Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Obama Babies

This really should be an Interlude, but I try to avoid doing two of those in a row. And it's somewhat political.

Thing one is perhaps my favorite humor site to come out of the election: Barack Obama Eats Babies.

And now, as a palate cleanser: Yes We Can (hold babies).

So there you go, our next President and babies, for Christmas!

An Interlude: Santa Claus Bailout

Merry Christmas, Santa Claus needs a bailout.



Gads I love the Internet. Tip-o-the-hat to my friend Jen for this one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Loudoun Conservation

Seven months after an historic agreement was reached to preserve a large swath of private land adjacent to the Potomac, Loudoun County has secure four more conservation easements from landholders.
The Land Trust of Virginia yesterday recorded conservation easements on four Loudoun properties, three in western Loudoun and one in Leesburg.

Executive Director Don Owen announced the action today. The three western Loudoun easements were secured through the assistance of landowner David Dobson. Dobson is owner/manager of Historic Fields LLC, Shamrock Properties, LLC and Airmont LLC, the three companies that negotiated the conservation easements. - Leesburg Today
All told, about 278 acres was preserved from future development under these new deals. It isn't much, but every little bit helps with preserving our water quality and quality of life.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cosmic Rays and Global Warming

Hey guess what. Cosmic rays do not cause global warming. Shocking, I know.
A new study supports earlier findings by stating that changes in cosmic rays most likely do not contribute to climate change. It is sometimes claimed that changes in radiation from space, so-called galactic cosmic rays, can be one of the causes of global warming. A new study, investigating the effect of cosmic rays on clouds, concludes that the like - Science Daily
So check that off as another failed "it's not man, really!" alternate cause of climate change.

It is frustrating that the scientific community must continually disprove alternate theories while the unscientific community does not carry a similar burden of proof for their unsupported assertions.

Del. Bob Marshall and HD 13

Much has been made of the massive population shifts in our area and the implications that has for local politics. New residents have been given credit for the 2008 Democratic surge in Loudoun, but many of the voters who turned out to elect Barack Obama president have not participated in the off-year state and local elections. A critical mission for the local Democratic party is to keep those voters energized and voting Democratic in 2009.

A critical test of sustained Democratic activism may be the future of Del. Bob Marshall. Del. Marshall is something of a quixotic, conservative institution in the Assembly, having served in the House of Delegates since 1992. From his sponsorship of the Virginia Constitutional Amendment that outlawed recognition of relationships other than marriage, to his militancy against pro-choice legislation and women, his brand of Virginia Republicanism would seem to be beyond the norm for his exurban district in 2009.

Virginia got a taste of Del. Marshall's unabashed advocacy during his campaign for the Republican nomination for Senate this past year. During that effort, he claimed to violate some laws of physics with his campaign prowess, and he nearly won, even though the nominating process had been designed to ensure Jim Gilmore's nomination. After the loss, some of Del. Marshall's supporters shouted "Baby Killer" at the RPV's newly-minted nominee. Del. Marshall even withheld support from the Republican nominee, seeking concessions from an already-wounded Gilmore.

Classy.

Del. Marshall delved into his own electoral analysis after the 2008 election, and confidently predicted he would continue to represent the 13th District after the 2009 state elections.
Sorry to disappoint your hopeful bloggers, but McCain received 50.04% (32,754) to Obama's 49.96% (32,701) [in the 13th District].

And that was with a more than a year long effort to find Obama voters in my district which now has more registered voters than some state Senate districts.

If anyone thinks I will sit still between now and next November, well, I started off as a democrat, and I haven't been in office since 1992 for nothing. - Del. Bob Marshall
And Del. Marshall has not sat still. On the contrary, he has opened his 2009 re-election war chest with a $500 donation from Altria. This is separate from the statewide PAC he has founded, leading to speculation he is lining himself up to run for higher office after his near-miss at the 2008 Virginia Republican Convention.

In 2006, no one would have expected an upstart like Jim Webb to take down a Virginia institution like George Allen. Here in the northern Virgina exurbs, we have a similar situation with Del. Marshall. He is a local institution of brash regression, and will be tough to beat (else Bruce Roemmelt would have taken him down in 2007). But the exurban political landscape in 2009 is not what it was in 2007 (or even November 2008), and we can prove ourselves up to the challenge.

All in all, Bob Marshall is a formidable opponent with deep roots in his district. He knows how to grab a headline and play on the worst fears and feelings of voters who dislike change. But change has come, and it will continue to overwash the Old Dominion, leaving a new, stronger commonwealth in its wake. Defeating Bob Marshall in the 13th District will simply be one more step down the road of progress in Virginia. Let's hope that defeat comes this year.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

An Interlude: Our Neighbor

A tip-o-the-hat our old NYC neighbor Ryan, and his new national Captain Morgan's ad:



It's nice to see a friend make good.

The Sky Is Falling

No. Seriously. The sky is falling.
Observations made by NASA instruments onboard an Air Force satellite have shown that the boundary between the Earth's upper atmosphere and space has moved to extraordinarily low altitudes. These observations were made by the Coupled Ion Neutral Dynamics Investigation (CINDI) instrument suite, which was launched aboard the U.S. Air Force's Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite on April 16, 2008. - ScienceDaily
When the Earth's atmosphere itself is serving as a metaphor for the economy, Oolon Colluphid comes to mind.

Contradictory Thoughts

Why is it that...

The same party that is so anti-abortion is so pro-death penalty?

The same party that is so against changing people's mortgage contracts is so insistent upon changing people's labor contracts?

The same party that is so opposed to a living wage is so insistent that executive compensation have no limits.

The same party that decries same-sex marriage is so terrible at staying married?

I'm just aking...

Monday, December 15, 2008

An Interlude: Pimped Stroller

I almost feel like I should be offended by this. Fantastic concept though.

Pimp My Stroller



Here's a bonus link.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Parking Ticket Scam in Loudoun

Heads up, a collections agency is scamming some Loudoun residents.
Loudoun County Treasurer, H. Roger Zurn, Jr. warns the public of recent misrepresentations by a collection agency. The collection agency, NCO Financial Systems, has contacted persons who may have received parking citations and requested immediate payment. They claimed to be representing Loudoun County in this effort.

Loudoun County has no relationship with this collection agency and has not contracted for any services with the agency. NCO has been contacted and instructed to stop this unauthorized activity.

Zurn says the matter is being investigated and additional action may be taken. If anyone has received a call from this company regarding a past due parking citation or other account, they should contact the Treasurer’s Office immediately to provide additional information. The Treasurer’s Office can be reached at 703-777-0280 or by sending an email to taxes@loudoun.gov. - Loudoun County Sheriff's Office

Loudoun Hospitals and Leesburg

In an interesting series of votes this week, the Town Council affirmed support for the expansion of Inova's Cornwall medical facility in downtown Leesburg, but stayed out of the white-hot debate over the proposed Broadlands Regional Medical Center.
Council members, in the end, heeded the advice of several of their present constituents and chose not to take an official position on the BRMC project. Instead, the council passed by a vote of 6-1 a resolution penned by Councilman Ken Reid that supports the Inova Cornwall Emergency Room and Inova Loudoun's expansion plans.

Supported by all council members except Councilman Tom Dunn, the resolution states in part that "the Town of Leesburg believes the expansion of Cornwall and continued operation of the emergency room is vital to the local economy and attracting a George Mason University campus to the Leesburg area ... The Town of Leesburg supports the continued operation of Inova's Cornwall campus [and] requests the County Board of Supervisors to consider these factors when deciding on future hospital expansions in Loudoun County." - Leesburg Today
People new to the area may not know that Leesburg used to have a full-service hospital in town, on Western side of town, north of Market street. That hospital was converted in to an emergency room center and psychiatry facility upon Inova's completion of Loudoun Hospital (the facility in Lansdowne). The Town of Leesburg considers the maintenance and expansion of the Cornwall facility to be a critical long-term goal for various reasons, including the fact that such a facility makes Leesburg an attractive location for a four-year college or university.

The interesting stuff happened after the initial resolution supporting the Cornwall facility was passed. Mayor Umstattd put forward a motion opposing the BRMC as detrimental to Cornwall, but that motion failed by one vote.
But Mayor Kristen Umstattd said she did not believe the resolution went far enough and, after the vote to approve the one, made a motion to approve a resolution declaring the council's opposition to the BRMC application and affirm support for the Countywide Health Facilities Plan.

The motion failed on a 3-3-1 vote, with Wright, Dunn and Councilman David Butler voting against the motion and Reid abstaining. Butler explained his impetus for voting against the motion, stating that he believed council needed to save the "big guns" for other issues.

"It was critical for me to have one motion passed that supports the Cornwall campus. That sends a strong message to the Board of Supervisors," Butler said. "We've accomplished what's most important for the town without the guns that are bigger." - Leesburg Today
I tend to agree with Councilman Butler on this issue. Leesburg will do well to stay out of the debate over BRMC as long as support for Cornwall is expressed. Inova versus HCA is a fight between two corporations over turf, not over hwo to best serve the people of Loudoun. As long as Loudoun gets a new hospital soon, the people will be served. Everything else is so much corporate astroturfing and NIMBY bloviating.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Real Cost Of Car Labor [Updated]

The New York Times has a really great explanation of the costs that the Big Three pay to build a car. Understanding the nature and structure of these costs is critical to understanding the truth and fiction in the debate over the proposed Big Three Bailout.

The figure being used to bludgeon auto workers and their allies is the $73/hour "compensation" figure paid to U.S. workers by the Big Three, as opposed to the $45/hour paid by foreign auto companies. The Times' David Leonhardt shows that this is a false comparison.
The calculations show, accurately enough, that for every hour a unionized worker puts in, one of the Big Three really does spend about $73 on compensation. So the number isn’t made up. But it is the combination of three very different categories.

The first category is simply cash payments, which is what many people imagine when they hear the word “compensation.” It includes wages, overtime and vacation pay, and comes to about $40 an hour. (The numbers vary a bit by company and year. That’s why $73 is sometimes $70 or $77.)

The second category is fringe benefits, like health insurance and pensions. These benefits have real value, even if they don’t show up on a weekly paycheck. At the Big Three, the benefits amount to $15 an hour or so.

Add the two together, and you get the true hourly compensation of Detroit’s unionized work force: roughly $55 an hour. - The New York Times
To be clear, of the "$73/hour" that is bandied about, the worker only gets $55 of it in wages and benefits. The rest is management's embedded costs.
The third category is the cost of benefits for retirees. These are essentially fixed costs that have no relation to how many vehicles the companies make. But they are a real cost, so the companies add them into the mix — dividing those costs by the total hours of the current work force, to get a figure of $15 or so — and end up at roughly $70 an hour.

The crucial point, though, is this $15 isn’t mainly a reflection of how generous the retiree benefits are. It’s a reflection of how many retirees there are. The Big Three built up a huge pool of retirees long before Honda and Toyota opened plants in this country. You’d never know this by looking at the graphic behind Wolf Blitzer on CNN last week, contrasting the “$73/hour” pay of Detroit’s workers with the “up to $48/hour” pay of workers at the Japanese companies. - The New York Times
People who complain about the loss of the "good old days" of the 1940s and 1950s should remember that it was the rise of generous union contracts in those decades and the decades that followed that help make those days the "good old days." Such critics ignore the fact that we're now paying for those "good old days" in the present.

This is why I am a strong advocate for a grand healthcare bargain. Cut corporate welfare and corporate tax loopholes to pay for national health insurance. Take retiree benefits off of companies' books in return for preferred stock (or something similar).

But in all cases, remember to be skeptical of the figures you see on TV or read in the news. Some reporting organizations are lazy, and use numbers given to them by parties that are far from disinterested. Let the informed citizen beware.

[Update] But don't take my word (or the New York Times' for that matter). Here's an autoworker, explaining the situation to a U.S. Senator (Richard Shelby).

Kelly Burk: The Supervisor At Work

There are nine Supervisors in Loudoun County. Only one of them holds down a full-time job while also serving as a Supervisor, Leesburg's Kelly Burk. Kelly is a special education teacher in the Loudoun County Schools. As a teacher, parent, employee and Supervisor, she has a unique perspective on the intersection of public needs and public costs in Loudoun County. She brings her experience as a mother and teacher to her work as a Supervisor, and each vote she takes is cast with a sincere understanding of how it impacts Leesburg's families.

In the course of working two jobs for the people of Loudoun, sometimes Supervisor Burk must take time away from teaching to fulfill her elected responsibilities. She does not like time away from her students, but she has a responsibility to those who elected her to serve them as a Supervisor. Some facts about these situations are worth considering.
  • Whenever Supervisor Burk takes time away from school to fulfill a responsibility as Supervisor, that is unpaid family leave time. Supervisor Burk is not paid by the LCPS for any day she is not working.

  • Whenever Supervisor Burk is not teaching, the substitute teacher for that day costs the County significantly less than Mrs. Burk, were Kelly teaching that day. Thus, it actually saves Loudoun money for Supervisor Burk to fulfill her Supervisor responsibilities by occasionally missing a day of school!

  • Supervisor Burk's school absences are uncommon, they average about two each month. She spends the vast majority of her days in school, and the vast majority of her evenings and weekend working for her Leesburg constituents.
Loudoun is lucky to have a Supervisor like Kelly Burk, who spends her days and nights working hard on behalf of the families of Leesburg.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

With Apologies to Atrios

Just sayin.

Tourism, Taxes and Budget Shortfalls

A minor tempest has erupted over the Board of Supervisors' decision to refrain from spending money on a marketing partnership with the Washington Redskins. Yesterday, Board Chairman Scott York sent an email to his constituents discussing the deal and its ramifications.
Specifically, there was a proposal for a Loudoun Community Partnership with the Redskins that failed on a 4-5 vote. Let me first explain to you about TOT money. This is a 5% tax that is attached to a nights [sic] stay in a Loudoun County hotel, motel, B & B or campground.

The general fund absorbs 2%. By law, 3 % of this money has to be spent on promoting tourism and bringing people into the county to stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores. One of the biggest assets we currently are promoting in this county is our beautiful and productive wine country and we work closely with LCVA (Loudoun County Visitors Association) in this endeavor. The law reads that this money “shall be designated and spent solely for tourism and travel, marketing of tourism or initiatives that, as determined after consultation with the local tourism industry organizations, attract travelers to the locality and generate tourism revenues in the locality”. - Scott York
We can have a reasoned debate over whether spending money to co-market with the Redskins is or is not a good investment of the TOT money. One the one hand, such an expenditure might draw marginal increases in tourism to Loudoun, though there is a question of whether those people were going to come anyway, and Loudoun would not actually be getting anything extra. On the other hand, it is unseemly to be paying tax dollars to a very profitable franchise in the midst of an economic downturn, though putting the foundation for a Redskins Hall of Fame in Loudoun in place is not a terrible idea. Both sides have good arguments regarding this specific deal. Thus, it is unsurprising it was such a close and controversial vote. It could have gone either way, and either decision could have been justified.

What is more important to debate, however, is the implied assumption in Chairman York's email about the use of this income. The Chairman points out that 3% of this money must be used to promote tourism, by law.

Why not change the law?

In a time of economic recession, no one wants higher taxes (regardless of what those taxes do for us). In an era of corporate greed, it is inappropriate for governments to spend money on profitable corporations. I see the logic behind a dedicated source of revenue for tourism marketing, but does it really need to be 60% of the taxes collected? Why not lobby Richmond to change the law so that Loudoun can keep 80% of the money for our general fund in years when local tax receipts from other sources decline by 10% or 15%? If local tax receipts stabilize or increase, then the TOT funding formula can go back the way it was. But in a time of budget shortfalls and belt tightening everywhere else, it is ludicrous that the County needs to find a way to spend this money, which it already has in its coffers, even as we ask our teachers to accept larger class sizes and road work gets delayed.

Chairman York and his allies have not had a problem challenging existing laws before. Remember the NVTA? We would expect that if Chairman York were so successful overturning one law, then taking action to change another law to achieve the same tax-control outcome would be the logical next step.

The problem is not the Board of Supervisors' willingness to say "no" to unnecessary spending in the face of community belt-tightening. The problem is the law that has the County collecting money without giving the County more flexibility to spend it in times of fiscal crisis. Chairman York should work with the Loudoun delegation in Richmond to get this law changed, which will give the County more fiscal flexibility and reduce the need to ask more from Loudoun residents' budgets in 2009.

The Redskins spat is a distraction. The money is there, there are good uses for it. Give us the right to use it in accordance with our needs. Change the law.

Monday, December 8, 2008

An Interlude: Beautiful Sky

This is just an awesome image, and it needed sharing. From Astronomy Picture Of The Day.



On Thanksgiving, our family stood out on my wife's family's porch and saw the planets and moon together in the Outer Banks sky. It was gorgeous. It is sometimes good in the midst of all the pressures and activities of normal life to get some perspective.

Shenanigans in Virginia Beach

In all election seasons, you hear stories of voter interference and the spread of misinformation, but it is hard to actually tie such actions into a changed election result. Norfolk activist and blogger Vivian Paige, however, has been doing an excellent job doing just that over fliers that were distributed in Virginia Beach just before election day. In that election, long-time Virginia Beach mayor (and Democrat) Mayera Oberndorf was upset by Republican Will Sessoms. What is interesting is that the margin for the victory came from heavily African-American precincts. And in those precincts fliers were handed out linking Sessoms with Obama, even though Oberndorf and Obama campaigned together, and Sessoms and Obama had nothing to do with each other.


These kinds of activities, which willfully misinform voters, are unacceptable. And it is even more unacceptable that it is taking an activist blogger like Vivian to keep this story alive. Though the Oberndorf campaign has filed a complaint about the fliers, it is not clear that anything will come of it. Sessoms himself has denied any involvement in the distribution of the fliers, and it has been reported that he ordered their distribution stopped late on election day. But you cannot unring a bell once rung, and as Vivian's analysis has showed, it appears the damage was already done by the time distribution stopped.

The people of Virginia Beach deserve a full accounting of what happened, and if any election laws were broken, to have the criminals brought to justice. If it is the case that there are no laws to be enforced in this case, then perhaps Virginia should pass laws against making false statements or implications about endorsements, with the penalty being some kind of percentage fine from the candidate's campaign coffers for the next election. That money could then be used to fund running the next election (buying new machines, training poll workers etc.).

It is a testament, however, to the advance of the Democratic party in Virginia that friends of the Republican candidate for Mayor of Virginia Beach would try to help him out by linking him to an African-American Senator from Illinois named Barack Obama who was winning the race for President. This is a New Dominion indeed.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Creigh Deeds vs. Brian Moran [Updated]

The fundamental debate in Virginia Democratic politics over the next six months is between Creigh Deeds and Brian Moran as candidates for Governor. While Terry McAuliffe brings star power and fundraising prowess, it seems unlikely that the Democratic actvists who will decide the nomination will get behind a relative newcomer when they have been courted by Del. Moran and Sen. Deeds for the past year.

So, who will be the Democratic nominee for Governor? Loudoun will have its say.
Loudoun County is emerging as an early battleground in a potential three-way Democratic primary for the Virginia governor’s mansion in 2009.

All three hopefuls — Virginia Sen. Creigh Deeds, Del. Brian Moran and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe — have begun to mine the suburban county’s voter base, appearing at an event on Sunday thanking local volunteers in Sterling. The first major round of endorsements Moran announced were all from Loudoun County. - DC Examiner
Virginia's Democrats start with a potential advantage, as polling shows that Virginians still prefer a Democratic governor even after seven years of Warner-Kaine.

At a very high level, it appears that Del. Moran has the more polished organization (and early money lead), while Sen. Deeds has a broad base of support and a statewide race already under his belt. Creigh is the preferred choice of many, but others feel that Brian is in the stronger position, and will be the nominee after the June 9th Primary.

In discussing the primary with fellow Democrats locally and on-line, I am noticing an interesting theme. People seem to really like Creigh, personally and politically, and yet consider Brian to be the better or stronger candidate. It begs the question, if Creigh is people's first choice, in their gut, but Brian is the choice their brain tends towards, will people go with their head or their heart? Can Creigh get the support of policy wonk activists who are inspired by an operation? Will Brian's professionals and endorsements be enough to carry the nomination if Creigh has overwhelming support outside of Northern Virginia?

It will be an interesting run to June 9th.

[Update 12/8] Rasmussen Reports has released the first poll of the season on this race:
Rep. Brian J. Moran of Alexandria is the only one of three leading Democratic hopefuls who beats Republican Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell in a straight match-up, 41% to 37%, according to a new Rasmussen Reports survey of Virginia voters. Five percent (5%) favor some other unspecified candidate, and 16% are undecided.

McDonnell, who is expected to be his party’s unchallenged gubernatorial nominee, runs dead even with Rep. R. Creigh Deeds of Bath County at 39% apiece. Four percent (4%) prefer a third candidate, and 18% aren’t sure. This is a repeat match-up for the two since McDonnell defeated Deeds for attorney general in 2005 in a race so close it required a recount.

Deeds is also the favorite among Democratic voters who will select a gubernatorial nominee in a June primary.

The best-known of all four candidates, longtime Clinton confidant and fundraiser Terry McAuliffe, trails McDonnell 41% to 36%. Five percent (5%) like another candidate better, while 17% are undecided.

Unaffiliated voters prefer the Republican in all three match-ups, although McDonnell beats Moran by a statistically insignificant one percentage point. - Rasmussen Reports
So Rasmussen reads Deeds as having the edge in the primary fight, but Moran more likely to defeat McDonnell. But in all cases nearly 1 in 5 voters are on the fence, putting the Governorship in play for anyone. This race will come down to who can convince more of them to go their way during the campaign.

An Interlude: Cool

From SNL last night. Barack Obama keeps it cool.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Who Gets Sworn In First?

My family had an interesting discussion today when the question was asked, "who gets sworn in first?" It's intriguing, because the order of inauguration impacts seniority in Congress and things like that. As it turns out, thanks to the 20th Amendment, the order looks something like this:
  • January 3, noon - Congress

  • January 20, before noon - Vice-President

  • January 20, noon - President
It is interesting that for a period of minutes, perhaps even an hour depending on the ceremony, Joe Biden will be George Bush's Vice-President. It's also great to hear that Vice-President Cheney will leave office first, the sooner the better.

I also like the fact that Congress is sworn in a full three weeks before the President. It lets the new Congress get itself organized before the President comes in asking them to act on things. For President Obama, it insures he will be able to hit the ground running (as it were).

Friday, December 5, 2008

Delegate's Aide Arrested In Hate Crime

An aide to a Republican member of the House of Delegates known for his anti-immigrant views has been arrested for assaulting a gay couple in DC.
Police arrested the legislative aide of Del. Jackson Miller (R-Prince William) for allegedly taking part in a scuffle in the District on election night that officers describe as an anti-gay incident.

Bryan Fumagalli, 28, was arrested Nov. 22 on two counts of simple assault, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I'm very disappointed in his actions,'' Miller said today. "He's being dealt with and being disciplined."

Police say Fumagalli assaulted one of two gay men who were walking outside the Capitol Hilton Hotel to a victory rally near the White House. They say he grabbed a rainbow flag, a gay rights symbol, from one of the men and assaulted him. - The Washington Post
Del. Miller is known in Richmond for his anti-migrant bills in the House of Delegates, but has little political history with the issue of gay rights. While Miller himself is not at all responsible for the crime committed by his aide, one could question the rise in violent actions and rhetoric among those affiliated with Republicans in the same way some Republicans draw linkages between certain groups and terrorism. If a higher percentage of hate crimes are committed by Republicans than non-Republicans, is it fair to smear all Republicans as criminals? What if we replaced "Republican" with "Muslim" and "crimes/criminals" with "terrorism/terrorists?"

If we let falsehoods and hatred about some groups go unchallenged in our discourse, then we create an environment where taking physical action against the "other" seems acceptable, even logical. What responsibility do we all have to stand up when someone we know, love or respect says something deliberately false or hateful about those who are not around to defend themselves?

In my own home, when a member of my own family started speaking lies and invective regarding migrants, I stopped them. I said, "This is my house, and I will not have those things said in my house." It was hard, it caused some problems in my family, but my daughter was sleeping upstairs. I have a responsibility to her to stop the seeds of fear and anger which may be spread, even by those I love, if only in my own home.

Ending fear, intolerance and hatred starts with each of us, every day. It is the only long-term answer for a vibrant, diverse and integrated society which we must become to fully realize the potential of our country.

Perhaps if someone Mr. Fumagalli respected had chastised him for a homophobic epithet once in a while, he would not be in jail today?

College Only For The Rich?

According to recent research, if the U.S. continues on the path it has been regarding the cost of higher education, soon, only the wealthy will be able to afford college.
The report, “Measuring Up 2008,” is one of the few to compare net college costs — that is, a year’s tuition, fees, room and board, minus financial aid — against median family income. Those findings are stark. Last year, the net cost at a four-year public university amounted to 28 percent of the median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of the median family income.

The share of income required to pay for college, even with financial aid, has been growing especially fast for lower-income families, the report found.

Among the poorest families — those with incomes in the lowest 20 percent — the net cost of a year at a public university was 55 percent of median income, up from 39 percent in 1999-2000. At community colleges, long seen as a safety net, that cost was 49 percent of the poorest families’ median income last year, up from 40 percent in 1999-2000.

The likelihood of large tuition increases next year is especially worrying, Mr. Callan said. “Most governors’ budgets don’t come out until January, but what we’re seeing so far is Florida talking about a 15 percent increase, Washington State talking about a 20 percent increase, and California with a mixture of budget cuts and enrollment cuts,” he said. - The New York Times

Worst of all, the relative education of our workforce is declining as a result.
“When we come out of the recession,” Mr. Callan added, “we’re really going to be in jeopardy, because the educational gap between our work force and the rest of the world will make it very hard to be competitive. Already, we’re one of the few countries where 25- to 34-year-olds are less educated than older workers.” - The New York Times
It is no coincidence that wider access to higher education has been a staple of Democratic policy since Bill Clinton ran for President in 1992. The doors of higher-education must remain open to all if we are to continue the path of opportunity and integration which has marked the progressive history of America. It is through opening the doors of Universities to more people that America created the affluent middle class after WWII under the GI Bill. And yet today, Republicans nearly stymied a much more modest version of the same transformational legislation when it was proposed by Sen. Webb earlier this year.

America does better with a economically diverse college graduate population. (It also benefits from diverse elementary schoools.) If the doors of higher education are only open to the wealthy, the massive divergence in wealth that accumulated over the past eight years will only worsen, and millions more will feel left out of the American dream, and be more open to apathy, anger and fear. Education for the wealthy only is the recipie for an embedded aristocracy: an America without Colin Powell, Jim Webb or Barack Obama.

Here in Virginia, the state budget crisis is putting the squeeze on our public institutions of higher learning. This never-ending quest for funding has lead to questionable agreements to secure funding by VCU and slashing required classes at Virginia Tech. It is gratifying that some private institutions of higher education have led the way to addressing this problem, with bold new tuition programs, but reducing tuition at the most exclusive schools will not solve our crisis of educational affordability. Only affordable public higher education will reach the millions of Americans who deserve it, and form the foundation of our prosperity.

Virginia does, indeed, have a budget crisis, and that means reducing spending at our state colleges and universities, but if we choose to make up the difference by raising tuition and fees, the long-term impact will be negative on the health of our commonwealth's polity. Here in Virginia, the Founders' vision of a meritocracy, where opportunity is open to all and education is a founding principle, we must draw a line in the red piedmont clay and declare that on this ground, all shall have the opportunity to attend college.

It will not be easy, it will not be cheap, but it will be an investment in our future. An investment in Virginia's greatest resource - her people.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Capital One Growing

One of Virginia's economic success stories is Capital One. A native Virginia financial institution that has grown to become one of the biggest retail financial companies in America, Capital One employs thousands across Virginia. In the midst of a major banking crisis, Capital One is now expanding, buying Chevy Chase bank.
Capital One, a McLean firm, would get Chevy Chase's 250 branches -- the wealthy region's largest branch network. Capital One has pursued a strategy in recent years of buying regional banks to get access to their deposits, which the company uses as a cheap source of funding for its credit card operations.

As part of this banking strategy, Capital One has acquired two banks in Louisiana and New York. Chevy Chase would bring with it $11 billion in deposits, potentially increasing Capital One's deposit base by about 10 percent.

"What's going on right now is that the strong banks are eating the weak banks," said Howard Shapiro, an analyst with Fox-Pitt Kelton. "Capital One is one of the alpha banks that will survive this financial crisis with enhanced market share and enhanced pricing power." - The Washington Post
It is interesting to note that we, the taxpayers, are helping Capital One to make this acquisition, as Capital One took about $3.4 billion of the $700 billion Federal bailout for U.S. banks. This may not be a bad thing, as one of the hallmarks of recessions and recoveries is healthy banks swallowing unhealthy banks. Chevy Chase was one of those unhealthy banks.
The savings-and-loans, including Chevy Chase, concentrated on a particular kind of risky mortgage loan called an option adjustable-rate mortgage, which allowed a borrower to defer part of the required monthly payment for up to several years. As those payments come due, many borrowers are defaulting, leaving Chevy Chase without the money it expected to collect. Its non-performing assets more than tripled to $490 million between September 2007 and June 2008, the most recent results the bank reported. - The Washington Post
With the acquisition, Chevy Chase's depositors will have a much stronger and less-risky institution guarding their assets.

This acquisition is good for Virginia, as it strengthens a Virginia corporation and adds solidity to a DC area institution's shaky finances. Kudos to Capital One!

(On a personal level, a good friend works for Capital One in Richmond, and loves it.)

Sam Rasoul Still Active

The campaign of Sam Rasoul in Virginia's 6th District this year generated some interesting opinions, including my own. There were many observers who thought that Sam was too young, or not Democratic enough, to take on Bob Goodlatte. However, Sam got the nomination, and ran an energetic campaign in a part of Virginia not known for Democratic energy.
What impresses us most is Sam’s commitment to a grassroots campaign that as actively promoted and worked for the election of Democrats throughout the region. Yes, we tried to get him to let loose a little snark about his opponent Drew Richardson, a late entry in the race for the nomination. Committed to running a positive campaign focused on the issues, Sam wouldn’t bite. - The Star City Harbinger
On election day, Sam lost, but in losing he built an organization and reached out to hundreds of thousands of voters in the 6th District. That is how you start building a change from the ground up. The key to success with this strategy, however, is not letting the organization wither after the election is lost. And Sam Rasoul appears to have taken that lesson to heart. Like the Obama organization, he is encouraging his supporters to stay active after the election by emailing about important issues.
Dear Friend,

As you know, health care reform was a central feature of my campaign. I support a single-payer system, like the one set forth in House Resolution 676, based on private delivery and public funding. In the first 100 days of the Obama administration, we can expect health care to become a major focus in a way that could not have happened during the past eight years.

We have a chance to make our voices heard in that discussion. A citizen movement called "Ideas for Change in America" is asking for our input on the top 10 ideas they will submit to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day. This movement is responding to the campaign call for change and for citizen participation in that change. They will follow the presentation of the top ideas with a national lobbying movement.

I ask you to join me in voting for an idea called Free Single Payer Health Care by using the following link:

http://www.change.org/ideas/view/free_single_payer_health_care

You can find other areas of political reform at the change.org site as well. And if you want to become better informed or improve your advocacy skills concerning single-payer health insurance, visit the non-profit organization www.healthcare-now.org. The link to "How the Economic Crisis Presents Opportunities to Advance Single-Payer Healthcare" on the Healthcare-Now page provides a sound "yes we can" argument to anyone who tells us we will have to put our most cherished ideals on the back burner while we pull ourselves out of our economic meltdown.

Please, visit Change.org today and add your vote to a single-payer plan for America. - Sam Rasoul
Sam's efforts to sustain his organization after the election are beneficial in three ways.
  • First, Sam and his campaign are a known voice for progressive ideas in a region where such a voice might otherwise go unheard. Sam can focus attention on issues like healthcare as an advocate who is known to the local media.

  • Second, encouraging such engagement keeps 6th District Democrats engaged and active going into 2009 and beyond, and increasing Democratic votes in the 6th District could have a major impact on who becomes our next Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General.

  • Third, and finally, Sam is setting himself up to run again in the 6th. Say what you will about Sam as a candidate, name recognition is the first, necessary element of a successful campaign, and Sam has higher name recognition today than he did eight months ago. Having run once, he is in a stronger position to take on Bob Goodlatte again, or even run for a different office (Supervisor? Delegate?) should that be an attractive option.
In the model of Mark Warner, who lost before he won, but in losing greatly increased his stature as a candidate, Sam Rasoul is committed to turning his corner of Virginia blue through his own campaign and candidacy, even beyond this year's election.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Supervisors Exercise Fiscal Prudence

The Loudoun Board of Supervisors exercised fiscal prudence this week in declining a marketing partnership with the Washington Redskins. In a time of revenue weakness for the county, the Board declined to spend up to $250,000 to partner with the Redskins on a Redskins Hall of Fame in Loudoun.
Supervisors voted 5 to 4 against the motion, which called for $100,000 of transient occupancy tax funds to be spent on a marketing partnership between the county and the Washington Redskins. Under the arrangement, the county would have been branded the "Corporate Home of the Washington Redskins" and its logo would have been posted on the team's Web site.
...
If they had approved today's motion, the supervisors would have decided at a later date whether to spend an additional $150,000 on the second phase of the deal, which would have included the development of a Redskins Hall of Fame in Loudoun. - LoudounExtra
The Washington Redskins, in spite of being the NFL's second most-valuable franchise, and in spite of the team's owner being a billionaire, came looking for a handout of tax dollars from a County millions in the red. In return for this local corporate welfare for a multibillion dollar organization, the Redskins would give Loudoun...mention on their website.

Of course, Supervisor Waters was all in favor of spending scarce taxpayer dollars to subsidize a corporate initiative for a profitable corporation owned by a billionaire.
"We're trying to generate tourism and additional travel to the county," said Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run), who voted in favor of the funding. "We have the Redskins here that have millions of fans." - LoudounExtra
The presence of the Redskins' training camp in Loudoun already generates travel and tourism, and the Redskins benefit from that continuing, regardless of whether the County subsidizes their plans or not. And let us all be clear, this hall of fame for the Redskins is going to get built whether the County contributes money or not - the Redskins want it and they have the money to do it.

There is an argument that the money for this comes from the Transient Occupancy Tax, which is paid by hotel guests and must be spent on tourism. Thus, why not spend it on the Redskins? To this argument, I submit two responses. First, and foremost, the Redskins should not be getting our tax dollars - even if those taxes are paid by visitors to our County. The Redskins make millions on their own and do not need our marketing help. Second, there are many other worthy reasons to visit and tour Loudoun that may benefit from promotion that do not already have a multimillion dollar budget the way that the Redskins do. How about promoting the Loudoun Farm Tours, or the Little League Softball Championship? Are they not worthy of consideration? For these organizations a little bit of money may go a long way in terms of promoting visitors to come to Loudoun. Given the economic situation, our County may benefit from enticing people who are already coming here for events to bring their family and friends, organically growing our tourism based on existing events and destinations.

Great job by the Board of Supervisors in saying "no" to an unnecessary corporate handout in a time of fiscal austerity. That's governing by action, not just words.

Baseball Coming To Loudoun?


(The short-lived Diamond Lake stadium site in Loudoun.)


Folks who have been around for the past decade will remember the great debates over bringing baseball to the DC area. One of the proposals was to move the Expos to northern Virginia, instead of DC. That did not work out, but a new proposal would put a minor league park and team at the emerging nexus being built around the intersection of Rt. 7 and Rt. 28.
The 400 acre site would be the home to a $3 billion project. It would include offices, multi-family homes, 400,000 square feet of retail space, three hotels and a ball park. The project, located near another major development in the works called One Loudoun, will draw in more people, but it's something people have mixed feelings about. "Revenue builder for the people around here but, at the same time, all of the area that used to be trees is no longer trees. So you got to take the good with the bad," said Chuck Bowley, Ashburn resident.
...
But with increased population comes traffic. Loudoun County board chair Scott York says developers would help ease traffic issues in the Dulles area by paying for road improvements. "It would help to finish up the completion of Pacific Boulevard as well as Gloucester Parkway which includes a couple of bridges that need to be built, which there is absolutely no funding for," said Scott York, Board of Supervisors chairman. - News Channel 8
Baseball and needed road improvements? Sounds like a very interesting deal, but one which might be too good to be true if not watched carefully.

Rt. 7 is often congested from Sterling to Ashburn, with no prospects for alternate routes anytime soon. Furthermore, there is a lot of unoccupied office space on both Rt. 7 and Rt. 28, is there sufficient demand to warrant the construction of new office space? On the other hand, Virginia's transportation funding crisis means that there is absolutely no prospect of getting needed improvements in that area built without some kind of developer proffer, so Loudoun will probably have to trade some new offices and homes for road improvements for the foreseeable future.

On a personal level, I like the idea of minor league baseball in Loudoun, and that location is probably a good one, as it is the center of an important economic hub. It lends itself to local businesses and weekend activities for the family that don't involve going into DC. Besides, I love baseball, and would love to root for a truly local professional team.

(with a tip-o-the-hat to Loudoun County Traffic.)

Changes in the Virginia Blogosphere

If you are only a casual visitor to the Virginia blogosphere, you may not yet know that one of the two pillars of the Virginia blogosphere, Raising Kaine ("RK") is closing down on December 31st. (The other pillar being NotLarrySabato.) RaisingKaine has been the best community blog in Virginia for four years, and is where I got my inspiration to start blogging about Virginia and local issues.

Lowell, Eric and the whole RK team explain their reasoning for ending RK's run very well on the site, so there's no need to go into here. The end of RK, however, begs the question, "what do we do now?" Well, to quote the site putting itself forth to take up RK's mantle, "The Voice of Progressive Virginia is Dead! Long live The Voice of Progressive Virginia!"

BlueCommonwealth
, a collaboration among some RK frontpagers, hopes to be that next progressive community blog for Virginia.

2009 promises to be an exciting - an dangerous - year for Virginia Democrats. After the three-year run we have had; electing Jim Webb to the US Senate, taking over the Senate majority in the Assembly, and electing Barack Obama president, along with three new Democratic Congressmembers; many Democrats are suffering from election and activism fatigue. With contested Democratic primaries for all three statewide offices this year (Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General), candidates are seeking grassroots support early and often. Meanwhile, many of our families are wondering if we will ever take a break from politics to actually spend time with them. All told, a recipe for complacency and backsliding threatens the gains Virginia has made.

Which is why the success of BlueCommonwealth is so critical. We must not become complacent. It is well and good to win an election, it is the necessary first step to fixing the problems we face as a civic polity, but it is only that - a first step. The governing itself is much harder and much more important. Here in Loudoun, we have witnessed just how difficult it can be to clean up after years of mismanagement and grandstanding. Our elected Democrats from Town Council to President will require our vocal support to defeat the forces of obstruction and regression.

That means a place where we can be heard and debate issues of policy, as well as politics, together. That means a new community blog to succeed after RK.

So come and join us on BlueCommonwealth. Together, we will help support a well-run and prosperous commonwealth for the future.

[Update] In light of the above, a post from Kos on what almost wasn't is worth a read.

Heightened Discourse

If you're not reading FiveThirtyEight, you should be. (The name is a reference to the number of electors in Presidential contests.) Nate Silver is probably the best and most influential new voice in the blogosphere to come out of the 2008 election cycle.

In his recap of the Georgia Senate runoff held yesterday, he has this fantastic quote:

"But if the Republicans have realized that it doesn't help their cause to constantly be behaving like assholes, then bully for them. - Nate Silver"

I tend to agree, as a healthy democracy needs two healthy parties. Right now, the Republican party is not a healthy party. But beyond that, we should all hope for a return to dignity in our discourse, even as we debate the path our nation should take. We can hope.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Getting Started Loans

With all the discussion of bailouts and stimulus that has been going on, it may be valuable to consider alternatives for helping to power our economy that are more targeted at some of the people who could use the help most.

I'm not talking about CEOs, or Wall Street or even homeowners. I'm talking about people just starting out in life (as it were); people who just graduated college or are just looking to move out of their parents' house for the first time. This population has the hardest time saving, and is the best bet for actual recovery of loans in the long term, as evidenced by the repayment rates of Federal Student Loan programs. This population would get money and spend it, stimulating the economy, and we the taxpayers are more likely to see that money paid back than the hundreds of billions already spent on financial firms who have no obligation to return that cash.

My proposal is to create a governmental small-loan program for young people (18-29) looking to buy their first car or rent their first apartment. The loan program would max out at $2500 each and require repayment within 24 or 36 months. It could only be used once per taxpayer and only to buy a first car or rent a first apartment. The loan would be used for the car downpayment or the rental deposit. (Depending on complexity, perhaps the program could be structured to pay of credit card debt in some cases, but only if there were some way to get credit card lenders to help fund the program.)

By providing this population with a small loan that they repay quickly, young people will not only build up credit, but also become familiar with the processes involved in buying cars and renting and eventually buying places to live. The money would go into two of the hardest hit sectors - housing and automobiles - without bailing out those industries directly. On the contrary, this program would benefit individuals first, but is a lot more targeted than mailing every tax payer a $300 check.

Best of all, our exposure as taxpayers is small, compared with many of the other proposals on the table. There are no more than 50,000,000 eligible borrowers, so the total possible exposure (and these are loans, not grants or direct investments) is $125 billion, at most. We know that not everyone will take the loan (My wife won't for example!) and again, these loans are likely to be repaid, given how small they are and how short their timeframes are!

In summary, this plan would target the sectors in trouble, help a population likely to make the most of the help, and have a good likelihood of getting paid back in the long run, all for a cost much less than many of the other ideas bandied about.

Give young people small loans to get started, that's my modest proposal to help our economy, and each other.