Monthly Archives: January 2011

Leesburg Today: “Work v. Rhetoric”

Leesburg Today had a little-noted, but spot-on editorial in last week’s edition. It’s worth quoting in its entirety.

Work v. Rhetoric

The wringing of hands over the Board of Supervisors’ efforts to set the upper limit on County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s advertised real estate tax rate provides an early illustration of the pitfalls inherent in the formulation of an election-year budget. The advertised tax rate has no impact on the final budget outcome. Supervisors can, in fact, adopt a higher rate; state law requires only that it be re-advertised. The only thing that can make a difference is a collection of five votes. Those truly interested in cutting taxes would be better served by investing time in the research and coalition building needed to win those five votes. In November the candidates should be judged by their ability to get things done, not by the number of speeches they make condemning the actions of those who do that work. – Leesburg Today

Agreed.

(Though it is worth noting that the Board of Supervisors can also enact a lower rate than the $1.33 advertised, and without re-advertising rates. Go read Supervisor Miller’s excellent tax rate  explanation to learn more.)

For three years, our Democrats on the Board of Supervisors have dedicated themselves do doing that work. We have managed growth, built schools, finished roads, planned our energy future, and kept the County’s budget balanced and our credit rating high through it all.

Something to keep in mind this year.

Let’s Expand Congress

The New York Times has an opinion piece up today that our friend hbinkley pointed out. It calls for the expansion of the US House of Representatives.

What’s needed, then, is a significant increase in the size of the House by expanding the number, and shrinking the size, of districts. Doing so would make campaigns cheaper, the political value of donations lower and the importance of local mobilizing much greater.

Smaller districts would also end the two-party deadlock. Orange County, Calif., might elect a Libertarian, while Cambridge, Mass., might pick a candidate from the Green Party.

Moreover, with additional House members we’d likely see more citizen-legislators and fewer lifers. In places like New York or Chicago, we would cross at least one Congressional district just walking a few blocks to the grocery store. Our representatives would be our neighbors, people who better understood the lives and concerns of average Americans.

More districts would likewise mean more precision in distributing them equitably, especially in low-population states. Today the lone Wyoming representative covers about 500,000 people, while her lone counterpart in Delaware reports to 900,000.

The increase would also mean more elected officials working on the country’s business, reducing the reliance on unaccountable staffers. Most of the House’s work is through committees, overseeing and checking government agencies.

With more people in Congress, House committee members could see to this critical business themselves – and therefore be more influential, since a phone call from an actual member is a lot more effective than a request from the committee staff.  - Dalton Conley

Mr. Conley makes and excellent and correct argument. But I believe that expanding the House of Representatives does not go far enough. I believe we also need to expand the Senate.

My proposal would be to add 34 more Senators, one each for the the 34 most populous states. This would preserve the even number of Senators, allowing the Vice President to continue casting a tie-breaking vote. More significantly, since it requires two-thirds of states to ratify a constitutional amendment, giving thirty-four states one more Senator increases the likelihood of getting that two-thirds (since two-thirds of 50 is 33). Adding this many would also create a bipartisan mix of new Senators, since the mix of states in the top 34 include such diverse politics as Alabama (23) and Connecticut (22).

The additional Senators would be allocated after each census to the top 34 states. That Senator would be elected during the two year cycle when that state did not elect one of their other Senators. Those states would then not only elect Representatives every other year, but also a statewide Senator during every Congressional cycle. That is likely to increase turnout during otherwise low-participation elections, a goal all members of our political process share.  Interestingly, support for such a change may have bipartisan support among activists. My friend Ed, who I have been close with since we were both first-years at UVA, is a strong Republican. He was a long-time volunteer for Eric Cantor. When last we hung out on my deck drinking our friend Pete’s homebrew and arguing politics, reforming the Congress in such a manner was just about the only thing we could come to agreement upon. We both agreed that Congress was no longer representative in the manner which the Framers intended, and Congressional expansion was the way to fix it.

For Virginia, such a proposal would create a series of new Congressional districts as well as add a Senator to our delegation (We’re population rank 12). Every Federal election would have a Senator (or Senate candidate) on the ballot leading the ticket for each party, which serves as a unifying force and ensure a statewide focus for each election.

It is my humble suggestion that Virginia, as the source of the original plan for Congressional representation in the Constitution draft an Amendment and put it forward for debate among our sister states. The time has come to address the terrible inequality that our current allocation of Congressional representation forces upon the voters of America.

What Choice means to me

It means the ability to say, “No”. It also means the ability to say, “Yes”.

Choice means that sexual contact with someone who cannot or did not consent is rape.

Choice means having full and factual information. About how reproduction happens, about how to prevent reproduction from happening, and how to have the healthiest baby possible – if you choose to reproduce. Without full and factual information, there is no informed consent.

Choice means that women should be able to choose to get a tubal ligation, or be able to decline to get one.

Choice means that women should be able to get their birth control pills from any pharmacy that also stocks Viagra.

Choice means that any insurance company that covers Viagra should also cover birth control pills.

Choice means that abortion should be safe and legal and available and, yes, covered by insurance (and not on a separate policy).

Choice means that the health of the mother should trump the life of a fetus.

Choice means that clinics that provide out-patient first-trimester abortions should not be held to a higher standard than clinics that provide out-patient vasectomies.

I am pro-choice. Please donate to NARAL Pro-Choice VA, to help stop TRAP. Or join Tarina and many others for Lobby Day next week.

Sign This, Send That 10

Send Frank Wolf a fax asking him to drop his government healthcare, since he voted on January 19th to deny citizens access to affordable healthcare.

Also, join the call to investigate JP Morgan for overcharging 4,000 US troops for their mortgages.

Links We’re Reading – January 10-20, 2011

One wonders why so many people wind up in the clink, and Sen. Webb wants to dig into that question, which is awesome.

My answer to him was, “John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that “right” and “wrong” are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong.

However, I don’t think that’s so. It seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy concepts, and I will devote this essay to an explanation of why I think so. – Isaac Asimov

  • The Tucson Shooting’s Most Important Questions – A fantastic compilation of real questions in the wake of the attempted assassination of Rep. Giffords. Worth pondering.
  • A Divorce Dispute Becomes A Religious Cause – I grew up in New Hampshire, where this case is a cause celebre. The courts are asking the right question, what about the rights of a NON-religious parent?
  • The Relativity of Wrong – A classic Asimov essay on false equvilency, and worth revisiting after the tragedy in Tucson. Both sides do not “do it” to the same extent.
  • What Is Violent Rhetoric – A rhetorician (yes, that’s a word) actually defines “violent rhetoric.” Summary: audience matters.
  • Civility 101 – In the same vein, a Berkeley professor explains civility. “So when we ask for civility from our politicians, we are really asking for a recognition that they see themselves, along with us, as members of a cohesive and functional society. It would seem to be the least we can expect from them.”
  • To Understand Assassination Threat, Look Beyond Tucson – Nate Silver is able to take a step back, and hopefully we can all take that step back with him.
  • Post-Abortion Counseling Group Finds Itself on the Firing Line – A great article about an organization dedicated to counseling, rather than judging, after a woman has an abortion.
  • Forclosures In Focus At The Assembly – An article in which I agree, completely, with Bob Marshall. Maybe the President is right about this working together thing.
  • Taxes – Supervisor Miller does a fantastic job breaking down the most charged issue in Loudoun politics. If you read nothing else, read this.
  • Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools – Fascinating expose of how private money defines the debate over schools, often to the detriment of meaningful results. An excerpt is worth repeating:

    To justify their campaign, ed reformers repeat, mantra-like, that U.S. students are trailing far behind their peers in other nations, that U.S. public schools are failing. The claims are specious. Two of the three major international tests-the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study and the Trends in International Math and Science Study-break down student scores according to the poverty rate in each school. The tests are given every five years. The most recent results (2006) showed the following: students in U.S. schools where the poverty rate was less than 10 percent ranked first in reading, first in science, and third in math. When the poverty rate was 10 percent to 25 percent, U.S. students still ranked first in reading and science. But as the poverty rate rose still higher, students ranked lower and lower. Twenty percent of all U.S. schools have poverty rates over 75 percent. The average ranking of American students reflects this. The problem is not public schools; it is poverty. And as dozens of studies have shown, the gap in cognitive, physical, and social development between children in poverty and middle-class children is set by age three.

No bears to poke

Crossposted at Equality Loudoun

Loudoun Out Loud Kickoff:
Leave a comment below if you want to attend.

A bit of background: As recently as 2005, some members of the Loudoun County School Board were discussing a policy that would have prohibited the presentation by our public school drama departments and clubs any work that acknowledges the existence of GLBT people. That ridiculous situation, largely created by former delegate Dick Black and some of his family members, was provoked by a student’s original work. See Equality Loudoun archive. Although the policy eventually adopted by the board did not include unlawful viewpoint discrimination, the debate (which included threatening hate mail and some atrocious behavior at School Board meetings) did result in a chilling effect. The message was, as one drama department head put it, “Don’t poke the bear.” That era of self-censorship has now ended with the announcement that The Laramie Project has been selected as the spring play at Broad Run High School.  This is wonderful news, and when we have all the details we’ll post them here. This award-winning play has been presented by many, many high school drama departments – as it should be.

Here is some more wonderful news: Loudoun will now have a PFLAG support group, and counselors in our schools will have appropriate material to provide to GLBT and ally students seeking support.

Metro DC PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), is starting a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and parent support group to meet in Sterling.

Loudoun Out Loud Kickoff:

Sunday, Jan. 23, 4-6 p.m.

Leave a comment below if you would like to come and you will be provided location information.

The groups will meet every fourth Sunday during the same time.

It’ll be interesting to see who actually opposes these things and decides to make an issue of it. Would those really be good campaign issues? Advocating that kids be exposed to bullies and told they don’t deserve any help? Preventing parents and children from trying to keep their families together? I get the feeling there aren’t many bears left to poke, not ones of any consequence. We’ll see.

[Note: Meeting location information redacted at the request of organizers in favor of soliciting RSVPs. - P13]

$19,467,399 For Loudoun

Photobucket

$19,467,399.

That’s how much money Loudoun County has gotten, directly, from the Federal Government since 2002. Most of it has come in the form of earmarks for gang prevention and energy planning or water management. Because we are a leader in so many ways, Loudoun benefits from receiving a very high proportion of Federal dollars compared with our population. As a comparison, Henrico County, another suburban County with a comparable population (~296,000 to Loudoun’s ~301,000), received a little more than $7.1 million in spite of the fact that it is represented by one of the most powerful members of Congress – Eric Cantor.

I got this information from the wonderful, “USAspending.gov” site, which the Obama Administration put in place as part of its government transparency initiative. There’s another good thing the Obama Administration has done with little fanfare and even less credit.This is something to think about as our Republican Congress, and many of their ideological compatriots here in Virginia, prepare to storm the gates of the Federal budget, looking with a jaundiced eye on helping the states. Without that Federal money, Loudoun would have to do without a number of critical services and infrastructure investments, or find an alternative way to pay for them.

For example, it is because of that Federal money that Loudoun County does not actually carry the full costs of its police force. For a decade, Loudoun has been the beneficiary of Department of Justice grants which subsidize the Sheriff’s office. Similarly, our water system has some of its planning and management costs offset by Federal funding.

Lost in the calls for cuts in the “growth of Government” is the fact that that growth often comes in the form of money doled out directly to localities to help cover their costs, and thus subsidizing a lower local tax rate than would otherwise be necessary to maintain the same level of local spending.

Something to keep in mind this year.

(Credit where credit is due, many of these Federal earmarks have come from Frank Wolf.)  

Advertised Does Not Mean Actual

This morning, I was reading the front page story in this week’s Leesburg Today (oddly, with no link to it on their website), “Budget Rhetoric Heats Up”, that described the debate that ensued in Wednesday’s Finance committee meeting. Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) alluded to the contentious nature of this meeting on his blog this week, and staff writer Erika Jacobsen Moore expanded on it in her article.

At issue is the advertisement of a maximum tax rate for 2011 of $1.33, a rate which would be necessary to fully fund the proposed budget submitted by Schools Superintendent Edgar Hatrick, along with the necessary programs for the rest of the County.The confusing part of the whole controversy is Supervisor Lori Waters’ actions in the Finance committee meeting. According to the Leesburg Today article, Mrs. Waters was concerned that citizens would immediately consider the advertised maximum tax rate as a tax increase (we’re currently paying a rate of $1.30 per $100 of assessed value). Nevermind the fact that this is a high end for a rate, and that normally, we don’t end up with that as our final rate. Negotiations, assesment data, funding from the state, etc., all combine later in the year to usually adjust our rate below that of the advertised rate.

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) had a rational consideration, to word the advertisement in a way to ensure that residents see it as an “upper limit”, not the actual rate.

“I am concerned about people intentionally taking the advertisement as a decision by the board,” he said.

And that’s exactly what happens when it comes time for citizen input. The Loudoun County Republican Committee will marshal their forces and complain loudly (and incorrectly) that this is yet another tax increase. They do it every time. They’ll do it again. And Supervisor Waters has already started the misinformation campaign, mentioning in the meeting that “(g)oing to $1.33 would increase my own taxes by $468″, even though the tax rate has not increased.

Yes, it’s political grandstanding; I understand that. And with grandstanding comes attempting to use data to your side’s advantage. But to intentionally and deliberately misrepresent information that will be transmitted to residents, in order to rile up the masses is simply irresponsible. Supervisor Waters should know better than that.

It’s national delurking day!

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