Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Links for Leaders

I admit, I had some fun coming up with these.

Mitt Romney

Newt Gingrich

Sarah Palin

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

We Can, And We Did

A moment of levity from the healthcare denouement over the past few weeks was the shout of "Yes, we did" from a Congress member during the President's signing ceremony. The President had commented about the amount of abuse many members of Congress had suffered during the debates, and "Yes, we did" was Congressman Ackerman's response.

But "Yes, we did" is also a fitting reminder for what has been accomplished since January, 2009. In the face of united and vitriolic opposition from the Republicans, as well as outright lies and slander, our Democratic Congress and President Obama have delivered on progress for the American people. It's cumbersome progress, and the change we want is not arriving as quickly as we might have wished, but turning the ship of state is not a rapid maneuver. Our President promised change we could believe in, not change that would happen quickly, or even change that would be revolutionary.

At this point, it is worthwhile to review the changes that have happened since January 2009, and reflect. These changes are, after all, what we as Democrats believe in.
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - Reestablishes a woman's right to seek justice for pay inequality at work. Fair pay for fair work has been a founding principle of our party for centuries.

  • American Reinvestment and Recovery Act - This law mitigated the worst of the great recession, delivered a tax cut to 95% of Americans, and began the reinvestment in our public infrastructure the nation needs to be competitive for the next century.

  • SCHIP - Before there was HRC or HIR there was SCHIP. We might forget, but making sure kids get access to healthcare was actually controversial thanks to the Republicans. Among the first things Democrats did upon gaining the majority and the Presidency was reasserting our belief that children shouldn't get sicker because their parents cannot afford healthcare.

  • Credit CARD Act of 2009 - Rebalancing the relationship between credit card companies and consumers, this bill prevents credit card issuers from arbitrarily raising interest rates and changing terms, and gives consumers full visibility into the long-term cost of credit card debt on their bills. No longer will credit card companies be able to use unannounced fees and term changes to gouge people.

  • Justice Sotomayor - After a decade of conservative judges being appointed to the high court, we added a Democratic Justice whose experiences so closely match the struggles and triumphs of millions of Americans. Regardless of race and gender, Justice Sotomayor's life and experiences give her a perspective on justice that has been sorely lacking on the Supreme Court.

  • Withdrawal from Iraq - Without too much fanfare, Iraq's recent elections continue the American road to withdrawal from a misguided war.

  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act - Health insurance reform. This Congress and this President cross the finish line on a race that was 100 years old. Every American will have the opportunity to get insurance. No one can be turned aside for pre-existing conditions. There will be no "lifetime cap" on benefits.

  • Health Reform Enhancements - Not only did Congress pass the reform, they improved it in the same week! The reconciliation package provided greater assistance for those who will have the most difficulty affording insurance, while reducing the deficit by over $100 billion over the next 10 years.

  • College Loan Reform - For years, our government has assumed all the risks of student lending, while allowing private banks to take all the profits. This year, Congress changed that to make more money available for grants, make student lending more efficient and cost-effective, and expand the availability of college loans for students across the country.
And those are just the big ones. There are other, lesser known accomplishments that are equally worthy of pride, for example:
  • Civil Rights History Project - In 2009, Congress and the President directed the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress to begin a project collecting the oral histories of the Civil Rights movement. Fifty years later, this is an idea that was long overdue.

  • Fraud Enforcement and Recovery - There was some question as to whether the massive frauds in the mortgage industry that led to the financial meltdown of 2008 were actually illegal. This act answered that question, and ensured that banks that perpetrated such acts would be criminally prosecuted.

  • Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform - After years of no-bid contracts and missing pallets of cash, has begun the work of reforming and accounting for how Defense acquisitions are managed.

  • Tobacco Regulation - Thanks to Congress and the President, the FDA can finally regulate one of the last unregulated drugs.

  • Human Rights Enforcement - Did you know that before this Administration, there was no dedicated division in the Department of Justice for enforcing international human rights laws? Now there is.
Change, when it is happening, can be hard to see. A glance back at some of the things accomplished in the past year is important, because none of these things would have happened without a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. And there wouldn't be this Congress and this President without the time, money, energy and support of Democratic activists and volunteers, as well as millions and millions of voters across America, joining together in election and campaign, month after month, to make it happen.

Yes, we can. Yes, we did.

Leesburg Student Job Fair

On Saturday, April 10th at noon, Supervisor Kelly Burk is hosting a summer student job fair for high school and college students looking for summer jobs. The event will be held at the former car dealership at 211 Catoctin Circle.


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Here's some of what Kelly has to say about the event.
We have 40 business ready to hire summer high and college kids. Everything from the Washington Airport Authority to retail stores. Please help me spread the word about the Job Fair, April 10, noon to three at 211 Cactoctin Circle. We also need adults to help me out that day. Thanks!
As many parents in the area know, this recession has hit young people extremely hard. I am personally aware of students with engineering masters degrees living at home because there is just no work for people their age. This problem is exacerbated for students who need summer work, as they are competing with people looking for full-time jobs in the same market. Supervisor Burk has tackled this issue head-on by cooperating with her friends in the business community to hold a Job Fair for students.

If your student children are looking for summer work, or you know any kids who are, tell them to come out on April 10th!

Monday, March 29, 2010

"What does the health-care law mean to me?"

In 2008, the Obama campaign put together an online tool to show the effect of their tax proposals on voters. A voter could go to a website and calculate the tax cut they were likely to see if (and when, as it turned out) Obama's plans were put into effect.

The Washington Post has put together a similar tool which will cleanly and clearly show the impact of the health insurance reform bill on any household.
What does the health-care law mean to me?

The health-care overhaul will change the way millions of Americans get health insurance and require nearly everyone to have health insurance or face penalties. A number of factors - including income, age, location and family size - will determine how it specifically impacts your life. This tool estimates what it could mean for your health coverage and taxes based on your income, family size and current insurance status. - The Washington Post
It is very easy to use, and remarkably simple in its results. For all the posturing over complexity, the actual impact of the bill on the American people will be salutary. Here, for example, is what will happen to me and my family (according to the Post's tool).
There will be no change to your insurance coverage.

If you have children, you will be able to keep them on your insurance until they are 26. If you have adult children who don't have access to health insurance through an employer and are between the ages of 22 and 26, you will be able to put them back on your plan beginning in late September.

You will not pay any additional taxes.
But what about someone who does not get insurance from their employer, and has no insurance? I ran that scenario through the tool as well, using my family as an example (married, employed, with a child). Here was the result.
Beginning in 2014, you will be able to buy health insurance in the new exchange but will not get any subsidies to help with premiums or out-of-pocket expenses.

You are required to have health insurance by 2014. Penalties for not having coverage begin in 2014 at $95 per uninsured dependent and rise by 2016 to $695 per person (up to a maximum of $2,085 per family or 2.5 percent of household income (whichever is higher). After 2016, the penalty would be increased annually by the cost-of-living adjustment.
Many kudos to The Washington Post for this tool, it is the kind of clarifying, interactive journalism that we need in the wake of what passed for debate over the past year.

(With a tip-o-the-hat to Anjan of the LCDC for the link.)

Three For Leesburg Council 2010

This past weekend, Leesburg District Democrats met downtown to hear from no fewer than five candidates running for various offices in 2010. Both Richard Anthony and Jeff Barnett were there to solicit the support of Leesburg Democrats in their bids for the Democratic nomination to run against Frank Wolf in November. They spoke eloquently about the need for jobs, business growth and preservation of our quality of life and environment.

Three progressive candidates for Leesburg Town Council (vote May 4th!) were also there to seek support for their bid to serve the Town. Town Council elections are non-partisan, so none of the three who came to the meeting were formally running as Democrats, but all of them were interested in support of active members of the Leesburg community, and the Democratic District meeting was an opportunity to engage neighbors in discussions of issues that are important to the town.

Marty Martinez is currently on Council and is running for re-election. He has spent eight years advocating for his neighbors and working across ideological lines on Council to provide effective, fiscally-wise leadership. Only Mayor Umstattd has a longer tenure on Council than Marty, which goes to show how much turnover there has been on Council over the past few elections. Marty is the only candidate running who is also a full member of the LCDC.

On a personal note, I have known and worked with Marty on Town issues and Democratic politics for the past four years, and have found him to be a dedicated and conscientious public servant. He spends his own time, money and energy making sure that our kids have a great place to grow up and is one of the strongest voices for the whole of Leesburg on Council. I'll be campaigning for Marty however I can, and look forward to his continued service to .

Neely Law has spent the past two years as chair of the Environmental Advisory Commission, and in that role she has been a passionate voice for the trees, streams and open spaces that make Leesburg such an attractive place to raise a family. Neely, however, has spent her time on the EAC working to integrate conservation with business development and growth. There isn't a conflict between the two, and Ms. Law's focus on the EAC is to help businesses grow and develop in a manner consistent with long-term preservation of Leesburg's natural beauty. Neely is running for Council to help make sure that the needs of neighborhoods and businesses are cooperatively reflected in the work done by the Town, even as Leesburg's character is preserved in those efforts.

Ann Robinson is a long-time Leesburg resident and activist. She has served as an organizer for her neighbors in the southwest quadrant of town for many years. At the District meeting on Friday evening, she spoke out for the working families and people of Leesburg, who she believes need more support in the form of things like expanded bus service and bus shelters. She has also been an outspoken opponent of the Southwest Connector Trail, which would impact her neighborhood as it is built. Ann's plans for funding many of her ideas for improving Leesburg (like a pedestrian bridge over the Rt. 15 bypass) are based on suspending spending on that and other parks and trails projects in.

All three Council candidates were warmly received by the democrats in attendance, and the Leesburg District voted to give them our District-level endorsement for Council. I strongly recommend for voting for these three candidates for Council, and hope you will do so on May 4th!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thank You Tom Perriello

I gave my first donation to a candidate of 2010 the other day, and it was to Rep. Tom Perriello. He is a man with the courage of his convictions and a fantastic Virginia Democrat. Many say he is from "a tough district" but I disagree. I think Tom does an amazing job genuinely representing the interests of his district, whether the fringe constituents there realize it or not.

The video below (with a tip-o-the-hat to Vivian Paige) demonstrates why I believe that.



This is a Democrat who comes to the state JJ Dinner and points out to a room full of, let's face it, people from the more urban and suburban parts of our state that agriculture and forestry is the largest part of Virginia's economy. I, for one, needed to hear that. It filled in a blind spot in my thinking. He is slightly more conservative than many of his colleagues in the Democratic caucus, but he is far more progressive than any Republican who is running to replace him. And when the chips are down, he stands up for his neighbors and votes for something better than we have today.

That is just one among hundreds of reasons to support Tom Perriello (here's another) in his bid for re-election. He is a Democrat we want, and need, in Congress.

Facts and A Delusional Party

It is amazing how the national narrative turns on a vote in Congress. Two weeks ago it was the Republicans ascendant, the Tea Party as a valid expression of national opinion, and Democrats as bumbling, tone-deaf interlopers who should stop trying to do anything and let those that know better take over through the November elections.

Since the vote on the Health Insurance Reform bill last week, those in charge of the news seem to have noticed that the Republicans were, in fact, wrong about not being able to pass the bill, and that their supporters are often fundamentally wrong about many other things as well. Not just on different sides of a debatable point, but actually, factually wrong.

Here's just a smattering of recent findings, all of which were true and out there before last week, but which only became worthy of reporting after the Democrats won a fight.
By now, most everyone has seen American Dad's amazing Open Letter to Conservatives, which is the ultimate fisking of the past few years of Republican actions and talking points, but if you haven't read it yet, do so. It's comprehensive and well written.

America is not healthy when one of her two main political parties suffers from what can only be termed delusions among so many of its adherents. Complete denial of facts disallows reasoned discussion over policy, and America needs that discussion. I am a Democrat and believe that we are all better off when Democrats are in power, but I know that we can do better. The only way to discern how to do better is to engage in open debate with reasoned arguments so that better policy emerges. What passes for debate from Republicans today is not reasoned argument, it is the flinging of verbal poo. I do not want the Democratic party to be the only party of reason in our Republic. That's not good, but today, that's where we are. And that, too, is a fact.

[Update] Because Digby always enlightens.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Rachel Maddow Is Not Running For Senate

I love it when politics and humor come in one package. In this case, a segment from the Rachel Maddow show this week. It's worth watching for the bottom third trivia during the Interview if nothing else.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


[Update] Rachel took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe to put any "running for Senate" rumors to bed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Interlude: "My Mom's On Facebook!"

With a tip-o-the-hat to my buddy, George.

Tax High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Okay, so high-fructose corn syrup isn't poison, but it's pretty close according to some of the latest research.
These are among the reasons why I think High-Fructose Corn Syrup should be taxed.

Two years ago, I suggested taxing transfats as a way to create incentives for healthy eating and help close yawning budget gaps in state and local coffers.
One of the tenets of good government is well-targeted taxes and programs, like gas taxes going for transportation improvements, or early-education programs with which a little spending now reduces the need for a lot of spending later. An important driver of government costs is the health of the population. The less healthy people are, the less they work and the more they use government services. This is among the reasons for cigarette taxes. Cigarettes cause health problems, so the government needs money to pay for the effects of cigarette use.

Today, a very similar argument can be made for trans fats. Research has shown that trans fats are remarkably unhealthy, linked to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, even belly fat. The impact of this unhealthy element of our diet is felt directly in the costs of public health, as more people need help managing and controlling chronic health problems, and the emergency healthcare system is strained with more acute problems resulting from untreated conditions.

Virginia should implement a trans fat tax. The state should tax the sale of foods that contain trans fats at between 1% and 1.5%, depending on how much it costs to implement the tax at the point of sale. Businesses should not have to bear the cost of implementation, so the tax must pay for itself. This money would be designated towards the state's healthcare costs (FAMIS, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) in the same manner that the gas tax is designated to transportation improvements.

By creating a dedicated source of revenue for the cost of public health care, Virginia's citizens would be somewhat insulated from the vagaries of government funding which come from unpredictable budget cycles. Furthermore, such a tax would create an incentive to eat healthier, which would reduce the state's long-term costs for care of conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Furthermore, Virginia should pass legislation allowing localities to introduce their own trans fat tax, of up to an additional 1% (depending on the cost of implementation, as above). In this manner, places that want to reduce the use of trans fats, like Arlington, would have a tool available, while other localities which might prefer not to introduce another tax would have that option. In light of revenue shortfalls in County budgets resulting from the mortgage crisis, an alternative source of revenue which is linked to a cause of county government costs makes sense. - Leesburg Tomorrow, January 2008
The arguments for a tax on high-fructose corn syrup are the same. It would create incentives for healthier choices, help with the budget gap and the revenues could be used to help pay for Virginia's Medicare, Medicaid and FAMIS programs. Localities should be given the power to tax it, or not, as they so choose. It's a targeted, simple and focused solution, and a good idea.

200,000 For Immigration Reform

I'm hopeful that passage of the health insurance reform bill Sunday will be the dam breaking for a number of important changes whose time have come, including repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, jobs legislation, climate change, and financial industry reform. Another issue I believe in, and that I hope will be addressed over the summer is comprehensive immigration reform.

It is unfortunate that the undeniable drama on Sunday surrounding Health Care Reform drowned out the fact that around 200,000 people gathered in Washington DC last weekend to ask for comprehensive immigration reform.

You can read the New York Times article on the march.
Demonstrators filled five lengthy blocks of the Washington Mall, down the hill from the Capitol where last-minute negotiations were under way on the health care bill. The immigrant activists, chanting Mr. Obama’s campaign slogan of “Yes we can” in Spanish and English, tried to compete with their numbers for public and media attention which were mainly focused on the climactic health care events in the House of Representatives.

The rally brought the return to major street action by immigration activists, who turned out hundreds of thousands of protesters in marches and rallies in 2006. - The New York Times
The millions of undocumented migrants living in America are a major issue for our nation. "Kick them all out" has been our policy for the past eight years, and it has been worse than no policy, it has been actively harmful to our economy and human rights.

I believe that we should have comprehensive immigration reform, now. From the policy perspective, some path to legalization for those already here would mitigate the evils to which having an undocumented underclass tend. From lowering wages for workers to exacerbating the health care crisis, the fact that these people (and they are people, not "criminals" or "them.") are undocumented is at the root of the problems that they are perceived to cause. Our nation is weaker for not having these residents integrated into our society.

We are also weaker for the tales of exploitation and injustice that undocumented status engenders. Just as America's character and moral authority are eroded by Abu Ghirab and Guantanamo, so too are they tarnished by how we treat our neighbors from other countries who are participating in our society. Because participate they do. They pay taxes, they start businesses, their citizen children assimilate and excel. Heck, they go to church! When we allow neighbors to be taken, locked up and deported without consequence it can decimate our towns.

And then there is American history itself. Ours is a nation of immigrants. Each of us has, in our backgrounds, an ancestor who couldn't speak the language, and was spat upon and ridiculed by "real" Americans when they first arrived. Each of us is the result of the ability of that immigrant to rise above the hate, ignorance and systematic discrimination to make a life for themselves and their family here in the nation that has served as a beacon of hope for two hundred years.

To rail against immigration reform is to rail against the very fabric of American society and a foundation of American prosperity and ingenuity. To rail against immigration reform is to denigrate the spirit of our forefathers, immigrants all.

I hope that immigration reform comes next. The dam has broken. The time has come.

(Note that we're talking about immigration reform, not "open borders and amnesty." Keep that in mind when the Republicans start telling you immigration reform means that violent Mexican drug gangs will be free to come to suburbia and rape your daughters with impunity.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Senate Rules, Health Care Reform and Social Security

So the Republicans are trying to steal the thunder of yesterday's victory by diving deep into the niceties of Senatorial procedure, invoking things like the Byrd Rule and "meeting with the Senate Parliamentarian." On the radio this morning, I heard what should be well-informed observers comment about how the "Senate Parliamentarian could still stop this reform." That is simply not true.

A succinct summary of the situation is in the Post.
A small group of senators and staffers is expected to gather Monday with the Senate parliamentarian to determine whether a tax on high-cost insurance policies would affect the Social Security trust fund, and whether that would violate prohibitions against altering Social Security through the reconciliation process. Republicans say a ruling on their side could short-circuit the process, but Democrats are confident about their provision. - The Washington Post
While the essence of the reporting is correct, there is an important subtlety which is left out. The Senate Parliamentarian does not render a "ruling," as in the final say on the matter. The Senate Parliamentarian issues an opinion or advice. The actual ruling on the matter is made by the Presiding Officer of the Senate, based on that advice.

In the case of reconciliation, health care reform and Social Security, as summarized by the Post above, the Parliamentarian could advise the Presiding Officer that an objection to the reconciliation bill on the basis of the Byrd Rule's prohibition on changes to Social Security through reconciliation would be in order. Translation: Reconciliation shouldn't be used because the rules say it can't be used to change Social Security. However, the Presiding Officer of the Senate does not have to heed that advice. Actual rulings on order are the sole province of the Presiding Officer, not the Senate Parliamentarian.

Thus, while a Republican Senator could bring up a point of order against reconciliation on the basis of the Byrd Rule's prohibition on Social Security changes through reconciliation, the Presiding Officer could rule against that point of order (saying that the reconciliation bill does not violate the Byrd Rule, in the opinion of the Presiding Officer). At that point the Republican Senator would, no doubt, appeal that ruling to the floor. However, it would only take 51 votes (not 60) to sustain the ruling of the Presiding Officer, allowing the reconciliation bill to proceed. In a Democratic caucus of 59 Senators, Harry Reid can muster a 51 vote majority for a procedural motion. If he couldn't he wouldn't be able to run the Senate at all.

Thus, the Parliamentarian cannot kill the bill, or even interrupt the process, if the Democrats were willing to allow the Presiding Officer to ignore the advice of the Parliamentarian.

On Passage of Health Care Reform

Well, the bill passed the House last night. A quote from a friend who is a doctor practicing at a hospital in Fairfax will serve as a nice coda to the evening: They did it. Health care reform has passed. I am about to eat a gigantic, rotten, steaming plate of crow and I will enjoy every last mouthful. :)"

I think there are four things to remember when people ask us "so what?"
  1. No more rescissions. That means that if you've been paying your policy premiums in good faith and develop a medical condition, your insurance carrier cannot arbitrarily rescind your coverage. This is a benefit we all deserve, and it is just plain common sense.

  2. No rejection for pre-existing conditions. This one has always amazed me. Insurance works best when everyone is covered. The people who need it most are the ones with conditions requiring treatment. Rejection of pre-existing conditions plus recissions is the health insurance industry essentially saying, "you can buy our insurance, but you can never use it." That is ridiculous.

  3. Expansion of coverage to 31 million uninsured Americans. Among the reasons that costs of care are high is that hospitals are required to treat everyone who comes into the ER. Many of those doing so do not have insurance, meaning that the costs of care for those people are often shifted onto those who do have insurance and the local, state and Federal government. By providing a way to get insurance for 31 million people, those costs will be managed better, leading to more efficiencies and lower costs for all of us.

  4. An end to lifetime caps on coverage. Insurers will no longer be able to dictate the value of your life relative to how much you are costing them. If you have insurance, they must cover you.
There is a good article in the same spirit on Huffington Post today. Vivian Paige is also a good read this morning, as she posits on the nature of the conversation over the past 24 hours. And when it comes to some of the process consternation post-passage, you must read Nate Silver.

Jen gets the final word.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tax Hypocrisy and Public Input

I strongly recommend going and reading Dave's post on local property taxes today.
Greg Stone (a Loudoun County Republican Committee officer) stated that “you don’t raise tax rates in a recession, something you guys have already done”. The assessment database on the Loudoun County website shows that Mr. Stone paid over $600 LESS in property taxes in 2009 than he did in 2008.

Jeff Morse of Chantilly spoke later in the session and remarked about “how outrageously high taxes are” in Loudoun. I looked up Mr. Morse’s home data, and yes Mr. Morse, like Mr. Stone, paid LESS in property taxes in 2009 than he did in 2008, a little over $500. - In Through The Out Door
The "lower taxes" argument of Republicans is essentially absurd, because no Republican, especially in Mark Sell's LCRC, believes that there is a "good" tax level above zero. There appears to be a belief, divorced from reality, that you can have a high quality of life without paying for the roads, schools, public services and public safety infrastructure necessary to maintain that quality of life.

Ultimately, we are today paying the price for the choices made by the Board of Supervisors from 2002 through 2007. Mark Sell's LCRC would have us go back to that era of fiscal mismanagement and overdevelopment. The current Board of Supervisors has steered a more responsible course, and is being excoriated for it.

I, for one, thank the Board of Supervisors for taking responsibility for Loudoun's problems, making hard choices, and doing the hard work of governing, rather than grandstanding hypocritically.

Leesburg Mayoral Candidates 2010

I would be remiss if I did not post about the upcoming Leesburg Town Council election, which will be held on Tuesday, May 4, 2010. This year, there are five candidates for three Council seats, and two candidates for Mayor. I will discuss Council candidates in a later post. For now, I would like to focus on the Mayoral race.

As a prologue, it is important to know that Leesburg elections are strictly non-partisan, and the Town government has always strived to avoid political fights in executing the Town's business. Last year, there was some discussion of a plan to move the Town elections to November, to coincide with the Federal elections. The theory was that it would save the Town money, but an analysis of the actual costs of May elections showed that the savings were minimal. (About the equivalent of one or two new computers.) Furthermore, it was thought that moving the election to the Fall would create more partisanship in the election, as Council candidates would doubtlessly be caught up in the national campaign and its issues.

This is brought up because Tom Dunn, a candidate for Mayor, was one of the two council members (the other being Ken Reid) to vote in favor of moving the election from May to November.

Mayor Kristen C. Umstattd is running for re-election. While the Mayor was voted an award by the LCDC a few years ago for her service, she frustrated many local Democrats with her flirtations with the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. She has also frustrated others with her stance on one of the defining issues of 2007-2009, water rates. In spite of a court ruling against Leesburg's surtax on out-of-town water customers, the Mayor maintained her position that a large out-of-town surtax is legal and advisable. The Town Council voted against the Mayor to rationalize in-town and out-of-town rates in April of last year.

Opposing Mayor Umstattd is Council member Tom Dunn. This is a "free" campaign for Mr. Dunn, as he does not have to give up his seat on Council to run, and if he loses he retains his Council position until 2011. Mr. Dunn has consistently opposed government since being elected to government. That sentence is not a contradiction, as Mr. Dunn believes in cutting Leesburg's government to the bone, and then further. He opposes government so vehemently that he did not even appoint anyone to one of the Town's commissions until last month. He is often the one "nay" vote on issues that the Town widely supports. If Mr. Dunn becomes Mayor, it is not clear what will happen to what is widely considered one of the best-run local governments around.

I, for my part, will be supporting Mayor Umstattd.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Senator Cuccinelli?

It is fascinating to me that a conservative state Delegate from Fairfax can so quickly be transformed into a national figure by benefiting from a lackluster Democratic year in Virginia, and some well-timed crazy as he starts out his term as our Attorney General.

Looking at what AG Cuccinelli has been doing since coming into office, it seems he is far more concerned with national / Federal issues than state issues. In fact, seen from a certain angle, I would say that Ken Cuccinelli is setting himself up to run for Senate against Jim Webb in 2012. Ken Cuccinelli's actions against the GLBT community, and lawsuits against the Federal government, seen from this perspective, are actions hammering the wedges where Sen. Webb may differ from some of his critical constituencies in rural Virginia.

And now, he deems it appropriate for him to stick his nose into the business of the Speaker of the House.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is questioning the Constitutionality of an obscure legislative maneuver to get health care reform passed without taking a flat vote on the legislation.

Dubbed "deem and pass" the process is essentially a way for House Democrats to avoid taking recorded votes on the Senate health care bill. The idea was hatched to help bring fence-sitters into the fold by offering them political cover for approving health care. - The Shad Plank
Nevermind that a vote is a vote and arguing over House procedure is like arguing over margins and font size, why is the Attorney General using his office to stick his nose in Congress's business? Unless he's angling for a job in Congress itself, and setting himself up as an "outsider" to a serving Congress member's "insider" status.

The AG has been remarkably quiet on important state issues like the budget in this most-difficult budget year. He's even been silent on the issue of pro-women license plates, even though this was a cause celebre for him while in the Assembly. I sincerely doubt he's changed his mind on important state questions, and now, with the increased profile of being Attorney General, he could no doubt make (state-level) hay on many of the things passed by the Assembly in this session.

So, silence on funding Planned Parenthood with license plate revenue, and relative silence on the state budget. Why would Cuccinelli avoid picking a fight with the Assembly, while clearly willing to pick a fight with everyone else? Well, consider who is going to have to pay for all these high-profile lawsuits against the Federal government? You and me, as Virginia taxpayers, with appropriations from the Assembly.

It's all speculation, of course, but it is interesting.

An Interlude: The Five Stages of Drinking

Because, one way or another, we're all having a drink after the votes in Congress are taken in the next few days.

Some Thoughts on Health Care Reform

Thinking about health insurance reform this morning, since the vote on it is likely in the coming few days.
  • There will be a vote. All this "deem and pass" baloney is just that, baloney. Whether the vote is on the bill itself, or a motion that contains the bill, the vote is still on whether or not to reform the health insurance system.

  • Health insurance reform will lower the deficit. Voting against health insurance reform is voting for higher deficits. Thus, for "no" votes and Congress members who are on the fence, it's a question of which priority is higher: lowering the deficit, or preventing the expansion of health insurance coverage.

  • Health reform will reduce abortions. From a progressive standpoint, it's a step in the wrong direction for women's rights to their own bodies, but the fact is that increasing coverage in Massachusetts reduced the frequency of abortions. If reducing abortions is the goal, then voting for health insurance reform is the true "pro-life" position.

  • And, from personal experience, health insurance reform will help our economy. My company would like to hire about 2 more people. Right now the added cost of those new employees is more than we can afford, because of the cost of our company's health insurance plan. We're a small company, and thus, we are charged exorbitant rates by our insurance carrier. Health insurance reform will increase our leverage and reduce our costs, allowing me to hire the engineer I need. Voting against health insurance reform is a vote for unemployment.
Like I said, just some thoughts.

As a bonus, go read Natasha today. I swear, I'm becoming a feminist. (Maybe every guy on earth should have a daughter in his life.)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Healthcare Executives and The Daily Show

The video is worth watching.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Health Care Executives Meeting
www.thedailyshow.com
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Key point?

There were three security persons preventing The Daily Show from going into the AHIP conference.

Think about that. The Daily Show was worth three security guards.

America, folks.

President Obama To Speak at GMU

The President is coming to GMU on Friday to speak about health insurance reform, and the event is open to the public.
President Obama to Discuss Health Insurance Reform in Fairfax, Virginia

WASHINGTON, DC - On the morning of Friday, March 19, 2010 President Obama will deliver remarks on health insurance reform in Fairfax, Virginia at George Mason University’s Patriot Center. This event is free and open to the public and doors open at 9 AM. No tickets are required. Further information is available at whitehouse.gov/GMURemarks.

The President’s Remarks at the Patriot Center are open to pre-credentialed media.

Members of the media who wish to attend the President’s Remarks at the Patriot Center should RSVP by 6pm Wednesday, March 17th at http://www.whitehouse.gov/mediarsvp/potus-GMU-03-19-10.
The event is up on Facebook, where you can RSVP.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Planned Parenthood Plates

I would not have believed it if someone had predicted it in November of last year, but license plates supporting Planned Parenthood might just be coming to Virginia.

For the past few months, the Assembly has been wrestling with establishing a license plate to balance the "Choose Life" plate approved last year. In the course of the sausage making, funding from sales of the plates was originally directed to go to Planned Parenthood, and then in the Assembly a Delegate reoriented the funding to go to a previously moribund state "Pregnant Women Support Fund" which had never been funded since it was established. In effect, taking the money and sending it nowhere. The Senate's legislative language retained the funding for Planned Parenthood, however, and the Senate wording was what came out of the conference committee and was sent to the Governor.
Conferees recommended retaining the Senate language, and the recommendation was adopted by the Senate on a 22-15 vote and by the House on a 64-30 vote.

The plate is a counterweight to the “Choose Life” license plate approved by the General Assembly last year.

“Since the commonwealth had provided a forum for one side of the choice debate last year, we felt it was duty-bound to give equal treatment to the pro-choice position,” Brink said.

“Planned Parenthood is a vital part of the health-care safety net for women across Virginia - securing this license plate on their behalf is more than a symbolic victory,” Brink said. - The Sun Gazette (For a laugh, check out their tagline at the top)
It's a great thing to see this legislation successfully move through the Assembly. I personally support Planned Parenthood and all they do, and am glad for a way to express that support.

The interesting question is whether Bob McDonnell will sign the bill, which is part of the overall package of legislation that has passed the Assembly this past week. It is pretty clear that Virginia must pass some kind of pro-choice license plate bill, as per court decisions on the matter of issue-plate in the past. I sincerely hope he signs it, and we can get our plates in the coming year.

Incidentally, did you hear that the pill may decrease women's risk of death, and freely available contraception reduces abortions? There's a funny thing about fighting for gender equality in services and society, when we succeed, our overall health as a community improves.

Reconciliation in 1 Minute

Nice video from Senate Democrats.



As a bonus, go read Ezra Klein explain why you cannot take conservative columnists' "facts" at face value on questions of reconciliation.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Paring Back Aggressive Lending

In all the bluster over civil rights and budget fights, it is nice to see something good come out of the Virginia General Assembly for a change. In this case, an agreement to rein in the massive overcharging of citizens who take out car title loans.
It would put a one-year limit on the loans, set up a maximum interest rate and require the lenders to be licensed.

Currently the lenders are unregulated, charge more than 300 percent annual interest and can repossess a borrower's vehicle if he falls behind on the payments.

Supporters said the reforms would protect borrowers from an endless cycle of debt while stopping short of running the lenders out of the state.

"I told the title lenders, if you don't want the front of your place looking like a used car lot, don't make loans to people who can't repay them," said Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw. "This also tells the people who are going to borrow that you need to understand that if you don't make these payments you will lose your car, but you won't be making payments forever."

Saslaw cited the example of a Harrisonburg man who took out a $1,500 car title loan, paid $380 per month for about a year, and after paying more than $4,700 he still owed the $1,500 principle.

In Saslaw's bill, lenders could charge between 15 percent to 22 percent per month, depending on the amount of the loan. The companies could not lend more than 50 percent of the vehicle's value, and borrowers must own the car.

It would require the loan be repaid in full within one year, and at least 8.25 percent of the principle must be paid each month. Saslaw said those provisions would put a stop to endless payments that never reduce the amount that is owed. - The Daily Press
Now, if we could just get something done on payday lending.

Joe Biden Can Fix The Senate

On my drive into work, I listen to POTUS on XM. This morning, Tim Farley (who is an excellent anchor for political news and talk in the morning, balanced, credible and engaging) had an expert on Senate procedure on the show to discuss the latest machinations over health insurance reform. I am the parliamentarian of my local Democratic Committee, and it was really gratifying to hear someone explain correctly that the role of the Parliamentarian (of the Senate or any other organization) is to advise the presiding officer on procedure, not to make rulings on order or procedure themselves.

OpenLeft is running a campaign to "fix" the Senate by revising the filibuster at the opening of the next Congress. The idea is to pass different operating rules for the Senate at the commencement of the next Congress, when only 51 votes are necessary to establish the rules of procedure for the Senate during that term. I believe a similar reform outcome could be achieved if that effort does not pan out. My idea would involve having Vice President Biden act in his Constitutional capacity.

As per the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land (and thus cannot be thwarted by the procedural resolutions of one of its creatures, the Senate), the Vice President presides over the Senate. That means it is the Vice President's duty to make rulings on order and procedure when the Senate is in session. By convention, this authority has devolved to a Senator appointed on behalf of the President Pro Tem to preside during debate, most often among the most junior members of the majority.

In much discussion and reporting on procedural issues, it is implied that the presiding officer simply enforces clearly understood rules of debate with little-or-no room for interpretation. But this is clearly false, for if it was true then members of the minority would be just as likely to be appointed to preside as members of the majority. Members of the majority always serve as presiding officers because interpretations of rules do matter.

The power to rule on order is one that has inherent authority to define process. As a nationally-elected leader who served in the Senate, Vice President Biden has the popular authority to restore the precedent of the first 150 years of our republic, and exercise his powers as Presiding Officer over the Senate to manage debate in that body. Furthermore, Vice President Biden served in the Senate for longer (1973 - 2009) than the current Parliamentarian (1977 - present), giving Mr. Biden ample clout to disagree with the advice of that office if he so chooses when ruling on motions and questions of order.

Thus, a mechanism for solving the current impasse for actually getting anything done in the Senate would be as follows.

1. During debate, a Republican Senator engages in a standard obstruction tactic, such as a hold, actual filibuster, or proposing numerous, non-germane Amendments.

2. The Vice President, as Presiding Officer, rules that Senator's hold, filibuster or spurious amendments out of order.

3. The Senator who holds the floor, and had attempted the hold (filibuster, or amendments), could then appeal the decision of the Presiding Officer to the Senate as a whole.

4. (And here's where it gets interesting.) A simple majority (51) can then vote to uphold the ruling of the Presiding Officer that the hold (filibuster or amendments) were out of order.

And with that, the filibuster would be dead for debate on that bill. A simple majority is all that is necessary to uphold the ruling of the Presiding Officer, not 60 votes. Doing this would shut down the ability of a minority from our least-populous states to thwart the popularly expressed will of the majority.

Ruling filibuster tactics as out of order would not require changing the rules of procedure in the Senate. I propose a change in the interpretation of those rules. I believe that having a Vice President who was elected by a national majority, has the Constitutionally-explicit authority to preside over the Senate, and has more experience in the Senate than the Parliamentarian, offers us a unique opportunity to fix the filibuster in the least-disruptive manner possible, through a change in interpretation rather than the rules themselves.

And for those who say that such a tactic would be "unprecedented" and violate all rules of comity and good relations for the Senate, I would note that this method is not only precedented, it is exactly how the filibuster rules were changed the last time.
In 1975 the filibuster issue was revived by post-Watergate Democrats frustrated in their efforts to enact popular reform legislation like campaign finance laws. Senator James Allen of Alabama, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate and a skillful parliamentary player, blocked them with a series of filibusters. Liberals were fed up with his delaying tactics. Senator Walter Mondale pushed a campaign to reduce the threshold from sixty-seven votes to a simple majority of fifty-one. In a parliamentary sleight of hand, the liberals broke Allen's filibuster by a majority vote, thus evading the sixty-seven-vote rule. (Senate rules say you can't change the rules without a cloture vote, but the Constitution says the Senate sets its own rules. As a practical matter, that means the majority can prevail whenever it decides to force the issue.) In 1975 the presiding officer during the debate, Vice President Rockefeller, first ruled with the liberals on a motion to declare Senator Allen out of order. When Allen appealed the "ruling of the chair" to the full Senate, the majority voted him down. Nervous Senate leaders, aware they were losing the precedent, offered a compromise. Henceforth, the cloture rule would require only sixty votes to stop a filibuster. - The Nation
Vice President Biden was a member of the Senate in 1975 when this happened. The current Parliamentarian was not. Clearly, the Vice President has more experience in such matters than the current Parliamentarian and can render his own judgment on the matter.

Of course, there may be good reasons why this would not work, and I'm sure David Waldman will be able to correct me if that is the case.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Governor's Spurious Reasoning

[Update] Wow, I missed pretty big here. The Governor issued an "Executive Directive" not an "Executive Order," which does not carry the same legal weight. In essence, this was entirely a PR move, not a change in policy.

From the Post:
But McDonnell might have alienated social conservatives in his own party who see the directive as an endorsement of the idea that there is no sin in homosexuality, while failing to satisfy gay rights advocates, who note that it provides no legal protections for college students or employees. (Emphasis mine - P13)
My original post:

So after national opprobrium and mocking on The Daily Show, Governor McDonnell has extended legal protections to members of the GLBT community that work for state agencies.
The directive is a formal statement of McDonnell's position that hiring, promotion, compensation, treatment, discipline and termination of state employees can be based only on an individual's job qualifications, merit and performance.

"We will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation or any other basis that's outlawed under state or federal law or the Constitution, and if it is reported, then I will take action, from reprimand to termination, to make sure that does not occur," McDonnell said. "I believe this properly takes care of it and assures the good people of Virginia that we will absolutely not have discrimination in this state." - The Washington Post
The good of this outcome should not be minimized. Our neighbors deserve the right to get and keep jobs without fear of losing them because of bigotry. In the midst of relief and congratulations about the outcome, however, it is important to note that while the Governor changed the ruling, he did not change his opinion on the question of gay rights itself. The Governor's reasoning for changing the policy begs a number of questions about his leadership.

In issuing the executive order without protections for GLBT employees in the first instance, the governor's reasoning followed from the advice of his Attorney General.
Cuccinelli says that only the General Assembly has the authority to extend legal protections to gays.

McDonnell (R) has said he supports the legal reasoning of that opinion, which mirrored his advice on the issue as attorney general. The governor said Wednesday that he continues to believe that without legislative approval, universities and state agencies cannot issue orders that would allow employees or others to sue in state court over discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. - The Washington Post
There is no evidence that the new executive order was issued because the Governer no longer holds to that opinion. In fact, the quote above indicates that he still believes that only the Assembly has the power to extend the protections he, himself, extended in the Wednesday Executive Order. (Of course, the Attorney General who originated this interpretation of the law disagrees with how our current AG has tried to apply it.)

So, if the Governor believes only the Assembly has the power to issue the necessary protection, why did he issue the Executive Order extending the necessary protection?
But McDonnell said Wednesday that Cuccinelli's letter had caused confusion and anger among students, college presidents and others that he could address with a clear statement opposing discrimination and a promise to use the human resources process to punish an employee found to have shown bias. - The Washington Post
Confusion and Anger.

Apparently, the Governor reversed his position and violated legal reasoning that he agrees with because of confusion and anger. Placating the confused and angry trumps fidelity to his Administration's interpretation of the law? Forgive me if I remain suspicious about the depth to which the Governor holds his newfound anti-discrimination principles.

Time will tell whether this Executive Order actually carries any weight, or whether it is only so much puffery.
[Delegate Bob] Marshall said last night that McDonnell's directive carries no force and is no more than a "press release with fluff around it."
Again, the good of this reversal should not be minimized. It is important that the formal policy out of the highest executive office in Virginia is inclusive and nondiscriminatory. It is a problem, however, if the authority issuing that policy continues to actively doubt and undermine its own power to issue that policy. A policy undermined and unenforced is a policy in name only.

I am of the opinion that this is not a true reversal of policy, it is a publicity move. When the state is distracted by a major budget battle in the next few months, funding and support for anti-discrimination enforcement will be eliminated within the Administration, taking the teeth out of the new policy, and we will once again hear that it is the Assembly that must act first.

So far, Governor McDonnell's leadership has been avoiding the tough decisions, and reversing himself on discrimination, while maintaining the legal interpretation that contradicts the discrimination policy itself. But I'm skeptical, and hope I Governor McDonnell will prove me wrong. Time will tell.

[Update] From the comments.
actually, it was an Executive Directive, not Executive Order, and provides no legal protections. So, Del Marshall was correct. Just a bit of puffery. - Joy

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Interlude: New Noise

Inspired by Slowpoke this morning, here's the video for one of my all time favorite songs, New Noise, by Refused.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Students Not Banks"

In all the hubbub about health care reform, its hard to hear the calls for college loan reform. As a primer for those who might not know, it's far cheaper for the Government to loan money directly to students than to funnel that money through banks. Basically, the government guaranteed not only 97% of the loan itself, but also a 9.5% (!) return on the loan, at zero cost or risk to the banks lending the money. This blanket giveaway to banks is a very easy and obvious way to cut government costs while increasing the funding available for other programs, like Pell Grants.

The House of Representatives has passed the necessary legislation, which is pending in the Senate. FireDogLake has started "Students Not Banks" campaign to get that legislation passed by reconciliation in the Senate, now.
President Obama proposed, and the House passed, a plan to cut out the bankers from student lending that will save $87 billion. That means more money for students, and none to the bailed out banks.

But the banks aren't happy. They want to hijack Obama's planand steal tens of billions for themselves in a fake "compromise." We can't let them get away with this.

Sign our petition to the Senate: don't give another dime to bailed out banks. Pass direct student lending now. - FireDogLake
I am a huge supporter of helping out students and recent graduates. From forgiving college loans to providing loans to recent graduates who need a downpayment for a car, or first-and-last-month-rent for an apartment, I think one of the best ways to stimulate the economy and build our future is to invest, today, in our youngest voters.

Please go sign the petition. The fight for young people is the fight for our future.

[Update] Lowell at Blue Virginia wrote about this issue today.

On The Importance of Good Teachers

I have long been a proponent of the "smaller class size" school of thought for improving student performance. It just seemed logical to me that if there were fewer students per teacher, each student would get more of the teacher's time, and would then benefit from a better education. One of the great things about No Child Left Behind (and I believe it has its pretty sizeable flaws) is the requirements for data gathering and analysis about schools that it imposes. This data analysis can put hypotheses like "smaller class sizes" to the test.

Some data is starting show that the most basic element of student performance is the teachers themselves. Not class size, not funding, not curriculum. Teachers.
The testing mandates in No Child Left Behind had generated a sea of data, and researchers were now able to parse student achievement in ways they never had before. A new generation of economists devised statistical methods to measure the “value added” to a student’s performance by almost every factor imaginable: class size versus per-pupil funding versus curriculum. When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school’s control produced just a tiny impact, except for one: which teacher the student had been assigned to. Some teachers could regularly lift their students’ test scores above the average for children of the same race, class and ability level. Others’ students left with below-average results year after year. William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years. Teachers working in the same building, teaching the same grade, produced very different outcomes. And the gaps were huge. Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year. - The New York Times
Of course, at this point it is important to remember the words of a good friend who is a teacher in Fairfax. "I don't think you can objectively measure a teacher's effectiveness through student grades and test scores because there are so many other variables at play (namely, the students themselves)."

Nonetheless, it is nice that our debates over school and education policy are becoming more informed by rigorously gathered and analyzed data, even if it verifies some obvious conclusions like "teachers matter."

[Update] Nicholas at Donkeylicious weighs in on the subject as well.

[Update] New nationwide academic standards for public schools?

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Conversation

I was talking to some fellow, engaged Leesburg residents earlier this week after a meeting. A friend was complaining about how "only 4 high schools in Loudoun can have JV Ball!" Ball, in this case is - of course - Football. My friend was angry about the cuts to school sports programs and the fees that were now being charged.

So, I responded, "I assume, then, you'll be supporting higher taxes so the kids can play ball?"

To which he replied, "No, I'm not going to support more taxes!"

I'm not sure what happens when people start talking about politics and government that makes some of my neighbors think that the law of cause and effect is no longer operating.

It was gratifying, however, to hear another friend respond, "I don't know why they don't just raise the tax rate so I'm paying the same as I did last year?" He made the point that his assessment was going down, so he didn't see why his tax rate had to go down too. He would be perfectly fine with the tax rate going up, to equalize it out. "I'm already budgeting for property taxes, just make me pay the same each year, however you have to adjust the rate."

I have to admit being somewhat surprised to not be the only one in the room advocating for providing our government with enough revenue to sustain the services we need as a community. It was nice to see a repository of rational understanding of financial cause and services effect in a neighbor that evening.