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    Letters to the Editor
    Cleaning up Sterling Park

    On Aug. 9 Sterling Foundation volunteers and three workers from Fine Landscapes Ltd., Sterling edged the curbing on Sterling Boulevard between Frederick Drive and Laurel Road.

    This work was part of a yearlong project to clean up the main street of Sterling Park. Sterling Foundation would like to thank the following for their time and effort on this behalf: Fine Landscapes Ltd. for the donation of equipment and their three hard-working employees, Juan Nataren, Eliseo Nataren Ayala and Emilio Salmeron, along with volunteers Maureen Beach, John Boling, A.J. Fuentes, Anne Geiger, Aaron Gilman, Jeff Reynolds, Pat Reynolds, Bob Ryan and Matt Villalobos for the edging work, and Krista Braxton, Debra Vest and Cheryl Villalobos who provided a delicious lunch and hydration all day for the workers. Major kudos goes to Aaron Gilman for being the spark to get this project rolling.

    Our next “edging party” is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13. Go to http://www.sterlingfoundation.org for updated information.

    Sterling Foundation Inc. is an all-volunteer nonprofit enterprise that, among other activities, raises funds to plant trees in and mow the Sterling Boulevard median and sponsors Sterling Fest. Please consider joining this community-based organization so we can do more for you in Sterling Park.

    Kevin D. Chroninger

    Loudoun County

    Achieving the common good

    In celebration of the Labor Day weekend, I am providing some insight for Americans to continue our volunteer efforts where we can have direct impact on supporting the local community living in need. Volunteering locally is a pleasing and rewarding way to learn new skills and enjoy meeting innovative people and organizations. It is also a great opportunity for us to use our knowledge, experience and abilities to enhance nonprofits, school programs and civic organizations.

    The ranks of America’s poor have climbed to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains to alleviate poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2012 Report, 46.5 million Americans are currently living in poverty or around 15 percent of the population. Poverty is continuing across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as government aid begins to run out. Feeding America’s “map the meal gap” analysis, which highlights food insecurity cites Loudoun County as one of the highest median household incomes in the nation, yet nearly 17,000 (5 percent) of its residents are food insecure. Americans are now becoming accustomed to the new norm of living hand to mouth. Family income has not significantly changed lately but taking a wider view reveals a larger problem: income has tumbled since the recession hit and is still 8.3 percent below where it was in 2007. Recent economic growth hasn’t really reached working class Americans.

    Based on published reports of these survey findings in every media network, folks are more conscious than ever about the issues and concerns for addressing poverty. Northern Virginia is an affluent community and the majority of us have privileged lives. Historically Northern Virginia has a strong and proud tradition of volunteerism and we are driven by a common desire to improve the communities where we live and work by forming lasting volunteer partnerships with local organizations. Through a commitment to service excellence we touch the lives of many people and promote hope and goodwill. We are involved in many community outreach projects that directly support our neighborhoods. These initiatives focus on civic opportunities, education, environment, safety and security and people living in need. We are tutors, mentors, classroom speakers, fund-raisers, board members and food drive organizers, among many other roles.
    In Northern Virginia, we must be the ones to volunteer our time and resources. We can act as champions in our respective communities, using our own job related skills (i.e. program management, business development, sales and services, software and system engineering) to work with organizations that interweave community obligations with the desire to uplift and support those living in need.

    The pressure of a growing population with tremendous cultural diversity challenges our community leaders. Our government infrastructure, churches, civic organizations and corporations need to work in unison to make certain that there is funding and programs in place to assure that no children go without attending school, receiving regular meals or wearing proper clothing and shoes. Let no family, regardless of any situation, go without shelter and be humbled beyond repair. In this way there is always a focus on achieving the common good for the entire community.

    Mark Gunderman

    Sterling Park

    COMMUNITY VIEW: Judges undermine Pillars of the American Republic

    Standing against a tsunami of recent federal and state judicial decisions undermining traditional marriage, a state judge in Tennessee has ruled that his state’s marriage protection amendment promoting “family continuity and stability is certainly [in pursuit of] a legitimate state interest.”  That decision, issued by Roane County Circuit Judge Russell Simmons, comes as a breath of fresh air to constitutional conservatives and Christians alike. 

    Judge Simmons asserts what was believed by almost all until recently – that marriage is an issue that was left to the states, and “neither the Federal Government nor another state should be allowed to dictate to Tennessee what has traditionally been a state’s responsibility.” I agree, voters and state legislators, not judges, should decide who is allowed to marry.

    Closer to home, in its decision striking down Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, the Fourth Circuit erroneously elevated its opinion over the collective judgment of the people of Virginia who adopted the Marriage Amendment to the Virginia Constitution. The jurisdictional authority of a state to define marriage within our commonwealth was usurped when two members of a three-  judge panel issued an order overruling the collective judgment of millions of voters in an act of raw, political will. Dissenting Judge Niemeyer decried the court’s actions, stating that “there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage and there are rational reasons for not recognizing it….” 

    In striking down Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, the Fourth Circuit simultaneously fabricated a new meaning for the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment, while disregarding the mandates of the Declaration of Independence, the pillar and foundation of the American Republic.

    The Fourth Circuit never even tried to claim that its decision was supported by the text, context, or ratification history of the 14th Amendment, which, as Justice William O. Douglas explained concisely, “was passed to give blacks first-class citizenship.” No one believes that the 14th Amendment was passed to prohibit the states from defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The Fourth Circuit majority could only support its opinion with prior Supreme Court decisions discussing so-called “fundamental rights” – a term which does not appear in the Constitution, and therefore is capable of any meaning clever lawyers choose to give it – as the Fourth Circuit demonstrated.

    With no federal constitutional bar to traditional marriage, the citizens of each state remain entitled to write a constitution to govern themselves, as the Supreme Court has previously agreed. In 1803, in Marbury vs. Madison, the court recognized the right of the people “to establish, for their future government, such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to their own happiness…” In Virginia, and in many other states, voters have decided that the public good is best served by adhering to the one man-one woman definition of marriage. It is their right to decide this question and to have that decision respected by legislators and courts.

    Do judges know better than voters? Consider U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen, the judge who ruled that the Virginia Marriage Amendment was unconstitutional. Her opinion exposed her lack of knowledge of the most basic fundamentals of American government when stating on its first page: “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal. Surely this means all of us.” Later, Judge Wright Allen issued an embarrassing correction, attributing these words to “Our Declaration of Independence.” Judge Allen swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, but apparently is not all that familiar with its content.

    The Declaration of Independence is our nation’s charter – the foundational document establishing the premises on which our Constitution rests. It sets out the fundamental truths that undergird the American nation: all men are created free and equal and possess the same inherent, natural rights. Legitimate governments must therefore be based on the consent of the governed and must exist “to secure these rights.” These rights don’t arise from a judicial decision, for as the Declaration recognizes, these rights are the gift of our creator. For judges to override our creator’s definition of marriage set out in the Word of God is, as one Virginia constitutional lawyer recently described, “a usurpation of Biblical proportions.”

    Voters and legislators in Virginia correctly defined marriage. The people of Virginia ought to be disturbed at judges usurping that decision and the authority of “the creator” to define the institution of marriage that He fashioned for mankind’s protection and benefit.


    Del. Dave LaRock represents the 33rd House District, including parts of Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties, and the towns of Leesburg (partial), Purcellville, Berryville, Lovettsville, Round Hill, Hamilton and Hillsboro.

    Del. Dave LaRock

    33rd House District

    COMMUNITY VIEW: Lessons from Ferguson

    Ferguson, Mo. has brought the issue of militarization of law enforcement to our living rooms.  Every night we see the images – police in military style clothing, pointing military style rifles at people (something even the military doesn’t do unless they are preparing to shoot), standing on top of military grade armored vehicles. It’s unfortunate that it took an event like Ferguson to bring the militarization of U.S. law enforcement to public attention. It’s time we address this dangerous trend, and we can start at the state and local level. 

    First, how did we get here? The militarization of our law enforcement is, to a large extent, a product of our failed war on drugs. Under a U.S. Department of Defense program established in the 1990s, the DoD gives military equipment to local law enforcement departments, with transfer preference given to counter-drug and counter-terrorism operations. The catch? The equipment must be used in one year, or must be returned. Quite a perverse incentive – here’s a tank and assault rifles, use them in the next year or give them back, regardless of whether you need to or not. In addition, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security have established funding programs that further enable the militarization of local law enforcement. Law enforcement officers should be focused on ensuring public safety, and not meeting federal program requirements that double down on the failed war on drugs or provide false security in the War on Terror.

    What can we do to stop this? At the local and state level there are a number of opportunities. 

    Residents should demand that law enforcement obtain approval from their local elected government before obtaining military grade weapons and materials or surveillance equipment.  According to records published in the New York Times, Loudoun County has received 41 night vision pieces, but its neighboring counties in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland have been much more involved in the DoD program, including receipt of approximately 150 military assault rifles and an armored vehicle. Law enforcement should be forced to defend these decisions – why do they need a tank, assault rifles, drones or a grenade launcher to keep our neighborhoods safe? Residents should be involved in deciding what kind of law enforcement they want and expect in their communities – public safety agencies or military style organizations conducting a domestic war at home.

    Like many Virginia law enforcement departments, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office has a SWAT team. SWAT teams were first developed to provide a necessary service – to react to an active shooter or other instance involving an imminent, violent threat to public safety where regular law enforcement officers lack the training necessary to react. But, we’ve gone from 3,000 SWAT actions a year in the 1980s to approximately 45,000 a year by the mid-2000s. This is the result, in part, from a shift in mission – from reacting to imminent, violent threats to serving warrants in low level drug cases. And, this has occurred without proper oversight.  Virginia doesn’t require law enforcement agencies to collect and make public data on stops, stops and frisks or SWAT deployments.  Unlike Wisconsin, there is no law requiring objective review of police use of force resulting in death. The General Assembly should require all law enforcement agencies to collect and make public basic information about policing and its consequences in order to ensure accountability and transparency and to allow residents and legislative bodies to make informed decisions about the operations and effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies. 

    Finally, it’s time to end the war on drugs – it’s ineffective and disproportionately impacts communities of color.  Recently, the Loudoun-Times Mirror looked at drug arrests and public safety in Chesterfield and Loudoun counties.  It criticized Loudoun’s lower number of arrests for drug crimes.  Between 2010 and 2013 (the last year of complete data), it is true that Chesterfield arrested between two and three times as many people for drugs as did Loudoun. While Loudoun and Chesterfield have similar population sizes, however, Chesterfield has a crime rate that is almost double that of Loudoun. So the suggestion in the editorial that increased drug enforcement leads to decreased crime didn’t prove true in Chesterfield. The real truth is that, as is the case across Virginia, Loudoun’s enforcement of drug laws has disproportionately impacted communities of color. Despite the fact that whites and African Americans use marijuana at roughly the same rate, African Americans were three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Loudoun County. If we really want to reduce the use of drugs then we should look to what works. The evidence is clear that treatment programs are more effective than incarceration. 

    President Nixon declared the war on drugs over 40 years ago. What has this $1 trillion war achieved? Jails full of non violent offenders, racial disparities in arrests and incarceration, little to no effect on the supply of drugs, and militarized police forces. It’s time to end this failed war. It’s time to bring transparency, accountability and evidence-based law enforcement back to our communities. 

     

     

    Claire Guthrie Gastañaga

    Executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.

    COMMUNITY VIEW: Election is time to engage, take action

    The other day a friend asked:

    “Can you help me with a political problem?”

    “What is it?” said I.

    “This campaign’s dialog is all negative and unsettling. How can I find something to be enthusiastic about? I want to contribute positively, not just watch my country go down hill.”

    He has a point. Most campaigns concentrate in the opposition’s sins and weaknesses, whether real, false or imaginary. Few propose positive policy options, because change, no matter how needed, will antagonize powerful beneficiaries of the status quo. Here are exceptions my friend could support enthusiastically.

    A major key to our nation’s future is the quality of education it offers, and America has fallen behind its international competitors in K-12 schooling. For this fiscal year Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors, considering schools an annoying cost, cut the Board of Education’s budget proposals, and planned to close several small schools in order to reduce the county tax rate.

    The Middleburg community objected to closing their elementary school serving 67 youngsters. Some determined supporters grabbed the ball, and this month a new charter elementary school, under local supervision, welcomed 120 K-5 students to classes in the existing Middleburg Elementary building. Here is a chance for volunteers to join in proving the worth of charter schools testing non-traditional ways of educating kids. (Ed. Note: America has about 6,000 charter schools; Virginia now has six.)

    Political gridlock is endemic in Washington, as each party’s leadership moves away from the politically moderate center toward its extreme wing. Increasingly virulent, misleading and often untruthful personal attacks on opposing candidates build anger and distrust between Republicans and Democrats, making civil dialog and legislative compromises impossible. What is badly needed are legislators who will reach across the aisle to talk to the other party as fellow Americans meeting to solve our nation’s problems.

    The 2014 election is a time to encourage those running to campaign, and later act, first as Americans, and only secondarily as Republicans or Democrats. Virginia’s Senatorial candidate this fall is Mark Warner, a successful businessman, former governor of Virginia, and a senator who has led in several bi-partisan senate efforts. If my friend is looking for a place to participate enthusiastically in politics, here is a candidate worthy of his support.

    Then there is Climate Change, perhaps the greatest threat to the habitability of Planet Earth. The Citizen’s Climate Lobby (CCL) is growing in its efforts to inform Americans on the human actions that are influencing climate, and the steps available to mitigate those causes. Or to adapt to what cannot be changed. The local chapter of CCL, led by Warrenton’s Judy Lamana, can use any enthusiastic volunteer available to work on both the educational and the political aspects of this immense problem.

    This nation and our world will not be saved by partisan Republicans or Democrats, but by enthusiastic citizens, working together as Americans, subduing one problem after another. My skeptical friend, and every other American, should pitch in enthusiastically to engage and solve the many difficulties our nation faces. This campaign season is a good time to start.

    Bruce Smart

    Upperville

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    Loudoun Business Journal - Summer 2014

    Loudoun Business Journal - Spring 2014