Friday, September 28, 2007

Firetti's Money Man

If a single person financed the vast majority of your campaign, wouldn't you feel beholden to that person if you were elected?
One candidate who has not garnered much financial backing from individual contributors is Republican County Chairman candidate Mike Firetti, whose campaign is primarily funded by a loan from his campaign manager, Brian Roherty. Roherty said the $40,000 in loans from his Fineline Marketing and Communications firm to Firetti will be repaid once the candidate starts gearing up with fundraising.

"I didn't put in $40,000 in loans with the expectation that it wouldn't get paid back," Roherty said, adding that Firetti's next campaign finance reports should be filled with contributions that can be used to repay him. - Leesburg Today
Talk about owing someone a favor.

Leesburg Today does a great job of going into detail as to the financial arrangements of Firetti's campaign for Chairman of the Board of Supervisors. The people financing his campaign are the same people who poured money into earlier campaigns against smart growth initiatives in Loudoun County. This is just more evidence that the Republican claims of probity are in fact merely smokescreens issued in an election year. Nothing has changed, and the developer interests are seeking to expand their presence on the Board by inserting Firetti as Chairman. After all, Firetti's campaign manager is an expert at protecting the developer's interests in elections.
Roherty first became involved in Loudoun politics when he arrived as executive director of the Right Growth Policy Institute, a group that conducted a similar advertising blitz that targeted the Piedmont Environmental Council and slow-growth advocates while declining to identify the source of the organization's funding.
And the developers' influence isn't limited to Mike Firetti.
At a total of $246,243, developers remain the largest contributors to the local races. In total, Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) leads the pack with $81,490 raised from the real estate/construction industry; followed by Supervisor Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run) with $76,974; Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) with $33,428; and Supervisor Bruce E. Tulloch (R-Potomac) with $16,750. No other candidate raised more than $2,500 from that industry.
Follow the money, see where it leads, and ask what's best for our community, then vote on November 6th.

(And no, I had no idea Leesburg Today would be running an article on campaign funding when I wrote my posts on the subject yesterday.)

Commercial Development and Loudoun Conty

I wanted to point out an excellent alternative analysis of commercial development in Loudoun County. I am personally in favor of expanding the economic base of the county to include more businesses like Volkswagen and AOL, but Ryan at The Bellows makes the case that this is not in the best interests of northern Virginia at large:
Now, I understand that Loudoun wishes to broaden its tax base beyond residential property taxes, but there are at least three good reasons that this kind of intra-metropolitan competition is no good. On the one hand, it might easily create a situation where neighboring counties are throwing incentives at a company simply to lure it a few miles in one direction. This is ludicrous. At that point, the firm will have presumably decided that the area is a good potential location for it, and the gains to the local market will be on the way; all incentive battles will do is shift unnecessary taxpayer money to the corporation. And if it’s just a case of one county trying to poach a firm from another, that’s no good either. There are gains to concentrating near other firms, which is why companies pay higher rents for the privilege of doing so. Paying an incentive to get a company to leave such an agglomeration might compensate the company for its loss from moving away, but it won’t compensate the other companies who would have benefited from having the target firm near them. - Ryan at The Bellows
It is always a good idea to hear both sides of any question, my thanks to Ryan for providing the other side of this one.

College Loan Costs and Congress

Among the many differences between the current generation and our parents is the fact that almost universally, we graduated from college with significant amounts of debt, while our parents did not. This has had a major effect on the choices made by people in their 20s and 30s, especially when it comes to careers and spending. As things stand today, many students who would prefer to teach in underserved neighborhoods, or doctors who would like to go into public service, or lawyers who want to be public defenders or work on civil liberties, cannot do so because those careers will not let them retire the debt acquired in college and graduate school.

While many citizens criticize "young people" for being too focused on money and "what's in it for me," they do not realize that we are simply responding to the incentives presented to us by our society. Unlike when our parents were in their 20s, for us college is expensive, job security is a joke, health insurance is a crapshoot, and Social Security is a nice idea, but not to be counted on.

During the 2000 election, the public debate was over whether the Federal budget surplus should be used to cut taxes, or preserve Social Security. There is a great quote from that Urban Institute study:
The budget resolution aims to save the entire Social Security surplus and to run a small surplus in the non-Social Security budget after fiscal year 2003. It is almost certain that actual surpluses will be somewhat less than these amounts, because the budget resolution assumes politically unrealistic cuts in domestic spending that will not materialize. - "Saving The Surplus to Save Social Security", The Urban Institute

Truer words were never written.

At the time of the surplus, some people who were not in the spotlight (because they were young) asked, why not forgive my school loans? School loan forgiveness is the essence of a good public policy move. First, it puts money in the hands of those most able to use it effectively - educated workers. Second, it enables those educated workers to make different choices when it comes to careers and consumption. Third, it rewards work. Most of the surplus the Clinton Administration left to The Executive was spent on tax cuts, and most of those tax cuts rewarded investment, not work.

Forgiving college loans insures that young people do not start out in debt, making them more able to afford cars, and homes and washing machines, without defaulting on high-interest mortgages. It is a targeted benefit to the part of the economy best able to multiply the effect of that money.

For these reasons, today's news about the "College Cost Reduction and Access Act" being signed into law is important. It begins the resumption of the successful economic policies of the 1990s Clinton Administration, which helped preserve and extend the largest post-war boom in American history. This bill is the reawakening of one of the many good ideas left from the 1999-2000 Presidential campaign, only now given life by the Democratic majority in Congress. Yet more proof that who controls Congress matters.

This law is only a first step, but it is a demonstrable change in direction for our college financing system. Furthermore, the idea of dealing with college loan debt at a national level is gaining steam in the 2007-2008 Presidential campaign, as evidenced by Bill Richardson's idea to forgive college loans after a year of public service.

We can only hope that we will see surpluses again some day, and when we do, that money can be invested in people just starting out. We did it before (with the GI Bill) and it was the foundation of our greatness. It is time to be great again.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to The Richmond Democrat for getting the college debt reduction story first!)

An Interlude: Sea Turtle Rescue

A good friend works with sea turtles. This year, they released one of the largest rescue classes of sea turtles ever, back into the wild.

25 turtles set free in Indian River after 3 years of research (with video)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Delegate and Senate Race Money

Using methodologies based on VPAP as explained in the discussion of Jim Clem's campaign money, it is useful to look at the 27th Senate District and the 33rd House of Delegates District races.

In the 33rd House of Delegates district, Joe May has received 16% of his campaign contributions from within Loudoun County and Clarke County. Marty Martinez has received 43% of his contributions from within Loudoun County and Clarke County. Apparently, the largest industry contributor to Joe May's campaign is Transportation, including "Private Highway Companies." It's interesting that the Greenway ends just shy of Joe May's district.

The 27th Senate District includes all or part of four localities: Loudoun County, Fauquier County, Clarke County, Frederick County and Winchester City. Jill Holtzman-Vogel has received 42% of her campaign money from within those localities. (none of it from Clarke County, interestingly enough). Karen Schultz has received 59% of her money from within those localities.

Jim Clem's Money Disparity

When examining the public disclosures of fundraising in the Clem-Burk Board of Supervisors race, it is interesting to note that Jim Clem currently has only $6,070 cash on hand, and has only raised $4,762 this election cycle. With the election fewer than six weeks away, that would appear to be a precarious position for an incumbent to be in.
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(The Virginia Public Access Project)

That money should be put in context, however. In the 2003 election cycle, Jim Clem raised $27,684. It is extremely unlikely that he will only raise 1/5 of that amount in 2007. On the contrary, it appears likely that a significant amount of "late" money will come in as the season closes. That way Supervisor Clem gets the money he needs for his election, but the knowledge of where that money came from will not be circulated until the election has been decided.

After all, it takes some time to file the disclosure forms, review them, and make them available publicly. VPAP is a separate website which uses public filings; Virginia itself does not necessarily make the filings available online. Thus, there are may be five steps between a candidate receiving money and that donation being disclosed online:

1) The candidate files their disclosure form.
2) The state reviews the disclosure form.
3) The disclosures are made available "publicly." (i.e., at an office in Richmond)
4) VPAP acquires the disclosure information.
5) VPAP publishes that information online.

In this manner, a full week could go by between disclosure and online knowledge of the money, let alone the amount of time between receipt of the donation and online publication (since disclosure forms are due only periodically, not at the time of donation).

So it is informative to examine the money that Jim Clem received for his 2003 election as a guide to the money he might receive for the 2007 election. Jim Clem's contributions by industry show that he received over $10,600 from the Real Estate / Construction industry. It is unlikely to expect that these 2003 donors will stay on the sidelines in 2007, when Supervisor Clem is opposed by a candidate who will hold developers accountable for the costs they impose on the county.

It is also interesting to note that in 2003, more than half of Jim Clem's contributions came from outside Loudoun County. Meanwhile, in 2007 over 80% of Kelly Burk's contributions have come from within Loudoun County. It is similarly unlikely that those out-of-County interests will decline to contribute to Jim Clem's campaigns in 2007 when they were so instrumental to the financing of his 2003 campaign.

Thus, it is reasonable for us to expect an influx of money into Jim Clem's campaign coffers as the campaign season ends, bringing him the ability to advertise and mail right before the election. It is also likely that this money will come from interests who are not interested in letting it be known they financed Jim Clem's campaign (otherwise, they would have given the money to him already). Leesburg's voters deserve to know who is paying for their candidates' campaigns before making their decision on November 6th. We should look carefully at any advertising and mailings from Jim Clem in the next month, because that money had to come from somewhere.

(For anyone interested in the financial elements of Virginia elections, VPAP is an invaluable resource. I encourage you to check it out, if only to see who has been giving money to your local representatives. As ever, I continue to be a volunteer for Kelly Burk's campaign.)

Patriot Act Erodes

A judge in Oregon has further eroded the Patriot Act.
A federal judge in Oregon ruled Wednesday that crucial parts of the USA Patriot Act were not constitutional because they allowed federal surveillance and searches of Americans without demonstrating probable cause. The ruling by Judge Anne L. Aiken of Federal District Court in Portland was in the case of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer in Portland who was arrested and jailed after the Federal Bureau of Investigation mistakenly linked him to the Madrid train bombings in March 2004. “For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success,” Judge Aiken’s opinion said in finding violations of the Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure. “A shift to a nation based on extraconstitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill advised.” - The New York Times
What is interesting about this case is that the defendant reached a settlement with the government before this case went through it's court process, but the settlement explicitly allowed this case to go forward to test the legality of the Patriot Act.
Mr. Mayfield sued the government, which apologized and agreed to a $2 million settlement last November. The settlement included an unusual condition that freed the government from future liability with one exception. Mr. Mayfield was allowed to continue a suit seeking to overturn parts of the Patriot Act. It was that suit on which Judge Aiken ruled Wednesday.
The mechanisms of democracy often work slowly, but they do work. Our Courts are reconsidering so many of the laws passed in the past six years which have limited cherished constitutional protections. At the end of the day, without Constitutional amendments the rights we have are limited to the rights the Courts say we have. This is why the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is a voting issue in 2008, and this is why the Senate's "Advise and Consent" role in appointing judges is so critical.

At some point in the next few years, there will be a case before the Supreme Court which bundles many of the District Court level opinions about the Patriot Act and other bills of the post-9/11 era, and that case will set the precedent for the liberties our children grow up with. I will be a father this year, and I want my children to have all the rights I do today.(Heck, I want them to have all the rights I had in 1997!)

Incidentally, the language in the judge's decision is lyrical and inspiring, as so many decisions in this area have been recently. We are lucky that our judges and justices have given us so many wonderfully quotable phrases to use.
Significantly, a seemingly minor change in wording has a dramatic and significant impact on the application of FISA. A warrant under FISA now issues if "a significant purpose" of the surveillance is foreign intelligence. Now, for the first time in our Nation's history, the government can conduct surveillance to gather evidence for use in a criminal case without a traditional warrant, as long as it presents a non-reviewable assertion that it also has a significant interest in the targeted person for foreign intelligence purposes.

Since the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the government has been prohibited from gathering evidence for use in a prosecution against an American citizen in a courtroom unless the government could prove the existence of probable cause that a
crime has been committed. The hard won legislative compromise previously embodied in FISA reduced the probable cause requirement only for national security intelligence gathering. The Patriot Act effectively eliminates that compromise by allowing the Executive Branch to bypass the Fourth Amendment in gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution.
It is notable that our Founding Fathers anticipated this very conflict as evidenced by the discussion in the Federalist Papers. Their concern regarding unrestrained government resulted in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and ultimately, the Bill of Rights. Where these important objectives merge, it is critical that we, as a democratic Nation, pay close attention to traditional Fourth Amendment principles. The Fourth Amendment has served this Nation well for 220 years, through many other perils. - Mayfield et. al., vs. U.S.A., Opinion and Order
Furthermore, if you want to know exactly how the FISA process works, there's an in-depth explanation of the whole FISA system starting on page 15 of the Opinion.

I am hopeful that these courageous judges deciding the cases in favor of our liberty will be on the short-list for the Supreme Court when the next opening on that panel arrives.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Republicans Stall Legislation

There is a great post up on MyDD today about how Republicans stall legislation in Congress. Basically, the Republican leadership in the Senate has multiple opportunities to stop any legislation in its tracks, and they have been doing so, at a rate far greater than any Senate minority in history.

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(Image from McClatchy.)

Traditionally, only a "hold" has been necessary to stall legislation, but even with holds, some legislation actually passes the Senate, and the Republican minority in the Senate just cannot have that. Jonathan Singer explains how the Republicans are not letting bills be considered in the House-Senate Conference Committee even after they have been passed by both houses as he analyzes an article in the New York times.
Indeed the Republicans have balked at negotiations over bills like S-CHIP reauthorization and ethics reform -- but that's not the full extent of it. Hulse does note that, for instance, on the ethics bill Senate Republicans refused to le the bill go to conference through a hold spearheaded by South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint. Hulse fails to mention, however, that Senate Republicans did the exact same thing on the children's healthcare bill, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to appoint conferees. - Jonathan Singer on MyDD
For the casual citizen, that means that the Senate Minority Leader is refusing to let legislation that has already been considered and passed by both houses (hence, the need for a Conference Committee, to which conferees are appointed), be considered by a Conference Committee of House and Senate members for resolution of potential differences between House and Senate versions. Such a Conference Committee is the last step before final passage of a bill to be sent to the President for his signature. This is not legislation that is being debated, this is not even legislation that is due for a floor vote, this is legislation that has already passed, and the Republicans are refusing to fulfill their procedural responsibility to complete the final steps.

This kind of dereliction of duty is unprecedented. In a chamber which affords the widest range of rights to the minority, it is malpractice to refuse to appoint conferees. The Republicans care more about stopping the legislative process in its tracks than doing the business of the people.

Rethinking Immigration Ordinances

A tip-o-the-hat to Raising Kaine for a link to a New York Times article about towns rescinding their anti-immigrant statues, due to the economic impact of those statutes.
With the departure of so many people, the local economy suffered. Hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet; several closed. Once-boarded-up storefronts downtown were boarded up again.

Meanwhile, the town was hit with two lawsuits challenging the law. Legal bills began to pile up, straining the town’s already tight budget. Suddenly, many people — including some who originally favored the law — started having second thoughts. - The New York Times
Loudoun county is studying whether to implement such ordinances itself. It appears that the Republican Majority on the Board of Supervisors wants to go out of its way to generate another lawsuit. The various reasons why migration into Loudoun county is not a pressing problem have been discussed at length here, and this story just proves the point that local action on this Federal issue is a remarkably bad idea. At the state level, a Commission on Immigration has been established and is starting work. Since Virginia is a Dillon rule state, it would behoove counties and cities to led the state do its work before taking action on their own.

The town of Riverside provides a cautionary tale about anti-immigrant ordinances.
Indeed, Riverside, a town of 8,000 nestled across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, has already spent $82,000 defending its ordinance, and it risked having to pay the plaintiffs’ legal fees if it lost in court. The legal battle forced the town to delay road paving projects, the purchase of a dump truck and repairs to town hall, officials said. But while Riverside’s about-face may repair its budget, it may take years to mend the emotional scars that formed when the ordinance “put us on the national map in a bad way,” Mr. Conard said. - The New York Times
The Board of Supervisors is studying whether to implement statues that will reduce the county's economic base while increasing the county's legal bills.

Who could possibly think that is a good idea?
The Loudoun Board of Supervisors this afternoon is slated to consider an initiative to instruct local law enforcement and other county agencies to actively identify illegal aliens and to deny services when possible. ... While Delgaudio is the loudest cheerleader for the action, Supervisors Mick Staton (R-Sugarland Run), Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac), Steve Snow (R-Dulles), Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) and Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) are signed on as co-sponsors. Additionally, Republican candidate for sheriff Greg Alhemann spoke to the board this morning to urge passage. - Leesburg Today
Uncomfortable as it may be for some members of the Board of Supervisors, the fact remains that new immigrants are engines of economic growth. They open businesses, hire people, and provide services which many people would otherwise be unable to afford. While doing this, they live the values of family and community, they carpool (reducing pollution) more than any other segment of the population, and demonstrate a work ethic Ayn Rand would admire. And in return migrants are misrepresented by opportunistic candidates as a problem in need of a solution, instead of what they are: part of the solution to our many problems.

We need to change the Board of Supervisors in November.

GM-UAW Deal - The System Works

After two days on the picket lines, the UAW struck a deal with GM early this morning.
G.M. said the tentative agreement was reached at 3:05 a.m. Eastern. The U.A.W. recessed the strike and said if the contract was not ratified, workers could return to picket lines. The agreement included a memorandum of understanding to establish an independent health care trust, as well as other changes to the national agreement. - The New York Times
This deal should be seen and understood as an example of our system working the way it is supposed to. In the first major UAW strike in thirty years, the union acheived its goals of job guarantees and at least 80 years of health-care solvency for its retirees. (As a perspective, that is longer than Social Security's projected solvency.) Meanwhile, GM acheived its goal of managing its long-term fixed costs, in this case healthcare, in the interest of competing within the global car market.

Many people are skeptical of unions in general and strikes in particular. For many people of my generation, there is no such thing as a "good" strike. My only experience of a strike was the New York City Transit Workers strike of 2005, and my frustration as a resident of New York at the time was directed at the union, not management. This is not to say that the union did not have reasons to demand better wages and benefits, but in a city like New York, where not only is striking illegal, but the harm done by a transit strike falls disproportionately on the working class, thus alienating the strikers from the very people necessary to sustain the strike. In the minds of many, this strike just proved the ineffecacy and hubris of aging (and thus, irrelevant) industrial unions.

Well, for the first time in many of our lives, we have witness a "good" strike, and the progressive movement should be hopeful that the UAW just made the case for unions in the 21st century.

This strike was over issues which hit home to the modern workforce: Outsourcing and long-term healthcare.

This strike was managed well: The message got out that the UAW had extended the strike deadline hour by hour for days before finally calling the strike, thus demonstrating that the UAW was doing their part to avoid a work stoppage.

This strike was quick: Only two days off work means that the people doing the negotiations were working hard, and without sleep, to resolve the strike as quickly as possible. The emerging generation of workers is much more likely to support organizations that are clearly focused on solutions instead of slogans.

The UAW had specific, clear and well-defined goals for these negotiations, they explored every avenue to avoid a strike, and when a strike was finally the only option remaining, they kept it short by redoubling their negotiation efforts during the strike. This is the very definition of an organization dedicated to the well-being of its members. And maybe, an organization which has reawoken the relevance of the union today.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

HOT Fees and Congestion

There is an interesting story today which adds to the growing controversy over the High-Occupancy Toll Lanes in Virginia.
Toll Charges Reduce Travel Time, Traffic Jams
A smart introduction of a variable toll charge, with different rates at different departure times, reduces traffic jams. Even small toll charges can exert a large effect on the total travel time, concludes Dutch researcher Dusica Joksimovic. Joksimovic developed a simulation model that can help policy makers to estimate the consequences of various toll charges. The model predicts, where, when and how much toll must be charged for the desired policy outcomes, such as reducing the total travel time of all travellers or maximising the toll incomes (revenues). - Science Daily
If the public policy goal is to reduce congestion and better manage traffic, toll lanes can be a solution, though the public equity of them is subject to debate. This simulation model would be very interesting to run against the proposed HOT lanes on 495 and 395.

Judy Feder's New Website

Judy Feder has a new website at, in anticipation of her challenge to Frank Wolf next year.
Like you, I am frustrated with what I see happening to our country. The situation in Iraq is getting worse with no resolution in sight. Health care costs continue to rise, keeping many from the care they need. Life-saving stem cell research is blocked by politics. And our reproductive rights are threatened in Congress and in the Courts.

That's why I ran for Congress in 2006 in Virginia's Tenth District, taking on 26-year Republican incumbent Frank Wolf.

We need to change the direction of our country.
Judy gets extra credit for her link to the 21/51 Campaign. She understands the importance of November 6th, and so does Mark Warner. That's why Judy and Mark have been campaigning for fellow Democrats throughout the state.

While the Republicans have nothing to report, the Democrats have made Virginia the best run state in the nation. After November, we should take that knowhow to Washington with Judy and Mark in 2008.

A Grand Healthcare Bargain? [updated]

The strike by the UAW is an example of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Both sides see this as a fight for their very survival. For the unions, it is a question of the survival of the laboring middle class, represented by union jobs and union benefits. For the auto makers, it is a question of survival of the independent American auto company, when faced with competition from global companies with lower costs.

The basic strike issue is one of costs: Who should bear the costs of healthcare across a lifetime? Is it the responsibility of the employer or the employee? Traditionally, it has been the province of the employer, which was a simple and elegant solution for a global economy in which the United States was overwhelmingly dominant, and our standard of living was many multiples of our nearest trading partners. It was the complacency of expecting eternal growth in sales and profits among the Big Three that led them to promise lifetime, best-in-class healthcare as part of their labor deals over the past generation. In a world where national healthcare in other countries serves as an indirect subsidy to industries in those countries (by keeping an important element of labor costs low), our industries suffer a structural cost imbalance with their competition.

But a solution in which the individual themselves is responsible for the cost of their healthcare is not sustainable either. Apparently, many people will choose not to purchase health insurance, although the cost of treating them will still be borne by the nation in the case of an emergency. This can be seen by the number of people who do not, in effect, choose to purchase health insurance but do choose to purchase cable or satellite television service. In 2006, approximately 87% of households had cable or satellite television, but only 84.1% had health insurance. (Of that 84.1%, only 59% was employer-provided health insurance. And it should be noted that the uninsured rate in the South was over 18%.) The uninsured do not go without healthcare as much as they go without preventative care. In emergencies and critical situations, they are served, and their costs are often picked up by the taxpayer, state or hospital itself.

After eight years of Republican governance, the corporate interests of America are strong and used to limited regulation, and deference from their government. So far, our country's business interests have been afraid, in a way, of what the future holds with the rise of the progressives.

Progressives should make a grand bargain with corporations. The corporations agree to pay their fair share of taxes (more on that in a moment) in exchange for some form of national health insurance system.

If we examine the actual cost of care per person, across a lifetime, the costs are not that high. According to the NIH, the average cost of healthcare per person, across the course of a lifetime, is $316,579 (in 2000 dollars). To be conservative, we can add an additional 25% and the lifetime cost becomes just about $400,000. If we assume the average worker will work for 40 years, (22 to 62, for example), that means lifetime healthcare costs are around $10,000/working year. That is approximately $416/paycheck/person. If that is the case, why is it that so many of us are paying so much more than that for our healthcare?

The fact is the health insurance market is remarkably inefficient. Insurance companies have incentives to keep healthy people and drop sick people. The $400,000 number is a national average, and only works on the great aggregate. When you start breaking the market up into segments, costs range much more wildly. Hence, the great variance in coverage and costs.

This is not necessarily a case for a universal health insurance plan, with a single payer that is the Federal Government. It is a case for a collective market for health insurance. With a bigger pool, the costs are more evenly distributed, and thus more easily managed. The government needs to insure that a) the pool(s) of insured are wide enough and diverse enough that no insurer can gain a competitive advantage by microsegmenting the market by declining coverage to the sick and b) the catastrophic costs of health care, which so frequently lead to individual bankruptcy and steep rises in company premiums, are no longer waiting in the wings. (This idea, of course, was the essence ofJohn Kerry's plan in 2004.) I am completely agnostic, however, as to the exact nature of the healthcare plan. I could care less for how it happens, as long as everyone gets coverage, and there is no discrimination of coverage based on ability to pay.

Which begs the question "how to pay for it." For this there is a simple solution I feel would benefit everyone: Make companies report the same books to the IRS that they report to Wall Street.

In spite of studying some management and finance in graduate school, I find it difficult to understand how a company can report no profit to the IRS and perhaps even get a refund on their R&D costs, and yet report excellent profits and growth to Wall Street. I propose a simple solution: corporate taxes are assessed on the profit reported to Wall Street, period. I know the question is more complicated than that, but this is why we have legal and accounting experts to work out the details. I expect many tax deductions would need to be eliminated, but I suspect that the value of those deductions in terms of reduced taxes is far less than the health care costs that the corporations pay today, and will pay going forward.

That is the deal, America agrees to carry the cost of healthcare for Americans, and in return corporations pay their taxes based on their actual profits. Companies take the gamble that they will save more in health care costs than they gain from tax deductions. America takes the gamble that a broader pool of insurees will introduce a lower average cost per insuree.

It is only an idea, and possibly not the best idea. But it is an idea nonetheless.

[Update] Apparently, the big picture context of the UAW strike is on other people's minds too. Dan Neil had a commentary on Marketplace on the subject: "The UAW's fight is our fight." It's a great piece of analysis which examines how the UAW's fight for healthcare and job security is the front line in the battle for the American workforce.

[Update 2]And kos makes the point about healthcare even stronger:
# I've been dealing with pain for two weeks because Blue Shield won't approve the CT Scan I need to find out what exactly is wrong with me. And all Bush can talk about is getting more people on private insurance? The hell with the HMOs. They haven't proven to be the solution. (And don't get me started with Eli's birth, and their refusal to pay for half the bills unless we hounded them to death. Single payer, baby!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Orbital Sciences Win For Dulles

After the stories of VW and AOL, it is great to read about a win for Dulles.
Orbital Sciences, a rocket and space technology manufacturer for the government and military, is embarking on a major expansion of its headquarters in Dulles, adding as many as four new buildings and about 600 jobs to its campus. - The Washington Post
Of course, this win doesn't occupy any of the already built office space along Rt. 28 or Rt. 7. It involves new construction, which is not a bad thing in and of itself, but is a consideration as evidenced by concerns about traffic in the area. Nonetheless, a win is a win. 600 high-tech jobs in Loudoun county means at least $40,000,000 in new personal income to the County. It means a broader economic base.

Perhaps best of all, the jobs are cool.
In Dulles, Orbital's mechanical, electrical, thermal and software engineers, technicians and scientists specialize in small space and rocket systems, designing products such as small earth orbit satellites for communications and broadcasting. They also design low earth orbit spacecraft, which includes remote sensing and scientific research and planetary probes to explore deep space. - Leesburg Today
Bravo Loudoun!

Push Poll Pledge

The Democratic Party is the party of of good government.


Contact: Tim Buchholz
Vice Chairman, Loudoun Democratic Committee



September 24, 2007, Leesburg, Virginia -- Today, the Democratic Candidates for Loudoun County Board of Supervisors unanimously pledge to not use the common but deceptive practice of “Push Polling.” In today’s tough political environment, where changing political winds are catching some politicians flat-footed, the pressure to win can drive people to a clearly misleading tactic such as Push Polling. The seven Democratic Candidates for Loudoun County Board of Supervisors believe that honest leadership and good governance begin with clean and honest campaigns; therefore, pledging not to use this deceptive practice just makes common sense.

“We talked about this practice and quickly decided that push polling is extremely manipulative and ethically corrupt. It is practices like this that have turned off many voters. We will not be part of that, ” said Stevens Miller, Candidate for Dulles Board of Supervisors, running against incumbent Supervisor Steve Snow (R-Dulles).

In a recent meeting, Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) said, “If the board planned to condemn the use of such negative polling, it should ask other candidates for supervisor to do the same.” Her opponent, Phyllis Randall responded, “My condemning the practice of Push Polling is not contingent on my opponents also condemning this harmful and negative practice. I will do the correct thing despite what my opponents may or may not choose to do.”

The seven Democratic Candidates for Loudoun County Board of Supervisors are:

Susan Klimek Buckley – Sugarland Run
C. Kelly Burk – Leesburg
Supervisor Sarah R. “Sally” Kurtz – Catoctin
Andrea C. McGimsey – Potomac
Stevens Miller – Dulles
Phyllis J. Randall – Broad Run
Jeanne R. West – Sterling

According to the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) “push-polling” is the increasingly common practice “where phone calls aimed at voter persuasion are dishonestly presented as surveys of public opinion.” The AAPC's Ethics Committee unanimously agreed that "push-polls" violate their restriction against "any activity which would corrupt or degrade the practice of political campaigning." Because practitioners of a "push-poll" scam communicate inaccurate information about an opponent, this practice also violates the AAPC's rules against false and misleading attacks.
All candidates of good character should take the Push Poll Pledge, and condemn any organization which uses Push Polling. If Push Polling has been used on a candidate's behalf, that candidate should immediately and widely condemn the practice and bring the perpetrator to light.

Flat Tax Critique

For people interested in the idea of a flat tax, there is an interesting critique up on Democratic Central:
There are many basic principles of political economy that this scheme would challenge.

First, we have held it as a basic principle that we will tax the rich at a higher marginal rate than we tax the poor, on the theory that they are better able to afford it. Put in simplistic terms, the extra importance to a family budget of an additional $100 is much greater if the family only makes $30,000 a year than if the family makes $300,000 a year. Even if the tax was the same in absolute dollars, it will bite more when paid by a family earning $30,000. The so-called FairTax abandons the principle of progressive taxation.

Second, the premise of the estate and gift tax is that it is not good for families to be able to preserve vast wealth and to hand it down from generation to generation. One of the philosophical underpinnings of the estate and gift tax is the notion that "you can't take it with you." This bill could be thought of as the "Preserve Paris Hilton's Family Money Act". - "Virgil Goode and his Flat Tax" cvillelaw at Democratic Central
The article goes into excellent detail discussing the impact of a flat tax on the current economic segmentation of our society. Well worth a read.

State Senate Candidates Debate

Many thanks to the Loudoun County Democratic Committee for getting this debate information out:
Esther Trask, president of AARP of Loudoun, has announced a debate of candidates for state senate on Tuesday, October 2, at 1:00 PM, at the Leesburg Senior Center (next to Morningside House, the assisted living center near Market Station). AARP has received acceptances from all of the candidates for the 27th district except the elusive Jill Vogel (who has not replied yet). Issues for those of us 50 and over will be one focus area, however the AARP would like a big turn out of citizens of all ages, including the affected "sandwich generation".

Date: Tues. Oct. 2
Time: 1:00 PM
Place: Leesburg Senior Center
215 Depot Ct. SE
Leesburg, Va., 20176

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Solar Panel Tipping Point?

A tip-o-the-hat to Slashdot for this story on the advent of relatively inexpensive solar panels with commendable efficiency. A little digging unearthed this detailed story on the rise of a solar power start-up from The Coloradan.
The solar panels are produced for less than $1 per watt, and are expected to reduce the cost of solar electricity to about the same cost as traditionally generated electricity. AVA Solar Inc., is expected to produce enough solar panels to generate 200 megawatts per year by the end of 2008. Based on average household use, 200 megawatts will power 40,000 U.S. homes. Consumers will pay about $2 per watt, about half of the current cost of solar panels and close to the cost of being on the traditional electrical grid. - The Coloradan
The key to the solar power revolution will be the point at which power generated off of solar cells matches the price point of power acquired from the electrical grid. When that happens, and this development means that solar technology is within striking distance of this critical price point, society can expect the rollout of solar cells to commercial and public buildings (and even homes) to accelerate.

The rollout of point-electrical solutions is critical to the long-term viability of our civilization. The capacity of our power grid is limited, but our demand for electricity is not. (Go read Bacon's Rebellion, which discussed the power grid issue in deep detail.) If we want to prevent a proliferation of power lines and high-tension wires across the piedmont, we need to implement local point solutions for power which will even out supply even as we implement something like revenue decoupling to increase conservation and moderate demand.

In a situation where demand is peaking, and brownouts or rolling blackouts may be necessary, building-based solar power can provide bridge energy for important facilities which may not be critical (think office towers, not hospitals). During times of lower demand (the spring and fall, for example) solar power can be used to significantly reduce the power demand, and power cost, of these buildings. But none of this makes sense as long as the price of power from solar cells is two or three times that of the national electrical grid.

The advent of price-competitive solar cells is critical to the future of green construction. We Americans have shown that we do not choose to pay extra, or reduce our comfort, in order to live green, so any effective green solution will need to provide the same quality and comfort as a non-green alternative, at the same price as the non-green alternative. Solar electricity is an important part of that answer, because electricity is completely fungible, regardless of its generation source. Thus, the only barrier to widespread acceptance of solar power is the cost per unit.

None of this takes into account what might be the greatest benefit of price-competitive solar power: economic growth. The Coloradan article makes this point clearly.
Although AVA Solar plans to expand its production in the coming years, the company wants to stay connected with the Fort Collins community. “All the founders are products of CSU and have a strong desire to remain close to the local community,” Kanjorski said.
We are present at the advent of a brand-new, high-tech industry. And this industry promises to both save money, and make money, for people who get involved with it. This is the kind of industry that Governor Kaine had in mind in his Virginia Energy Plan.

We can only hope that the County won't miss-out on this opportunity, too.

Local Veteran Emails Sen. Warner

This is the content of a note sent by a local veteran, here in Leesburg, to Senator John Warner.
Sir, I was very disappointed to see that you voted against the very sensible and modest bi-partisan Webb-Hagel Bill that would have rested our troops between deployment to Iraq. As a former infantry officer who had the honor of serving under General Creighton Abrams, I learned as a 2LT that "Taking care of your troops" is number 1 in accomplishing your mission. We now say the words "Support Our Troops" but then we don't give them adequate equipment or rest. We say we are at War Against Terrorism but we don't sacrifice (Congress still takes their lengthly vacations, our borders are unguarded, we middle class get deeper in debt, the rich get tax breaks and contractors get richer than ever). I really would like to know what your rationale was for not allowing this measure to be debated on the floor of the Senate. I really thought that you were for the troops. Also, where is the "up or down" vote that you Republicans clamored for in the past?

Disappointed in Leesburg.

The Good Fight - An Apologia

A warning - this is a post about bloggers and blogging, and may only be of interest and use to members of that community.

So, though I suppose it will matter to noone, I'm leaving the fight to Lowell and Gray Haven and others. I quit because I don't believe there is enough Palmolive to wash away the slime of this cowardly compromise from my hands. Let the Republicans twist the moral bootlickers any way they will; I have enough money that financial gain will be mine under the party I have despised for years, a party I voted against always because I believe in social justice. Now that the belief has been betrayed, I'll just clip my bond coupons and wait for the next surrender.

Bye bye.
- Soccerdem on RaisingKaine

There is an excellent article from the New York Times Magazine about Justice John Paul Stevens. In it, he is entitled "The Dissenter." In the course of the article, it is revealed that his father was wrongfully convicted of a crime, his uncle committed suicide, his family lost its business and its livelihood in the Depression, and his own career after overcoming these amazing obstacles of his youth was a series of experiences that shaped his judicial mindset, including judicial corruption, and leading to his vigorous role as a dissenter and advocate for positions on the Court which would put him strongly in the van of Democratic politics and policies in the Old Dominion.

At each step of the amazing journey that has been his life, and at each turn of the court to the right, Justice Stevens has seen his own views denied, his own positions lose, and his role more and more frequently limited to that of dissent, in one manner or another. He has had a thousand chances in his life to say "Enough, I give up. This system, this nation, has failed me. A pox on all their houses!" And in doing so no one would have questioned that choice.

But he never did.
Stevens, however, is an improbable liberal icon. “I don’t think of myself as a liberal at all,” he told me during a recent interview in his chambers, laughing and shaking his head. “I think as part of my general politics, I’m pretty darn conservative.” - The New York Times Magazine

This reformed Republican, this "conservative" holding the line for liberal America quietly shames us all.

We are six weeks from an election which will define the playing field for the next decade. We are six weeks from an election on which Tim Kaine is betting his political career so that his children (and ours) will have a commonwealth that looks out for the common wealth. We are six week sfrom a day on which our neighbors go the the polls and decide whether to vote down hate and fear and radical agendas.

We are six weeks away, and people give up now?

And the problem is not limited to giving up. Every day, we progressives attack each other for not being pure enough on our pet issues. From recycling water bottles to funding the Iraq war, there are a thousand - a million - perfectly good reasons to snipe and snark and declare one another impure. And the reasons for not doing so are so ephemeral, so intangible, as to be easily ignored: unity, progress, hope.
Good-bye America are not the country that I love and I finally realized no matter how much I sacrifice, I can’t make you be that country unless you want it.

It’s up to you now. - Cindy Sheehan, DailyKos, "Good Riddance Attention Whore"

And yet, people give up hope after only nine months of Democratic majorities in the Congress (A majority of only 50.5 in the Senate!). Members of the progressive blogosphere are calling out Democrats with purity-troll-like efforts, and if those Democrats do not respond, the complaints echo for epochs across the Internet.

We are googlebombing ourselves.

And amidst all the noise, we are, ourselves, doing the very thing we so frequently accuse the media of doing, we are ignoring the story, burying the lead, and reporting on the process, not the principle.

Have we all forgotten that the Iraq war could end tomorrow if only President Bush ordered the troops home? The problems we are calling on our Representatives to solve are problems created by President Bush. Yes, many Democrats voted for the war, but President Bush is the one who asked for it. Yes, some Democrats voted against, but the Republicans sponsored it. Yes, some Democrats voted with Bush on the FISA bill, but The Executive proposed it.

Our fight is with the Republicans, folks. Regardless of how uncomfortable we may be here in the Democratic Party some times, we began the fight to remake the Party, we Crashed The Gate, we have only ourselves to blame if we squander this opportunity. Lest the revolution devours its own children.

Perhaps it is just easier to give up once a single victory is achieved. Perhaps it is to hard to be part of the governing solution, governing which is messy, filled with compromise and half-measures and years of arm-twisting and dealmaking and actual setbacks before change occurs, and the triumph can only be seen in retrospect, years later. If you doubt that, I would share with you a personal story.

Earlier this week, I watched Eddie Murphy: Delirious with my family. I remember it being hilarious when I was younger. Rewatching it today, there were many moments that just made me cringe. The ideas expressed had changed from being funny to just being offensive. (And I was a proud member of the Virginia Pep Band, so I know from offensive versus funny.)

Progress often happens when we are not looking. It is the Republicans who expect staged milestones of freedom's victory. We Democrats know (or we should) that success is measured in 5% higher graduation rates among city high schools, in 10 million fewer Americans without health insurance, in 100,000 Virginia kids with access to better pre-school. Success takes time, and patience, and sometimes, success takes failure (Mark Warner 1996, Mark Warner 2001).

Of course we should tell our Representatives how we feel, of course we should hold them to account, but we should also realize that they are representative. And guess what that means, folks? It means that they are set up to disappoint us, perhaps even more than half the time.

Disappointment is as much a part of democracy as triumph. Get used to it.

I, for one, refuse to be a bandwagon Democrat. I refuse to believe that the fact that Jim Webb won in November 2006, means that all my candidates, policies and positions are equally valid and viable, for the rest of my life. I refuse to take my ball and go home, just because my team let me down.

It's my team damnit, and I'll fight for it. Thankyouverymuch.

Because my team lives my principles, as best they can, most of the time. And that's what I expect, "because in a democracy, the whores are us. - P.J. O'Rourke"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Yard Sign Day! - Leesburg

Just a reminder that Monday, September 24th, is the first day residents of Leesburg are allowed to put out yard signs.

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Show your pride, support your candidates, decorate your lawn!

Tim Hugo's Dishonesty

When you have nothing to run on, run on hearsay and allegations. Tim Hugo does.

Leesburg Today's Housing Editorial

We are very lucky in Loudoun County to have multiple local papers covering a variety of local issues. Of them, Leesburg Today provides some of the most in-depth coverage of local issues of any local paper in Virginia. This depth and breadth of coverage frequently leads to true understanding of the circumstances found in Loudoun County. This understanding was demonstrated in the "Affordability Options" editorial in Friday's paper:
The board of supervisors is taking a broad approach in its efforts to increase the availability of housing affordable to folks who work in the county. It may be too broad. Given the scale of development that will happen in Loudoun in coming decades it is difficult to imagine a scenario where county tax dollars can do more to address the problem than could a well-structured zoning code and construction incentives. - Leesburg Today
It is interesting that Leesburg Today agrees with the solution that Kelly Burk has been advocating throughout this campaign season - linking growth issues to zoning and development. Councilmember Burk has been working on integrating solutions and policies (instead of grandstanding and half-measures), throughout her public career.

A bigger question than the right candidates on November 6th is that of affordable housing in and of itself. In a moment of increasing foreclosures, economic uncertainty and general unease with the direction of our country, housing is something citizens are increasingly concerned about. Many of our neighbors have a majority of their family net worth tied up in their homes. Affordable housing and economic security are interrelated issues. The more stable our neighborhoods, which derive from long-term residents whose families grow up and go to school in the same area, the better off we all are. This means that we need to pay close attention when our neighbors are priced out of their own homes. We need to pay attention when our teachers and firemen cannot afford to live in Loudoun. We need to pay attention to each other, and our community well-being.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sen. Leahy on Habeas Corpus

From an email distributed by Sen. Leahy's office today.
Congress made a mistake of historical proportions when it suspended habeas rights a few years ago -- and unfortunately Senate Republicans made another mistake yesterday by mounting a filibuster and failing to allow us to restore it. The good news is we've picked up 8 more votes since the Senate voted to suspend habeas corpus last fall, but we still need 4 more Senators to reach a filibuster-proof 60 vote margin.

Four more Senators? I vote:

Senator Warner (not that one)

Senator Shaheen

Senator Allen (not that one either)

Senator Udall

And that's just to start.

[update]Oops. Sen. Sununu actually voted for the restoration of Habeas, and the Webb amendment. He must be quite frightened at his prospects in 2008. So let's add Senator McWherter just to even things out.

Retaining AOL - Wishing Really Hard

Apparently the plan to retain AOL in Loudoun County consists of wishing really, really hard. LoudounExtra has the story.
Loudoun officials said this week that although they regret AOL’s decision to move its corporate headquarters from Dulles to New York, they remain optimistic the company will maintain a strong presence in the county. - "County Still Counting on Presence of AOL"
The Executive has shown us how effective "remaining optimistic" can be as a go-forward strategy. It is pretty much the entire reason we are where we are in Iraq. "Remaining optimistic" is not a plan, it is what is said when the effort is already lost. Baseball teams remain optimistic that they'll win it next year. Governments should not remain optimistic that their economic base will be retained, especially when their neighboring counties are expanding their businesses.

And there is evidence that the government knows this, but is too embarrassed to tell us.
A Loudoun official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she was told by AOL executives that the move will affect fewer than 100 people. Calls to AOL seeking exact numbers were not returned Tuesday.
That's right, we are expected to base our remaining optimism on a county official who will not be quoted by name and unreturned phone calls to AOL. The AOL's executives would not be quoted on the record that only 100 people would be effected, but they were willing to tell a nameless County official that. It sounds like the officials are being managed like mushrooms. And someone who knows a thing or two about the local high-tech economy was willing to say so, on the record.
Bobbie Kilberg, chief executive of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, a membership and trade association for the technology industry, said the long-term effects of the headquarters move could be more pronounced.

“When you take the leadership of a company and move it to another city, logic tells you that over time there will be a diminution of the jobs that are left there, either because more functions over time will switch to the new headquarters or employees will leave for other opportunities. That’s basic Business 101,” Kilberg said.
Apparently, the majority on the Board of Supervisors not only flunk governing, they also flunk business. Loudoun needs better leadership.

An Interlude - Coffee

One of my new favorite things - a Greenberry's half-and-half.

Since their "light" and their "decaf" coffee is frequently the same flavor, this morning I got half "light" and half "decaf" in the mug. Thus allowing me to drink more coffee without having more caffeine.

In solidarity with Runo.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Vote To Support The Troops

Our Democratic representatives in Virginia have always supported the troops, and have frequently been ahead of others in extending the hand of support to the soldiers and their families. From Senator Webb fighting to give our soldiers as much time at home as they spend abroad, to Delegate Dave Poisson proposing that the children of veterans be given certain privileges when applying to Virginia's public universities, our military has been in the hearts and minds of our representatives.

Now there is news out of Richmond that the Democractic candidates for the Virginia Assembly are making our neighbors in the military a top priority.

Provide additional benefits for military and veterans serving our country

Richmond, VA--- House Democratic Leader Ward Armstrong and House Democratic Caucus Chairman Brian Moran announced they would support a Virginia Military Veterans' Bill of Rights.

The MVBR includes the Commonwealth's commitment to provide quality medical and counseling care, to protect against financial hardship from service, to ensure access to education opportunities, to protect military families financially while serving overseas, to ensure they received high quality healthcare, and to provide additional benefits for families of fallen soldiers.
While the Republicans are squabbling over irrelevant issues and run from their records, the Democrats unite behind our neighbors serving abroad. This means that electing people like Karen Schultz, Dave Poisson, Mark Herring, Bruce Roemmelt and Marty Martinez will ensure our veterans are given their just due for their service to us all.

Iraq is a voting issue in November. Virginia will have to care for her sons and daughters returning from war regardless of your opinion of the war. Virginia Democrats are standing up to provide that support, all you need to provide is your vote.

Karen Schultz Will Debate

Jill Holtzman-Vogel, Republican candidate for state Senate in the 27th District, has declined to attend tonight's League of Women Voter's forum at 7 p.m. at the Carver Center in Purcellville.
"The Loudoun League of Women Voters is very disappointed that the voters of Loudoun County will not get the chance to hear Jill Holtzman Vogel directly answer questions regarding issues that are important to our county," the League stated in its announcement. "Our style of forum uniquely combines the use of area reporters and editors as questioners, followed by an open microphone for members of the audience to ask questions directly to the candidates." - Leesburg Today
Ms. Holtzman-Vogel's absence continues a 2007-2008 trend of Republicans avoiding situations where they might actually talk to people who disagree with them. Raising Kaine has a post today on this subject. In it there is an excellent quote from Tavis Smiley, "When you reject every black invitation and every brown invitation you receive, is that a scheduling issue or is it a pattern?" (With a tip-o-the-hat to The Richmond Democrat)

In contrast, the Democratic candidates this year, and for 2008, have attended a wide variety of debates in a wide variety of forums. For example, Hillary Clinton went before YearlyKos and explained herself to a crowd not predisposed to listen to her. Similarly, Democratic Candidates are attending Chamber of Commerce events, in spite of the fact that most Chambers are predisposed towards Republican candidates.

The Republican candidate's absence from tonights debate just reinforces the hypothesis that Republicans do not know how to govern, while Democrats engage the public and get things done.

Support Karen Shultz for the 27th District.

Loudoun Education Pledge

The Washington Post's "LoudounExtra" site carries this story today: Democrats Criticize GOP on Growth, Spending.
Democrats running for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and those endorsed by the party for the School Board today pledged to improve public education in the county by slowing growth and collaborating more closely during budget decisions if elected Nov. 6.
Leesburg Today also covered the press conference.
Randall pointed to the board of supervisors' [sic] decision during budget negotiations earlier this year to push back the opening date for the new Monroe Technology Center and reduce the amount of money set aside for the facility from $115 million to $89 million.

"These decisions were made without the consultation or knowledge of the school board members or school administrators," she said. "This underscores that these two bodies do not even attempt to work in concert for the benefit of our students."
Our Democratic candidates pledged to create an enhanced standing committee of School Board members and Supervisors to collaboratively make decisions about school budgeting. Kelly Burk led the way.
“We are here today to discuss issues that impact Loudoun citizens at every level -- parent, student, teacher and taxpayer,” said Kelly Burk, who is challenging Supervisor Jim E. Clem (R) in the Leesburg District. “There are critical education issues that the present board majority members, the gang of six, are ignoring.”
Councilmember Burk has demonstrated that she knows what she is talking about by taking the lead to establish a working committee between the Town of Leesburg and the residents east of town who disagree with the high water rates charged them by the town. This committee is working together to find a solution to the dispute which has led to so much hand-wringing (but no solutions) on the Board of Supervisors. Our Democratic candidates know how to work together and get things done.

(I am a volunteer for Kelly Burk's BoS Campaign.)

The Conservative Mind

Runo sent a link to a Guardian article, which discussed a recent study of the conservative mind versus the liberal mind.
A study funded by the US government has concluded that conservatism can be explained psychologically as a set of neuroses rooted in "fear and aggression, dogmatism and the intolerance of ambiguity".

As if that was not enough to get Republican blood boiling, the report's four authors linked Hitler, Mussolini, Ronald Reagan and the rightwing talkshow host, Rush Limbaugh, arguing they all suffered from the same affliction.

All of them "preached a return to an idealised past and condoned inequality".
As it happens, the NIH is deeply relevant to my life, so I was able to examine a brief on the actual study, as published in Nature Neuroscience.

The full title of the study is "Neurocognitive correlates of liberalism and conservatism," and it is important to note that in this study, the "thing" that was actually being studied was the Anterior Cinculate Cortex, a part of the brain which deals with the congnitive response to ambiguity and doubt. For example, it activates when people win or lose at gambling. As the study notes:
"Behavioral reserach suggest that psychological differences between conservatives and liberals map onto the widely-studied self-regulatory process of conflict monitoring. Conflict monitoring is a general mechanism for detecting when one's habitual response tendency is mismatched with responses required by the current situation, [Emphasis mine] and this function has been associated with neurocognitive activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)."
In essence, the study sought to tell whether a liberal mind was more likely to quickly adjust its habits in the face of new stimuli than a conservative mind. Of course, the assumption is that responses should change in the face of differing stimuli, and that there is no inherent value in continuing to say "yes" when the correct response is "no." (Or, perhaps, believing that Saddam had something to do with 9/11.)

Specifically, the subjects were conditioned to do something in response to a stimulus, and were required to forgo that action in response to a different stimulus. It was a study of inhibition in the face of habit. The results were that the liberal mind appears to be faster to change its habits in the face of new and different stimuli than the conservative mind.
"This association suggests that a more conservative orientation is related to greater persistence in habitual response pattern, despite signals that this response pattern should change."
In short hand, a conservative mind is more likely to stay the course, even when presented with a cliff ahead.

The practical application of this study is that in times of change and upheaval, when the correct course of action may change from day to day, we are better off with liberal minds in charge, since they would be more likely to recognize that their standard response needs to change. One would imagine this could be relevant come November.

But that's just how I see it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Migration Numbers - Concurring Figures

Loudoun Force has a new post up about the cost of incarceration of illegal immigrants.
To determine the fraction of the FY2007 total costs that can be attributed to undocumented immigrants, we use the FY2007 daily stats provided by Kraig Troxell, in which he stated, “As of the time of the report, out of 461 inmates in the Adult Detention Center (ADC), 15 had ICE detainers.” This figure also corresponds with new data received at the time of this posting. This means that on a daily basis about 3.25% of the prison population is undocumented. Taking 3.25% of the $10 Million FY2007 results in an actual cost of $325,000. - Loudoun Force
The calculations done here last week estimated that the undocumented migrant population of Loudoun was around 3.2%. And now there is evidence that 3.25% of the prison population is undocumented. This is compelling evidence that immigration is not a critical issue to Loudoun County's future, but merely a scare tactic in a time when the Republican leadership is out of ideas.
If you look at each and every one of the reasons that people believe migrants are hurting the U.S. you'll find that there is are much more effective ways to make a difference than kicking out migrants. It just so happens that it's easy to blame migrants. A migrant is a voiceless other. It's easy to take out your frustration on an enemy because it stops you from taking a long hard look at yourself. - Immigration Orange

Restoring Habeas Corpus

It is far too early to choose a candidate to support for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 2008. With the importance of this year's Virginia legislative elections, Virginia's Democrats should have their eyes on the 21/51 prize.

However, the national spotlight of a Presidential campaign can be a useful tool in focusing attention on critical, if often misunderstood, issues, like Habeas Corpus.

At the beginning of August, Congress passed a six-month update of FISA, which gave The Executive the authority to wiretap Americans without their knowledge or a court-order, as long as two special people pinky-swore it was really necessary. This bill expires in February, and the Congressional leadership promised a full debate on surveillance and privacy before that time. This debate comes just in time to co-incide with the debate over the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act. Reforming FISA, and restoring Habeas Corpus are two elements of the same issue, reinforcing our civil liberties.

At, voters can sign on to be a "citizen co-sponsor" of the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act (in its incarnation as an amendment to other bills), and use the tools on the site to contact their Senator to urge their support for the bill. (And while on the phone urge support for the Webb Amendment on droop rotations as well!)

"It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation's commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad." - Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 2004

Our civil liberties erode because citizens of good conscience do nothing.

Will you do nothing?

Karen Schultz Spends Wisely

There is a great diary over at RaisingKaine summarizing the financial status of many of the competitive state Senate races this year.
District 27:
Democrat: Karen Schultz:
Raised: 147,690
Spent: 70,000
Difference: 77,690

Republican: Jill Holtzman-Vogel:
Raised: 195,286
Spent: 125,850
Difference: 19,436

Democratic money advantage: 58,254

Now this race just warms my heart. Mrs. Schultz is a wonderful person, and her opponent is a money spending machine. After raising over HALF A MILLION for the primary and spending all but 100K to win against an indicted felon, Holtzman-Vogel now needs a loan! Senator Karen Schultz, I can't wait.
What scares me is Holtzman-Vogel's willingness to spend her contributors' money, willy-nilly and take out loans to advance her career. If this is how she treats the money given to her campaign by supporters what will she do when she gets her hands on our tax dollars?

In contrast, Karen Schultz has been far more frugal with her supporters' money, and far more generous with her own time, as she attends a variety of events and get togethers. But that is what we would expect from someone who has served honestly and diligently in her local community for decades.

Going to Bat for Marty Martinez [updated]

All too often in politics, votes are cast against a candidate, and change occurs away from one party or set of ideas. In the 33rd Assembly District voters have an opportunity to vote for a candidate, and move towards the future of Virginia.

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(The 33rd District of the House of Delegates)

Marty Martinez is an incredible candidate for Delegate. From his dedication to family and community (growing up in a family with nine kids), to his service and leadership on the Leesburg Town Council, Marty exemplifies the Virginia that we are building together. Councilman Martinez has spent his life getting involved in the little things that make our lives better. He works with the Boy Scouts, he's a baseball coach, he was president of his local PTA, and he commutes to Herndon for his job, like so many of us.

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(Marty Martinez and family)

Marty is a co-founder of La Voz of Loudoun. He is not running to be the first hispanic elected to the House of Delegates, but that is only because he is a good and decent man who believes that people should vote for the right man for the job, not a category. Marty exemplifies what it means to be an American, in making your own reputation and your own path, regardless of your background or starting point.

But it will be a great moment in the history of the Old Dominion when we elect Marty to the House of Delegates. In a year when the Republicans are set on dividing citizens from each other, and running a campaign based on lies and fear, Marty Martinez stands ready to serve all Virginians. The future of our Commonwealth is vibrant and diverse and Marty Martinez means leadership into that future. A victory in for Marty in 2007 is a victory for our our common identity. So go to bat for Marty, because he is going to bat for us.

[update] For a great introduction to Marty, go read the liveblog he did on RaisingKaine on August 15th. Marty came online and answered direct questions from readers and spoke about his thoughts on abuser fees, education, and why he's running. Marty should be commended for his willingness to engage directly with citizens, for the record, online.

An Interlude - A Passing

Rest in Peace, Robert Jordan.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Loudoun Loses AOL to New York

While Supervisor Steven Snow was busy taking secret meetings with business leaders about traffic on Waxpool Road, one of the biggest businesses in his district was planning on leaving town.
AOL is moving its corporate headquarters from Dulles to New York, the company announced today, ending a saga that helped cement Washington as a center of the technology boom but also gave rise to corporate scandal and ill-fated dealmaking. - The Washington Post
The article goes on to explain that most local employees are staying, but senior executives are moving to New York.

AOL's senior decision makers are leaving town, which makes them much less likely to take the concerns and interests of Loudoun into effect when making decisions about the future of AOL. To put it more simply, it is a lot easier to fire a block of employees if you don't have to run into them in Wegmans.

Once again, the Board of Supervisors, and to a related extent, Congressman Frank Wolf, dropped the ball on a critical element of the local economy. Between foreclosures, VW moving to Herndon, Greenway toll increases and the news about AOL, is there any issue of the local economy that the Republican majority on the Board of Supervisors has not mismanaged?

Let's elect Stevens Miller to represent Dulles in November. Mr. Snow has lost AOL, and with it the privilege of serving on the Board of Supervisors.