Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A New Blog, Some New Perspectives

Leesburg Tomorrow would like to welcome Ruminations From An Addled Mind to the Loudoun blogosphere. And may I offer the newest voice in our networked conversation a tip-o-the-hat for this:

This video is perhaps the most powerful and effective demonstration of the technology and perspective gap between young and old yet produced. It's a must see for anyone involved in education, college applications or simply raising kids. Here's what Addled Rumninations has to say about it:
I was struck by the one piece where a girl says she'll read 8 books this year. EIGHT books in a year during college!?!?! Shouldn't that total be something like 8 books a week? They write how the coursework they're doing has no relevance to the real world or their job. How come no one wants to write the next great American novel? - Addled Ruminations
I will offer my humble answers to these questions. First, the fact that they only read 8 books a year does not mean they're not literate or engaged in reading, it means that the media they're reading is different. I love a good book, I love curling up in bed with it and reading, but I have a good friend and colleague who takes his laptop to bed and scans Google Reader until he turns out the light, and that's functionally equivalent, perhaps even more valuable because chances are he's staying in touch with current events and trends, while my book is, by definition, old news by the time it's in my hands. The difference between him and me? I'm about five years older than he was. When I got to college, email was all the rage and Eudora had not yet been released. When I graduated, Netscape had just gone public. When he went to college, the web was already on its way towards 2.0. Five years is a generation in the technology gap.

Second, the "next great American novel" will not be a novel. There's a very good chance it's already written in proto-form in a series of chats and wall-to-wall posts on Facebook. (Never mind the fact that anyone who goes to school to write the next great novel isn't going to write the next great novel. That kind of ability is a git of god and experience, not school.) It will eventually be published in book form, but that's not how it will originate, and the students at colleges and universities know that.

Ultimately, the kids are alright, and the world they inhabit, while frightfully, relentlessly connected and demanding to many, is just "the world" to them. And that's a good thing.

So let's enjoy how well our kids multitask, let's help our kids find great ideas and literature in mediums and forms they relate to and can engage. On such things are pinned our hopes for the future. And the future looks bright.

Republicans Targeting Loudoun

It is an interesting era when Republicans are actively targeting Loudoun for pickups in the House of Delegates in 2009.
"I know this sounds self-serving, the presidential stuff is important, but next year we've got House of Delegates seats, and there's a couple that are representing Loudoun and parts of Loudoun County that I know we can win back," Howell told a meeting of the Loudoun County Republican Committee.

Howell was no doubt talking about Dels. David Poisson and Chuck Caputo. The two eastern Loudoun Democrats hold seats that had been held previously by Republicans. But despite decisive victories by Democrats around the state, the two only won re-election last year with 53 percent of the vote against their Republican challengers. - LoudounExtra
This just serves as an ever-present reminder that for all the success we've had in bringing responsible, reasonable government to Loudoun and Loudoun's representation in Richmond, the work is never done. We will need to work hard to keep our great Delegates Poisson and Caputo in office and extend our gains so that we can regain the majority in the House of Delegates. Remember that it is the House of Delegates that blocked such things as transportation funding reform, non-partisan redistricting and health-insurance for low-income employees of small businesses. Winning back the majority there is critical to reviving a commonwealth that truly looks out for the common good.

(Did anyone else notice that while the Speaker mentioned "the presidential stuff is important" no mention was made of the Senate race here in Virginia?)

Join the Fight for Veterans Benefits

Senator Webb has taken his fight for a new GI Bill to the people.
Did you know:
Those who served our nation in uniform no longer are guaranteed that we’ll thank them for their service by covering the total cost of their college education?

It’s all true. Toward the end of World War II, and for many years after, Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944-commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, provided an opportunity for every veteran to go to the college of their choice. This was just one small way of repaying the sacrifices our troops made, and helped an entire generation get a higher education.

But, today, despite some adjustments to the G.I. Bill, continuing education is far out of reach for those who served our nation in uniform – even those coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan after multiple, extended deployments.

It is time to honor their sacrifice, by passing new legislation that will guarantee that every veteran can once again afford to go to any institute of higher learning. Join us in our effort, and let public officials in Washington know that this is a real priority for a nation that loves our men and women who have served. -
On the website, you can join the campaign to lobby Congressional leaders to support and pass the bill, which restores to our veterans their right to a college education after serving their country.

You can go here to send a note to your representatives in Congress to support the bill. For those of us here in the 10th District, it should be noted that Frank Wolf has not deigned to support this bill, though it was introduced in June of 2007. Apparently, helping our current veterans is much less important than dedicating another civil war site. (Also missing from the co-sponsor rolls? Congressman Goode, Congresswoman Drake, Congressman Goodlatte, Congressman Forbes, Congressman Wittman and Congressman Cantor.)

It is shameful that perhaps our most famous veteran, John McCain, has not signed on to support the bill, though Sen. Webb has personally asked him to do so - three times. His arguments against the bill, which center around asserting that it will hurt retention, are specious on their face: the answer to retention problems is not keeping artificially low benefits, it is returning them to levels provided to previous generations of veterans.

Go write your Representatives, and let's get this done.

[update] The national blogosphere is on this as well. Go Jim Webb!

Metro To "Dulles" To Be Approved?

It is being widely reported that rail to Dulles will get its Federal stamp of approval in the coming days.
Federal transportation officials are planning to approve the proposed 23-mile extension of Metrorail to Dulles International Airport in a letter to Congress today, the officials told local and state authorities yesterday.

Several officials with knowledge of the decision said the $5 billion project had finally met the Federal Transit Administration's standards for cost efficiency, construction and expected ridership. The approval would reverse an opinion from the FTA issued in January that said rail to Dulles did not meet the criteria. - LoudounExtra
Indications are that this reversal was the result of intensive lobbying and negotiations on the part of Governor Kaine and his administration as well as other officials. It will be interesting to see how the final package is structured, and whether new hurdles might emerge.
But hurdles still remain, none of which the Washington Post article mentions. First is the lawsuit, now before the state Supreme Court, disputing the legal right of the Kaine administration to transfer the Dulles Toll Road to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Toll road revenues are another critical component of the Rail-to-Dulles funding package. A Supreme Court ruling in May could either clear the way for the project or drive a stake through its heart.

The second hurdle centers on the special tax district in Fairfax County, which would raise tax revenues from commercial property owners along the rail route. I invite someone better informed than me to provide correction or elaboration, but, as I understand it, the authorization for creating that tax district has expired. Whether renewing that authorization is a pro forma matter or one that could erupt again into political controversy and drag out the project time-line is a question I cannot answer. - Bacon's Rebellion
Reactions to this announcement around the blogosphere have been mixed, with questions raised as to what deals had to be cut to make this happen and whether the basic questions about above vs. below-ground and non-competitive bidding have been answered.

Another interesting factor in all of this is a fact that is going under-reported, but is of considerable import to Loudoun: This project will only bring rail to Reston. For $900 million in Federal money, decades of planning and promises, speculative development based on proposed stations, and repeated harangues from community leaders Loudoun will get exactly nothing from this deal, except perhaps even more traffic.

I understand the value of rail, I have lived in New York and New Jersey as well as closer to DC here in northern Virginia. It's a critical aspect of a comprehensive transportation solution, but it is not something Loudoun should take into account in its planning, hoping and development. We're just not going to see it in time to make use of it.

Virginia Tech Engineers and Hurricanes

Though I am a graduate of the University of Virginia, I doff my had to engineers from Virginia Tech this morning. They've invented a simple, inexpensive and practical solution to a major problem increasingly occurring thanks to severe weather.
Hurricanes often lift the roofs off buildings and expose them to havoc and damaging conditions, even after the worst of the wind has passed. A local roofer, Virginia Tech faculty members from architecture and engineering, and a graduate student have devised an inexpensive vent that can reduce roof uplift on buildings during high winds, even a hurricane.
The physics is the Venturi effect. You know – wind forced through an opening speeds up. Covered porches create a breeze. Winds blow harder through mountain passes and between city buildings. Cars at any speed split the air, so when you crack the car window to get rid of cigarette smoke, the lower pressure outside sucks the smoke out the window.

Sitting at their kitchen table about six years ago, the Johnson brothers asked, “What if we could split the wind blowing over a roof and create a vacuum to suck the roof down instead of up?”

The result was V2T. - ScienceDaily and Virginia Tech
Basically, a simple and inexpensive plastic vent set upon the roof of a house can help use the wind's force itself to press the roof onto the house in severe storms. Considering the impact of severe weather on Virginians who often cannot afford sufficient insurance, these vents may be a godsend to people who might otherwise find their homes irreparably damaged by hurricanes and wind.

Well done Tech!

If you want to lend a hand helping the victims of the Southside tornadoes, you can donate to the American Red Cross disaster relief fund.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Physical Evidence of Electronic Voting Errors

Slashdot is reporting on a Princeton Professor who has shown conclusively that some electronic voting machines make some basic errors when tallying votes. The Professor, Ed Felton, has a blog which details his findings.
Before we dig into the details, let’s review some background. At the end of Election Day, each Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machine prints a “summary tape” (or “results report”) that lists (among other things) the number of votes cast for each candidate on that machine, and the total voter turnout (number of votes cast) in each party. In the Super Tuesday primary, a few dozen machines in New Jersey showed discrepancies in which the number of votes recorded for candidates in one party exceeded the voter turnout in that party. For example, the vote totals section of a tape might show 61 total votes for Republican candidates, while the turnout section of the same tape shows only 60 Republican voters. - Freedom to Tinker
We're lucky that here in Virginia, Gov. Kaine signed Sen. Herring's ballot audit bill into law. That bill at least shows a willingness here in Virginia to codify a paper trail for all votes, if not actually implementing one (yet).

At every turn, the issue of voting itself is becoming important in our 2008 campaign.

John McCain and Taxes

Once more, John McCain demonstrates he doesn't know much about economics, or, for that matter, Federal tax policy. This is funny considering the fact that he's spent decades in Washington (since 1982) writing and passing tax and fiscal policy. You'd think he'd have a handle on it by now.
Senator Obama says that he doesn’t want to raise taxes on anybody over — making over $200,000 a year, yet he wants to nearly double the capital gains tax. Nearly double it, which 100 million Americans have investments in — mutual funds, 401(k)s — policemen, firemen, nurses. He wants to increase their taxes. - John McCain on This Week
Of course, money in 401(k)'s isn't taxed as capital gains. It's not taxed at all.
Investments contained in 401-K's (Or in the case of 'policemen, firemen' usually a 403-B), pensions, IRAs, tax deferred variable annuities, and similar retirement vehicles aren't subject to capital gains tax -- they're not taxed at all. Changing the capital gains tax rate will have zero effect on them. Withdrawals from tax deferred accounts by retirees are generally taxed at whatever the income tax rate is for that person at the time of withdrawal (Which, incidentally, is usually a hell of a lot more than the current long term capital gains tax rate, yet another way to rip off the middle class).

This feature of pension and retirement accounts is about as fundamental as it can get in the retirement planning and tax preparation business. Most laypeople over age 40 know this; let alone rookie financial advisors studying for the series 7, or a barely legal teen on her first day at H & R Block. For McCain not to know that would be, well, terrifying, as this is something that will affect upwards of 80 million freakin retirees during his potential Presidential term[s]. The other possibility is he knowingly lied. - DailyKos
As my wife likes to say, this is Bush's America, whatever we assert loud enough is true. So if John McCain can assert that 401(k)s are subject to capital gains taxes, I can assert that John McCain called his wife the "c" word (oops, that one is actually true), how about John McCain was bribed by shady financiers (oops, true again!). How about John McCain sleeps around (dang, true too). John McCain will say anything to get elected? Yep. Also true.

Hey, maybe George Bush is right, you can say anything and have it be true!

Vote in Leesburg's Elections Next Tuesday

In a very quiet way, the Leesburg Town Elections are sneaking up on us. They're next Tuesday, May 6th. Here are Leesburg's Voting Locations.

Where to Vote in Leesburg
If you are wondering what precinct you are in, there is a a map of the Leesburg district available from the County. Your voter registration card (which ought to have been mailed to everyone when they registered) also includes your Precinct information and polling place.

The information below is organized by Precinct, Polling Place and Address.
If you're interesting in finding out more about the important issues in this election, the "Council" tag here on Leesburg Tomorrow will take you to many posts on those topics, such as local taxes, development, business regulations and other candidates.

Please come out and vote next Tuesday to support Mayor Umstattd and Dave Butler next Tuesday!

What Does Tom Periello Believe?

Tom Periello is one of our fantastic Congressional candidates in Virginia, running against Virgil Goode in the 5th District. While Virgil Goode has made an issue of other people's faith, Tom Periello has used his faith to inform his public service across the globe. In an interview with Faithfully Liberal, he has provided a great deal of insight as to how he would serve the people of the commonwealth in Congress, and how his ideas on justice and equality have informed his thinking on policy and process.
Q: Why have you decided to run for Congress against Virgil Goode in Virginia’s 5th District?

A: I have felt a call to service from an early age, and was raised to believe that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. The question I’ve faced since graduating college is how can I make the biggest difference and answer this call. Like many Gen-Xers, I originally saw the nonprofit sector as the most innovative and effective way to make a contribution. I moved to West Africa to do whatever I could to end the atrocities in Sierra Leone and then became heavily involved in the diplomatic showdown that forced the dictator Charles Taylor from power in Liberia. Since then, I have also worked in Afghanistan and Darfur, and what I witness time and time again is that the moral challenges of our time all have solutions. What we lack is the political will to solve them.

I feel like this is the right time to turn to the root causes of these dire problems, and believe that new political leadership must be part of that. Our country is hungry for new leaders who want to get things done, who are more interested in producing results than playing partisan politics. I am running for Congress because I believe politics can, and should, be a place to make our neighbors’ lives better. I just see it as community service by other means.

Q: How has your faith tradition helped shaped your political and social views?

A: I grew up in a church that preached the social justice message of the Gospels and called me to the teaching of Mathew 25. Sunday was a time that we heard about poverty, torture, and war and our moral obligation to care for and love our neighbor. My political views and my efforts to live a life of service were shaped by the prophetic call in Micah to serve the least among us and to “do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” As a Catholic, I know I will always fall short of this aspiration, but it remains my guiding light. - Faithfully Liberal's interview with Tom Periello
If some of this sounds familiar, Tom's themes echo some of Tim Kaine's thoughts on public service and justice during his campaign for Governor.

Tom is just one more of the more and better Democrats we have the opportunity to elect to Congress from Virginia in November.

Monday, April 28, 2008

UVA's Swipe At Free Expression

Never did I think that students at UVA would have to get a permit to express their opinions on the Grounds of the University of Virginia, my alma mater. Guess I was wrong.

First a disclaimer, I am the President of the Friends of the Virginia Pep Band, so this story hits home. Five years ago, the Virginia Pep Band was removed from all official Athletic Department events (i.e., games) in favor of a new Marching Band. There was some understandable bitterness, as this was the culmination of a decade of planning to get rid of the Band by some more conservative Virginia alumni and administrators. On April 24th, the Band performed an impromptu show at UVA's amphitheater in honor of the 5th anniversary of its canning. This precipitated a call to evict the band from the Amphitheater by University authorities. After all, the Pep Band was supposed to be dead, and its persistence in sticking around and making fun of anyone and everyone was unseemly.
On the fifth anniversary of the band’s boot from the university, a UVa official stopped by the pep band’s performance Thursday and told the band to stop playing and leave.

“You can’t be playing instruments and using amplifiers,” said the UVa official, who declined to identify himself. “It’s too loud. Sorry, but you’re interfering with the academic mission of the university.”

The pep band was disappointed yet again.

“It’s kind of ironic,” said David Leon, one of the pep band’s snare drum players. “We were once again shut down by the man. It’s a tragic comedy.” - The Daily Progress
Creeping free speech zones have made their way to the Grounds of UVA. You can bet that if this had been the Virginia Gentlemen giving an impromptu concert at the Amphitheater with a loudspeaker, they would have been allowed to finish, who doesn't like the VeeGees? But an organization which perhaps has a thing or two to say that doesn't sit well with some members of the University community? Well, they're interfering with the University's Academic Mission. And what is that mission?
Purpose: The central purpose of the University of Virginia is to enrich the mind by stimulating and sustaining a spirit of free inquiry directed to understanding the nature of the universe and the role of mankind in it. Activities designed to quicken, discipline, and enlarge the intellectual and creative capacities, as well as the aesthetic and ethical awareness, of the members of the University and to record, preserve, and disseminate the results of intellectual discovery and creative endeavor serve this purpose. In fulfilling it, the University places the highest priority on achieving eminence as a center of higher learning. - UVA Statement of Purpose
What's more stimulating and enriching the mind than challenging, humorous questions punctuated by music? How difficult is it for instructors to use such a performance as a "teachable moment" and bring the relevance of their material to the fore?

But perhaps most pernicious of all in this act is the grounds on which it occurred. In the land of Mr. Jefferson, at the institution which shares resources with the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression, students at Mr. Jefferson's university were unceremoniously shooed away for this:
University of Virginia student Kevin Binswanger dropped his trumpet and picked up the microphone.

“You sir, in the front. Have you accepted Jefferson into your heart?” he preached. “You cannot be saved by blind obedience to authority; this leads you to the fiery pits of hell!

“Only by embracing the word of Jefferson and by practicing student self-governance and rebellion can you find salvation in the world to come,” he continued. “Accept Jefferson into your heart and you will be saved from eternal torment in the fires of hell!” - The Daily Progess
Today, at Mr. Jefferson's university you can be reprimanded for exhorting people to learn and live Mr. Jefferson's ideals.

Maybe someday, if I stay involved in Democratic politics, and give enough money to someone who becomes Governor, I can get on the UVA Board of Visitors, and then we'll see what we can do about these policies. Until then, however, we can just be proud that the Pep Band is still there to see the irony in their situation, and make fun of it at the next opportunity.

Scramble On.

[update] Democratic Central also has a thing or two to say on the subject.

More Voters in More Places

There's a lot of buzz in the political discussion these days about new voters. In general, the buzz comes in two types: young voters (will they, or won't they) and otherwise uninvolved voters (inspired by Obama or not). The narrative on young voters is very hard to break, though many are trying. But if that narrative can be subsumed in a larger "more voters in more places" narrative, there may be some signal through the noise.

Last week Sen. Obama's campaign launched an initiative to register new voters all across the country. This was ostensibly the reason he went on Fox News, to talk about his new voter registration drive. The junior Senator from Illinois appears to be trying an old fashioned tactic for dealing with adversity - change the playing field. In this case, grow your voter base so far and so fast that the minor distractions of a traditional campaign are rendered not just illegitimate but irrelevant. Indeed, if the Senator is able to "bring more voices into the process" he may not only be able to win the White House, but also change the conversation about politics. A grand and perhaps unattainable goal, but what has ever been accomplished by aiming low?

dday has this to say over on Hullabaloo about Obama's new "grow the voter base" initiative to take on the Republicans and remake our polity.
I think Obama's gambit is to register so many voters and find so many new people to enter the process that he isn't bound to any particular political structure, from the right or the left or the middle. He really is trying to make his new mass of supporters his power base. It's an audacious strategy, one that doesn't have a lot of historical basis that you can really look to on the national level. But without question there's a tremendous upside to reaching new voters; you're essentially talking about over half the country, between those who don't vote and those who don't even register. And the technology is now in place to more easily find them, target them and talk to them. - Hullabaloo
It is admirable that Sen. Obama is using his cash advantage to not only help is own campaign, but the campaigns of Democrats up and down the ticket by focusing an effort on voter registration across the country. This initiative has the potential to pay dividends for the Party in elections far into the future, in a manner similar to how the Dean campaign in 2004 lead to DFA and a powerful progressive blogosphere.

Furthermore, a renewed focus on voting and its importance is valuable in this year's election. With the recent Supreme Court decision about voter ID laws, the fundamental principle of giving every citizen the right to vote continues to erode under conservative government. Couple this with Sen. Obama's new initiative and we have another stark contrast between the two parties: One party wants to help you vote, the other wants to hinder it.

Voting is a voting issue. We have a choice in this year. Make it count.

Leesburg Guard Returns

The National Guard battalion based at the Leesburg Armory has returned from Iraq.
Men and women from Leesburg-based C Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team had been in Iraq since September and in training for several months prior to that, leaving behind friends and family who anxiously awaited their return. According to one soldier, the feeling was mutual.

Pfc. Justin Arndt, who is based out of Lynchburg, said the waiting was the hardest part.

"You learn when you're younger that the more you think about it the harder it gets," Arndt said. "But I was counting every second once I heard we were coming home." - Leesburg Today
The Guard, whose duties prior to the past few years have been concerned with helping out with national disasters like forest fires and hurricanes, served with honor and distinction, and all the commonwealth thanks them for their service and is thrilled to have them home safely.
According to Maj. Cotton Puryear, nine soldiers were wounded during their tour of duty in Iraq, all of whom were able to return to duty. There were no fatalities. - Leesburg Today
LoudounExtra has some photos of their return here.

Since the beginning of the Iraq war, 117 Virginians have given their lives far from home in a fight with no clear goal and no clear end. While we are eternally grateful to have our neighbors home, our hearts and prayers go out to those whose family has given the highest sacrifice in the service of our country.

We have a million things to decide upon in our elections this year, but let us not forget that our neighbors are putting their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan every day. We must honor that service and think long and hard about our choices in the voting booth. One party proposes things like a new GI Bill for veterans of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Another makes it more difficult for wounded veterans to vote.

We have a choice in November. Remember that.

An Interlude: Foxfield

The Foxfield Races outside Charlottesville this year were awesome. Even though a major thunderstorm came up and soaked all of us to the bone, a grand time was had by all.

Virginia does have some awfully fun traditions.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mortgage Lenders Just Want To Collect

Funny thing about the Bush Administration's "Hope Now" alliance, they're not actually helping most homeowners in trouble, they're just keeping them in debt longer.
Instead of rescheduling missed payments, more lenders reduced the overall burden by modifying loan terms. They lowered interest rates or extended the term of the loan to cut payments. Less often, they forgave part of the principal.
The focus of lenders "has always been to collect money, not to give a better deal to borrowers," said Tom Miller, Iowa's attorney general. "A shift in psychology needs to be made." - The Washington Post
The study cited in the Post article was done by a group of state attorneys general and financial regulators - in other words people whose job it is to look out for the average citizen.

These are among the reasons it is a good thing the Democrats are in charge of Congress. They're actually doing something about the problem, as best they can in the face of massive Republican obstructionism.

"Hybrids" and HOV Lanes

One of the interesting developments in the past few years is the emergence of "hybrid" versions of the most gas-guzzling and intimidating vehicles on the road. While it is commendable that car makers are improving the city mileage of their trucks and SUVs by introducing hybrid models, there are unexpected consequences emerging. Like free parking for vehicles that barely fit into parking spaces.
Tuesday, you see, was Earth Day, and on Earth Day the garage offered free parking for hybrids. This Tahoe is a hybrid. So while the guy ahead of me in the four-cylinder Toyota Camry dutifully paid his tab, I, as a savior of Mother Earth, righteously demanded my perk.

This, of course, was a ludicrous situation that highlights the problems that can arise when preferential treatment is based on a particular technology instead of an objective performance measure. Whoever decided to promote free parking for Earth Day was doubtlessly envisioning a parade of Toyota Priuses and Honda Insights gliding up to that cashier, not a mammoth Tahoe that looks as if it could tow a 6,000-pound boat, because it could. Hinging a perk like this on a particular technology instead of on a quantifiable performance standard is like saying, to play on the women’s Olympic basketball team you need to wear a dress to tryouts. So Shaq shows up in a dress and makes the team. - The New York Times
Here in Virginia hybrid vehicles get an exemption to HOV requirements. That means that a single driver in a vehicle that only gets around 25 miles per gallon on the highway has the same privilege to drive in the HOV lane as three people commuting in a vehicle that gets 35 miles to the gallon. This is, of course, ridiculous, but it was an unintended consequence of state transportation policies. Each year, the government in Richmond adjusts the rules to extend the hybrid exemption, as each year it is set to expire.

Hybrids are more expensive than their non-hybrid counterparts. Thus, one effect of this policy is that the wealthy get to buy their way out of carpooling while those of us who can only afford reasonable cars either sit in traffic or do the right thing and carpool to get in the HOV lane. As with User Pays, economic inequality is exacerbated by government policy when it comes to hybrids and HOV lanes, allowing those with the means to buy their way out of dealing with public problems.

The whole idea behind a commonwealth is public solutions to public problems. Answers to our problems must be found and implemented together. When we let one segment of our society buy their way out of dealing with our collective problems, we divide our house against itself. And, as Lincoln said, that cannot stand.

How Development Works In Loudoun

The Washington Post's LoudounExtra has released their Community Guide for Loudoun County. It's full of great stuff, like articles on falling housing prices and special neighborhoods here in Loudoun. Worth taking the time to read is the article on how development and zoning works in Loudoun. This is an important thing to understand, as the Post points out: "County figures show, for example, that there are nearly 38,000 housing units in the pipeline -- units that developers haven’t started building but which already have a green light from county officials."
The first step is to understand that land development applications come in different forms, and the extent to which residents can affect the outcome will vary.

A developer whose plans are outside the scope of what the property’s zoning allows -- who wants to build a warehouse, for example, on land zoned for retail -- must apply for rezoning or a special exception. Those applications require public hearings, first before the Planning Commission and then before the Board of Supervisors, a process that makes it relatively easy for residents to learn about the project and to weigh in with questions or concerns.
Some developments require a change not only in the zoning ordinance but in the county’s comprehensive plan -- their density or their appearance doesn’t conform to the official county blueprint for a broad section of Loudoun. That means the project can’t go forward without a comprehensive plan amendment, or a CPAM, in the jargon of county planners and activists. That process, too, involves public hearings and public deliberations of the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors.

Other kinds of development applications don’t require a public hearing, and those are harder to monitor. In most cases, a property owner whose project complies with county zoning still needs to submit a site plan or subdivision plan to the county’s Department of Building and Development, which must approve it before a building permit can be issued. Keep an eye out for new signs -- the owner usually is required to post a notice on the property about the pending application. - LoudounExtra
The County Comprehensive Plan can be seen here (Leesburg Tomorrow has written about it before).

(Loudoun Comprehensive Plan - Land Use)

Basically, the greater a planned development deviates from the zoning and comprehensive plan, the greater input residents can have on it before it is considered by the Board of Supervisors. This is the role of the all-important County Planning Commission. The Commission consists of citizens appointed by the Supervisors to review and evaluate development applications for consideration by the Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission is responsible for evaluating applications against current zoning and comprehensive plan requirements and making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for approval or denial. Leesburg's representative on the Planning Commission (appointed by Supervisor Burk) is Gigi Robinson, a long-time Leesburg resident whose interest in, and knowledge of development questions in Loudoun is startling. The citizens of Loudoun have a great advocate on the Planning Commission in Gigi.

If you're wondering about construction already underway, you might find the answer in this brief summary.

So that is how development works here in Loudoun. The first step in making a difference is understanding how the system works. From there, you can start to get your voice heard in our government.

Congressional Democrats Act on Forclosures

Over the objections of Republicans who don't think the government should provide any help to the citizens, Democrats in the House of Representatives advanced a bill yesterday to provide help to cities and towns badly hit by the foreclosure crisis.
The measure would send federal loans and grants to cities and counties hit hardest by the housing crisis so they could buy and fix up foreclosed properties. It passed the Financial Services Committee 38-26, mostly along party lines.
The plan is aimed at complementing a broader housing overhaul package whose centerpiece would let hundreds of thousands of struggling homeowners refinance into more affordable, government-insured loans. That bill is expected to get a committee vote next week, and both measures are expected to move through the House the week after.

The bill approved Wednesday would provide $15 billion, half in loans and half in grants, to states with high foreclosure rates. Money would go to the most populous cities and counties based on their foreclosure rates, and to smaller towns that are severely affected. Low- and middle-income neighborhoods would be a priority and aid would be focused on the poorest people and those who had already lost their homes to foreclosure. - The New York Times
The House bill comes after action in the Senate has already been taken, and as a general consensus around how to help communities deal with the foreclosure crisis is emerging in the Democratic majority. The bottom line is that individuals and communities need to be put first, before tax bailouts to developers.

In spite of procedural hurdles and obstruction from Republicans, our Democratic Congress continues to work hard on the issues that are important to the American people. It's not glamorous and it's not easy, doing the work of the People in the People's House, but that's what the Democrats in Congress are doing. So support your local democratic candidate in November, and help recover American strength, one bill at a time.

Mark Warner's Campaign Launch

Not that it's a surprise to anyone, anywhere, but Mark Warner is going to launch his campaign for the U.S. Senate in Alexandria on May 5th. The party will be at The Carlyle Club at 7pm. The Governor is inviting anyone and everyone who might be curious to come by and hear what he has to say.

Gov. Warner is truly interested in talking to and hearing from his neighbors, the citizens of Virginia. There's a great example of this up on his campaign blog, from his visit to Loudoun and Leesburg last week.
Our friend, Sen. Mark Herring, assembled another 50 local business owners and community leaders for an informative question-and-answer session during lunch at Lightfoot Restaurant in downtown Leesburg.

Governor Warner asked the crowd for their support to go to the U.S. Senate to form a bipartisan coalition to produce real results on healthcare, energy policy, and economic competitiveness.

Afterwards, Governor Warner visited with merchants and customers along Leesburg’s quaint King and Market Streets. He greeted diners at the Leesburg Restaurant, and spoke about current economic conditions with the owners of Caulkins Jewelers and the Georgetown Cafe & Bakery.

We briefly stopped by the offices of the Loudoun Times-Mirror for a spontaneous interview, and then toured and spoke to residents at Falcon’s Landing, an upscale independent living facility in Sterling. -
It's a great thing to be able to support and vote for Gov. Warner in 2008.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Will There Be A Brokered Convention?

Chris Bowers may be the most savvy analyst of the primary currently writing anything, anywhere. Yesterday, he introduced a handy metric for guessing whether the fight will go "all the way to the convention." It's called the Brokered Convention Margin, or "CF Line," where "CF" is "convention fight."
With Clinton's victory tonight looking pretty solid, it is time to start looking at a metric I will refer to as the "margin of a brokered convention." The metric works as follows:

1. Take Obama delegates plus Michigan uncommitted delegates based on the results of the January 15th primary. This is Total #1.
2. Take Clinton delegates, plus Edwards delegates, plus Florida and Michigan delegates based on the results of their respective primaries. This is Total #2.
3. Minus Total #1 from Total #2, to reach Total #3. If Total #3 is greater than zero, Obama will win without a brokered convention. If the result is less than zero, then we are headed to a brokered convention.

Essentially, if the Total #3 is negative, this is the basic argument that Clinton will use to go all the way to the convention. It means that Obama can't reach 2,208 without a fight at the credentials committee. Right now, before we know the results of Pennsylvania, that figure is 1,774 minus 1,732, or plus 42. No doubt Total 2 (Clinton + Edwards + pro-Clinton Florida and Michigan delegates) will gain some ground tonight, probably a net of at least 16 delegates. So, we are pretty close to entering brokered convention territory, unless Obama can start netting more delegates. North Carolina is a good chance for Obama to win a bunch of delegates, and Indiana looms large as a major battleground on May 6th. - OpenLeft
Chris also has a thing or two to say about what a brokered convention might mean and look like. And as for the looming importance of the credentials committee, here's an explanation of that.
The credentials committee is composed of 186 members, twenty-five of whom have already been chosen by Howard Dean. The other 161 members come from the states, proportionally based on population. Every state and territory will have at least one member, and California will have the most with 17. Click here for a complete credentials committee allocation list. In every state, committee members are delegates to the national convention chosen by the presidential campaigns. The number of committee members each campaign is allowed to select is based on the popular results of the state in question. If, for example, state X has 4 members on the committee, and state X split 50-50 during the nomination contest, then each presidential campaign chooses two members from state X for the committee.

Because of this system, the composition of the credentials committee will itself be a pretty decent reflection of the performance of the two presidential candidates nationwide. - OpenLeft
So there you have it, a good summary of the process that remains to get us to a nominee, thanks to Mr. Bowers.

Now that is out of the way, can we talk about issues like housing, the economy, Iraq and healthcare?

Was the ICE Raid For Show?

The ICE raid on the Lansdowne Resort is smelling more funny each day. First, the raid happens in a time and place that has no tangible benefit for anyone. Then, the connected and powerful in Loudoun go out of their way to pretend it did not happen. Now there comes news that ICE itself seems to be making sure the raid was useless.
Many of the Latin American workers arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities at the exclusive Lansdowne Resort earlier this month have been released from custody, according to people who have spoken with several of those arrested.

Lisa Johnson-Firth is an attorney with Immigration and Human Rights Group LLC, representing five of the people detained on charges of possessing fraudulent immigration documents. She said April 18 that ICE released two of her clients and she was confident at least two more would be let go soon. Each, though, still faces deportation, she said. She also was told that other Lansdowne workers were released, many with “no bond” requirements placed upon them, but she did not know how many.

ICE did not respond to repeated requests for comment. - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
So what, exactly, did the raid accomplish? It cost taxpayer money to detain and process people. It cost Lansdowne Resort money in fines and lost work time. It cost our economy in lost wages and spending. It ginned up ire and bile in the community, exacerbating divisions between neighbors and neighborhoods. But other than these negative accomplishments, what good did it do?
Laura Valle, an advocate for the local immigrant community, said she has been providing translation services to three of the workers released by ICE.

They told her all but five of the 59 people arrested at Lansdowne have been let go. Those still under arrest, she was told, had been previously deported from the United States and had re-entered. - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
The complete lack productive results from the Lansdowne ICE raid makes one question its purpose.

The only thing that can be said about the raid is that it made people think that the government was "doing something" about undocumented migrants and the companies that employ them. It certainly gives the impression that ICE wants to be seen to be doing something without actually having to do something.

At one level this may be a marginal good thing, if it placates the anti-immigrant crowd and allows the rest of us to get on with our lives. But at another level, it is another data point in a frightening government trend: The Administration's Federal Government wants to be seen to be doing something rather than actually doing something. The Executive wants to be seen to be fixing New Orleans without actually having to fix New Orleans. The Treasury Department wants to be seen to be dealing with the mortgage crisis without actually dealing with the mortgage crisis. They want to be seen to be caring about the poor without actually doing anything to help the poor.

What we need is a government of actions, not appearances. If we're going to enforce immigration laws, then let's have a real debate about what is involved. Let's all talk about shifting resources from schools and libraries and spending our rainy day money to find and persecute an already-oppressed population. Let us evaluate the real costs and benefits of a full-enforcement policy.

Until we have that debate, and come to some kind of decision, let's step back from for-show raids that disrupt our lives and community, only to have the supposed "detainees" released a few days later. We already have an Attorney General in Virginia who likes to take credit where it isn't deserved, we don't need ICE doing it too.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

An Interlude: Blanguage

This is among the reasons that The Daily Show is must-watch Television. Is there another show on TV that could pull this off?

This has been your non-Pennsylvania progressive blog post of the night. Though I have to share this quote from my wife:

"I feel like both Hillary and McCain have the crazy eyes."

69% Disapproval, Dude

While there are many reasons that 69 is an excellent number, when it's your disapproval rating, it's not so good.
Earlier this month, I noted that George W. Bush's disapproval rating had finally topped Richard Nixon's worst, 67 percent to 66 percent. However, once in early 1952 Harry Truman's disapproval rating jumped up to 67 percent, meaning that Bush only tied for the lead for the greatest disapproval rating in modern history, according to Gallup (which started polling during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Well, now Bush has the ignominious honor of holding the title of the highest ever disapproval rating all by himself. - MyDD
It is almost as if The Executive looks at what the vast majority of Americans believe to be the right thing to do is, and they do the exact opposite. And still, 28% of Americans approve of President Bush. In an interesting parallel, only 28% of Americans believe that Bush's rebate checks will help the economy. And only 28% believe that America is heading in the right direction...wait, that was a poll from last April, the number is lower today.

Tristero offers this perspective on the remaining 28% approval.
You may think that sounds like very low approval but it's not. Actually, it's disturbingly high. Let me explain by way of an example.

You're driving down a highway, minding your own business. However approximately 28 of every 100 drivers hurtling towards you at 55 to 65 mph plus are so utterly unhinged from reality they actually think Bush is doing a good job. Your life is in their hands. - Digby's Hullabaloo
Another perspective is this graph from

If that graph were of an evening out with the guys, at this point friends would be saying to President Bush, "Hey man, we should get outta here, throwing that dart at the bouncer was a bad idea." How is it that no one in the Administration seems to be listening?

Oh right, what the American people think just doesn't matter to The Executive. I had forgotten.

My wife is a reasonable woman. I use her to calibrate my own political enthusiasm. There are times when I get all agitated over something, and my wife responds with the equivalent of her signature "meh." That is when I know I need a better argument, or the issue just isn't something that is going to resonate with people.

When we watched Dick Cheney reply, "So" to a question about public opposition to the war, she actually got angry. And that is why 69% disapproval matters. The sheer arrogance and disdain for the average American shown by this Administration has alienated so many people that it impacts our ability to function as a polity, with the people going in one direction and The Executive going in another.

Thank god we have elections to correct course.

John McCain Is Fabulous

John McCain lives a simply fabulous life.

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

What's Your Commute Like? [updated]

The NVTA is trying to stir up support for transportation funding by gathering images and videos of how bad commutes in northern Virginia can be. Below is a typical photo of the 15 North Bypass in Leesburg on a Friday evening around 6pm.

(the US 15 Bypass North, on a Friday)

As the image above shows, many main thoroughfares in northern Virginia are carrying traffic beyond their designed capacity at critical times. The ruling against the NVTA and repeal of the abuser fees means that nothing remains from the 2007 Transportation Bill to support our aging and badly overworked transportation system in northern Virginia.

The NVTA campaign is called "Piece of My Commute" and it has a presence on both Facebook and YouTube. The goal is to gather images of congested commutes and use them to lobby Richmond for a funding solution.
Give Virginia's Legislators a "Piece of Your Commute"

Northern Virginians, who are sick of traffic and gridlock, are encouraged to share their commuting nightmares with legislators by creating original content and uploading original video's to this group.

Northern Virginians are encouraged to share images of their daily commute and the impact that traffic and gridlock has on their job, business, family, environment and quality of life.

By using You Tube to urge Virginia's General Assembly to provide adequate and sustainable funding for transportation construction, maintenance and operations it is our hope that Virginia's legislators will take immediate action and find the funding necessary to ensure that Northern Virginia's economy continues to grow and thrive, ultimately benefiting the commonwealth and all Virginians.

This outreach campaign is organized by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA). - From the NVTA Facebook Page
So far, the uptake on this campaign has been limited. There are only 13 YouTube group members, and 26 Facebook group members. Nonetheless, we are a visual society, and the idea of using video and photographs to lobby for funding is probably a good one.

Of course, this begs the question as to whether a public authority, funded by tax dollars, should be leading a lobbying campaign in the first place. On the one hand, local governments lobby Richmond all the time. Since the NVTA is made up of representatives from local governments, this may be not different. On the other hand, it seems a little strange having a newly constituted state agency lobby for itself before the Assembly. We may have been better off if the "Piece of Your Commute" campaign had been run by an independent party.

Nonetheless, the images and videos the campaign gather will be excellent primary source data for future debates about snarl, sprawl and gridlock in Richmond and throughout the commonwealth. Go ahead and get filming, just don't do it while driving.

[update] Leesburg Tomorrow received a clarification from the NVTA on their lobbying of Richmond. It turns out that they were actually authorized by the Assembly to lobby the Assembly.
Hi Paradox13VA!

Thanks so much for following up on this!

By the way, according to Section 15.2-4840 of the Virginia Code authorizes the NVTA to serve as “an advocate for the transportation needs of Northern Virginia before state and federal governments.”

For the full link to the statute on the LIS: (See #9)

Thanks again!


Kala L. Quintana
Director of Public Outreach, Northern Virginia Transportation Commission
Interim Public Information Officer, Northern Virginia Transportation Authority
So there you go, it's their job to lobby for transportation money. Go fig.

Ratings Agencies and the Mortgage Industry

The New York times has a large expose in their Sunday paper about the failings of the ratings agencies when they started rating mortgage-backed securities.
By providing the mortgage industry with an entree to Wall Street, the agencies also transformed what had been among the sleepiest corners of finance. No longer did mortgage banks have to wait 10 or 20 or 30 years to get their money back from homeowners. Now they sold their loans into securitized pools and — their capital thus replenished — wrote new loans at a much quicker pace.

Mortgage volume surged; in 2006, it topped $2.5 trillion. Also, many more mortgages were issued to risky subprime borrowers. Almost all of those subprime loans ended up in securitized pools; indeed, the reason banks were willing to issue so many risky loans is that they could fob them off on Wall Street.

But who was evaluating these securities? Who was passing judgment on the quality of the mortgages, on the equity behind them and on myriad other investment considerations? Certainly not the investors. They relied on a credit rating.

Thus the agencies became the de facto watchdog over the mortgage industry. In a practical sense, it was Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s that set the credit standards that determined which loans Wall Street could repackage and, ultimately, which borrowers would qualify. Effectively, they did the job that was expected of banks and government regulators. And today, they are a central culprit in the mortgage bust, in which the total loss has been projected at $250 billion and possibly much more. - The New York Times
It is great that the Times is bringing this issue to the public's attention as reform options are considered in Congress. It is important to understand that the mortgage crisis is not a failure of government, but in fact a failure of the market which the government is being asked to fix. One party's philosophy says that it is an appropriate role of government to account for and mitigate market failures. The other party's philosophy says that government is the problem and should be drowned in a bathtub.

We've tried the drowning philosophy for a couple decades now, and all it's gotten us is ruined infrastructure, illegal wiretaps, torture and financial crises. Perhaps it's time for a change?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Leesburg Elections Are May 6th

The poll ran here for the past week or so was mostly to inform neighbors of the Leesburg Town elections coming up. What's interesting is that up until the last half-hour or so, everyone who had picked a date picked the correct date: May 6th. Then, with very little time left, two votes came in for the wrong date a week later.


It sounds like a reminder that Leesburg's Town Elections are Tuesday, May 6th is a good idea.

"User Pays" and Income Inequality

In the midst of Virginia's transportation funding debate, some well-informed voiced have been advocating a solution called "user pays." Jim Bacon may be the best proponent of this funding solution.
If the slogan of the old Byrd Machine was "pay as you go," the mantra for the 21st century should be "user pays." The unifying principle is very simple: There needs to be a direct connection between the demands citizens place upon the transportation system and what they pay. If, despite the abundant financing options available, money can't be found for a desired improvement, that's a pretty good sign that the project is economically unjustified and should not be built. - Bacon's Rebellion
Under Bacon's plan, a combination of tolls, impact fees and regional investment authorities would collect funds for roads from users of the roads. It seems like a fair enough solution, the users of services should have to pay for them. However, hidden inside this seemingly fair slogan lies a series of assumptions which are misplaced, and result in a new regressive tax.

A user pays system for transportation (which is another way of saying more tolls in more places for more roads) would significantly impact the people with the longest commutes and jobs that require going to worksites the most often. It would impact people with shorter commutes and work-time flexibility much less.

If a worker has a longer commute, it may be because that worker cannot afford a home closer to his or her job. Of course, there will be some who decide to live farther from work so they can enjoy other benefits, but all else being equal, the more money you make the better you can afford to live closer to you job. A user pays system, then, runs the risk of introducing even more costs onto people who have already demonstrated they cannot afford to live closer to their jobs.

Furthermore, if a job has frequent commutes, it means their work is probably fixed in place (i.e., it is less likely to be a "knowledge work" with flexible hours and work locations). Work fixed to a location is likely to be lower-earning than knowledge work. Thus, a user pays system runs the risk of disproportionately impacting those with lower-income jobs that require going into work. Meanwhile, those who can afford to work from home (and, perhaps, write treatises on the benefits of user pays) avoid the new costs even though they're better able to pay them.

At this point, a reader may ask "so what?" I will let Sen. Jim Webb explain the So What.
The most important--and unfortunately the least debated--issue in politics today is our society's steady drift toward a class-based system, the likes of which we have not seen since the 19th century. America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes.
This ever-widening divide is too often ignored or downplayed by its beneficiaries. A sense of entitlement has set in among elites, bordering on hubris. When I raised this issue with corporate leaders during the recent political campaign, I was met repeatedly with denials, and, from some, an overt lack of concern for those who are falling behind. A troubling arrogance is in the air among the nation's most fortunate. Some shrug off large-scale economic and social dislocations as the inevitable byproducts of the "rough road of capitalism." Others claim that it's the fault of the worker or the public education system, that the average American is simply not up to the international challenge, that our education system fails us, or that our workers have become spoiled by old notions of corporate paternalism. - Sen. Jim Webb, in The Wall Street Journal
Mr. Bacon proposes to add "paying for roads" to the list of things that only the lower and middle classes need do. A "user pays" system in our current environment would simply continue the exacerbation of income inequality in America. It would harm most those who must commute long distances because of their jobs and where they can afford to live. It would allow those who make enough to have work flexibility to "opt out" of funding roads which they themselves benefit from, since the same network of roads bring them their food and consumer goods, take their kids to school and allow fire and emergency services to speed their way to their house. It echoes the "only little people pay taxes" arrogance of a previous era.

Bacon's Rebellion advocates user pays as "the most economically efficient and environmentally benign scheme of all." In that statement is an artful dodge, because "economically efficient" is not the same as "economically fair." Economic efficiency, taken to its logical conclusion, means sacrificing the health and well being of families at the lowest end of the scale. Without major changes in the tax code, any user pays system would be merely another step along the path of two Americas, one rich and one poor.

(Neither is user pays particularly "environmentally benign." A sliding scale gas tax based on vehicle fuel efficiency would probably be more environmentally benign, since that would capture the cost of all driving, not just driving on roads with user fees.)

It is ironic that Bacon's Rebellion takes such a strong stance in favor of a regressive tax. This is the same commentator who said this about the 2007 abuser fees:
Needless to say, these sort of penalties are regressive and will have a severe impact on low and moderate income families (many of whom are minorities). How can the GOP claim that it is cares about low and moderate income families and minorities when it passes this type of legislation? - Bacon's Rebellion
Replacing abuser fees with user fees does little more than remove the letters "a" and "b" from the phrase. It will ultimately replace one regressive tax with another. Virginia needs comprehensive transportation funding reform, supported and paid by the entire Commonwealth. If the entire commonwealth benefits from the tax revenues generated by the economic engines of northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, then the entire commonwealth can pay to keep those engines running.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sen. Obama Knows Funny

Following on the wonderfully sardonic shoulder flick, Sen. Obama continues to show the importance of comedic putdowns in the arsenal of political discourse.

The Obama campaign is demonstrating again that they understand we're in a different kind of fight, and it requires different tools. Humor is a critical tool, one which can be used with deftness and startling effectiveness. In this case, to change the conversation, and turn the tables on those seeking to bury Sen. Obama. He is simultaneously rising above the fray while engaging in the battle. Nice.

Scramble on, Senator.

The Bush Administration's SCHIP Crime

It turns out that after The Executive fought tooth and nail to deny the extension of SCHIP last year, it went on from there to actively restrict states' abilities to extend the program on their own.
Under new guidelines issued Aug. 17, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will not approve any state’s SCHIP expansion to children in families with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level — $51,625 for a family of four — unless 95 percent of children in families below 200 percent of the poverty threshold already are enrolled in SCHIP or Medicaid.

State officials have said that the 95 percent standard has never been met by any state, a claim disputed by the administration.

The CMS guidelines also say that states must prove that no more than 2 percent of the kids targeted by an expansion had been “crowded out” of the private insurance market and into public coverage during the previous five-year period, and that cost-sharing under SCHIP is comparable to cost-sharing in private insurance plans.

Eight states have enacted laws authorizing SCHIP expansions above 200 percent of poverty that must win approval to receive federal funding. CMS already has rejected New York’s application to expand coverage from 250 percent of poverty to 400 percent, which precipitated Spitzer’s lawsuit threat. -
Not only was the Administration actively trying to deny health insurance to children in the future, it sought to reduce the existing health insurance protections for uninsured kids.

Funny thing about that - it was probably illegal.
The Bush administration violated federal law last year when it restricted states’ ability to provide health insurance to children of middle-income families, and its new policy is therefore unenforceable, lawyers from the Government Accountability Office said Friday.
In a formal legal opinion Friday, the accountability office said the new policy “amounts to a marked departure” from a longstanding, settled interpretation of federal law. It is therefore a rule and, under a 1996 law, must be submitted to Congress for review before it can take effect, the opinion said.

But Jeff Nelligan, a spokesman for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said, “G.A.O.’s opinion does not change our conclusion that the Aug. 17 letter is still in effect.” - The New York Times
So, it may be illegal, but the Administration does not care, it is going to do what it wants anyway. All sides seem to agree to run out the clock and see what happens in November, though that may not be the best thing for the country. But, if that's what's going to happen, it just increases the importance of what we can do in November.

There are thousands of reasons we need to change our leadership in Washington. Health insurance for kids is perhaps a small one, but it's an important one.

(Oh, and for folks who take issue with the "Crime" designation, please note that if overstaying your visa is a crime, then the same kind of regulatory rule violation by the Administration in SCHIP implementation is also a crime.)

The JJ Was Great

The LCDC JJ dinner on Friday evening was great. The turnout was incredible, and our Governors (Warner and Kaine) gave stirring speeches about the mission of Democrats in 2008 and beyond. We need to recover the strength and dignity of our county, and Virginia can lead the way.

My wife and I were able to meet and breifly talk to Gov. Warner, Gov. Kaine and Sen. Deeds. All three were gracious and happy to be there. They seemed to feed off the energy of 300 energized, Loudoun Democrats. We've come a long way in Loudoun County (a point which each speaker repeated) and we have just as much work to do to keep our majority and keep Loudoun on the right track.

Go Dems!

[update] Here's a photo of us with Gov. Warner. It was really great to meet him again. He has a rare ability to stir up a Democratic crowd even as he promises to reach across the aisle and work with responsible Republican colleagues in the Senate.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Loudoun County JJ Tonight

This evening is the Loudoun County Democratic Committee's Jefferson-Jackson dinner. It's an annual affair which raises funds for the Committee and allows elected officials and candidates to come to Loudoun and meet with local Democrats.

This year, the County is honored to have a bumper crop of prominent officials attending, including Gov. Kaine, Gov. Warner, Sen. Deeds and Del. Moran. I love these events, as they're not only an opportunity to talk to the leaders of our party and our state, but also a lot of fun. It should be interesting to see the turnout, expected to be high, and whether the impact of recent raid on the Lansdowne resort, where the dinner is to be held, is noticeable.

Perhaps more importantly, the dinner is an opportunity for us to show our support, in person, for our Democratic Supervisors. They stood up and took on a very difficult job and have made tough, responsible decisions for Loudoun. We owe the new leadership in Loudoun a debt of gratitude for being willing to run for a thankless job in a difficult time, and do the job with our future, not our past, in mind. That's probably among the reasons Kelly Burk is the honorary chair of the dinner.

We couldn't ask for a more beautiful evening to hold this event, and I couldn't hope for a more gorgeous date than my wife.

Builders Bail on Loudoun

LoudounStats is following a developing story about homebuilders bailing out on Loudoun.
Yesterday, I found out that KB Homes was pulling out of their Martin's Chase community in Loudoun County. Today, a fellow Loudoun County real estate agent, Heather Elias reports on her blog, LoCo Real Estate Musings that Equity Homes and Basheer & Edgemoore are also on the way out the door. - LoudounStats
There is often trouble when builders start getting out of town, fast. Homeowners can get stuck in half-built developments, which are magnets for vandalism and crime.
At the new community of Seapine Estates, street names like Sea Foam Drive and Shoreline Road are meant to evoke a feeling of coastal tranquility. Instead, the two dozen or so residents of this New Jersey Shore development, near Atlantic City, feel anything but peace. The Pennsylvania builder went bankrupt last summer and halted work, leaving open foundations, unfinished homes and empty streets that have invited outsiders to dump trash, spray graffiti and race cars. - Business Week
Two comments on the exit of Loudoun home builders immediately come to mind.

First, perhaps this means that some of the thousands of new houses put in the pipeline by the previous board won't actually get built. That could mean slower growth in County expenses, which would be a good thing (and, not incidentally, exactly what the new Board was elected to accomplish.) Of course, such a slow-down should be managed carefully to avoid the negative consequences to which it can tend. The Board of Supervisors, however, may have few tools at its disposal with which to manage the abandonment of development projects in this Dillon rule state.

Second, it's nice that corporations get a free pass to change their plans whenever they want. If the going gets tough, bail.

(South Park, "Dude, bail?")

Don't worry about it speculative homebuilders, as ever, responsible leaders will stand up and clean up the mess left behind.

Virginia's Road Funding Crisis

The Virginia Department of Transportation is circulating a roads funding plan which would drastically cut the amount of transportation money available to Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William in the next six years.
Under a revised statewide plan for transportation spending, Fairfax County would receive $54 million over six years, down from an estimated $96 million. The $24 million Loudoun County expected would be cut to $10.5 million, and Prince William County's share would decrease to $20 million from $36 million. Transit funding would be cut 10 percent. - LoudounExtra
As a perspective on what only $10.5 million over six years from Richmond means, the Town of Leesburg's Capital Project's Fund (i.e., roads and the like) was over $28 million for 2008. That means that Richmond's contribution to Loudoun's roads in the next six years will be only 37% of what the Town of Leesburg spent in 2008 alone under the DOT plan.
"These reductions will seriously challenge our ability to jointly move projects forward," VDOT Commissioner David Ekern said in a letter to local officials across the state. "Localities will have to make difficult decisions as to which projects are advanced in the secondary and urban systems."
Legislators are trying to come up with an alternative.

Meanwhile, high-priority projects that were to be built using transportation authority money have been removed from regional spending plans or delayed by years. For example, the widening of the Prince William Parkway and Route 1, designed for 2013, has been downgraded to an engineering study only. In Loudoun, the construction of the Route 7/Route 659 interchange has been pushed back five years. - LoudounExtra
Thanks to the collapse of the 2007 NTVA compromise, Richmond is failing to solve the transportation funding problems that plague northern Virginia, and in the face of an economic downturn, it is not likely a good solution will emerge before we have a new Governor.

In the meantime, if falls to localities to pick up the slack and fund their own fixes. Alternatively, we all continue to sit in traffic, using gas, polluting the air, and getting more frustrated every day.