Friday, August 31, 2012

Mitt Romney: GOP Megatron (Friday LINKS)

Acknowledging the ideological leanings of the source, I thought James Carville had an interesting description of Mitt Romney's speech and the general feel of the GOP Convention:

"Romney's speech had George W. Bush's economic policies, Dick Cheney's foreign policies, and Rick Santorum's social policies."

While that may appear as a slight to Democrats, I'm not so sure Republicans would, or can, run away from it.  Overall, I think it is unfair to say that the Romney-Ryan ticket has the fiscal policies of any administration other than their own.  This plank is the most unique and most repeated.  But as I noted yesterday, I think it is fair to say that this Administration would be prosecuting a neo-conservative foreign policy and a hard right set of policies on social issues.

This quote wrapped up a week where Republicans were talking about how amazing every speech was and Democrats...were talking about how amazing every speech was (for different reasons).  I would expect to see Romney receive a 4 point bump in the National Polls over the next week and solidify his footing in some of the GOP leaning states like North Carolina. 

As for "Independents", I wonder how much of this week was for them.  The key speeches were late and there weren't too many unique or distinctive "announcements" of policy to carry the news day.  In fact, I think Republicans should be very concerned that the foolhardy decision to put 82-year-old Clint Eastwood on stage to riff with an empty chair will be the most memorable event of the last three days (it is for me).

The best thing Republicans did was distill their message, which should be an objective for any well run convention.  That message is "The economic policies of this President have been fully executed and failed.  The correct path is clear and we have the map."  From my perspective, I would have liked a little more meat on those bones, and some semblance of a concordance between economic and foreign policy (check out how the Federal Government handled war spending in WWII before you start saying "We gotta do what we gotta do").  But at the end of the day, we learned nothing new.  If you were excited about this Candidate before, you are more so today.  If you did not like this Candidate before, I'm not sure much changed. 

The bad thing for the GOP is that the President gets a rebuttal and sits atop a campaign known for imaging, message, and "Hollywood" -- three things that are the most important for a Party Convention.  Said otherwise, don't expect a Clint moment from this Candidate.  Republicans will have to hope that their message of "all hat no cattle" stays true. 

LINKS

The big news locally is that Delegate Liz Bobo is retiring in 2014, leaving her seat open for what she hopes will be a "liberal Democrat from Columbia."  Many have suggested that this retirement was prompted by party divisions stirred up by her endorsement of challenger Alan Klein in the Council District 4 primary of 2010 and the meshing of Districts 12A and 12B in the subsequent Delegate redistricting process, putting large swathes of Ellicott City and Elkridge in the new District 12.  I think Liz still could have won District 12 (easily), but she would have faced a nasty primary.  In addition, I admire any politician that gets to go out on their own terms.  It is extremely rare.  One of the saddest things I've heard about politics is that most political careers end in failure or shame.  You either lose your job or are removed.  As for who fills that spot -- who knows

The Corner is one of my all time favorite books about public policy.  This semi-obituary of DeAndre McCullough showed that not much has changed in the 20+ years since the book was published.

O's Win as Adam Jones's bat heats up and Taylor Teagarden shows that all he knows how to do as an Oriole is hit home runs.  The birds head into a series against New York looking at a chance to tie up the Division with a sweep.  This series will show whether this team has the mettle to make any noise in the Playoffs (or sustain their winning ways to get one of the last spots).  I think a sweep is too much to ask, but if they take 2 out of 3, look out.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah looks at Aging in Place in Howard County, which is a critical issue for all of us interested in government and community to pay attention to.  It has been a high priority for the Columbia Association and an honor for our community to have so many people that want to continue to live here well after seeing their kids off to start their own lives.

That's all for today.  Surprisingly light news day.

Have a great Friday doing what you love AND a great Labor Day Weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

NeoCons are Expensive (Thursday LINKS)

I want to start off by noting that Con. Paul Ryan put on a clinic in political speech-making last night.  If you are a Democrat, or a left-leaning independent, and those big blue saucers didn't put a quiver in your knees, you probably were watching something else.  Good speeches are equal parts humor and power.  Ryan balanced it perfectly and probably will account for a 3-5 point post-convention bounce regardless of what Mitt Romney does tonight.

And that's important, because anyone who watched Senator John McCain and Condoleezza Rice speak is most likely terrified.

First, some background.  Depending on the source, it has been estimated that the Afghanistan War cost the United States $119.4 billion in FY2011, with total war expenditures reaching approximately $455.4 billion.  The Iraq war, despite the withdraw, cost the United States $51.1 billion in FY2011, with a total cost of approximately $802 billion.  For comparison purposes, the entire education budget for the United States $129.8 billion in FY2011, and I have not even tried to incorporate the human cost of fighting foreign wars.

I don't think I'm projecting too much by saying that John McCain invited the next President to intervene in Syria.  In fact, in a subsequent interview, he said that President Obama's failure to do so is "shameful."  Condoleezza Rice said in no uncertain terms that the United States is compelled to be the "watchdog" for freedom and justice throughout the entire world and that although this is an uncomfortable burden, if we don't do it we are faced with an alternative of "no one" or another superpower that "does not share our values."  Both speakers made significant allusions to Iran and the need for military intervention to "protect our friends" (i.e., Israel). 

In its most plain terms: There was a full endorsement of neoconservative foreign policy last night.

This too could have been dismissed as red meat for the faithful (although leaving a number of questions for the candidates), had it not been for Paul Ryan's continuation of that thread in his speech:

And in our dealings with other nations, a Romney-Ryan administration will speak with confidence and clarity. Wherever men and women rise up for their own freedom, they will know that the American president is on their side. Instead of managing American decline, leaving allies to doubt us and adversaries to test us, we will act in the conviction that the United States is still the greatest force for peace and liberty that this world has ever known.

You don't have to have any foreign policy experience or know-how to conclude that overthrowing governments is a bad business to be in.  Heck, if the State of Maryland absorbed the entirety of our County government tomorrow through peaceful legal maneuvering, this would be a very bad place to live for the next 2-3 years.  Imagine if that was instead through military violence.

I want to believe that the Romney-Ryan ticket is serious about getting our financial house in order, but please recall the extent to which President Bush and his supporters dismissed the ramping debt of the 21st Century as the "cost of defending freedom."  We as a Country are very forgiving when it comes to spending on the military.  It is viewed as unforeseen, necessary, and unavoidable.  What happens when those interventions appear everywhere our President looks?  Picking winners and losers in business is bad.  Picking winners and losers in geopolitics is dangerous.

Congrats to the GOP on a very good night last night.  I have no doubt that my concerns are seldom shared by the public at large.  But if you believe that Bush did it all wrong, and wasn't a "real conservative", you're going to have a hard time defining his mistakes without mentioning the $1 trillion he spent fighting foreign wars.

LINKS

Social Media has taken up the cause of Maisie, a pom/chihuahua mix that has been lost in Columbia since August 11.  Please "like" the page and help in the search.  These stories do have happy endings when enough people pitch in.

Maryland Reporter notes that Party Conventions are conducted partially on the taxpayer dime to the tune of approximately $136 million.  Meanwhile, the Libertarian and Green Party candidates are left out of our debates and have a hard time even getting on the ballot. 

Gov. Ehrlich's former chief-of-staff Chip DiPaula has thrown his support behind Question 6 and same-sex marriage, further bolstering the coalition in favor of marriage equality.  The base set of voters against this petition question is getting smaller and smaller by the day.

Streets in Downtown Baltimore will begin closing in earnest today, with the Labor Day race just a few days away.  As a previous critic, I have to say that the management of race construction this year has been night and day from last year.  I would estimate that my commute was extended by a matter of 5-10 minutes this year whereas last year it was extended 30 minutes to an hour.  Thank you, Baltimore City.  Race on.

Joe Saunders is not very good at baseball.

The "Speed Camera Shooter" pled guilty and was given probation before judgment with community service, anger management, and a $157.50 fine.  Vivia la Revolution!  (That's a joke.  Don't fire marbles at speed camera trucks, mmm-kay?)

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Frank Hecker looks at "Participatory Budgeting in Howard County" and how citizens could be involved in allocating Howard County's $100 million annual expenditures.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Lew Ford (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the O's) (Wednesday LINKS)

For at least the last seven years, being an Orioles' fan was like going to a job you hate.  Neither of us were going anywhere.  Although never satisfying or fulfilling, the O's filled a basic need for summer baseball that we would either have to extend our commute (Nats) or go destitute without.  When everyone else would talk about their cool jobs (Yanks, Red Sox, 25+ more successful MLB teams), we would meekly nod and say "Oh, well I'm an O's fan, so I don't pay much attention to baseball come August."

We would even undergo the distinct shame of having those other fans talk about our current players with lecherous desire...TO OUR FACES!  "Adam Jones is going to look good in pinstripes."  That has little to do with having a job you hate, but everything to do with having our enjoyment of a sport undercut by its cruel terms.

But last night Lew Ford hit his second home run in two days.  Even better, I sort of predicted it.  Here's my Facebook status from yesterday afternoon:


Impromptu Orioles game tonight. Three rows back in section 80. Hoping to catch Lew Ford's first opposite field home run.

Lew Ford hit an opposite field home run...about 20 feet from where we were sitting.
To borrow a phrase from Governor Christie: "Ya see" Lew is the embodiment of this team.  Prior to Monday, Lew Ford's last home run was July 29, 2007.  That means there were kindergartners being sent off to school this past month who had been a mere twinkle the last time Lew jogged the base-paths.  He's a journeyman baseball player that has probably had at least a dozen "Are we sure that you still want to do this baseball thing?" conversations with his wife...just as hundreds of thousands of Orioles' fans have had that conversation with themselves.

The Orioles are on track to break 2 million attendance this season; the highest total since 2007 and notably outpacing the White Sox, Oakland, and Tampa Bay, three other Wild Card contenders.  TV viewers have rocketed from an average of 44,000 per game to 62,000.  The Yard may not be packed, but the daily marathon of baseball is a matter of habit, one that has been broken in Baltimore on the back of over a decade of poor performance.

I'm not going to say that it is ok to give your heart to this team.  For one thing, I am incredibly superstitious and such a post would surely foretell a tailspin unheard of in baseball history.  Secondly, if you're not there already, you probably never will be. 

LINKS

I made it home in time for Gov. Chris Christie's Convention Speech.  I have yet to read any coverage of the event, but by my personal review, I think Christie came up short.  As a practical matter, I don't think you ever want to have to tell people to stand up when you're giving an inspiring speech.  He did.  Christie also had some of the most grating verbal ticks that I have seen of a politician at his level.  "Now..."  "Ya See..."  Nevertheless, I think his message was attractive (i.e., giving Americans the "hard truths" and governing out in front), but it also came off a bit like "Eat your vegetables."  All in all, this was a speech for the faithful and he delivered on that much.  After seeing Senator Marco Rubio interviewed later that night on The Daily Show, I think he was the best pick to introduce Romney and will be the person we are talking about next Monday.

I was horrified to see that yet again people are being rescued from their roofs in Louisiana with 12 feet of water in some places.

The 15 year-old Perry Hall High School shooter will be charged as an adult with attempted murder and assault.  As angry as we all may be, I don't feel this is just.  

Thankfully, this tragic story comes with a hero in Jesse Wasmer.  After the slew of tragic shootings all over the Country, I imagine most of us have asked ourselves what we would do if it was our turn to step up.  Mr. Wasmer will never have to ask himself that question again.

Not only was Delegate Don Dwyer's boat going full throttle while he had a BAC of at least .20, but even WORSE...the name of his boat is "The Legislator."  We can only hope that there's some sort of criminal sanction for that kind of maritime name-choice malpractice.  (I think the remaining comment regarding a Tea Party GOPer railing against the "elites in Washington" while piloting a boat called "The Legislator" writes itself.)

Howard County Republicans are opening a new headquarters in the Normandy Shopping Center and are predicting that Romney will win "in a landslide."  It also looks like they've had a lot of success with their voter database and precinct structure, potentially putting their organizational capacity slightly ahead of the blue team.  Personally, I was also happy to see GOP Central Committee Vice Chairman Dave Myers quoted as speaking at the event.  He is a strong young leader who will bring the local party into future success, including his own candidacy.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah stands up for cyclists everywhere with a post looking at the motor vehicle laws governing how much space should be provided to cyclists on our roads.  Whenever I get into a conversation with non-cyclists about the 3-feet rule, I almost inevitably hear a story about some cyclist not obeying the law.  That's well and good, but that is no reason to endanger every other law-abiding cyclist, much less ignore the fact that motorists aren't otherwise known for their strict adherence to the rules.  And here's a much more stark fact - if you hit a cyclist, the "Cyclist-that-ran-the-red-light" defense will not help you in court or with the permanent guilt that you will carry for the rest of your life.

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


O-R-I-O-L-E-S!  Magic magic magic magic.  Orioles' Magic, feel it happen.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Punishing the Poor into Prosperity (Tuesday LINKS)

Check out the "Videos" section of the Mitt Romney website.  Without putting you through the mood-altering depression of watching dozens of attack ads, hold you cursor over the image captures for summaries.  Notice a theme?  Welfare.

Since when is this election about Welfare?  Other commentators have provided explanations that range from the specious to the inflammatory, but I'm more interested in how we frame the debate.

First, the correct name is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which makes up approximately 0.7% of the Federal Budget.  For those on TANF, there is a federal lifetime of 60 months, which may be extended or decreased by the states.  Most importantly, the use of TANF has drastically decreased over the last 20 years, including during the Recession:

That includes a decrease in the number of families that would otherwise be eligible for the program, but choose not to participate (or do not know how to enroll) in the program:


But yet, this is an issue in the 2012 election?

If you want to cut funding for poor families, this must be premised on one of two philosophies:

1) We're all in this for ourselves and I should not be paying for your (insert noun).

2) We hurt the poor by creating reliance on public programs and they would be better served if we cut the cord.

The former is the most intellectually solid and consistent reasoning, while bankrupt of empathy.  The latter is intellectually bankrupt, but makes the budget slasher in all of us feel like a paternalistic Mother Theresa.

First, the basic facts don't hold up.  As Ezra Klein has noted, TANF has been cut, yet the number of families in need of assistance went up.  Presumptively, if welfare made people poor, being freed from the shackles of government aid would have "motivated them" to get out of poverty.  It is amazing that this simple theory does not work.

Second, this philosophy shows a clear distance from even the most basic understanding of the American poor.  It even shows some measure of resentment.  I fully acknowledge that there are people in this Country that are working part-time instead of full-time because the difference in pay would disqualify them from assistance.  That is a defect of the system.  However, full-time is often the difference of hundreds of dollars a month, which would leave the individual in poverty, except now with less money to live off of.  I suppose that under the philosophy noted above, that would teach them not to be poor.  It would remove whatever "comfort" they receive paired with the shame of being on government assistance. 

The "backstop" argument for all proponents of government cuts is "well we can't afford to continue on this path, so we might as well start cutting somewhere."  Talk to me after we've looked at the 20% of the US Federal Budget spent on National Defense.  Talk to me after we've adjusted Social Security for wealth and age.  These are the things we need to talk about when looking to cut. 

LINKS

I feel compelled to link to and address WB's post from last night, particularly since he noted that Brian Meshkin has called out "bloggers" as "adult bullies" with a potential target on yours truly.  I have a lot to say, but I'll keep this short.  If this is going to be about politics, and whether the background of a politician can be discussed in the course of an election, I find it truly unfortunate that an anti-bullying effort started after the death of Grace McComas has been exploited and manipulated in this way.  I wish Brian the best of luck in addressing bullying in our schools, but "bloggers" have no place on that list.

With a win off the bats of two unlikely Orioles, Lew Ford and Nate McLouth, the Orioles jump ahead of the Rays in the Wild Card Standings and pull to within 3.5 games of the division leading Yankees (who just lost Mark Teixera for the foreseeable future).  Is this real life?  A friend has recommended that we start a blog push to get people out to the games.  There were little over 10,000 people at last night's game.  Anyone feel like a Blogger Party at Camden Yards?

Obviously the biggest story yesterday was the shooting at Perry Hall High School.  I think most of us have reached a point of emotional exhausted when it comes to shootings in public places.  While I'm not interested in spreading rumors, go to Twitter and follow hashtag #PrayforDaniel  There are photos of the victim, who it appears is recovery.  Shame on us for putting "gun control" in the category of things that are politically incorrect to talk about.

I've read this article about the tax credits proposed by Council-person Jen Terrasa for homeowners "using universal design" three times.  I have no idea what it means.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: The Well & Wise Blog has some suggested healthy cookbooks from their Farmers Market Chef.  If you're part of a CSA like we are, you know how important veggie focused recipes are to address the Lucy-esque conveyor belt of green food. 

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

Monday, August 27, 2012

Main Street Appreciation Wrap Up (Monday LINKS)

"From open to close, we were slammed."  -- Bartender at Diamondback.

We'll never get statistics from yesterday, nor do we need them, but by almost all accounts, you all pulled off quite the weekend of appreciation and support.  I was down on Main Street for at least a part of all three days and every time I would peak up or down the hill and see groups of pedestrians with shopping bags and strollers.  All four restaurants I visited were packed.

It takes five minutes to set up a Facebook page.  This wasn't me.  Main Street Appreciation Weekend tapped into a well of civic virtue and community support that was going to shine through regardless.  Sometimes all we need is a reminder that we're needed.  Even Batman had a spotlight

And through all of this we uncovered an ideal that I hope is difficult to forget.  For all of our electronic engagement, there is absolutely nothing better, or more powerful, than selfless action for your fellow man, particularly when it is your neighbor.  We see this ideal shine through time after time, only to fade away.  9/11.  Hurricane Katrina.  Haiti. 

I don't know why this ideal is followed so sporadically.  It is appreciated by both the right and the left; the former as a presumption, the latter as a foundation.  Our lives seem designed to make us forget.  But then, when we come back to that ideal, when the opportunity presents itself, we are reminded that there are few things in this life that feel better than "doing good."

I am honored and humbled by your fellowship.  Saying that you are "humbled" is almost a contradiction, because it presumes some honor.  I would rather say both.  Being with all of you this weekend has been a highlight of my year.  I've already told Jane that what I would really like for my birthday is a framed picture from Main Street this weekend.  Not because of the Facebook page, but because it will always remind me of how this community stepped up when called upon to do so and just how good that felt to be a part of it.

LINKS

I highly recommend this long form piece in Mother Jones about our "failing schools" and how standardized tests are poisoning our education policy, particularly with regard to Hispanic students.

If you are interested in faith in politics, particularly with regard to the "preferential treatment of the poor", you need to see this Bill Moyers's episode regarding the Sisters on the Bus.  Robert Royal provides a perfect counter-point to Sister Simone Campbell and their discussions really get into the meat of government endorsed charity as opposed to the civic ideal (that Sister Simone rightly notes as having failed).

The Ulman Cancer Fund plans to stand by their man as Lance Armstrong is pilloried in the press after dropping his defense to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency's accusations of performance-enhancing drug use.  I hope that their loyalty to Armstrong does not injure their ability to fund-raise for an important cause, while admittedly their success to this point could most likely be attributed primarily to Lance.

The picture of the Monument Street sinkhole that opened up yesterday gave me chills.

The Orioles have traded for starting picture Joe Saunders from the Diamondbacks, giving up relief pitcher Matt Lindstrom.  To do the long form math for you, that means Dan Duquette essentially traded now-journeyman pitcher Jeremy Guthrie for Jason Hammel and Joe Saunders, two solid starting pitchers.  In Ozzie we trust.  Long Live the Duke!

The Baltimore Sun has uncovered evidence that Baltimore City school administrators have spent approximately $500,000 in credit purchases that include expensive restaurant meals, travel, and even an afternoon at Hooters (they say they were served in a private room by a "fully clothed manager"). 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Goes to my friend HowChow who has dived back into a posting binge (which is a good thing for all of us).  He posts about the Weekend and encourages everyone to put Old Ellicott City high on your decision list when picking a place to eat or shop.

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Parker App The Future of Old EC Parking

I had the unique opportunity to have the new parking system for Downtown Ellicott City explained to me by none other than the County Executive last night.  We ran into each other at The Rumor Mill and he was excited to discuss this new feature of parking management.

Here is an explanatory video of the new program that will interact with your smart phone and other mobile devices:


There are certainly concerns about the program, most notably "What about those without smart phones?" and "So, I'm supposed to be swishing around a map on my iPhone while driving?", but those answers will come in due time.  As someone with a smart phone (and not particularly skilled at parallel parking), I'm ready for the next gen in "parking technology".

Friday, August 24, 2012

CA Board Recap: August 23, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:32 pm
End Time: 10:40 pm

This was a good meeting.  I had a lot of negative energy leaving the last meeting and it took a while to dissipate.  I was not looking forward to this meeting and it took a lot just to get myself back into a mindset that would allow me to consider the matters at hand and not get bogged down in the inter-personal frustrations that have been such a large distraction for me this year.  Thankfully, none of that came up.  We do not have much of anything to show for our 3 hours (no votes), but we managed some important oversight matters that needed to be on our radar.  Many in the community expect the CA Board to act as a quasi-legislative branch, approving motions, etc., but that is only a small portion of what a non-profit Board does.

CA Turf Maintenance

I don't have much to say on this topic other than to note how much I respect our Open Space Department.  They manage a significant element of CA assets, which plays a large role in the quality of life and general appearances of our community.  CA maintains and overseas 650+ acres of open space throughout Columbia.  While not a part of their report last night, you can imagine that their inbox is not filled with "Thank you" but rather "Don't mow this", "Why haven't you mowed that", and "Someone put their old couch on CA property.  Please move it."

The Open Space department is working to develop more relational and environmental sustainability elements into their operations, which is great.  I wish I had more to comment, but all I'm left with is "Thank you and keep up the good work."

HOA Legislation

I imagine that this item will be the next agenda albatross to fill the shoes of the Dashboard (hand twitches a little when I write that word).  CA Staff has rolled out a community engagement process to education the public about the substance of the bill that would redefine Columbia Association as a "nonprofit community service organization."  The ERC brought this process up for review at last night's meeting.

Thus far, the focus has been on retaining Village feedback, which is critical.  CA is offering the opportunity to all Villages to be included in this legislation and remain under the auspices of the same lobbyist in Annapolis.  The Villages have some concerns and uncertainty about the bill, which must be addressed, and I think CA Staff has a good plan for doing so.

What I find lacking is any plan for addressing the elephant in the room: Alliance for a Better Columbia.  I don't mean to make too much of this, but a representative from ABC told me that they would accept and support a bill that would include all of the transparency provisions that they find lacking from the current proposal.  CA has the unique opportunity to test whether this organization is an honest broker or stubborn petitioner.

I suggested that Staff reach out to ABC and ask them to draft a proposal that would incorporate all provisions that they find lacking from the current bill.  I was very disappointed in Staff's response.  They echoed the same fruitless arguments that have prevented this organization from moving forward on the bill for the last year.  "The provisions are already incorporated."  "Critics don't understand the bill."  This is all irrelevant.  Call it a lack of fortitude, but the current bill will not pass this Board without some effort to constructively respond to critics, which amounts to more than presenting a counter-argument.  If Staff is not willing or not able to do so, we should shut this whole thing down and save everyone a lot of time and agita. 

The concern is that our organization has personal obstructions to working with a group that, for good or bad, can mobilize opposition very effectively.  You don't neutralize opposition by fighting.  You do so by incorporation.  And if ABC is not an honest broker, you need to have faith that we will be able to make that case when the time is appropriate to do so.

Staff has indicated that it will be holding a work session to go over a draft of the bill, but further indicated that there will be no overt entreaties to ABC.  That is their prerogative, but we'll see how far it goes.

Symphony Woods Park

CA has received preliminary approval from the Planning Board and is awaiting its draft recommendations.  In light of the recommendations presented at the hearing, the design group retained by CA has presented a new schematic with more "meandering paths" that allow for the preservation of additional trees. 

Maybe the design will grow on me, but my preliminary opinion is that this is a step-down from the original cruciform design.  In fact, I would suggest this new plan be referred to as "The Melted Cruciform".  If you imagine a wax cross that was left upright in the sun for the day, you are getting close to the new proposal.

Despite receiving this approval, Staff recommended that the Board "pause" further development of the Park to allow Howard Hughes an opportunity to "catch up" with their own proposals for Merriweather.  As may be imagined, there was a great deal of disappointment amongst the Board members that we seemed to have gone from cruising speed to parked without much of a warning.  Those members were reassured that CA certainly still could go full-speed ahead, but that it may not be the optimal way to develop our property in Symphony Woods. 

So let's see if you're paying attention.  When the CA Board comes to a fork in the road does it: A) Go right; B) Go left; or C) Pick it up.

If you chose "C", you will a HoCo Rising merit badge.

One Board member recommended that Staff continue to go full-speed ahead with the plan while collaborating with Howard Hughes to make a cohesive neighborhood plan.  My immediate reaction to this was "If that was possible, I'm certain Staff would have done so without coming back to the Board."  Nevertheless, this proposal may have had some purchase with the Board (if for no other reason than it sounded nice) and I asked Staff to see what they could do to make another option under those parameters.

My real interest in all of this is making sure we put out the best possible park.  In light of the Planning Board's tweaking, I no longer think the current proposal is the best possible park.  We have seen some other proposals, one in particular drafted by a resident, that I would like to go back to and test the ability to incorporate this proposal into what has already been approved.  Right now these outside plans are treated like "things not talked about at dinner parties."  I'm not one to encourage "all options" be placed before the Board, but in this instance I think it is critical. 

That's all for today.  I have been so excited to see 225 people sign up for Main Street Appreciation Weekend.  Please check out the event page.  Folks have been sharing recommendations and asking for tips on what Old Ellicott City has to offer.  It has been particularly heart-warming to hear back from the Old EC merchants who have faced such adversity over the past year.  This is what real community is about.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It is impossible not to.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

RNC Platform Draft Eviscerates Center (Thursday LINKS)

Let me say this up front: The Republican ideal is an appealing, romantic, and common-sense approach to the basic question "What should the government's role be in our daily life?"  I sincerely believe if you asked the average American, as many polls have done, "Do you want more government or less government?" 80% - 90% polled (regardless of their self-interest) would say "less".  Government is not trusted to do the job well and bureaucracies have discouraged the American public from thinking the Government can do anything important.  You can spend all day discussing the Federal Highway system, the success of Medicare (pre-boomers), and what the endorsement of the sciences has done for our world, and you are still not going to change the answer to that question -- "Less".

Early word out of the RNC in Tampa is that Republican leaders are diluting the relevance of such a question.  The draft RNC platform seemingly narrows the planks upon which voters can stand.  It includes:
To be fair, this is a draft, I have not been able to find a copy of the document passed by subcommittee (just news analysis), and Mitt Romney will not be held to this platform during the 2012 race.  Furthermore, many of these planks are not new.  Previous RNC Platform statements included identical language regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

But I think the real question is whether the DNC is going to have language that is similarly inflammatory to some of the core values of Centrist voters.

I found John Cassidy's post on the subject to hit a lot of the right notes, while coming from a far-left bent.  What I found most interesting was his argument that President Obama really should not be leading in the polls:

Like all political campaigns, Obama 2012 has been plagued by missteps, miscalculations, and internal rivalries. If Axelod/Messina/et al. were going up against a stronger candidate representing a more attractive party, reporters might well be writing stories about the disastrous mistakes they and their boss had made. (Where is Obama’s positive message? How did the White House miss the rise of the Super PACs? Why did the President go out of his way to alienate businesses large and small?)

And have no doubt that those on the right will say that his slippery lead is the result of media bias, fawning over the President and his jump-shot.  My opinion?  Voters are just uncomfortable with the Republican party.  They want "less", but then the Republicans put cheese on it.  Less government...with a side of anti-abortion laws!  Less government...with a side of religious doctrine!

Coalition building is hard work and the RNC can create whatever platform it wishes.  We also should not be surprised to see a radical document emerge for a group of party stalwarts brought together and asked "What do we believe?"  But the practical question is - "Does that turn off voters?"  

A week from now, this Platform debate will be long forgotten.  Chris Christie is going to be the talk of town (old crushes die hard) and Paul Ryan will charm the nation to its knees.  But then, slowly, and without warning, the Platform is going to rise back up out of the swamp and ask voters "Are you ready to vote for me?"

LINKS

It made my day to see Sun Food Columnist Richard Gorelick post about our efforts to hold a Main Street Appreciation Night this weekend.  When I wrote him to thank him for the reference, he told me that the restaurant owners have taken this on and are working together to make this a "thing".  Stay tuned!

The more you hear about the train derailment, the weirder it is.  If you don't read anything, the answer is "Oh, the train tried to brake when it saw the girls and went off the track."  But then you open the paper and see that the emergency brake was triggered without intervention by the engineers, both of which had no idea that there was anyone on the track.  It would seem all the more tragic if this was all a coincidence, but my mind just doesn't seem able to accept that just yet.

Baltimore City will be using a $4 million federal grant to build a Greyhound bus terminal off Russell street near the two sports stadiums.

Lindsey McPherson notes that Ellicott City will use a new parking management system to help allocate spots along main street and in the various parking lots.  WB has more on that system, with pictures, here.

Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day: WB and HowChow are both on board for Main Street Appreciation Day/Weekend (don't mind the semantics, get down there!).  If you want to try something new, check out the comments on HowChow's post for reader recommendations.

That's all for today.  This has been an amazing week.  Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ellicott City: Cursed by Legacy (Wednesday LINKS)

Ellicott City was founded as a mill town augmented by a railroad.  The river running through, and under, town provided means for manufacturing and agriculture, while the B&O Railroad connection allowed a back road mill to become one of the largest on the East Coast.

Between the flooding earlier this year and yesterday's derailment, we've been cursed by both.

Old Ellicott City has had a tough year.  Less than 12 months ago, we saw antique chairs floating down the street and cars crushed under a less-than-retaining wall.  In July, the power went out for almost all of Fourth of July weekend, forcing downtown restaurants to throw away thousands of dollars of food.  Yesterday, as if looking to join the conversation, the railroad tossed over a derailed train, tragically killing two girls in the prime of their life and shutting down Main Street for the day.

Sadly, this will not be the last time Ellicott City floods.  The support beam noting past overflows seems to serve as both a piece of history and an hourglass.  Just as Americans all over the "upper 47" wondered why anyone would live in New Orleans, a City below sea level, we may one day hear people around the State talk about "The City on Top of a River".  If you believe in Climate Change, and that the frequency of intense storms will increase over time, you must be concerned for the future of our County Seat.

What is most unfortunate is that there is little anyone can do.  I think we can all expect additional safeguards to be put in place along the train-tracks (with structure improvements to prevent anyone from sitting near the tracks), but the river stands.  It will prevent power lines from every going underground and cause any new merchant to think twice before moving a high end store into a flood zone.  Ellicott City is what it is.  And for most of us, that is a place we love and cherish.

I would propose that in light of the lost revenue from yesterday (and possibly today), we host a "Ellicott City Appreciation Night" this weekend.  Make a reservation at The Rumor Mill, Portalli's, or Cacao Lane.  Get your hair cut at Ooh La Lal.  Do something this weekend to put some money back into local merchants and let them know that you support them.  There may be one day where we don't have that chance.

LINKS

The O's won a huge 5-3 game against the Texas Rangers last night off of a stellar performance by spotty-turned-solid starting pitcher Chris Tillman.  When Nate McLouth is hitting dingers (last HR July 2011), you can't help but feel...something magic happened...you made the magic happen...the magic of ORIOLES' BASEBALL!

HUGE props to the Columbia Patuxent Rotary who asked me to spread the word about their new Service Above Self Award.  In conjunction with this Award, the Rotary will grant $5,000 to the nonprofit of the recipient's choice.  For those involved in the local nonprofit scene, I think this is the largest award grant of its kind in the County.  Please consider nominating someone in your community for this soon-to-be prestigious local award.

Here's a great piece about how Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher program may not be as radical as some would have you believe.  I tend to think that the success of Medicare D is heavily skewed by those who choose to enroll, but the findings of the JAMA study should not be ignored.

Yesterday was a really weird day in the polls.  Romney may have made up serious ground on Obama in Wisconsin, but is slipping fast in Virginia.  Whether or not this election is already decided in the hearts and minds of Americans, I can't stop watching these poll numbers come in.

The General Assembly created a task force to look into Maryland's law addressing firearm access by the mentally ill.  I wish we lived in a Country were this bill could be one word: "Don't."

Amir Sufi has written a party neutral evaluation of the slumping economy in Bloomberg, noting that "The main factor responsible for both the severity of the recession and the subsequent weakness of the economic recovery is the deplorable condition of the U.S. household balance sheet."  Anyone else harken back to what it was that made Rick Santelli so mad on the trading floor nearly four years ago?  Hint: It wasn't the bank bailout.

Featured Blog Post(s) of the Day: Reaching back in the archives a tad, I wanted to make sure to recommend MM's posts on how Ken Ulman and Anthony Brown can win the Dem primary in 2014.  Very good insights into the race.

To close: Thank You.  I was going to make this entire post a "Thank You", but I know that bores some of you right off the digital cliff (feel free to click away now).  Last night was amazing and I appreciated the opportunity to thank all of you personally for helping us reach our $5,000 goal (++) last July.  Also thanks to Second Chance Saloon for hosting our crew on such short notice.  It really is hard to write out how much all of you mean to me.  That's mushy and corny, but also true.

An additional thanks to the fantastic comments that have been coming through recently.  You all may finally motivate me to get the Disqus comment notification fixed!  (No promises)

Have a fantastic Wednesday doing what you love.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Homeless Ending Happy Hour MOVED

Despite holding out as long as we could, it is still unclear whether The Rumor Mill will be able to open tonight.  There are some basic logistic problems with getting food delivered, staff on-site, and parking that just made it a mess.  I spoke with Matt Milani a moment ago and while he is hopeful that he may be able to open sometime later today, the uncertainty of it all convinced us that the right thing was to just move locations.

I feel truly fortunate that The Second Chance Saloon (5888 Robert Oliver Place, Columbia, MD) had earlier offered to host and was available tonight to sub in at the last minute.  This is very generous and very much appreciated.

So game on.  See you all at 6:00 pm.

Ellicott City Train Derailment

There has been a lot of chatter this morning about the Ellicott City train derailment, how long the bottom of Old Ellicott City will be closed, and what's going on at the scene.  I understand my friend WB is mixing it up with the mainstream press, so I would check back with him throughout the day.

First and foremost, two people have died.  This is a horrible tragedy and our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these two individuals.  I have also been told that rescue workers are sorting through the wreckage and spilled coal to look for any additional fatalities.  This spill occurred around midnight right next to The Phoenix with many cars still in the parking lot.  We can only hope that this tragic accident was limited to two deaths.  In light of this recovery effort, the early word is that the bottom of Main Street may be closed for upwards of 24-36 hours.

As for Ellicott City businesses, Tersiguel's has already announced that it is staying open and that parking Lots D, E, and F are all still available.  These businesses take significant losses when they have to close and I hope our community overcomes inconvenience in favor of supporting them through this time.

Finally, I'm making the call on our Homeless Ending Happy Hour at 1 pm this afternoon.  The Rumor Mill is further down the hill near the scene of the accident, so things are touch and go.  It would probably be much easier to just reschedule now, but Matt Milani has always been a great supporter of nonprofits and fundraising efforts throughout Howard County, and I think it would be wrong to spurn his gracious offer prematurely.

UPDATE: From Courtney Watson, County Councilmember from District 1, which includes Old Ellicott City:

Visited Main Street earlier. Ran into our County Exec who had been there all night. No hazardous materials, only coal on train. 21 cars derailed on 80 car train. Entire lower parking lot covered with train cars, burying parked cars. Will take at least 36 hours to remove all of the cars and repair track. Since heavy equipment needed, Main Street will likely remain closed between Old Columbia Road and county line for a day or two. NTSB on scene and taking control from local HC DFRS which did an amazing job securing scene and working with CSX to bring in necessary equipment to remove wreckage. Meeting will go on tonight on Historic Ellicott City improvements 7 p.m. George Howard Building. Update available to shop owners and residents at that time.


Obama on Poverty (Tuesday LINKS)

Every three or four months I read an article (or book) that changes the way I view an issue.  I would like to say that I am persuaded by hard facts or revelatory interviews, but a lot of times it is little more than a piece of journalism that just "makes sense".  I highly recommend Paul Tough's profile of President Obama's approach to U.S. poverty, entitled "What Does Obama Really Believe In?"  Such a line would be expected from Townhall or Fox News, but in context, it really sums up what Tough is trying to get to.  This is a President that grew up pursuing transformative policies, later promised on the campaign trail, to help those least fortunate, but by the admission of his own advisers, got caught up in "more important things".  Paul Tough's book profiling George Canada "Whatever it Takes" should be a primer on education policy and this long form piece should be read by any American considering how, or whether, we develop policies specifically directed to the urban poor.

In light of our recent discussions, I thought Tough's discussion of the choices made by Obama's economic team when formulating the stimulus were particularly informative:

According to [Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics], aid that went to wealthier Americans would not be very effective as stimulus: for every dollar that Congress cut from corporate taxes, the G.D.P. would gain 30 cents; making the Bush tax cuts permanent would boost it by 29 cents for every dollar added to the deficit. 

Stimulus measures that gave money to poor and distressed families, on the other hand, would be much more productive: extending unemployment-insurance benefits would boost G.D.P. by $1.64 for every dollar spent. And at the top of Zandi’s list was a temporary boost in the food-stamp program, which he calculated would produce $1.73 in G.D.P. gains for every dollar spent. 

Conservative talk show hosts will often refer to President Obama as the "food-stamp President" due to the dramatic increase in the number of people on food stamps during his Presidency.  While I had previously just accepted that as a consequence of a poor economy, and thought that holding President Obama accountable for a poor economy and increased food-stamp rolls double-dipping, Tough provides a slightly different insight:

And while it is true that the Census Bureau’s official poverty figures have grown steadily worse under Obama, rising to 15.1 percent of Americans under the poverty line in 2010 from 13.2 percent in 2008, those dismal numbers come with a significant caveat. When government statisticians calculate the poverty rate, they include only cash income. And over the last two decades, and especially during the Obama administration, the way the federal government gives aid to poor people has shifted away from cash transfers toward noncash transfers — food stamps, Medicaid subsidies, housing vouchers — none of which are included in a family’s income for the purposes of poverty statistics. If you do count food stamps and other noncash aid, the poverty rate has, according to some calculations, not gone up much at all during the Obama administration, during the worst economic crisis in 70 years.

 Despite this bottom-up approach when targeting stimulus dollars, this Administration's accomplishments on poverty prevention and resolution are slim.  Tough may be personally offended by this failing in light of Obama's commitment to build schools following the Canada method all over the United States, expense not to be considered, yet these programs were left to a backroom bureaucrat once the President was in office.  In response, he receives a damning quote from one of Obama's advisers that seems to sum up the most sticking criticisms of this President: He's all hat, no cattle.

When I asked Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s longtime friend and mentor who is now a senior adviser to the president, about his relative silence on urban poverty, she said that the way the president spoke about poverty as a candidate in Anacostia — as a unique problem specific to one group of Americans — simply wasn’t the right way for him to speak about it as president. A better approach, Jarrett said, was for the president to propose and support a set of broad programs that raised all Americans economically, an approach that she described as inclusive. She added: “I think our chances for successfully helping people move from poverty to the middle class is greater if everyone understands why it is in their best interest that these paths of opportunity are available for everyone. We try to talk about this in a way where everyone understands why it is in their self-interest.” 

Overall, I think this piece is fair.  It frames the issue with the President's own words and gives a report on where he has succeeded and where he has failed.  Piece of journalism like this shape policy. 

LINKS (I have so many!)

A trail derailed in Ellicott City overnight, killing two non-railroad affiliated persons and crushing vehicles in a nearby County-owned parking lot.  

It's hard not to be a little interested by Niall Ferguson's front cover piece on Newsweek entitled "Hit the Road: Barack".  All the same, it is important to also recognize that this is a medium that was compelled to post a woman with a bared breast earlier this Summer in order to rescue the pummeling sales of weekly periodicals.  I would be interested to see if any of my right-leaning friends can find the cover of any Time or Newsweek that took such a strong and publicized position against a Republican sitting President.  I'm not alleging political media bias, but rather the more steady bias of shocking us all into purchase.  I know I read the Ferguson piece.

Electoral Mathematician and dynamo blogger Nate Silver calls Romney's pick of Paul Ryan an "all in" move and characterizes this election as a referendum on whether Republicans can score political victories without compromising.

Over the weekend, Bob Ehrlich, Maryland chairman of the Romney campaign, described the Paul Ryan pick as "a good pick -- but very risky."

I found this article in Investor's Business Daily to provide some valuable insight on why the current state of the economy is not hurting the President as much as one would think.  In its most basic terms - Those that have always liked him are doing well, those that never did aren't.

I've had so much fun with this interactive map put out by the Chronicle of Philanthropy looking at median non-profit contributions and percentage of discretionary income.  You may be interested to know that Laurel, with a median contribution of $3,418.00, is one of the most generous zip codes in our County!

If you pay attention to local news, it was hard not to hear word that Columbia has slipped from No. 2 in the CNN/Money rankings for "Best Places to Live" to No. 8. "I don't even know what it means. No one knows what it means, but it's provocative."  I blame the inexplicable decoupling of Ellicott City, further undermining whatever voodoo science these folks use to give people irrational pride in their sleepy hamlets.  (Am I bitter?  Why do you ask?)

As much as I personally hate talking about political gaffes, Republican Senate Candidate, and current Congressman Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment has taken a life of his own.  No one does outrage like the Republican party...and they are ticked.  The RNC has pulled Akin's funding with the Chairman adding that Akin is no longer invited to the RNC convention next week.  Cannibalism is never pretty.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ wonders how Paul Ryan, and other deficit hawks, can talk about slimming down our budget without talking about Defense Spending.  He uses an analogy to dieting that is worth the click over by itself.  

That's all for today.  REMINDER: Tonight's is our Homeless Ending Happy Hour.  If you have not RSVP'ed already, please do so.  Chef Matt Milani has offered to put out some appetizers for us this afternoon and it is only right to give him an approximate head count.  Similarly, if you RSVP'ed "yes" and are not coming, avoid the bad ju-ju and change your attendee status (unless you've notified me via e-mail).  

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The "Real Issues" of the 2012 Election

One thing you'll hear a lot of in politics is "My opponent wants to talk about ____, but I say let's get back to the real issues of this election" (insert cheering crowd).  Whatever that guy wants to talk about is tomfoolery.  Whatever I want to talk about the the genuine article.  Great for firing up the base, but really just Tab A, 1 of the "Partisan's Handbook".

But it is an interesting consideration for all of us.  What are the "real issues" of the 2012 Election?  I've spent the weekend thinking this over, and here are some of the important topics I've identified:

1.  Austerity v. Deficit Spending:  This is the one that stands out most starkly for me.  Do we address the National Debt at a time of economic downturn, or do we attempt further stimulus "shocks" to the economy?  I think a preliminary consideration should be that our debt has been greatly magnified by the recession itself.  The trillion dollar bank bailouts didn't help, but the fuel for our ever-increasing debt is the dramatic decrease in tax revenues running against increased expenditures.

I want to say up front that since Paul Ryan entered this debate it is very hard to find information about Mitt Romney's budget, as opposed to that of his VP.  What I do know is that Romney has said he would dramatically decrease spending, although the targeted programs have not been identified (one of the benefits of being a challenger).  I also know that the Obama camp has recently been arguing that the accusations of high spending are inaccurate, seemingly suggesting that they will shy away from a future stimulus.  I don't buy it.  In fact, despite noting this as a contrast, I think it is a contrast in idea only.  If elected, Romney will most likely attempt a stimulus via tax expenditure (possibly revenue negative depending on what expert you ask) while Obama would attempt another stimulus via government spending, most likely focusing on roads, education, and energy, with an extension of payroll tax cuts that have the country further paying on the margin.

The real question is whether deficit spending and Debt (big D) should be the focus of this Country during the Recession.  Previous administrations and governments have attempted to address debt during economic downturns with disastrous results.  Those countries in Europe that have successfully implemented austerity to get their books straight during the Euro crisis contrast with the United States in many ways, but most prominently the fact that they do not control their own currency and can indirectly benefit from the economic vitality of their trade partners.  The National Debt must be addressed, but some may say to do so now would be like changing a flat tire while you're rolling downhill.

2.  Taxes:  This is another area that both sides have been elusive on.  Mitt Romney would extend the Bush Tax cuts, repeal the alternative minimum tax, remove any tax increases under Obamacare, and cut individual tax rates by another 20 percent.  That's the cool part.  The not-so-cool part is that he plans to "expand the base" by closing tax "loopholes" and "preferences", the identity of which have yet to be disclosed.  In this post on the Economix NYTimes blog, Romney is noted as saying he will only close these loopholes for those making over $200,000 and that one of the likely targets will be deduction for mortgage interest on vacation homes and state and local taxes.  That sounds good too, but as noted in the piece, those loopholes account for only $40 billion in additional revenue, while Romney's overall tax scheme would be projected to cut revenues by $400 billion.

Personally, I think it is likely that Romney would cut the entire mortgage interest deduction for all taxpayers, which would bring in an additional $90 to $120 billion.  Many economists hate this deduction and feel it distorts the housing market, so there is economic support behind this plan.  You should also assume that the tax "preferences" that Romney is currently saying would be closed for high income earners would be extinguished across the board.  Admittedly, this is a prediction and not based on anything the candidate has said, but in the absence of a position, we all get a shot at the magic ball.

President Obama would absolutely raise taxes on those making over $250,000, with a top marginal tax rate of 39.6%.  He would also most likely increase the capital gains rate on short-term holdings, particularly for those making over the $250,000 mark.  Under Obamacare (really hate that word, but both sides have embraced it), there is also a 3.8% surtax for investment income by those making over, you guessed it, $250,000 ($200,000 for individuals).  Most importantly, this amount is not indexed for inflation.

We can leave the merit of a $250,000 cutoff point for another day, but if we've learned anything over the Mitt Romney tax return dispute, it is that the stated rates for high income earners are not always what is actually paid.  Nevertheless, you should be concerned that increased taxes are in place that are not adjusted for inflation.  You should also be aware of and concerned by the arguments presented by the right, which rather persuasively argue that tax increases during a Recession are just as bad, if not worse, than austerity policies during a Recession.  I tend to agree.

3.  Foreign Policy:  Everything written above may very well be irrelevant come January 2013.  It is very unlikely that the gridlock in Washington will be relieved by the election of either Presidential candidate.  Many would argue that the most important function of the Executive Branch is as Commander in Chief and Chief Diplomat of the United States, yet foreign policy has been downplayed out of existence in this election.  You all know we're still at war, right?

I don't know what Mitt Romney's approach to foreign affairs will be.  He has stated that he would leave decisions regarding Afghanistan to our "top brass" in Country and that the expense of the war should not be a consideration when evaluating our commitment.  He also supports the "2014 timetable for withdraw", which puts him in almost identical position with the President.  As for his approach to diplomacy on the whole, Romney is a blank slate.  I won't use his Summer Tour as an indication of what he would do as President, but he has argued for a stronger (and seemingly unconditional) defense of Israel, which can be contrasted against the Obama Administration's criticism of Gaza West Bank settlements.  Romney has also taken a much harder line on Iran, with Paul Ryan adding that a Romney administration would apply "peace through strength".  Projecting in the absence of substance, I think you can expect to see a return to the neoconservative policies of the early aughts.  Whether that leads to a military intervention against Iran will be left to further debate, but one must hope that the drained resources and demoralized home-front that resulted from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars would deter any administration from seeking out foreign battlefields for US troops.

There's certainly more, but I've run out of time (and most likely, audience).  I've tried to be fair here, but my opinion is clearly interspersed throughout.  Please feel free to bring additional issues to the table, such as the Wealth Gap, Supreme Court, or Religious Liberty, all issues that I would put as second tier concerns.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Media Moping (Friday LINKS)

As expected, the rapidly approaching election has...hmm..."heightened" the rhetoric around here.  That's fine.  But one thing I did want to address is this idea that the "media bias" extends to this blog.  I have one word in response: Duh.

In the age of Google, 600+ cable channels, and Snopes.com, claiming media bias is a lazy cop out.  I spend a good part of my lunch break checking out the crazy stuff my friends and family post on Facebook about the election.  It literally takes one cut and paste for me to find out that ___ tax plan will increase our taxes just as much as ____ by different means.  If I feel a particular news report overreaches, or just doesn't sound right, I can get on my computer and chase down opposing arguments and/or supporting facts within seconds.  The Internet has not only allowed for a more skeptical view of the world, but also enlarged all of our roles in figuring out "the truth" (oftentimes being a separate truth, but that's a matter for another post).

Allegations of "media bias" on both sides (yes, I've heard it from both sides), just show a depressing lack of curiosity and/or computer illiteracy.  If you want to know the real media bias in the world, ask a random person at the grocery store whether they know more about Casey Anthony or Obamacare.  With regard to political spin, put on your big boy (or girl) pants and find out the answers on your own.  Further investigation can only lead down two paths: You will either be soothed with a dose of confirmation bias or enlightened to facts that will make you a better thinker and a better citizen.

As for what I write, this is my opinion.  I feel like I write that every four months, but I also think it can be overlooked.  I worked hard to build credibility with all of you and will never purposefully mislead or "trick" you.  But I do have my worldview about what I think is wrong with this Country and the policies that will work to fix them.  I think it would be impossible for someone to read as much as I read (#humblebrag) and not come to some sort of conclusion.

If I get into a discussion with you, whether offline or in the comments, it probably means one of two things: 1) I'm interested in your point of view, or 2) I'm insecure about my own.  I spend a lot of time and brain sugar finding links that I think you will be interested in every morning.  It is plain offensive to suggest that I should be linking to something else.  If you want to share something, bring it to the table.

As a friend told me the other day "The Internet is a big place, Tom."  If you feel entitled to being spoon-fed information, you are living in the wrong decade.  And if you don't see the vast potential of a search bar, your imagination is dreadfully weak.

LINKS

Over the weekend, each of the presumptive 2014 Gubernatorial candidates will be holding events in and around Ocean City for the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Summer conference.  Ken Ulman held his Crab Feast last night, which was attended by about 100 people.  Ken was very happy with the turnout, although Lindsey McPherson found one attendee of multiple MACo events who may not have been as impressed "We’ve been to some where there are 400 people."

After O'Malley told reporters in relation to the gambling lobby that he would like to "ban gaming dollars from the whole damn process", it would appear that this blasphemy was in vain.  The legislation only limits campaign contributions for those with over 5% interest in the casino, which would mean evenly split investor groups of 20 or more could make campaign contributions at will, keeping in mind that a 5% interest is projected to bring in annual returns in the millions of dollars.  Slow clap for Annapolis! 

Columnist Robert McCartney with the Washington Post looks into whether campaign contributions drove the new gambling legislation with a rather damning conclusion about the new law:

The question arises partly because of unmistakable evidence that the two top politicians who shoved the measure into law are fully aware that gambling hurts the middle-class and low-income people whom their Democratic Party purports to protect.

Both Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. have bluntly acknowledged that gambling is a lousy way for governments to raise revenue. It disproportionately drains money from less-affluent classes who bet hoping for a statistically unlikely windfall.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: When Frank Hecker emerges from the mist to post a food review of Korean Fried Chicken, he gets FBPD.

I appreciate those of you who sent in nominations for the Birthday Fundraiser.  It was a lot of fun to learn about organizations that I had previously not been aware of and all the good that our citizens are doing with their private dollars.  Please feel free to send in any other suggestions.  Jane and I will look them over this weekend.

Also, it is not too late to RSVP for the Homeless Ending Happy Hour next Tuesday.  Did I mention that The Rumor Mill has over 50 different kinds of flavored vodkas?

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  It is impossible not to.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fear and Cynicism at the Ballot Box (Thursday LINKS)

This Presidential Race is over.  What most news outlets would like to convince you is a horse race is really a glacier, and not even the melting kind.  While I will not be able to resist daily poll watching, barring a catastrophe or game changing economic event, the voters have made up their minds.

So what now?

As we've discussed earlier, the purpose of the next two months will be to decrease the other guy's base while motivating their own to vote.  If you are undecided: 1) Wow, really?; and 2) These candidates are not that into you.  But that won't stop news commentators from talking about "independent voters" from now until Election Day.  Why?  Because you like to see yourself as an independent voter.  No matter what your voting record, individual views, or even interest in politics, the majority of the electorate, yourself included, likes to see themselves as a discerning Solomon, checking the scales.  Even party stalwarts will say "I came to this decision after prolonged deliberation.  I like (insert name)'s Plan for America."

Said otherwise, you won't hear "I just vote where the little letters next to the names tell me to vote...and then I get a sticker."

That's not to say we are all partisans.  I will tell you that from my own perspective, I will almost certainly be voting more out of fear than affirmation.  It is an anxious time to be an American.  Both sides are telling us that the other side will destroy America as we know it.  It's the kind of stuff that makes you want to check the batteries in your fire alarms and drive back home to make sure you didn't leave the stove on.  It sticks in your head in such a way that all you can think about is the consequences of a November going the wrong way.  We may have heard this in the past, but with a recent history of 2008 and 9/11, the American public believes that the world can change in a day or over the course of a month.

And this anxiety is already causing some to "unplug".  "This campaign is so nasty.  A pox on both their houses."  That sentence constitutes a success for one of the two parties.  If it truly represents that person's view of the election, and not just a Facebook brain toot, it represents one little Christmas light that has gone out for one of the two sides.  That person will probably not vote and has created an influence, however small, on others to also not vote.

I regret, and even resent, the fact that we cannot use our elections to talk reasonably about the Country's problems.  I regret that you can't have an idea anymore without someone trying to put a label on it or suggest that you are otherwise advocating for a particular candidate.  I mostly regret that the most cautious and self-doubting among us have been spurned from politics for not being true believers.  To the extent I have not provided a comfortable forum for you to participate in the conversation, I would love to hear what I could do to bring you in (without muting the more caustic among us).

But if you know who you are going to vote for, you're the target.  Not of your candidate.  But of cynicism, apathy, and fear.  The thing is, those emotions don't get us anywhere.

LINKS

The Orioles score 5 runs in the 5th Inning and beat the Boston Red Sox 5-3, taking sole possession of the top Wild Card spot.  For those new to the Orange Team, the current Manager of the sinking Red Sox, Bobby Valentine, was considered for the Team Manager spot before Buck Showalter.  He was even offered the job.  Bobby V turned us down, mispronouncing our star catchers name ("Witters"), and indicating that he was waiting for a spot on one of the "winning teams" in the AL East.  How.  Ya like.  Dem Apples.

Whooping cough is making a comeback in Maryland, partially thanks to the false vaccination-autism links that kept thousands of parents from immunizing their children.  The outbreak started out in Washington State, where this bit of bogus science found the greatest purchase. 

A federal judge has approved the sale of Sparrows Point Mill in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings fro RG Steel.  The glimmer of light in all of this is that the purchaser, a plant liquidator, has indicated that it will look for operators before setting the plant up for being dismantled.  Maybe I'm naive or just plain ignorant, but I would expect at word from our Governor or his office as to what the State plans to do to help these workers get retrained and find new employment.  The hollowing out of the middle class continues.

Maryland received a $5.8 million grant to teach children about climate change.  That may be hard to do when there is three feet of snow outside this winter.  (And no, snow is not proof that climate change doesn't exist).

Luke Lavoie really did a fantastic job with this story about the future of the Columbia Association.  Frequent readers know I am a big fan of Phil Nelson, but his efforts to evaluate future needs and set up the building blocks necessary to assure a successful future for our organization represents some of his most impressive work.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: If you expected Starbucks to have a "Plan B" for whenever their barista machine stopped working, WB has a story for you.  Somebody get Howard Schultz on the phone.  Maybe instead of "Onward" you should be telling your employees "See those French Press machines lining our shelves?  Those boxes open."

That's all for today.  HUGE thanks to fellow CA Board Member Regina Clay for an additional donation to Living in Recovery.  It made me think that I don't want our adventures in Philanthropy to be over.  My 31st Birthday is a little over a month away.  If you work with or are on the Board of a non-profit that is in need of a mini-grant ($500 - $2,000), please e-mail me.  Depending on how many people e-mail me their requests, I'll pick one (with Jane's counsel) bring it to all of you for consideration.  If we could raise another $2,000 for a deserving organization over the course of my birthday week, that would be a pretty awesome feat.

Please also RSVP for next Tuesday.  We're bordering on 20 people.  Let's get it to 30.

Have an AWESOME Thursday doing what you love.  (I'm feelin' it this morning)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Boxed In: The Limits of the Ryan Pick

Yesterday we looked at the effect Paul Ryan will have on the Presidential Race on whole, but today I thought we could examine his concrete effect with regard to Romney's chances for winning the Presidency.  As you undoubtedly heard multiple times over the past three days, Republicans and Democrats are similarly enthusiastic about this pick, but not in a bipartisan "Everybody-likes-the-guy" kind of way.  More of a "Are you seeing the same thing I'm seeing?" kind of way.  Here is what the detractors are saying:

Romney left Delegates on the table.  Many Dem-sided pundits said before the pick that the worst thing Romney could do to the Obama campaign is lock down Ohio.  It is one of the most important battleground states and one that most successful Republican candidates have pulled in come November.  Romney has never held a poll lead in that state and is losing ground.  But if there is anything Vice Presidential picks have proven useful for, it is winning the home states of the selected candidate (see Lyndon Baines Johnson).  Hence, a lot of the talk last week was that Romney would be selecting popular Ohio Senator Robert Portman, who would at the very least put Ohio back in play, but expected to potentially pull it back into the red category, grabbing those 18 electoral votes.

Similarly, other strategists thought Romney may go for Senator Marco Rubio and not only solidify Florida, but also give him some friction with the Hispanic vote.  There were innumerable reasons not to pick Rubio, but the 29 electoral votes were surely hard to ignore.

With Ryan, Romney leaves the electoral math behind in favor of a game changer, which many say is not his style.  Wisconsin is a swing state, but its 10 electoral votes were leaning towards President Obama even as voters were confirming Scott Walker as Governor.  Romney declined a mathematical pick, which would have been much safer and shown a calculated path to victory.  The Ryan pick pushes him out into space, hoping that the current can change the election in his favor.

Ryan Not Popular.  It's early, but Gallup released a poll yesterday of 1,006 national "adults" (presumably not the "likely voter" category) and found that Paul Ryan is the least popular vice presidential pick since Dan Quayle.  I was genuinely surprised by these numbers...until I gave it a second thought.  Who has a lower favorability rating than the President?  The United States Congress, that's who.  The average poll has 77% of Americans saying they disapprove of the job Congress is doing.  And among them, who has been a frequent face in the media as Congress rides the train off the tracks?  Congressman Paul Ryan.

That's not to say he can't redefine his image as the "one person trying to get something done", but there is no question that his background and experience could trip him up.

Romney Jeopardizes the Senior Vote.  Here's a quote from Nate Cohn at The National Review (an admittedly left-leaning publication, but not relevant for this purpose):

Recent polls confirm that Romney’s road to the White House runs through seniors. Most polls show Obama in the low-40s among seniors, even though those same polls put him at 48 or 49 percent nationally. On that basis, we can infer that Obama would finish in the low-40s among seniors if he finishes at 48 or 49 percent nationally, which would mean that a narrow Romney victory would probably involve Obama losing seniors by about 15 points. And by that same token, if Obama can push his support up into the mid-40s, Obama would be well positioned to win reelection.

We don't need to go into the details of the Ryan plan just yet, but I'm glad I'm not the one that has to explain fundamentally changing Medicare due to future financial considerations to seniors who are currently dependent on the program. A June 2011 poll regarding the Ryan plan for Medicare reform found that 74% of seniors polled opposed his plan.  Anyone up for a game of spinning plates?

Isn't It The Economy, Stupid?  Here is former Bush speech-writer David Frum:

Most economists would draw a distinction between the government's fiscal problems over the medium term and the economy's problems in the near term. The economy's near-term problems can be traced to the housing crisis.

Americans assumed crushing levels of debt in the 2000s to buy expensive homes, homes they assumed would continue to rise in price forever. In 2007, household debt relative to income peaked at the highest level since 1928. (Uh oh.) When the housing market crashed, consumers were stranded with unsustainable debts, and until those debts are reduced, consumers will drastically cut back their spending. As consumers cut back, businesses lose revenue. As businesses lose revenue, they fire employees. As employees lose their jobs, their purchasing power is reduced. As purchasing power is lost throughout the economy, housing prices tumble again.

Without getting too far into the economic muck, a consensus seems to be growing (if not already established) that we have a demand-side problem that is being intentionally maintained by a Federal Reserve that is terrified of inflation.  If we cut spending and lower taxes, we are crippling the U.S. Government's most effective means of executing monetary policy.  When I say that Paul Ryan is looking to fundamentally change the United States, I mean it in the most literal and complete way.  The dollar will no longer be anything the US controls.  Rather, in many respects, it will be controlled by those to which we owe our debts.

But in the short term, I wonder if Romney has lost the "time to give someone else a try" voter.  These are the very practical folks who say "President Obama tried his best.  It didn't work.  Time to hand over the wheel to someone else."  If that someone else says "I'm going to sell this baby for a motorcycle", the practical voter may take pause and say "You know what, I bet President Obama is just a little rusty on stick shift...why don't you give it another try?"  I don't think Presidential elections can be won by the fringe true believers.  This is a different world than 2000.

No links today.  The post took on a life of its own.  

Please make sure to check out the Facebook event page for the Homeless Ending Happy Hour next Tuesday, August 21st at 6:00 pm.  We're meeting at The Rumor Mill, one of my favorite HoCo locales.  A lot of my favorite people have already RSVP'ed "yes", so I'm quite certain it will be an amazing time.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!