Recapping Virginia’s NCAA Performance

The Virginia Cavalier’s quest for the NCAA champion title started out optimistic. They were listed as a first seed team expected to make it in the final four. Commentators early on discussed how the stars were aligned for Virginia to take the title.

A lot of their players had participated in the tournament before. They knew what they were doing, and what to expect. Malcolm Brogdon was listed as one of March Madness’ top ten players to keep an eye on. Many consider him responsible for bringing the team their best season since the eighties. Askmen.com regarded him as in the top two of best players competing in the tournament. He is known for never making mistakes and never giving up. He is also in contention for the Naismith trophy.

Anthony Gill was another University of Virginia player expected to lead the team to victory. He has astonishing footwork and is often referred to as the centerpiece of the team. Before the tournament started, he acknowledged that him and his teammates has learned a lot over their previous performances in the tournament and had grown from their mistakes.

The last two years Michigan had been the school to send Virginia packing. So this year when they found out they would not have to play each other, it seemed like smooth sailing. Then Virginia played Syracuse.

Virginia started out strong, but the last half of the last quarter everything changed. At one point, Virginia did not earn a single point in a five minute period. Coach Tony Bennett hoped to be up ten points at half, allowing his team some cushion to finish the game. In a twenty minute time span near the end of the game, Syracuse scored almost fifty points. A comeback so large no cushion could help.

Virginia should be content with its elite eight finish. They could have done better, but they could have done worse too. They were expected to dominate this season, but a lot of hopeful Virginians ended up with busted brackets. Good thing that there is always next year. Go Cavs!

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Virginia and Gerrymandering

This week the Wittman v. Personuballah trial began its time in the Supreme Court. Since Antonin Scalia’s recent passing, it is hard to predict the outcome of this case. The issue being tried is racial gerrymandering in the state of Virginia, primarily in Wittman County.

Wittman County is a primarily African American community. They are represented in the House by Representative Bobby Scott (D). Many citizens of Wittman County have sued the Commonwealth stating they were all corralled into a district to benefit Bobby Scott. The interesting part is, Bobby Scott is not the mastermind behind this scandal. Citizens believe “racist mapmakers” drew the lines to strip African Americans of any voting value in Virginia.

Bobby Scott is the only African American congressman in all of Virginia. Only 19.7% of the Virginia population is of African American descent. Over the last several decades the Commonwealth has seen rather predictable election outcomes. In the last election, 3/100 House seats changed, and 0/40 Senate seats changed.

Putting all African Americans in one district would solidify Bobby Scott’s seat, and keep black voters from possibly interfering with white friendly districts and elections.

Virginia has been referred to as “the most gerrymandered state in the U.S.” When map makers redrew the lines in 2011, they swore they were colorblind. The Voting Rights Act mandates that they take ethnicities into consideration when mapping out districts,  but they did not use ethnicities to their advantage they claim. Currently, 75% of Virginia’s district lines are being challenged. If Wittman wins their Supreme Court case, we could be seeing an entirely new Virginia. Also, it will not assure anyone will keep their seat if they have an entirely new constituency.

In court defending the mapmakers is Michael Carvin. Carvin is regarded as the legal Donald Trump. He says whatever obnoxious and extreme ideas he has to in order to get his point across. He was also a lawyer in the King v. Burwell Supreme Court case regarding the Affordable Care Act. He did not fare well in that case, and things are not looking too promising for him in this case either. Had Antonin Scalia still be sitting on the bench, maybe. However, now he is facing the powerful and strict Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The case continues.

Virginia Man Regrets Attempting to Join ISIS

One of the biggest news stories this week was the capture of one of the leaders from the November Paris attacks. The terrorist was taken in Belgium after months on the run. However, Virginia had a big capture of its own. Mahmoud Amin was apprehended by Kurdish officials for trying to join ISIS. Amin had told his family he was on his way to vacation in Greece last week when he was arrested. Frighteningly, the U.S. authorities had no clue that he had left and was intertwined with ISIS either.  

A simple grammatical confusion lead to Mahmoud’s capture. He mistook the arabic words of frontline and border, sending him to the wrong place. The breaking news came as a shock to his family. When asked to identify Mahmoud, they could not believe the accusations were true. Amin’s family told reporters that Amin never mentioned ISIS, and he did not know know how to speak or read Arabic. His family has not handled the scandal well, reportedly lashing out at the media and being extremely hurt by their family member’s actions.

It is believed Amin had been trying to align himself with ISIS in Syria for two months prior to his arrest. He had been in contact with people from the Middle East since November. Mahmoud is currently being held by Kurdish authorities. The most interesting part of this story is, could it be considered a capture? News outlets have revealed Amin willingly turned himself over to authorities.

When Kurdish soldiers saw the militant approaching their gates, they sounded alarms and released a special ops team under the assumption he was a suicide bomber. When confronted, he told the guards in perfect English that he wanted to surrender himself. This story has similarities to one published several weeks ago of a young girl who fled to Syria to be a bride of ISIS and later begged Kurdish fighters to help her escape back home.

If the story Mahmoud Amin has submitted is true, he will be the first American to officially surrender himself to authorities. When he turned himself in, on his person was a Virginia driver’s license, mixed currencies, and several cell phones, but no weapons.

Among Americans who flee to fight alongside ISIS, ninety-eight percent are male, under thirty, and convert to Islam. Amins court date is set for mid-July of this year. Currently, Amin is facing 20 years in prison. Even though the Virginia native is considering his move a “bad decision” he still attempted to join an extremist group and that does not sit well with many.

One positive aspect however, is Amin can be used as a treasure trove of information. He can fill the government in on how he found out about ISIS, what attracted him, who his resources were, and who helped him once he landed in Syria. During Amin’s first public appearance, he claimed love is what drove him to fly to Syria. He also informed the press that once he realized he did not agree with what was being taught to him by the extremist group, he understood it was time for him to leave.

Virginia’s New Normal

If you have felt like the number and severity of storms has intensified in Virginia over the last decade, you are not alone. FEMA and the Department of Agriculture have both released studies proving that within the last several years in particular, Virginia has endured an increased number of harsh floods and tropical storms. In a recent survey, researchers found that 91% of Virginians have been impacted in someway by dangerous weather at home since 2010. Scientists and many others fear that the situation could worsen if things do not change. It is important that residents stop denying science and embrace reality. If changes are not made analysts predict that between $12-87 billion worth of damage could occur before the end of the century to the state for lovers. “This is not a tomorrow issue, but a today issue.” Systems need to be in place to protect military bases, homes, and businesses across the state.

Many residents are pushing for clean energy legislation. Recently, Virginia announced that it is constructing the state’s first wind farm. The wind farm will aide in cutting back wasteful energy spending. Also, an expansion of solar fields in Northern Virginia were approved. Even though these are big advancements towards a greener Virginia, there is more that can be done. Lives are at risk. Governor McAuliffe said recently that he will continue to work hard on pushing Virginia to closer align with the government’s pending Clean Power Plan. This bill is currently waiting to be approved by the Supreme Court, which will eventually require all states to follow strict green policy initiatives. McAuliffe aims to have Virginia 100% dependent on clean renewable energy.

There are several projects already in progress dedicated to protecting Virginians. Virginia received a $840,000 grant to confront the threats of rising sea levels. After experiencing such severe weather patterns over the last couple years, people are learning adjustments need to be made in all different areas. Builders and construction workers in Virginia are beginning to construct sturdier homes and buildings. Not that the buildings were not safe before, but now they are specially designed to withstand stronger storms. Also, when developing these new homes builders are using greener alternatives. These greener options are in practice and material.

Observing a growing demand, the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has began stocking vital household items incase of a storm. The idea to begin receiving necessities was formed after several tornadoes crashed through Virginia in February. In January, during winter storm Jonas Virginia was hit the hardest compared to surrounding states having received over 40 inches of snow. The DOABC will also be providing transportation assistance for those impacted by disasters in Virginia, and repair and help reconstruct underinsured homes.

Virginia Bill Aims to Increase Officer Safety

Over the past year there has been a louder call for police department reform than ever. In Virginia police reform is in the process of changing, but not in the way most are asking for. After the controversial police brutality cases such as Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner citizens all over the United States have rallied for improvements such as body cameras and occasional psychological tests. Instead, Virginia has proposed putting police officers under a complete confidentiality agreement.

The state Senate approved of a bill that will thoroughly disguise all information regarding police officers and their employment. Since taxpayer dollars fund officer’s salaries, citizens feel they have a right to know who they are interacting with. The general public would not have access to officers names, positions, employment information, and training backgrounds. One reason behind keeping the employment history of officers hidden is to deflect attention to the fact that policemen with negative records jump from station to station. The demand to cover up such information could stem from the media. Police departments do not want journalists to snoop as far as they please. This bill would block writers from being able to fully research a story and uncover juicy details that would flood a police department with negative press.

This bill turns the victim from the public to the officer. For months now citizens all over the country have voiced how they fear the police. Yet, this bill is dedicated to protecting the police instead of the people. Police in the state of Virginia are not even mandated to wear body cameras. Out of frustration and fear, violence against police officers has been visible. Policemen and women need to be protected. However, citizens need protecting too. Some say that hiding identities of officers could heighten risk for citizens. Without anyone knowing who they are, police may feel free to act however they want under the shield of anonymity. It is ironic that a recent study stated that police are actually safer now compared to other times in recent history. While there has been more threats against police, actual attacks have declined steadily since the 1970’s.

Governor McAuliffe has not publicly commented whether he would sign or reject this bill if it found its way to his desk. It is also unclear if this bill is passed, would it inspire other states to follow suit?

Virginia & Cuba

Cuba is on the verge of a major breakthrough. After experiencing a tough break up with the U.S. in the 1960’s, the two have decided to become friendly exes. Just like any other relationship reconciliation, there is a warming up period. In 2015 President Obama eased sanctions between the two countries. Now, within the next couple months Obama will be traveling to Cuba. These progressive advancements would have never been possible 20 years ago. Obviously, these changes have not come without conflict, especially during an election year. However, there are many benefits both countries could profit from by consulting with each other once again. Cuba is virtually stuck in the 1960’s. Citizens of Cuba have no access to wireless internet, new cars, produce, or any other products from the U.S. Stepping into Cuba is like stepping into a time machine. Once they get the approval, businesses will have unimaginable possibilities to venture through in Cuba. Businesses will be eager to sell, and Cubans will be eager to purchase. One state expected to prosper seriously from a better kinship is Virginia. Virginia has been a long time advocate for opening a line of communication between the U.S. and Cuba. Governor McAuliffe has been meeting with the Cuban ambassador since 2000. McAuliffe is hoping that the the longevity of Virginia’s friendship with Cuba will work to the state’s’ advantage. Other states such as Maryland are attempting to establish relationships with Cuba. Within the year since Obama relieved some constraints, Virginia gained $42 million dollars in agricultural exports to Cuba. Within the last ten years, Virginia has received roughly $423 million in income from trade negotiations with Cuba. Sales to the South American country rose by 67%. With the current laws in place, Virginia can only trade products related to agriculture. However, once all embargoes are lifted, Virginia hopes to enter medical and other trade industries with Cuba also.

What Will Happen at the Virginia Primary?

The 2016 presidential race is heating up. This week the race endured huge shake ups, and shocking drop outs. With so many surprises, it is hard to foresee who will win come November. Several weeks ago, no one would have imagined John Kasich polling second behind Donald Trump. When Bernie Sanders broadcasted that he was throwing his hat into the presidential arena, nobody took him seriously. America assumed Hillary Rodham-Clinton would waltz her way to the white house. The Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries unearthed how Americans really feel. The media loves Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Hard working Americans do not feel the same way. Michael Bloomberg is contemplating running his own presidential campaign if it comes down to Trump and Clinton. Bloomberg does not feel that either of them are what America needs.

On March 1rst, Virginians from all over the state to cast their ballots for who they believe is right for America. For Republican voters their options are John Kasich, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Jeb!, and Jim Gilmore. In Iowa, former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore scored twelve votes total. In New Hampshire he secured 125 votes. Gilmore must have a lot of confidence in how he will fare in Virginia for him to remain in the race. Being a former governor of the state holding the primary will hopefully help him. Chances still look slim. For the Democratic Virginian voters, there are only two options. Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. The previous first lady or the self proclaimed progressive socialist. It is hard enough to forecast which party will come out on top in Virginia, let alone which candidate. With Virginia being a swing state, literally anything can happen there. Northern Virginia tends to be more Democratic, while southern Virginia leans commonly more towards the right.

Virginia Republicans Utilize Voting Trend

The first caucus of the 2016 presidential election is today. This means that presidential hopefuls and their supporters are using all of the tricks up their sleeves to push their candidacy past the rest.

In Richmond, Virginia, a group of Republicans are trying to persuade their general assembly to alter their voting ballots. They believe that if several questions currently listed on the agenda to be voted on this November, are simply pushed back to next November, they will pass. The questions currently up for debate are related to unions and charter schooling.

The schooling amendment would allow charter schools to be incorporated into the public school districts. This legislation was first added to Virginia’s constitution in 1999. The amendment proposal associated with unions hopes to govern some of their power.

The incentive behind delaying the votes alludes to studies which show democrats have  lower turnout rates during years when there is not a presidential election. This would allow for Republicans next year to outweigh any other party and push through their own agendas.

Democrats are not pleased with this manifesto. Virginia Democrats view this as an attempt to dodge or manipulate the law. President Obama recently landed himself in hot water for his attempt to avoid the law by issuing an executive order surrounding the buying and selling of guns.

To learn more:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/gop-leaders-consider-pushing-off-ballot-questions-until-after-2016/2016/01/25/d26fc8b2-c13a-11e5-bcda-62a36b394160_story.html

 

Room for Another Seat in U.S. House

It seems that the redistricting process has been beneficial for the state of Virginia. The Roanoke Times reported that “Virginia is projected to get a 12th U.S. House seat after the 2020 U.S. census, according to demographers at the University of North Carolina.”

Virginia was one of three states that is expected to gain one seat, including North Carolina and Florida. It was reported that Texas will gain two additional seats and West Virginia would lose one U.S. House seat.

This additional seat would provide Virginia with 14 electoral votes, which would emphasize the state’s “status as a critical presidential swing state.”

This would be the largest congressional delegation for Virginia since the 1850s, according to Larry Sabato. Sabato is the Director and Founder of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Since there has been significant population growth within northern Virginia, it is predicted that the 12th U.S. House seat would represent this area.

Read more at: http://www.roanoke.com/news/politics/virginia-could-gain-extra-house-seat-after/article_ea24a760-c78c-522f-8fb1-6dcc8c52a2fe.html

Read more at: http://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/Demographers-Virginia-Likely-to-Gain-12th-US-House-Seat–358698631.html

 

Award for Innovation in Tech presented

Business Wire reported that Stafford Country recently received the 2015 Virginia Government Finance Officers Association Innovation Award for its “outstanding program in the area of eGovernment and Technology.”

The myStafford Citizen Portal was the Virginia government project recently recognized for its progress in improving “the world of government finance.”

“We are thrilled and extremely honored to receive recognition from the Virginia Government Finance Officers Association,” said Laura Rudy, Stafford Country Treasurer.

“With our proven model of effective collaboration, partnership and a spirit of innovation, we are focused on improving the Stafford County eGovernment experience. The myStafford Citizen Portal is empowering our citizens and bringing significant efficiencies to our country.

The Portal, which offers the convenience of viewing and paying bills online, has become a “model system for other local governments delivering citizen-centric service at its best.”

Stafford County has experienced significant cost savings and provided its citizens the convenience of paying bills electronically.

Read more at: http://www.thestreet.com/story/13362892/1/stafford-county-virginia-awarded-for-innovation-in-technology.html