Friday, February 29, 2008

Fidelity Bans Access to Daily Kos

This is ridiculous.
When I try to access Daily Kos, a page comes up with a big red banner "IMPORTANT NOTICE - You have requested access to an external website that is blocked by Fidelity."

The text that follows says "You should be aware that Fidelity monitors internet usage to ensure compliance with Fidelity's Equipment and Systems guidelines (link) and other policies and guidelines covering employee conduct."

Here's the crux of it: "Fidelity restricts access to sites which contain, but are not limited to sexually explicit material, webmail, instant messaging, hate speech and gambling." - DailyKos
Many companies (including my own) use Fidelity to manage their 401(k) programs. As such, there is a wide and broad community of customers who can be called on to influence this American corporation.
Fidelity's decision is not justifiable under any grounds other than rank partisanship.

Fidelity contact info:

Vincent Loporchio, spokesman:
Other Fidelity contact information here.

If you are a customer, let them know (politely) that you'd like them to rethink their stance on blocking this site. - DailyKos
I did.
Mr. Loporchio,

My company uses Fidelity for our 401(k). While I do not speak for my company I speak as a customer of Fidelity with a 401(k). I abhor the fact that Fidelity blocks access to for its employees.

This kind of “big brother” action is what gives American corporations a bad name, and deservedly so if it restricts the free discussion of ideas that is at the heart of American innovation and success.

I would think that a leading American company like Fidelity could do better. I expect more from those with whom I entrust my retirement.


- Me

The Proffer Bill Is Dead

I could be wrong about this, but I think Virginia's activist Netroots won one in the Assembly today.
The Virginia General Assembly rejected a proposal Thursday to overhaul the way home builders contribute money to local governments for roads, schools and other services.

A House of Delegates committee rejected legislation opposed by Northern Virginia governments that would have thrown out the 30-year-old system of cash proffers, in which local officials coax millions of dollars from housing developers in exchange for approving their projects. - LoudounExtra
Defeat of this bill has been a priority for the local governments in high-growth areas. Bloggers from Arlington to Virginia Beach united with local governments to to oppose this bill and ask citizens to contact their representatives in Richmond. And it looks like people did.

Just some proof that we can make our voices heard in Richmond if we care to. Thanks to everyone who contacted their representatives, and made a difference.

[update] While Jim Bacon's analysis that the proffer system is inherently bad is one I do not strictly agree with, his insight into the problem this bill was supposedly addressing is spot-on, as usual.
However, the bill offered one very powerful insight that makes it worth revisiting next year: It would have imposed impact fees on "by right" development, as opposed to collecting proffers only from developers who rezone their land. Currently, local governments get no recompense for by-right development. The downfall of the bill is that the fees it specified are so low, it is feared, that even expanding the tax base would not make up the difference.

The problem of by-right development is much bigger than most people realize. Because it gets a free ride fiscally speaking, by-right development enjoys a tremendous competitive advantage in the marketplace. That's unfortunate because by-right development consists largely of small-scale, pod-style development -- not the larger, planned communities with mixed uses and walkability that many home buyers prefer. Thus, the current proffer/fee system subsidizes the scattered, low-density human settlement patterns that consume so much energy, generate so much pollution and make public services so more expensive to provide. - Bacon's Rebellion
At a minimum, the issues and questions will now get a full hearing and months of analysis before being revisited, and that is a very good thing.

NVTA Overturned, Back To The Drawing Board

Last night, I looked over my car re-registration bill. On it, the DMV had an explanation of the extra $10 added to the fee to fund the NVTA and its mission to improve roads in Northern Virginia. Perhaps I should not be so quick to pay it.
The Virginia Supreme Court today overturned a landmark measure designed to relieve traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, declaring that the creation of a regional transportation authority to levy taxes was unconstitutional.

The decision by the state's highest court prevents the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority from financing more than $300 million a year in regional highway and transit projects. The authority has already begun collecting new taxes and fees for projects such as a new interchange on the Fairfax County Parkway and the widening of the Prince William Parkway. - LoudounExtra
And so, the carefully managed, hard-fought Transportation Bill of 2007 unravels in pieces. First, the source of funding insisted upon by the Republicans in the House of Delegats, abuser fees, is eliminated (sort of) by the Assembly. Now, the same Republicans, in the form of the previous Board of Supervisors and current and former members of the Assembly have succeeded in their attempts to kill their creation - the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority - by judicial fiat. So, we now have an Authority with no legal right to collect money.

Instead of local governments being able to find their own revenue solutions for local roads, all money and authority for this issue must flow through Richmond. Thank you Dillon rule, for putting is in this position.

Roads cost money, money comes from somewhere. Roads and traffic fixes cannot simply be wished into existence. Our Assembly Democrats have proposed a very reasonable gas tax to help with the problem, they have negotiated the creative solution that was the NVTA, they have been working to actually do something for Virginia on transportation. Virginia's Republicans have been standing in the way of this progress, and then complaining when nothing gets done.

It's back to the drawing board for the Assembly and our Governor. Here's hoping the next time is the charm.

Are You On the Watch List?

The ACLU has some really striking information about the FBI's Terrorist Watch List.
In September 2007, the Inspector General of the Justice Department reported that the Terrorist Screening Center (the FBI-administered organization that consolidates terrorist watch list information in the United States) had over 700,000 names in its database as of April 2007 - and that the list was growing by an average of over 20,000 records per month.1

At that rate, our list will have a million names on it by July. If there were really that many terrorists running around, we'd all be dead. - The ACLU Watch List Counter
If you click through, you'll see a counter that is estimating the current number of names on the watch list, names like "Gary Smith" and "John Williams." That isn't to say that there might not be terrorists named Gary Smith or John Williams, it is just much more likely that the vast majority thousands of people with those names are not terrorists, and to discriminate on the basis of an incredibly common name (seriously, John Williams?) is an incredible waste of resources and tax dollars that could otherwise be spent on catching actual terrorists.

And before the criticism of the ACLU as being some far-left wacky group comes out, their prescriptive solution is the soul of reason: "If the government is going to rely on these kinds of lists, they need checks and balances to ensure that innocent people are protected." The ACLU is not opposing watch lists, it's opposing arbitrary and ever-growing watch lists.

Checks and balances on government activities; what kind of crazy pinko person would think that is a good idea?

James Madison
(James Madison, father of the Constitution.)

Judy Feder Talks to Voters

Here is a great video of our next Congressperson from the 10th district, Judy Feder, out talking with voters on primary day this month. On a cold Tuesday morning, Judy was out asking voters what's important to them, and listening to their answers. Meanwhile Frank Wolf was...well, we're not sure where he was on Primary day in Virginia, but he was not out talking to his constituents. Perhaps he had a ceremony to attend, or needed to play politics with the Iraq Study Group report, or needed to work on being completely ineffective as a leader for Virginia.

As a contrast, here's Judy.

The case for Judy Feder can be summed up by the comments of one voter in the video:

"I cannot afford to even retire because my healthcare is so expensive."

Employment for health insurance is the new indentured servitude. The case for a national system is simple. First, it reduces the burden and costs for our American businesses so they can be more competitive and profitable. Second, it decreases the risks and increases the flexibility for workers, who will not have to carry the worry-cost of "losing my insurance" when thinking of switching jobs and careers in a rapidly evolving economy.

Judy Feder has spent her career working on this issue. She's uniquely qualified to help our next President get the job done in Congress.

Is Obama AJAX?

A Town Called Dobson is a guilty morning pleasure. It's an off-the-wall, biting political satire, which I only agree with about 75% of the time, but it is well written, entertaining, and a good "meme-meter" for the political blogosphere.

This morning, the author presents the differences between the Clinton campaign and the Obama campaign through the guise of software and the Internet.
Obama is barely 18 months older than I am - I blog, use social network tools and am a slave to Adobe. His and mine, was the first generation to grow up with software in the home - Apple, Atari and Commodore’s were everywhere. I am not saying he was geeked out with an Apple ][ in his basement, I am saying he is more aware of what those tools can do to democracy. My Mom is near Hillary’s age and she has problems with mastering AOL. She is a user, not a groker.

Obama groks it, he is AJAX.

Bill and Hillary are legacy apps. - A Town Called Dobson
I think this is an interesting analogy, as it shows two things. First, it is an example of people reading into Sen. Obama at least a little of what they want to read into him. I recall not too long ago great wailing and gnashing of teeth that Sen. Obama's campaign just "didn't get" the Netroots. Today, he appears to be the great fulfillment of the Netroots' promise. In some manner, both may very well be true. Second, it is an example of the felicity with which bloggers and Netizens use their own experiences with technologies as frames to understand the world. In doing so, we may be simply following the models we criticize others for using.

For example, Jon Stewart criticized Chris Matthews for saying "life's a campaign." But for Chris, whose life had been little more than campaigns and coverage of campaigns, the analogy made sense. We may make an equally flawed assumption, however, to imagine "life's internetworking," and draw conclusions from that, even though we may be most comfortable doing so because of our experiences.

It is always interesting to see the online analysis that evolves over time. Quite honestly, I like the analogy drawn by A Town Called Dobson. It resonates with me, as I remember going to a good friend's house and playing Thexder on his Apple ][. I tend to agree with the root conclusion of the analysis: the Obama campaign is riding the trends that have swept our political environment this season, while the Clinton campaign tries to swim across them. But I cannot know for sure if this is actually true or just the result of my own experience resonating with the author's experience.

Who knows, at the end of the day we all vote for our own reasons, and the numbers tell the tale.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

LCDC Opposes Payday Lending

The Loudoun County Democratic Committee won the "Committee of the year" award at the JJ dinner two weeks ago. Last night, former chair Thom Beres presented the award to the membership. Shortly thereafter, our committee stood up for the Democratic values that made us committee of the year, by passing a resolution in support of reasonable limits on payday lending.
BE IT RESOLVED by the Loudoun County Democratic Committee that the General Assembly and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia are requested to take action in connection with the current regular session of the General Assembly of Virginia to enact laws that will prevent further exploitative payday lending practices, including but not limited to:

1. Enactment of an annual interest rate cap of 36% for an consumer loans made in the commonwealth of Virginia, thus making those conditions consistent with other established lending provisions.
2. Prohibition of the use of a personal check or other method by a creditor to gain access to a consumer's bank account or method to gain a title to a consumer's moter vehicle as collateral for a payday loan; and
3. Enactment of supplementary and complementary provisions which mirror the provisions of what is commonly referred to as the Talent-Nelson Amendment (Senate Amendment 4331), entitled "Terms of Consumer Credit Extended To Service Memeber's Dependent" and referenced on page S6452 of the June 22, 2006 United States Congressional Record-Senate, a copy of which is annexed to and incorporated by reference inthis Resolution." - LCDC Resolution, passed unanimously, February 27, 2008
The resolution will now be forwarded to the Governor and our leaders in the Assembly for consideration in the negotiations over the payday lending bills before the Assembly.

The dirty underside of the payday lending industry is the way that they prey on our service men and women. Our former Chair told stories of airmen he knew who sold kitchen appliances to buy diapers for their children, and when they turned to these kinds of loans, were absorbed into a whirlwind of debt.

One hopes that our elected leaders will listen to the opinions of their "committee of the year" on this critical issue.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tom Dunn Makes Four for Council

There are now four candidates for three Town Council seats, which means someone will be disappointed in May. The current candidates are Tom Dunn, Frank Holtz and David Butler among the challengers and Councilwoman Katie Hammler, who is running for re-election. Mayor Umstattd is also on the ballot, being opposed by David Tevis.

Local activist Tom Dunn announced his candidacy for Council this week. Dunn is the author of the "Leesburg Votes" website, which bills itself as a non-partisan tool for getting people to vote in Town elections.
Make a difference get out and vote and bring a friend.

It does not matter what political party you belong to. But voting is important. - Leesburg Votes
The site gathers information from interested residents, ostensibly to coordinate voting drives for the Town. But with the founder and head of Leesburg Votes now a candidate for Council himself, it is unclear whether the site is truly a non-partisan tool, or simply an advanced front for Mr. Dunn's candidacy.
Dunn said that he considered running for town council as many as two election cycles ago and, upon creation of his Web site, was actively trying to recruit others to run for council. But Dunn said that in talking with residents and hearing their concerns it showed him "that rather than sitting on the sidelines trying to convince current and future council members to do things a certain way I'd be better off considering those myself." Dunn has been spent nine years advising council with his work on various commissions, committees and subcommittees.

"I'd rather see that some of that advice gets followed," Dunn said. "The best way to do that is to be the one making decisions on it." - Leesburg Today
It is interesting that Dunn has spent nine years "trying to convince...council members to do things a certain way" without too much success. That does not reflect well on either his consensus-building skills, or his ideas themselves. Considering Leesburg's record of success without Dunn's advice, the case for his candidacy is subject to question.
Dunn said that the biggest concern at hand for the town is the tax situation and said that the town needs to look at reducing spending and cutting taxes.

"We need to show the citizens of Leesburg that we can cut the tax rate and actual taxes," he said. "If Leesburg can cut its spending thereby giving savings to citizens through reduced taxes maybe we can convince the board of supervisors to follow suit. It's not good enough to hold the line." - Leesburg Today
Of course, it is unclear why we need to elect Tom Dunn to Council to do that. The Town appears to be doing a fine job managing taxes without his help. As a matter of fact, the budget proposed by Town Manager John Wells already includes lower taxes for Leesburg residents, while retaining the current levels of service citizens have come to expect.
In a year that saw a bleak housing market and declining assessments, Town Manager John Wells found something that everyone can smile about: the average Leesburg homeowner's tax bill should decrease with his proposed tax rate of 18.75 cents.

Wells estimates that relief to be in the neighborhood of 2.8 percent and said that, even by lowering the tax burden on homeowners, his proposed $100,506,000 budget will maintain the services that town residents have come to expect. - Leesburg Today
If lower taxes are Tom Dunn's reason for running, then surely he will bow out of the race now that this goal has been achieved? While this is unlikely, it is a valid question. Is Mr. Dunn against higher taxes, or simply against all taxes, and as such against the entire basis of our system of government itself?

The fact that the Town of Leesburg can afford to reduce taxes in a time of declining revenues shows just how well Leesburg has been managed for the past few years. It reflects well on the administration of Mayor Umstattd and her partners on Council, considering the difficulties the Board of Supervisors are facing with the mess left to them by the previous Board.

The candidates running against the record of Council, Tevis, Holtz and Dunn, are running against a record of success and prudence that is nearly unique in Loudoun. The County government faces a shortfall brought about by the mismanagement of the previous board. The town of Purcellville has been suffering power outages even as it pursues a quixotic fight against the County over a local high school. And the village of Waterford is battling its own safety and traffic issues. Meanwhile in Leesburg, we have excellent services, a low-impact, high-quality administration and sufficient skill and wisdom at the helm that the Town can lower taxes in a time of declining budgets without touching the Town's rainy day fund!

That is a record of excellence any Town would be proud of. That is a record of excellence the voters of Leesburg will do well to commend and ratify by re-electing Mayor Umstattd and sending Dave Butler to Council to continue. On May 6th, we can and should go to the polls and show our support for Leesburg.

Taxing Intellectual Property

Slashdot asks the question, "If Intellectual Property is property, where is the property tax?" What a striking and compelling question! Indeed, if localities, for example were to tax Intellectual Property the way that our land and houses are taxed, the County's budget gap could probably be closed in an instant. The story comes from an editorial in the LA Times.
The present system treats these copyrighted works as a funny kind of real property with no carrying costs, taxes or significant fees. Without carrying costs, copyrights remain in force almost forever - even though, over time, the demand for the copyrighted material can fall to almost nothing. As the demand decreases, the value may remain, but it becomes effectively unavailable to, as the Constitution puts it, "promote the progress of science and useful arts." Witness all the copyrighted books, scientific journals, audio works and visual works that are out of print or otherwise unavailable because copyright law prevents the new, low-cost methods of distribution from being utilized.
A solution to determining which works are in the "Mickey Mouse" category of copyrights and which are in the more socially valuable "oral rehydration therapy" class of work is not feasible for a government bureaucracy. However, if all copyrights were taxed at a fixed (but significant) amount per year to maintain the copyright (all registered through the copyright office and searchable), there would be a significant carrying cost and most of the copyrighted material would revert to "public domain" and become available to "promote the progress of science and useful arts." As intellectual property and copyrights become an even more significant part of our economy, and as copyright holders (not necessarily the creators) make claims of "stealing" as though it is real property, it should be taxed. Relative to copyrights' significance in our economy, the amount of revenue from this source should be in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year. - Dallas Weaver, The LA Times
It is this kind of creative thinking that needs to provide the basis for a 21st century tax system. The economy is changing rapidly, yet our government systems are still operating from the perspective of the mid 20th century. Our school year, for example, is designed for an agrarian society. Our transportation infrastructure is predicated on cheap gas and one car per household. Our electoral system is based on ridiculously low turnout figures so we have too few voting machines and too large "books" at the polling places, and as a result the system creates lower turnout: Americans hate nothing as much as waiting in line. (Heck, even complains about traffic are basically complaints about waiting in line in a car.)

Here is hoping our next generation of leaders takes a long, hard look at these facts and puts some changes in place that account for the new way society is organizing itself.

"The Subprime Primer"

If you want to understand the subprime lending mess, here is a link that explains it incredibly well - with stick figures.

The Subprime Primer

Click through, it is well worth you time!

Frank Holtz Enters The Council Race

As promised during the Supervisor's race, Jim Clem's former campaign manager, Frank Holtz, is running for Town Council. His campaign kick-off was held at the infamous Wolf Furniture site.
"This company would have generated roughly 82 jobs, most of them high commissioned sales positions," Holtz said. "These employees would have generated more revenue for Leesburg restaurants and other services."

He emphasized the need for a strong commercial property tax base and noted that the town's top priority needed to be "attracting, preserving and encouraging the expansion of businesses already in Leesburg."
Holtz also drew on his law enforcement experience and said that the town should follow the model of the Herndon Police Department in addressing issues of immigration and customs enforcement. - Leesburg Today
He appears to be running on a corporate and anti-immigrant platform, with the Wolf furniture incident as exhibit one of his campaign. The issue of regulatory and bureaucratic delay for businesses in Leesburg is an important one, and one the Council is actively addressing today. Ever since Wolf furniture canceled its plans to build a store in Leesburg, the Town government has revised its procedures and implemented new methods to streamline the business application and negotiation process. These changes have actually met with some success, as recent business endeavors were approved quickly and simply. For example, a special zoning exception for a new parking deck downtown was approved upon its first consideration by the Planning commission.
Commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the special exception for a below grade parking structure at 218 Wirt Street. The lone dissenter was Commissioner Kathryn Miller, who told the applicant that she supported the project but wanted more information.

The below-grade parking structure would lie underneath a 51,447-square-foot office building and provide 69 parking space beneath the building and an additional 30 spaces on a parking deck on the roof of the underground garage. Because office buildings permitted are by right in the B1 zoning district, commissioners were only considering approval of the parking structure. - Leesburg Today
Council candidate Dave Butler was involved in the decision, and here is what he has to say about it.
As you may know, Leesburg has been criticized for being "difficult to work with" and "slow to approve" projects. While this isn't all bad (we don't want to hurry up and approve bad projects), there is a lot that we can streamline. For this project, we were able to approve it at the first meeting. This shows that the applicant worked hard ahead of time to bring us something that we could agree with, and it shows the willingness of the Planning Commission to make up its mind quickly when needed. This hasn't always been the case, but it's definitely improved over the last year.

One way I like to help is to meet with the applicants ahead of time to clarify for them the possible "pain points" that they might encounter so that they have an opportunity to address them before the meeting. In this case, I met with the applicant beforehand and stressed the importance of having more parking downtown. - Dave Butler
This is a classic example of the difference in political philosophies between one party and another. Dave Butler saw a problem come out of the Wolf furniture incident, and went to work on a Town commission to fix it. Using his consensus and problem-solving capabilities, the problem is now being fixed in a manner beneficial to both the Town and our business partners. Mr. Butler insured that the parking deck would remain open and free on weekends, thus boosting the viability of downtown as a weekend destination. Based on that record of achievement, he is running for Town Council.

In contrast, Frank Holtz saw a problem and seized upon a campaign issue. Taking no actions to actually fix the problem himself, he preferred to stage a photo op instead of working on a solution directly. This is consistent with the "blame the Town" theme of the campaign he ran for Jim Clem in 2007.

When it became apparent that beneficial changes were being made to the business approval process, Mr. Holtz himself acknowledged that the progress being made was good.
Holtz applauded some of the initiatives currently set forward by the Town Manager's office but said that words were not enough, rather changes in attitude were necessary in addressing the land development review process. - Leesburg Today
It is not yet clear what "changes in attitude" are necessary if the Planning Commission has proven willing and able to approve an application on the first try if it has been well-developed. The cooperation between the Planning Commission and the applicant on the parking deck application conclusively demonstrates the very attitude Mr. Holtz calls for. Thus, the business-friendly rationale for his candidacy would appear to be moot thanks to the efforts of citizens already involved in government making changes in process and perspective.

The other key issue for Frank Holtz is immigration.
In addition, he faulted the town council and Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd for failing to show leadership on illegal immigration and ignoring its contribution to blight, overcrowding, crime, identity theft and drivers operating without licenses and insurance. - Loudoun Times-Mirror

Holtz also drew on his law enforcement experience and said that the town should follow the model of the Herndon Police Department in addressing issues of immigration and customs enforcement. - Leesburg Today
Immigration and migration is not a pressing issue for Leesburg. For example, in Loudoun County, 80% of reports about zoning violations and other infractions that are attributed to migrants yield no violations upon inspection. And yet, we taxpayers are paying for this 1:5 ratio of success. In a time of budget tightening, it seems a waste of money to look for problems that are simply not there. Similarly, campaign complaints about migrants have a deleterious effect on the local tax base. Witness what happened to Prince William County's tax base after the ugly Supervisors' races in 2007. A significant proportion of homeowners, who were themselves immigrants, simply left, drying up the housing market and eviscerating the County's revenues. We should do what we can to avoid Leesburg, Virginia becoming the next Riverside, New Jersey.

Frank Holtz cites Herndon as a model for what he would like to do in Leesburg on the issue of immigration. The battles in Herndon over immigration were ugly and ferocious. At the end of the day, these very battles attracted a white supremacist group's national conference to Herndon. Quite frankly, this is not the model I would suggest for Leesburg. If an activity attracts people who believe things like this:
In all parts of the world, whites are afraid to speak out in their own interests. Racial differences in IQ, the costs of “diversity,” the challenges of non-white immigration—politicians and the media dare not discuss what these things mean for whites and their civilization. - American Renaissance Conference website
I believe that activity should be avoided.

Ultimately, this "problem" is merely a political fiction. The undocumented migrant population of Loudoun is probably somewhere between 3% and 5% of all residents. Concentrating government money and effort on this issue is merely a distraction from the real issues at hand, such as traffic, roads, and development. And this does not even account for the fact that local immigration enforcement opens the Town up to potential lawsuits. I, for one, do not want my tax dollars spent defending lawsuits that could have been avoided.

Frank Holtz's candidacy for Council reflects a vision of Leesburg traveling backwards, dealing with issues already dealt with or irrelevant. The Town can and should do better.

Some Humor for Wednesday

Two bits of humor for a Wednesday morning.

(From xkcd.)

That one is for all my scrambling brethren around the world.

And, did you want to know who won in 2008? Deibold has accidentally leaked it.

Diebold Accidentally Leaks Results Of 2008 Election Early

Share and Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Happy Birthday Gov. Kaine!

Today is the Governor's 50th birthday.

Happy Birthday Governor Kaine!

Virginia has been lucky to follow Gov. Warner with an equally skilled and concerned executive. Here's to the next two-ish years of the Kaine Administration!

Iraq Bait-and-Switch With A Vengence

We were misled into war with Iraq. Since the war, we have been subjected to an overwhelming amount of false information and broken promises, all of which were eventually exposed and debunked. And yet, the policy of misinformation and pollyanna dreams continues.

There have been at least three concerted obfuscations of what has been going on with U.S. policy in Iraq since the "surge" was announced in January, 2007. It is useful to examine them as we discuss the future of our Iraq policy, and the choice for President in November offers a stark contrast on this policy.

First, the goal of the "surge" was to reduce violence so that political reconciliation could take place. Here are The Executive's own words.
Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace -- and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced. - President's Address to the Nation, January 2007
The point of the surge was not to reduce violence, it was to reduce violence so that political reconciliation could take place. This simply has not happened. And we come to the first mischaracterization of the surge, switching the goal of the surge from reconciliation, to the reduction of violence itself.
More than seven months later, the Bush’s predictions have flopped. Political reconciliation has not occurred, and its prospects look bleak. As a result, the White House is now in the process of moving the goal posts, dropping its prior demands that Iraqi leaders meet certain political benchmarks in order to sustain the escalation.

In a press briefing today, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe disingenuously claimed that the purpose of the surge was simply “to help bring security to Iraq.” - Think Progress
This is like saying the goal of pouring more water in a can is to have a higher flow of water into the can. The water has to be for something, otherwise, it's just a waste of water, or, in this case, American lives.

Second, we were told that the "surge" would allow the U.S. to bring more troops home later. This was an outright misdirection from the start. The surge itself caused its own drawdown. Leesburg Tomorrow predicted this in September.
President Bush will be taking credit for withdrawing troops from Iraq in the next four to six months. He will claim that it is because "the surge is working." Putting aside for the moment the fact that a surge which lasts longer than six months is probably more accurately referred to as an escalation, we must all remember exactly why those troops will be coming home by next April.

They will be coming home because their return is part of a regularly scheduled rotation. - Leesburg Tomorrow, September 7, 2007
And right on time, five months later.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday he hopes to be able to continue to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq over the next 10 months, even as he and his military commanders lean toward a pause in troop cuts in July. - The International Business Times
Let us reiterate the point. The reduction in troop levels going on right now is not the result of the U.S. achieving the "goals of the surge," it is the result of a mandated, necessary troop rotation that is standard procedure for military deployments.

Finally, the third Iraq policy falsehood is that the "surge" would be temporary, to differentiate it from a politically unacceptable "escalation." We are now over a year into the "surge." That is a year of more troops in Iraq, with only desultory progress on political reconciliation, instability and lawlessness in Iraqi-controlled areas, and an invasion from the north by a U.S. ally, because the increase in U.S. troops has not provided border security and safe havens for Kurdish terrorists abound in northern Iraq. And now we have news that the troop reductions proposed will not actually bring Iraq theater troop levels down to the levels they were at before the surge. In reality, there will be 8,000 more troops in Iraq after the surge drawdown than there were before the surge. So, in reality, we will have escalated our presence in Iraq by at least 8,000 troops after the surge is, technically, over.

Sen. John McCain was the chief political advocate of the surge strategy. And yet McCain's Iraq strategy has not achieved its goals, and only by redefining progress into things that had already happened or were scheduled to happen anyway can any kind of good news be reported.

It would be nice to put aside questions of global war and peace for more local, parochial concerns. But to discount Iraq as an issue is to do a grave disservice to our soldiers and our children. It is our soldiers who are bearing the cost of the bait-and-switch debate on Iraq today, and it is our children who will pay higher taxes to pay off the debt incurred from this misadventure. So as we discuss issues that are important to us, and consider who to vote for in November, please remember Iraq, remember the lies and misdirection, and vote for change.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to georgia10 at DailyKos.)

Support Loudoun's Schools

John Stevens at Our Loudoun Schools picks up on a story in LoudounExtra that Leesburg Tomorrow touched on last week. In the story, a nationally-acclaimed education consultant commends the LCPS for the efficiency with which it administers a large school district, calling it, "the leanest central office I've ever seen."

With all the concern and discussion about the county budget and education costs, School Board Vice-Chair John Stevens puts the question at hand directly to the citizens of Loudoun.
I have now heard from several inside sources that the Board of Supervisors is receiving emails in astonishing quantities imploring them to cut the LCPS budget dramatically. There seems to be only two possible ways to handle cuts of the magnitude we may be facing: slash teacher raises and increase class sizes. If you think those cuts can come from Mandarin Chinese, lacrosse programs and Dr. Hatrick's salary, you'd better try again with your calculator because the money isn't there. It's in our classrooms. Take the money away, that's where the cuts will be felt.

If you can't walk up to your child's teacher and say "I will not support your pay raise this year, and I want more children in class with my own," you should write to your representative on the Board of Supervisors and let them know that you support full funding of Loudoun County Public Schools. - Our Loudoun Schools
Links are below:

Scott York (At Large)
Jim Burton (Blue Ridge)
Lori Waters (Broad Run)
Sally Kurtz (Catoctin)
Stevens Miller (Dulles)
Kelly Burk (Leesburg)
Andrea McGimsey (Potomac)
Eugene Delgaudio (Sterling)
Susan Buckley (Sugarland Run)

Take the time to click a link and write an email to your Supervisor. Support our schools, support full funding, and support our children's future, and the future of a strong, prosperous Loudoun County.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Leesburg Water Rate to Council [updated]

The Leesburg Utility Rate Commission, appointed to study the issue of water rates for in-town vs. out-of-town customers, has delivered their report to Council.
The Utility Rate Advisory Committee voted 8-1 in December to recommend an increase in the fixed rate charged to all utility users and to return the surcharge applied to out-of-town customers to its 2005 level of 50 percent. Only John Drury, who delivered the minority opinion on Tuesday, voted against that recommendation.

If the council implements the committee's recommendation, the fixed rate will become $9.80 for sewer and $9.80 for water per quarter for all users. Currently, the fixed rate is $6 for water and $6 for sewer per quarter. The fixed rate was set to go to $6.15 for both utilities per quarter in FY09. - Leesburg Today
Now it is up to Council to decide how to act. At issue is whether to reduce the fees for out-of-town customers. The question is whether doing so does a disservice to the town. The case against lowering the fees (i.e., for the status quo) has three major planks. First, out-of-town customers do not pay Town of Leesburg taxes yet Leesburg taxes pay for some aspects of the water service (See the update -P13), and so should contribute extra to a Town of Leesburg-provided service. As a result This position assumes that out-of-town customers are "free riders" on the system, when compared with in-town customers. Thus, they should pay more than in-town customers. The 100% surcharge is reflective of this. The minority report of John Drury makes this case.
John Drury, the only one of the nine committee members who opposed the recommendation, made a separate presentation to the council, urging it to leave the rate structure alone. He said Leesburg's out-of-town surcharge was comparable to those imposed by several other Virginia municipalities.

"The current system is fair, it is reasonable, it is legal and it is fiscally prudent," Drury said.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd, who appointed Drury to the committee, said she agreed with his position. The high surcharge makes up for out-of-town customers not paying taxes to support the town's utilities, she said. - LoudounExtra
The second plank of the status quo position is the "moral hazard" argument, which has yet to be made in the public debate, but should be on the minds of the decision makers on Council. Will reducing the water rate for out-of-town customers in effect "reward" them for suing the town? Will it create an incentive for any entity unhappy with a town policy to sue the town as a negotiating tactic? And if so, what implications does that have for things like zoning and franchise agreements.

Finally, the proposed rate alteration make create a bad incentive to waste water.
In a letter to Town Manager John Wells, Hyder said the recommendation, if enacted by council, would have two major ramifications: the impact on the small water user and the potential reduction of the incentive to conserve water. "An increase in the fixed charge makes the cost of the water and sewer bill for a small user expensive in relation to the amount of sewer and water they are utilizing," Hyder wrote.

He also noted that the recommendation could discourage water conservation. "An increase in the fixed charge means that a customer pays more for water and sewer services regardless of usage," Hyder said. - Leesburg Today
It would be unfortunate for Leesburg, the only locality in Loudoun not to suffer mandatory water restrictions this past summer, to unintentionally create incentives to waste water.

The case for changing the rates, as proposed by the 8 person majority on the Commission, is one of equity and justice. Gigi Robinson puts it best.
Gigi Robinson, a member of the Utility Rate Advisory Committee, which the council appointed last year, presented the panel's findings at a Feb. 12 council meeting. Robinson said the town's decision in December 2005 to double the surcharge was arbitrary and could not be justified.

"Personally, I was unable to find any significant financial justification for the surcharge, be it fiscal or strategic," Robinson told the council. - LoudounExtra
It is a matter of simple fairness that people who use the same water should not pay twice as much simply for living on one side or another of the Town boundary. Should they pay extra? Certainly, since they do not pay town taxes but do impose costs on the town, but a 100% surcharge, regardless of other precedents in the state, is clearly seen to be too high. A government entity cannot be arbitrary in financial questions and policies.

Regardless of its legality, the 100% surcharge rate is more trouble than it is worth, as the courts and Board of Supervisors have been called on to get involved in what is essentially a local customer/vendor dispute. Any extra monies gained from a high surcharge will be consumed by the defense of the lawsuit, and the ill-will generated is itself a significant blemish on the image of Leesburg.

For eight citizens out of nine to vote in favor of a reduction of the surcharge is a strong recommendation for that policy. These citizens were appointed to study and discuss this issue, and come forward with a well-thought-out recommendation. Their recommendations must be considered a good-faith effort to do what is best for the Town, and given great weight in the deliberations before Council. The details of the change should be subject to revision, in order to mitigate any bad incentives the new rates could create in terms of water usage. Furthermore, some kind of one-time penalty (equal to what 3-6 months of the 100% surcharge, perhaps?) on the part of the people who brought the lawsuit should be negotiated, to mitigate any moral hazard.

In any case, the resolution of this matter is a good development for and its customers. And a negotiated agreement among all parties is for the best. Let's hope the findings of the Commission provide a foundation for such a solution.

[update] From the comments:
Just a quick correction, Leesburg tax dollars expressly DO NOT go to the the utility system. It is a Utility Enterprise Fund that by law needs to be self-sufficient.
I'd support a consumption-based system that encourages water conservation or even better, a merger of LCSA and Leesburg that allows the Town to fully control its future development/sewer expansion. This way everyone's rates go down since LCSA folks pay about $1.92 for water and in town Leesburg almost double. -r

Power Lines and Power Availability

The issue of power and power lines has consumed a lot of rhetoric and ink in Loudoun, and with good reason. One of our greatest resources is our quality of life, which is a combination of the natural beauty and environment of our area with the availability of the necessities of life, like water, power and shelter. The question of new power lines in our area has been structured as a conflict between values of beauty and environment against the necessities of available, stable power. That is a false dichotomy. We need not choose either the environment or power, instead we must incorporate the costs of the value of beauty and the environment in the price of the power we need.

Our area needs a more stable power supply. In Leesburg, there are regular outages in the summer when demand is highest. In Purcellville, they have had five power outages since November. This means that the transmission infrastructure in our area is in need of an upgrade. Whether this means a larger power line to carry power from generating stations to our area, or an upgrade of the lines already in place is a question for the experts, but something must be done to improve the stability of our power supply.

Similarly, Loudoun relies on its environment for its health, its quality of life and its economy. Thousands of our neighbors enjoy the W&OD trail, and many of our wineries and event-based economies rely on the pristine piedmont for business. Not to mention the fact that rural Loudoun is just nice, and a county feature to be treasured. We should not be asked to sacrifice this jewel of our home for the availability of a basic necessity. Hence, the best answer for necessary, new power lines in our area is to put them underground.

LoudounExtra has an excellent article this morning on the entire underground lines issue.
Dominion Virginia Power says the line is needed to feed a voracious appetite for energy in the Washington area. Opponents say that the utility has exaggerated the need for the line and that the project would spoil a historic landscape and contribute to global warming.
"We are in a mode today where there's an urgent need to beef up our energy delivery system, and transmission is part of that," said David Owens, executive vice president of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association. "Even if you have the most aggressive energy-efficiency program, there is still the need to build new power facilities as well as transmission facilities in order to maintain the reliability we are accustomed to."
"If you look at the size of this line, the capacity of the line, and you compare that to the expected growth in the whole Northern Virginia area over the next decade, the line is grossly out of proportion," said Mitchell S. Diamond, a former energy official at Booz Allen Hamilton. "There are other solutions that would be better." - LoudounExtra
The fight over underground lines is very important, but the either/or structure of the debate is blurring the issues at hand. We should not lose sight of the fundamental goal: availability of stable power for residents in a manner conscious of local concerns about the environment.

A humble idea to achieve the goals of all interested parties might go as follows:

Mandate underground lines, and pay for them with a surcharge on power usage over a floating amount. Set the surcharge level at 130% (or some other percentage) of the average household's monthly power usage. If a household uses more than 130% of the area-wide average (area to be determined in negotiations, but probably including all customers to be serviced by the new line), add an extra surcharge fee (15% - 35%? Set to cover the cost of the line) to the cost of the extra power. Thus, if the county average is 1000 kw/h/month, a household using 1500 kw/h/month would pay an extra 15% - 35% for the marginal 200 kw/h used.

Such an idea would do two things. First, it would create a dedicated funding source for the new lines which could cover undergrounding, and link that funding to the cause of the need for the line. Second, it creates a long-term incentive to conserve power. Households who make a habit of using a lot of power would have an incentive to conserve, but it is likely it would take them at least a few months, if not years, to fully alter their behavior. In that time Dominion would be able to collect money to pay for the undergrounding of the line.

It's just an idea, but one that could be implemented quickly by negotiation, since legislation appears to be a problem. Our leaders should feel free to take this idea and make it their own - even to take credit for it themselves if that is something that will help get it done. It will be interesting to see whether our elected representatives in western Loudoun can work together and get something done.

[update] Lowell at RaisingKaine approaches Dominion Power and the question of the power lines with a lot of skepticism.
There's a lot more information on this issue, and I'm sure we'll be writing more about it in coming weeks and months. For now, it's sufficient to say that if Dominion's for it, there must be something wrong with it. That's how little I trust this company, "one of the state's largest business taxpayers and an influential player in Richmond, with 16 registered lobbyists" that last year "donated more than $775,000 to political campaigns, split about evenly between Democrats and Republicans." What more do you need to know? - RaisingKaine
The interesting thing about the idea above, however, it that it does not matter what you think of Dominion or the PEC, it solves the problem. And isn't that the whole point?

[update 2] Reliable power is a much larger issue than just Loudoun and Dominion.
The power was restored to all but a few areas of South Florida on Tuesday afternoon, the utility company that supplies electricity to the region, Florida Power & Light said.

The power failure was caused by a fire in a Miami-Dade County substation, utility officials were quoted as saying by The Miami Herald. The utility’s president, Armando Olivera, said at an evening news conference that the power loss resulted from a fire it at Flagami substation, not at the Turkey Point nuclear station, the Herald reported.

That failure from the fire caused other parts of the system to shut down to protect the integrity of the electrical grid. - The New York Times
Keeping the lights on is the basic function of power companies. It seems that major national institutions are losing sight of their purposes under the current Administration. The time to fix that is in November.

Bob McDonnell's Undeserved Credit

Attorney General Bob McDonnell likes taking credit for things, even if it isn't deserved. (In this way, he's a lot like former Gov. Jim Gilmore.) For example, he announced with great pomp an investigation into the owners of the Dulles Greenway and their tolls in October of last year. Since the end of state election season, however, there has been nary a peep on that issue, or the investigation, from the Attorney General. One can assume that it is underway, but it would be only that - an assumption. In fact, there is no mention of the Greenway tolls anywhere in the Attorney General's 2008 legislative agenda. Attorney General McDonnell wants credit for "doing something" about the Dulles Greenway tolls, even though he has done nothing to advance that issue in the Assembly from his bully pulpit. And this at a time when he is of the same party as the majority in the House of Delegates.

The habits of rhetoric without action, and obfuscation for political gains are deeply ingrained in the Virginia Republican party, and Attorney General McDonnell have taken these habits to heart in his own efforts to become Governor in 2010.

Bacon's Rebellion has more details.
Boasting that his cooperation with federal and state law enforcement authorities could be a model nationally, McDonnell said that more than 171 immigrant sex offenders had been identified and set up for deportation.

A closer reading (see my column, "The Big Lie?") shows that most of the foreign-born people on the sex offenders list weren’t here, had been deported or were about to be deported. That’s hardly a call to arms for ever tougher enforcement.

It doesn’t matter, though, because headlines boost McDonnell, GOP gubernatorial candidate in 2009, once again unfairly tainting newcomers for craven political purposes. - Bacon's Rebellion
The entire article by Peter Galuszka is well worth a read.

With many of the Republicans running for office in Virginia in 2008 and 2009, voters would do well to remember President Reagan's maxim: "Trust, but verify."

Will Sen. Vogel Be Investigated?

Not Larry Sabato has the story of the Mark Tate/Jill Holtzman-Vogel primary's legal aftermath. One might recall the smell of foul play around the indictment of Mr. Tate by a Vogel supporter (Jim Plowman) in the heat of the 2007 primary for Republican nominee for the state senate. The fundamental question at hand was how the grand jury testimony in this case leaked out in the middle of the primary campaign. (Note: Leaking private information for political gain is nothing new in Loudoun Republican politics.) Thanks to public records, we are starting to get an answer.
Now, thanks to court documents we learn that Kenney admits the entire timeline, and that he learned his information from Fauquier Republican Chairman Whitson Robinson. This also seems to solve a lot of mysteries about how this leaked out. Robinson was a supporter of Vogel's and the prosecutor who indicted Tate, Loudoun's Jim Plowman, was also a supporter of Vogel's. What is their tie besides both being Republicans in the district supporting Tate's opponent? Robinson's Fauquier Republican Vice Chairman is James Fisher- is also Plowman's Chief Deputy in the Loudoun's prosecutors office!

The taint here is getting closer to Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel as every person involved in leaking this indictment of her opponent was a supporter of hers. WHEN WILL THE SENATE INVESTIGATE? - Not Larry Sabato
Mr. Tate has asked Sen. Holtzman-Vogel be subpoenaed in the case. The reports of her involvement are especially damning, considering the implications for politics and campaigning in the 27th senatorial district.
Early February 2007: Holtzman Vogel volunteer Laurie Letourneau, of Winchester, approaches the candidate to talk about Tate's campaign finance filings. According to Letourneau, Holtzman Vogel warns her that "I'm not going there, this is going to be a clean campaign," but "what everyone else wants to do, they can do" and "I don't want to know about it." -
How can a candidate claiming to want a clean campaign give her volunteers license to do what they want to do as long as she does not know about it? The essence of ethics is not ignorance and passivity but knowledge and right choices. An ethics lawyer like Sen. Vogel should know this. The voters of the 27th District deserve a lot better than a Senator who turns a blind eye to the murky activities of her campaign volunteers in the interest of getting a let up on her rival.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

An Interlude: Sid Meier Says

I do not like to post one Interlude right after another, but Sid Meier is legendary and his games are an example of what video games can, and should be.

The Civilization series has been going strong for over fifeen years. I still remember sitting up in high school, far to late in the night, playing Civ. The game is much more than kill and level up, it actively involves the player in recapitulating human history, with all its flaws and trends. It expands the player's knowledge of global cultures, demonstrates the importance of taking care of a nation's people, and perhaps most interestingly directly links taxes to the well-being of society.
However, just because the Civilization games are chock-full of history--the in-game Civilipedia contains the real-world story behind the in-game technologies--doesn't mean that Meier intended them to be strictly educational. "We try and do the research after we've finished work on the game," he explained bemusedly. "Our goal is to make the game as fun as possible and then try and make the historical research justify what we did in development."

Despite this fact, the Civilization series' scholarly air has led them to be used as reference for academia and even journalism. "The Wall Street Journal called us up and asked us how we had captured the effect of tax policy so perfectly [in Civilization]. They asked if we had read [famed economist] Adam Smith, and I said 'Um, they're just sliders.'" - GameSpot

Friday, February 22, 2008

An Interlude: That's Unexpected

My wife DVRs Guiding Light, and so after having on in the background of my life for six years, I track the characters and stories pretty well. And so it was unexpected, to say the least, to see Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on the show.

Here's what they had to say about it on ESPN.

YouTube has some grainy video of their debut. Funny stuff.

A New Look for Leesburg Tomorrow


While the poll over the last week did not indicate dissatisfaction with the look-and-feel of Leesburg Tomorrow, two important factors have led me to do a minor redesign. First, after more than six months and over 11,700 hits, it was time to tweak the look-and-feel of what had initially intended to be a part-time lark of a blog. Second, my wife thinks it's ugly.

And so, I hope you like the new layout. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Incidentally, a friend asked "what's up with Pie and CowboyNeal?" Here's the explanation. First, Pie is a fun option frequently used on message board polls. The thinking is that it's always nice to have Pie as an option: who doesn't like pie? And as for CowboyNeal, that is an homage to my earliest experience with blogging, Slashdot. I've been lurking and commenting on Slashdot on-and-off for nearly ten years, and in honor of those roots, I feel it is only appropriate to offer CowboyNeal as an option in the polls. The theory behind CowboyNeal is that some people don't understand the poll or the options, and CowboyNeal is a way to say "hey, I just don't get this!"

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The GOP and FISA

Over at Salon, Glenn Greenwald picks apart the tired "fear, fear, fear!" strategy of the Republican party. This time, they're trying to scare us over FISA and the Protect America Act.
Impressively, the ad dramatically packs every component of GOP politics into one minute: There are dark, primitively omnipotent Arab Terrorists lurking darkly and menacingly, planning to slaughter you and your whole entire family right now. You have only a few seconds to live, literally or metaphorically. The clock on your life is counting down right now. You are in severe danger.

We want more unchecked government power. You better give it to us, or else the Terrorists will kill you all. Give up more power to us, do what we say, and you can lay your head down on your pillow at night without a care in the world, knowing that we love you and are keeping you Safe and Protected -- Keeping America Protected -- like a baby snugly embraced in the womb. You want that, don't you? We want to give it to you. The House Democrats want you dead.
Just by the way, the whole premise of the ad is that we're all about to be slaughtered because the Protect America Act expired. It expired because George Bush threatened to veto any extensions and House Republicans unanimously voted against any extension. Our blood, to be gushing shortly like a volcanic eruption, will be on their loving, protective hands. - Glenn Greenwald
Whenever someone appeals to fear or hate, we must apply the highest scrutiny to what is being discussed. Here is how Keith Olbermann does it.

I think America is tired of fear. It's time for hope.

Loudoun Supervisors Advocate Green Construction

Our Board of Supervisors continues to demonstrate the importance of the 2007 election. In the face of difficult decisions, the Democratic Board majority has not shied away from leadership on things that matter for our county. One recent example is an initiative by Supervisor McGimsey to promote green construction in Loudoun.
Finally, an issue that developers and government officials can agree on -- green building is the future, and the sooner Loudoun gets on board, the better for the environment.

According to Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac), the conversation on constructing more energy-efficient buildings in the county is just beginning. McGimsey said she sees developers as part of the solution, which makes the need for teamwork between the two entities essential. - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
Green development is a major topic for this Board, as environmental questions, like energy use, water supply and water quality, encroach on our quality of life. Leadership on environmentally-sensitive construction and development is not only in the county's best interests, but also allows Loudoun to take advantage of economies of location in this industry. Many of the leading initiatives in green construction are manifested in Virginia. Meanwhile, Fairfax and Arlington, to which many Loudoun citizens commute, have already blazed the trail for us.
Brian Gault, director of sustainable development for Fairfax-based Peterson Cos., has been working with governments in Arlington and Fairfax counties for several years on the issue.

Gault said Arlington has adopted an incentive program to persuade developers to build green. Developers seeking a special exception for their projects can include environmentally friendly infrastructure, and receive bonus development density in return.

For example, instead of building a four-story standard commercial building, the developer would be allowed to build a six-story building if it chooses to build green. - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
While one could question whether a similar model would work in a county with plenty of unoccupied office space, an incentive structure for Loudoun's developers is surely a reasonable goal for the newly-constituted ad-hoc Energy Efficiency Committee which Supervisor McGimsey chairs. And Supervisor McGimsey should be commended for acknowledging the important role developers can play in making a more environmentally supportive Loudoun possible. Loudoun's Democrats are not against development, we are against bad development. (Incidentally, these green construction initiatives nicely complement Del. Poisson's environmentally-conscious efforts in the Assembly.)

Democrats from Loudoun have a cohesive philosophy of governance: a better and more sustainable quality-of-life for us and our neighbors. It is great to see them putting it in practice.

Obama Expands Virginia's Field

One of the recurring themes of this nomination season has been how Sen. Obama expands the field of Democratic voters and participants in the political system. For our party and our republic, this is a beneficial development, as engaged voters who feel they have something at stake in our elections is the balm for a sore and bleeding polity. There is widespread hope that a Barack Obama nomination would not only inspire our party, it would inspire the nation and voters in areas where the Democratic party has been moribund for a generation. There is an idea that Sen. Obama may be the route to 60 in the Senate.

Here in Virginia, and Loudoun especially, the "Obama effect" of bringing people out of the woodwork and engaging their passion and idealism is raising some eyebrows among the traditional political elites of our commonwealth. In effect, independents and non-voters who would otherwise be ambivalent this season are, instead, finding something to believe in and vote for in Sen. Obama. One could call them Obama Independents.

And these voters are a huge and threatening wildcard to many established Congressional Republicans from Virginia.
But if what has been described by some as "Obamania" persists into the fall, there are at least three GOP congressional incumbents who shouldn't take anything for granted.

Reps. Thelma A. Drake, Virgil H. Goode Jr. and Frank R. Wolf are favored to win reelection, considering that Republicans drew their district boundary lines.

Each of those districts, however, could be susceptible to an uptick in Democratic turnout if Obama is at the top of the ticket. - The Washington Post
This kind of transformation of Virginia's Congressional delegation is what many in the Virginia blogosphere have been fighting for over the past few years. Sen. Webb's election was the first large federal victory in that fight. And with a varying majority of the Virginia electorate now comfortable voting Democratic, the effort turns to building Democratic majorities in our counties and Congressional districts.
There are a lot of unknowns about how the presidential contest will affect races down the ballot. But one result of the Potomac Primary is undeniable: Virginia Democrats have been handed a gift.

They have a list of nearly 1.million people who voted in their primary last week, although some are Republicans. The state party can target those voters through next year's governor's race.

Just under 2 million voted in the 2005 governor's race, suggesting there could be an emerging Democratic majority in Virginia. - The Washington Post
Loudoun county is ground-zero for Obama Independents (perhaps even "Obama Republicans") if they are a real constituency, and to have an effect on outcomes in Virginia.
When once reliably conservative Loudoun County chose Democrat Timothy M. Kaine for governor in 2005 by nearly the same margin as voters statewide, some suspected a fluke. When the county, like the state, gave a narrow victory to Sen. Jim Webb (D) a year later, people took notice.

But when the fast-growing county nearly mirrored statewide support for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in last week’s presidential primary, it seemed apparent: Loudoun, a combination of Virginia’s traditional and modern elements, had become a political microcosm of the commonwealth. Once a Republican stronghold, the county is now in play, and as goes Loudoun, so goes Virginia, political observers said.
“Loudoun seems a good place to look for indications of how the candidates, how the parties, are faring statewide,” said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. “You have newcomers, affluent commuters, longtime residents, a large influx of residents. . . . It just looks like the rest of Virginia in a lot of ways.”

Once a nearly all-white, largely Republican county, Loudoun has seen its population explode over the past two decades, more than tripling since 1990. Today, the county of about 270,000 is a mix of young tech workers and lifelong farmers, longtime residents and expanding immigrant communities. It’s a county on the cusp, favoring Democrats in recent elections but still, both sides say, retaining a significant conservative base.

In other words, it’s just like Virginia. - LoudounExtra
Loudoun county gave 3,168 more votes to the widely-disdained Sen. Hillary Clinton than Sen. John McCain in Virginia's primary, and Sen. Clinton was 8,288 votes behind Sen. Obama here. Think about that: Sen. Obama beat Sen. Clinton by more than 8,000 votes, and yet Sen. Clinton still beat the Republican front-runner comfortably. This is a compelling demonstration of Sen. Obama's appeal in the Old Dominion, and evidence that he is increasing turnout for the Democratic slate. Frank Wolf, for example, only beat Judy Feder - then a relatively unknown candidate - by 13,228 in Loudoun in 2006. Sen. Obama beat Sen. McCain by 11,456 in the primary this year. Turnout will assuredly be higher in November, especially among energized Democrats. And this year Judy Feder is much more widely known and has been campaigning strong throughout the 10th District.

Sen. Obama is waking up the sleeping giant of citizens who want to be inspired and people who want a reason to vote. And that giant is walking in Virginia, seeking and finding candidates willing to fight for the people who have been hitherto ignored and marginalized.

In closing, a quote that perhaps best exemplifies the real change going on in Loudoun, and Virginia.
Many young adults around the county, such as first-time voter Victor Aragon, 20, of Ashburn, seem to still be forming their political identities.

“I was raised Republican,” he said. “My dad’s a Republican.”

But on Tuesday, he cast his vote for Clinton. So is he a Democrat?

“I guess I am now,” he said. - LoudounExtra
Thank you for your vote sir. We Democrats will do our best to remember and honor it.

[update] Over at The Democratic Strategist, Chris Bowers goes into a lot more, and better, detail on the kinds of voters and strategies in question here.
Consider, for example, that according to an analysis of national exit polls from the 2004 and the 2006 elections, in 2006 Democrats actually improved their overall share of the national vote more from Democrats, 2.4%, than from Independents, 2.1%. Even though John Kerry won 89% of the Democratic vote, by increasing the Democratic vote for Democrats to a record 93%, and by increasing the self-identified Democratic share of the electorate from 37% to 38%, Democrats gained more among self-identified Democrats than they gained among any other group. - Chris Bowers

An Interlude: Mixed Drink Personality

Thanks Runo.
Your cocktail says something about you.

For instance, ordering a martini says you appreciate the finer things in life, ordering a gin and tonic says you appreciate the simple things in life, and ordering a boilermaker says you appreciate knowing where your pants are. But mixed drinks go deeper than that, much deeper. When you sidle up to the bar and place your order, you open a window onto your very soul, revealing not only who you are, but also who you long to be. So know your cocktails and order with care, or you might send the wrong message. - The Secret Language of Cocktails
What follows is an amusing summary of mixed drinks and their "messages." A great grin on a cold morning.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Stanford Drops Tuition for Some

Stanford is dropping tuition for students from families making less than $100,000 / year.
In a radical change to its financial aid program, Stanford University will announce today that it will no longer charge tuition to students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year.

In addition, the university will waive room and board fees for students whose families earn less than $60,000 a year.

University President John Hennessy will make the announcement today on campus, university Provost John Etchemendy confirmed late Tuesday.

The university is making the change in the wake of published reports last month that its endowment had grown almost 22 percent last year, to $17.1 billion. That sum had begun to attract attention from lawmakers who want wealthy institutions to do more to reduce tuition costs. -
What a remarkably progressive idea, and one honing to the ideal of "if you can get in, you should be able to go," which my parents always taught me.

Bacon's Rebellion has touched on this issue here in Virginia.
By my calculations, between fund raising campaigns and investment returns, endowments of all Virginia colleges and universities grew by nearly $1.7 billion last year, or 15.8 percent. That's after accounting for what the endowments paid out to support university building and operations.
Here's my question: What are universities doing with that money -- besides letting it pile up, I mean? As we all know, affordability is a major issue in higher education. One thing they're NOT doing is making tuitions more affordable. Despite amassing ever bigger endowments, universities have been jacking up tuitions at a rate consistently higher than the Consumer Price Index. - Bacon's Rebellion
Personally, I feel that Virginia's colleges and universities are the nation's best deals in higher education. The reason I am a Virginian today is because UVA was not only the best school I got into, but because it was also the cheapest (at the time), even though I was out of state. And Virginia's colleges and universities have been making strides to address affordability, with AccessUVA and Gateway William & Mary being two of the best examples.

Nonetheless, a little pressure from their peers to do even more may be a step on the road to affordable college for all.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to DailyKos.)