Friday, May 30, 2008

An Interlude: Golf For Life

This one is for my mom and dad, avid golfers both.
Golf can be a good investment for the health, according to a new study from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet. The death rate for golfers is 40 per cent lower than for other people of the same sex, age and socioeconomic status, which correspond to a 5 year increase in life expectancy. Golfers with a low handicap are the safest. - ScienceDaily

Foreclosed Houses for Public Servants

It's interesting that many local jurisdictions such as Fairfax are looking to incorporate foreclosed houses in their affordable housing strategies. Loudoun has been urged to do the same.
Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William counties are among the area jurisdictions that have already started down the path of incorporating the foreclosed-home inventory into their overall housing strategies, with teachers, deputies and other government employees among the targeted beneficiaries.

Conceptually, the program has merit if Loudoun simply shifts existing resources-chiefly the Affordable Housing Trust Fund-to help qualified purchasers close on a deal. - Leesburg Today (editorial)
This is not a bad idea. Not a bad idea at all.
Why don't we give our teachers, firemen and police officers first dibs on foreclosed properties offered at auction? These properties are inherently more affordable than most otherwise available. And if there is a legal concern about a limited initial auction, why doesn't the county take some of its affordable housing funds and hire an employee whose sole job is to help teachers, police officers and firemen find and acquire foreclosed homes at auction? - Leesburg Tomorrow, "Homes For Our Teachers" August 25, 2007
It's great Leesburg Today likes the idea Leesburg Tomorrow had nine months ago, back when it might have done a little bit to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis of foreclosures now upon us.

[update] The idea of foreclosed homes for public servants has caught on widely. Check out LoudounStats, the Washington Post and the Loudoun Times-Mirror. I'm glad the idea is taking off, would that it had happened nine months ago...

Improving Downtown Leesburg

In a whirl of news and activity, the Downtown Improvement Association here in Leesburg presented its plans for Downtown to the Council last night. The presentation was the result of a year of effort, during which the Town reorganized itself to be more business-friendly and an election for Council saw very little mention of downtown issues during the campaign. Perhaps there is fatigue over the issue of downtown, considering the fact that nine different downtown studies have been done in five years.

The latest analysis and plan was done at the behest of the DIA by the Urban Land Institute.
ULI panelists found that the downtown Historic District faced many challenges, including a fragile commercial base and a weak retail sector. Panelists also surmised that downtown was not sharing in the prosperity of the surrounding area, including urban centers like Lansdowne Town Center. Burnett noted though that since the panelists have left Leesburg, Town Manager John Wells "has done and continues to do an outstanding job of looking at what's needed downtown and addressing it in a cooperative way. Some of what [the panelists] observed is behind us." - Leesburg Today
Isn't it great when one of the main points raised in a report becomes moot before the report is issued? In this case, the fact that Leesburg responded with alacrity to its perceived "business unfriendly" reputation.

The ULI's assessment that the downtown's prosperity was lagging is accurate and endemic. The solutions suggested do not address the root of the problem: people do not seem to want to visit the stores that are downtown all that often. The comments at the bottom of the Leesburg Today article illustrate this.

Still, the ULI report has some interesting observations.
"If you design downtown around people, not cars, you will attract people, not cars," Burnett explained. "People are starting to appreciate walking and pedestrian-friendly [areas] are really very important to us," especially given rising gas prices. - Leesburg Today
My wife and I do our best to walk as much as we can. Even having a little more than a mile to go to get downtown, the prospect of walking down King street from Ida Lee (for example) is less palatable than driving as the pedestrian walkways are not continuous and cars tend to speed up as they head out of town. There are other good ideas.
Burnett pointed to the Ten Great Places Theory, which states that infrastructure improvements will connect activity nodes in downtown and create multiple points of interest. With the notion of place making, Burnett said that downtown Leesburg should be an area where "not just shopping takes place." - Leesburg Today
This is a great idea. There is a "walk Leesburg" route that could go from Ida Lee to the WO&D (assuming sufficient pedestrian improvements), with interesting stops at places like the Courthouse, the Balch Library and the Loudoun Museum (for example). Perhaps a walking field trip of such a route with kids from local schools would entice local residents to explore downtown too.

So, how much would the recommendations from the DIA report cost?
Improvements proposed by the DIA amount to about $5.25 million. Burnett said these expenses would be shared by the town, county and local developers, but the town could also apply for grants to lessen the financial burden. If everything goes as planned, the improvements could be completed by 2013 or earlier, according to the DIA's proposed timeline. - Loudoun Times-Mirror
$5.25 million is not a huge amount of money, considering the capital improvements budget of Leesburg and the investments already made in local transportation (which should have been made by the state and County, but that's another post entirely). The report was accepted by the current Council, but decisions on what to do about it (i.e., what projects to fund) will be made by the next Council. It will be interesting to see whether the new Council makeup will impact the general and beneficial policies of measured physical improvements over time which the Council has followed for the past five years.

An Interlude: Great Pitch

Watch this video of a Japanese (I think) pitcher getting a strike. Perhaps the most interesting strike I've ever seen on video.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why Judy's Running

At a debate last week, Judy Feder explained why she's running for Congress. Here is that explanation.

Judy needs the Democratic nomination first in order to take on Frank Wolf in November, so please come out and support Judy in the Democratic primary on June 10th. It's one of the four elections in Leesburg this year.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where Do Conventions Come From?

Democratic Central is a great Virginia blog which provides historical context for many of the issues and processes we deal with today. Earlier this week, they provided an interesting bit of history, explaining where the National Party Convention comes from.
From 1796 to 1824, presidential and vice presidential candidates were nominated by caucuses of those in Congress. As the nation expanded westward in the 1820's, and as the old lions of the Republic died off, the homogeneity of those in the Congressional nominating caucus began to break down. The "Era of Good Feeling" that covered the administrations of James Madison and James Monroe (from 1808 to 1824) was over. Westerners backed Andrew Jackson, northerners backed John Quincy Adams, and southerners backed William Crawford of Georgia. When the choice of the Congressional nominating caucus -- Crawford -- was not elected, the caucus was effectively finished.

Early in 1827, Martin Van Buren began suggesting a national convention of Republicans to ensure Jackson's nomination. The idea did not take root right away; Jackson was nominated by state conventions and legislatures. The first national convention would occur after the election. - Democratic Central
That's the great thing about this series of tubes, the answer to some of these obscure questions is always out there, and usually explained in a engaging way by someone with passion on the subject.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Happy Birthday Judy!

Happy Birthday Judy!

Today, May 22nd, is Judy's birthday! Help us celebrate by signing up to volunteer. You can even volunteer from home by signing up to make calls with our new virtual phone bank feature Go to: and click on make calls from home! - The Feder Campaign
Another way you can help, of course, is by making a donation to her campaign. And, in case you're bored tonight, there is a Democratic candidates debate at NVCC.
There is no better time than the present to defeat Frank Wolf. Republicans fear a Democratic wave and with Gov. Mark Warner on the ballot this November, every downballot Republican is in serious jeopardy.

With that in mind, come watch as Democratic Congressional candidates Mike Turner and Judy Feder debate issues ranging from health care to the Iraq War Thursday, May 22 at the NVCC Loudoun Campus; Waddell Building.

The debate will be moderated by Del. David Poisson. A meet and greet is scheduled from 6 to 6:30 p.m. followed by the debate from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Stay for the social which will run 30 minutes following the debate.

For further information abou the debate, email
The Primary Election is on Tuesday June 10th - Loudoun County Democratic Committee
Go Judy!

Blogging Loudoun's Environment

There are probably plenty of people who know about Greener Loudoun and their blog, but I wasn't one of them until today. It is a great place to track the environment in Loudoun, and brims with great ideas for residents.

Go. Read.

VCU Gags Research Results

On the heels of UVA's hamfisted silencing of student speech, comes news of a far more sinister censorship at Virginia Commonwealth University. In this case, a Virginia university is trading its right to publish for corporate tobacco money.
On campuses nationwide, professors and administrators have passionately debated whether their universities should accept money for research from tobacco companies. But not at Virginia Commonwealth University, a public institution in Richmond, Va.

That is largely because hardly any faculty members or students there know that there is something to debate — a contract with extremely restrictive terms that the university signed in 2006 to do research for Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company and a unit of Altria Group.

The contract bars professors from publishing the results of their studies, or even talking about them, without Philip Morris’s permission. If “a third party,” including news organizations, asks about the agreement, university officials have to decline to comment and tell the company. Nearly all patent and other intellectual property rights go to the company, not the university or its professors. - The New York Times
Virginia is working hard to expand the capacity of its public institutions. The number of potential students is growing, as are the number of applicants. As a result, universities are looking for funding everywhere they can, as the Times article makes clear.
Philip Morris, based in Richmond, is a likely source for Virginia Commonwealth in its hunt for dollars from a finite number of corporations. Among tobacco companies, Philip Morris is the leader in investing in academic research. And for Virginia Commonwealth, expanding ties with its neighbor could produce other benefits like additional grants and support for other university functions. - The New York Times
At issue is less the source of the money than the terms that came with it and the secrecy with which those terms were held. For example, even the chair of the Faculty Senate at VCU was unaware of the contract terms. The terms from Altria by which VCU got this research money are very broad, broader than university guidelines for other funding sources. Very few researchers were aware that Altria had veto privileges over their publishing of data, an important consideration for all academic research.
A tenured scientist at Virginia Commonwealth, who would not be interviewed for attribution because he said he feared retribution against his junior colleagues, called the contract’s restrictions, especially the limitations on publication, “completely unacceptable in the research world.” - The New York Times
Whether or not this money is "tainted" by coming from a tobacco company is a policy issue that can be debated. But the constraints on publishing research that come with the Altria money are overbroad, and are likely to introduce a chilling effect on the research done at VCU. If a type of research likely to yield results considered proprietary and vetoable by Altria, that type of research is now less likely to be done. Regardless of the expansion of facilities and spots at VCU enabled by Altria's money, the reduction in the universe of what may be published is too high a price to pay.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Virginia's Late-Term Abortion Ban Overturned

Virginia is a battleground state in more than one way. While we do battle over candidates, we also do battle over policy on the most sensitive issues of the day. In this case, Virginia has one of the most strict bans on late-term abortions. That ban has been overturned as unconstitutional by an Appeals court.
A federal appeals court has ruled that Virginia's ban on late-term abortions, approved by the General Assembly in 2003 over objections from then governor Mark R. Warner (D), is unconstitutional.

In a ruling issued this afternoon, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said the procedures covered under Virginia's ban "imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to obtain an abortion."
The 4th Circuit, one of the most conservative appellate courts in the nation, initially struck down the Virginia law in 2005 because it lacked an exception to safeguard a woman's health.

But in 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on some types of late-term abortions. The Supreme Court then sent the Virginia case back to the 4th Circuit for further reconsideration. Arguments were heard in November.

In today's 2 to 1 ruling, the appellate court noted there are differences between the federal ban and Virginia's law as it relates to the types of procedures that are prohibited. - The Washington Post
There can be little doubt that the spectre of another fight over abortion will be raised in Virginia's 2009 races, if only to draw attention away from the fact that Republicans in the Assembly refuse to do anything about our transportation problems. The question is whether Virginia, a state whose demographics continue to change and moderate since the last time this was at issue, will sustain the kind of hard-line position on the abortion question that it has in the past.

A Universal Morality?

At its heart, political decisions often are reduced to moral principles. As society has progressed, questions which had previously been completely practical became political when infused with moral dimensions. This is how the world eliminated slavery, granted workers rights and continues to fight with the degradations imposed by poverty. An important philosophical question, now being investigated and clarified by hard science, is whether or not there is a universal morality.
Some morality researchers see parallels in the study of language, particularly the influential work of MIT linguist Noam Chomsky, who has argued that humans have an innate capacity for language and that all languages share common principles—a universal grammar. Could there be an analogous moral capacity in the human brain and a universal moral grammar? - Science Magazine, May 2008
Researchers have developed a "Moral Sense Test" to help answer this question.
The Moral Sense Test is a Web-based study into the nature of human moral judgment. How do human beings decide what is right and wrong? To answer this question, we have designed a series of moral dilemmas to probe the psychological mechanisms underlying our moral judgments. By presenting these dilemmas on the Web, we hope to gain insight into the similarities and differences between the moral judgments of people of different ages, from different cultures, with different educational backgrounds and religions. - The Moral Sense Test
While some researchers believe there are two main dimensions of morality, harm and fairness, others say there are five, adding the previously discussed dimensions of loyalty, respect for authority and purity. The leading advocate of the five dimension list (a professor at UVA, incidentally) has created his own test to measure how individuals weigh them.
He hypothesizes that all five exist in every culture but are emphasized to varying degrees. “I see them as being much like the five kinds of taste buds,” he says. “If you go around the world, the cuisines differ in how much they rely on each one.”
Although many liberals wonder why conservatives are so hung up on what types of sexual behavior are right and wrong, they have analogous hang-ups, often more symbolic than rational, about food that was processed in certain ways, or by people seen as either villains or victims. Haidt says he hopes the work will spur his colleagues, most of them two-foundation liberals like himself, to think beyond harm and fairness. - Science Magazine, May 2008
This research will begin to establish a scientific (as opposed to religious, spiritual or philosophical) basis for morality. Should science show that human beings are moral by nature, a result of evolution and biology, the impact on the "science versus religion" debate will be staggering. Science has already shown a potential neurological basis for belief in god, with evidence for a neurobiological basis of morality, religious belief becomes ever more a matter of faith and not rationality. This does not demean religious belief, on the contrary, it is faith in spite of doubt which defines true religion.

Time will tell whether there is a universal morality, but if there is, our debates over justice may start to resemble our debates over economics, in which we are discussing how to allocate and weight values (rather than money), and not whether the values themselves are at issue.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Immigrants Assimilating Faster

One of the most difficult arguments presented by the anti-immigration partisans is over the assimilation of new immigrants into the wonderful polity that is America. Never mind the fact that our ancestors successfully assimilated in spite of having major cultural and language differences with those who considered themselves natives, today's immigrants are somehow "different" and thus unable to assimilate. The argument from anti-immigrant positions is that the culture and language of the current crop of immigrants is just too different to be accommodated, and therefore we need to send them all home.

There's just one, major problem with the "they can't assimilate" argument: It isn't true.

As it turns out, America is doing a fantastic job of assimilating the newest wave of immigrants.
In general, the longer an immigrant lives in the United States, the more characteristics of native citizens he or she tends to take on, said Jacob L. Vigdor, a professor at Duke University and author of the study. During periods of intense immigration, such as from 1870 to 1920, or during the immigration wave that began in the 1970s, new arrivals tend to drag down the average assimilation index of the foreign-born population as a whole.

The report found, however, that the speed with which new arrivals take on native-born traits has increased since the 1990s. As a result, even though the foreign population doubled during that period, the newcomers did not drive down the overall assimilation index of the foreign-born population. Instead, it held relatively steady from 1990 to 2006.

"This is something unprecedented in U.S. history," Vigdor said. "It shows that the nation's capacity to assimilate new immigrants is strong." - The Washington Post
Thus, the trend of the past 200 years holds true. New immigrants come to America. There is a period of adjustment and discomfort as legacy residents and new residents figure out how to live together. Eventually, the average of what it means to be an American shifts a little bit towards the immigrants (or did you think that bagels and potatoes were staples of the Founders' diets?) and the new immigrants shift a lot towards American norms as their children grow older. It is remarkable that this happens every time, and yet every time, there are people standing up to claim it won't happen.

Perhaps the most interesting fact from this story is that the study was done by The Manhattan Institute, a think tank known for its conservative, corporatist agenda. I think Stephen Colbert might have said something about circumstances like that.

(with a tip-o-the-hat to Digby)

On Leesburg Election Turnout

Much has been made of the low turnout in the Leesburg town elections this month. For example, this is from an editorial in the Loudoun Times-Mirror last week.
While voter turnout was up through most of the county, it seems that in Leesburg, 92 percent of the town’s voters forgot they live in a democratic society. An 8 percent turnout rate is an inexcusable lack of civic interest.

We searched for reasons for the low turnout. Granted, it wasn’t a hotly contested race. The mayor ran unopposed and only four candidates campaigned for three open seats, without much controversy or negative campaigning.

But 8 percent? Are people really that busy? - The Loudoun Times-Mirror
Leesburg Today even made low turnout the lead in one story on the elections. The same Leesburg Today story, however, gets to the heart of the low turnout with a cogent observation from Leesburg's Mayor.
"When people are seeing lower tax bills I think that takes away the enthusiasm to throw people out of office," Umstattd said. "The town is really well run and people seem to be happy with the way it's run." - Leesburg Today
It is interesting that so many people hail the decline in turnout with wailing and gnashing of teeth, as a sign of the decline of our Democracy, when it may be evidence of the very success of our system. It is when people are not hot and bothered that they can not bother with voting. Low turnout may be as much a sign of satisfaction as apathy. In the case of Leesburg, one of the best run municipalities around, it seems much more likely that the voters saw no compelling issue at odds with the general happiness with the Town most felt, and as a result, declined to vote.

We would do well to take the worries and complaints over Leesburg's turnout with a grain of salt, and evaluate the Town on its actions and results, not necessarily on the number of voters who participate in the elections. After all, the purpose of a representative government is to delegate responsibility for dealing with administration and decision making to a subset of the community so the rest of us can get on with our lives.

(An ironic outcome of this year's election is that candidate Tom Dunn received the fewest votes of the candidates elected to council in the lowest turnout election in memory on a platform of greater voter turnout. Had turnout been higher among some constituencies, it might be that Frank Holtz, and not Tom Dunn, would be the newest council member.)

Mayor Umstattd gets the last word.
"I think the reason we're seeing lower turnouts is a higher percentage of the voting population is probably professional couples, both of whom work and commute and have long hours, and may have problems getting back to vote on time," Umstattd said. "The fact that Leesburg has a lot of busy families may contribute to it. This might be the future of town elections." - Leesburg Today

Monday, May 19, 2008

There Will Be Awayness

It's likely that the number of posts this week will be greatly curtailed due to the fact that I will be travelling.

Fear not, dear readers, given the dearth of eventful news from Leesburg in the papers this week, it looks like our local society will be in good hands without snarky commentary for a few days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A Bit of Battlefield Opens

A small but important part of the Battlefield Parkway corridor opened this week.
Several town representatives gathered with members of Keane Enterprises, the developer of the Oaklawn community at the intersection of Battlefield Parkway and Miller Drive in Leesburg to mark the opening of several new roads, including Battlefield Parkway from Sycolin Road to the Dulles Greenway, Miller Drive from the Greenway to Tolbert Lane and a new interchange on the Greenway. - Leesburg Today
There are now two exits for Leesburg off the Greenway, which should free up a little bit of the traffic on the Rt 15 Bypass coming from that road. It also adds another piece to the critical ring road that will be the completed Battlefield Parkway.

Like the Wegmans/River Creek Interchange, this important road improvement was the result of a negotiated proffer. In this case, one with Keane Enterprises, as part of the approved, mixed-use Oaklawn development.

Oaklawn Master Plan

Oaklawn is a 165 acre mixed-use project in Leesburg, VA located at the interchange of the Dulles Greenway (Rt 267) and Battlefield Parkway (Rt 654). The project is zoned a combination of PRC (planned residential community) and PEC (planned employment community) and approved for 326 residential units (being developed by Pulte Homes), 1.0 million SF of office, 130,000 SF of retail, and a 150-room hotel. - Keane Enterprises
While it will be nice to have the new interchange, exit and roads, the additional houses this will bring to the already soft Leesburg market will not be welcome for many of the folks trying to sell their homes. The hotel and office space, however, represent a great addition to the Leesburg market, given their location right off the Greenway. That is one of the reasons this site is one of the finalists for Loudoun's new government office complex.

On balance, this development and the roads and businesses it brings is beneficial to Leesburg, and is just one more example of good development, done right, under the aegis of a Town Council willing and able to make good development decisions.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

An Interlude: Quoth Digby

For those traveling into and out of the U.S., and for those concerned with the impact of U.S. travel policies on American international business, Digby offers this pithy observation about officials in our airports.

"Petty bureaucrats at your car insurance company are one thing. Petty bureaucrats with guns and police powers are another. It's just not a good idea." - Digby

As with all things Digby, the entire column is well worth the read.

Michael Farris and The Plague Presidency

I remember people on the left talking in 2000 about how a term of George W. Bush as President might do the country good in the long run, by teaching the consequences of not pushing harder for the environment or other causes. The theory goes that a few years of horrible government would wake the country up again, and set us back on the right path in 2004. It was a terrible rationalization for the debacle of 2000, and has done our nation much harm by giving some an excuse for apathy when the nation needed action.

It is with that perspective that I read this.
According to this activist, at the heart of the let-Obama-win movement is longtime Virginia conservative leader Michael Farris -- the nation's leading home-school advocate, who is now chancellor of Patrick Henry College (in Purcellville, Va.) for home-schooled students. Best known politically as the losing Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993, Farris is regarded as one of the hardest-edged Christian politicians. He is reported in evangelical circles to promote the biblical justification for an Obama plague-like presidency. - Robert Novak
On the one hand, I'm happy to hear that Mr. Farris has embraced the majority of his neighbors in Loudoun by promoting the candidacy and election of Sen. Obama. On the other hand, it turns my stomach a bit to think of a fellow neighbor with a following as strong as Farris characterizing an Obama presidency as a plague.

Here in Loudoun, we encapsulate the contradictions that are the American character. We have the high tech economy and international worldview of Dulles, the rural grandure of Blue Ridge along with the close minded xenophobia of the Supervisor from Sterling and the messianic worldview of a school in Purcellville. That's why it is so important that we fight for the future of Loudoun at every turn, in doing so we help fight for the future of America.

It is sometimes easy to forget that in our midst are ideas and philosophies that will not accommodate reality. Philosophies that, in fact assume that reality itself is coming to an end, perhaps in our lifetimes. And it is easy to miss the fact that this philosophy has been seeded throughout our government over the past eight years. When leaders of the Christian right talk about "plagues" it is not a reference to a superflu, it is a apocalyptic statement referencing the end of the Earth as described in Revelation, an end these folks actively seek!

While the other side sees an Obama Presidency as a plague signaling the end of the world, others know better. An Obama Presidency would signal a return to responsible, accountable government and active efforts to deal with the real problems we face, instead of ignoring them because, hey, the world is going to end anyway.

Mr. Farris and others would do well to remember the words of Jesus himself, "do unto others as you want them to do unto you."Or, perhaps, more importantly, "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man."

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

Forgive College Loans

The economy has been in the news a lot lately. The debates over whether or not we're in a recession (we are) and whether or not inflation is rising (it is) belie the reality of the situation for most Americans: Americans' incomes are not keeping up with costs, even while the wealthiest do great. The economic stimulus package passed by Congress is sending checks out to just about everyone, but there is a real question as to how much good that will actually do.

In order for government money to do good, it needs to be targeted and monitored. Blithely issuing checks to everyone is neither. Even as we struggle through this economic downturn, talk turns from time to time to an additional stimulus package from Congress. Before we rush ahead with another round of checks, perhaps we would do well to examine how to do the most good, for the least cost in stimulating the economy. A good economic stimulus option would be one that requires no additional outlay of Federal money, but yields more money in the pockets of Americans likely to use it.

There is debt that the Federal Government owns, which could be forgiven by Congress with a simple act, which would put money, every month, in the pockets of people likely to need and use it: Federal college loans. In 2007, for example, about $39 billion in Federal college loans were issued. These college loans represent a significant drain on the budgets of people who have graduated from college in the past fifteen years, a time when tuition was rising significantly, but grant-based aid was drying up. For the most part, these people are good risks. They have jobs, houses and young families. Similarly, these are people who often have been caught by the mortgage mess when buying their first homes. Forgiving at least a portion of their college loans would free up money each month for any number of things, and perhaps even marginally reduce the number of houses going into foreclosure.

Congress should pass legislation forgiving a portion of outstanding Federal college loans as its next economic stimulus package. Such a plan would have only a marginal impact on short and medium term government revenue, with a multiplied, beneficial effect on a portion of society likely to need and spend the money.

There are thousands of Americans who start college but never finish, and yet have college loans still outstanding, hanging over their heads. This plan would help them as well, by giving them a chance to get out from under debt from which they received little or no benefit. Furthermore, it creates incentives to go to back college, especially for the 2-year Associates Degrees that appear to have a significant impact on income, relative to their cost.

The government at many levels has already taken steps to forgive some college loans, so this is not a new idea. Rather, it is an idea that has worked at the lower level, which can - and should - be implemented nationally. Instead of sending checks, the government should reduce the debt of younger taxpayers. After all, these are the people who we're depending on to keep Social Security solvent and grow the economy for the future.

This is a simple plan, easily implemented which could be enacted quickly and have great benefits for relatively low costs. Hopefully someone in Congress will stand up and do it.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Interlude: Seinfeld

Seinfeld went off the air ten years ago today. This thought makes my joints ache. - DailyKos

"Urban" Sterling Park?

The Board of Supervisors has been doing outreach in eastern Loudoun, listening to residents concerns and having a conversation about where eastern Loudoun has been going. This initiative was pushed by our Democratic supervisors with the support of the majority of the Board.

Chairman York has been reporting on these conversations, and made an interesting observation and clarification in his last constituent update.
Lastly, I would like to thank Supervisors McGimsey, Buckley, Waters, Miller, Kurtz, Burton and Burk for supporting this effort. Only the Sterling District Supervisor [Eugene Delgaudio] did not support this initiative. Unfortunately, he has resorted to misinformation saying once again that Sterling Park was being planned for urban residential densities. This is absolutely not true. There has NEVER been a motion within the Board of Supervisors, in the 13 years that I have been on the Board, that ANYONE has EVER recommended or made a motion for any of the Sterling District to be an Urban Center. “Urban” is a designation for the Dulles Town Center Project ONLY. It is not even close to the magnitude of the Reston Town Center. Furthermore; it doesn’t even come close to the 22 units per acre that Supervisor voted for within his own district last year. - Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York
Eugene Delgaudio is spreading misinformation about the approved density in his district even as he voted for higher density in his district.

Just to be clear, there are no plans to increase the density of development in Sterling Park. Period. If you hear otherwise, someone is trying to frighten you into acting against your best interests. Our Board of Supervisors is committed to protecting the quality of life in all of Loudoun's Districts, and that is what they're doing, every day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

A Potomac Conservation Milestone

The forces of conservation advanced a small yard today here in Loudoun. The Cox Farm, a large farm in Lucketts on the Potomac, has placed its development rights in a conservation easement, insuring it will remain undeveloped for future generations.
A land preservation group last week announced an agreement with the owners of a 371-acre farm on the Potomac River near Lucketts that will protect the historic property from development.

The farm, which includes agricultural land, forests, streams, rare wildlife habitat and one mile of undeveloped river shoreline, belongs to Steve Cox and Avis Renshaw, owners of Mom’s Apple Pie Co., a bakery chain with stores in Loudoun, Fauquier and Prince William counties. - LoudounExtra
This is an important development for three reasons.

First, it helps maintain and preserve the important feeder systems for the Potomac watershed here in Loudoun. The long-term health of our water and our communities are dependent on streams and shorelines along with open land and trees. It's not just pretty and good for land values, open land helps the health of our water supply as well. It's only one mile of Potomac shoreline, but every little bit counts.
“It’s something I wanted to do for many years,” said Cox, 60. “I thought a special horticulture operation, including . . . almost impossible-to-procure products like good blackberries and strawberries, could become a poster child for conservation.

“There are some places on the farm that are so delicate you shouldn’t even have a path through them,” he added. - LoudounExtra
Second, it preserves land of historic consequence. The Cox farm contains the point at which elements of the Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac during the Antietam campaign of 1862.
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, based in Annandale, said Cox and Renshaw have agreed to place the property in a conservation easement held by the trust. The farm is known as the place where the Confederate army forded the Potomac on its way to the Battle of Antietam during the Civil War.

“The Cox Farm easement is a real milestone because it is a property that combines ecological resources with historic resources with sustainability,” said trust President Mike Nardolilli. “It has great ecological benefits being on the river, it has a great historical significance because of the march by Lee to Antietam, and it’s also important because it preserves a local farm. - LoudounExtra
Third, it lends itself to the "eat locally" movement, which is gaining steam and acceptance in Loudoun. If Loudoun is able to preserve working farms that grow great produce even as we build out the developments approved over the past four years, we will limit the impact of those homes by providing local options for food and preservation of key ecosystems.

This is a great win for future generations of Loudoun's citizens, and the efforts to preserve and embrace Loudoun's unique character and history. While the Cox's will get some tax benefits from the agreement, they are to be commended for their willingness to act today for tomorrow's benefit.

Hopefully, the news of this grant will spur other farms and landowners in Loudoun, especially those with land on critical watersheds, to take similar steps. Given the criticality and fragility of our local water supply, it seems to be a wise use of the land.

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(Loudoun's watersheds, courtesy of the Loudoun County Website)

Perhaps our Assembly delegation and Board of Supervisors could bring attention to programs like these. There is a win-win-win to be had for many property owners complaining about their taxes this year. By placing their land in a conservation easement, they would gain tax benefits, perhaps offsetting some of the taxes large landowners owe this year. Furthermore, it would help accomplish the single most important goal our current Board was elected on - slower, managed growth. Large tracts of land placed under conservation easements would guarantee limited development in the future, preventing Boards down the road from overturning a reasonable, managed, planned approach to development here in Loudoun. Finally, with the end of the housing boom in Loudoun, conservation easements may be the best option for many large landowners in Loudoun who see the assessed value on their land increasing even as the potential buyers for it dry up.

In the ways that matter, placing large farms in conservation easements may be the best, fairest way to achieve smart growth in Loudoun, and ensure all generations here will enjoy the quality of life we do.

The Choices Loudoun Makes

Browsing the Opinion page of Leesburg Today provides an interesting perspective on the people of Loudoun County. On the very same page we can find letters bemoaning the increase in fees for childcare at County facilities and letters complaining about property tax increases. It may be the case that some of our neighbors do not quite understand the relationship between the taxes they pay and the services they receive.

If a government at one point in time chooses to reduce revenues and increase costs, then that self-same government is going to have to increase revenues and decrease costs later. That's just how it works. In the past eight years, Loudoun has swung from keeping revenues artificially low and financing a lot of capital improvements through bonds to today, where the ongoing costs of maintaining the improvements made during the previous government have caught up to us, and the current Board of Supervisors has been forced to find new revenue and reduce spending on many County services.

As taxpayers and voters, we all have the right to complain to our newspapers and elected officials about things that bother us. But when we want both our cake, and the ability to eat it too, the complaints sound less like valid concerns and more like griping because we cannot have it all.

For those complaining about reductions in County services and maintenance in some areas, please recall that it would have only taken a few votes on the Board of Supervisors to pass a $1.15 rate, and perhaps preserve services at prices that are now found to be so critical. For those griping about the increases in their tax bills since four or five years ago, please remember the benefits you enjoyed from four or five years of fiscal irresponsibility at the County level without complaint. If you were truly concerned about the ultimate results, there was ample opportunity to advocate for greater financial responsibility during those past four or five years.

We are all in this together, we are all paying the price of Loudoun's choices during the period from 2002 through 2007. We are all seeing our costs increase, even as our services are limited. But this is what happens when politicians promise bread and circuses while building and developing without putting into place mechanisms for recovering the ongoing costs that accrue from that development. We, the voters of Loudoun, made the choice for irresponsible fiscal management by voting for and sustaining a government dedicated to it, and we, the voters of Loudoun, must take responsibility for our actions and inaction.

We must stand up, pay our bills, and show that we are responsible adults. Otherwise, we are no better than those officials who promised the moon only to deliver dust.

It's Not Only Traffic...

It's not only traffic that proves we need transportation help in Loudoun. How about when it rains, a lot.
List of Closed/ Restricted Roadways Experiencing High Water or Flooding

Alder School Road between Purcellville Road and Route 287- Restricted
Turneysville Rd at Harper's Ferry Rd- Closed
Branchriver Rd at Harper's Ferry Rd- Closed
Rt 606 Eastlanes at the Greenway is down to one lane due to high water
Lincoln Rd btwn Forest Mills Rd and Hughesville Rd due to high water- Closed
Lincoln Rd/ Forest Mill Rd- Closed
Crooked Bridge Lane (South of Lime Kiln Road)- Closed
Lime Kiln Road at Several Points West of Route 15
Watson Rd/ Evergreen Mills Rd-Closed
Aldie Damn Road- Closed
Route 50 Champe Ford Road- Closed
Route 792 - Closed
Route 773 at Edward Ferry Road- Closed
Route 653 at Shreve Mill Road- Closed
Route 652- Closed
SNICKERSVILLE TPK / HIBBS BRIDGE- Closed - Loudoun County Sheriff's Office
And then there's the most critical north/south corridor in central Loudoun, Rt. 15.
Due to flooding Route 15 will be closed southbound from Leesburg and northbound
from Gilbert's Corner to through traffic.

The Louduon Sheriff's Office reminds motorists to never drive across a flooded
roadway. - Loudoun County Sheriff's Office
As the deliberations over Gov. Kaine's proposed tax package begin, our legislators would be wise to remember that every week lost is a week more of erosion, traffic and pollution in Loudoun.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Neuroscience of Justice

How does the human mind evaluate justice? This is an important question for understanding how people will decide to act in a society and vote in a polity. Science is beginning to dig into these interesting questions. A study at the University of Illinois asked subjects to allocate a scarce number of meals to Ugandan orphans.
Every decision pitted efficiency (the total number of meals given) against equity (how much the burden of lost meals was shared among the children).

One could choose to take 15 meals from a single child, for example, or 13 meals from one child and five from another. In the first option the total number of meals lost would be lower. Efficiency would be preserved, but one child would bear the brunt of all the cuts. In the second option more children would share the burden of lost meals but more meals would be lost. The equity was better -- but at a cost to efficiency.

"This dilemma illustrates the core issues of distributive justice, which involves tradeoffs between considerations that are at once compelling but which cannot be simultaneously satisfied," the authors wrote. - ScienceDaily
What's interesting is that these experiments showed that people, generally, value equity over efficiency. This is not the kind of finding that those in favor of markets and competition over all like to hear (and will further exacerbate the conservative aversion to science).
In these trails, subjects overwhelmingly chose to preserve equity at the expense of efficiency, Hsu said. "They were all quite inequity averse." The findings support other studies that show that most people are fairly intolerant of inequity. - ScienceDaily
What's interesting is that this study of the brain corroborates some elements of an economic study from last year, which showed that people were willing to be taxed (to a certain degree) to acheieve greater income equality.
Applying their model to pre-existing survey data, the authors found that, on average, people are willing to sacrifice about 20 percent of their disposable income to live in an equitable society - but they also found that the value a person places on equity is substantially affected by their race and educational background. - ScienceDaily
It just goes to show that in circumstances absent interference, people prefer justice and equity, not competition and inequity.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

John McCain's Apcalpytic Friends

John McCain continues to court the support and endorsement of people with a messianic view of the endtimes which advocates world war between America and everyone else.

When you combine his endorsements from Rod Parsley and John Hagee with his too-candid admission that he wouldn't mind being in Iraq for 100 years, a very frightening picture of an apocalyptic fanbase for the McCain candidacy appears.

Friday, May 9, 2008

And Interlude: Abraham Lincoln

On The Daily Show, John McCain mentioned that he was proud and humbled to have the nomination of the party of Lincoln. John Stewart stopped him short, and said, in effect, that Lincoln would not have recognized the party he helped establish.

To that, some words from our greatest President are worth considering.
But you say you are conservative - eminently conservative - while we are revolutionary, destructive, or something of the sort. What is conservatism? Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried? We stick to, contend for, the identical old policy on the point in controversy which was adopted by "our fathers who framed the Government under which we live;" while you with one accord reject, and scout, and spit upon that old policy, and insist upon substituting something new.
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. - Abraham Lincoln, Cooper Union Address
What, indeed, is a conservatism that insists on warrantless wiretapping, endless war abroad, and torture? What, indeed, is a party which spits on the ideals and rules that our founding fathers held so dear?

Loudoun's Traffic Needs Shortchanged

The ramifications of the transportation impasse in Richmond are becoming clearer every day. Even as inordinate amounts of time and energy are spent on Rail to Reston, transportation projects for Loudoun are being dropped and funding for County maintenance is eroding.
After some of the funding sources that previously beefed up the state's transportation budget were done away with-the abusive driver fees by the General Assembly and regional fees and taxes by the Supreme Court of Virginia-VDOT is required to cut expenditures by 44 percent. This meant goodbye to funding for some projects, including about $19 million needed to construct the Rt. 7/Rt. 15 Bypass widening and Sycolin Road Overpass project. The project, which will cost $43 million in all, can be designed and if funding is restored in the next few years, should still be able to move to construction.
Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) told supervisors that, during the May 1 meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, she learned that a portion of the General Assembly's approved budget calls for maintaining the local level of support for transit. The budget provision means that Loudoun could lose $164,000 of its state funding. Burk said she brought the change to the attention of the Office of Transportation Services, which is working to figure out the exact implications for Loudoun.

"It is important that we get this straightened out so that we are not losing this $160,000," Burk said. - Leesburg Today
The Sycolin flyover is a critical project for fixing the problems on the US15 Bypass. That phrase, "if funding is restored" makes me very nervous. We do not have a few years to wait on that project. It may be the case that Leesburg and Loudoun will fund and build that project themselves (after all, three winning Leesburg candidates ran on the Sycolin overpass issue), yet again stepping in to do the job that Richmond is unable to do.

We can have debates over settlement patterns and road widening, but the fact remains that our current road network is being used above capacity, and there is no indication that demand for roads is going to decline. While Loudoun's residents sit in traffic, adding pollution to our air and increasing maintenance costs for the roads, many pundits dicker over whether there should be a suburban option for lifestyles. It is all well and good to decry the subsidies and decisions that got us where we are, but it is the responsibility of our elected leaders to solve our problems, not admire them.

It's a testament to how our Supervisors are looking out for the voters and taxpayers of Loudoun that the missing $164,000 was noticed in time to - perhaps - do something about it.
In their statement to the transportation board, supervisors wrote that it is "very disconcerting that in the face of tremendous need for transportation improvements, and the promise of increased statewide funding from the 2007 General Assembly, we are unfortunately back to where we were in 2006."

Supervisors made it clear that state leaders must create more funding sources for road improvements, as Loudoun has several projects that haven't even been introduced for the plan because of money constraints. Loudoun is using local road bonds to pay for the design of three interchanges. - Leesburg Today
Let's just hope that the something the Assembly does is progressive rather than regressive.

It is very frustrating for those of us living in Loudoun to be included in all the negative aspects of northern Virginia (stereotypes from elsewhere, traffic, sprawl, long commutes), while missing out on the positive aspects of that designation (proximity to DC, metro and public transit, clout in the state senate). Even the most vaunted project of all, "Rail to Dulles," does nothing for Loudoun. Bringing rail to Reston will only create more commuters from Loudoun to Reston, further clogging Waxpool, the Greenway, 7 and 28. While Loudoun's portion of state capital transportation funding dwindles to less than the Town of Leesburg spends in a few years on its roads, the economic engine that is the population of Loudoun's capacity to work and spend roars on, providing some flexibility for the budget negotiators to work with.

It is clear that Richmond is not going to fix the problems we've had with transportation funding since 2002 without more changes in who is in charge in the Assembly. That means electing a Democratic majority in the House of Delegates next year willing and able to make the tough and responsible decisions about Virginia's transportation needs. It means working with our elected officials in Richmond to make sure that Loudon, and our neighbors in Fauquier and Prince William are not forgotten in the race to slice up the transportation pie.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

We Need To Keep Fighting FISA

The telecom companies and their allies are trying to sneak telecom immunity by us while we're not looking. There are negotiations in Congress as to "how" to pass immunity for companies that willfully and illegaly spied on us.

That means that Sen. Leahy is once again leading a the battle of the people to put pressure on his fellow Senators.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a strong and balanced FISA bill, legislation that protects America's national security while defending civil liberties -- without granting retroactive immunity to phone companies. Retroactive immunity would abet the Bush-Cheney Administration's efforts to avoid accountability for its actions.

This was a tremendous accomplishment -- and would not have been possible without the hard work of engaged citizens. Together, we have already sent 1,724 letters to the editors of newspapers in support of a fair FISA bill!

But there's still much work to do. Now that the House has passed a fair FISA bill, it's time to turn our attention back to the Senate.

Urge the Senate to support the House’s strong and balanced FISA bill -- forward an email to your Senators now!
Our victories on telecom immunity over the past year have been hard fought, and we need to keep up the pressure and energy. Click the link and email your Senators today.

What Does Middle Class Mean?

Every politician and official wants to "fight for the middle-class." But what does it mean to be "middle-class?" Is middle class the middle 50% of incomes? If so, then there are a lot of people reading this blog who are not, in fact, middle class but are rather "upper class" or even "wealthy," though we probably do not think of ourselves that way.
Based on 2005 Census Bureau reports, some 40 percent of the nearly 115 million households in the U.S. earned less than $36,000 a year. That represented just 12 percent of all income. The 40 percent on the next rung up the economic ladder took in between $36,000 and $91,705 — or about 37.6 percent of all income. The top 20 percent, who made $91,705 or more, collected half of all income. -
Because of the dichotomy between what "middle-class" means to people in Farmville versus people in Middleburg, it might be useful to determine whether there is a metric that can be generally agreed upon, but is subjective enough that it maximizes the comfort with which people can use it.

I propose that the middle-class can be defined as households who notice and are impacted by inflation. Specifically, people who hear that core inflation is x "when discounting volatile food and energy prices" and say, "you cannot discount food and energy prices, those are the ones where inflation hurts the worst!" This framing accounts for differences in relative incomes across regions, cost of living and other factors which lead to the different perceptions of "middle class" across locations.

I think that people who are middle-class generally absorb core inflation pretty well by changing their choices on a weekly or monthly basis, but when food and energy prices start spiking, the middle class gets hit very hard. Upper classes can absorb changes in these costs must more easily because they represent a much lower percentage of their household budgets, whereas middle-class folks still expend a significant portion of their household budgets on food and energy. None of this is to discount the even tighter squeeze felt by the lower classes from food and energy price increases. On the contrary, they're the ones who are hurt the worst. If you lose your job and cannot afford gas to find a new job, that is simply awful and we need to do something about it.

The definition of middle class proposed here is to help differentiate "middle-class" people who do not have to change their Hummer driving habits when gas is at $3.70 from "middle class" people who try to drive their Accords less at that price. It's not reasonable, to me, for the Hummer driver to call themselves "middle-class" because they're not dealing with the same problems as the Accord driver who worries about going to visit their mom on the weekend because of gas.

This is the real elitism argument to be made in this year's elections. The inflation number is right there on the news every month, and is wonderful rhetorical fodder. You cannot ignore volatile food and energy prices if you're middle class, but the wealthy can. Or at least, that's just how I see it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Howard Dean for Vice-President?

With the results of last night's primaries, much of both the punditocracy and blogosphere has decided that the race is over and Obama will be the nominee. While this is not actually the case, it does open the next stage in political debate and prognostication, the Veepstakes.

There's a lot of buzz here in Virginia for Jim Webb and Tim Kaine, and there's no doubt that the two of them are candidates worth consideration. But there's a nationally-recognized name which would fire-up the base and the blogosphere, and who has credibility far and wide in corners of the country long-ignored by the Democratic Party whose name has not been mentioned: Howard Dean.

Why not Dean for VP?

First, he knows how to go on TV and make a case. He did it on Fox and he did it on The Daily Show. After his overwrought "booyah!" in Iowa in 2004, he dedicated himself to party-building and image fixing, while keeping true to the idea that Democrats should be proud to be Democrats.

Second, Howard Dean has been vetted by the national media and by voters, having run in 2004 and spent the past four years in the spotlight as DNC chair. We probably know as much about him as we do about Sen. Obama at this point

Third, Gov. Dean has executive experience, not only running a state, but running the DNC. As a Governor, he achieved health care reform in Vermont, and was extremely popular. His DNC is also an important thing to consider when we realize that Sen. Obama has run his campaign largely outside the traditional power structures of the party, but he will have to integrate his campaign with those power structures in order to bring a unified Party together at the convention. Howard Dean is in a unique position to make this happen.

Fourth, Howard Dean has energized and inspired the Democratic Party in states which were written off for decades (Virginia, anyone?). This effort is what's necessary for a mandate win in November. Putting Howard Dean on the ticket would vindicate the hard work he's done and the work done by the party people he's hired in places like Wyoming, Idaho and North Carolina. It would be the final move in the 50-state strategy.

Finally, he would reinforce rather than balance the ticket. This is, I believe, critical. Sen. Obama, and the Democratic Party, need to run towards their strengths on Iraq, healthcare, the economy and government accountability. Gov. Dean brings reinforcement to all of these issues for Sen. Obama.

And yet the blogosphere, the very medium which sustained the Dean uprising in 2004, has been remarkably quiet, even blind, on this option. Perhaps there are national bloggers who know more than I do as to why he's not a viable VP candidate, but maybe not.

Why not Howard Dean for VP?

The Purcellville High School Fight Continues

Loudoun experienced very low turnout in the local elections yesterday. This may be understandable, considering there have been three elections in seven months (Board of Supervisors/Assembly in November, the Presidential Primary in February and yesterdays local contests), with two more to go before we're done this year (Congressional Primary on June 10th and the General Election in November). Nonetheless, the results from this election will echo more loudly in the lives of Loudoun's residents than most other votes that could be cast.

The key result from yesterday's elections was in Purcellville, where Bob Lazaro, who is using every legal tactic available to prevent constructing a desperately-needed high school outside of town, won re-election along with many of his allies on the Town Council.
Incumbent Mayor Robert W. Lazaro Jr. prevailed in Tuesday's mayoral race in Purcellville after a months-long campaign that centered on plans to build a new high school north of town.

Lazaro had 921 votes, or 61.5 percent, to challenger Karl Phillips' 577 votes.

"I think [my reelection] says to the county that they need to be serious about working with the town," Lazaro said Tuesday evening. “The public has sent a very strong message that enough is enough … and they do not want to be put in this position of having to pay for the infrastructure for a school that their children will never attend, because our kids will always stay at Valley." - LoudounExtra
To quote a friend who knows a thing or two about how things work in Loudoun, "Now we'll never get the high school built!"

Mayor Lazaro's re-election was a repudiation of the efforts of some on the school board and elsewhere to end the fight over Woodgrove high school at Fields Farm. The residents of Purcellville will continue to pay Town taxes to fight against the high school in court, and County taxes to fight for the high school in court, in one of the most bizzare wastes of money in the history of local fiscal management. More than any other factor, it is lawsuits like this and continued fights between Towns and the County that reduce the amount of local revenue available for local services. Not to mention the impact on our students.
As my class of 500 graduates in June [2007], we will be replaced by the current freshmen, whose class has about 660 students this year at Harmony Intermediate School. It is a challenge getting to class with out colliding with another person. In some of my classes, students have to sit backwards to see the board, all so the class can fit 30 students. During assemblies, there is no room in the auditorium for the three grades. The sophomores have to watch a televised version in classrooms.

The school's facilities become a challenge to use. Going to the restrooms turns into a five-minute process since the bathroom with the most stalls only has four. Each is constantly used by the long line of girls, at least until one runs out of toilet paper. - Lea Colburn in Leesburg Today
We are slowly improving how Loudoun is run, but pockets of irrationality remain. It is difficult, sometimes, to realize that the Loudoun of 2008 is not the Loudoun of 1988. But this is where we are. We need more schools, we need better management of land and planning, and we need to pay for teachers, police, firemen, roads, zoning enforcement and all the other basic duties of local government. It is our local elected officials who make these decisions. It is our local officials who can make the right decisions or the cheap and easy decisions. But it is we voters who must decide which direction we want to go at the polls.

Today, in Purcelville, our County may have taken a small step backwards, but these things are to be expected in a representative Democracy. And it simply means we must redouble our efforts in the future.

Leesburg's Election - An Analysis

The election results for Leesburg are now all in. The election saw some of the lowest turnout ever, with only 8% voting in town. Three Councilmembers were elected, with Dave Butler, endorsed by the LCDC, leading the way with 1,184 votes, more than even the incumbent, Katie Sheldon Hammler.
In Leesburg, Dave Butler was the top vote-getter for the Town Council with 1,184. Incumbent Katie Hammler was re-elected with 1,181 votes. Tom Dunn secured the third seat with 1,087 votes. Frank Holtz was fourth with 1025 votes. Mayor Kristen Umstattd, running unopposed, received 1,495 votes. - Leesburg Today
This means that the anti-government wing of Council now has two members (Ken Reid and Tom Dunn) and the Mayor and her good-government majority retain a narrow block with the addition of Dave Butler and the re-election of Katie Sheldon Hammler. Councilwoman Hammler will probably be the "swing vote" on council for any issue of divided opinion. It will be interesting to see whether the voices of little government oversight and action from the right are loud enough to change the direction the Town has taken, or whether Dave Butler's decisive victory in total votes for Council will remind the Council that the voters of Leesburg want responsible, managed government, not further erosion of services and oversight.

There were two last-minute events in the Council race which may have impacted the results while staying below the radar. First, an interesting flyer claming to explain Dave Butler's "real" record was circulated in some neighborhoods just before yesterday's election. The flyer was little more than a trumped up attack pamphlet, which may have done more harm than good for those who printed it (considering that Dave won handily and the Republican establishment candidate, Frank Holtz, lost in spite of his overwhelming lead in signs). It's a sad testament to the state of our politics that an attack flyer against a candidate would be used in a local, Town Council election. It's a great validation of Leesburg's voters that the candidate who was attacked went on to get the most votes.

Second, the local Obama campaign sent out an email right before the election to their supporters in Leesburg, urging everyone to get out and vote for Dave. It's possible that the email put Dave over the top. This is the kind of party-building that the Obama campaign has promised to do, and delivered on, in towns and counties across America. Back in February, there was a lot of speculation that the Obama effect could have an impact on downticket races in Virginia. In Leesburg yesterday, we have the first evidence that may be happening. The key to returning our nation to good government and common purpose is recruiting and electing responsible Democrats at all levels, starting with Town Councils and Boards. In Leesburg this morning, that process has continued.

Congratulations to all the winners! May you serve the Town with honest and good judgment.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Dave Butler Wins!

Dave Butler, the only Democrat running for Town Council, won his election tonight, with more votes than any of the Republicans in the race.
  • Dave Butler - 1,184

  • Katie Sheldon Hammler - 1,181

  • Tom Dunn - 1,087

  • Frank Holtz - 1,025
And the Mayor won re-election (unopposed, of course) with 1,495 votes.

Thanks to everyone who came out and voted!

[update] I should probably point out that only the top three vote getters won seats on Council, which means that Frank Holtz is out of luck for the second time. Katie Hammler returns to Council for another term, and Tom Dunn - who based his candidacy on increasing turnout - slides onto Council with fewer votes than any other member this year.

Gov. Kaine Goes YouTube

Gov. Kaine has taken the Virginia Governor's office to YouTube. From here you can get PSAs, speeches and the like.
"I am pleased to join the Virginia government community of YouTube channels," Kaine said in statement. "The use of new media to deliver information online is vital to engage citizens in the process of government."

Virginia was among the first states to launch a YouTube channel. Kaine's channel is 25th Virginia government entity offering residents access to the government through the state's channel on YouTube, - The Washington Post
For us bloggers, it's a wonderful tool for linking and illustrating our posts.


FBI Raids Government Whistleblower Office

What the heck? The FBI has raided the office of the Special Council responsible for making sure government whistleblowers are not persecuted.
The FBI has raided the office of U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch in an inquiry of whether he obstructed justice by having his computer files erased.

FBI officials said computers and documents were seized from Bloch's office during the raid Tuesday morning.

Investigators say Bloch is suspected of hiring an outside company to scrub his computer amid a federal investigation of alleged misconduct in his office.

The inquiry has been under way for more than a year and is looking into charges of intimidation and retaliation against whistle-blowers among staff members working in Bloch's agency.

The Office of Special Counsel is responsible protecting the rights of federal workers and ensuring that government whistle-blowers are not subjected to reprisals. - The New York Times
The office responsible for protecting against reprisals against whistleblowers is suspected of carrying out reprisals against whistleblowers.

[Lewis Black]Let me repeat that.[/Lewis Black]

The office responsible for protecting against reprisals against whistleblowers is suspected of carrying out reprisals against whistleblowers.

Talk about the politicization of justice. Talk about the foxes guarding the henhouse. Talk about a government whose purpose is to pervert the purpose of government. This is beyond reprehensible into the realm of bizzare, Stalinist statism.

And still, 28% support President Bush. Unbelievable.

Vote In Your Local Elections Today!

Don't forget that today is election day for local races in Virginia. That means if you live in Herndon, Lovettsville, Leesburg, Middleburg, Purcellville, Falls Church or any number of other localities, you have an opportunity to vote for the elected officials who will have the single largest impact on your day-to-day life.

Best of all, no waiting! In local elections, turnout is typically low, so there are rarely lines at the polling places. And since many of these elections are decided by relatively few votes, your vote will make a difference.

If you're voting in Leesburg, remember to cast you ballot for Dave Butler and Mayor Umstattd, the candidates who will continue to keep Leesburg an amazing place to live.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Dominion Power Refuses Local Solar Energy

Did you know that the Franklin Park Theater in Purcellville has a 70,000 watt solar array? Did you know that the array was built with donated money and cost the taxpayers not a dime? Did you know that Dominion Power refuses to connect to it and use the power? Watch this:

The power has been sitting there, unused, even as my neighborhood a dozen miles away experiences brownouts during the summer. Leesburg currently gets over half its power from coal, this array could help cut that dependence.

Furthermore, this brings the underground lines debate along with discussions of power availability into new light. The gentleman in the video, Alden Hathaway, has been an advocate for solar power in Virginia for quite a while, powering his own home entirely with solar panels, an idea whose time seems to have come.
Morrow said people are going to need to realize the benefits of solar outweigh the costs, and he said he believes in a few years more of the population will be ready to adopt solar technology.

“Most people are just not mentally there yet,” he said. “They aren't putting their money down on it yet.”

No matter how much it costs up front, solar energy does eventually pay for itself, Morrow said, whether it takes six, eight or 10 years.

Timothy Wyant of Bluemont has already installed solar power on his home.

“It runs all the basics of our house,” he said. “It pumps water from the well, provides heat, light, runs the refrigerator and runs a couple of computers.” - Loudoun Times-Mirror
The solution to our energy crisis is coming, and if Dominion Power and the powers-that-be won't make it happen, the people of America will make it happen from the ground-up.

(With a big tip-o-the-hat to The Green Miles at Raising Kaine.)

Leesburg Candidates On The Issues

Just in case you'd forgotten, tomorrow is Election Day in Leesburg, with four candidates vying for three Council spots (plus, the Mayor running for re-election). Leesburg Today has an excellent candidates section which reveals each candidate's positions on critical issues before the town. It provides detailed analysis of our current state as a Town, with in-depth questions and concise answers from all the candidates.

Leesburg Tomorrow has made my preferences in this year's elections quite clear. Mayor Umstattd deserves re-election and Dave Butler should be elected to Council. Regardless of your preferences, however, please get informed about the issues and come out and vote tomorrow.

The Confederate Statue

There is a minor tempest in Leesburg over the 100th anniversary of the Confederate Memorial Statue on the courthouse lawn. The United Daughters of the Confederacy had requested $3,300 from the County for a celebration of the statue. When the request was presented to the Board, our Supervisors forwarded it on to the appropriate subcommittee for consideration.

Becky Hackney Fleming of the United Daughters of the Confederacy made a presentation on the Loudoun’s Silent Sentinel - Celebrating 100 Years. She asked that the Board of Supervisors consider funding $3300 for the 100th Anniversary Celebration to help with the cost of the event to be held in the Town of Leesburg on Saturday, May 31, 2008 at 1:00 p.m.

Supervisor Buckley moved that the Board of Supervisors forward the request of the United Daughters of the Confederacy for a contribution of $3300 for the 100th Anniversary celebration to the Finance/Government Services and Operations Committee on May 7, 2008. The motion passed 7-0-2, Supervisor Kurtz and York absent for the vote. - Board Meeting Minutes

The United Daughters of the Confederacy (Full disclosure: My grandmother was a member of the UDC. -P13) has withdrawn their request in response to a few questions about it from two of our Supervisors.
In a May 1 letter to county supervisors, the group says that negative comments by board members have led to an outpouring of donations from residents. Supervisors Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) and Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) both made comments about the statue after the UDC's request for funding.

Miller said that a confederate soldier pointing a gun at him isn't necessarily the first thing he wants to see when walking up to the courthouse. Burk wondered why there couldn't be a celebration to laud veterans from both sides of the Civil War, not just the Confederacy.

"How unreasonable of me?" Burk said sarcastically. The supervisor said she felt like the UDC exaggerated the comments made by her and Miller to raise money. - Leesburg Today
It is interesting that a staunchly conservative group such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy would be seeking public funds for their cultural celebration so soon after the bruising budget battles the Board just completed. With the wailing and gnashing of teeth over public spending from conservative circles, how is it that one of their most revered organizations sees no problem seeking tax dollars for their event? Where is the seething over possible spending on arts and culture so typical of some Supervisors?

Furthermore, it why did the United Daughters of the Confederacy request the funding, only to withdraw the request when two of nine Supervisors raised some questions, but before the request had been considered by the subcommittee or the Board as a whole. Supervisors Burk and Miller did not oppose the funding request, they merely had some questions. Questions from two of nine Supervisors does not provide any indication that the Board was going to deny the request. On the contrary, it would seem to indicate a likely approval to have only two Supervisors asking questions.

In the interests of accuracy, here is what Supervisor Burk actually had to say on the matter:
"Outside the board room, Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg) said equal billing for both sides of the war might go a long way toward convincing the board to hand over the money.

“Isn't there a Union location that could also be heralded,” she said. “Let's celebrate all veterans.” - Supervisor Kelly Burk
As a result of the abrupt withdrawl of the request, a great opportunity to honor all veterans has been lost. Along with the Confederate Memorial, Leesburg is home to a national cemetery at Balls Bluff, where 54 Union veterans are interred. Indeed, it would be a worthy demonstration of Loudoun's past, present and future to honor together our Confederate and Union dead in the same event, as descendants of both sides have come and settled in Loudoun, living peaceably together for nearly 150 years. The dates are even compatible, as May 30th is the day designated to honor Union war dead by the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War. (That's where the idea of "Memorial Day" comes from, after all.)

If it was truly the purpose of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to get public funding for their celebration there was clearly no reason to withdraw their request. Only two Supervisors had questions about it, and one of the two - Supervisor Burk - clearly indicated that she would support the request were it to accommodate honoring Union veterans as well, a perfectly reasonable request in a County whose population so largely descends today from immigrants north of the Potomac.

The withdrawl of the funding request seems to indicate that the United Daughters of the Confederacy is more interested in a fundraising "issue" than actually honoring our civil war dead. This "issue" seems to be a minor skirmish in the ever-fought culture war about "heritage" which so tires and exasperates the hard working people of Loudoun who want to prepare for tomorrow's battles, not refight yesterday's.

Loudoun, and Virginia, do indeed have a proud history and heritage, but it is a history and heritage made by both sides of the civil war, and one which can be questioned without being demeaned. To take offense to simple questions and withdraw this funding request is to demonstrate that the appearance of a slight is far more important than the honoring of our history. It is to the credit of Supervisors Burk and Miller that they were willing to ask questions, because unquestioned homage to history is the path of self-delusion and disappointment. And that is a path that Loudoun will always to well to avoid.