Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Get Your (Stuff) Together, Annapolis!

Josh Kurtz with Center Maryland wrote a very important piece about the "Mad Men" culture that persists in some corners of the General Assembly.  Although none of the women were willing to have their names published, Josh has some damning quotes from women lawmakers, lobbyists, and staffers recounting how they were talked to or touched inappropriately by Senators and Delegates in the course of their work at our state capital.

This is just disgusting.  After I posted this on my Facebook page, a few of my friends contacted me privately to note their personal experiences with lawmakers who thought their seat on the dais came with a free pass to act like a buffoon.  And while so many of us may know a Senator or Delegate who fits this profile, the real tragedy of Josh's column is that we all know countless more representatives with solid morals and good-intentions who feel like their hands are tied to do anything.  While many new Delegates go down to Annapolis with the intention to take on the world and make it a better, safer, more just place, a good start may be keeping your colleagues' hands where they belong.

And let's not downplay this concern in favor of acceptance.  "Boys will be boys" should have been retired from our parlance decades ago (except for those instances in which we hurt ourselves doing something stupid - that happens).  This behavior interferes with equal access to government and the right to petition the same.  You won't often hear me express sympathy for lobbyists, but it baffles me that our state leaders would allow a status quo whereby women must either "cope with" being objectified and disrespected or find other employment.  How devastating that must be to the psyche of a hard-working professional or an up-and-coming leader.  How absolutely devastating, humiliating, and destructive that must be. Shame on anyone who has known about this and failed to lift a hand.

While anyone who knows Delegate Maggie McIntosh was likely uncomfortable to read it, Josh includes a great quote about the first step towards curbing this behavior:

“When you’re a woman under 40, most people assume you’re a staffer and not a legislator, and they’re more likely to grab your ass,” one state lawmaker says. Then, referring to the woman with the greatest power in the legislature, 67-year-old House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D), this legislator observes: “Nobody is going to grab Maggie McIntosh’s ass, because they’re not stupid. They want to get ahead.”

More women leaders means more women who will make bad behavior a professional death sentence.  And while I would love to think that strong male leaders will do this on their own, something important happens to men when their co-equals and colleagues are women - their empathy brain connects.  Rather than paternalistic concern, men who work with other women understand that a hostile work environment not only is harmful on ethical grounds, but also on practical team-level grounds.  "If you make my partner uncomfortable, we can't get the job done.  I don't care what you do outside of this Chamber, but so long as you're doing it here you are interfering with my work."

Callous, cynical, and depressing as that may be, it is why diversity works.

There are countless other ways bad behavior can be punished without putting the burden wholly on the shoulders of the harassed and I hope our state lawmakers open all the doors on this.  When your government leaders don't respect women, your state suffers.  Our state is suffering due to the bad behavior of a few disgusting creeps who found themselves on the right side of democracy.  Let's hope the good guys (and gals) have the final say.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Persuadeables 2014

It takes about three months distance to get any semblance of an idea about what happened in an election.  Any sooner than that, and the analysis will be distorted by the raw emotions (jubilance and despair) of those involved.  Any later and it's stale news.

I've had my own interpretation of the state results for some time, but wanted to hold off on writing them for the reasons stated above.  Unlike some of even our bluest blue Democrats who donned their fancy clothes and went out for this week's Inauguration, I'm still quite disappointed that Larry Hogan is our Governor.  And that's ok.  I'm not writing this to express sour grapes, but rather to offer camaraderie to those who feel the same way I do.  We don't all need to express wonder at the "peaceful transition of power" that was mentioned on countless Facebook pages and tweets (really? Does this fit under the "if you don't have anything nice to say" category?).  We can still hold our personal concern that elections have consequences, not only with regard to those who stand underneath the Calvert and Crossland banners, but also for the families who barely knew there was an election in 2014.

So how did we get here?  I think it's much more than voters staying home (as argued by the left), the paucity of Anthony Brown (as argued by the left and right), or the strength of Larry Hogan (as argued by the right).  It came down to the mood of the electorate, but more precisely, the persuadeables.

And let's define that term.  If you voted for Romney and Hogan, I hate to tell you this, but you did not win this election for Republicans.  You held serve.  If you voted for Obama and Brown, I hate to tell you this, but you did not do much to move your candidate closer to Annapolis.  If you voted for Obama and Hogan, congratulations!  Your vote played a significant part in making this a Republican 2014!

The persuadeables were well defined by most polling in this election cycle.  They were socially liberal fiscal conservatives.  Hogan knew this well, as he said nearly from day one that social issues "were off the table" and a distraction from the concerns of hard-working Marylanders.

What does this demographic look like?  If I told you that the vote in Maryland would be determined by white females over 65 with no children in the house, you probably know someone in the target audience.  They voted for Obama, but not enthusiastically.  Their husband is a Republican, but thinks his wife is too.  They complain about the liberal media and maybe even watch Fox news (See Husband/GOP).  But when it comes to gun control, marriage equality, reproductive rights, and the environment, they're as blue as you get.  They probably have a "Save the Bay" bumper sticker on their car.

Bottom Line: These voters want to support "fiscally conservative Democrats", and often do, but in 2014 decided that they just couldn't take it on faith any longer.  They voted Republican because social issues were "off the table" and taxes were "just too high".  The narrative of Marylanders being "taxed out of Maryland" sounded true to them because so many of their friends were leaving (retirement having such an effect on folks).

And here's something else - they've been taken for granted by Democratic leaders for far too long.  They were part of a presumed coalition, the premise of the Democratic party, that would always stay together so long as their individual interests and concerns were met.  This strategy falls apart when the battles appear to have been won and your Democratic candidate is on state-wide TV promising not to raise taxes.  "See, even he gets it now," said your target voter's husband.

One more thing - this is a demographic that may be easy to take for granted.  We weren't even 24 hours into the new Hogan Administration before the Governor dropped protections for the LGTB community and removed regulations on the amount of nitrogen going into our Bay.

These voters will continue to be in play.  And they'll probably vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2016.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State of the Middle Class

President Obama had two choices for his penultimate State of the Union speech: Concession or Confrontation.  A concessionary speech would acknowledge that he is a lame duck and prescribe what polices he may allow without a veto.  It would challenge the Republican majority on their unpopular ideas (just to remind the American people that they are unpopular), but spend most of the time taking part ownership in inevitability (lower taxes, less regulation).

That was not the speech we heard last night.  We heard the "Confrontation" speech.  President Obama, with nary a wink of a chance of having any of those policy prescriptions passed, outline a skeletal platform for the Democratic Party based on the concerns of the middle class.

Set around the narrative of a newlywed working class/lower-middle class family who lost their jobs with the housing collapse, President Obama described nearly every structural obstacle that impeded class mobility in the 21st Century.  And if you have not run into these obstacles, chances are you aren't middle class (congratulations).

Childcare - "In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever. It’s not a nice-to-have — it’s a must-have. It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us."

It's written far and wide that the reason we don't feel the true depth and distance of the wealth gap is because we've transitioned from families with one primary bread-winners to two.  How many of us grew up in a household where one parent (normally the Dad) brought home the vast majority of the income, yet wonder at how that would ever be possible today?  That is what the President was addressing.

With that as a premise, it is important that we have accessible child-care for all families.  That doesn't mean free and it doesn't mean that there isn't some sacrifice involve in having a child.  But it shouldn't impoverish new parents.  The President's plan is to expand the availability of childcare and offer a $3,000/per child tax cut.

Paid Sick Leave - "Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers."

That line speaks for itself.  The President asked for a bill to assure all Americans have the opportunity to earn seven days paid sick leave.  Seven days.  "It's the right thing to do", indeed.

Equal Pay for Equal Work - "That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It’s 2015. It’s time."

At this point in the speech, Jane turned to me and said "Why aren't those people [Republicans] clapping?"  Oh, I imagine a lot of people wondered that.  (She also asked whether Boehner uses a tanning bed, which resulted in me spending some time on Google and finding out that he firmly denies using a tanning bed, claiming that he "plays golf, mows his own grass" and that is what causes his leathery glow).

Minimum Wage - "And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise."

Another overwhelmingly positive initiative that would help millions of American families for which there is zero Republican support.

Free Community College  - "Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible. I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today."

We're going to see higher education change dramatically over the next ten years.  It is on an entirely unsustainable path.  This may be the first step.

The President went on to request things like a bipartisan infrastructure plan, action on climate change, and a description of his path forward on foreign policy, but these items are a given for the State of the Union.  In order and priority, President Obama put the middle class first.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Our MLK

Last year around this time, I began reading Taylor Branch's Parting of the Waters: American in the King years 1954-1963.  I chose to do so because I felt I just did not know enough about Martin Luther King, Jr., the man.  I knew about the legend.  The demi-god.  The perfect quotes and the slicing arguments for justice, peace, and social progress.  I knew about all of that, but the humanity was lost.

After reading Parting of the Waters (and now reading Pillar of Fire), I find Dr. King's humanity an essential part of his legacy, particularly if we are going to continue to live out his message and his memory.  And when I say "humanity", I don't mean "to err is human" or other attempts to disparage a legend in order to bring them back to earth.  Rather, I think it is important to remember that Martin Luther King, Jr., was a leader of men, developed from a baptist minister for a small church in Georgia.  He set times for his meetings, reserved rooms, and approved minutes.  He put the coffee on before people showed up.  He faced the same jealousies and resentments that today's leaders face.  Dr. King was told by his elders to stop carrying on.  He was told by his contemporaries that he wasn't doing enough.

I find that this humanity magnifies the accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement.  Let us all remember on days like today that this was a movement made up of many different leaders, not all in accord with one another, prosecuting their vision on many different levels of civic life.  By reading about the Freedom Rides, you can't help but develop a deep admiration for John Lewis, a man who walked off a bus into mobs numbering in the thousands just to assert rights that were provided to him under the law.  Same is true for Robert Moses, who deserves equal recognition with Dr. King for many of the most recognizable and remarkable tenants of the nonviolent movement.

We do ourselves a great disservice by making gods out of men.  And Martin Luther King, Jr., deserves to be remembered as a man.  Because gods do not fear men and without fear there is no courage.  More remarkable than his intellect, his patience, his convictions, or his steadfast commitment, is Dr. King's courage.  While many of us would consider putting our lives on the line for our deeply held convictions, we likely would be less comfortable doing so if we knew our families were also put at risk.  Not theoretical risk, but "they didn't get us this time" risk.  Many of us would be willing to endure the hate of our opponents so long as we knew our efforts to be righteous, but would we be willing to accept the enmity of an entire race?

How Martin Luther King, Jr., the man, did not live from one mental breakdown to the next is worthy of medical study.  How did he sleep?  How did he keep his hands from shaking?

We have some small idea of how he did this - he imputed the devastating fear we may expect of MLK, the man, on his adversaries.  He presumed that their threats and actions of violence against him represented the actions of scared animals.  And when your adversary is scared, even when they come close to hurting you, they are still on the losing side of things.

We cannot let Dr. King's abstract dreams distract us from the concrete justice he sought and the policy changes intended to make that justice a reality. He marched for Jobs and Freedom.  There will be many elected officials, including a few here in Howard County, who will lionize Martin Luther King, Jr., the demi-god, while continuing to oppose many of the very same policy planks he sought when he told the world that he had a dream.  Among those objectives were:

  • A program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed;
  • A Federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring;
  • A $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide ($15.33/hour in 2014 dollars);
  • A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas;
  • Authority for the Attorney General to institute injunctive suits when constitutional rights are violated.
I will spend today thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the man.  I have no use or interest in reflecting on the mythology of a demi-god.  Dr. King was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived and we all can aspire to do the same - setting meetings, reading minutes, and putting the coffee on.

Have a contemplative and service filled Monday doing what you love!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ending Homelessness in Howard County, 2015 Edition (Thursday LINKS)

County Executive Allan Kittleman has officially endorsed the plan to build a homeless shelter and resource center at the intersection of Route 1 and Route 32, reports Amanda Yeager with the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times.  This project was originally put forward by Ken Ulman in 2013 after the Beachcrest site was scrapped in favor of a more ambitious multi-use center near the site of the current Route One Day Center.

As with just about any project to address and ameliorate poverty, there is resistance among some of the nearby community members.  And I want to say up front that it is the obligation of those of us who support plans like this to engage those concerns.  Not all concerns can be resolved and some, respectfully, are based on unfounded stereotypes, but when you are talking about someone's home, someone's neighborhood, you had best tread lightly.  Ideals, aspirations, and civic-mindedness fall short when you are talking about your fellow community-member's concerns about safety.

The fact of the matter is that this project will improve the homeless situation that already exists in Savage/Laurel.  As reported by Blair Ames in 2013:

"The majority of homeless surveyed this year are staying in North Laurel and Savage area, according to Vidia Dhanraj, coordinator of community partnerships with the Department of Citizen Services."

The most significant resource for those who are without reliable shelter is the Route One Day Resource Center, located a literal stone's throw away from the proposed site.  For all intents and purposes, the skeletal parts of this project already exist, yet are scattered across 10 square miles.

As for safety and general concerns about the neighborhood, it is important to keep in mind that this is not a passive shelter.  This is not a building that put up a "homeless shelter" plaque and called it a day.  These 30 efficiency apartments will be paired with case management services and other resources to help reintegrate them into productive society.  We can't use our experience with out-dated homeless services to interpret what this new center will provide.  Rather, this project will likely set the standard for other projects across the state.

Sadly, even with this new center, Howard County will still have homeless men and women living outdoors.  But this is a monumental step forward when you consider that Grassroots provided the only reliable emergency housing in the County.

LINKS

I love this headline "Martin O'Malley Has Written a Book".  It seems to communicate both surprise and resignation at the same time.

The Maryland General Assembly opened session yesterday and The Sun has a great picture of both Larry Hogan and Anthony Brown giving their best "This guy right here" pose.  It is great to see things start with a bipartisan tone (whatever that means), but I think such imagery could have been presumed.  With the loss of moderate Democrats, the introduction of a Republican Governor, and the absence of any apparent "bipartisan issues", I think we may be in for a long game of tug-of-war.

Luke Lavoie writes about Howard County's preparations for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I'm looking for a good service event to participate in on the 20th, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Andrew Sullivan's The Dish looks at free speech in France and what happens when all the Je Suis's fall away.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I appreciated Julia's contrast of two proposed developments in Howard County and think you will too.

That's all for today.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Generational Gap in Civic Life

"We need more young people."

It is an oft repeated concern among members of "The Bubble", observing that the 10% who do 90% of the work are commonly between the ages of 45 and 65.  There have even been organizational manifestations of this concern in the creation of twentyfivefortyfive and the Community Foundation of Howard County's Leadership Council Award.

As a member of the targeted cohort, I can tell you that the only concrete strategy for luring more "young people" has been to ask "Do you know anybody?"

And this is a point of continual frustration for me.  Token representation will do token work.  At one time, I bought into the "do you know anybody" strategy and recommended a half-dozen "young people" to the boards upon which I served.  Without fail, the occupation, family life, or general disinterest of my nominee would wear out their participation, leaving egg on my face.  "Oh Tom, we wanted a young person who would do a good job.  You must have misunderstood."

At a recent Board meeting for one of those nonprofits, I pushed back.  I noted that demographic representation is not enough.  You need someone with passion.  If that person is 80 years old with passion for doing good, they are worth a half dozen 25-45er's who think this is a throwaway networking opportunity.  And if they are 22, with barely a financial network to leverage, but a restless desire to get involved and help their community, you bring them on-board.  Not because someone "knew somebody", but because you couldn't get them to stop knocking on your door.

As a community, the work of getting the next generation involved requires much more work than playing tag.  We need to look at how the younger generation is participating in civic life and meet them there.  Respectfully, we spend far too much time shining a spotlight on those with the deepest pockets and not enough time looking at what those with little to no discretionary income are doing to make this a better place to live work and play (and that goes across all generations).

But our need for younger participation in civic action is unquestionably true.  Young professionals and new families experience the same space in a way that is completely different from those at the peak of their career who see Howard County's high cost of living as a comfortable landing spot.  And the 45-65 contingent make well-intentioned, but horribly off-base, presumptions about what the next generation wants based on the reflections of what life was like in the 1980's and 90's. 

And that is the base concern here.  Younger community members and their mentors alike need to stop seeing inexperience as something in need of correction.  It is a prize in perspective to be encouraged, elicited, and utilized.  We are a very intimidating group of leaders.  The sooner we recognize that, the more "young people" we're likely to recruit.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Monday, January 12, 2015

John Grasso's Id Is Our Problem

There was news out of Anne Arundel County last week when a county council member made his true feelings known about affordable housing.  Rema Rahman with the Capital Gazette wrote that Councilmember John Grasso called those seeking government assistance "freeloaders" and then proceeded to list every stereotype about America's poor in one sitting, an admirable feat all its own.  However, he did not stop there.  He also applauded his own fastidious savings and measured spending that made him the man he is today - firmly within the middle class with a shiny name-tag to protect the privileges thus afforded to him.

Listen - I don't have too much more to say about Mr. Grasso.  He is clearly proud of himself in contrast to those he reprimanded in a public hearing.  As his fellow council-member noted, there will be no electoral consequences for these statements and, alas, he may even be further lionized as someone who promoted "a return to common-sense".  And I won't even offer comment on the nonsensical statement that people "use children as a crutch to describe laziness."  (Um, what?)

Rather, I would like to talk about the mindset that leads to these statements, which I would presume is much more prevalent than even the most cynical among us would suggest.  I have no scientific proof to further this argument, but I see this as an evolutionary "lizard-brain" trait that we need to "get over".  "You drain resources from clan.  We run fast to trap game and avoid predators.  You bad for running fast.  You go."  Humans have a general distaste for weakness and failure, particularly Americans.

"I don't like hospitals."  "We'll visit grandma at the nursing home next weekend."  "Insurance?  I'll be fine."

This is an easily identifiable aspect of how we relate to the world around us, further bolstered by a semi-religious-often-secular belief that if we do well, we've earned it, and failure/sickness is the result of bad acts.

And I want to acknowledge something up front - there is waste and abuse in government assistance.  It is rampant.  I would even suggest that up to 20% of recipients do not meet the purpose or intent of government assistance as we all understand those intents and purposes to be.  But that leaves 80%.  Read the statistics - most of these individuals require assistance because of sickness, chronic pain, or disability (often overlapping descriptors, but each with its own disqualifications).  If I were to bring this to the attention of Mr. Grasso, he would likely say that he wasn't talking about those people (or that "chronic pain is a crutch to describe laziness" - I don't know him well enough to say either way). Nevertheless, it is apparent that Mr. Grasso was much more interested in addressing a stereotype than refining policy.

But Mr. Grasso is not the problem.  He is a symptom.  There is no political consequence for trashing the poor.  If he had questioned the propriety of the mortgage tax deduction or favorable taxation on capital gains, we may see a recall petition circulated in Glen Burnie.  Mr. Grasso would have been much worse off telling the Gazette that they don't have permission to use his name.  Then he would have been ridiculed on the national stage and forced to write an awkward group apology.  But shaming people from the dais at a public hearing?  Not only political acceptable, but possibly even beneficial to your Republican bona fides.

Oftentimes I am concerned that there is too much outrage in the world to no good purpose, most of the time premised on something as insignificant as whether someone else shares our world-view.  But when elected officials denigrate citizens (and constituents) for their inability to succeed in an unfair world of brutal consequences, that makes me outraged.  And sometimes I think outrage is the only antidote we have for apathy.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!  Be careful out there.