Update on the Supreme Court

Posted September 16th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

2016-09-14-1-ssv-lithwickDahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate Magazine, and in that capacity, writes the Supreme Court Dispatches and Jurisprudence columns. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Commentary, among other places. She won a 2013 National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act. She is currently working on a book about the four women justices of the United States Supreme Court.

Ms. Lithwick spoke at our Wednesday September 14, 2016 meeting. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience, and can be heard in the podcast below. The program was moderated by SSV past president Bob McGrath.

Ms. Lithwick has been twice awarded an Online Journalism Award for her legal commentary and was the first online journalist invited to be on the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press.  Ms. Lithwick has testified before Congress about access to justice in the era of the Roberts Court.

She has appeared on CNN, ABC, The Colbert Report, and is a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Ms. Lithwick earned her BA from Yale University and her JD degree from Stanford University.

Program Summary

Speaking to an overflow audience, Dahlia Lithwick began her report on the Supreme Court observing, “…the Supreme Court and I are having nervous breakdowns—it’s been a very hard term to cover and it’s very hard to talk about what’s not happening—which is the not-vote and the not-confirmation on the invisible Merrick Garland.”

Here’s just a sample in more of her own words: “So usually I come here and I talk to you all about the term that just happened and the term that’s coming and all the incredibly riveting cases that are before us but this term and to some degree last term are to quote the show Seinfeld, “terms about nothing.” I mean they’re not interesting, but certainly there were some blockbusters at the very end of the last term, but really this term that’s coming up the court has only granted 29 cases. That’s a record low. They’ve turned away incredibly important cases because they know they’re going to be tied for the foreseeable future, and so this is an incredibly interesting story about nothingness and a term that will be nothingness and so I thought what I would do instead of talking only about the cases that came before and what’s coming up—I’ll do a little bit of that at the end—but I thought I would talk a little bit about life after Scalia, and is there life after Scalia. It seems there is, but not much. And certainly at the court, very little.

And so, as you probably know, the Supreme Court seat that was occupied by Antonin Scalia has been vacant since he died on February 13th of this year. That means his seat has now been empty for 212 days, and we also know that within hours of his passing we learned by way of Twitter that that seat was not going to be filled by this president, but that the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee would be very certain that the seat was filled by the next president and they’ve made good on that promise. There’s been no hearing and no vote and not even really a serious national conversation about whether there should be a hearing or a vote.

So when Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court on March 16th, what that means is that Judge Garland has been waiting 181 days for a hearing. Just by way of comparison for people who think this gridlock is usual, Elena Kagan only waited 87 days. Chief Justice John Roberts waited 62 days. The previous record for doing nothing while nothing happened was in fact held by Louis Brandeis. He had the longest wait between nomination and confirmation which was 125 days, but that was a hundred years ago and Judge Garland handily passed that record on July 21st. He is now the greatest waiter in Supreme Court history. Congratulations invisible Judge Garland.

Now in case anyone is wondering, and I hope you are not any more, but it being the week of Constitution Day, in case you’re wondering whether there’s some constitutional or legal mechanism to force a hearing against the will of the leadership of the Judiciary Committee, the answer is “No!”. There are a few very interesting lawsuits that have been filed by various renegade lawyers around the country who are really, really mad….”

Fifth Congressional District Candidates Forum

Posted August 11th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

$1120-Jane Dittmar and Tom Garret
The Senior Statesmen of Virginia has sponsored the 5th Congressional District candidates’ forums for many years. All of the candidates for this year’s August forum were invited: Jane Dittmar (D), Tom Garrett (R), Stephen Harmon (Libertarian), and Yale Landsberg (Independent). Only Jane Dittmar and Tom Garrett agreed to participate in this forum. The candidates spoke at our Wednesday August 10, 2016 meeting, which was well attended with several hundred standing. Bob Gibson moderated the meeting. A podcast is available.

2016-08-10-2-dittmarJane Dittmar (D) is the immediate past chair of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and former representative of the Scottsville District. Through her position as supervisor, she served on the Governor’s Broadband Advisory Council.

Jane is a certified mediator for both General District and Circuit Courts and has served as court coordinator for the General District, Juvenile and Domestic Relations, and Circuit courts of the City of Charlottesville and the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene and Louisa.  She is also a principal in the Positive Solutions Group and a business consultant specializing in strategic planning. Jane’s background is business and she has owned and worked with many businesses in the Commonwealth particularly when she served as president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce from 1992-2000.

Jane became a Virginian when she was six years old, attending Arlington County Public Schools after her family moved from rural Illinois.  She graduated from the University of Virginia where she received a degree in Economics. Since then, Jane attended the UVa Darden School’s Executive Program and Virginia Tech’s Center for Public Administration and Policy. Over the past 40 years, she has lived in Nelson, Fluvanna, and Albemarle Counties, and the City of Charlottesville.

Jane resides with her husband, Frank Squillace, in Albemarle County. They have raised six children (Will, Mary, Virginia, Leia, Jed, and Joe), four of whom are in college.

2016-08-10-3-garrettTom Garrett (R) is in his second term as state senator representing the 22nd District. He earned both his Bachelor’s and Law Degrees from the University of Richmond, and began his service to our country with six years in the Army. During that service he honed his leadership skills, had an opportunity to work with great American patriots, and fight for the Constitutional rights we hold dear.

In 2007, Tom entered public service in a new way. That year he challenged and defeated a two-term incumbent for the office of Commonwealth’s Attorney in Louisa. Tom won that election by 17 percent. It was the first time in decades that an incumbent countywide office holder was defeated – and the first Republican countywide candidate to win since Reconstruction.

In 2011, Tom was elected as the state senator for the 22nd district following a reshuffling of district borders that saw the 22nd moved eastward and into the 5th, 6th, and 7th Congressional districts. Tom won a 5-way nomination contest and subsequently won a resounding general election contest against an accomplished Democrat opponent, despite being outspent nearly 2-to-1.

In the Senate, Tom has focused on expanding liberty, reclaiming our Constitutional rights, fiscal responsibility and restraint, and common sense reductions in the size and scope of government.

Bob Gibson (moderator) is a senior researcher at the Academy for Civic Renewal, a part of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. He has served eight years as executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership prior to joining the academy on July 1.


Program Summary

Attendance at the forum was outstanding with an overflow crowd and standing room only. The article below appeared in the August 11, 2016, edition of The Daily Progress (page one, top of the fold!), and was posted online.

In first debate, Garrett and Dittmar discuss
health care, guns and Trump

Aug 10, 2016

Two candidates for Virginia’s 5th Congressional District attended their first of several scheduled debates on Wednesday, giving their takes on several topics such as health care spending, public safety, environmental issues, voting rights and the economy, to name a few.

Democratic candidate and former Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Jane Dittmar and Republican candidate Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, attended the Senior Statesmen of Virginia’s event.

The heavily attended forum at the Senior Center was moderated by Bob Gibson, senior researcher at the University of Virginia’s Academy for Civic Renewal, which is a part of the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Many of the questions asked by Gibson were submitted in writing from audience members.

One of the first questions for the candidates was on health care and spending for it. Dittmar used her time to defend the Affordable Care Act, adding that there is a need to examine and improve it, rather than fighting in Congress to repeal it or keep it.
Garrett argued against the effectiveness of the ACA, commonly known as Obamacare, and suggested taking a step back and looking at other ways to address health care need and cost.

Garrett then was given the chance to respond first to a question on public safety and gun policies. He used his time to proclaim his support for the Second Amendment and pointed out that other weapons can be used to harm others, too.

“Ultimately, the problem I don’t think is guns,” he said. “The problem is violence.”
Dittmar responded by saying she thinks there should be universal background checks for gun purchases.

“We need to make sure that people who shouldn’t own guns are not allowed to buy them,” she said.

Early in the forum, a question came up regarding a local Gold Star family who spoke at the Democratic National Convention. After Ghazala and Khizr Khan — the Muslim-American couple whose son died in 2004 serving with the U.S. Army in Iraq — spoke about their son, Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, they criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his immigration proposals.

The Dittmar campaign took the opportunity to ask the Garrett campaign to join other
Republican leaders and distance themselves from Trump’s comments and response.
Garrett responded first by saying the extent to which Trump criticized the family was not good and that Trump “is a smart man who sometimes picks dumb words.” He then spoke highly of Humayun Khan.

“Having worn the uniform, knowing soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice, having friends who lost an arm, specifically in one instance, I think that Humayun Khan is every bit as much or more of a hero than any one of those young men and women with whom I served,” he said.

Some audience members audibly disagreed with Garrett at times during his full answer, and some held up pocket-sized copies of the Constitution, a gesture Khizr Khan made famous at the DNC when he asked Trump if he had ever read the Constitution.

Dittmar responded, calling Trump’s comments to the Khan family “reprehensible” and that she was pleased with the Republicans who have called Trump out for his comments.
“It’s more than tone, it’s more than forgetting the best way to communicate,” she said. “There is an attitude there, and he disrespected a Gold Star family.”

It was one of a few times on Wednesday that members of the audience audibly reacted negatively to comments made by Garrett, but the most frequent response was applause for both candidates. Both candidates, too, were civil and disagreed on subject and policy without making personal attacks. Dittmar and Garrett also complimented one another when they agreed on certain issues or how best to address them, such as equal work for equal pay.

Before running for the 5th District, Dittmar was the previous chairwoman to the Board of Supervisors and the representative for the Scottsville District. She also served the Governor’s Broadband Advisory Council.

Dittmar is a certified mediator for general and district courts and is also a principal in Positive Solutions Group, a firm that specializes in strategic planning.
Dittmar served as the president of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce from 1992 until 2000.

Garrett is currently serving his second term as a state senator and was the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Louisa prior to that. Garrett is also a U.S. Army veteran.
Libertarian candidate Stephen Harmon and independent candidate Yale Landsberg were both invited to the forum but only Garrett and Dittmar confirmed their participation in the forum, according to a news release from the Senior Statesmen of Virginia.
Wednesday’s forum was the first of a few debates currently scheduled between the two candidates.

The next is set to take place at the Appomattox Inn & Suites on Sept. 26. The debate is hosted by the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance and Appomattox Chamber of Commerce and will focus on economic development issues.

The next two are scheduled to take place in the Charlottesville area.

Dittmar and Garrett will debate at UVa’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at 6 p.m. Sept. 28. The other scheduled debate is set to take place at Piedmont Virginia Community College on Oct. 10.

Michael Bragg is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact him at (434) 978-7265, mbragg@dailyprogress.com or @braggmichaelc on Twitter.

Passenger Rail in the Commonwealth

Posted June 12th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

Meredith RichardsMeredith Richards spoke at our Wednesday June 8, 2016 meeting about rail service in Virginia and the Northeast Corridor. The program was moderated by SSV board member Rich DeMong.

Across the nation, people are demanding more passenger rail service. Virginia is a national leader in funding rail infrastructure and Amtrak services. Six state-supported Amtrak trains connect Virginia to the Northeast Corridor. These are among the most profitable routes in the nation.

Charlottesville is one of Virginia’s strongest passenger rail markets in terms of ridership. It has direct, daily trains north to Washington, New York and Boston and south to Charlotte, Atlanta and New Orleans, with east-west service to Chicago three days a week. Future expansions of Charlottesville Amtrak service will require major upgrades to the Charlottesville station.

Passenger rail service is improving, but freight rail is a different story. The unprecedented recent decline in demand for coal is having a dramatic effect upon America’s Class I Railroads, which are responding with a policy of retrenchment. This raises questions about the future of rail in Virginia and creates significant public policy challenges for the Commonwealth. Listen to the presentation and the discussion after in the podcast.

Meredith Richards is a former Charlottesville City Councilor (1996-2004) and vice mayor who has specialized in transportation public policy during her public career. She served three terms as president of Virginians for High Speed Rail and currently serves as its co-chair. Meredith is also president of the Virginia Rail Policy Institute. She formerly served as a member of Governor Mark Warner’s Commission on Rail Enhancement for the 21st Century and was president of the Virginia Transit Association from 1998-2000. While in elective office, Meredith served on regional and statewide boards, including the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO, the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, the Thomas Jefferson Partnership for Economic Development, Virginia First Cities Coalition and the Virginia Municipal League.

Meredith founded and is chairman of CvilleRail, a nonprofit that promotes enhanced passenger rail for Central Virginia, and she established the Piedmont Rail Coalition, a consortium of local governments, economic development authorities, organizations, businesses and citizens throughout Virginia’s US 29 corridor who work together to bring more frequent and accessible passenger rail to the region.

Meredith holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Illinois and is a former faculty member of the University of Virginia and the University of Louisville.

Program Summary

Virginia has funded six passenger trains including the Amtrak Northeast Regional that goes between Lynchburg and DC with a daily stop in Charlottesville. The other state-funded passenger trains are the two Richmond-DC Amtrak trains, the two Newport-DC Amtrak trains, and the one Norfolk-DC Amtrak train. These trains are some of the most profitable of all of the Amtrak state-supported and short regional trains. The Newport-DC is the most profitable Amtrak short-route and the Lynchburg-DC regional is the second most profitable.

In addition to the Lynchburg regional train, Charlottesville also is served by Amtrak’s Crescent (New Orleans to New York City) and the Cardinal (Chicago to New York City). Over 134,000 passengers last year (and over 788,000 passengers since 2009) board, or depart, their train at Charlottesville’s depot on West Main Street every year. More passengers get on or off the Northeastern Regional in Charlottesville than in any other city between Lynchburg and Boston. There are plans to expand passenger rail from Charlottesville.

In contrast to the growth of passenger rail travel since 1997, freight rail has been declining over the last several years and has dropped precipitately in 2016. Much of the decrease is a result of the declining shipments of coal and petroleum. Even so, approximately 19 percent of freight goes on the rail network.

Trains take traffic off of our roadways. For more information please visit the Virginia Rail Policy Institute website (www.varpi.org).

General Assembly Legislative Report

Posted May 13th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

This session of the Virginia General Assembly included some inter-party cooperation but also the most vetoes in almost 20 years, and a post-session executive order that has spurred calls for a special session. This led to a more adversarial relationship between Democratic Governor McAuliffe and the Republican General Assembly majority than perhaps ever before.

Terry Cooper (1)Three of our legislators spoke at our Wednesday May 11, 2016 meeting. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV board member Terry Cooper (left).


Deeds, Landes, Toscano (1)

Senator Creigh Deeds (D) represents the 25th Senate District which includes the cities of Buena Vista, Charlottesville, Covington, and Lexington, and the counties of Albemarle (part), Alleghany, Bath, Highland, Nelson, and Rockbridge.

Delegate Steve Landes (R) represents the 25th House of Delegates District which includes portions of Albemarle, Augusta, and Rockingham Counties.

Delegate David Toscano (D) represents the 57th House of Delegates District which includes Charlottesville and part of Albemarle County.

Program Summary

Delegate Toscano led off with a PowerPoint presentation characterizing the actions taken during the session as, “the good, the bad and the funny.” Definitely in the latter category was HB 335 which established the Eastern Garter Snake as the official snake of the Commonwealth and consolidates the Northern Cardinal as the state bird and the American Dogwood as the state tree.

SB 352, sponsored by Senator Deeds, designates Nelsonite as the state rock. HB 1142 allows the hunting of wild birds and animals—except deer, bear, elk and turkey—with a sling shot!

Moving to more substantive issues, an investment of almost $1 billion was made in K-12 education. Teachers will receive a two percent raise midyear, $300 million in new dollars was appropriated for higher education and $12.5 million in new dollars for community colleges. Delegate Toscano concluded with a review of the numerous actions taken that bear on Virginia’s economy.

Senator Deeds emphasized three points about the session. He noted that over his years of service, things have become increasingly more partisan, yet in this session, both sides joined together for the good of education. Similarly, the gun legislation offered something to like and dislike for everyone. The overturning of Supreme Court Justice Jane Roush was the first time in over 100 years that a sitting governor’s appointment to the Supreme Court was not confirmed.

Delegate Landes made available detailed printed copies of the session highlights and then concentrated his remarks on the budget, education, economic development, restoration of rights, and the process for the appointment of Supreme Court justices. Because of his committee assignments, he spends a lot of time on the state budget which was approved this session for a total of $105 billion for the biennium.

The Pros and Cons of the FISA Court

Posted April 13th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

The FISA Court (or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court) was established by act of Congress in 1978 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants involving suspected foreign spies within the United States by federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, principally the FBI and the National Security Agency.

Senior Fellows at the Law School’s Center for National Security Law, Ashley Deeks and Fred Hitz discuss the FISA Court and its pros and cons.

Deeks and Hitz spoke at our Wednesday April 13, 2016 meeting. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV board member Terry Cooper. The presentation is provided in this podcast.

$1080-Ashley DeeksAshley Deeks is an associate professor at the University of Virginia Law School. Prior to joining the Law School’s faculty she was the assistant legal adviser for political-military affairs in the Legal Adviser’s Office at the Department of State where, among many other duties, she advised on intelligence issues. She has also served as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ms. Deeks is a cum laude graduate of Williams College and an honors graduate of the University of Chicago Law School.

$1100-Frederick HitzFrederick P. Hitz is an adjunct professor at the Law School and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. For more than 30 years, while ostensibly being a lawyer in a buttoned-down private practice, he served in various capacities at the Central Intelligence Agency, both in line positions such as deputy director for Europe in the Directorate of Operations and in staff positions like Inspector General. He has written extensively on espionage and intelligence issues. His publications include “The Great Game: the Myth and Reality of Espionage” and “Why Spy? Espionage in an Era of Uncertainty.”  Mr. Hitz is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School.

Program Summary

The FISA Court (or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court) was established by act of Congress in 1978 to oversee requests for surveillance warrants involving suspected foreign spies within the United States by federal law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, principally the FBI and the National Security Agency. The way the FISA Court operates is quite controversial. For example, it meets in secret. No representative of the person proposed to be surveilled is allowed to be present. The court’s rulings cannot be appealed or even seen by the public, even though in a number of cases it has issued far-reaching decisions broadening the types of situations in which surveillance may proceed without a warrant.

The judges of the FISA Court are selected by a single person, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, without review or confirmation by the Senate or anyone else. Topics covered included the origins of the FISA Court; its original purpose; how its charter has been changed to reflect the additional issues now facing the court; Edward Snowden and the government’s collection of metadata; criticisms of the FISA Court and much more.

In the 1970s it wasn’t clear whether the government had to get a warrant before it was conducting national security surveillance which to some looked like a search under the Fourth Amendment. The difference is the information was being collected for a different purpose, not in pursuit of a criminal prosecution, but rather an attempt to detect spies in the United States who were engaged in espionage against us.

Recycling in the Commonwealth

Posted March 15th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

Mr. van der Linde of van der Linde Recycling and senior manager Andy Johnson spoke at our Wednesday, March 9, 2016 meeting. Questions were then taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV Past President Bob McGrath. Here is a podcast of the meeting.

Peter van der Linde and Andy Johnson

After 14 years at sea as a Merchant Marine Captain, in 1986 Peter van der Linde returned to Charlottesville and spent the next 30 years building homes. After creating a roll-off container rental business to supplement his own hauling needs as a contractor, he began to take a closer look at what was being thrown away. He knew he could do better than letting good building material go into a landfill. After much research van der Linde Recycling was born with the installation of the largest construction and demolition (C&D) separator that had been installed up to that time. The 70,000 sq. ft. C&D processing facility opened its doors in December of 2008, concurrent with the economic meltdown. Construction waste stopped. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

For those first several months, Pete scrambled to bring in sufficient material to keep the operation going. Almost immediately, he began the construction of another facility to receive co-mingled recyclables and Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) as an additional source of supply to meet his company’s needs. He also went into concrete crushing and wood grinding creating two new products: gravel and mulch. The diversification helped them while the C&D waste stream began to recover.

A year later, in Nov. 2009, the MSW facility opened. With ongoing awareness on the part of surrounding businesses and communities looking for a safe and reliable place to recycle their C&D and MSW, van der Linde was able to continue without interruption. Today they have a 50-50 intake of material, half C&D and half MSW. Right now they are averaging about 800 tons per day, 400 tons of each.

Never satisfied, Peter decided to invest an additional 6 million dollars into expanding the capabilities of the MSW facility. This included developing proprietary processes, adding additional mechanization to the sorting process and installing additional balers to increase our product marketability. He was recently a featured cover story in WHEN magazine because of the innovations he is making toward recycling.


Prospects for Economic Growth

Posted February 13th, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

Speaker Ann MacherasRichmond Federal Reserve Bank Vice President Ann Battle Macheras discusses the Charlottesville economy, the national economy and monetary policy. Dr. Macheras oversees Regional Research and Economic Education at the Richmond Bank’s Research Department. In addition, her research interests include regional industry specialization and determinants of growth at the regional level.

The Regional Research group provides analysis and research on regional economic conditions in the Fifth Federal Reserve District, which includes North and South Carolina, Virginia, most of West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. The Economic Education group works with teachers, students, and the general public to share knowledge and enhance understanding about the economy and the role of the Fed.

The program was moderated by SSV Board Member Nancy Hunt. Listen to a podcast of the presentation.

Dr. Macheras joined the Richmond Bank as vice president of the Research Department in February 2009. Prior to joining the Federal Reserve Bank, she served as senior economist for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, and also held positions in banking, consulting, and academics. She currently serves on the Joint Advisory Board of Economists for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Dr. Macheras completed her Ph.D. in economics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Program Summary

This summary is from an article that was written by Allison Wrabel for the February 11 issue of The Daily Progress.  She can be contacted at awrabel@dailyprogress.com.

Central Virginia is on the road to job recovery, according to an economic update. Richmond Federal Reserve Bank Vice President Ann Battle Macheras discussed the Charlottesville-area economy, the national economy and monetary policy at an event sponsored by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia.

Mancheras said the state economy still is working on recovering from the recession and federal government spending cuts because Virginia is one of the top states for federal contracting. “But since then, the good news is employment growth has been catching up, inching closer to being back on par with U.S. growth,” she said. “I’m pretty optimistic, seeing that trend.”

“Charlottesville is doing pretty well, I think, relative to the state,” she said. “Most recent employment growth numbers aside, because it has slowed, it still has had some really good job creation since we’ve been in the recovery.”

In the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is made up of the city and Albemarle, Buckingham, Fluvanna, Greene and Nelson counties, professional and business services employment decreased 4.2 percent from December 2014 to December 2015. Mancheras said she could not figure out what exactly caused the decrease, but in mid-March the data will possibly get adjusted against other data.

“This is a really interesting time to report out on regional employment data because the numbers are subject to some revision, and the smaller the area, the more possible it is that you get some revisions,” she said.

Charlottesville area unemployment is consistently lower than state and national levels. In the U.S., there was an average monthly gain of 228,000 jobs in 2015.

“The Federal Open Market Committee participants are expecting that the unemployment rate is going to level off,” she said. “It’s at 4.9 percent right now and the expectation is that it’s not going to decline much more.”

The labor force participation rate has been at historic lows — 62.7 percent, currently — and Macheras said they attribute that to the changing age of the workforce. “Now the puzzle is, why don’t we have more people participating in the labor force on the younger side,” she said.

Faith McClintic, economic development director for Albemarle County, said the information Macheras presented was very consistent with the economic data that the county has been looking at. “We’ve been doing some detailed analysis of a lot of economic data, as well, as our basis for development of the Economic Development Strategic Plan, so there were no surprises there,” she said.

McClintic said she has been looking at what is triggering growth in other areas of the state, such as the Winchester area’s 2.5 percent employment growth versus the 0.6 percent in the Charlottesville area. “That’s what I’m going to go look at — what’s happening here that’s causing that change — because that will help us better understand our local economy and that of our competition,” she said.

Overall, Mancheras said she thinks the labor market numbers have been pretty positive. She said she sees a lot of people start to think the economy is in danger when they see the stock market fluctuate, but they need to remember that the underlying economy is doing well.

“It’s very easy for people, I think, to react when the stock market reacts, but the stock market reacts very quickly and sometimes for mysterious reasons,” she said. “With the real economy — output, employment — that’s where you need to stay focused.”

Pursuing Excellence in Health Care

Posted January 31st, 2016 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

Dr. Richard Shannon spoke about the importance of quality in health care, the Be Safe program at the University of Virginia and its impact on patients and health care professionals as well as his thoughts on how health care quality can be improved. Dr. Shannon spoke at the Wednesday January 13, 2016 meeting. The program was moderated by SSV Vice President Rich DeMong.

2016-01-13-2-shannonRichard P. Shannon, MD is the executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Virginia. He is responsible for aligning the key components of the UVa Health System to achieve the goal of becoming a top-decile academic medical center.

Prior to joining the UVa Health System, Dr. Shannon served as the Frank Wister Thomas Professor and Chair of the Department of Medicine at the Univ. of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Prior to his appointment at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Dr. Shannon served as chair of the Department of Medicine at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Shannon received his BA from Princeton, and MD from the Univ. of Connecticut School of Medicine. He did his training in internal medicine at Beth Israel Hospital, his cardiovascular training at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was a professor of Medicine at Harvard and Drexel. Both Harvard and Drexel have honored him with numerous teaching awards. Dr. Shannon’s investigative interests are in the area of myocardial metabolism and heart failure, specifically the role of energetics in the progression of heart failure. Dr. Shannon’s lab was the first to discover the beneficial CV actions of incretins which formed the basis for Ventrigen, LLC, a company designed to develop incretins for the use in treating heart failure.

Dr. Shannon’s pioneering work in patient safety is chronicled in the chapter – “First, Do No Harm,” Charles Kenney’s book, The Best Practice: How the New Quality Movement is Transforming Medicine. Dr. Shannon’s innovative work also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, on CNN and CNBC news segments and ABC’s “20/20,” and the PBS report entitled “Remaking American Medicine.”

Dr. Shannon is an elected member of several honorary organizations, editorial boards, and boards of directors including the following: American Board of Internal Medicine, Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and UVa’s Physicians Group.

Program Summary

Dr. Shannon stated that the University of Virginia Medical Center will make some patient outcome statistics public as part of an effort to improve transparency. He said the hospital is part of many professional organizations nationwide that track patient outcomes. The American College of of Cardiology, for instance, tracks heart attack patient mortality rates in hospitals — the nationwide average last year was 4.6 percent, while UVa’s mortality rate was 3.4 percent.

The Medical Center is working to gather many of these statistics, covering a wide variety of conditions, so people can compare UVa’s outcomes with the reported national averages, Shannon said. The hospital will begin rolling out the data this spring. “I want you to be able to know what your five-year survival rate is if you have small cell lung cancer,” Shannon said.

The data will allow people to compare UVa Medical Center only with national averages. Head-to-head comparisons won’t be available — unless other institutions are doing the same thing. Shannon said the data would include not only mortality rates, but rates of complications and infection. He promised to share unflattering statistics with the public in the hope of improvement. “If we’re not looking at the data, we can’t [get better],” he said.

Decreasing hospital-acquired infections has been a major focus for Shannon, who arrived at UVa from the University of Pennsylvania Health System in 2013. Shannon told the audience at Wednesday’s event that he believes reducing such infections can be the main driver behind cutting health care costs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated a reduction in hospital-acquired infections saved 50,000 lives and $12 billion nationwide between 2010 and 2013. The department credits new Medicare payment incentives, instituted as part of the Affordable Care Act, and HHS initiatives with driving the changes.

UVa has been instituting changes to reduce its own infection rates. According to Shannon, the number of catheter-related urinary tract infections (one of the most common problems in hospitals) dropped from 166 in the 2013 fiscal year to 21 in the last fiscal year. This year, the hospital is on pace for just five such infections, he said.

Virginia Roy, a board member with the Senior Statesmen, said she was impressed by Shannon’s presentation. She said she thinks the national mandate was the real driving force behind UVa’s safety improvements. “The regulations Medicare has put in place — I think that was the impetus for this,” Roy said.

Shannon — who often tells UVa’s Board of Visitors he wants to make the Medical Center “the safest hospital in America” — said he believes making outcome data available to the public will help boost the hospital’s national reputation. “Excellence is defined by clinical outcomes,” Shannon said, downplaying the role of flashy public relations campaigns. “That billboard stuff, that front-page stuff — I’m not sure that’s real quality,” he said.

How We Choose Our Judges

Posted December 12th, 2015 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

2015-12-09-1-rutledgeJesse Rutledge is vice president for external affairs at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) in Williamsburg, Virginia. On December 9, 2015, he talked about how Virginia and other states select their state-court judges and the advantages and disadvantages of each method. In this podcast, you will learn how many states let the people pick their judges through popular elections and what the US Supreme Court had to say about freedom of speech when judges must also be “candidates” like other politicians. Virginia is one of two states that select judges by vote of the legislature. The program was moderated by SSV board member Terry Cooper.

At NCSC Mr. Rutledge oversees the organization’s communications, marketing, information services, associations, conferences, and private development efforts. Prior to joining NCSC, he served as deputy director at the Justice at Stake Campaign in Washington, D.C. where his work focused on documenting special interest threats to the courts and developing public education campaigns to combat those threats. His commentary has appeared in state and national media, including the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Roll Call, and on National Public Radio and BBC Radio. He holds a B.A. and M.A. in political science.

Program Summary

Mr. Rutledge’s central theme addressed the competing values of independence vs. accountability. That is, we place a high value on the ability of our judges to act independently, yet at the same time we want them to be accountable for their actions. The various states have adopted differing methods of choosing their judges and each method affects the competing values of independence and accountability.

States employ four different methods to choose their judges. Virginia is one of just two states that select their judges through legislative elections. Ten states use a process Rutledge terms as “appointment without retention election.” The so-called “Missouri Plan with election retention” is used by 16 states, and 22 states hold contested elections.

Mr. Rutledge discussed the role of financing for the campaigns in those states that hold popular elections and the ramifications for the competing values of independence and accountability. He also showed videos of campaign ads that had many in the audience cringing—and others laughing!

Update on the Supreme Court

Posted November 14th, 2015 by Administrator
Categories: Programs

Slate Magazine senior editor Dahlia Lithwick recaps highlights from the Supreme Court’s last term, previews the new term, and talks about current big themes. Ms. Lithwick spoke at our Friday November 13, 2015 meeting.  The program was moderated by SSV President Bob McGrath. Listen to the podcast of her remarks.

2015-11-13-1-lithwickDahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate Magzine, and in that capacity, writes the Supreme Court Dispatches and Jurisprudence columns. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, and Commentary, among other places. She won a 2013 National Magazine Award for her columns on the Affordable Care Act.

Ms. Lithwick has been twice awarded an Online Journalism Award for her legal commentary and was the first online journalist invited to be on the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press. Ms. Lithwick has testified before Congress about access to justice in the era of the Roberts Court. She has appeared on CNN, ABC, The Colbert Report, and is a frequent guest on The Rachel Maddow Show. Ms. Lithwick earned her BA from Yale University and her JD degree from Stanford University. She is currently working on a book about the four women justices of the United States Supreme Court.

Program Summary

Dahlia Lithwick described the 2014 term which ended in June 2015 as monumentally important and interesting and addressed the following cases:  lethal injections; the challenge to ObamaCare to dismantle the Affordable Care Act; nonpartisan redistricting commissions; housing discrimination; separation of powers case (who gets to set policy about foreign affairs); a trifecta of free-speech cases; and two religious freedom cases.

What was emblematic about this term was that the left wing of the court that doesn’t always hang together, hung together (they absolutely worked as a team) and the right wing did not. The big takeaways were that Justice Anthony Kennedy was “The Decider” and that a lot of the cases that came to the court probably shouldn’t have been to the court in the first place.

In pivoting to a discussion of the coming term. Ms. Lithwick did so with the caveat that the court hasn’t docketed the whole term so we don’t know what’s coming up in the spring. Some of the cases the court will hear this term include the challenge to the proposition that one-person, one-vote is the law of the land; financing of public sector unions; affirmative action: abortion; a slew of criminal and class action cases; and a challenge to the exemption for contraception in the Affordable Care Act (just fill out a form to be exempt) that was accorded Hobby Lobby.

Ms. Lithwick noted how important the presidential election will be and the stakes with regard to the Supreme Court recognizing that with all the judges aged 80 and over we’ll see a sea change in the next four to five years.