Monday, August 30, 2010

Vehicle Milage Labels Redux

Back in 2007, I posted a diary on DailyKos calling for Vehicle Milage Labels to be put on cars, showing relative levels of mileage.
I believe we should institute a policy of vehicle labels, applied by the dealerships, and linked to local property taxes. The labels would reflect the predicted around town gas mileage of the vehicle. I propose four levels of labels, to be applied as a sticker to the back of the car just below (or above) the dealership sticker/medallion. Each level would correspond to a mileage range. And localities would be given the right to impose a sliding property tax surcharge based on which mileage label the vehicle carries. The property tax surcharge money could be explicitly designated for road maintenance, traffic enforcement and related spending, but not new road construction. - Leesburg Tomorrow
Funny thing about that.
"The EPA and Department of Transportation on Monday proposed a fuel economy label overhaul to reflect how electric and alternative fuel vehicles stack up against gasoline passenger vehicles. ... The changed label, mandated by the 2007 energy law, includes the same information on city and highway miles per gallon and estimated driving costs based on 15,000 miles a year now available. But the new labels add more comparative information, rating cars on mileage, greenhouse gas contribution, and other air pollutants from tailpipe emissions. That means that consumers can look at a label to see how one vehicle compares to all available vehicles, rather than only cars in a specific class. One label proposes grades, ranging from an A-plus to a D. There are no failing grades, since vehicles need to comply with the Clean Air Act." - Slashdot
It's not the same thing, but it's close.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Reid, Dunn Oppose Essential Maintenance

The Town of Leesburg is remarkably well-run. This is thanks in large part to prudent, long-term fiscal and operational planning on the part of Town staff and their boss, John Wells. Executing on prudent long-term planning is what helps keep Leesburg's taxes low and quality of life high.
Every year, Public Works staff conducts a review of town streets and gives each a Pavement Condition Index rating based on a 19-point physical inspection. Each surface is given a rating from one to 100, with a lower rating indicating a surface in need of corrective maintenance. Mason emphasized that streets must be placed on a regular maintenance schedule so extreme measures, and a bigger road maintenance budget, are not needed in the future. [Emphasis mine - P13] - Leesburg Today
That's why it is astonishing that two members of Town Council: Tom Dunn and Ken Reid voted against that most basic of government functions - road maintenance.
"I still believe we are over spending in this area," Dunn said, then making a motion to cap the FY11 milling and paving program at $800,000.

He was joined in support for his motion only by Reid and the two were the only to cast dissenting votes for funding the FY11 program as recommended. Mayor Kristen Umstattd was absent for the vote.

Reid said he was casting "a symbolic vote" against the program.

"I just think that we overdo it in this town. I think this is too much money to be spent," he said. "Some of these streets that I'm looking at here I just personally don't think are that critical," for milling and paving services in FY11.

Vice Mayor Kevin Wright said he believed that if the council chose to delete a chunk of funding for its milling and paving program it would only be moving increased costs to another year.

"We have a lot of stuff that we are deferring," he said. "I'm sensitive to the overall budget but we have continued to reduce this and keep it within a responsible scale." - Leesburg Today
It seems remarkable to oppose essential maintenance on roads. Even the most libertarian of reasonable voters agree that keeping the roads working is rightly an essential function of government. I understand that Councilmembers Dunn and Reid were objecting not to the fact of road maintenance spending, but the extent of it. However, I believe that the Town staff who have done an amazing job of keeping Leesburg running better than most other towns on a constantly scrutinized budget should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their areas of expertise. When Mr. Mason makes the point that regular, scheduled maintenance today is the way to avoid major catastrophic repair later, I am inclined to believe him.

And we do well to remember that Councilmembers Reid and Dunn objected to the maintenance funds after the maintenance budget had already been cut earlier in this fiscal cycle. Mr. Mason was already working with a reduced budget when he made his recommendations for the updated maintenance schedule. The adjustment to the maintenance plan was recommended in light of changed circumstances. The snowstorms of this past winter significantly degraded our roads. Mr. Mason's recommendations were made to minimize the overall, long-term costs of fixing that degradation.

Consistency in maintaining our roads is even more important in light of the fact that Leesburg is getting so little help for our continuing road needs from the state. Key road development priorities are on hold until the revenue to support them can be found. That only makes keeping the roads we have well-paved more important. After this past winter's snowstorms, spending $180,000 now is critically important. It's not like the number of cars on our roads is going to be going down, or the money available next year will be going up.

Thank you, Town Council, for making the wise decision to sustain road maintenance at the recommendation of Mr. Mason. With it, Leesburg will continue to prosper.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Citizen Radio

How is it that I went so long before finding Citizen Radio? They're awesome.

On that note, I did a lot of blogging over at Loudoun Progress this week. Head over and take a look.

(I thought about posting this as an Interlude, but it seemed to topical for an Interlude.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Jeff Barnett Town Hall in Leesburg

Jeff Barnett
Our Congressional candidate, Jeff Barnett, is holding a Town Hall here in Leesburg on Wednesday, August 25th. Right now, it's scheduled to be held at the Balch Library.
Frank Wolf has agreed to one debate and one forum, but that’s not nearly enough. That’s why I’m putting together ten town hall meetings. 10th District residents deserve the opportunity to question their candidates on the issues they are most concerned about and to hear opposing views” said Jeff Barnett. “It’s disappointing that Frank Wolf is ducking the tough issues by refusing to debate me in more than one place, but these town hall meetings will allow voters to hear from at least one of their candidates directly,” Barnett continued. “I look forward to an open exchange of ideas about our future.
Leesburg has an opportunity to meet and talk with our candidate in person, and speaking from my own experience, Jeff enjoys having in-depth discussions with his neighbors here in the 10th District about our future. I strongly encourage everyone to come out and spend some time talking with Jeff. It is great to know that in November, we'll be voting for someone: Jeff Barnett.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Leesburg Jobs For Teens

A few months after holding a Youth Job Fair, Supervisor Kelly Burk continues to look out for the part of our workforce hit hardest by the recent Great Recession, young people. Supervisor Burk's office has received word of no fewer than five different local employers in Leesburg actively looking for multiple employees for entry-level jobs, perfect for our young people.

Employers actively looking for young people to employ include:
  • Pump It Up
  • J. Crew
  • Jockey
  • Ashby Ponds
  • Polo Ralph Lauren

Please contact Supervisor Burk's office for details.

(Details removed at the request of the businesses.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Our Lying Eyes

One thing that struck me about the saga of the serial stabber was the contrast between the sketch of the suspect, and the actual suspect that was captured.

Stabbings SketchStabbings Suspect
I, for one, would not have identified the man on the right with the sketch on the left. Clearly, the eyewitness information provided was insufficient to catch this creep, and hard, focused police work provide decisive.

And yet, a huge number of people are convicted of crimes on the basis of eyewitness testimony alone.
The DNA revolution that began in the late 1980s has dramatically demonstrated how utterly unreliable eyewitness identifications are. About 200 people convicted of violent crimes have been exonerated by DNA evidence in the past two decades. About 80 percent have been the victims of eyewitness misidentification. Some of them served even more time in prison than Tillman.

Even more disturbing are the results of the FBI's DNA analysis of biological specimens in 10,000 cases from 1989 to 1996.

These were all cases in which eyewitnesses had identified a suspect who had been arrested for the crime (usually sexual assault) and biological material from the perpetrator was available for comparison with the suspect's. In 20 percent of the cases, no conclusive results could be obtained. In the remaining 8,000 cases, however, the suspect was cleared in 2,000, or 25 percent. Assuming that without DNA evidence half of these defendants would have been convicted, then as many as 12 percent of those convicted in disputed eyewitness cases may be innocent.

At least 80,000 prosecutions in this country every year rely largely on eyewitness testimony. If only half of those result in convictions, we may still be sending to prison nearly 5,000 innocents annually, based on false eyewitness testimony alone. - Yale Law School
Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable, as has been documented by a wide range of scientific studies. This is why the DNA revolution has been so critical to our criminal justice system. It is also why it is critically important that we maintain funding for cops and detectives even as we look for ways to save in our local government budgets. We want our cases against criminals to be as solid as possible, and not rely on eyewitness testimony alone.

Here in Virginia, felony convictions have enormous consequences as the convicts typically have their right to vote stripped for life, in addition to they stigma and job opportunity penalties that accrue from such a conviction. After conviction, the US justice system often hands out punishments that far outweigh the crimes. This is all the more reason that when it comes to criminal convictions, we need to get it done right, rather than get it done fast.

(Crossposted from Loudoun Progress.)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Leesburg's Sorensen Councilman

Virginia is an interesting place to do politics. From our history of one-party machine politics, to the divisive issues of race and religion, to the rural/urban dichotomies that define more than we realize about our policy outcomes. Throughout Virginia's history, we have given birth and home to more than our share of national leaders. Indeed, leadership - for good or bad - seems to grow as well in our red clay as tobacco, or soy.

Perhaps one of the more interesting tidbits about Virginia Politics is the fact that Virginia has a "finishing school" for up-and-coming leaders of all parties, The Sorensen Institute at the University of Virginia.
Sorensen was founded in 1993 to bring together diverse individuals with a passion for politics and public service. All have a wide variety of viewpoints and backgrounds but want to work together for the common good. Our non-partisan mission is to strengthen and enhance the quality of government at all levels throughout Virginia.
When I was at UVA, the Institute was just getting started and I knew nothing about it (in spite of being a Government major). Today, it has flourished into a remarkable producer of political talent. No fewer than seven Sorensen graduates are running for Congress in Virginia this year!

That is why it is gratifying to see our own Councilmember, David Butler, among the current crop of Sorensen students.
Favorite Virginia vacation spot? Visiting my niece and her family in Floyd. Beautiful family, beautiful country.

First political memory? Getting public water down my street 20 years ago. Found out people can get really wound up about something that I thought would be an easy sell.

Whom do you admire and why? Fred Shaufeld, my company's Chairman and Founder. He took $79 and started a company, essentially in his dorm room. The company now has over 5,800 employees, and the $79 has turned into "quite a bit" more. Fred has always focused on customer and employee satisfaction, and still is active in the company. I'm not normally easily impressed, but I sure couldn't have done what he's done.
The Sorensen institute's curriculum forces its students to be able to argue the side opposite their personal philosophy, and emphasizes trying to work together to solve problems, in spite of differences and conflicts. This approach to training for governance serves our commonwealth, and we can hope that its graduates will take these lessons to heart if and when they spread through the ranks of elected offices in Virginia.

Sen. Herring Ears and Cheers

Ears And Cheers 2010On Saturday, we went canvassing for Jeff Barnett and headed over to Sen. Herring's annual Ears and Cheers event for volunteers afterwards. I must say, grilled corn fresh from the farmers' market is pretty wonderful when cooked by our state Senator. It was the great cap to a day of walking our neighborhoods and talking with voters about Jeff and the election this year. I was pleased to talk to a neighbor on the street who was not even on our walk list about the campaign and Jeff's positions. She was very interested to hear about Jeff's plans for the mortgage mess. And while knocking doors we heard many enthusiastic voters tell us they would definitely come out and vote for Jeff in November.

At Ears and Cheers, we enjoyed the company of our neighbors on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Sen. Herring and his wife were wonderful hosts and provided a lovely location for Democrats and independents to gather and discuss issues that were important to us. Sen. Herring has made a career out of doing what's right for his district in such a way that it benefits all of Virginia. This focused, open and results-oriented approach to government has served Loudoun well.

The next year will be an eventful one for Sen. Herring, as the Senatorial District lines will be redrawn from new census data, and he is likely to run for re-election shortly thereafter. That is among the reasons that it is entirely appropriate to join the Senator's mailing list today, in anticipation of the 2011 elections:

Earlier this year, Senator Herring launched a brand new website. If you haven’t already, head over to You can sign up to receive the Senator’s email updates as well as connect with him on Facebook. The “Senate Notebook” feature allows Senator Herring to communicate directly with constituents about his thoughts on the issues facing our area and the good work he is doing on our as our Senator.

The new site is an excellent improvement over many of the sites offered by other state representatives, and worth checking out.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stabbing Suspect Caught

Stabbings SuspectAs an update to the ongoing saga of the racially-motivated stabber, a suspect is in custody thanks to nationwide cooperation among police departments. The suspect is a former Leesburg resident who had been in the custody of the Arlington County police just hours before attacking a man in Leesburg. The suspect literally went from jail to stabbing someone in my Town in a matter of hours.
Abuelazam was booked on the outstanding warrant. However, a magistrate released him around 3 a.m. with order to appear in court Monday, Aug. 16. He returned to Leesburg and at 6:15 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 allegedly stabbed the elderly man as he sat on the stoop outside the Leesburg Commons apartment building. - Leesburg Today
The Leesburg Police did their job, and did it well, as our local cops were the ones to link the suspect to Michigan and begin cooperation with the Flint police. It is unfortunate that news did not move more quickly to Arlington, as one of our neighbors might have been saved from being stabbed if it had.

The suspect has a criminal history, here in Loudoun and elsewhere.
Abuelazam has a history with Loudoun law enforcement. Between 2001 and 2008, he was brought in for five traffic offenses in Loudoun, including failure to stop at a stop sign; operating an uninspected vehicle; expired registration; failure to obey a highway sign; and improper passing on the right. In 2008, Abuelazam pleaded guilty to making false reports, a misdemeanor charge pleaded down from a more serious felony charge of making a false statement of one’s criminal history when attempting to purchase a firearm.

According to Commonwealth’s Attorney James Plowman, Abuelazam had been convicted of a non-violent felony in California in 1995, and failed to report that conviction when attempting to purchase a firearm in 2007. The case was referred to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office from the Virginia State Police. Court records indicate Abuelazam spent 30 days in jail in that case. - Leesburg Today
This suspect is the posterchild for national background checks when you try to buy guns. Could you imagine what this spree of violence would have looked like had he had a gun? The next time a politician in Virginia decries background checks, or grandstands on the gun show loophole, we will all do well to remember Virginia Tech and the senseless attacks of this past week.

The thanks of the whole community go out to the Leesburg Police for their swift and effective work on this crime, and our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Stabbings in Leesburg

If you haven't heard about this, you will. There's a possible serial killer in Leesburg, but he's not from here, he's from Michigan. (Update - The police think the suspect has moved on to Toledo, OH.) Here's what the Post has to say:
Police in Leesburg are investigating a possible link between three recent unprovoked attacks in the city and a serial killer in Michigan.

The assailant is white, and in nearly all the cases the victims are black, prompting concerns the attacks may be racially motivated. Leesburg Police said a vehicle in which the attacker fled after one of the Virginia attacks — a dark green Chevrolet Blazer or GMC Jimmy that has two large grapefruit size dents in the hood — matches the description of a vehicle Michigan police believe the attacker may have used there. - The Washington Post
What's worse is the racial tone of the attacks.
With a suspected serial killer conducting targeted, racially based attacks in Leesburg, in addition to as many as 16 additional attacks in Michigan, members of the African-American community are on high alert, and the Leesburg Police Department is working closely with Loudoun County NAACP to get the word out to anyone who could be a potential target.

Last week a 15-year-old boy and a 67-year-old man, both African-American, were stabbed in two separate incidents. Friday, a 19-year-old Hispanic male, who has been described as having a "dark complexion," was hit with a hammer-like object. The stabbing victims are still in the hospital but are expected to recover, the third victim was released hours after his attack after being treated locally for non-threatening injuries.

During a press conference Monday, Leesburg Police Chief Joseph Price said law enforcement believes the victims are being targeted at random for their race and that no confrontation has occurred between the victims and the suspect. - Leesburg Today
We are a friendly, multiethnic community that has lived in harmony (more or less) for a while now, and violent hate has no place in my Leesburg.

Further complicating this story is the fact that members of Town Council were only told about the press conference, and the situation, as it was happening. Councilwoman Hammler had to get her information from the Leesburg Today website.
Councilwoman Katie Hammler expressed dismay that the council was not alerted to the press conference held Monday afternoon at police headquarters, where Chief Joseph Price said investigators were exploring links between the three attacks in Leesburg last week and more than a dozen attacks-five fatal-in the Flint, MI, area over the last few months.

Some council members said they were not aware a press conference was taking place until after the fact, with Hammler saying she was only able to see what was said via the Leesburg Today Web site, which provided video of the press conference. - Leesburg Today
Regardless of any process breakdowns in the notification of our elected officials, I'm very happy the Town Manager and Police acted swiftly to notify the public of the danger, especially considering the fact that one of the attacks took place right in the neighborhood of the Leesburg Public Safety Center.

In this tragedy is an opportunity for us to come together as a community in solidarity with our neighbors to say that we will not tolerate nor accept violence in the name of hatred on our streets. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this crime and their families, and all of us must be vigilant and on the lookout for the suspect or his vehicle.
Police are looking for a dark green four-door Chevy Blazer with a light colored trim package on the lower portion of the sides. The vehicle did not have a front license plate and no inspection stickers or other window decals were displayed. There are two "grapefruit-sized" dents in the hood near the latch area, police said.
We can and will show how strong Leesburg can be, when we are united.

[Update] Equality Loudoun has provided a link to the flier about the suspect.

Friday, August 6, 2010

An Interlude: Tightrope

Some fun on a Friday night. This is the next step in the dancing that Michael Jackson invented, I believe.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mortgage Mess, Foreclosures Continue

The end-unit house in my row is in foreclosure, again. This is the third time owners have moved out of that house since I moved into the neighborhood a little more than four years ago. This time, however, it's a little bit different if not downright ironic.

The owner who was foreclosed upon this time had lost her job about a year ago, not too long after she bought the house. She had worked at Fannie Mae. Her former employer had backed the mortgage on her house, but when she tried to rework her payment terms after going into default (because she lost her job), Fannie Mae refused to work with her. Of course, when Fannie Mae got in trouble the government helped them out, but that principle doesn't apply to little people.

In a final insult, my former neighbor got a new job not too long after she started missing payments, but that wasn't enough to let her keep her house. Even with evidence of employment, Fannie Mae foreclosed on her. And now, the house at the end of my row is growing weeds in the flowerbeds and has paint cans in trash bags lined up on the porch.

What happens in the mortgage business is simply crazy. Remember Wells Fargo suing itself to recover money from itself? This stuff is still happening. In spite of government programs that try to help, people aren't getting help. Our housing finance system is still a mess, and there is only one candidate for Congress talking about it, Jeff Barnett.

With one of five mortgages “underwater,” tens of thousands of our neighbors live in constant fear of losing everything. They are one bad break -- sickness, job loss -- away from going bankrupt. They lose their home and their life savings.

I will champion three immediate steps to help homeowners:
  • Institutionalize the short-sale process so homeowners can force a short-sale when their bank refuses to modify an underwater mortgage.

  • Guarantee an FHA loan two years after the short sale – so homeowners with good credit can recover.

  • Give homeowners the same bankruptcy protections we give big corporations.
None of these proposals should cost the federal government a penny. They won’t weaken the financial system – banks have already written off underwater mortgages. Our government must help middle class homeowners caught up in the housing bubble. We cannot forget the Too-Small-To-Save.

This is a problem that isn't going away. Jeff Barnett knows that there is a lot of work still to be done.

(Crossposted from Loudoun Progress.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Kelly Burk, Frank Wolf and Jobs

Frank Wolf held a jobs fair in Leesburg last week.
Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA-10) will be hosting another 10th District job fair this week, this time at Harper Park Middle School in Leesburg.

More than 40 federal agencies and private sector companies are scheduled to exhibit, including Cox Communications, Middleburg Bank, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Prince William County Police and Telos Corporation. - Leesburg Today
Funny thing about that, Supervisor Kelly Burk did that first, back in April.
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. - Kelly Burk
A difference, of course, is the fact that it is young people who are suffering the worst unemployment in this recession. So, Supervisor Burk targeted her job fair to those who need the most help. Kudos to Supervisor Burk for identifying a specific problem, and developing a solution.

Frank Wolf's job fair was simply another in a long line of photo opportunities. How can it be otherwise when Loudoun has a 4.9% unemployment rate, half of almost anywhere else. Of course, even with low unemployment, many of our neighbors are still looking for work. And yet, Frank Wolf is one of the staunchest supporters of expanding the H1B visa program, which is rife with abuse.

It's not about jobs with Frank Wolf. It's about appearances.

Vote Jeff Barnett in November!

(Crossposted from Loudoun Progress.)