Thursday, October 09, 2008

Citizen Committees Continued....

From: Katherine
Cc: ; ; ; ; Nohe, Marty E. ; Covington, W. S. Wally ; Stewart, Corey A. ; Jenkins, John

Sent: Thursday, October 09, 2008 8:00 AM
Subject: Citizen Advisory Board for Comprehensive Plan

Dear Mr. Utz and Planning:

I am a citizen concerned about the way PWC appoints and oversees its Citizen Advisory Boards and Committees.

I am asking you to provide the following information about the CAB that developed the Comprehensive Plan through 2030.

1. Are there any members on this board who own real estate on the lands they planned for? If you don't know, I am asking you to check.

2. If there are any members who own real estate, who are they and what do they own? What is the approximate value of their holdings?

3. Did any of these members (from #1 or #2) vote on decisions that will affect their property?

4. If these members (from #1 or #2) did vote on items related to their property, what did they vote on, what was the outcome of the vote, and how would their vote affect their own property?

5. Who oversees this Committee?

Thank you for your time.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Brentsville District


I've also written to Fairfax County to ask them what their process is. So far, this is what I have gotten. I'm waiting for a response to my email for more details.

FF requires a resume, not a resume form.

2. Here are some of the forms FF folks have to fill out...notice the form on real estate holdings.


I know members of Citizen Advisory Boards do not get paid, but what I got from the Committee 100 meeting was that first, people with conflicts of interest can't legally vote on decisions these boards make and second, they are actually WRITING the policy and/or plans (as in the case of the comprehensive plan that lasts into 2030....a committee that has some kind of conflict, but I don't know which members).

Also, Tom Kopko whom I believe runs the Republican Committee is on that comprehensive planning board, so there's something in it for him even if it's not money, I would think. I'm not saying he has a conflict or is doing anything wrong. I AM saying that there are probably often motives more than pay--why else would someone like Duecaster or Widowski want "in" so badly?

I was wondering about other jurisdictions also. Want to make a bet their process isn't as lame as PWC's?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Look Who is Writing YOUR County Policy!

Received from BOCS:

Below is the ONLY document used to assess a nomination to Citizen Advisory Boards. Each position DOES have a job description, but nominations and resume forms have no real meaning in PWC.

Yes, folks, anyone can barf up a resume and write policy for dear old PWC so long as there's a loving relationship with at least one pet supervisor.

You, too, can have this awesome and prestigious responsibility for the asking! Don't know what you are doing? No problem! So long as you are buds with the BOCS, you're in! Looks great on a resume, folks! Apply today!
Prince William County, VABoards, Committees, and Commissions

Home Telephone No.: Office Telephone No.:
Fax No.: E-mail Address:

Length of residence in Prince William County:
Board, Committee, or Commission in which you are interested:

Statement of nominee’s qualifications, and/or interest in the appointment:

The above information will be included in the Prince William County Boards, Committees, and Commissions Manual. This information will also be posted on the Prince William County website. Please contact the Clerk to the Board of County Supervisors at (703) 792-6600 if you have any questions or concerns.

Letter to the Editor


The government's promise to back mortgage giants Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae now seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. As I write this, Congress is debating a massive $700 billion bailout for financial institutions. Many are blaming the “greed” of Wall Street, and many others are bemoaning the fact that there were inadequate regulations on mortgage and financial entities.

These are complicated and intricate problems that many of us do not understand well. Yet we cannot simply allow the “experts” to deal with these difficulties because they clearly did not prevent the current mess. Our first instinct is probably not to ask what our faith tells us about these issues which affect our lives so much.

And yet we know that Christians have long offered another perspective on financial matters. The early church pooled their financial resources to care for those who were unable to “make it” without help. For many centuries, the church taught that lending money at interest was morally wrong. In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued a major teaching document on the right of Christian workers to form and join labor unions.

Perhaps the most profound Christian perspective was put forward by the U.S. bishops in their 1986 pastoral letter, Economic Justice For All. It applied Biblical teachings and the church tradition on areas such as employment, poverty, agriculture and international development. The basic moral principles set forth by the bishops still speak to us: “Every economic decision and institution must be judged in light of whether it protects or undermines the dignity of the human person;” and “All members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable.” Their fundamental insight that the economy exists for the benefit of all people offers an important counterbalance to the belief that the economy is there to create wealth for investors only.

As our country struggles to stabilize our economy, let us be advocates--a voice--to be sure that those representing us do not just “bailout” corporations and banks, but also find ways to lift up those who are in foreclosure or in danger of losing their homes.

John Horejsi
SALT Coordinator
9610 Counsellor Dr.
Vienna, VA 22181

Blog Action Day

Blog Action Day is coming!

This year's theme is poverty. Since the launch of VOICE, poverty has become a more visible issue in our county. Look for a posting on poverty coming next week, October 15.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Blue Child

Went to a great writers' group tonight, Writer's Roundtable, thanks to Cindy B.!! This group meets every first and third Tuesday at 7:30, Trinity Episcopal Church, Old Town Manassas. Looking forward to going back!

Here are the results--revision #3 on this poem that started January of 2007.

Blue Child

Never had it occurred to me
your tears would look like mine,
here, your thin, bent body across my porch,

face a black pot boiling into fire,
sizzle of agitating flame, blaze
striking out and up to fight each drop

wetly disrupting its burn. No, I
did not think I would meet at my door
North soldier, dark soldier,

tired as resigning day, that I’d recognize
that sinful sadness, the one that has eaten
our good years gone, the ever-smolder

of embers and anger, built by coal
and smoke and iron and labor,
raked daily of expendable ashes,

making room for another night’s
meal. I did not know I would see you,
my younger, freer self, that I would ever

look in your expiring eyes, the eyes
I should see as my enemy’s,

that all I would see is a crying child,

wearing the burden of blue.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
October 7, 2008
Draft 3

Monday, October 06, 2008

After Seeing the Paperwork Required...

...which includes a brief job description and a mini-application in which the applicant indicates why he/she is qualified to serve on a county committee or task force, I decided it was time for another note to the BOCS.

From: Katherine
To: Relyea, Sally T.
Cc: Jenkins, John D. ; Easterly, Kelly L. (and after, BOCS)
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 10:12 AM
Subject: Re: Request for Forms - Boards, Committees and Commissions

Thank you very much.

I would like to note that neither this form nor the job descriptions require any of the following:

1. Background checks (required even for the most mundane volunteer work for non-profits)

2. Signed ethics statements and requirements for public officials.

3. Conflict of interest disclosures and rules addressing conflicts of interest.

4. Assessment of qualifications and justification for appointment.

This is unacceptable, in my opinion.

Furthermore, I think it is a major conflict of interest to have any relative of any BOCS member suggesting policy to the BOCS. While there are many capable family members and friends who could do the job, I would suggest they do it in another capacity, for example, through a non-profit or unrelated agency.

Finally, citizens have requested an explanation of John Stirrup's choice in Robert Duecaster given his history, affiliations, methods, lack of fiscal and social responsibility and questionable military background. We have yet to receive a suitable response indicating Duecaster's benevolent intentions for this county and its most vulnerable people.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Brentsville District

----- Original Message -----
From: Relyea, Sally T.
Cc: Jenkins, John D. ; Easterly, Kelly L.
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2008 9:48 AM
Subject: Request for Forms - Boards, Committees and Commissions
Ms. Gotthardt,
I am responding to your request to view the form citizen committee members complete when they show an interest in serving on a Prince William County board, committee or commission. I've attached the County Resume each appointee must complete once they have been nominated. More information regarding individual committees can be viewed on the County website under the Board of Supervisor's homepage, Boards, Committees and Commissions.
I hope this information is helpful. Should you have further inquiries, please contact me.

Sally Relyea
Deputy Clerk to the Board
1 County Complex Court
Prince William, VA 22192
(703) 792-6604

We Have a VOICE

V.O.I.C.E. in NOVA
(Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement in Northern Virginia)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Sunday October 5, 2008, Dumfries, VA

A NEW V.O.I.C.E. for Northern Virginia

Interfaith Power Organization Unveils Agenda, Questions Elected Leaders

In a packed sanctuary in Dumfries VA leaders from 40 religious institutions in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and Prince William launched a powerful new organization in Northern Virginia public life. V.O.I.C.E. – Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement – 2,000 strong in its inaugural public action, proclaimed a vision of a "New Dominion" of justice and political participation, and asked elected leaders to act on its vision for change on affordable housing, immigration, and dental care.

Northern Virginia clergy and lay leaders from Christian, Jewish, Unitarian and Muslim religious institutions have been working with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF)* over the last three years to create a broad-based, non-partisan, multi-racial, multi-faith, citizens' power organization, rooted in local congregations and other voluntary associations to make change in the lives of low and middle income residents and communities throughout the four Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

The V.O.I.C.E. member institutions whose leaders assembled here represent a total constituency of 120,000 people. They asked elected leaders to make specific commitments to work with V.O.I.C.E. and move its agenda forward in the next six months. That action agenda featured a proposal to build and preserve affordable housing by protecting current funding and working toward doubling dedicated funding, and to inventory all public land that could be used to develop affordable housing over the next four years. On immigration, V.O.I.C.E. is asking for immediate action to reduce a serious backlog in the processing of citizenship applications from 18 to 6 months, and a multi-jurisdictional effort to secure data on English as a Second Language in order to determine service expansion and funding requirements. V.O.I.C.E.'s first proposal to address a deficit of health care services among the uninsured recommends an immediate $98,000 infusion for a full time dentist to increase the capacity of the Northern Virginia Dental Clinic. Then V.O.I.C.E. invited elected leaders to work with them in the next six months to formulate a plan to meet the dental needs of low income adults in Northern Virginia.

Among the elected leaders to address the V.O.I.C.E. agenda on Sunday were VA Senate Candidate Mark Warner, VA Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, Alexandria Mayor William Euille, Arlington Board Chair Walter Tejada, Prince William Board Chair Corey Stewart, and Fairfax County Board Vice Chair Sharon Bulova. "While there was not unanimous support on all of our agenda, we heard significant commitments to work with V.O.I.C.E. on each item. And we're committed to hold these leaders accountable," emphasized Rev. Keary Kincannon, pastor of Rising Hope United Methodist Church, a V.O.I.C.E. leader.

Rev. Clyde Ellis, Pastor, Mount Olive Baptist, Woodbridge and a V.O.I.C.E. founder observed, "The greatest tragedy in America is not the failing economy or mismanagement in our financial institutions but the loss of the American citizens' participation in the decision-making in America. VOICE as a broad-based organization of congregations, synagogues, and mosques in Prince William county, Arlington County, Fairfax County, and the city of Alexandria, has come together to help residents of Northern Virginia address issues such as affordable housing, immigration reform, and access to medical and dental care. The things we have in common are far greater than the things that separate us. This is an exciting opportunity to actively involve NOVA citizens in framing the priorities and future of NOVA as well as holding elected officials accountable for their actions."

Rev. Keary Kincannon, Rising Hope Baptist Church

703-360-1976 / 703-472-6100

Ms. Venus Miller, Mount Olive Baptist Church


Rev. Keith Savage, 1st Baptist Church Manassas


Kathleen O'Toole V.O.I.C.E. Media Team

(240) 601-1485

* Note: The Industrial Areas Foundation – founded in the nineteen forties by Saul Alinsky – already has a several affiliate organizations in the DC / Baltimore region: Washington Interfaith Network (DC), Action In Montgomery (MD), Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (MD) and People Acting Together in Howard (MD). These organizations passed the first living wage law in the United States (Baltimore), won a $40 million dedicated annual fund for affordable housing in Montgomery County, MD and secured $1 billion for neighborhood investment in Washington, DC. These organizations have also trained thousands of leaders for public action at the local, state and national levels.


VOICE has over 120,000 voting members representing the various spiritual communities in this area.

Traitors to our county's people will no longer be tolerated.

Don't Dismiss Me Just Because....

I have PMS.

But that doesn't mean anyone gets to dismiss me as illogical and unworthy of being heard. So let's get that out of the way RIGHT away. It just means I'm emotional and I will either cry or be more bitchy when I'm trying to say something important. Or I will maintain composure until I am alone and then systematically burst into tears.

Some feminists hate women admitting to PMS because....women get dismissed entirely when they have it. "She's on the rag." "Must be her time of the month." Hey, maybe sometimes it's NOT PMS and I'm just bitchy. Deal with it.

But I know when I have PMS and admit it openly (obviously). I'm self aware enough to know I should pamper myself a little more during this week. It's pretty damn hard to do, however, when there are circumstances beyond my control, when I step out onto my porch and Bristow STINKS to HIGH HELL (literally and often) and the jack hammers are slamming away into the sidewalks (coming soon to the sidewalk outside my house).

I think "they" plan it all to happen during my PMS week. It's a conspiracy. I told my husband he should just flick a booger on me and get it over with because I expect it. The world is not my friend during PMS week. Hell, the world is probably not my friend most days, but I can deal with it a little better then.

Have you ever noticed when you feel physically ill that everything bothers you more? Unless you have good meds, of course. But I don't treat my PMS with meds--they don't work unless you get ones that knock you out for a week, and I prefer to be sentient.

That said, I can't wait to come back as a purple lilac bush in my next life. I don't want hormonal changes, and the only sex-related thing I want to deal with is bees humping my blossoms.


I'm going to take a bath.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Present Tense

Last night, I dreamt about money.

People kept coming to me to ask for donations for one charity or another civic group. Each time, I reached into my little purse and drew out a 10 or a 20 dollar bill. Before I knew it, my wallet was empty.

I'm bummed about money. Who isn't with the bank-crash-then-bail-out? But for me, the struggle to earn has always been just that--a struggle. I've never been very good at making money, and it's not because I truly give away what little money I do have. It's more like I have a certain skill set that just doesn't earn me a living wage. Plus, I have other challenges that get in the way.

Writing poetry, for example doesn't exactly earn me a pension. Blogging doesn't pay for my prescriptions. Activism doesn't pay for my gas. I'm not about to stop these activities because they are essential ones--besides, I can work them around my family life, which is more than I can say for most jobs. Hence, add one more conflict: the need and value of being here for my children.

My disabilities don't exactly serve me well in the workforce either. Try telling an employer you need mother's hours, extra attention, and an environment free from distractions. Then try to stay on task, stay consistent and complete demanding job duties. See how quickly you are dismissed. It's like twice as much work people without disabilities have to do. And if you are paying for childcare at the same time, the struggle hardly becomes worth what ends up being minimum wage earnings or less.

Make no mistake: I work whenever I can and in whatever capacity I can. I drop volunteer activities when I can get work. I WANT to work more than I do. I apply for mundane jobs I think I might be able to manage, but those are at a premium for moms especially. What mom doesn't want mother's hours and a shot at paying for Sally's gymnastics lessons?

I'm very discouraged, and dreams like the one I had last night don't help. My generous nature is in conflict with my need to earn a living which I can't seem to do with or without my non-paying contributions to society. What's worse is even if I were offered pay for what I do, I wouldn't want it because the organizations I support have as little money as I do. I'd feel guilty about taking it even if they had it to offer. I'd be reducing their effectiveness. Besides, how fair would that be to any other members of the organization, members who don't have any money either? It seems the people who have little money are the ones who most want to give it--along with time and effort--away.

I used to hope I could write for a living but I realized years ago that's some kind of dream too many would-be writers and artists hold. It's neither practical nor realistic. It doesn't mean I would give up writing (I can't stop writing--it would be like asking me to chop off both my ears). It just means I have had to find a way to make a decent income.

The most frustrating part of all this is that my incredible sense of independence is compromised the more I worry about money. I suppose this is normal, but I'm not the type to want to live off the system or anyone else. My husband and I have had problems with this: if I feel dependent, I also start to feel perhaps he is better off without me, the financial albatross around his neck. I start to think, "Why should he have to put up with me, my disabilities, my unfortunate past of having been victimized by psychopaths?" Have you ever loved someone so much you think you should give him/her up because you believe you are no good for him/her?

My husband is so good to me, I feel I can never give him back enough, not because he instills in me any sense of guilt or owing, but because I lack the physical, mental, and skilled capacity to do so. He says he gets as much as he needs emotionally, but he does worry about money. And I can't live up to my own standards. I stay, however, because even though I feel I am doing him a tremendous disservice sometimes, I know we both would be miserable without each other. It's rather damning, this thing called love. "In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer."

I once asked a woman, a stranger, how she stayed married for fifty years. She said, "Don't leave." I believe there are certain exceptions to this rule (as in the case of abuse) but overall, I think she got it right.

Still, you can see how the need for money can tear families apart. I look at the poverty stricken, the ones criticized for living in "broken families" of "off the system" and I understand how it happens. Imagine growing up in cycle after cycle of feeling disempowered, unable to provide your loved ones with what they need: security, food, clothing, shelter, and confidence. How can I not work for the disenfranchised when I've lived adjacent to that world?

Again, don't get me wrong. We are not poverty stricken. We have credit card debt for sure and right now, have minimal cash (which, perversely, always seems to make me want to do things like buy Christmas presents and winter clothing). But I know what it IS to live below the poverty line and did so for years--I was a proud member of the working poor.

It never really bothered me until I had children. I didn't mind waking up to nothing but popcorn and soda and three dollars in my pocket before I had the girls. But you can't feed your babies popcorn and soda. You can't manage alone, and you certainly manage it when there are other people trying to live off your efforts. I've been there. I know.

Dreams like the one I had last night are born of anxiety and an active mind. I know this, and I reconcile them as such. But they remind me of things past, things present, and things that may yet come.

One of my greatest sources of comfort come from the words of my minister, Nancy Ladd, the same words that have been printed on a t-shirt some of the congregational members wear: "This is where we are. This is what we're doing."

Those words help me to stay present, to stay on task, to work every day in whatever capacity I can, and to believe--really believe--"God" will provide one way or another. God doesn't always provide in ways we think "he" should, and I have to accept that as well. Besides, there are always people worse off, people who need our help.

For now, "This is where I am. This is what I'm doing."

And this is really all any of us can manage.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Festival: Assalaamu Alaikum

As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلام عليكم) is an Arabic spoken greeting used by Muslims as well as non-Muslim Arabic speakers, Christians and Jews. The term Salam in Arabic means "Peace".

The greeting may also be transliterated as Assalaamu 'Aleykum. It means "Peace be upon you". The traditional response is wa `Aleykum As-Salaam, meaning "and upon you be peace."

This type of greeting is common in the Middle East and Africa; its Hebrew counterpart greeting is Shalom aleichem.

Assalaamu Alaikum

5th Annual Festival and

Eid-ul-Fitr* Celebration Fun & Festivities

on Sunday, October 5th 20081

2:00 till 5:00pm

at Dar-Alnoor Islamic Community Center

5404 Hoadly Road, Manassas VA 20112

Enjoy Outdoor Gathering and Free BBQEntertainment for the Entire Family

Moon Bounce, Cotton Candy, Games, Shopping For Additional Information Contact

Tareq kaker(703-395-1749) or

Mohammad Mehboob (571-220-2147

Mohammad Mehboob

The mission of the Muslim Association of Virginia (MAV) is to establish and maintain a vibrant community based on Qur'an and Sunnah that is pleasing to Allah, through programs that support the religious, social and educational advancement of Muslims we serve. It also includes establishing and strengthening relationships with other Muslim and non-Muslim organizations that share our values.

*Eid ul-Fitr or Id-ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر ‘Īdu l-Fiṭr‎), often abbreviated to Eid, is a Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. Eid is an Arabic word meaning "festivity", while Fiṭr means "to break the fast" (and can also mean "nature", from the word "fitrah"); and so the holiday symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. It is celebrated starting on the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal.

Eid ul-Fitr is a three day celebration and is sometimes also known as the "Smaller Eid" (Arabic: العيد الصغير al-‘īdu ṣ-ṣaghīr‎) as compared to the Eid ul-Adha that lasts four days and is called the "Greater Eid" (Arabic: العيد الكبير al-‘īdu l-kabīr‎).

Friday, October 03, 2008

No Criteria Equals No Trust

On Wednesday, I attended a Committee 100 program where panelists discussed the county's comprehensive plan for development to the year 2030. A complete story of the meeting has been sent out to the press, but I wanted to discuss an aspect of the meeting that probably will not make it to the papers.

Weeks ago, I testified to the Board of County Supervisors that there needs to be criteria established for anyone serving on a Citizens' Advisory Board or a Task Force. This argument came in the wake of Robert Duecaster's appointment to long term planning for Human Services for the Gainesville District.

At the event, Delegate Bob Marshall spoke about Citizen Advisory Boards and expressed concern that any committee members having conflicts of interest must abstain from voting. Apparently, if they do not, they could be charged with a misdemeanor. If they continue, they could be charged with a felony.

My understanding of what Marshall said was that the conflict of interest paperwork is unclear, which Tom Kopko of the Republican Party, also at the meeting, seemed to refute. Regarding board members having to sign statements of ethics, Kopko said there was a packet somewhere but that he didn't know where it was and that members didn't have to sign these.

I don't pretend to have the inside scoop on the Republican Party or the legal system. I am not a lawyer, nor do I pretend to be. I can say, however, that this county is obviously walking on thin ice here: Mr. Duecaster clearly has a conflict of interest. Clearly, he cannot work for the good of all the community without inflicting his jaded perspective and agenda on his work. And clearly, he should not be voting on any policy related to vulnerable populations.

In an email dialogue with Melissa Peacor, Assistant County Executive, I received confirmation that citizen advisory board members, though they do have job descriptions, they sign no paperwork when they are appointed. They do not undergo background checks, do not have to reveal prior experience or even have references other than endorsement of their county supervisor. This leaves our county policy in the hands of potentially dangerous, inept, irresponsible, and/or wasteful people who do not have the good of this community in mind.

Ironically, even volunteers at non-profits have to have background checks.

See the email string below (it might help to read from the bottom up):
From: Peacor, Melissa S.
To: Katherine
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 3:06PM
Subject: RE: Strategic Goal Task Forces


From: Katherine [] Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 3:04 PMTo: Peacor, Melissa S.Subject: Re: Strategic Goal Task Forces

No disclosure forms or conflict of interest forms?

Katherine Mercurio
----- Original Message -----
From: Peacor, Melissa S.
To: Katherine
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 2:59 PM
Subject: RE: Strategic Goal Task Forces

We do not require Strategic Goal Task Force members to sign any forms when they are appointed by the Board.
Melissa Peacor

From: Katherine [] Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 2:55 PMTo: Peacor, Melissa S.Subject: Re: Strategic Goal Task Forces

Thank you very much for your time! I have also sent a request to receive electronic copies of all the forms citizen committee and task form members must sign. Could you send me these?

Katherine Mercurio
----- Original Message -----
From: Peacor, Melissa S.
To: mhtml:%7BFB7EFB9B-64DD-4A51-9E22-DD94EC019A4C%7Dmid://00000591/!
Cc: Stewart, Corey A. ; Stirrup, John T. ; Caddigan, Maureen S. ; Covington, W. S. Wally ; Jenkins, John D. ; May, Michael C. ; Nohe, Marty E. ; Principi, Frank J. ; Gerhart, Craig S.
Sent: Friday, October 03, 2008 2:50 PM
Subject: Strategic Goal Task Forces

Ms. Gotthardt,

You have asked the Board of County Supervisors whether the members of the Strategic Goal Task Forces receive remuneration for their work. The citizen members of the County’s Strategic Plan Task Forces receive no remuneration for their participation in the Strategic Plan process. They receive no per diem, no mileage, no expense reimbursement. This is a purely volunteer activity. If you have any further questions, please call me at 703-792-6720.

Melissa Peacor
Assistant County Executive


I maintain that Robert Duecaster is incapable of objectively performing the duties assigned to a long term committee member dealing with services to needy populations. Duecaster's bigoted and hateful statements about immigrants, African Americans, Hispanics, Catholics, Muslims, Veterans and women in addition to his writing the original, unconstitutional "immigration resolution" which has cost this county millions of dollars as well as his affiliation with nativist and hate groups put him in the position of having major conflicts of interest.

Duecaster has supported removing immigrant children from public schools unless they can prove citizenship, an action prohibited by federal law. Duecaster has supported denying anyone who cannot prove citizenship public health care including vaccinations and antibiotics. If it were up to Duecaster, any person pulled over for a minor driving infraction would have to prove citizenship or risk being arrested on the spot, no matter what the cost to the county or residents.

It is not Mr. Duecaster's position on immigration that is a problem here. It is his track record, his affiliations, and his actions. Clearly, this man cannot be trusted to write fair, logical, fiscally responsible or productive policy for this county.

Given that three supervisors already voted against having Duecaster serve on the long term planning task force, given Duecaster's history, and given his other government background which some perceive as questionable, it seems John Stirrup should use some wisdom in this case and ask Mr. Duecaster to step down. Or perhaps Mr. Duecaster should offer to do so himself.

If these public officials do not want to undergo further scrutiny and/or possible lawsuit, they may want to consider removing themselves and this county from liability.

This is, of course, all my opinion.

Tired of Sinus Infections


I'm fairly certain I have yet another sinus infection.

It happens to me just about every spring and autumn (sometimes more often), which are my favorite seasons. My body rebels against the very trees I love, and the refreshing air I adore throws my ears into orbit.

I'm sure this latest parasite celebrated its kickoff last week. I got this headache in my face and behind my eyes, the kind that makes you want to give yourself a lobotomy. So I continued to take the decongestants and my daily dose of nasal spray just like the docs tell me to. I added some Tylenol and cough medicine and Tums (because I'm nauseated). I managed to put off the pain for awhile, which provided me the expected illusion I've beaten the S.O.B. I go from hot to cold to sweating, and I justify that as my usual heat intolerance (even though it's colder out). I'm wheezing, but so what? That's what the inhaler is for.

It's probably my own fault. I wanted to save money on electricity so I started opening the windows. The air felt amazing, and the sound of the birds and crickets finally took over the drone of the air conditioner. The cats were in open-window heaven and the dog sniffed the air. And I got a headache.

My windows are open now, but what else am I going to do? I'm in the house, it's too cool for the AC but not cool enough to shut the air out.

I'm whining. I know. I'm giving into a mini-pity-party. Probably after I sleep, I will feel a little better and the world will get less of a cranky me. Besides, my adorable husband bought me roses yesterday. And chicken soup. God, that man is amazing! How did I get so lucky?

But he's at work so I can be cranky now. Sometimes it's just nice to be cranky. Who says we have to be nice all the time?

As my friend says, feel free to let loose your inner bitch.


With pleasure.

Mine will come out one way or another anyway, so why fight it?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Real Solutions, Not Wasted Taxes or Witch Hunts

There is a growing partnership between the cities and PWC to work on neighborhood issues in positive, productive ways. Be sure to attend this function if you live in the Prince William Area (PWC, Manassas City, Manassas Park).

Neighborhood Power

Build Community Connections & Partnerships at the

City of Manassas 2nd Annual Neighborhood Conference

Saturday, November 15, 2008
8:30 am to 3:00 pm
Carteret Mortgage Branch Boys & Girls Club
(behind Jennie Dean Elementary School)
9501 Dean Park Lane in Manassas

Enjoy a Block Party Lunch & Vote for your favorite Divine Desserts from local churches!

Youth 6-18 welcome.

Girl Scouts will lead fun games and activities.

Technology Room for Teens.

Free Admission.

Register online at

Meet Motivational Speaker “R.J.” Blair from Arlington, Texas.

Take Part in Our Workshops:

When Sparks Fly – Resolving Neighborhood Conflict

Know Your Rights – Fair Housing to Traffic Stops

Gangs, Graffiti and Good Neighbors – Starting a Neighborhood Watch

The Future of Your Neighborhood – The Manassas Next Initiative

Stand Up and Be Heard – How to Communicate With Your City Leaders

Show Me the Money – How to Get Funding for Neighborhood Projects

Talk with Special Guest – Manassas Journal Messenger columnist and “Short Cuts” Cookbook Author Mary Ann Kauchak

12 noon to 3:00 pm: Win Door Prizes

See the “Best of Neighborhood” Awards!

Take home free apples and pumpkins!

Bring a can of food to donate to the SERVE food pantry.

No More Deaths

via UUA Justice Action Network

In mid-September, representatives of the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths traveled to Washington, D.C. to present the stories of migrants abused by the U.S. Border Patrol to Congress. No More Deaths was founded in 2006 to provide food, water, and medical care to people crossing the Arizona desert in increasing numbers, due to new border walls blocking easier border crossings. It is now sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson.

From 2006 to 2008, No More Deaths documented 400 stories of abuse shared with them by migrants, and has released them in a 104 page report titled Crossing the Line: Human Rights Abuses of Migrants in Short-Term Custody on the Arizona/Sonora Border. The report, and a 2 page executive summary, is available for download at No More Death's website.

We wanted to lift up their good work and let you know how you can help. No More Deaths is staffed completely by volunteers. Consider making a financial contribution to their important work, or volunteering. They have a donations page that lists needed items, including socks, washcloths, and band-aids. Something as simple as a pair of socks can save a life.

Opposing the Death Penalty

Jeff Caruso, Executive Director, Virginia Cathoilc Conference

October 1, 2008
Commission Urged to Reject Death Penalty Expansion
On September 9, the Virginia State Crime Commission met to discuss legislation that had been referred to it during the 2008 General Assembly session. One bill under Commission review (SB 384) seeks to make the willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing of a fire marshal, firefighter, or member of an emergency rescue squad punishable as capital murder when the killing is for the purpose of interfering with his or her official duties.

Though the crimes contemplated by the proposed measure are very serious indeed, Virginia's life-without-parole sentencing alternative and maximum-security prisons render the use of the death penalty unnecessary to protect the Commonwealth's citizens. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church observes, "[I]f non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person." (no. 2267).

In oral testimony on September 9, the Virginia Catholic Conference urged the Crime Commission to make a recommendation against passage of SB 384 during the upcoming 2009 session. Subsequently, the VCC also submitted the following written remarks:

Written Comments on SB 384Submitted September 18, 2008
The Virginia Catholic Conference - the public-policy agency of the Commonwealth's Catholic bishops and their two dioceses - opposes Senate Bill 384, which would broaden Virginia's capital murder statute to cases involving the murder of firefighters, fire marshals, and emergency medical personnel. Although the Commonwealth has the responsibility to punish violent offenders and to protect her citizens from violent criminals, punishments must be justifiable, and their effects must be honestly considered. Maximum security prisons and life-without-parole sentences enable Virginia to isolate dangerous criminals while also affirming the dignity of human life. Under these circumstances, the death penalty is unnecessary within the Commonwealth, and its use should not be expanded.

That the state may take appropriate measures to protect itself and its citizens from harm is beyond debate, but the means of protection merit closer examination. The Commonwealth has executed over 100 felons since the death penalty was reinstated in 1982 (second only to Texas), and there have been four executions in the only the last few months. Although this alarming rate of executions should give pause, SB 384 instead expands the legal premises for applying more death sentences.

During its September 9 hearing, members of the Virginia State Crime Commission rightly noted that there are few, and quite possibly no, instances in which the new amendment would redress an oversight or close a loophole. If this is the case, then the amendment would be largely symbolic - an affirmation of the value of firefighters and an emphasis upon the evil of homicide. Although these goals are noble, the Virginia Catholic Conference maintains its belief that both goals can and should be achieved without further loss of life; therefore, the Virginia State Crime Commission should not recommend passage of SB 384.

As always, we ask that you continue to pray for a society in which the inalienable dignity of human life is respected and recognized.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


This Just In:

I'm a moderate populist who leans left when it comes to accepting people's lifestyles.

According to this quiz, I should vote Gilmore for Senate.

I already know I'm voting for Fimian for Congress. (I realize I said I wouldn't reveal that, but the political panelists finally got to me. Okay? I said it! Now stop calling my house.)

But I'm voting for Obama. And I voted for Webb.


So much for the accusations that I'm a raving liberal or raving anyone.

Of course, I could still be a raving lunatic as some people would like to believe. But non-violent lunatics make for more interesting people anyway.

I'm so proud to be an Independent. Sniff.

I'm going to kiss myself in the mirror.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wally Covington, This Isn't About Free Speech

Wally, Wally Wally....let's turn the tables around shall we? Let's put the future of YOUR family, YOUR kids into the hands of a hate monger. Feel differently about Duecaster now?

Probably not because you know you are wealthy and powerful enough that this will never happen to YOUR family.

Here's what it comes down to: because of Stirrup's choice, we cannot trust YOUR judgment or any other Board member's judgment when it comes to appointments. You have demonstrated there are no standards, no criteria, and no recourse for the rest of us who disagree with your choices.

This isn't about Duecaster having freedom of speech. It's about his inability to do his job because he hates Hispanics, Catholics, Muslims, Viet Nam Vets, gays, people with disabilities and any other group he thinks isn't worthy of his recognition. It's because Duecaster belongs to hate groups. It's because Duecaster has encouraged you to waste millions of our tax dollars.

Duecaster's group HSM won't participate in ANY dialogue other than what they get on Black Velvet Bruce Li. They have been invited and have turned down these invites with disdain. This is the kind of person you are supporting for long term planning?

You're not thinking like a citizen, Wally. You are thinking like a wealthy politician.

Transitional Tales

I have this box of writing I word-processed on my Mac Classic which served me well throughout the 1990's. Before it died, I printed out hard copies of fiction and poetry that I've started pawing through again. Yesterday, I read a piece, the only one in existence, at a writers' group. I totally forgot what the story was about, who the characters were and how I managed it. It was a jump into cold water, reading something with such fresh eyes, not even recognizing my own writing.

The good news: the story made the group (and I) laugh.

The bad news: I'm just not as funny as I used to be.

It must have something to do with getting older, gaining more and more responsibility, suddenly learning the world is even scarier than I ever thought, experiencing violence first hand, understanding some men more than I ever cared to, and working my way up from the "pit of despond" to reasonable satisfaction. At 39, I'm more tired than I was in 1996 when I lived as a 26-year-old, strong-willed writer still believing I could live that somewhat bohemian life and succeed.

Boy, I sound like a malcontent right now, don't I? Okay, so obviously part of me is still quite bohemian, rebellious and head strong. I still write. But in some ways, I've gone back to angsty outpouring of my teens, those sad entries in penciled journals I've kept but now can barely see. Note to self: pencil fades. But spiral notebooks can last forever.

When I think of my writing and the phases it has gone through, I remember my bouts of anger literally carved into notebook pages, perforating paper behind paper, forcing me to move further in the book even though many pages had to be left blank to support the pressure of furious youth. I recall my later humorous writing, those characters representing my lighter (physically and psychologically) self, that person who was burdened with responsibility early on in life but found love and laughter through literature and self-expression. I think of some missing years when I had my babies and barely had time to type on that old Mac Classic, and I think of the writing that followed: dark, shockingly sexual, blunt, offensive, hurting. Some writing heals but some writing punctures the soul. I've learned that the hard way.

I'm still blunt, of course, and that isn't always popular with the blog folks. But blogs are, well, blogs. Anonymous people rant and rave on blogs rarely accomplishing much except to vent frustration. In some cases, blind hatred and not just anger spew from blogs (i.e Black Velvet Bruce Li), threats lurk barely beneath the adjectives and verbs, and impending violence finds a home. I don't blog like this. But I'm not always as productive as others who really do post solutions on blogs and try to reach out to others (i.e. Ant-BVBL). When I really start getting mad at invisible people, it's time to get off the blog.

I look at my "Poems from the Battlefield" collection which I've started to revise and I see a more war-torn understanding of insane ideological clashes, metaphors for my own life, for this country, and indeed, all lives. While still imperfect, my delves into history have served me well poetically. But you can see the transitions in the writing, a movement from the magic of the white deer, the belief in something strange, godlike and metaphysical, to the darkness of torture and death. I used to walk the Battlefields, wandering to the outermost sections alone, discovering exciting trails and never fearing getting lost which I did quite often. Then one day, I did fear. While I still hike the Battlefields, I do so with the same sadness of learning: those children who enlisted for glory and ideals never knowing they might never return to innocence or even to their homes. I am leaving Poems from the Battlefield as that sad journey, no matter how depressing the ending might be. It has been a travel worth taking, but I need to bury it in the grave amongst the soldiers where it belongs. I have not seen the white deer since 2005.

What I have found since then is strength, people who believe in white deer, understanding and knowledge. I'd like to think this journey has brought me wisdom; growth is never painless but wasting it would be a true tragedy. I don't think I have wasted it.

Today, I might re-write that 1996 story, the one with the humor, but one with that underlying anger as well. I've lived among anger enough to know what it can do, and I hope the story demonstrates that. It's not a moralizing story, nor is it meant to completely entertain. I guess the reader will deconstruct his/her own meaning. It's more important that an audience get meaning than it is for me to inflict my own meaning on them.

So off I go to hone my fiction. May it be a worthy tale of transition.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why Sarah Should Scare You!

Oh I love this! We have to follow God's will to get GAS LINES in ALASKA?????


Now, I'm a pretty spiritual person. I don't have issues with anyone's religion. But the last time I heard something like this, we had people using the "we're better than animals and trees" excuse to rip out rain forests. Are we not supposed to be responsible stewards for our planet? I wonder what the Alaskan Natives think of Palin?

I'm not saying Alaska doesn't deserve gas lines. But putting the "Almighty's" stamp of approval on it is disingenuous at best.

Next, she will claim God supports mass slaughter of polar bears. Or Middle Easterners. I don't trust anyone who puts their politics on "God." What is this, the Palin/God ticket?

Palin, the woman who governs a state smaller than Northern VA, has demonstrated incredible arrogance, hubris, and hypocrisy in accepting this nomination.

Yes, I'm a woman and I'm an Independent and I'm saying this.

Palin, take your version of God back to Alaska and keep it there, assuming your constituents can stomach it.

Ode to Sarah Palin

Is sister Palin a thug

taking huffs off a fiscal drug?

Take off your robe!

It’s time for a probe!

And maybe a polar-bear hug.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fairfax's Budget Gap


Fairfax County is projecting a budget deficit of more than $400 million for FY 2010 (beginning July 1, 2009), which must be addressed through a combination of spending reductions and other strategies. Our challenge is to develop a budget with an appropriate level of services that are both sustainable and acceptable to the community.

Fairfax County Government and Fairfax County Public Schools invite you to attend one of the 20 community dialogue sessions scheduled to gather comments from the public, which will be used as a key factor to help guide the development of criteria for making budget decisions.

Each community dialogue will consist of presentations by county and school budget staff followed by facilitated small group discussions. The dates, times, and locations are listed below. Registration is required. For more information, including addresses, or to register, visit or call 703-324-2391, TTY 711.

If you are unable to attend one of the community dialogue sessions, Fairfax County still wants to hear from you. If you have suggestions or comments, please call the Budget Hotline at
703-324-9400 or complete the Budget Feedback Form online at

  • Tuesday, October 14, 7-9:30 p.m. - Fairfax County Government Center
  • Tuesday, October 21, 7-9:30 p.m. - Oakton, Marshall & Herndon High Schools
  • Saturday, October 25, 9:30-12 p.m. - Centreville Regional Library,
  • Tysons- Pimmit Regional Library, and City of Fairfax Regional Library.
  • Wednesday, October 29, 7 to 9:30 p.m.- Mclean Community Center
  • Thursday, Nov. 13, 9:30 am to noon - Oakton Library, Woodrow
  • Wilson Library, Mason govt. Center, (7 to 9:30 p.m.) John narshall Library, Burke Centre Library.

--information courtesy of John H., SALT.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Many have the talent....

Check Voter Registration Status!

Timothy M. Kaine FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEGovernor September 22, 2008
Gordon Hickey
Susan R. Lee, State Board of Elections
(804) 225-4260
(804) 864-8928
Cell Phone:
(804) 291-8977
(804) 314-2502

~ Deadline for registration is October 6 ~

RICHMOND – Governor Timothy M. Kaine today encouraged Virginians to check their voter registration status, reminding voters that the deadline to register is October 6th. The Governor encouraged Virginians to take advantage of a State Board of Elections web tool to confirm their registration status, polling location, and other vital information ahead of the fall elections.

“By taking a few minutes to use this simple tool, Virginia voters can make sure they aren’t turned away on Election Day because they show up at the wrong precinct, have inaccurate voter information or are not registered to vote by the October 6th deadline,” Governor Kaine said. “With more than 4.8 million registered voters in the Commonwealth, our General Registrars and Electoral Boards need the assistance of the general public to make the election experience a positive one.”

Virginia residents can check their voter registration status in two ways:

• By visiting and clicking on the “Check Voter Registration Status” link.

• By calling (804) 864-8901 or (800) 552-9745. Staff and volunteers answer phones at the Virginia State Board of Election Voter Registration Call Center from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm.

• By calling their local registrar. Contact information for registrars is available in the blue pages of the phone book.

Governor Kaine also announced that the State Board of Elections has nearly reached its goal of identifying 10,000 people to serve as Officers of Election, statewide – less than 50 additional officers are still needed. An increased need for Officers of Elections stemmed from the creation of 300 precincts since 2004 and the projected increase in voter turnout for the November election. The primary purpose for these Officers of Elections is to assist voters on Election Day.

Those interested in serving as an Officer of Election should visit the Virginia State Board of Elections web site at or contact your local registrar.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Email to Mr. Fimian, Congressional Candidate <>
No Blank Check for White Collar Criminals!

Dear Mr. Fimian:

I heard your debate at the Committee 100 meeting in Montclair this month.

I have been fighting a student loan and fraud college for eight years and now Congress is asking me to bail out these banks that contribute to the system PLUS pay for illegal loans this school/lender made (Sallie Mae and Union Institute)? NO! How dare anyone ask me to pay twice because these bankers and colleges are criminal?

Send the CEO's to jail and urge Congress to get their oversight together! Do not give these banks a blank slate. We want our money BACK for this crime against our country.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt

Send a Clear Message to Congress: No Blank Check Bailout!

My message:

I have been fighting a student loan and fraud college for eight years and now you are asking me to bail out these banks that contribute to the system PLUS pay for illegal loans this school/lender made (Sallie Mae)? NO! How dare you ask me to pay twice because these bankers and colleges are criminal? Send the CEO's to jail and get your oversight together! Do not give these banks a blank slate. We want our money BACK for this crime against our country.

Obama's Message

The era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington has created a financial crisis as profound as any we have faced since the Great Depression. Congress and the President are debating a bailout of our financial institutions with a price tag of $700 billion or more in taxpayer dollars. We cannot underestimate our responsibility in taking such an enormous step. Whatever shape our recovery plan takes, it must be guided by core principles of fairness, balance, and responsibility to one another. Please sign on to show your support for an economic recovery plan based on the following:
• No Golden Parachutes -- Taxpayer dollars should not be used to reward the irresponsible Wall Street executives who helmed this disaster.
• Main Street, Not Just Wall Street -- Any bailout plan must include a payback strategy for taxpayers who are footing the bill and aid to innocent homeowners who are facing foreclosure.
• Bipartisan Oversight -- The staggering amount of taxpayer money involved demands a bipartisan board to ensure accountability and oversight.Show your support and encourage your friends and family to join you: The failed economic policies and the same corrupt culture that led us into this mess will not help get us out of it. We need to get to work immediately on reforming the broken government -- and the broken politics -- that allowed this crisis to happen in the first place. And we have to understand that a recovery package is just the beginning. We have a plan that will guarantee our long-term prosperity -- including tax cuts for 95 percent of families, an economic stimulus package that creates millions of new jobs and leads us towards energy independence, and health care that is affordable to every American. It won't be easy. The kind of change we're looking for never is. But if we work together and stand by these principles, we can get through this crisis and emerge a stronger nation.

Thank you, Barack

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Bailout and Student Loans

The SEC recently put Sallie Mae on the list of companies that cannot legally be "shorted" by investors. This means, clearly, that Sallie Mae, and probably other student loan companies will be attempting to take part in the bailout. In other words, they will be expecting to be paid for bad private student loans that they made. It is important for you all to understand what brought us to this point. I particularly hope that members of the media receiving this email will pay particular attention to this. It is critically important that they get the story right:

The student loan industry lobbied heavily to have bankruptcy protections removed for private loans in 2005, and then proceeded to make huge loans at credit card-like interest rates. It comes as no surprise to anyone intimately familiar with the private loan industry that many of these loans are now defaulting.If the federal government does decide to purchase these loans, it should be at a deep, deep discount (ie. principal only), and the borrowers should not be reponsible for repaying more than the government paid for these loans, ultimately.

Standard consumer protections must be returned to ALL student borrowers.

--Alan Collinge

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two Important Immigration Events

No matter what you think about the immigration issue, plan to participate in upcoming educational events. Get informed & hear a variety of different ideas.
"NAFTA's Links to Immigration"

a Witness for Peace Speaking Event
Monday, October 6, 2008
Culmore United Methodist Church
5901 Leesburg Pike (Route 7)
Falls Church, VA (Bailey's Crossroads)
7:30 p.m.

Witness for Peace welcomes Mexican sociologist Marco Antonio Velazquez from the Mexican Network for Action on Free Trade. Navarrete has worked in the Network for Popular Education as well as the Urban Popular Movement in Mexico City. This event will be bilingual.

Passing the Students' Bucks

As promised (somewhere on some blog--I can't remember which), here is a brief description of the higher education agencies, their relationships to one another, and how they have failed student borrowers, particularly those who have attended unethical schools.

The Postsecondary Institution
This is the school, college, or university attended. Schools must be accredited by either a national or regional accreditation agency to have permission to collect and distribute federal funds and offer student loans. The school offers a program which should be clearly outlined in its catalogue. The catalog represents a contract; i.e. what the school should be giving you for your money.

Problem: Unethical schools verbally promise students services, classes, transfer credit, and/or resources that are not listed in the catalog or differ from the catalog descriptions. Such schools push students to make enrollment decisions before the students have had time to evaluate the catalog. In some cases, schools will not even give a catalog until after the students enroll. Furthermore, nationally accredited schools' credits do not transfer easily or at all to regionally accredited schools.

Lenders will loan as much money as the student agrees to borrow.

Problem: Lenders will loan as much money as the student agrees to borrow. Lenders do not consider the field a student plans to enter, nor do they worry about financial aid officers who do not explain the type of agreements the students are entering with the lenders. Lenders do not care if students over-borrow because even if the student defaults, the lender will get their money back from the government.

Since there are so many loan types with such a range of interest rates, students are usually led into loans they do not understand. Once this happens, the students are bound by contract to pay. If students are late, loan companies are permitted to assess fees and increase interest rates at will. If a student defaults, borrowers can have their wages, disability checks, and pensions attached. They can lose their professional licenses and means to earn a living; thus they can never pay back these loans.

Lenders have recently started campaigns that target students who might never consider college; these students are low income, have had personal tragedies and are often minorities. Private schools join in, collecting loan and federal money when first, students could have attended a much less expensive program and second, students will never be able to complete the program and thus cannot pay back the loan.

As noted above, postsecondary institutions (schools) must be accredited either nationally or regionally to be able to disburse any kind of federal funding including loans. Accreditors, however, are not in charge of the financial aid system; accreditors are groups of academics and bureaucrats from other colleges who assess educational programs, institutional quality, and process.

Problem: Accreditors visit each other's schools in order to accredit. This means Provost A. might have to visit Provost B.'s school and assess it. But Provost B. is scheduled to assess Provost A.'s school next year. Since the system is incestuous at best, neither Provost A. nor Provost B. will want to make official, potentially damaging reports that will affect the schools' ability to collect and disburse federal funding. Students who complain to accreditors about institutional integrity, schools' failure to provide what was promised, or any other issue accreditors should be assessing are told that accreditors do not provide customer support, that they are not responsible for students' getting what they were promised. They will refer the student to the Department of Education.

U.S. Department of Education (ED)
ED uses information from the accreditation agency to approve the school to collect and disburse federal funding. ED may or may not consider other sources of information, such as placement statistics and graduation rates.

Problem: Students who have issues with the school will be referred back to the accreditation agency by ED. Recall that accreditors refer students to ED. If the problem is strictly loan related, ED might refer the borrower to a loan ombudsman.

ED is allowed to discharge loans based on certain criteria. For example, "failure to benefit" can be applied if a student enrolled in a program for which they could not use the degree. The most common example given by ED is that of the blind student who enrolled in a truck driving school (which would indicate an unethical school). "Failure to benefit" has nothing to do with lack of institutional integrity, a school's breaking its contract to the student, or admissions personnel who make false promises to potential students.

ED is notorious for denying disability discharges; their claim is unless a student is permanently disabled or dead, the borrower sill owes. ED's criteria for disability discharge does not match Social Security's. ED does not consider the elderly for discharge. ED makes these determinations at their own discretion. There is no consistency in their decision making.

Loan Ombudsman
The Ombudsman's office is supposed to make viable arrangements and act as liaison between schools, students, and lenders to arrange payments, rectify paperwork problems, and help students navigate the myriad of student loan agencies.

Problem: The Ombudsman's office's wants students to pay their bills; therefore, they typically protect the interests of the lenders and the schools and not the student borrower.

State Regulatory Agencies
ED might also refer students to their state licensure and/or regulatory body. Typically, a state will have one agency that requires any school operating in that state to have a state license. These licenses must be applied for and can be revoked. State licenses give the student some kind of legal protection insofar as a license indicates the school is indeed operating legally within that state. Criteria for obtaining a license differs among states, but most states want any school doing business and/or conferring degrees in their state to have a license. Schools without licensure are typically forced to leave that state.

Problem: Unethical schools run what they call "sites" across the country without a state license. Since the states had no record they were doing this, essentially, the campus didn't exist. Accreditors do not consider this a reason to pull accreditation.

All agencies will try to refer students back to the school where the problem originated and/or hire a lawyer; but especially because the student has now complained to various agencies, the school typically will not work with "troubling" students. The irony is that students probably contacted these agencies in the first place because the school would not rectify the problem. Furthermore, by the time the problem occurs, the school has already collected its federal and loan money and obviously, does not want to pay it back.

Problem: Agencies tell students to retain a lawyer, as if student borrowers can afford lawyers. Lawyers rarely want to accept cases in the academic world because first, the school can always claim the student had academic problems which lawyers do not want to assess (because they are not academics. Second, unless the student has hoards of money to provide as a retainer, lawyers don't want to maneuver through the various bureaucratic, buck-passing agencies and schools that use the law in favor of lenders and unethical schools.

Various Other Agencies
Students who have bothered to contact all the other agencies, might be referred to places like the Office for Postsecondary Education, the FBI's fraud division, or other officials who will claim they have nothing to do with distribution of financial aid or a school's failure to live up to its contract. If referred to the school's Board of Trustees, Presidents or CEO's, students learn very quickly that those in charge are not there to support students' needs; they are there to maintain the status quo, collect tuition and fees, support admissions and protect the institution, no matter how negatively that institution affects students' lives and futures.

As you can see, it is too easy for government agencies, schools, and lenders to eschew the system and put the onus entirely on the student who once again, has no consumer rights.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Learn More About Housing in the Prince William Area--All Welcome!

Who: League of Women Voters of the Prince William Area

What: Meeting for all members. BRING A GUEST. Guests are welcomed and invited to attend. Free.

When: Tuesday, September 23, 2008 @ 9:30 a.m.

Where: City Hall of Manassas, 9027 Center Street, Manassas, VA 20110

Program: Housing in the Prince William Area

Guest Speaker: Teresa Giesting of the Prince William County of Community Housing and Development. Ms. Giesting has designed Prince William County's Homeownership Assistance Program (HAP) to assist low income first time home buyers with interest free loans for down payment and closing costs.

The League of Women Voters is a non-partisan political organization that encourages citizens to become informed to enhance their participation in government. We meet to discuss issues at the local, regional, state, and national levels. The League works to influence public policy through education and advocacy. Any citizen of voting age, male or female, may become a League member.

For more information or to join, please call 571-261-1533 or 703-492-4574 or visit the website at

Family or Country?

Over at Anti-BVBL, poster AWCheney responded to a posting by Mackie in which Mackie asserts:

Mackie, 20. September 2008, 12:50
Family comes before country.
A real American would understand that.

AWCheney replies:

AWCheney, 21. September 2008, 6:35
“Family comes before country.
A real American would understand that.”
Then you’re in the wrong country, Mackie. You do remember U.S. history, I trust…specifically, the Civil War. In that era, principle (and country, as well) trumped family for many who fought for the North, and for many in the South (from a different perspective). There were many divided families, fighting on both sides. I happen to be well aware of this, despite NOT having been born in this country…what’s your excuse?

To which I responded:

kgotthardt, 21. September 2008, 7:24
AW, tell me you aren’t using the Civil War as an example of American values? The particular horror of that war was that it DID divide families. It had nothing to do with putting “country first” either. Why?

1. “Soldiers” (read “kids”) enlisted believing like everyone else that the war wouldn’t last a week. Recall the Battle of Bull Run where people picnicked while watching to see which side would stand down first.

2. These children entered the regiments for glory and honor. Go read their statements at the Manassas Battlefield visitor’s center. How much “glory” do you think their choices gave them? Do you think if they knew they would be fighting family they would have made different decisions?
The Civil War hardly represents putting country before family. But it DOES represent the insanity brought on by our having a slave (under) class, division in the nation, and institutionalized racism.

You can read the rest of the conversation on Anti where AWCheney goes on to claim superior historical knowledge simply because s/he attended school years before "we" (apparently Mackie and I) did.

Having a sociological, historical, and general interest in the dynamics of the Civil War, I told AWCheney I would love to discuss history when I have more time. I have more time now and support Mackie's statement that family does usually come before country even if only because in war, we feel we are defending and protecting our families. Even in the most broken families, we see a tendency to protect bloodlines; while there can be absolute disgust and even hatred between family members, killing family members seems unnatural to us as it must have in the Civil War in spite of the nation's division pitting "brother versus brother."

That idea of "brother versus brother" has been taken literally when in fact, it is more often a general term for the brotherhood of our nation (or sisterhood). As the sources below demonstrate, even in the Civil War where families were divided geographically and philosophically, brothers and sisters loathed to fight one another, discrediting AWCheney's generalized assertions.

In an article comparing the war in Georgia to the American Civil War, Amir Oren says, "A more important lesson from Georgia was reported 144 years ago. That was in the Georgia of the American south, in the campaign of devastation waged by the Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, as portrayed in Gone with the Wind and elsewhere. A new and updated U.S. Army training manual waxes nostalgic as it quotes this remark made by Sherman in 1864: 'Man has two supreme loyalties - to country and to family,' he wrote as the Civil War wound down. 'So long as their families are safe, [soldiers] will defend their country, believing that by their sacrifice they are safeguarding their families also. But even the bonds of patriotism, discipline and comradeship are loosened when the family itself is threatened."

Sherman's statement underscores the proud defense of family we see below provided by family archivist R.E. Canup; Canup describes the soldier's abandonment of the Civil War to take care of family duties:

"Most of the Confederate soldiers were farmers, they would fight for a bit but when it came time to either plant or harvest, they would 'desert'. When the jobs were done they would then rejoin their regiments to take up where they left off on the battlefield. " Recall that desertion in the Civil War carried grave consequences, up to and including execution.

Finally, General Robert E. Lee commented on the importance of defending family as motivation for war, not replacing the value of family with war. Lee, when contemplating southern versus northern perspectives, wrote, "....To us, they're birthplaces and burial grounds, they're battlefields where our ancestors fought. They're places where we learned to walk, to talk, to pray. They're places where we made friendships and fell in love. They're the incarnation of all our memories and all that we are." Lee believed the southern soldiers were indeed protecting their families, an ironic contradiction to AWCheney's concept of country trumping family in Civil warfare.

If you follow the entire conversation between AWCheney and other posters, you will note a disdain and dismissal of current historical theory. While this attitude could be attributed to a generation gap, there is no reason to assume older generations cannot make the leap to contemporary thought and academic studies, nor younger generations to the older. By examining history through a number of lenses, we can understand the full spectrum and perhaps learn from our mistakes to truly protect our families from both civil and general warfare.

Better Business Bureau Sold Us Out

This is why student borrowers have had no success negotiating with Sallie Mae through the Better Business Bureau.

Mr. Nader, I'm so disappointed in you and yours!

Dear BBB:

Upon discovering the posting below from your website, I was highly disappointed to discover the agency that is supposed to help consumers (that would be yours) has teamed up with one of the most predatory lenders in the student loan industry. Not only has Sallie Mae turned student loans over to collectors when student borrowers were not in default, they have assessed unfair fees as opposed to working with students. Furthermore, in my case, they gave out loans to an institution that "wrote in" loan amounts on my application, was operating without licensure across the nation, and violated student loan regulations.

Please read up on Sallie Mae and Al Lord, the man who thrives from our misfortune via unfair collections because he knows we have no consumer protections as borrowers.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
Bristow VA

______________________________ Campaign Launched to Educate Students and Families about Responsible Debt Management

For Immediate Release Contact: Paula Fleming, VP of Communications Better Business Bureau Phone: (508) 652-4855 Contact: Thomas Murphy, Director of Programs Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority Phone: (617) 224-4810 Contact: Beth Geurard, Manager, Corporate Communications Sallie Mae Phone: (703) 984-5621 NATICK, Mass. October 24, 2006 - With the cost of higher education on the rise, it is more important than ever that college students and their families make smart choices about paying for college, budgeting, managing their money, using credit and borrowing to finance their education. To address this growing concern, The Better Business Bureau, Inc. Serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine & Vermont has teamed up with the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) and Sallie Mae® to increase public awareness of smart money management and dealing with debt, through a three-month public education campaign. The "Debt Management for Undergraduates" campaign emphasizes how to budget and borrow wisely, and provides crucial tools and resources for young people, their families, and educators. "College students often have little disposable income, but are surrounded by the temptation to obtain credit cards and spend money they do not have," said Paula Fleming, vice president of communications and marketing of the Better Business Bureau, Inc. Serving Eastern MA, ME & VT. "Poor decisions made in college, such as accruing credit card debt for non-essential expenses-or even worse, paying for college with a credit card-can do long-term financial damage, unnecessarily increase the cost of their higher education, and launch students into a spiral of debt that can follow them well beyond graduation." Over the next three months the BBB, MEFA, and Sallie Mae will disseminate information and tips on money management, responsible borrowing and proper use of credit through the media, educators, seminars, and on the BBB's Web site, Using credit cards wisely is one significant step young people can take to avoid getting mired in debt. The BBB offers the following tips to help students manage their money and make sound financial decisions: Understand your financial aid choices and go for the most cost-effective options. The College Board reported that more than $53 billion in state, federal, and institutional grants were made in 2005-06, but millions of students miss out on free money through grants and scholarships simply because they do not apply. According to a report from the American Council on Education, 50 percent of undergraduates--approximately 8 million students--failed to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the standard application used to award federal grants and loans. Students and parents should also be aware of low-cost student loans available regardless of financial need or academic merit. The interest rate on the most common type of federal loan is roughly half that of the average credit card rate. Borrowing wisely really does pay off. Set a realistic budget and keep track of spending. First, conduct an honest self-assessment of your needs, spending habits and lifestyle and set a practical budget. Save receipts and check your account balances regularly, either by phone or online. You should also screen your statements, online or in print, to check for unauthorized charges. It is relatively easy to steal credit information, and if you don't monitor your account and billing cycle, you may miss unauthorized charges. Contact your creditor immediately if you notice a discrepancy. Be credit-savvy. Take your time when considering a card, compare rates, benefits, and fees, and don't let a prize at a campus kiosk tempt you into opening a credit account. Be sure to limit the number of cards in your wallet. According to a study by Nellie Mae, college seniors have five credit cards on average, but more cards do not mean better credit. If a student decides to open a credit account, one or two major credit cards (one exclusively for secure online transactions, for example)-as opposed to higher interest store cards-should suffice. Lastly, the best rule of thumb is to only charge what you can afford to pay off completely each month. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that a $2,000 charge paid on the minimum monthly balance at 18.5 percent interest will take 11 years to pay off, and will cost almost double the original charge in interest. It is best to pay off a credit card in full rather than pay the minimum. Track your credit score vigilantly. By ordering a credit report annually you can ensure that no unauthorized credit charges, or even loans or mortgages, are reflected in your history. If you find unauthorized credit in your name, contact the creditor immediately. As part of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, you are entitled to one free credit report per national credit bureau per year (a total of three free reports). To order your free credit reports call (877) 322-8228 or visit It takes seven years for accurate, negative information to be deleted from your credit report. Keeping your credit clean in college will help you in the future. About the BBB Founded in 1920, the Better Business Bureau, Inc. is a non-profit, public service organization serving Eastern Massachusetts, Maine, and Vermont. The BBB provides free business Reliability Reports, Charity Reports, and other invaluable consumer information to the public. All BBB services are readily available on the Internet at About MEFA The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority is a not-for-profit, public State Authority dedicated to helping families financing higher education through low-cost financing alternatives, structured college savings programs, and by providing college financing expertise to students, families, colleges and universities. For more than twenty-four years, MEFA has helped more than 200,000 students and families finance education costs. MEFA's programs include the U.Plan Prepaid Tuition Program and the U.Fund College Investing Plan and numerous low-cost Federal and Private loan programs. For more information on responsible borrowing and to download MEFA's free guide "Managing Your Student Life and Loans" visit About Sallie Mae Sallie Mae® is the nation's leading provider of saving- and paying-for-college programs. The company manages more than $130 billion in education loans and serves nearly 10 million student and parent customers. Through its Upromise® affiliate, the company also manages more than $11 billion in 529 college-savings plans, and assists more than 7 million members with automatic savings through rebates on everyday purchases. Sallie Mae and its subsidiaries offer debt management services as well as business and technical products to a range of business clients, including higher education institutions, student loan guarantors and state and federal agencies. More information is available at SLM Corporation and its subsidiaries are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America. # # #

Reporters and journalists may contact Steve Cox, CBBB's Vice President, Communications, or call 703.276.0100 to request an interview or additional information. If you are a consumer who is seeking additional information, or need assistance with a complaint against a business, please contact your local BBB, visit the BBB web site ( or call 703.276.0100.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Who is Keith Fimian?

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of hearing Keith Fimian and Gerry Connolly debate at the Montclair Country club. When I got home, I was torn between blogging and snuggling with the husband, and if you look at the posting time for this entry, you'll know what the decision was. But no matter because while in snuggle mode, as hubby and I watched another episode of Babylon 5, it suddenly occurred to me who Keith Fimian looks like. "That's it!" I said, sitting straight up. "He looks like Captain Sheridan!" My husband gave me that look he reserves for me when I'm in some political outer space he doesn't care to share. "No, really. I was trying to figure out who this guy Keith Fimian looks like. I kept thinking it was a meld between a young George Bush and Michael Douglas in The American President. But it's not! It's HIM!" I declared, pointing at the television screen." I got an interplanetary laugh from hubby, and I sunk back into my pillows relieved I finally knew why Keith Fimian seemed somehow familiar to me when he shook my hand.

Which, by the way, is something Gerry Connolly couldn't have been bothered to do. So extra points to Fimian already.

There's something refreshing about Keith Fimian. Don't laugh, but you know when you can stand next to someone and feel whether or not they are being honest with you? I sensed honesty in him. I didn't get that usual creepy feeling I get with politicians--you know, that feeling that says, "you better think four times before you believe anything this person says." His sincerity and I don't know...clarity?...gave me this feeling we could trust him. I don't recall ever feeling that about any political candidate I've ever seen.

I think part of all this stems from Fimian being new to the political scene. Most people ask, "Where did HE come from?" They don't know him. I wouldn't know him either (because I'm always asking, "Where did they get THAT person??" when it comes to politics and it's not always a nice question because in my case, it usually means, "...from under a rock?") But this is something different. Keith Fimian doesn't have that impenetrable cloud around him, the one that chokes the intuitive. I'm not saying he's a political virgin. But I am saying his newness and even sometimes his lapse in debating skills were refreshing. While I disagreed with some of what he had to say, I believe he said it all from his heart and mind, not his wallet or ego.

Fimian was passionate about this week's Wall Street plummet. When he said, "They need to go to jail for this," I wanted to stand up and shout, "Yeah! Go Keith!" Even if he doesn't get in, I hope he helps put these white collar criminal scum in jail. I've had my fill of them myself. I think white collar criminals are the true vermin of society, even more so than messed up violent criminals in some cases because white collar criminals are educated, powerful, ruthless, and capable of mass destruction. Your typical thug isn't.

But I digress.

Keith thinks like a business man, which is both good and bad. But he seems to be an ethical businssman, which is more than I can say for too many. His basic theme is cost cutting. If we don't get rid of the deficit, we're going to trash our children's future (he was a little more eloquent about this, incidentally). His message was that if government tried to pull what they do but do it in the private sector, they would be fired. And he's right. Can you imagine, for example, a business that constantly overdraws on bank accounts? Eventually, the people in charge of the money would be fired.

Except you can't fire elected Congressional members or elected anyone, for that matter, which is too bad in the case of our local government. Seg to the question of how he felt about the PWC Immigration Resolution. He was smart. He kept mostly to the topic of flophouses and crime. He slipped up on this, though because he blamed the increase of Fairfax's school population on immigrants leaving PWC. Had this resolution not caused such panic among ALL immigrants, his county could have been spared this sudden growth (if indeed, it has been a mass exodus from PWC which he didn't really prove last night).

Furthermore, as someone who is committed to cost cutting but does not live in PWC, Fimian needs to be educated on how much our BOCS has squandered our tax revenue by implementing a local plan that first, could never address a federal issue without wreaking havoc on us, and second, has torn apart our communities. Keith Fimian believes businesses and government should always plan for the worst. Our local government did not. He needs to know this. I plan to set Mr. Fimian straight on this and hope he will pass the message on to his party.

The other concern I have about Keith Fimian is, what exactly does he want to cut? In this poor economy (which he came out and called it), will he cut funding to programs we most need? Will he cut impact fees to schools and local government, especially ours when Quanitco and Fort Belvoir have opened up thousands of jobs in our county?

I know he really will try to utilize existing space on Route 1 the way he says he will. Fimian suggests using the breakdown lane as a commuter lane, similar to the arrangement of Route 66. However, he believes we should do this all the time.

Some other notes from the debate: Fimian believes we should invest in alternative energy and drill responsibly, that one solution isn't going to work. By reponsibly, I hope he doesn't take the Palin party route. In fact, I hope he doesn't like Palin. He never said.

He thinks we can subsidize housing by cutting out the government middle-man and oversight. In other words, we can give housing subsidy checks instead of having government buy apartment complexes and be responsible for their oversight. Sounds like a good plan to me so long as the landlord is reputable. Then again, who says government makes good landlords?

Fimian believes we have to protect our southern borders, maintain top intelligence, and better our worldwide reputation.

At the end, he cleared up some myths: he's not completely against stem cell research (only one type). He has no plan to regulate contraception. He doesn't believe women should be submissive (he said to ask his wife and two daughters). All in all, he sounds fairly moderate which as an independent, I appreciate.

Since I was sitting next to them, I got a chance to speak to Fimian's campaigners. I finally got an answer to that question: "Why the heck do you guys put out so many signs? It's obnoxious." Apparently, it's some juvenile game between parties. "Well, stop it," I said. "It looks terrible." They were really nice, professional guys, though, which is more than I can say for Jackson Miller's crew. They still offered me stickers which I politely refused.

So will I vote for Keith Fimian?

I won't tell.

He's an underdog in some ways, and I like underdogs.

Besides, now I know who he reminds me of.

You probably can't go too wrong with Captain Sheridan in Congress.