$2,101 Average loss in real household income for NoVA household since 2009.

5.5%  Unemployment rate in Virginia (U.S. rate is 5.9%)

The above figures are not intended to scare anyone.  Virginia’s economy grew rapidly in the Eighties and Nineties.  After the recession of 2001-2002, it rebounded strongly with the “homeland security” economic boost – and reached its apex in mid-2007.  At that point, the real estate market started to falter and, by early 2008, the national recession had arrived with full force.

Our economy had stabilized by early 2010 and was growing again, albeit slowly.  However, the sequestration of 2013 — exacerbated by the shutdown in October 2013 — have had a major impact on our economy, especially in northern Virginia, which accounts for about half of Virginia’s economy.  Call it the “silent recession.”

Nearly every major Federal contractor has been cutting back work, which has a ripple effect all over the state.   (Thirteen of our top twenty corporations contract directly with the Federal government).  Nobody expects that to change in the near future.

Again, these are not disastrous numbers.  Virginia still ranks as one of the wealthiest and best-educated populations in the USA.  We still have a competitive advantage of all our neighboring jurisdictions in terms of our business climate and educational facilities.  But our economic future is less certain than it was, even two years ago.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Senate Retreats to Staunton

The Senate is in Staunton for two days for our annual Finance retreat.  It’s when our Finance staff briefs all the members on the state economy and budget issues in anticipation of the 2015 session.  Lots of knowledge going on — will be posting up some examples over the next few days.

Staunton is a charming historic city in the heart of the central Shenandoah.  It’s also the home of Western State Hospital, our state psychiatric hospital (which we toured), as well as Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind.   From the downtown, it also has some sharply rising hills, which I re-discovered on my early morning run.

We are staying at the Stonewall Jackson Hotel in downtown Staunton.  It’s next door to the Blackfriars Theatre, which houses the premier Shakespeare group in Virginia.

Last night, they performed a sketch from “As You Like It” for the assembled Senators.  They also did a more modern version from “Faustus,” which included an a capella version of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”  (Bill Stanley was not referenced by name).

We’ll be here until the early afternoon.   Weather staying cold.  Is Old Man Winter moving in for the year?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

American Spartan

Fairfax City Library is my favorite place to find new reading.  I was there in October and borrowed a great book, which I just finished reading.

“American Spartan” is the story of Major Jim Gant, a Special Forces commander who spent years living amongst the tribes in eastern Afghanistan.  Depending upon your perspective (and literary inspiration), Gant was either a “Lawrence of Arabia” who unified the independent mountain clans to defy the Taliban or a “Colonel Kurtz” who lived amongst the savages so that he could elevate himself to a god-like status.

The evidence seems to strongly favor the former.  In fact, General Petraeus — the most effective and visionary U.S. commander in the Middle East — singled out Gant’s unorthodox tactics, including his willingness to live with the Afghanis, learn their language (Pashto), and adopt their native culture (Pashtunwali), as the key to gaining trust and building alliances which could survive in an area traditionally dominated by the Taliban.

Of course, U.S. Army bureaucracy had other ideas.  After living out in the mountains for two years, with a small crew of Special Forces and his own Afghani militia, Gant was arrested and court-martialed for by the U.S. Army for a series of infractions which would appear ridiculous to his Afghani colleagues (and don’t look any more valid on this side of the Atlantic).  He was stripped of his Special Forces tab and kicked out of the Army.  It was a strange and dispiriting end to an endeavor which began with so much promise and, unlike most U.S. strategies in Afghanistan, actually had a vision of ultimate success.

American Spartan is not an objective account of Gant’s career or controversies.  It’s written by Ann Scott Tyson, a war correspondent who lived with him in Afghanistan and is now his wife.  Her role in the narrative is actually critical, as it apparently helped him gain trust with the Afghani villagers (i.e. the presence of Gant’s wife assured the villagers that he was committed to the safety of the community).   To say that this relationship violated U.S. Army protocols would, of course, state the obvious.   And it did help lead to his downfall.  (But now they have the last word).

Again, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Afghanistan and America’s involvement in a war which now spans generations.  (I’m returning it to the Library today so you can have my copy). Let me know what you’re reading ….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment