Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Let Them Eat Medicare"

A June appeals court decision may put up to ten million Americans' health benefits at risk. As a result of the decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the EEOC recently issued a rule allowing employers to "coordinate" their health benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees.
In a preamble to the new regulation, published Wednesday in the Federal Register, the commission said, “The final rule is not intended to encourage employers to eliminate any retiree health benefits they may currently provide.”

But AARP and other advocates for older Americans attacked the rule. “This rule gives employers free rein to use age as a basis for reducing or eliminating health care benefits for retirees 65 and older,” said Christopher G. Mackaronis, a lawyer for AARP, which represents millions of people age 50 or above and which had sued in an effort to block issuance of the final regulation. “Ten million people could be affected — adversely affected — by the rule.”

The new policy creates an explicit exemption from age-discrimination laws for employers that scale back benefits of retirees 65 and over. Mr. Mackaronis asserted that the exemption was “in direct conflict” with the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. - The New York Times
Under the new rule, employer-provided benefits could be reduced for employees over 65 by the amount of benefits provided by Medicare, thus keeping the total benefit the same while reducing the benefit costs to the employer.

The theory behind the rule is that if employers are able to reduce their healthcare costs for older (and thus, anticipated-to-be-more-expensive) employees, they are more likely to retain benefits, insstead of reducing benefits across the board.

Of course, those costs are not magically dissipated, instead of being paid by the employer, they are paid by the taxpayer. Thus, in order to keep benefits the same, these costs must be covered by you and me, in the long-run meaning higher taxes. And rules like these will not help fix the erosion of health insurance benefits across the board. It's interesting that the Bush Administration feels that government health insurance is not good enough for children, but is good enough for people over 65.

No wonder one-third of Americans want to chuck the whole system and start over.

Religion and the Public Sphere

John Stevens has a post up on Our Loudoun Schools about religion and the schools, but he makes some great points about the wider question of religion and government.
I've heard these stories before. One parent complains and suddenly... no Santa! Non-Christian religions have the run of the place! So far each of them has turned out to be a trumped-up charge, third hand at best. But the underlying spirit of this post, insulting Kwanzaa specifically and any faith that isn't her own with her broad generalization of "every other religious holiday," is what really bothers me. Really Barbara? Did your school commemorate Diwali or Ramadan this year? Did they celebrate Wesak, which is the birthday of Buddha? Or the birthdays of Baha'ullah (Baha'i) or Guru Nana Dev (Sihk)? - John Stevens
The fact is, America is becoming less and less a "Christian" nation every day.
I also thought of the studies showing that a rapidly increasing number of Americans do not self-identify as Christian, and the studies showing that those Americans are predominately grouped within Generations X and Y (born 1965-1994). According to a 2005 study by Greenberg Research, only 62-63%% of Americans under the age of 40 self-identified as Christian, compared to over 80% of previous American generations. Further, fewer than 50% of the younger generations now self-identify as either Protestant or Roman Catholic. If not laughing at the same comedians represents a large cultural gap, what about not worshipping the same way? Surely, that constitutes a major cultural shift worthy of extended discussion nationwide. - Chris Bowers
If the argument for religion in government is that Christianity is the majority religion, then the argument is weakening every day. The non-religious group of adults is the fastest growing adult population in America.

The reason "relgion in schools" and "religion in government" has become an issue is because of these trends. The traditional majority can see a future where it is no longer the majority, and is railing against that, doing its best to formally stack our institutions of education and government with the "majority" culture before the inherent pluralism of America renders that "majority" a falsehood.

John Stevens again.
But this nation and the proud Commonwealth of Virginia were founded in part on the principal that government cannot, should not, must not be the arbiter of faith. Where government and religion intertwine there is trouble. Where people of every faith and of no faith are free to do as they please, nobody loses. People of faith must be involved in government, but the government must be built and executed on their values and not their religion.
It is remarkable how much opposition to diversity and immigration and supposed "threats to our children" is simply reducible to fear of change. Our nation is changing at the most basic level - the people who make it up. Those standing in opposition to the very existence of people who embody such changes (immigrants, homosexuals, atheists and agnostics, etc.) are doing battle against a rising tide.

Change is coming, and it will be for the better of America.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

An Interlude: "A Dog at Christmas"

Hunter, over at Daily Kos.
On my daughter's behalf, my dog has endured the momentary indignities of the Reindeer Hat.

And the Santa Hat. - Hunter
The whole thing is well worth the read. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Hillary And The Culture Spat

The Clinton family appears to have a penchant for cultural tacking to the right in political discourse. Bill Clinton was a long-term supporter of school uniforms and the "v-chip" was a cornerstone of President Clinton's push for passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has railed against violence in video games, even to the point of legislation.

And now comes another shot-across-the-bow to America's loud and open culture.
thefickler sends us word that Hilary Clinton has taken a public stand in favor of shielding children from game and other animation content that she deems inappropriate. Quote: "When I am president, I will work to protect children from inappropriate video game content." Politically, this puts her in company with Republican Mitt Romney on the subject of game censorship. Her fellow Democrats are content to let the industry self-regulate. - Slashdot
The jury is still out as to whether there is any significant effect on aggressive behavior that can be linked to violent video games. But that does not stop the video game "issue" from being useful fodder in the culture spat.

A shot at video games is a shot at "kids these days" without actually criticizing the kids these days that are so necessary to winning the Presidency in 2008. It allows a candidate like Sen. Clinton to critique a corner of the culture industry that has not yet flexed its political-giving muscles.

Cultural critiques by politicians of violent video games are like critiques of popular music in the 60s and 80s, or comic books in the 30s and 50s. It is nothing more than the fear of change represented by the newly realized power of the young. Every generation goes through a period of horror at the entertainment choices made by the next generation, and the next generation turns out fine and worries about the choices their children are making. The parents who were worried about comic books had children who grew up on violent comic books, and then worried about popular music. And their children grew up on violent and sexually explicit popular music to worry about violent video games.

Meanwhile, real, actual, horrific violence is being perpetrated by our government in our name, but these same political cultural critics seem to be silent on that issue.

We really need to get over ourselves. Chances are, we're going to hate our kids choices, but our kids are going to turn out alright. After all, we have around twelve generations of Americans who turned out okay so far.

Cultural red herrings are a garnish on the American pie of any political campaign.

I hate herring.

DCCC Ignores Virginia

After the near-abandonment of Phil Forgit by the DCCC, the DCCC appears to be on the verge of abandoning Virginia for 2008, in spite of the Democratic Party's remarkable gains in the past six years.
Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill, reported this morning that Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has identified 40 Republican-held House seats that Democrats plan to target in next year's elections.

But there were no seats from Virginia on the list, even though there has been plenty of talk in recent months that the state is trending Democratic. - The Washington Post
We have a very real opportunity to take two or three seats in Virginia in 2008 (from among the 2nd, 5th, 10th and 11th), and flip our state's Congressional delegation from majority Republican to majority Democrat. In our Constitutional system, this actually matters. In the case of a contested Presidential election which is to be resolved by the House of Representatives, the delegations vote by state. This nearly happened in 2000. Thus, if the delegation is majority Democrat, and the Presidential election is thrown to the House, Virginia's Presidential vote would go to the Democrat.

And yet the DCCC is targeting none of our seats for 2008 (so far).

In the 10th and 11th Districts, for example, the fact that there will probably be Democratic primaries raises the profile of these races locally, and engages the voters earlier and longer than a non-primary race. Add to that the fact that Judy Feder and Leslie Byrne are both returning candidates, with all the experience and name recognition from their previous races, and an early fundraising lead in Judy's case, the possibility of a rematch increases Democratic chances of winning the seats.

In the 5th, Virginia hosts the front line of the national culture spat (considering the trends in political opinion of the past few years, it should be downgraded from a culture war), as Democrats vie to take on Virgil Goode. Congressman Goode, we might recall, infamously became irate upon hearing a newly-elected representative from Minnesota would be taking the oath of office with his hand on a Koran, instead of a bible, as he is a Muslim. Given the Congressman's penchant for saying awful things, combined with the fact that he is a party-switcher, and one opponent is already raising tons of money; this will be an active race. In a Presidential year, in which turnout will be up and Virginia's Democrats will be motivated with Mark Warner on the ticket, the 5th could go back to the Democratic column for the first time in a decade.

And in the 2nd, Thelma Drake is already the weakest Republican incumbent in the Virginia delegation (having won with just under 52% of the vote in 2006). While the Democratic party has had some difficulties recruiting a challenger to face Drake, we should remember that Jim Webb did not become our nominee for Senate until summer 2006. As with the 5th, a Presidential election with Mark Warner on the ballot makes any decent Democratic nominee competitive.

At the end of the day, if the DCCC wants to ignore Virginia, that's okay. Virginia's Democrats have been building our successes on our own initiative for a while, we'll keep at it.

(Though full credit and thanks to the national blogosphere for its support of Jim Webb.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

An Interlude: "Writer's Strike"



xkcd is one of the more entertaining webomics. (Along with Sluggy Freelance, of course) This comic pretty much summarizes the gap in our days with the absence of Stewart and Colbert. The media conglomerates should give the writers their just due.



Digby opines on the politics of the writer's strike as well.

Friday, December 21, 2007

28% and $251 Million

At 10am tomorrow morning, Loudoun's new Board of Supervisors gets sworn in, and with it a new government begins. This new Board is eminently qualified, with a great mix of experience, new ideas, proven results and genuine concern for the people of Loudoun. It is a very good thing that the new Board is as qualified as it is.

This is because Loudoun faces some serious challenges. In 2008, the county government faces a $251 million revenue shortfall.
The news came immediately following the Dec. 12 briefing on the dismal budget outlook, presented by budget manager Ari Sky, who warned of a projected $251 million shortfall if the tax rate were to remain at the current rate of 96 cents.

In his presentation, Sky told supervisors that the county's revenue this year is expected to come in $18 million under budget. The county's largest revenue source is from real estate property taxes, which in a slowing housing market, have dropped significantly over the past year and a decline in property values is expected to continue over the next two years. Also the anticipated fund balance for fiscal year 2009, while thought to be around $87 million, will in fact be approximately $38 million, creating a $49 million deficit. - Leesburg Today
The basic reason for this is the collapse of real estate here in Loudoun. Loudoun Stats has done a great job of cataloging and tracking this recent history.
We conducted a poll last week to test your knowledge of Loudoun County foreclosures, REOs and short-sales. The poll asked the question "What percentage of properties for sale in Loudoun County are foreclosures/REOs or short-sales?"
...
The answer? 28 percent. - Loudoun Stats
28% of the homes sold are foreclosure or short sales. We have been concerned about the impact of foreclosures here in Loudoun for a long time, but 28% means that 1 in 4 sales are distressed. This is far worse than might have been expected. Between the long-term negative pressure on county income from declining home prices and the needs of county residents that result from being foreclosed upon the next four years are gong to be among the most challenging any recent Board of Supervisors has faced.

It is for this reason that we need to patient with the new board this coming year. The solutions to the challenges faced by Loudoun will be difficult and involve many choices that the citizens of Loudoun will find unpleasant. This is often the case when enormous messes left by those who have gone before must be cleaned up. But don't take my word for it, here's what Leesburg Today has to say.
The whole discussion Tuesday was indicative of the problems this board has had in dealing with budget issues. Too much time was spent on battles over small-ticket items that had little impact on the size of the bill mailed to property owners twice every year.

Meanwhile, little was done to prepare for more challenging times. It is as if the supervisors were hoping the strong economy would hold long enough for the fiscal house of cards to be deeded over to the next group before the collapse. They almost made it. - Leesburg Today
In the case of Loudoun County, 2007-2008, it most assuredly will mean significant cuts in services (including the School Budget), and may mean increases in taxes. Only time and study will tell. It is important to remember that the Board we elected in November is taking office to fix the massive problems left by the current Board, so the options they have are limited and difficult.

Let us all give them the benefit of the doubt. They will do their best by us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Post's Coverage of The Virginia Blogosphere [updated]

The Washington Post does a pretty great job of covering Loudoun County, and has reached out to at least try to understand the Virginia blogosphere, but it is articles like this that show the Post as a long way to go to cover some aspects of Virginia politics as well as it covers inside-the-beltway machinations.
"Do Byrne, Feder Stand a Chance"
...
But the results in the 1st District should force Democrats to think long and hard about their prospects.

The 10th and 11th districts are less Republican than the 1st, according to the partisan index in the Almanac of American Politics, but both were drawn by a GOP-controlled General Assembly and are favorable to Republicans.

A growing population has meant that more Democrats and independents have moved into both districts in recent years. But Republicans still have an overall advantage in both districts, according to the index. - The Washington Post
Lowell does the job or refuting the basic points made in the article.

For the 10th District, all indicators - and current evidence - are to the contrary of the Post article's main thesis. The majority of votes in supervisor districts in the 10th Congressional District are being cast by Democrats, trends in the 10th District are towards Democrats, and the policies advocated by Democrats are more resonant with voters every day. Further evidence of the strength of Democrats in the 10th is the fact that we will be having a primary to see who gets to take on Frank Wolf in November.

The Post may be forward-thinking in its coverage of Loudoun, but it is running a few years behind the curve in it's coverage of Virginia Politics by using an outdated almanac as its source for the relative strength and weaknesses of the local parties here.

[update] Not Larry Sabato has a further explanation thanks to a neighboring Prince William blog.
Wow. If blogs are considered "competition" for the Post (I have never considered myself that, but if they try to kill NLS, I guess it is now becoming competitive) then this type of behavior could run afoul of monopoly laws. Simply put, a Washington Post reporter threatening to skew the coverage of their reporting based on whether or not a blogger has the story also is unacceptable. - Not Larry Sabato
Interestinger and interestinger.

The Nomination

Leesburg Tomorrow does not take a position on the coming Democratic nomination for President. This is a local, not a national blog, and we have local races every year that need attention and coverage. That being said, the national political environment has an impact on our local races, witness the surge of Jim Webb riding to a victory in Virginia on a wave of national support and national isues.

So, the people on the primary ballot in 2008 has some impact, even if minor, on the political winds in Virginia. As such, it is interesting to see who made the cut.
Dear Friend,

It's official! The Democratic presidential primary campaigns are underway in Virginia!

We have qualified SIX of the Democratic candidates for the February 12 presidential primary ballot here in the Commonwealth. Your choices are:

* 1. Joe Biden
* 2. Hillary Clinton
* 3. John Edwards
* 4. Dennis Kucinich
* 5. Barack Obama
* 6. Bill Richardson

*Chris Dodd did not file with the State Board of Elections by the December 14, 5:00 pm deadline.*

So now our question is... If the primary election were held today, which of the six Democratic candidates would you vote for? Click here to cast your vote, or visit http://www.vademocrats.org/! - The Democratic Party of Virginia
This is a good slate of candidates for Virginia. It allows a broad set of activists to remain engaged into February, provides a wide population of partisans from which to grow our local committees, and should (hopefully) yield dividends in Federal races (Congressional, Senate) down ticket in November.

So go over to Vademocrats.org and cast your vote. As of this morning (10:15am), Barack Obama was winning. And don't forget to vote in the primary on February 12th.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Partisanship and National Policy

Chris Bowers has a great post up over on OpenLeft about national priorities and the fantasy of "consensus solutions." In it, he examines the major issues before the country today, Iraq, Energy and Global Warming, Healthcare, the economy, and cleanly demonstrates that it is the Republicans standing in the way of progress, where there is bipartisan progress to be made.
The simple fact is that the majority of Democrats in Congress haven't permanently blocked a popular solution to any major problem facing America in at least fifteen years. Within just the last year, Republicans have done so when it comes to the three largest problems facing our country: Iraq, health care, and energy / global warming. I guess, in that sense, I actually agree that getting rid of partisan polarizers will help us solve the major problems facing America. The thing is, getting rid of Republicans in Washington and getting rid of the partisan polarizers blocking consensus solutions to our major problems is one and the same thing. - "What is this 'Common Ground' I keep hearing of?", OpenLeft
But the story of this obstruction is not getting told, because there is a commitment to a narrative which must be maintained, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. In this narrative, both parties must be equally in the wrong, all actions must be evaluated with an eye towards short-term political implication (and not the long-term value or good of the policies themselves) and "9/11" is the end of any conversation you start to lose.

The overwhelming political shift in America towards the policies and positions advocated by the Democratic party is the great untold story of this winter, coming as it does as a complete repudiation of the past fifteen years of politics in America, but no one is telling the story. (Excepting, of course, the blogosphere.)

That's okay. I'll take winning in the long-run over credit in the short-run any and every day.

[update] Digby has a thing or two to say on this topic as well.
Right now the press is confused so they are just pulling old story lines off the shelf and squeezing current events into them. The fact that they bear no relationship to what's actually going on -- or are trivial distractions at a time when real and interesting political events are being ignored--has no bearing on anything. Kewl Kidz just want to have fun. This story isn't fun. And that's the problem.
...
These story lines must be changed, and it isn't easy. They are nearly hardwired at this point. The village is an insular little place and political reporters are obviously in an endless feedback loop of musty old conventions and tired knee jerk assumptions. (Just spend a day watching the cable gasbags blathering with campaign reporters and each other for hours on end if you don't believe me.) - Digby

An Interlude: New Beginnings

Loudoun's new Board of Supervisors are sworn in this Saturday, and so begins a new goverment for Loudoun.
Chairman Scott York would like to announce that there will be a Swearing-In Ceremony for all returning Supervisors and Supervisors-Elect by Judge Thomas Horne on Saturday, December 22nd, 2007 at 10 A.M. The ceremony will be held in the Board Room of the Government Center, 1 Harrison Street, Leesburg, VA. The public is cordially invited to attend. - Scott York, Press Release

The End(?) Of Ridgewater Park

Loudoun Stats reports on an article in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, "Ridgewater Park Withdrawn by Developer."
According to the Loudoun Times-Mirror, Leonard S. "Hobie" Mitchel withdrew his application for the Ridgewater Park development south of Leesburg. The move by Hobie Mitchell comes after a December 11 vote by the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to try once more to work out their differences over the proposal to build the large suburban-style development.
...
County staff analysts objected to the proposal in part because of its dense, suburban layout which conflicts with a county plan to preserve that area as a semi-rural buffer between Loudoun's suburban east and rural west. - LoudounStats
This is yet another sign that elections matter. The scrutiny of development is significantly higher today than it was a few months ago. As a result, developers themselves are reconsidering some developments. This hopefully means that Loudoun will have time to digest the developments already on their way, such as One Loudoun and Festival Lakes.

However, as Yogi said, "it ain't over 'til it's over." Given the history of developments here in Loudoun, this one may come yet come back from the dead, in another form, in the future.

Jim Plowman, Jill Vogel, Just Payback

Jill Holzman-Vogel is the quintessential Bush Republican, using and abusing every friend and family connection to get and maintain power. Now, the fruits of that campaign are being harvested.
Corruption is nothing new in Loudoun County. In fact, it's the reason we now have a Democratic majority on the county board. But it might come as a surprise to followers of Virginia politics that the sitting Commonwealths Attorney in Loudoun County, the ignominious Jim Plowman, now has to battle at least three bar complaints that if heard fairly should result in the loss of his bar license. - Not Eve Marie Barner on Not Larry Sabato
NEMB goes on to detail the incestuous relationships between people who worked on the Vogel campaign and the defense of Jim Plowman. It is a very well written and comprehensible guide to the swamp that is the legacy of this 27th district race.
So, in effect, we have Plowman and Vogel conspiring again to ruin the reputation of a Republican who is standing in their way. Stay classy, Jill Vogel. - NEMB
The destroy-your-enemies-and-enrich-your-friends politics practiced by the Republican Party during the Bush Administration has come home to the 27th state senate district with the election of Jill Vogel. We can expect her to defend the wealthy , avoid real debate, punish those who oppose her and generally hinder of progress for four years.

Thankfully the Democrats won control of the state Senate this November, so Jill's ability to make mischief will be limited.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Your Loudoun Democratic Committee Officers

Congratulations to the new LCDC officers.

Tim Buchholz - Chairman
Bob Moses - First Vice Chair
Ellen Heald - Second Vice Chair
Ed Burrell - Treasurer
Ryan Myers - Secretary

And kudos to Chairman Buchholz for his initial statement to the press about the Democrats recently elected in Loudoun.
"If they want my opinion, I will definitely give it to them, but it won't be something where I will be driving them to pursue certain things," he said. "My role is to get them elected and to make sure our people have access to them." - Tim Buchholz, quoted in The Washington Post

Democrats Pick Sides

During his race for state senate, Chap Peterson had the support of Creigh Deeds during a dark time, which was very interesting at the time, because Chap Peterson is a northern Virginian, and fellow Northern Virginian Brian Moran is running for Governor in 2009. In all likelihood, he will be running against Creigh Deeds for the Democratic nomination.

A similar circumstance was afoot southwest of Chap's district, where Bruce Roemmelt held a fundraiser where Brian Moran was the special guest. Even now, Brian Moran is being critiqued in terms of the 2009 Governor's race, even before our new Democrats take office in Richmond.
Is Brian sending a signal that he supports Gerry over Leslie Byrne? If Brian keeps this up, he will hand Creigh the 11th Congressional District. - Not Larry Sabato
In my own experience, a candidate I know was nervous about seeking the assistance of one prominent Democrat while in a close race for fear of implying a preference for that Democrat against another Democrat in a different 2008 race.

This week, the race for 2009 begins to take shape. Sen. Creigh Deeds has declared his candidacy for Governor.
Under the leadership of Governors Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, we have experienced significant progress in the last few years. Because of their optimistic, commonsense approach to solving problems, we have all been proud to call Virginia our home. Today I’m announcing my campaign for Governor to continue that tradition of moving Virginia forward.

Please visit my new website at www.DeedsforVirginia.com to view my announcement video and join my campaign. - Sen. Creigh Deeds

And Delegate Brian Moran has begun solidifying his intra-party support for his own candidacy (yet to be declared), witness this note from him today.
Today I joined Governor Tim Kaine to announce a Higher Education Bond Initiative that will invest in cutting edge research to compete in this new century. Governor Kaine has taken a bold step to invest in building capacity at Virginia's colleges and universities. This is a critical initiative - the most significant in 5 years - to move forward on higher education and I am proud to partner with Governor Kaine to get it done.

Last week, I was honored to give the keynote address at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. Our faith and values are central to establishing our priorities, which is why we've put at the forefront of our agenda for the next legislative session issues such as early childhood education, children's healthcare, and environmental protection.
...
I was glad to be able to help contribute or raise nearly $1 million to help with the 2007 campaigns. We traveled the state supporting an outstanding group of Democratic candidates that will move Virginia forward. Now the campaigns are over - it's time to focus on the challenges of today. The 2008 legislative session presents an opportunity to advance children's healthcare, invest in higher education, begin to tackle global climate change and expand access to early childhood education. - Del. Brian Moran
Raising Kaine has some excellent coverage of the Democractic proto-primary for Governor. Both Moran and Deeds are vying for the support of the increasingly influention Virginia blogosphere and party activists. They are reaching out early with conference calls and meetings.

The game has begun.

The story of the next few months will be one of Democrats taking sides. It is good and healthy to have intra-party competition for nomination to higher offices such as Governor. This kind of competition helps keep the party vibrant, honest and healty. It is absolutely critical, however, that we Virginia Democrats take the mandate given by the voters seriously, and do not let jockeying for 2009 get in the way of doing the business of the people through the conclusion of the Kaine administration.

This Is Why

Sometimes, one might wonder why all this policy and advocacy matters.

This is why.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

109 Families

This holiday season, please remember the 109 Virginia families that have been been visited by tragedy as a result of our invasion and occupation of Iraq.

One thing that can be done is to write your Senators, and ask them to support Senator Webb's bills. There will continue to be vigorous debate over funding the war, but we should all agree that our troops deserve as much time at home as they serve in theater, fully funded and quality healthcare upon their return, and educational benefits for their service on par with the benfits given our parents and grandparens.

The only way our troops will get the honor they deserve for their service is if we citizens demand our Congress and President give it to them.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The War On Holiness

In this month, we'll hear a lot about a "war on Christmas." There is only one problem with that. There is no war on Christmas.
Many people are outraged that some cashiers dare to wish them “Happy holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas.” This baffles me.

First, wishing customers “Happy holidays” would seem to make more sense especially since most people – even Catholics – view Christmas simply as one day (drive through a Catholic neighborhood on the Memorial of Saint Stephen and you’ll see what I mean). By wishing you “Happy holidays” the cashier is wishing you more blessed days than you are asking.

Second, it seems we have forgotten what the “holiday” means and from where it comes. The word “holiday” comes from “holy day.” As a consequence of the way the English language has developed, both in terms of pronunciation and spelling, “holy day” condensed to “holiday”. Ergo, when somebody wishes you “Happy holidays” they are really telling you “Happy holy days”, which might even be more fitting given the numerous feast days we celebrate between now and Christmas, and even through the Octave of Christmas and the twelve days. - Fr. Zehnle
So the next time someone insists on a Merry Christmas to your Happy Holidays, just smile.

Simplifying Matters

My wife and I were talking the other day about the difficulties encountered by families when people do not have wills or advanced directives.
Many married couples assume that each spouse's individually owned property will automatically belong to the surviving spouse if either of them dies without a Will.

While this is generally true, these laws provide the surviving spouse with as little as one-third of the deceased spouse's estate if the deceased has just one Child, Grandchild, or even a Great-Grandchild by someone other than the surviving spouse. - Virginiawill.com
It is not only the problems faced by the families of the deceased which are a consideration, but also the court time spent on probating the accounts of people who die intestate (without a will). Since Virginia does not have separate probate courts, these estates must be handled by local circuit courts. Thus, it is in the interest of the citizenry of our commonwealth to simplify as many estates as possible to minimize the amount of time they take in the court system.

In the conversation my wife and I had the other day, she had an excellent suggestion: Whenever people apply for a social license from the state (marriage license, birth cirtificate) provide a simplified will/advanced directives form along with the license form. These social licenses generally require witnesses, just like wills and advanced directives. Therefore, we should be able to manage them using the same mechanisms with which we manage existing licenses.

Just like the motor voter program, allowing people to register their wills and advanced directives at the same time they should be thinking about end-of-life issues and making appropriate plans (i.e., whe getting married or at the birth of a child) could greatly benefit our commonwealth. It would minimize court time for most estates (since the vast majoritiy of estates would have wills). Also, it would ensure that advanced directives for people were on file, mitigating the great difficulty of such decisions for families.

Just a simple idea, with simple execution, for the further well-being of the commonwealth.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"You, sir, have no business being President."


(With a tip-o-the-hat to The Richmond Democrat and Cobalt 6.)

How Faith Informs Policy

In Virginia, we are lucky to have leaders whose faith informs their policies to the benefit, not detriment of the poeple. A few days ago, Leesburg Tomorrow analyzed a letter to the editor about faith and values, and critiqued it's rhetoric. Yesterday, Assembly member Brian Moran gave a speech on faith and values in public policy, a speech which demonstrated a coherent and compelling method for faith, and the values derived from faith to inform policy.
My parents values are my values, I hope they will become my children's values, and I know they are the values that we share here tonight. They believed - as I do - that "we show thee my faith by my works."

And that's what this center is all about - about leaders who not only share strong values, but who roll up their sleeves and work for what we believe in. Our work, together, has brought tremendous accomplishments.

We believe that the hungry shall be filled, and so we eliminated the food tax which fell on those least able to pay it.

We believe that the poor shall see the kingdom of heaven, so we spent 10 years fighting for an increase in the minimum wage so no one working 40 hours a week has to live in poverty.

We believe those who thirst for righteousness are blessed, so we created an indigent defense commission to fight for equal justice for all Virginians.

We believe the meek shall inherit the earth, so we created an Earned Income Tax Credit that has lifted 2.5 million children out of poverty.

And because, today, we need the wisdom of Solomon just to get by in our modern world, we invested more in education than ever before in Virginia history.

We achieve these things in service to all, because we believe that, "here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."
...
But our work remains far from complete.

Because how can we be satisfied, when the wealthiest nation on earth, the richest nation in human history, allows one in five of its children to live in poverty?

How can we be satisfied, when 47 million of our fellow Americans have no health care at all?

How can we ever be satisfied, when the nation that ranks first in millionaires is 37th in the world for infant mortality?

How can we say we are satisfied when the child of a family making 90,000 dollars a year is 8 times more likely, to get a college degree than the child of a family making $35,000 dollars?

We know as long as these inequities exist we don’t live in a just world. - Brian Moran
On one hand, we have people who want to mandate faith by legislative fiat. On the other hand, we have people who want to promote faith by action and example.

[update] As ever, someone says it better than me, in this case, teacherken.
We are actually fairly ignorant about religion as a nation. Thus it becomes easy for some to demagogue on religion. That is a scary proposition, because once that begins, we can never be sure where it will stop. It is not just the Ann Coulters who represent a problem on this, generals who say while in uniform that their own god is a bigger or more real god than those who follow Islam. And the danger of even taking the first step, of asserting that freedom requires religion and religion requires freedom, as was asserted by Romney in what I thought was a frighteningly ignorant and dangerous speech, opens the door to all kinds of problems.
...
The next step would be imposition by law of things one believes because of one's religion. We have seen how devastating this can become of our political discourse in the arguments over abortion. Public policy should be justified on the basis of arguments that are not ultimately rooted in one's religious beliefs. It is perfectly proper to advocate for one's strong beliefs, but one must be able to find a basis other than one's religious faith for such a policy lest one be moving in the direction of imposing a religious regime upon a nation diverse in its religious orientation, a diversity which includes as full participants those who deny the existence of deity or oppose the idea of a organized religion.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

An Interlude: Quoth Bowers

"I don't want anti-modernist conservatives (are there any other kind?) to vote for me or my party. I want anti-modernist conservatives to stop being anti-modernist and conservative." - Chris Bowers

Quite simply, this is the fight. It's one that never ends, but is fought every single day.

Here is the entire point of a big-tent party. Chris Bowers is a brilliant voice in the Democratic party, with incisive analysis and well-written commentary. And I fundamentally oppose his signature effort, the Bush Dogs campaign. But for all of my opposition to the Bush Dog campaign, my support for the thousand other things he does for Progressives every single day is orders of magnitudes stronger than one point of disagreement.

So let this post be a simple thank you to Digby, Kos, Chris Bowers, Lowell, Vivian J. Paige, Hunter, Kagro X, Runo, and all the rest who have laid the groundwork for the vibrant world that is the blogosphere.

And if you're not yet writing, come on in, the water's fine.

Widening Belmont Ridge

On December 10th, there is a VDOT hearing on the planned widening of Belmont Ridge Road (Rt. 659) between the Greenway and Route 7. The hearing will take place at Stone Bridge High School between 5:30pm and 8:00pm. (Of course, there are other things also going on that evening.)

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(Picture from VDOT, with a tip-o-the-hat to Loudoun County Traffic)


The plan is to widen Belmont Ridge to 4 lanes on the corridor between the Greenway and Route 7. It should help alleviate congestion as people will have another alternative route north/south between 28 and 15.

Loudoun has also put in a request for money from the NVTA to construct an interchange at Rt. 7/Belmont Ridge. Whether that request will be approved is dependent on two important things, whether the lawsuit against the NVTA fails and whether the NVTA will approve any spending in Loudoun after the current Board of Supervisors voted to pursue that lawsuit. It would be unfortunate if the funding for this exchange were not approved, considering it is the intersection with the most accidents in Loudoun.

We can only hope that the new Board of Supervisors will put accident mitigation above anti-tax lawsuits starting in January.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hope for Undocumented Crime Victims

A strong argument in favor of the legitimization of undocumented immigrants is the fact that they are a population at great risk for criminal exploitation, be it in violent crimes or employment crimes. When an entire segment of the population is terrified of availing themselves of the justice system, the strength and efficacy of our law enforcement suffers. It creates a fertile ground for gangs and mafias, which harms us all.

The United States has a visa program for crime victims who are undocumented, but as with most post 9/11 visa programs, getting the visa is more difficult than it may be worth.

New York has come to recognize this, and DA Robert Morganthau (on whom Adam Schiff was based) has created a program to help undocumented migrants who are victims of crime to report and testify without fear of deportation.

Some localities
see illegal immigrants as the problem. Others see that problems do not discriminate between citizens and non-citizens.

[update] Some talking points, if that should be your preference!

The Executive's Mortgage Relief



The Washington Post is reporting that the Bush Administration is near a deal with the mortgage industry to freeze interest rates on "some" below-prime, adjustable rate mortgages.
The wave of mortgage foreclosures threatened to make the most severe slump in housing even worse by dumping more foreclosed properties onto an already glutted market, further depressing home prices and shaking consumer confidence.
...
The administration plan is designed to deal with the crisis by allowing subprime borrowers who are living in their homes and are current on their payments to avoid a costly reset for five years. The hope is that by that time the housing downturn will have stabilized, clearing out the glut of unsold homes and halting the steep slide in prices that is occurring in many parts of the country.

With sales and prices once again rising, the expectation is that homeowners will be able to renegotiate their current adjustable rate mortgages into a more affordable fixed-rate plan. - The Washington Post
With over a thousand foreclosures in Loudoun already, this releif could not come too soon for many of our neighbors. It does illustrate, however, the politics behind some recent activity in Congress. The Bush Administration is trying to accomplish two goals. First, The Executive want to forestall any action in Congress to deny the Democratic leadership there any opportunity to claim credit for dealing with issues of real import to the voters.

Second, President Bush and his advisors (specifically Secretary Paulson and Secretary Jackson) want to make sure that a deal is reached that protects lenders at least as much as it protects borrowers. While foreclosures certainly hurt the people who are foreclosed upon, in aggregate the foreclosures represent a deep and broad risk to the financial industry and many people whose wagons have been hitched to this administration.

The deal that is being leaked specifies a five-year interest rate freeze for borrowers with loans made at the start of 2005 through July 30 of this year with rates that are scheduled to rise between Jan. 1, 2008, and July 31, 2010. Of course, this does nothing for people whose mortgages predate 2005, or for people whose rates will rise before January 1, 2008 and after July 31, 2010. For a "five year" morgage freeze, the rates must increase within a two-and-a-half year window.

(And this is a leak, "These aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details have not yet been released..." The Administration is putting out a trial baloon to see whether this deal will fly with the public.)

This deal serves to mitigate the risk to lenders posed by an overwhelming tide of underperforming loans. The two-and-a-half year eligibility period will provide a window for lenders to set themselves up to better manage their risk and negotiate new terms with the best of the borrowers. It does benefit many borrowers by giving them a small respite, but the limits on this deal will leave many other borrowers out in the cold.
Through October, there were about 1.8 million foreclosure filings nationwide, compared with about 1.3 million in all of 2006, according to Irvine, Calif-based RealtyTrac Inc. With home loan defaults still rising, the trend is expected to worsen next year. - The Washington Post
For the people already in foreclosure, the options are few. This deal does nothing for them.
Paulson and other federal regulators began holding talks with some of the country's biggest mortgage lenders, mortgage service companies, investors who hold mortgage-backed securities and nonprofit groups that provide counseling for at-risk homeowners. - The Washington Post
It should be noted that many credit counseling groups are funded by the very industries issuing the credit. (The Board of Directors for Consumer Credit Counseling Service includes the retired Chairman of Fannie Mae, a Senior Vice President of Wachovia, and a Vice President of Equifax, the credit rating agency.) That is because creditors would rather be paid than have their customers go bankrupt and have the majority of their debt paid off.

It is interesting that The Executive has met with every player involved in the mortgage crisis, save one: an actual ARM borrower. Just like Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force, the Administration is cutting a side-deal with the industry causing the problems instead of putting the interests of the people put at risk by that industry first.

America can do better.

[update] Was this deal leaked to help counter the story out of New York today?
"Wall Street Firms Subpoenaed in Subprime Inquiry"
Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has subpoenaed major Wall Street firms including Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank, seeking information about the business of packaging and selling subprime mortgages, according to people briefed on the subpoenas.
...
Mr. Cuomo recently subpoenaed Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in a broad look at what he called “widespread collusion” between real estate appraisers and lenders, including Washington Mutual, to inflate home prices. He filed suit against First American Corporation, alleging they artificially inflated appraisals to win Washington Mutual’s business.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bob Steere for Council

Kelly Burk's campaign manager, Bob Steere, has put his hat in the ring for the seat on Town Council which Councilmember Burk is vacating to move up to the Board of Supervisors. (Full disclosure: I know Bob personally, as he and I worked together on Kelly's BoS campaign.) In the absence of a clear choice from among the previous Council candidates who did not win prior elections, Bob is a great choice for the Council. I base this recommendation on three things.
  • The open seat is Kelly Burk's seat. As such, it makes sense to appoint someone who will generally align with the positions Councilmember Burk took while on the Board. The voters of will be given the opportunity to decide whether those were the right positions in the 2008 Town elections. The Council should not substitute their judgment for that of the voters in advance of that election.

  • Bob Steere is a committed and well-respected local advocate. He not only has been active in running Kelly's campaign, but also in his work for the Chamber of Commerce. Bob has a proven ability to work with all sides of the many issues in Town.

  • Bob Steere is definitively not running in 2008. Bob will be a true caretaker of the seat for the citizens of Leesburg, carrying out the initiatives that Kelly started, but not presenting new complications and politics within the Council. As such, we will have a truly open seat available on the Council in 2008 for the voters to consider.
In the final analysis, Bob Steere is a concerned citizen, seeking to answer the call of local service when the Town needs a position filled. He is well-qualified, and interested without ambition. We would do well to have him serve out the remainder of Kelly's term.

Comcast Owes Leesburg $200 (and counting)

One of the arcanities of local government is the fact that the companies that provide Cable TV service to residents (Verizon and Comcast) are required to enter into "franchise agreements" with localities to have the right to offer that service. The state limits what Towns and Counties are and are not allowed to include in their franchise agreements, and as a result the companies have fairly expansive rights when it comes to the actions they can take to provide service.

But localities like the Town of Leesburg do have some recourses when cable providers are in gross violation of the Franchise agreement. For example, if a cable in town were to remain unburied sixty days after Comcast was notified of it, Comcast would owe the Town $200 for each unburied day that follows.

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An unburied television cable at Foster Place in Leesburg

The cable pictured above has been unburied for more than 60 days, and its unburied condition was reported to Comcast on October 3, 2007. This note was forwarded to Comcast, with details, on that day.
From: [Leesburg Resident]
Sent: Wednesday, October 03, 2007 10:33 AM
To: [Cable TV Commissioner]
Subject: CABLE EXPOSED
Importance: High

In my neighborhood there is roughly a 15foot expanse of cable exposed which occurred after the town of Leesburg re-surfaced the handicap accessible street corners. The cross roads are Country Club Drive and Foster Place SW on the south side.

There are children in my neighborhood and I am concerned that childhood curiosity could lead to a bigger problem of children playing with unknown cables.
As such, today, Comcast owes $200 for non-compliance with the franchise agreement with the Town. That bill increases by $200 each day. By the end of December, Comcast could owe Leesburg $5,600 in penalties if the cable is still unburied.

While I am certain the Town and its taxpayers will be happy to collect this money from Comcast to help the budget in a time of revenue tightening for the Town, Leesburg's citizens would be much better served by having this cable buried as soon as possible.

Monday, December 3, 2007

An Interlude: Giving Over 20

Bill Simmons is one of my favorite columnists. Here's just an example why:
(I have to admit, I'm already looking ahead to the Steelers and Jets. What if the Pats left Chris Hanson inactive for the Jets game and played without a punter? Wouldn't that be the ultimate slap in the face? Know this going in, Mangini ... we're not punting. Can you think of a better psychological ploy? It's one thing to go 19-0; it's another thing to be the team that intentionally scratched their punter before a game for the first-ever Eff You Transaction. Now I know what I want for Christmas.) - The Sports Guy
Ha!

Tunnels, Traffic and Metro to Dulles [updated]

It is remarkably premature for even the most long-term planning in Loudoun to be dependent on Metro going to places like Moorefield Station. The saga of "Rail To Dulles" is a story politics, machinations and greed, and Loudoun County has only been the most marginal party considered in the negotiations.

Fundamentally, there is a conflict between proponents of the above-ground "aerial" option and the below-ground "tunnel" option through Tysons Corner. The aerial option has three main advantages. First, it is already approved and on the books. Building an above-ground track through Tysons Corner would mean simply continuing the process already started. Second, the aerial option has the support of major players in the decision making process. And finally, the aerial option means Federal Funding. The Tunnel option puts FTA money, already at some risk due to benefit/return calculations, potentially off the table.

However, there are significant problems with the aerial option. First, many of the people who would actually take the metro strongly prefer a tunnel. Second, tunnel proponents are going to court to prevent construction of the aerial option. And finally, the contracts and money behind the aerial option are cozy to the point of being fishy. The aerial option was issued as a no-bid contract to Bechtel. Bechtel is the same company whose contracts in Iraq were deemed so corrupt the government cancelled one - for a desparately needed hospital.

And this is all before official construction plans are even in the approval stages.

It is for this reason that we should not expect to be taking the train from Loudoun to Washington anytime before our first graders have graduated college. (And this at a time when the average American will move over 11 times in their life.) But many development plans for Loudoun County, such as Moorefield Station and Loudoun Station, are predicated on the Metro.

Any and all development in Loudoun, for at least the next four years, must stand on its own, independent of any plans for the Metro. Furthermore, if and when the Metro does come, Loudoun's taxpayers must reap the benefits as much as landowners will. That will possibly mean revisions to tax policies to address the gains on real estate values, or much more aggressive proffers. In either case, it will be the Board of Supervisors in ten or fifteen years who needs to deal with these issues, development today must be considered for the value, and costs, it will yield today.

[update]Loudoun County Traffic has a post on the Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates' opinion on rail in northern Virginia: "an incredible waste of money."

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Virtues and Vices on the Editorial Page

You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.
– Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Newspapers are generally bound by journalistic integrity. Reporters are obligated to check facts, corroborate stories, and provide supporting information for what might otherwise be considered assertion. The newspapers in Loudoun generally do a good job of adhering to these standards.

The standards of logic and evidence do not apply to people who write letters to the editor. Our local papers can be forgiven for loosening the standards of journalistic integrity for the letters on the editorial page. But there is a difference between loosening standards, and abandoning them.

Last week's Loudoun Times-Mirror published a letter ("County's religious leaders should form virtue-keeping group") which contained little beyond a series of unsupported assertions and logical fallacies disguised as fact. The quality of our public discourse is dependent on the quality of the arguments made, so it is worthwhile to examine the arguments presented in a prominent place in a major local paper.
It is generally accepted, though confident and muscular atheism now disputes this publicly, that only religion successfully preserves virtue over generations, which in turn is necessary for a republican form of government. - Chris Stevenson
While religion has been the source of much virtue, it has also been the source of much vice. Religion is not about virtue, it is about salvation (in one manner or another), and virtue is an outgrowth of the path to salvation, not and end unto itself.

But the nature of virtue and salvation is not at issue on the editorial page. What is at issue is the assertion that "it is generally accepted...that only religion successfully perserves virtue over generations." This assertion is far from generally accepted. On the contrary, it is not even supportable with coherent evidence. For example, many countries with low per-capita murder rates are also - coincidentally - countries with low regular religious observance. Furthermore, the nature of religious belief and religious observance has evolved radically since the foundation of America in the eighteenth century. The religions practiced today were in fact considered the highest heresies in the ninteenth century. Thus, across generations, the virtues within the religions themselves were not even preserved, let alone allowed to be transmitted to the wider public community.

The letter goes on to assert that the decline of religion causes many modern societal ills.
A 2005 Rasmussen Reports survey found that only half of us pray, while other studies reveal that only 20 percent of Americans attend church. One of the results of this, a proliferation and prevalence of vice, including gangs, pornography, selfishness and wantonness, is startling. - Chris Stevenson
This is perhaps the most common, and the most frustrating, logical fallacies: confusing correlation with causation. Even if "vice, including gangs, pornography, selfishness and wantonness" were increasing (and again, there is no evidence that this is increasing, on the contrary, crime in general has been declining), that does not mean that it is attributable to the decline in religion. To use an example, children are both receiving more vaccines and watching more television, that does not mean that vaccines lead to watching television. This is a classic causation/correlation fallacy.

The letter bookends the correlation fallacy with another unsupported assertion, "For example, gangs are spreading from eastern to western Loudoun." Again, there is no evidence that this is this case. Efforts are being made to prevent the spread of gangs in Loudoun, but that does not mean that there are gangs spreading and increasing in western Loudoun.

It comes as no surprise that the author's prescription for solving non-existent problems is, "the addition of a hortatory sentence to the Loudoun County mission statement to the effect that lives of conscious and exacting piety are essential to realizing her purpose: the happiness of her citizens." Yes, the solution to what ails us is a sentence in the County charter (and some extra meetings).

There are cases to be made for piety and religion. There are even cases to be made for religion informing public policy. There is evidence and logic that can, and should, be applied when considering the values of our community and the policies of our elected officials.

The letter published in last week's Times-Mirror may have been well-written, but it was fundamentally flawed with baseless assertions and logical fallacies. Loudoun, and the Times-Mirror, can do better.

Local Enforcement and Local Expenses

It is interesting how our elected officials decide to spend our tax money. It has been widely reported that Loudoun's expected tax revenues could be $100 million less in 2008. At the same time, the County's needs for expanded education funding are increasing, with a $1.3 billion 6-year capital budget and an $110 million increase in the operating budget proposed for the schools.

So why does the outgoing Board of Supervisors concentrate on a program that only yields results 20% of the time?
The board of supervisors Tuesday is expected to authorize a six-month targeted enforcement initiative to crack down on overcrowded homes, illegal businesses and zoning violations. Supervisors endorsed the program last night during a 90-minute work session designed to advance local efforts to cut off public services to illegal immigrants in the community.
...
In her report to the board last night, Zoning Administrator Melinda Artman said that many rules are not understood by residents. While residents from other cultures may not fully understand community expectations for mowing grass and property maintenance, others have misunderstandings about the county's overcrowding rules. Artman said her department is on pace to receive 350 overcrowding violation reports this fiscal year, a 58 percent increase over FY 2007. However, in more than 80 percent of the cases reviewed no violations could be cited, she said. - Leesburg Today (Emphasis mine -P13)
Remember, the County Treasurer is predicting a $100 million shortfall next year, which means the money to enforce these laws has to come from either higher taxes or cutting the education budget significantly. Local budgets are largely a zero-sum game. Given shrinking revenues and growing needs in so many areas, is spending on targeted zoning enforcement the best use of our tax money? Even the current board is somewhat dubious.
The board did not endorse a more aggressive program that would have required the hiring of three additional staff members to enforce elements of the Property Maintenance Code that covers exterior property conditions. That option would have the county acting similar to a Homeowners Association in requiring property upkeep. Although Delgaudio supported that approach and its $240,000 price tag, other supervisors raised concerns that the plan was too intrusive or too costly in light of the anticipated funding shortfall that will drive the FY 2009 budget deliberations. - Leesburg Today
This is not to say that zoning laws should not be enforced, the argument is whether spending which yields 20% results should be a higher priority in a time of belt-tightening for the County than education or other priorities. Even if the "targeted enforcement" that has been suggested costs nothing extra to the citizens of Loudoun County, it only finds violations 20% of the time.

It would really great if people who were so passionate about zoning enforcement could provide some evidence that public health is actually at risk. For all the passionate rhetoric, no compelling sanitation data has yet been presented. From the perspective of sanitation, cat hoarding would seem to be a greater risk than overcrowded houses.

If overcrowded situations truly cause sanitation and safety problems, then we should be concerned. However, if the reports of violations are merely a result of unfamiliar music and adult soccer being played on the weekends, there are far better uses of our tax dollars than the intimidation of our neighbors.

Thanks Tammi

Tammi Marcoulier, who originated the Washington Post blog "Living in LoCo," is moving on and the Post is going to be replacing her voice with a series of contributors (including Rabble Rouser).

The Loudoun blogosphere is a remarkably active community considering the size of the county. For such a small area to have such a vibrant and extensive community online is a testament to our neighbors and neighborhoods. Tammi Marcoulier was given the unenviable job of keeping track of the wide variety of stories throughout Loudoun, and to do so in an online fishbowl, with a dozen local bloggers looking on. Tammi did so with online style and grace.
I am sincerely and thoroughly grateful for each one of you who took the time to read the blog and share your stories. You made all the difference in the success and helped guide what stories made it into print. I wish I could have told them all.

Many thanks, too, to our community correspondents for risking neighborhood ridicule and anger over telling those on the "outside" what was going on behind the scenes. A little sunshine is a good thing and you handled it like pros.

Thank you all for a great year and for supporting this work. I still live here in Loudoun and will be working nearby at a communications company, so I look forward to seeing you around.

~Tammi
Happy Trails Tammi, all the best from Loudoun!