Thursday, August 30, 2007

Happy Birthday Louis!

Today is Louis Black's 59th birthday. Happy Birthday to my family's favorite comedian.

In honor of the day, here's a link for our readers with a sense of humor:

Beehive Coffeehouse, East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA.

(And a tip-o-the-hat to our colleague Steven, who is enjoying a cup of tea there.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Farewell Frank!

Jim Webb's Netroots Coordinator Joins Feder Team

McLean, VA – Lowell Feld, the Raising Kaine blogger who co-founded the Draft James Webb movement and served as the Webb campaign's netroots coordinator in its upset victory over George Allen last year, has joined Judy Feder's campaign against 27-year incumbent Rep. Frank Wolf. One of Feld's first jobs will be to run a new blog,, which the Feder campaign officially launches today. The blog will let voters know who the real Frank Wolf is, and what his real record in Congress has been the past 27 years.
My complements to the Feder campaign for bringing on a leader of the movement like Lowell. If you aren't reading Raising Kaine, you should be.

I'm loving that we're building not only a bench of excellent candidates and leaders, but also managers and staffers with proven success fighting for Democrats in Virginia.

Loudoun Local Radio

Did you know that we have local talk radio here in Leesburg? I didn't, until I heard about it last week. WAGE-AM 1200 in Leesburg is a local news, talk, sports radio station that broadcasts throughout Loudoun. They carry community news, update school closings during bad weather, and cover local sports.

And best of all, you can listen online. During the day, they carry the Dennis Miller Show, for example. Today Dennis talked about insane 9/11 conspiracies and solar powered scoreboards, along with other interesting topics. Now, his opinion on these matters doesn't necessarily match my own, but it's interesting listening.

And the local content is excellent. In just listening for ten minutes, I found out about three or four things going on in Leesburg (and Loudoun) that were news to me.

Local talk radio is the spiritual forefather of the blogopshere: local information, local discussion, local production. And local radio still has the advantage of a wide, broadcast audience. For people who don't have computers, it is a vital source of community awareness. Heck, the blogosphere has pushed to replicate this kind of radio online.

So click on over during the workday, give it a listen (use your iPod headphones on your computer, folks). You might just learn something about our hometown.

[update] WAGE suspended operations in 2009.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Judy Feder, Frank Wolf, Tom Davis - Video Comparison

Thanks to Raising Kaine for pointing to this video:

In it, President Bush offers recognition to Tom Davis nine times. And seventeen separate votes opposing reasonable, necessary change to our Iraq policies are detailed.

One district west, Frank Wolf, in a video from C-SPAN this year, after initially recognizing that Congress is a co-equal branch of government with the Presidency (glad he finally realized that, where was that opinion when his party was supposedly in charge?), goes on to lambaste the Democratic leadership for prioritizing a vote on the troop surge before a vote on the Iraq Study Group implementation. That's right, our Representative is whining in Congress about the order in which the bills are considered. I don't think Frank Wolf fully understands that his party no longer is in charge of the Congressional agenda.

Classic quote from Rep. Wolf:

"Maybe our side, at times, treated you wrong."

Like when the President of the Senate (Dick Cheney) said that a vote for the Democrats was a vote for the terrorists? This kind of conciliatory language is convenient while in the minority. Where was that sentiment when Frank Wolf was in the majority?

And another quote:

"Yet U.S. foreign policy is doomed to failure, as is any course of action in Iraq if not supported by a broad, sustained consensus." (There, Rep. Wolf is quoting the Iraq Study Group report.)

Two-thirds of America says that the Administration is going the wrong way in Iraq, and has felt that way since the 2006 elections. That, Mr. Wolf, is the broad, sustained consensus.

You, sir, are on the wrong side of it.

Frank Wolf has no credibility on the Iraq war.

Meanwhile, Judy Feder is out talking to voters in the 10th District (where Frank Wolf is keeping the seat warm for her), listening to what they have to say about Iraq.

Her video offers the comments of eight voters, and solicits direct ideas and feedback from you and me. Judy Feder will represent the real consensus, our consensus, in Congress.

Abu Ghraib and Precedent

A military court Tuesday acquitted an Army officer of failing to control U.S. soldiers who abused detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but it found him guilty of disobeying an order not to discuss the abuse investigation.
- The Associated Press, via WTOP

Is this a good precedent to set? We'll acquit you of responsibility for the horrifying things that happened on your watch, but convict you for talking about those things to other people? Is the new standard, "be as awful as you want, just do it quietly?"

(Image from The Veteran)

Respect for the Rule of Law

" the end it may be a government of laws and not of men."
-John Adams, Massachusetts Constitution, Part The First, art. XXX (1780).
My wife and I got into an interesting conversation about law, justice and the general good of society while in the car yesterday. My own thinking on the "rule of law" versus "specific laws" has been evolving greatly over the past few years. I used to have a relatively absolutist perspective on law. If something was illegal, it should not be done, period. If one chooses to break the law, one has no right to complain about the consequences.

It's this principle which allowed me to justify civil disobedience towards unjust laws, because - generally - protesters are willing to be arrested in their opposition to the law. They accept the consequences of breaking the law.

As I have done more thinking on the matter, my ideas have changed. The law should exist to serve the citizens, not the citizens to serve the law. Ultimately, it is only the consent of the citizens which gives the rule of law any weight. This is why laws can evolve and change, and why the goal posts of "justice" and "legality" are constantly moving.

(Disclaimer, I am not a lawyer, but I am a citizen, and we're the ones who truly say what the law is, in our actions as voters and jurors.)

As I have left my 20s and entered my 30s, I have become more concerned with whether or not my fellow citizens and neighbors respect the rules of the society in which we live. That is almost (but not quite!) the same as saying they will follow the laws of our nation, state and locality. I believe that a willingness to ignore a few laws makes it easier for people to accept violations of other, perhaps more important laws. I worry that there is a "broken windows effect" on laws just as there may be in communities. The more general disrespect for specific laws, the more likely disrespect for all laws.

Indeded, I think we should all be worried when laws are perceived as things that get in the way, as obstacles, rather than as what they are - manifestations of the social compact which allows us to live in civilized society. I spoke with a friend last week who suggested we should give a bonus to legislatures if they pass no laws during their term. This kind of perspective is a symptom of a society that may be in danger of losing the respect of the majority for its laws.

But it is at this point that I go in a different direction from many critics. I believe that the problems with respect for law are not the fault of the people, but the laws themselves.

If the majority of people are breaking a law, the law ought to be rebalanced so that a majority of people are obeying it. We can redraw the line of legality so that the area of licit behavior and action is greater. After all, the majority has effectively determined, by their behavior, that the law is incorrect as it was originally written.
(Incidentally, this is also the problem with "original intent" interpretations of the Constitution and legislation, as they presume that laws once written are forever immutable and correct.)

Abuser fees, illegal immigration, underage drinking, the war on drugs, tax evasion, all of these issues can be linked to a disconnect between what the law says, and what a majority of people think (by their behavior) the law should say. I believe that we need a comprehensive, pragmatic, reevaluation of our laws in these areas. I do not believe there is a conflict as to whether there should be a law, but rather what the law should be.

The current conflict over abuser fees is a great example of this principle. When the circle of legality is drawn too tightly, enforcement becomes subjective rather than objective. When 75% of the cars on the road are speeding, the police must make subjective decisions as to who gets pulled over. (Incidentally, I believe that this is where our national problem with racial profiling appears. If we reduce the options for subjective enforcement, we will reduce racial profiling.) If Virginia's speed limits, especially on roads like I-95 between Richmond and Fredericksburg, were raised to reflect the actual speeds driven on those roads, I believe we would see many fewer complaints about abuser fees.

Perhaps the greatest example of this principle has to do with underage drinking. Binge Drinking is an issue among underage drinkers today. But what does "underage" mean? Much binge drinking happens behind closed doors on college campuses and in our neighborhoods, because 18-21 year-olds are not allowed to drink legally. I believe most of 18-21 year-olds engage in underage drinking. For this reason, I think the drinking age should be changed to 19. This would decriminalize much drinking at colleges, and allow for a real debate on the specific issue of binge drinking.

Our behavior as citizens and neighbors should inform our policies as much as our votes do. Everyone is somewhat hypocritical, voting what they feel their values to be in the voting booth, but not necessarily living up to those values in their own lives. This is why we always hold our politicians to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

All too often, laws are passed because things are changing, and change is "bad." Laws do not - cannot - stop change. Frequently, restrictive laws are the last refuge of the old order in the face of radical, generational change. (Dirty young hippie people got the vote? Take away their alcohol.) If everyone sees that an institution is ineffective, then the power of that institution (be it a law, a religion or a political philosophy) will be diminished. For the good of the rule of law, all laws must be effective, and respected, and laws that are not must be reconsidered.

In America, following the law should be easy, not hard. But that's just how I see it.

Sen. Larry Craig in Minneapolis

I have nothing to say about Senator Larry Craig (R-ID), except this:

Larry LaRocco
"It’s time to take our country in a new direction. Too many Idahoans today have no voice in Washington, and nobody is looking out for their interests. I will give you a voice. I will champion your interests. We need a government in Washington that is accountable, and a Congress that provides the checks and balances our Constitution requires. We need to unlock the partisan gridlock in Washington and work across party lines for all Idahoans."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Gonzalez for FISA?

NPR is reporting that White House officials are saying Alberto Gonzales'
resignation is imminent, perhaps as soon as today. Seems Dubya is ready to get rid of the Albertross around his neck.
- My colleague Scott C.
I normally try to keep forty fathoms away from anything that smells like a conspiracy theory, but my reading of the tea leaves of the Gonzalez resignation paints an interesting hypothetical scenario.

What if the Democratic leadership in Congress traded a lesser evil to get rid of a greater one? What if they agreed to free the membership to vote as they saw fit on the six-month assault that was the FISA bill in exchange for the resignation of the man who has justified the six year assault on those liberties - Alberto Gonzalez?

I think that's a trade I would have made. As a private citizen, Gonzalez may be far more susceptible to a Congressional subpoena. The resignation of Gonzalez keeps the scandals at the Justice department above the fold. And in exchange for the breezes at the back of the Democrats which result from the resignation, the Democrats granted a six-month weakening of a law that Bush would have ignored anyway. And by granting the six-month extension, the issue of privacy and surveillance gets pushed deep into the Presidential campaign, making civil liberties a voting issue in the primaries - which it hasn't been in a long time.

Why would Bush agree to such a deal? Two reasons. First - Rove tells him to. I find it remarkably interesting that Bush's final political "victory" before Rove left was the FISA bill. Rove is just smarmy enough to be able to sell it in the West Wing, politically, and just Machiavellian enough to bet the house that the Democrats wouldn't dare not continue extending it in six months out of fear of being painted "soft on terrorism." (For all his genius, Rove only seems to have one play in his playbook, "paint the Democrats as soft on X.") Rove knew that Gonzalez was a anchor sinking the Administration, and he also knew that increased surveillance was the power sine-qua-non desired by Cheney and the authoritarianists in charge. This deal accomplishes both in one act.

And second, because the next Attorney General is waiting in the wings. He's a man known to be somewhat acceptable to the Democrats, and is also known to hold the Administrations views on civil liberties. Who is such a man, and can such a man exist? Absolutely: John Michael "Mike" McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence. He is the man with the check on the Attorney General's power to issue blanket approval for wiretaps, that was supposedly the "great compromise" in the FISA bill. If he was good enough to balance and check the AG in the FISA bill, goes the argument, he should be good enough for the AG job itself.

Of course, the critique of this analysis may be that Mike McConnell is not a lawyer, but since when has that kind of qualification been a concern to this Administration? They put a horse show manager in charge of FEMA, a corporate hack in charge of mine safety, and the Navy in charge of the largest land war America has fought in generations. When it comes to wayward civilian agencies, this Administration has shown a preference for putting military men in charge. Why not the Justice Department too? It's a standard play for this Administration to get a person approved for a lower position in an effort to shoehorn approval for a higher position later.

Of course my amateur analysis should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt, but the coincidences are enough to make one think.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Board Loudoun Needs

I've been doing some thinking about the kind of Board of Supervisors Loudoun County needs. I think we should look at what The Board of Supervisors is responsible for doing, and then examine who we should put there to do it.

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(The Loudoun County Government Center, in Leesburg)

First, a glance at the County budget shows that the largest expenditures of county funds - our taxes - goes towards the schools. This is as it should be: The most basic requirements of local government are schools and safety. We should elect someone to the board who has relevant experience. We're incredibly lucky to have a candidate who combines experience in special education (the fastest growing portion of our schools budget) with experience in local government. We're incredibly lucky to have Kelly Burk running for Leesburg District Supervisor.

Second, one of the biggest issues facing Loudoun is economic development. Loudoun's future requires growth in local jobs, local businesses and a sustainable local economy. We need someone on the Board of Supervisors who has created jobs, and created businesses, here in Loudoun County. Remarkably enough, we have a candidate who has run two businesses, and combines that experience with decades of experience in taxes and finance. Considering the importance of economics and finance to Loudoun's future, we should elect Jeanne West to the Board of Supervisors.
(Oh, and as an added benefit, if we elect her, Eugene Delgaudio won't be on the Board anymore.)

Loudoun County is a nexus of the technology industry. Our future is being built on science and technology. The past decade has seen remarkable shifts in Loudoun's technology economy, as MCI and AOL launched huges plans for the county, only to see the shifting sands of corruption and greed dash so many of those plans. We would benefit from putting someone on the Board of Supervisors who has expertise in science and technology. There just happens to be such a candidate, Stevens Miller, in the race for Dulles District Supervisor. With degrees in physics and computer science, Stevens has the qualifications to evaluate the state of our technology economy, and plan for its future. And on top of this exprience, Stevens has a law degree, and he has been advising other lawyers on technology issues for seven years. Our Board of Supervisors could use his wisdom.

Many of our neighbors have come to Loudoun county from other places. We have chosen to make Loudoun our home. Susan Klimek Buckley and her family have chosen to make Loudoun County their home. Few new residents make such a deep and expansive commitment to their new community as Susan has. She has founded two citizens action groups, even as she stepped away from her job (as an attorney) to raise her children. And she actively participates in a half-dozen other comunity organizations which are deeply focused on the specific needs of Sugarland Run District. In Susan Klimek Buckley, the Board of Supervisors will have a true representative of the citizens, with an unbending focus on the voters and their interests.

The county government is responsible for the well being of all our citizens. Too often, the well-being of some citizens can be overlooked in the pursuit of short-sighted goals or in the pursuit of quick fixes. It is critical that the Board of Supervisors have a member who is vigilant and passionate in advocacy for our neighbors who may go otherwise overlooked, or ignored. The issues of housing and predatory lending are alive in our area. We need someone on the Board of Supervisors who can understand the local implications of these issues. We have an opportunity to elect a proven advocate for the underserved in the Broad Run district, Phyllis Randall. She has been endorsed by Loudoun's teachers and police, and will ensure that Loudoun county grows its future united and strong.

The greatest issue in any Loudoun election is development. For twenty years, Loudoun has been growing faster and faster. Some of this growth has been good, and well-planned. Other growth has been ill-conceived and even shady. The Campaign for Loudoun's Future has been dedicated to smart growth in Loudoun since its inception. It's membership has been instrumental in informing us about development plans that would otherwise go voted on, but unvoiced, at the Board of Supervisors. Andrea McGimsey founded the Campaign for Loudoun's future. And Andrea McGimsey is running for Potomac District Supervisor. In addition to her success with the Campaign, her life reflects that of so many of our neighbors. She has spent her career in the technology industry, at AOL and running her own company. And just in case you're still not conviced, Andrea graduated from MIT.

On November 6, 2007, the voters of Loudoun County have the opportunity to elect the most qualified, intelligent and dedicated Board of Supervisors ever given the reins of the county government. These candidates can - and will - make a difference in our collective future when they are serving on the Board.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Homes for Our Teachers

Loudoun County is wealthy. Because of this, living in Loudoun County is expensive. Many of our teachers, police officers and fire fighters cannot afford to live in the county where they work. The county does some things to help. It's clear the affordability of housing for our county employees is a real and growing concern.

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In the meantime, forclosures in Loudoun County are increasing. (Our neighboring counties are also affected.) As of this morning, there were 465 properties listed in forclosure in Loudoun County. Many of these properties go to auction, where the lender is hopeful to at least get back the balance of the principal on the mortgage. Generally, the cost of this principal is far less than the house would list for if being sold through a realtor.

Why don't we give our teachers, firemen and police officers first dibs on foreclosed properties offered at auction? These properties are inherently more affordable than most otherwise available. And if there is a legal concern about a limited initial auction, why doesn't the county take some of its affordable housing funds and hire an employee whose sole job is to help teachers, police officers and firemen find and acquire foreclosed homes at auction? (And if you're worried about where that money should come from, I propose taking the money in the community development grants that is going for stop signs and street lights. We should be paying for those directly, not subsidizing them with money meant to help people find and keep affordable housing.)

An added benefit is that many of the homes foreclosed upon create a hole in the neighborhood while they're unoccupied. These homes become eyesores, and the location of minor criminality. All of these factors add to neighborhood decline and blight. With teachers, cops and firefighters moving into these houses, the neighborhoods benefit from residents with strong connections to the community in which they live, with the attendant benefits in safety and neighboring home values.

This is a win-win-win for everyone. Our county service employees get to live where they work, increasing their connection to the community, and reducing the pollution from their commutes. The banks get their distressed mortgages paid off, and Loudoun County provides another incentive to recruit the best possible firefighters, police officers and teachers.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Delgaudio Has Got To Go

"If illegal aliens are the mission of La Voz, then it needs to give back our money and get its cash from like-minded people," said Delgaudio, who is the most vocal supporter of a plan in Loudoun to deny public services to illegal immigrants.
- The Loudoun Times
This kind of divisiveness and grandstanding is not what Sterling deserves from it's supervisor.

Go give Jeanne West some love.

What Hunter Said

Yeah, what Hunter said.

And if you're wondering why.

An American flag was presented by Maj. Gen. Sean Byrn to Christy Kirkpatrick, of Reston, during the funeral for her husband, Army Sgt. Scott L. Kirkpatrick, Aug. 23 at Arlington National Cemetery. Kirkpatrick died Aug. 11 from wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device in Arab Jabour, Iraq, while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Kirkpatrick, 26, was a 1998 graduate of Park View High School in Sterling.
-The Loudoun Times

Immigration and Racism [updated]

It's always dangerous to accuse people who profess opposition to illegal immigration of being racist. And by-and-large, I believe that most people who think critically about the issue, and come to a conclusion that we need to significantly reduce the influx of illegal immigrants, are well meaning. Illegal immigration is a question of justice to them - these folks broke the law (entering the country illegally) and should pay a penalty (deportation). It's a perfectly logical argument.

(Of course, many of those folks may also be screaming about the injustice of the new abuser fees, somehow not realizing that law must be obeyed and enforced too. Oh well, "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.")

But from an evidence-based perspective, the general case against immigration is extremely weak. The problem isn't the illegal immigrants, it's the fact that we don't let enough people in in the first place.

Immigrants help economy.

There is evidence that immigration moderates inflation.
The study finds that immigration can lower the prices of food, clothing, furniture, and appliances and have a significant moderating effect on inflation. - Science Daily
Immigrants start more companies than native-born citizens.
Last year, the rate of business startups by immigrants increased to 0.37 percent, or 370 out of every 100,000 adults, up from 0.35 percent in 2005, according to an annual index of entrepreneurial activity by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation, a Kansas City-based advocacy group. By contrast, native-born entrepreneurs launched businesses at a rate of 0.29 percent in 2006. -Inc. Magazine
Immigrants frequently pay taxes even when they are undocumented.
The IRS issued 1.5 million ITINs in 2006 — a 30 percent increase from the previous year. All told, the tax liability of ITIN filers between 1996 and 2003 was $50 billion. The agency has no way to track how many were immigrants, but it’s widely believed most people using ITINS are in the United States illegally. - MSNBC
And it's a good thing they do, because Social Security may depend on it.
Taxes paid by undocumented immigrants go into the SSA’s “suspense file,” when the Social Security number does not match SSA’s records. In 2002, the suspense file grew by $56 billion in reported earnings, with about $7 billion in Social Security tax and $1.5 billion in Medicare tax paid. This tax contribution represents about 10% of the current Social Security surplus—the difference between what is being collected in Social Security taxes and what is being paid out in benefits. - The National Immigration Forum (paraphrasing a New York Times article)
One of the biggest critiques of immigration is that it increases crime. But the anecdotal evidence isn't borne out by applied study.

Immigration has no significant impact on crime.

Immigrant children are actually less likely to commit crimes.
Sampson and his colleagues followed a diverse group of nearly 3,000 Chicago youths from 1995 to 2002, and found that immigrant kids were less likely than peers of similar socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in everything from gang fights to arson to purse snatchings. Not only that, but even nonimmigrant kids who happened to live in immigrant neighborhoods were less likely than otherwise to be involved in violence. - The Boston Globe
And when they do commit crimes, they're less likely to do it again and be sent back to jail.
INS data, recently made available at the request of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees that fund the agency's budget, show a lower recidivism rate for immigrants. Of the 35,318 criminal aliens INS released from custody (but not did not deport) during October 1994 and May 1999 there were 11,605 who went on to commit new crimes. This recidivism (repeat offender) rate of 37 percent was well below the 66 percent figure for the U.S. criminal population for the comparable period. - The Center for Immigration Studies (2001)
And withholding services while rounding them up doesn't actually improve the situation.
They say lets send them back. What is the problem with that? It’s the turnstile at the boarder [sic]. It costs money to send them back, and then someone else returns. If they return as an illegal re-entry and are caught, its a five year sentence in federal prison. We pay for that. Now we are talking about withholding food, housing and medical. Well guess what, in prison they get Food, Housing and Medical. And now they are not working, they are not contributing or paying taxes, as many do. - Sheriff's Candidate Mike George
So the next time someone tells you that immigration is a problem, think carefully about that statement. It may be a question of comfort, not compatibility. Immigration makes some people uncomfortable. Too often, I fear that "quality-of-life" means "looks-and-sounds-and-thinks-like-me." And when people argue "it's only a question of citizenship," I would like to ask whether they'd mind an Indian Reservation next to their house. You don't get more native born than that.

We're all neighbors here in Loudoun County, regardless of where we come from (and remember, most of us don't come from here). We all moved here for fundamentally the same reason: better opportunities and lives for our families. All of us have that fundamental value in common. And that commonality is stronger than any difference in origin.

We should not care where you're from, we should only care what you do once you get here.

[update] On my honor as a graduate of The University, I wrote this post before seeing today's Leesburg Today cover story. Bridges is just an example of the wide diversity of Loudoun County, which may come as a surprise to some of our neighbors. We're a truly multicultural county, and for some reason, we appear to be able to live together just fine.

Ridgewater Park - Crosstrail Redux?

There was an interesting article in this week's Loudoun Times.
The company behind the large mixed-use community near Leesburg Executive Airport once called Creekside and now Ridgewater Park has slashed its proposal in half.
-The Loudoun Times
Ridgewater Park is a smaller development proposal than the infamous Crosstrail, but would also site nearly 1000 houses near to the Leesburg Airport. (You can read up on the history of the proposal at the Campaign for Loudoun's Future) The Board of Supervisors denied their original proposal in February, but the developer (Hobie Mitchel, who also build Lansdowne) has come back with a revised and slimmed down proposal. The new Ridgewater Park has reduced its number of homes from 1,946 to 931.

We should all note what the developer thinks that means:
The developer is asking that supervisors act on its application in December. It's also suggesting that since it reduced the size of its development that another public hearing is not required.
As with Crosstrail, I have no personal opinion as to whether this development is a good idea. On its face, it appears a lot more palatable than Crosstrail, given that it is located further from the airport, and includes fewer homes. Furthermore, Ridgewater Park proffers a school site and two miles of improvements to Sycolin Road, as well major improvements connecting Route 7 to Sycolin south of Leesburg - Cochran Mill Road.

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It does, however, increase density and development in and around Goose Creek, which provides much of the drinking water for the county. The developer has moved the housing farther from Goose Creek than it had originally planned, but the concern may remain for some citizens.

What concerns me is that the developer has changed their plan, and would like the Supervisors to act on that change without public feedback. Public input is the most fundamental of good government principles. In light of the vote against Crosstrail it will be interesting to see how the Board of Supervisors acts on Ridgewater Park. Unlike Crosstrail, the Supervisors have denied this application before. Will they approve it this time, given the changes? Do we want them to? And will they take the time to listen to community input before making a decision?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Exeter Budget Meeting

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This evening, I stopped by the budget meeting of the Exeter HoA Board. I went there to ask the HoA to use the weight of our contract to get our landscaping company not to operate gas-powered equipment on Code Orange and Code Red days. The Board agreed, so we'll see how our landscaper responds.

While I was there the Town Arborist, Jay Banks, had a conversation with the Board about tree coverage in Leesburg, and Exeter specifically. The Board was concerned about the loss of many trees in our neighborhood. There was a wide-ranging and excellent discussion of how difficult it is to plant the correct trees and keep them alive, consistently, over time. Part of the problem is that many of the trees that have been planted (and continue to be planted) are not appropriate for the soil in the neighborhood. In many cases, the trees are inexpensive, and don't survive for more than a few years. It's important for us to do a little background research if we are going to plant trees in our yards.

Jay pointed out that if you go to the town Tree Commission website there is a ton of useful information for homeowners who want to plant trees (which are likely to survive) and keep them alive in winter, spring, and summer.

So, as fall planting season arrives, take a look at the site, and consider some better trees for your yard.

The H1-B Visa Challenge [updated]

The New York Times has a great blog entry on the question of high-tech, high-skilled immigrants and the H1-B visa program.
Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at the Harvard Law School and executive-in-residence at Duke University, said today that the H-1B program is “wonderful for technology companies and employers. They have a captive audience.”

The H-1B, he explained, allows the sponsoring company to control employees, and often underpay them, as critics of the visa program contend.

Instead, Mr. Wadhwa said the United States should simply grant skilled immigrant workers permanent residence visas, so-called green cards. The new report says that more than 1 million skilled workers — scientists, engineers, doctors and researchers — are competing for 120,000 permanent residence visas each year. The surging backlog, the study adds, is starting to fuel a “reverse brain drain” as skilled workers return to their home country.
I, for one, have a good friend who has been struggling mightily with his immigration status for over five years. He is a computer software expert, who now serves as VP of a technology company in New Jersey. Originally from South Africa, he has paid thousands of dollars to a number of lawyers trying to resolve his immigration status. He has done everything required of him, and still sits in limbo.

His original U.S. employer sponsored him for his visa, and for years, he was beholden to that company for his continued legal residence in the U.S. We would have lunch and I would gape at the pay and benefits gap between himself and many of his co-workers. But he was unable to negotiate a better package, because the company held his immigration status in its hands.

This is wrong.

It's bad enough that we must rely on our employers for our health insurance and our retirement benefits. Workers should not rely on their employer for their very presence and legal status in the U.S. It can only lead to a major imbalance as these workers are significantly restricted in their ability to negotiate raises and benefits, and the presence of these workers keeps pay and benefits lower for the many American citizens working by their side.

The current program is little more than a form of indentured servitude.

I, for one, support a major rethinking of our skilled visa program. I feel that if a high-tech company wants to sponsor someone for work, that person should be granted full, legal residency, unfettered from any link to the company. Perhaps this would make companies to reconsider the many qualified local candidates, and increase our retention of entrepreneurial, motivated new immigrants, on which the future stability of Social Security and Medicare depend.

[update] And in case you were wondering if immigration is truly a good thing. Immigration may help keep inflation low.
...the study finds that immigration can lower the prices of food, clothing, furniture, and appliances and have a significant moderating effect on inflation.
-Science Daily

Abuser Fees and the Democratic Caucus

The Virginia blogosphere has been fraught with consternation over the increases in fines and fees that were included in last year's Transportation bill.

In yesterday's Washington Post, this was reported:
In a statement Tuesday, Mark Bergman, a spokesman for the House Democratic Caucus, said the fees provide "immunity for out-of-state drivers and illegal immigrants."
This and other statements quoted in the article were made in the context of a suggested strategy to link the issues of the abuser fees and illegal immigration in the election campaign.

At the Loudoun County Democratic Committee meeting last night, Delegate Dave Poisson came before the membership and told us that the Democratic Caucus, and the Governor, completely repudiates the statement and the general tactic put forward by "one staffer." Mark Bergman, according to Del. Poisson, was not acting as a "spokesman" for the caucus, though he was credited that way. He has been communications director for the DPVA in the past, but he is not currently in that position. (He is Chief of Staff to Ward Armstrong)
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(Del. Dave Poisson)

The forthrightness with which Delegate Poisson came before the next available gathering of his constituents (in this case, last night's LCDC meeting) to speak out against the tactics suggested by Mr. Bergman is just among the reasons I strongly support his reelection this November.

The Democratic Party is the party of all Virginians; we are the party of unity, not divisiveness. And Delegate Poisson deserves credit for standing up for all Virginians here in Loudoun County.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Code Orange At Home

I just heard back from the manager of my HoA:
Thanks for your suggestion [not using gas-powered tools on air quality action days]. I did run this by the landscaper and he indicated that it would not be feasible for "yellow" days, but it may be do-able for orange/red days. I will run this by the Board and see if it's something they may be interested in adding to the contract in future years.
Thanks again!
-[name withheld]

Property Management People, Inc.
"Management" is our Middle Name
This is fantastic news, I'm going to try to attend the budget meeting this week and see if they'll put a clause about air quality and landscaping work in the next contract. Landscaping is approximately 25% of the HoA budget. With a contract that big, I'm hopeful the landscaper will be amenable.

A Denial

I explicitly deny any membership in The HSVDBA, which does not exist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Jim Clem in His Own Words

For a former Mayor and Leesburg's representative on the Board of Supervisors, Jim Clem doesn't seem to respect the Town very much. A read through his own words on planning, written last year in the context of the 2006 Town Elections, shows a candidate frustrated with his own constituents.

Some choice examples:
"I do not support the current Leesburg Town Council's cherry picking of properties for annexation or BLA [Boundary Line Adjustment]. It seems after all of the discussion about the Crosstrail property, the Town Council does not want to engage in a planning discussion about Crosstrail but merely wants to dictate planning policy on county-governed land."
This was written in May, 2006. It is worth noting what happened next. Jim Clem voted multiple times to advance Crosstrail, before finally voting to deny the Crosstrail application in July 2007. In both 2006 and 2007, the Leesburg Town Council went before the Supervisors to advocate it's position, and joint planning meetings were held between the Town Council and the Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Clem's condescention to the elected representatives of the town he purports to represent himself is hardly the stuff of leadership, or responsible governance.
"Supervisor Tulloch has pointed out that the Peterson Company has stated they do not wish to be included within the Town of Leesburg. Judging by the exorbitant utility rates charged by the Leesburg Town Council for properties outside of the town, one can certainly understand the Peterson Company point of view."
Again, Supervisor Clem demonstrates clearly his loyalty is to the reactionary Republican majority on the Board of Supervisors and their developer moneymen, and not his constituents. It is Supervisor Clem's responsibility to understand the Leesburg voters' point of view, not that of a Fairfax-based company.
(I plan on posting on the water rate issue itself in the future, when I've done a little bit more research.)
"However, it is not correct to assume that the concerns of Leesburg residents will "fall on deaf ears.” Leesburg residents can rest assured that all laws applicable to the Crosstrail plan amendment and rezoning application will be followed."
It is not the place of citizens to be grateful that their representatives are willing to uphold the law, rather it is our most basic assumption, or should be. Furthermore, the implication that it is only the law itself which insures that the concerns of Leesburg residents will be heard does not speak highly of Supervisor Clem's service to his constituents. It is a basic requirement that our elected officials listen to our concerns. If it requires a law for Jim Clem to listen to us, we need someone new on the Board of Supervisors.
(In the interests of full disclosure, as if you couldn't tell from reading this blog - I am a volunteer for Kelly Burk's campaign)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Crosstrail Letters

For at least the past year, there has been a lot of discussion about Crosstrail here in Leesburg, and around Loudoun. Crosstrail is a development proposal for a piece of land south of Leesburg, which is (theoretically) jointly managed by the town and the County.

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(This image is from The Peterson Companies website for Crosstrail.)

In July, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors denied the request for this development. Since then a wide range of recriminations have flown back and forth in our local editorial pages.

The basic argument is over whether the development of a retail/residential towncenter south of Leesburg, adjacent to the Leesburg Executive Airport, will significantly harm the airport's viability, and, secondarily, whether the airport is worth saving. I personally have no opinion as to whether Crosstrail is a good idea, or whether the airport is a viable institution in Leesburg's future. But the politics of this issue is a wonderful sample of development politics in Loudoun County.

First, the Crosstrail property in question, while to be jointly planned and managed by the Town and County, is ultimately owned by the County. As Supervisor Jim Clem has said:
As always, the BOS will continue to listen to the concerns of the Town of Leesburg about development within its JLMA. However, unlike the lands within Purcellville Urban Growth Area Management Plan (PUGAMP), the final decision concerning land use of the Crosstrail property rests solely with the BOS. Loudoun County has not ceded its planning and zoning authority to the Town of Leesburg. Accordingly Leesburg Today was correct to note that the county will "proceed alone" on the Crosstrail CPAM. County planning and zoning process requires that it do so.

Thus, it is the County Board of Supervisors who has ultimate say over its fate, not the Town of Leesburg, even though it is the Town of Leesburg that is most effected by development around the airport. And it is the Town of Leesburg which anticipated providing water and sewer to the property.

Many voices have assigned blame to the Town for the end of Crosstrail. This is an inaccurate attribution when it was the Board of Supervisors who voted 8-1 to end the application.

Second, the Town, led by Councilwoman Burk and Mayor Umstattd has publicly and unanimously opposed Crosstrail. Any a characterization of that opposition as a "hidden agenda" is inaccurate. The agenda of the Town has been quite clear from various public meetings and public votes.

Finally, and most importantly, the failure of the Crosstrail application can be solely attributed to the fact that four Supervisors, including Leesburg's Jim Clem, changed their position on the application between December 2006 and July 2007. In doing so, none of these Supervisors provided a principled, public reason for their remarkable flip-flop. After all, this Board of Supervisors has had no problem in the past ignoring the wishes of Loudoun's towns (witness the Fields Farm fiasco). Why should Leesburg have expected anything different from Purcellville when it comes to getting its voice heard at the Board of Supervisors?

If there is fault to be found in the failure of Crosstrail, it lies entirely with the Board of Supervisors. It's gratifying to see that people are realizing that the recent vote against Crosstrails in the Board of Supervisors was a simple matter of political expediency.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Judy Feder Challenges Frank Wolf

The only way to change Washington is to change the people we send there.
- Judy Feder, 2006

Judy's somewhat cumbersome quote from her 2006 campaign was never more true than this week, when we found out that Congresman Wolf inserted an earmark in a spending bill, which funds a program in which ex-police officers in Nevada and Indiana evaluate obscenity on the Internet.

Our representative in Congress is having the government pay for two guys in other states to look at online porn.

(With apologies to Avenue Q)

Couldn't he at least have located those jobs here in Virginia? This is a major hub of the Internet, I would hope that there are two people qualified to do this job in his district. Didn't AOL lay off a few hundred people not to long ago, on Frank Wolf's watch? Couldn't two of those people do this job?

This is just one of the reasons that I'm thrilled that Judy is running for Congress again next year. This is from her recent email to 2006 supporters:

Last year I took on 26-year incumbent Congressman Frank Wolf to change the direction of our country.

Thanks to your help, we accomplished what almost no one thought possible. Though we didn’t win the election, we tapped a deep desire for change in a district with an entrenched incumbent, attracted thousands of supporters, garnered national attention, and made a stand for our shared values of which we can all be proud.

But we still need change in Washington. Frank Wolf continues to support the President’s failed policies while our men and women in uniform suffer the consequences. The situation keeps getting worse with no end in sight. You and I know that it’s time to end the war in Iraq, but Frank Wolf refuses to listen to the voices of his constituents. He has voted to block every effort to bring our troops home.

I believe that it’s critical for a Member of Congress to listen to their constituents. I wanted to hear what members of the community thought about the war, so I grabbed a camera and started asking people, "What do you think about the situation in Iraq?" You can take a look at what some of our neighbors think about Iraq here:

Our campaign is just getting started. We'll be back with more videos, an updated web site, and much more.
Last year, we took the first steps toward bringing about a real change in Congress. Next year, it's time to finish what we started.


Judy Feder

Judy Feder is talking about Iraq and gearing up online. Frank Wolf is worrying about Internet porn and video games. The choice couldn't be clearer, even 14 months out.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Leesburg Guard Training for Iraq

I posted earlier that the Leesburg unit of the National Guard (Co C, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry) had already gone to Iraq.

I was wrong.
State Sen. Mark Herring (D-33) traveled last week to Camp Shelby, MS, about 45 minutes south of Hattiesburg, to visit National Guard soldiers from Loudoun and the surrounding area. The combat soldiers were training for a mission in Iraq where they will provide convoy security near Tikrit, the hometown of Iraq's executed former leader, Saddam Hussein.
- Leesburg Today
Convoy security in Saddam's home town is a tough job. That's why they're sending Virginians.

It becomes ever more important to support Delegate Poisson's bill in the Assembly to provide free in-state college tuition to the children of many Virginia veterans, when we consider what those veteran are called upon to do for you and I.

Senator Mark Herring, Delegate David Poisson, Democrats both, demonstrating tangible support for our troops.

We can disagree about the war, but we all should agree that our soldiers deserve honor and recognition for their service, and consideration for their children.

Code Orange Days - Loudoun County

In my continuing pursuit of information about air quality management policies in our area, I called and left a message with the Director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services for Loudoun County, Diane Ryburn. Whe quickly called me back and we had a great conversation. Diane was very responsive and friendly, and answered all my questions.

Specifically, I asked her whether the County had a policy about mowing and blowing on Code Orange and Red days. She confirmed that the County has no official policy. Although, "we would try to do it in the morning" on bad air quality days. Thus, the issue is a concern, but not a priority for the County.

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(Loudoun County has an "air quality" display in the lobby of the Government Center. The stoplight indicates the air quality, in this case, yellow.)

I also emailed with Joan Rohlfs, who is in charge of Air Quality Planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. (Loudoun County is a member of MWCOG.) She was extremely helpful, as she emailed me examples of policies already in place in the area to mitigate ozone on air quality action days.

After a review of these documents, it turns out many of our neighboring jurisdictions and state agencies already have policies similar to the one proposed here. For example, PG County in Maryland, MDOT and VDOT all have policies in place to "Postpone use of gas-powered field/yard maintenance equipment" on "ozone action days." So clearly, other member governments of MWCOG have worked with and through MWCOG to implement ozone controlling policies like postponing mowing and blowing on air quality action days.

So far, the only thing Loudoun County is doing to try to prevent the exacerbation of air quality on Code Orange and Red days is to ask citizens to refrain from activities the County itself isn't refraining from. I know that Leesburg is looking to do something about that, I hope that Loudoun County will follow suit.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Code Orange - Leesburg

Another day, another indicator that air quality matters to all of us.
Researchers in Taiwan have demonstrated for the first time that urban air pollution simultaneously affects key indicators of cardiovascular risk in young adults: inflammation, oxidative stress, coagulation and autonomic dysfunction.
- Science Daily

Taiwan is the reason I care about this issue. In 2000 I was sent to Taipei for work, my first (and so far only) trip to Asia. I spent a week there taking meetings and discussing data centers and information infrastructure with industrialists and equipment vendors. I brought two handkerchiefs and five white shirts with me. That should have been enough for a week.

(This video is "Driving Around Taipei" by heweili on Photobucket, if you look at the sky, it looks like it's about to rain, but it's not - that's the color of the sky in Taipei.)

While I was there, I came home every night with grey soot being blown out of my nose constantly, and orange-yellow residue on the collars of my stark white shirts. I had to send my shirts and handkerchiefs to be laundered twice, just to keep myself looking clean for my meetings. By the end of the week, I felt like I had bronchitis. I cannot imagine how the locals live every day in that air.

So I didn't come by my environmental opinions honestly and idealistically, I only came by them by witnessing what happens if we don't do something about pollution before it becomes overwhelming.

Which brings me to Leesburg. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of talking to Irish Grandfield, Senior Environmental Planner for the Town of Leesburg. He comes from a long background in local government, having worked in Loudoun and Fairfax for much of his career. He has also served on the Metro Washington Air Quality Committee. He told me that Fairfax county has a policy which prohibits the parks department from mowing and using gas-powered landscaping tools on Code Red air quality days, but there is no similar policy in Leesburg or Loudoun. Irish suggested I talk to Tom Mason, the Director of Engineering and Public Works for Leesburg.

I spoke with Tom, and he told me that there is no current policy limiting mowing and blowing on Code Orange and Red air quality days, replying that the air quality, "hasn't been that bad out here." He said that if the Council of Governments issued a directive to limit the use of gas-powered landscaping equipment, Leesburg would probably implement a policy to do so.

Last Tuesday, Councilmember Burk brought this issue before the Town Council, and a recommended policy will be forthcoming in the next month or two.
"The town will come to the next meeting in September with a recommended wording for the new policy for code orange day activities. I mentioned the mowing issue in particular."
-Leesburg Town Council Member Kelly Burk
(I am a volunteer for Kelly's BoS campaign.)

I believe we need to get out ahead of this issue in Leesburg and Loudoun. The air will remain "not that bad out here" only if we do something to keep it that way. The issues of development, traffic and air quality are tightly interrelated. The more development we have, the more cars, lawnmowers and HOA landscaping we generate. The more cars on our roads, the more traffic and delays. The more delays and idling cars, the greater the ground-level ozone in Loudoun County. (And none of this counts the air pollution from the jets at Dulles!)

I'm hopeful that a few phone calls and an email will have done some small good in managing our local air quality. It doesn't take much effort to make a difference when you do it locally.

[Update] If Taipei seems to far away, how about Mexico:
Children who are chronically exposed to higher levels of air pollution show marked deficiencies in lung growth and function, and not just short-term breathing problems, according to researchers in Mexico. ... Strikingly, the effect of pollutant exposure on FEV1 among the children in their study was slighter greater than the effect of exposure to maternal smoking among children in the United States.

Save the Dates

Here are some important dates to remember as we get into election season:

Election Day - Tuesday, November 6, 2007

This is the biggie, don't forget to vote. It's an "off year" election so turnout will be key and every vote makes a difference. In 2006, which was a national election year, with higher turn-out than normal, Jim Webb only won Loudoun County by 1,132 votes. In odd-year elections, it's remarkable how small the margins of victory in local races can be. If you want your vote to count, vote in 2007. Polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. for all elections.

Of course it helps to know where to vote. Especially if you're new to the area, or have moved within the area, or you just haven't voted before, I strongly encourage you to locate your polling place before November 6 2007. Loudoun County provides a handy online map which can help find your voting place.

Note that when you vote, you have specific rights in the action of voting. These rights include "To have a ballot brought to your vehicle instead of entering the polling place if you are 65 years of age or older, or if you are disabled," "To have your paper ballot voided BEFORE IT IS CAST and be given a new one if you feel you have voted incorrectly," "To vote even if you have no identification with you at the polling place. You must sign the “Affirmation of Identity” statement before voting if you have no ID," and "To vote if you are in line by 7:00 p.m. when the polls close."

Last Day To Register - Monday, October 1, 2007

Of course, for your vote to count you need to beregistered. The last day to register to vote in time for the 2007 elections is October 1. You can get a voter registration form online. Just download it, print it out, fill it out, and mail it in. Alternatively, you can go to the local Leesburg voter registration office and do it there. Note that it will be moved from Fairfax St. to Sycolin Road on August 27th.

Voter registration can also be done at the DMV when you renew your license, or you can pick up an application at your local library.

Yard Sign Day - Monday, September 24, 2007

In Leesburg, we're not allowed to put up yard signs before September 24th, by ordinance. So, get your signs before September 24th, and put 'em out at midnight!

(Well, do that if you're slightly crazy like me.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

School Board Candidates Forum

On Thursday, August 9, the candidates for Loudoun County School Board for the Blue Ridge and Broad Run districts came to a special meeting of the LCDC (Loudoun County Democratic Committee) seeking our endorsement of their candidacy for the election on November 6th.

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In attendance (left to right) were Bob Ohneiser, Board member for Broad Run, and his opponent, Tag Greason, as well as Priscilla Godfrey, Board member for Blue Ridge, and her opponent John Feegel.

Before describing the meeting, first mention must be made of the quality and candor of the candidates and their participation in a partisan forum. It is a testament to the strength of Loudoun's public spirit that we have such excellent candidates from which to choose this year. The respect they showed each other, and the LCDC membership, would serve well as an example to many of our local politicians today.

The candidates opened with a brief statement about their candidacy. Tag Greason and John Feegel are the "change" candidates in this election, representing previous experience with community involvement, but not elected office. Bob Ohneiser and Priscilla Godfrey are currently serving on the School Board. Bob made the case for his retention on a platform of experience and passionate interest in the schools. He noted that of all the school board members, he had asked the most questions and sought the most information from the schools and the staff, in the interest of making sure the board was putting forward the best policy.

Tag emphasized his greatest asset as leadership, and discussed his background in the military and endorsement by the LEA (which has also endorsed Phyllis Randall for Broad Run Supervisor). His primary issues would be "good teachers" and "smaller class sizes." He would like to see more cooperation and compromise with the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.

Priscilla Godfrey is the only active elected Democrat currently serving on the School Board. She has volunteered widely for the Democratic candidates in Loudoun in the past. She has worked on ensuring the continuance of drama programs, improving nutrition in school lunches and technology in the classroom. She has noted that the attendance of small schools is increasing, and that new schools are needed for Blue Ridge.

John Feegel introduced himself as a Republican who was deeply at odds with his own party, noting his participation in operation "BlackOut" and mentioning his membership in the Log Cabin Republicans on his candidate information sheet. He sees his role as larger than the School Board itself, bringing an independent and principled voice to the School Board, with experience "putting out fires" and managing difficult issues. His endorsement request notes "Credibility begins with accountability. I say what I mean."

All the candidates were asked to describe their level of agreement with the LCDC's Principles. Bob Ohneiser expressed universal agreement with all of the Principles, including the Principle that,
"a society where all workers are guaranteed the legal right to join unions of their own choosing and to bargain collectively for decent wages and conditions of employment."
Priscilla Godfrey noted in her response to the Principles that,
"when it comes to job of public service (teachers, firefighters) I think salaries and benefits have to be carefully negotiated to prevent disruption in critical services."
Tag Greason expressed qualifications regarding the Principles that impacted taxation and infrastructure investment, saying, "These services should be paid for by all who benefit in a fair and equitable way."

John Feegel expressed the most qualifications about agreement with the Principles, even while agreeing to the vast majority of them. His qualifications were generally specific explanations of the legal or constitutional conditions that already limit the application of our Principles, for example:
I agree with qualification that "the right of all people to equality under the law is unequivocally recognized." Of course basic human rights apply here, especially to illegal immigrants and even to enemy combatants. However, assuming "under the law" means the US Constitution, it protects only those within our borders and actions by our government, not "all people."

Bob Ohneiser noted that Loudoun County's teacher retention is very high, and that it is important that teachers receive regular improvements to salaries and benefits. Tag Greason noted that collective bargaining was good, and critical for teachers, but in response to a question from a committee member, did not express an opinion as to whether teachers should have the right to strike. John Feegel noted that the strike issue is moot, since the state of Virginia will not certify a teachers union, a pre-requisite for any capability to strike.
(This is why we need to change who we sent to Richmond - P)

On the issue of school financing, Tag Greason discussed how Loudoun County gets significantly less money from Richmond than it sends to the state, thanks to the calculation of the Composite Index. He believes that we must work harder to get more money from Richmond to better stabilize the funding of our schools. Bob Ohneiser expressed the belief that the County was not getting enough financial support for schools from the developers who were causing our school needs to increase. This was because of two assessment factors. First, a townhouse and a four bedroom detached home were assessed as having the same school impact, when it is clear that the larger house can, and is likely to, support more school-age children. And second, we are not assessing commercial properties effectively, as their assessed value and market value are completely divergent.

Priscilla expressed her contention that long-term financial planning is moot when the Board of Supervisors is unwilling to fully fun the schools to the level that is necessary. What the county needs is a five year plan with full Board of Supervisors support and funding.

John Feegel said that the funding question (especially the votes of four Supervisors against an additional $79M for our schools) was a function of the school board having lost credibility with the Board of Supervisors, and that the answer was to change the makeup of the school board, so that the BoS would be more amenable to working with them on funding. He also suggested giving he school board taxing authority so as to make it even more accountable with the voters for funding issues.

There was an extended discussion of Family Life education in the public schools, with emphasis on four possible policy options: opt-in, opt-out, mandatory or withdraw family life education altogether. All four candidates supported the current opt-out policy, with Mr. Gleason and Mr. Feegel volunteering that they would opt their own children out of the class, feeling that family life and sex education was the province of the family, rather than the schools.

Before a wide range of further questions could be answered, we ran out of time, and the meeting was adjourned.

It is a remarkable thing to have the candidates come before the LCDC for an endorsement and I will be considering long and hard my own vote on this matter.

(Crossposted to Loudoun Democrats)

Lest We Forget

In the midst of a million local, parochial concerns, let's never forget:
Approximately 177 Virginia Guardsmen entered active federal service in support of “Operation Iraqi Freedom” on Jan. 4, 2007. Shortly after their mobilization they traveled to Ft. Dix, N. J. where they prepared for overseas deployment. The Guardsmen are currently serving in Iraq. The units affected by this mobilization are:

HHC, 116th Brigade Troops Battalion, Fredericksburg
Co A, 116th Brigade Troops Battalion, Fredericksburg
Co C, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, Leesburg / Manassas

- First Army

Our soldiers deployed sometime after June 26th of this year.

This is the second time this unit has been called to serve in the past four years.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bridges vs. Breasts

Let me get this straight.

Our Representative, Frank Wolf, inserted an earmark in a Congressional spending bill to fight online obscenity.
"The grant, about $150,000 a year, has helped pay for Mr. Rogers and another retired law enforcement officer in Reno, Nev., to harvest and review complaints about obscene matter on the Internet that citizens register on the Justice Department Web site."
-The New York Times

That's $150,000 of our Federal tax dollars, going to two retired police officers in Indiana and Nevada, thanks to Frank Wolf.

"Reflecting the county's growth in population and traffic, the number of functionally obsolete bridges is even greater and more than doubled from last year's count to 72. Last year, 35 of the county's 437 bridges were classified as functionally obsolete, said Nicholas Roper, VDOT's Northern Virginia's district bridge engineer. Updated last week, that number increased to 72, he said, or 16 percent of the county's overall bridges."
-Leesburg Today

Frank couldn't think of a better use for $150,000?
"Three of these bridges along Rt. 15 north of Leesburg that intersect the tributaries of the Potomac River were rehabbed in 1994 and are already considered functionally obsolete, according to VDOT's statistics."

Between Eugene Delgaudio not believing in cows, Jim Clem not showing up for votes, and Frank Wolf paying cops in other states to hunt online for "sexual material involving consenting adults" (and yet, they missed Mark Foley, go figure), I think we need to send the Republicans packing, and elect some Democrats who understand what it means to represent the interests of their constituents.

On Suburban Consumption

My oh my, Digby is good.
The problem is that middle class American incomes are not even close keeping up with what they need to spend in this kind of cycle and haven't been for more than two decades, while income gains for these super-rich have been stratospheric. That's what's making everyone feel the squeeze: the middle class are working themselves into an early grave and taking on more debt than they can manage not because they are foolishly trying to keep up with Paris Hilton but because they have to in order to hang onto the place in society they already have.
-Digby's Hullabaloo

I know you're supposed to add your own independent content to things if you blog on them, but I honestly feel that commentary on Digby would only dilute her message.

Just go read it. And when you're done, look around your neighborhood and ask yourself how many of our neighbors find themselves in similar circumstances.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Things That Don't Exist

You really can't make this stuff up.
When told there were more than 30,000 cows in the county, Delgaudio said he could not believe that number because he had not seen them.
-"County Enacts Water Restrictions" Leesburg Today (Print Edition)

In my continuing effort to help out my fellow citizens through information, here is a short list of other things that do not exist in Loudoun County, according to the logic of Eugene Delgaudio.
  • School overcrowding

  • Legal immigrants

  • Fans of The Daily Show

  • A light beer with all the taste of a real beer

  • Intelligent voters

I'm sure there are more...

I think we can prove him wrong on the last one this year.

[update] Of course, Jim Clem was absent for the drought vote. You know who knows about the importance of attendence? Teachers. Maybe we should put a teacher on the Board of Supervisors.

Friday, August 10, 2007

On Logical Fallacies [updated]

One of my favorite things about the Internet and blogs in general is the fact that facts matter. Proper blog etiquette generally means that when information is presented, it should be linked to an original source. So, if you follow the links, you can assess the value of that information.

But presenting an argument, advocating for your position, changing minds, is more than information and evidence. It is also about arguing from logic. The glory of the advent of the blogosphere is the the anonymity of posters. Not because it removes people from responsibility for what they write, but because it means that people's arguments - in general - must stand on their merits.

When you make an argument in person, or watch a debate on television, we can be swayed by the person making the argument, or the emotion of its expression. When the argument is expressed in writing, especially in blog writing, the argument must start with its merits. It may be enhanced by the writer, and the tone, but the argument itself is subject to considered review and as such, needs to be strong, regardless of its expression or writer.

And so, as a service to the blogosphere (ha!), I provide a link to a valuable tool in assessing the arguments and positions we may find on the 'net.

What is a logical fallacy?

As we get into election season, I believe one of the better services we can provide is to keep an eye out not only for errors of fact, but also for errors of logic. Reestablishing the rule of critical thinking in America means spreading understanding of what it means to critically think.
[update] Cheers and Jeers over at DailyKos picked up on this theme Thursday. Woohoo!

Loudoun County Mudfight

And so it begins.
Mr. Chapman, who is challenging Del. David Poisson, apparently hired a Salt Lake City-based company called Venture Data to conduct a poll that was disgusting in its techniques, which I consider slimy and unethical. In spite of what they say on their Web site, the company conducted what is commonly called in the election business as a "push poll" where they ask a question that has no basis in fact just to slander someone's reputation.
- John Gavin in The Loudoun Connection
I love how outright lying is an acceptable political tactic for Loudoun County Republicans these days. This is just more evidence that the Republican Party's dishonesty goes all the way down.
When I asked who paid for the poll I was told that it was "the House Republican Campaign Committee and Chapman for Delegate."
- John Gavin
Lies and ad hominem attacks are not Loudoun County values.

And then there's the case of the disgruntled Crosstrail supporter.
Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd, in a letter last week to the Loudoun Times-Mirror ["Editorial left the wrong impression"], took the editor of this paper to task saying that the June 24th editorial, “Election Season Influenced Crosstrail Vote,” was based on incomplete factual analysis. I disagree. This editorial was spot on, as was Supervisor Steve Snow’s Aug. 1st letter, “Loudoun residents are real Crosstrail losers."

The mayor tells us that elected officials “are supposed to do what the public asks of them.” True, but the public must have the facts in order to make an informed decision, and not be led like lambs to the slaughter by politicians with hidden agendas.
- Jim Haynes in the Loudoun Times Mirror

Mr. Haynes is a pilot and is surely knowledgeable on air transport issues. But it is strikingly inaccurate to blame the failure of Crosstrail on Mayor Umstattd and Councilwoman Burk, when the entire reason that Crosstrail failed was because Coucilwoman Burk's opponent, Jim Clem, and his Republican cohorts on the Board of Supervisors changed their position on the application.

In December 2006, Supervisors Clem, Delgaudio, Snow, Staton, and Tulloch voted to continue moving forward with Crosstrail. Then, in July of this year, all but Snow voted against it.

Whose are the hidden agendas?

Kelly Burk has been a consistent opponent of Crosstrail. Jim Clem and his Republican colleagues are the ones who flip-flopped. What's worse, they switched their votes without a good reason:
Leesburg District Supervisor Jim Clem also voted against the [Crosstrail] application, albeit his warning that the Peterson Companies would likely restart the dormant lawsuit it has against the county.
In voting against it, he said, "We haven't made any progress to move forward."
-Leesburg Today

I respect Mr. Haynes' support of Crosstrail and his opposition to the positions that Kelly Burk and Kristin Umstattd have taken, but I believe his ire should be focused on the entity with the actual authority over the Crosstrail property. After all Crosstrail was to have been build on County land, not town land. The Town's opposition could have been rendered nearly moot by a favorable vote from the Board of Supervisors.

This Board has shown no compunction in the past about ignoring the wishes of the towns. Just look at what happened with Purcellville and the Fields Farm.
At the request of the Board of Supervisors, the Fields Farm was designated as the site for the western Loudoun high school
- Loudoun County School Board News Archive

It's telling that the Republicans are starting their campaigns with negative attacks; they have no positive record to run on in Loudoun County.

Let's call them to account for these tactics, let's bring about change in Loudoun!