Sunday, September 30, 2012

Open Enrollment in Howard County Schools

(So I had this post in the tank from last week and held it pending Bob B's permission to use his e-mail in a post.  Jane and I are having an awesome time [very weird to still call my wife "Jane" after so many of you know her real name, but tradition is tradition].  I miss you all and wish I could have been at the Main Street Music Festival.  Travel makes us better educated people and this trip, for all of its indulgences, has been nothing if not educational.)

Reviewing the coverage of last week's League of Women Voters Board of Education Candidate Forum (aka LWVBoECF), I noticed that Bob Ballinger had advocated for "open enrollment" in Howard County schools. 

In regards to redistricting, Ballinger suggested open enrollment and more schools in the Elkridge area, while De Lacy warned again the current “broken” system of redistricting that creates “pockets of poverty” in the Columbia region.

To me, open enrollment is one of those ideas that may stir the interest of the "school choice" crowd, but is otherwise prohibitively expensive to implement (presumably diminishing its glimmer for the "fiscally responsible/school choice" coalition).  School bus routes are coordinated with redistricting to make sure that, with few exceptions, a single bus route is lined up with a single school.  Open enrollment would obliterate that arrangement and essentially undermine any attempt at publicly funded school transportation, placing that burden back onto parents in ways that may be completely unworkable.

In light of my concerns, I wrote Bob to ask him how the busing arrangement would work.  Here is his response via e-mail:

My first approach is to look at the existing transportation routes that we use for transportation to our non public schools and have drop off points to Public Schools on those routes.The second idea is to look at allowing students to stay on the bus as the bus travel to other schools for pick up and drop off. My son did that to go to a program at Wilde Lake Middle. My son stayed on the bus after it stopped at Wilde Lake High and then went to Wilde Lake Middle. The third choice would be not to offer transportation and work with the county to expand public transportation during the morning and afternoon hours.

I rode a bus for three years to a "non public school" in Baltimore County.  What took 35 minutes by car took an hour and forty five minutes by bus due to the five other schools that were serviced by this route.  I could not participate in after school activities.  I had to do homework on a bus that shook with every pot-hole, speed-bump, and stop light.  I left home at 5:45 am and walked back through my front door at night around 5 pm.  This was the choice my family made, but it would seem to me that open enrollment would force such a "choice" on those who enjoy the (oft maligned) status quo. 

The simple issue of busing does not even touch on the additional practical issues of creating a system where enrollments may fluctuate with every report of Blue Ribbons, SAT averages, and college matriculation.  It also seems to ignore the favorable effect, often captured by geography, of parental involvement on individual achievement of our students.  Busing Junior from Laurel to West Friendship will take time that could otherwise be spent going over his math homework or teaching him how to read.

Bob has repeatedly characterized his campaign as offering "Clear and Bold Leadership" for the Howard County Board of Education.  When it comes to Open Enrollment, there is no question that his recommendation is bold, and that is commendable.  However, similar to most other Board of Education challengers, I question the need for any "bold" changes.  We need equality of opportunity and probably a better allocation of resources to bring all schools up to the same level, but Open Enrollment has far too many drawbacks to make it a viable alternative, much less a responsible option.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Civility in Politics, Media Bias, and Choice (Thursday LINKS)

On Tuesday, October 9, I will be moderating a panel with NPR host of Maryland Morning Sheila Kast titled "Civility in Politics: Does It Matter?" I had the opportunity to discuss an outline of this discussion with Sheila earlier this week...and it was awesome.  I will admit up front that I am a bit of an NPR fan-boy, so having the opportunity to work with the host of Maryland Morning on this project has been a true honor for me.  During our prep session, we seemed to have felt out the parameters of this debate, to the extent it can be contained at all, and identified some of the critical issues that we will want discussed in order to get a full view of the subject. 

The preliminary question seems to be - Do we expect our press to be a moderator?  "This is uncivil.  That is civil.  Carry on."  The gut reaction is "no", because it implies a subjective filter that many of us would be uncomfortable with.  But then, any further thought brings you to the conclusion that this filter already exists.  Media bias is not a theory.  It is an accepted byproduct of the system.  Where I tend to disagree with those who rant and rave about bias is when they impute some objective to media bias.  "Media is trying to get you to think [this]." Ignoring the multi-level coordination that would be necessary between hated competitors and incongruous mediums, the thousands of "choices" that underlie what is communicated in our media can be coordinate with a slant, but rarely coordinated with a message.

As an example, Media Group A wants to cover the current state of the Romney campaign.  They can choose between Rasmussen polling, which shows Romney even with Obama, or Gallup, which shows Obama ahead.  One of those polling groups does not poll cell phones while the other does.  One of those polling groups presumes a particular turnout for Dems, while the other flips that in favor of Republicans.  Whichever they chose, they are essentially engaging in "bias".  Many take the safe route of using the RCP Polling average, which mashes together different sample sizes and methodologies to give the appearances of a uniform average amongst polls.

Then they must choose a Republican commentator to give them a quote on how things look.  They can call former Reagan staffer and WSJ columnist Peggy Noonan, who thinks the Romney campaign is a "rolling calamity" or they can call Karl Rove, who says that Romney is poised for a turn-around in Ohio.  They can cite both, but will most likely be accused of bias for citing an unfavorable statement either way.

And that does not even get to the choice of whether to cover the state of the Romney campaign in the first place.  Media Group A could cover riots in the Middle East (expensive and seldom read work), the plight of the working class (implicit bias in favor of the left), the National Debt and fiscal cliff (treacherous from a bias perspective, especially in light of two very different views on what the response should be), or the noise.

The noise seems to be the safest bet.  Write an article about something nasty candidate A said about candidate B, then get candidate B's nasty reaction to candidate A's nasty attack.  Rinse and Repeat.  There can be few accusations of bias, so long as you don't try to fact-check the attack (heavens-to-betsy, don't do that), because you are just providing sports journalism under a different headline.  Work in a poll or two and you may as well have standings on the left hand side of the page.  And this is where civility is lost.  If Media Group A wants to attract the largest audience (from both sides of the ideological spectrum), the easiest way to do that is spend time covering the rocks as they are being thrown.  Cover it evenly, don't measure the rocks, and treat it like sport.

Media isn't trying to "brain-wash" you.  They're trying to sedate you.  If you are fed up with the system, and see it as an "other" outside of your day-to-day life, what makes news any different from Mad Men or Breaking Bad?  You tune in to see the character development and plot twists, but rarely see yourself as part of the show.

The best way to get underneath "bias" is to identify the choices that were made in compiling the story.  Why did they use X when they could have used Y?  Did they use Y and I just overlooked it due to my emotional reaction to X?  Or, am I watching/reading/listening to noise?


Dem O's smacked the dickens out of the ball last night, beating the Blue Jays 12-2, tying the club record for most home runs in a game (7).  They stay 1.5 games back from the Yanks for the division lead.

Any advocate for referendum democracy should read this article about how much money is being pumped into campaign advertisements for Question 7 (expanded gambling).  Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on either side to try to sway the unsteady views of the voter, who will have two to three pages of referendum questions to answer this November.

I'm a little late to the party on this, but the International Downtown Agency has awarded a "Downtown Merit Award" to the Howard County Government for the Columbia Master Plan.  That is certainly exciting.

Meanwhile, the Flier's editorial about Ken Ulman's support for expanded gambling really puts the screws to our Annapolis aspirant, suggesting as many other have that this is a move to cozy up with politicos in Montgomery and Prince George's County.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah wonders whether we need to worry about protecting English as our Federal/State/County language as other jurisdictions look make such a declaration official.  My perspective is that this is populism under another label and that these same folks probably expect an English speaking desk clerk when their airplane lands in Paris.

That's all for today.  Thank you so much for all of your positive comments on yesterday's post.  While it was a difficult post that I was reticent to make, it also provided some closure on the whole thing for me.

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why I Switched Parties

"A lot of your readers think you're going through an identity crisis."

Someone said that to me a little over two weeks ago and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.  Call me whatever you want, but I am rarely accused of being uncertain about myself.  Nevertheless, it is a fair criticism.  The "perspective" (or pejorative "slant") of this blog has no doubt changed over the past three and a half years.  Being the one on this side of the keyboard, it has felt more like a shifting spotlight than a jump between boundaries.  I never suggest that my posts are unbiased (which would make for a terrible blog), but you all have a right to know what kind of "bias" is underlying my thoughts.  So I figured I would get this bit of navel-gazing out of the way -- I am a registered Democrat.

For most of my adult life, I have been a Republican.  Not just some dilettante Republican, or as more recently termed "Republican in Name Only", but a red-meat Republican.  I belonged to the Young Republican Club in both high school and college.  I interned with Vice President Dick Cheney in the National Energy Policy Development Group, becoming good friends with Chris Malagisi, who is a high profile young gun in the Party (Chris worked in the mail room sorting "Thank You's" from threats -- don't ever let him tell you differently).  In law school, I belonged to the Federalist Society and attended almost every meeting.  I have worked on three different Republican campaigns and contributed to many more.  I was your typical GOP foot soldier, rarely asking why.

But contrary to the Churchill quip ("Any man who is under 30, and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains"), leading up to my 30th birthday, my world-view changed.  It would be easy, and lazy, to blame this on the Republican Party.  "I didn't leave the GOP.  The GOP left me."  On a base level, I believe that (and will get to it in a moment), but in a more broad sense, my exodus from the Republican party was intentional.  Whether we care to admit it or not, minimalist government and lower taxes primarily benefits the better off among us.  Supply side economics (aka "Trickle down") has never been shown to be all that effective other than in the reverse narrative of the right.  And the idea that we will take care of each other through private philanthropy if we were just left to our own devices, and government would "get out of the way", is the most idealistic nonsense I've ever heard.  Anyone involved in the nonprofit world knows that this maxim does not play out in the real world.  Even the most successful nonprofit has 40% or more of its operating expenses provided by State and Federal grants and would no longer exist but for those funds.

I repeatedly found myself tripping over my own ideology as what I saw in the real world did not jive with what I saw inside my head.  I don't think government is the answer (and I don't think any reasonable Democrat would say as much), but I do think that the Democratic Party is more realistic about the problems our world faces and that there is a role for collective action in meeting those challenges.

Meanwhile, the Republican Party no longer wanted me.  From the start, even while attending all those Federalist Society meetings, I was a socially liberal Republican, which in some circles made me a RINO (it was almost more difficult to determine who wasn't a RINO than who was).  I may never understand why a political party would pursue ideological purity when the end goal is to recruit as many people as possible to stand under your tent.  Here's a free tip -- "Admit it, you're a liberal" does not help win elections.  It just makes you an asshole.

 More and more, as I tried to keep pace with the Republican party, it drifted away.  I found some small retreat in the idea of being a "Kittleman Republican"; finally some philosophical balance.  Small government across the board.  But eventually, along with my general conclusion that we did need government in our lives, I became concerned that Allan may be left to lead a protest party within a protest party.  Life's too short to fight this many fires.

I wasn't in on the anger.  The unquenchable hate.  The "otherness" placed on anyone who wasn't a "like-minded individual."  Who cares about policy when you can just be angry about how much the other side is ruining America?  "Take our Country back" from whom?  I'm not one that blames the polarization of our Country on both sides.  I blame Republicans first.  Not so much the fringe, for they will always exist.  I blame the leadership for getting out of the way and failing to stand up for moderation and reasonable discourse.  It is far too late now, but there was a time when the adults were still in charge.

I hold nothing against Republicans or the Republican Party.  This decision was very difficult.  As much as I truly love politics, changing my registration was like changing my name.  You may be tempted to tell me why my decision was wrong or that my reasoning is unsound, but frankly it is none of your business.  I've had every conceivable conversation with myself about why I was making this decision and they all pointed in one direction.  And as much as I love my Unaffiliated voters, with primaries being more and more important, it is hard to see such a registration as much more than a stand on principle with little other substance.  There are two very different plans for America that battle every single day.  If you don't find yourself leaning one way or the other, you see a world much different than my own.

In case it wasn't obvious, I did not want to write this post.  But after two days without posting, and the familiarity that you and I find ourselves in every morning, I figured I owed it to you.

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

No Post Tuesday

Slept straight through my alarm.  Looks like my sleep debt from Sunday is imposing itself on my schedule.  I'll try to make up for it tomorrow.

Monday, September 24, 2012

No Post Monday

Duuh-dun-dun-duh-duh-dah-dah.  Duuh-dun-dun-duh-duh-dah-dah.

I'm a little tired this morning after watching one of the most amazing Ravens wins in recent history live at the stadium

Duuh-dun-dun-duh-duh-dah-dah.  Duuh-dun-dun-duh-duh-dah-dah.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy Saturday...Gangnam Style

Happy Saturday!  I hope to see a number of you at today's Grand Prix to benefit Howard Community College.  In the meantime, enjoy this video of our men and women in uniform having some fun with the new Internet sensation "Gangnam Style."

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ken Supports Expanded Gambling (Friday LINKS)

Ken Ulman was one of three County Executives that spoke in favor of expanded gambling yesterday.  The other two were Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.

I was disappointed to see that.

Before we even get to the issues of whether gambling is good or bad for the state, it just seems like additional revenue based on games of chance is a very "un-Ken" thing to do.  Here's the guy that has made a name for himself in terms of government innovation and efficiency, thinking "outside the box", and rejecting the status quo when the status quo is wrong.  Gambling is clumsy, filthy, and may not even provide the benefits that are being sold.  That's not to mention the nagging fact that Howard County does not really have a dog in this fight.  We're trading increased state revenues, primarily directed to the jurisdictions with casinos, for an industry that has shown itself very effective at running our government to its own benefit; even insofar as when they hold meetings.

"Oh, but Tom.  There will be these jobs, ya see?  And we'll get all this new money for education, right?  It'll be real nice like.  You'll see."

The jobs are cheap and the money will be meaningless without any real attention being paid to the State's structural deficit.  State budget analysts have already concluded that the money directed to the "Education Trust Fund" will be diverted starting as early as 2017.

And look, I got this far without even mentioning how expanding gambling brings in revenue at the expense of Maryland's most vulnerable.

These three County Executives were selective in their support, and did not mention the tax breaks that were included with expanded gambling, effectively cutting revenue from casinos simultaneous with a tax increase on Marylanders across the State.

We have good legislators in Howard County.  I've had a chance to talk to a number of them informally about the Special Session over the past few months.  To a person, they say "We needed the money" and "Mike Miller would have made my life hell if I voted against it."  That is not the type of support you will hear for a good bill.  That is the concession of someone who was put in a desperate place.  I have to imagine that Ken has heard the same lines, which makes it all the more puzzling that he is being so vocal in his support. 

If you want expanded gambling, do it with your fists closed, get every dime for taxpayers, and show us some benefit other than shiny new restaurants and felt table-tops.  This whole mess feels like Maryland was open for harvest and law-makers are telling us to take the reaping without complaint.


Meanwhile, the University of Maryland has launched "a center aimed at training thousands of health professionals to help gambling addicts, operate a telephone hot line and launch a public awareness campaign."  There is something truly sick about this.  I can't put my finger on it.

Ezra Klein wrote a great piece in the Washington Post about the oppression of poverty and how hard it is for those of us with discretionary income, predictable meals, and reliable health care to empathize with that condition.  He takes some significant pot shots at Mitt Romney, but hopefully you can look past that (or revel in it) and appreciate the manner in which he addresses America's poor.

Recent polls are showing that Obama's post-convention bounce in National Polls is subsiding, putting him back to where he was pre-conventions (+2).  However, those polls also show some distance being opened up in many of the critical swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, and Virginia.

Census data has indicated that Maryland women earn 86 cents for every dollar earned by men.  While disappointing, this is much improved from the National statistic of 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

Baltimore County schools will be rolling out a plan to provide air conditioning to all of its schools by 2014 as a part of a $1.7 billion infrastructure improvement plan.  When crayons are sweating in elementary schools, it is time to get to work.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ examines the "art of the insult", which is all too often ignored in the age of civility.  (Gasp).  No seriously, we need to be able to loosen up our conversation in a way that is not intended to shame or embarrass, but rather (as TJ points out) challenge.  "We'll agree to disagree" is a cop out.  It means "I am going to hold on to my half-baked idea and I would prefer if you stopped trying to make me think any deeper about this" or (more unfortunately) "I am finding myself agreeing with you, but would see such agreement as defeat, so please get away from me", which, quite frankly, is most uncivil.  Please check out TJ's post and offer your thoughts in the comments.  So long as you are not a brazen jerk, he'll probably be nice to you.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!  It's impossible not to.

Ravens 23, Patriots 21.  (Baltimore calms its last minute field goal insecurity).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Real Time Campaign Finance (Thursday LINKS)

Earlier this week, Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot proposed a new system of "real-time campaign finance", paid for by increased filing fees and penalties, for all state and local campaigns.  This system would allow any motivated citizen to look-up who is financially supporting his or her legislator and make conclusions about their "real-time votes" on a comparative basis.

Under the present system, we all are permitted that same comparative deduction, but it is often delayed months, if not years, from the time the vote is cast.  For most non-election years, campaign finance reports are not due until the second or third week of January, flooding the spreadsheets with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of contributions ranging in amount from $25 to $2,500.  It can take hours to sort through this data to find duplicates or triplicates of donations, making the $200 a breadcrumb of something much more.  More importantly, this flooding of the system effectively places an even larger burden on any citizen interested in making a comparative look between a particular vote and simultaneous contribution.

And that's not to say "endorsement contributions" are innately unethical or wrong.  If you support something I care about in Annapolis, it is reasonable to suppose that I will contribute towards your re-election.  There will never be a campaign finance database that elucidates quid pro quo.  Those conclusions will be left to the subjective views of voters.

Here's the rub: Increased regulation on politicians is pretty much a non-starter.  There are no monied interests supporting this initiative, little in the way of public outcry, and the manner in which the idea is being presented comes across as political opportunism. 

That's why we need a guinea pig.  A populist idea with little opportunity for success can be expected to live out one week in the news, if that.  It is easy fodder for op/ed columns and bloggers, but with three months before the legislative session, there is no momentum to carry it to the General Assembly.  But what if a candidate unilaterally began real-time campaign finance reporting? 

"From this moment until the day I leave public service, I will be making all of my campaign finance reports available to all of you via my website in real-time as they are received.  I am an open book.  I can honestly tell you that I have never cast one vote that was purchased with a campaign contribution, but now you will have no reason to doubt.  I encourage my colleagues to do the same, but I know that is a fruitless invitation.  I expect real-time reporting to be a disadvantage in the muck of political attack ads, but an advantage amongst those of you who still see honor in government."

Honor in government.  I truly believe that one day we will see a politician that does more than talk about it.


The Orioles add to their season of extras with a sweep of Seattle after an 11-inning 3-1 win last night.  Sadly, the Yankees won both games in the double-header, putting the O's a half game back from the AL East title.  However, with an Oakland loss, the O's took the pole spot for the AL Wild-card and have a half game buffer over the pesky Athletics.

One in four residents of Baltimore are below the poverty level.  "The federal standards for poverty count those who earn less than $11,500 for a single person and $23,000 for a family of four."  Living the high life on the government dole, I presume.

Meanwhile, those efforts to revitalize City neighborhoods have been sunk with devalued tax credits and a loss of federal and state funding.  Don't worry.  Austerity will create jobs.  Just give it one or two more decades.

Here's a terrifying story out of Anne Arundel County.  After overpaying County employee pensions to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, the County is now making those employees pay the money back.  This whole controversy relates to the payment of full pensions while "retired" employees continued to work part-time.  While the over-payment is concerning, the idea that these retired individuals, living in a financially tenuous condition to begin with, should have to repay tens of thousands of dollars back to the County is disturbing.  Unfortunately, "the gubment payed you too much so now you owe it back" is not all that uncommon for state and federal employees.

Columbia will have the...ambiguous honor of hosting Lance Armstrong in the Ulman Cancer Fund Half Full Triathlon this October.  Joking aside, whatever you think about Armstrong and the doping scandal, this man has done a tremendous amount of good in his fund-raising efforts to fight cancer.  The proximity to the scandal makes all of this a little awkward, but we can still appreciate a fallen hero for those things that still make him great.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Duane considers whether Columbia will ever be an "urban center" after watching CA's presentation of the film "Urbanized."  I believe that Columbia has significant potential and will be driven by those who choose to lead.  There can be little doubt that this County Executive has raised the profile of Columbia far beyond what we were even a decade ago (although maybe not what Columbia was four decade ago).  The biggest questions will be -- what is the vision? Who is getting it accomplished?

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The 47% Write-Off

I originally had no intention of writing about Mitt Romney's leaked speech from a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser.  I dismissed it as a gaffe or, even more likely, a red meat "Win this one for the Gipper" invocation from a slipping Presidential candidate.  The latter, while distasteful, is just an unfortunate part of politics practiced by both sides (i.e., "cling to their guns..." Obama circa 2008).

But yesterday, Mitt Romney did not deny and did not apologize.  He said his comments were "not elegantly stated", but that they showed a contrast between the President's "government-centered society" and his "free-market approach."  And as noted through-out the media-sphere, conservatives are holding him to these comments, and specifically instructing him "not to back down."  In essence, this argument is part of the campaign:

"I mean, he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax; 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. He’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that’s what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

That's fine by me.  To quote Paul Ryan "We want this debate.  We need this debate."  And who wins this debate will be decided in November.  This statement has been dissected to no end in the news media over the last few days, but rather than pile on, I just wanted to make some observations about why it is a conversation worth having.  Romney's comments represent a philosophy that will permeate all aspects of his domestic policy.  More importantly, if implemented, our government would face fundamental change that we have not seen in some time.

1) As a preliminary matter, Mitt Romney better hope that he has not already lost the 47% of Americans that do not pay taxes.  As Gallup noted, Romney has over a third of voters who make $24,000 or less a year only a little over half the voters making over $180,000.  Casting this as "I'm for the makers, he's for the takers" is just factually inaccurate.

2) Approximately 22% of those not paying income taxes are retirees.  I can only suppose that Mitt Romney did not intend to write off retirees as those of whom he'll "never convince" to take personal responsibility and care for their lives.  As Gallup also notes, Mitt Romney is winning the 60-95 vote.

3) Do we really live in a Country where those able to pay for a $50,000 a plate fundraiser (double the poverty level for a house of 4) and pay 14% (or less) in income taxes resent and malign those who don't make enough money to pay any income taxes?  More importantly, isn't Mitt Romney's primary message that the economy's poor state is the President's fault?  If that's true, those on unemployment assistance, not paying taxes, "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims," are exactly the people that Mitt Romney should be reaching out to.  In fact, if they believe they are victims, Romney may have been the one to make them feel that way.

4)  Mitt Romney just lost the "class warfare" pistol from his holster.  If this is not naked class instigation, I don't know what is.  I have no doubt that those low income Romney supporters targeted by these comments will continue to support their candidate, but it has become all the more apparent that this is against their interest.

I hope Mitt Romney sticks to this message, because I think it needs to be debated and defeated.  We cannot villainize our poor.  We need a much more mature discussion about poverty in the United States that is not mired in allegations of laziness or a failure to take personal responsibility for one's life.  Just as you may be able to show me poor people who have made bad decisions with their lives, I can show you twice as many wealthy Americans that have had their paths paved with gold.  Neither proves the category, yet when it comes to the Country's poor, we are easily dismissive.

Why can't we talk about poverty in terms of Education, Opportunity, and Equality?  Because statements like those made by Mitt Romney continue to poison the well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Detonating Speech (Tuesday LINKS)

As someone who writes every day in my own little corner of the Internet, I think about the "freedom of speech" a lot.  Not so much whether the unfettered right exists, but what it means when we talk about the freedom to speak.

As a preliminary matter, our 21st Century conversation has repeatedly confused the freedom of speech with the freedom to speak without consequence.  The latter does not exist, has never existed, and should never exist.  If you are wrong, you are open to correction.  If you are offensive, you are open to scorn.  If you are harmful...well that's where things get tricky.

Preliminarily, defamatory speech has civil penalty, which I ascribe more into the category of "consequence" than "crime."  The standard for proving defamation is unsurprisingly high, particularly for public figures (yet that will not stop them from threatening suit every time they hear something about themselves they don't like).

When it comes to criminal penalty, U.S. law circles around obscenity and hate speech.  Unlike other countries, the United States has not made hate speech illegal.  The only circumstance in which speech inciting violence is not protected is if the "violence is imminent."  This can be contrasted against much of the world where not only is hate speech illegal, but so are certain ideas (i.e., Holocaust denial is illegal in 17 countries).

You are going to hear the name "Nakoula" a lot over the next two weeks.  He is the 55 year old film-maker that produced the Anti-Muslim film alleged to have incited riots across Libya and Egypt.  He is going to kick the tires on what free speech means in the United States.  Not so much criminal penalty (although investigators immediately looked into a 2010 bank fraud sentence), but rather the consequence of free speech.  When the Ayatollah issued a fatwa "death sentence" for Salman Rushdie in 1989, the British government assigned four police officers to provide security for Rushdie at the expense of tax-payers.  To what extent do we not only allow free speech, but also sponsor it.

And while we may all agree that these elements of the Muslim world that boil over in response to sought after slight cannot be permitted, it takes little reflection to think of the anger and threatened violence towards the Westboro Baptist protesters who held signs saying "Pray for More Dead Soldiers."  Admittedly, that comparison is weak, but the deep offense underlying each is similar.

What does freedom of speech mean?  It is simply allowance?  Or are we sponsoring speech?


Matt Wieters can't stop hitting home-runs.  O's win in Seattle 10-4 and are within a half game of the Yankees, who did not play last night.  Tampa Bay, however, did play, and lost to the Red Sox, putting them 5 games behind the Orioles.

42 year old big-bat Jim Thome could re-join the Orioles as early as Friday.

A transportation study conducted by Howard Hughes concluded that a transit bridge over Route 29 connecting downtown Columbia and Oakland Mills would not be used often enough to justify the expense.  The County will follow-up with an economic impact study to see if the overall effect of the bridge, in terms of economic activity and property values, justifies the expense.

Ezra Klein looks at a confluence of poll numbers and campaign turmoil suggesting that Mitt Romney is in a bad place with less than two months to go

From The Baltimore Sun: "Casino owners, labor and other interests spent more than $3.6 million to influence lawmakers during last month's special session to expand gambling in Maryland — a figure that comes to about $900,000 a day for the four-day session, according to disclosure reports filed Monday."  I can't wait until the fund-raising reports come out in February.  Can. Not. Wait.

A 40 year old man who came onto the Long Reach High School campus to fight a 16 year old (and lose) plead guilty to second-degree assault and will serve 60 days in jail.  That may not seem like much, but I can't imagine a man known to have lost a fight to a 16 year old will have a very pleasant stay in State prison.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Matt Wilson takes a really interesting perspective on the "latter-day HoCo Nader Raiders" and what it must be like to be in constant pursuit of a "gotcha" only to come up with air.  It only takes a shallow step into Howard County community affairs to hear of a hundred malicious conspiracies dancing on the head of a pin.  One simple follow-up question "What do you have to prove that?" normally ends up with a disappointed scowl and the dismissive retort of "Well they don't have any of this out in the open, of course, but we all know its happening."  Yes, of course.  Now let's all get in the Spruce Moose.

That's all for today.  HUGE thanks to all of you that contributed towards LARS over the past three days. 

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Middle East: The Imposing Agenda (Monday LINKS)

Despite both Presidential candidates hardly acknowledging that we are at war, the Middle East and radical Islam has imposed itself on the election conversation this week, and for the foreseeable future.  It will become much more difficult to exclusively talk about jobs and the economy when for the first time since 1979 a U.S. Ambassador was murdered on foreign soil.  While the United States public is generally deaf to matters of foreign relations, we are not likely to turn a blind eye to this kind of violence, particularly when it is predicted to boil over into something worse.

First things first, domestic production of oil is not the solution, or even a reasonable suggestion, here.  Our heavy involvement in the Middle East is grounded in the production of oil (hence why we do not seem to care as much about oppression or "freedom" in other parts of the world).  But oil is a global commodity of finite production.  Presuming that increased domestic production will create "oil independence" is like thinking that increased corporate profits will encourage domestic job growth.  Do you think international oil conglomerates have some patriotic allegiance to the United States?  The biggest oil disaster relate to domestic production was performed by none other than British Petroleum (to the extent one can prescribe a Country to such a company whatsoever).  If there is some crisis in the Middle East impeding production or transportation, increased domestic production may ease the shock to the economy, but only so far at is eases the shock for the entire world. 

Second, brute force is similarly irrelevant.  You cannot resolve socioeconomic based violence with an atom bomb.  I was disappointed to see that the President notified Congress, pursuant to the War Powers Resolution, that he would be sending troops to Libya.  Admittedly, they are being sent for "security purposes only", but it would be hard to see this as anything other than escalation.  The alternative was a full scale withdrawal (or as critics would call it "retreat") from the Country, which puts into question how much politics are playing into our geopolitical game-board. 

Finally, the United States, this President, and Mitt Romney, need to design predictable foreign policy platforms for the Middle East. Our Country's safety and prosperity are wrapped up in this cradle of civilization.  For the previous two administrations, for good or bad, Middle East actors knew what the United States's response would be for their actions.  President Clinton took an admirable, and tragically historic, approach to peace in the Middle East, with all other incentives and deterrents related thereto.  President Bush, and the neoconservative think tank under his administration, applied the "One Percent Doctrine" that put U.S. safety and security atop the pyramid of concerns, crossing lines of sovereignty and bilateralism as they may.  This President has not allowed for such certainty.  In the absence of a defined U.S. approach to the Middle East, we have seen the good and the bad.  Oppressive regimes informally bolstered by the United States have fallen while unfriendly elements promoted by democracy have moved in to take their place. 

That's ok.  What concerns me is that this is all entirely unintentional.  We are witnesses to the Middle East where we used to be actors.  And I hate to be so simplistic as to refer to an entire region in such a way, but there are certain elements that are emerging in uniformity.  How will we approach them?  A comprehensive foreign policy will not become apparent before the election in 2012, but the President does have an opportunity to show an intentional coordinated response to the activity in Libya and Egypt.  Mitt Romney has the opportunity to critique those actions, hopefully by doing more than calling our President an apologist for actions of simple diplomacy.  Foreign policy has been ignored up until now.  It no longer will allow such arrogance.


So the Ravens game didn't go the way we wanted, but the O's held off a sweep, beating the A's to stay within 1 game of the AL East and emerging one game further ahead of the Rays.  Meanwhile, the LA Angels have swapped in as our closest challenger for the Wild Card at 2.5 games back.  The Orioles go to Seattle for a very winnable series against the Mariners, who sport the league's worst batting average.

The NIH is battling a super-bug that has killed seven people.  Some people are afraid of spiders.  I am afraid of super-bugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

As could have been predicted, the classification of pit bulls as "inherently dangerous" and applying strict liability for any injury caused by such animals, has caused some housing organizations to ban these pets and threatened eviction for those who refuse to comply.  This is heart-breaking.  Most dog owners would just as well give up a child as giving up their dog, especially for low income individuals that have little else in life.  Meanwhile, this could have been addressed in Special Session when our legislators were more than happy to unleash gambling interests on our State.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: MM takes a look at CA salaries and fires some shots over the bow of the Alliance for a Better Columbia.  I hope that whatever interest in seeing individualized salaries for Staff members was served upon disclosure.  The salaries of CA's highest earners have been disclosed for years in our tax documents, but evidently that was not enough. 

The birthday fundraiser is still on!  Please consider contributing to Laurel Advocacy and Resource Services.  They provide critical work for our most vulnerable and least powerful neighbors.  I certainly understand if you feel over-tapped over the past year after we raised $5,000 only two months ago, but just remember -- there is a big difference between a Monday in which you donate towards ending homelessness than a Monday where you just go to work.

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

CA Board Recap: September 13, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:42 pm
End Time: 10:53 pm

This was a long one, but that may be because of an overloaded agenda more than anything else.  Length of a meeting, in itself, while a sign of inefficiency, is not in itself a bad thing.  Making important decisions after 10:00 pm is a bad thing.  I think we may want to revisit what we do with the 10-11 pm hour to stave off the circumstance in which we make important votes and/or amendments well past the optimal functioning of our members.

There was also a discomforting focus on form over substance last night that wasted a good deal of our time.  Whenever Board members have their calendars out and are picking "what days they are available", it is bad news.  That's not worthy of the public's time.

Fort Meade

Last night we received a spectacular presentation from Col. Edward C. Rothstein, Garrison Commander for Fort George G. Meade.  I was embarrassed to realize just how much I had under-estimated the size of Fort Meade and its complex organizational structure.  Col. Rothstein had a map on the screen that showed a shaded area representing Columbia and another shaded area showing the base.  Fort Meade is bigger.  As Garrison Commander, Col. Rothstein is essentially the Mayor (or as he jokes "Emperor") of everything that goes on within the Fort.  In my minimal exposure to this man, he came across as a true leader with a great deal of strategic focus.

I would have liked to have heard more about Col. Rothstein's "wish list" for partnership opportunities with Columbia Association, but I will presume that these have been represented in on-going communications with Staff.  With 56,000 employees, Fort Meade is Maryland's largest employer, which compels CA to do whatever it can to help draw those families to Columbia.  This falls into one of the most important functions of CA that I would like to see future boards focus more on: Selling Columbia externally as well as internally.  We have spent years trying to increase our resident market share and get more information out about our programs, which is all important, but we also need to think about communicating to prospective residents.

HOA Legislation

As may be expected, the proposed legislation changing the classification of Columbia Association under State law from an HOA to a "nonprofit community service corporation" was discussed.  One of the residents that spoke during resident speak-out noted the continuing concern that CA was pursuing this legislation to avoid having to disclose salary information for its employees.  This was a concern by more than one Board member at the earliest stages, and has been addressed in spades by Staff.  I asked this resident whether they had attempted to work out their concerns with Staff and they told me that they had never tried, but they believes it was a forgone conclusion that their concerns would be rebuffed.

That's unfair.  How can a citizen advocacy organization be taken seriously when their first avenue of complaint is publicly maligning Staff for bad motives rather than participating in the many opportunities for community feedback.  It undercuts our ability to get anything done or form any lasting partnerships when every hand extended is met with a slap.

The Board was asked to review a community engagement schedule regarding this legislation that seemed universally acceptable to the Board.  Unfortunately, one of the dates conflicted with the schedule of the External Relations Chair, which, quite frankly, upset the apple-cart entirely.  That was disappointing.  In the future, I would hope to see Board members show more flexibility in asking whether a Vice Chair may convene the meeting rather than muck up a very important process.  I also wonder whether Staff really had to have the Board approve a "schedule for community engagement" as opposed to just make the Board aware of it.  I see this engagement process being entirely within the gambit of Staff, not the ERC and not the Board.  Public feedback will be critical to our final decision, but soliciting and interpreting that feedback is not necessarily within our expertise.

We also need to address the apparent provincialism that is creeping into the Board's way of conducting its business.  Our committees are functions of the Board.  As such, the Board's interests take precedence in all things.  There is no sovereignty in agenda items. 

Audit Briefing - IRS Forms 990 and 990T

This material is some of the most important work we do as a Board in terms of oversight, but it is dry.  Cotton-mouth dry.  Our CFO Susan Krabbe is spectacular and the manner in which she fielded questions last night was impressive; everything from why a particular number was 21 instead of 11 to complex definitions in the tax code with the follow up "Are you sure this means...?"  Tax law was one of my favorite courses in law school, but I certainly wouldn't want to have to explain it to this Board.

Joint Venture Policy

Speaking of obscure laws, the Columbia Association is "recommended" to have a Joint Venture policy for partnerships with for-profit organizations.  I bold italicize that because both times we have addressed this matter, we have slipped into the concern that this policy will constrain our ability to partner with the County or other governmental organizations.  It is confusing, and the words read aloud would probably drive a linguistics professor mad, but the policy as drafted met the purpose we set out to meet.  This Policy passed with an amendment stating that all joint ventures will be included in the Board quarterly report, which I supported.

Investment Policy

The Board evaluated our Investment Policy for cash-on-hand not directed for a specific purpose that would be invested in low-risk products to bring some form of return on those funds.  With all due respect to my fellow Board members, this quickly devolved to Mad Money Amateur hour.  I know the risk portfolio of at least three Board members and thought we may get into a "family sitting around the kitchen table" budget discussion, before Michael Cornell thankfully put the matter in perspective by stating that our own personal finance decisions are irrelevant to the discussion.  Some suggested that CA take on slightly more aggressive investments (the proposal was more conservative than even non-profit community foundations), but it was successfully argued that this is a starting point that may be revisited at a later date.  The Policy was recommended for approval and passed the Board.

As you can tell, it was not a particularly exciting, or all that interesting, meeting.  After spending 14 innings at the ball-park earlier in the day, I was spent (but so worth it).

Thank you all for the early contributions towards our birthday fundraiser for Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services.  Joe Wilmott told me yesterday that LARS actually contributed toward the Living in Recovery houses that we have worked to help fund.  It was really neat to hear about how it all fits together.

Have a FANTASTIC Friday doing what you love!  It is my birthday.  Have some extra fun for me.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Homeless Ending Birthday (Thursday LINKS)

I turn 31 tomorrow.  While I'm never one to lament getting older (at least not yet), 31 is rather inglorious.  It has the tune of 21, but less excitement.  It is a neighbor of 30, but less "arrival" themed.  Just 31.

As I noted last month, I wanted to hold a fundraiser on my birthday.  Not so much in self-glorification (although I will forgive anyone who sees things in that way), but rather because I know I am never happier than when we are raising money.  Last July was tops.  I was walking on clouds.  My e-mail box became a vehicle for change with every notice of another donation.  I've said this before, but I never feel closer or more connected to all of you than when we are raising money together.  Maybe this satisfaction (better termed "joy") diminishes the altruism of philanthropy, but I don't think it should.

So what better time to tap into that joy than your birthday?

A few weeks ago, I asked you to submit proposals for nonprofits we would feature for this Birthday Fundraiser.  I received four nominations.  What I failed to anticipate was just how hard it would be to pick between deserving organizations that ask you to help them raise money.  I would think about these nonprofits while on long runs, when I would try to sleep, and on my commute in and out of Baltimore.  Every time my mind would be made, I would see or hear something else that would send me back into contemplation.

We finally chose Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services recommended by Lisa B.  LARS is a "non-proselytizing ecumenical ministry serving the Greater Laurel area by assisting homeless and low-income individuals and families who are experiencing a crisis by providing both emergency and long-term services designed to promote self-sufficiency."  As noted in Howard County's Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, a critical step is providing crisis intervention to help those that are not homeless remain in their homes.  I particularly like the fact that LARS focuses on overcoming "barriers to self-sufficiency" indicating a larger strategy other than "what do you need?"

This is an important organization that deserves our help.  I've set a fund-raising goal of $1,000 by Monday (my brother's birthday).  By my math, if 100 people give $10, we're there.  If 50 people give $20, we're there.  You can do the math.  This is an achievable goal, so long as you are willing to participate.

I didn't post this on my birthday because tomorrow will be a CA Board Recap.  I want to add that I am very self-conscious about this, but would see any hesitancy as an excuse not to follow through.  Whenever you have an opportunity to help people get off the streets and back into productive lives, you do it, right?


Ray Rice has continued his support for Old Ellicott City with his new initiative 27 for Old EC.  Local businesses will feature one item or dish that will have special pricing over the next two weeks to encourage residents to get downtown.  Seems like another great opportunity to help our neighbors recover from a tough year.

If baseball is a game of inches, the Orioles cashed in about 9 of them last night with Nate McLouth's scoreboard double in the bottom of the ninth with Manny Machado on second base to win the game.  This W was made possible by one of the most heads-up defensive plays I've ever seen, as Manny Machado faked a throw to first, spun to JJ Hardy behind the bag at third, and set up a run down to end the top of the 9th.  I fell asleep with a huge smile on my face.

I found James Taranto's Op-Ed in the WSJ about "Class Warfare" to be interesting, mostly because it presents a point of view that is very different from my own.  What he does point out is that President Obama finds himself in a very uncomfortable position with the Chicago Teacher's Union striking against his former chief of staff, with Paul Ryan lending his support to Rahm from afar.  There really is no way for teachers to go on strike without infuriating the public at large, particularly when the starting point, according to this piece, was a 30% raise.

John Dickerson has an op-ed in Slate noting that some Republicans have been cited as showing some anxiety regarding Mitt Romney's campaign, particularly with regard to specifics.  Without getting into, or implicitly endorsing, too much of the piece, I think this paragraph is certainly worth considering:  "If Romney doesn't get more specific, whichever party wins will have no mandate for governing. If Romney wins, his lack of specificity will mean he has no mandate. If Obama wins, Republicans will conclude that the president didn't prevail in a contest of ideas; he simply defeated a bad politician, which will make them no more likely to cooperate with him."  From my perspective, the retreat of the over-thinking voter is that so long as President Obama is in the White House, nothing is being done by either side to fix this economy.  A vote for Mitt is a vote for congruence between Congress and the Executive.  Whether those ideas are right or wrong, at least they will be tried.

Muslim leaders in Maryland have condemned the attacks in Libya and Egypt, noting that these types of attacks undermine their efforts for interfaith understanding.  Well, yes, but only with a solid assist from those ignorant enough to suggest Muslims in Maryland should have to apologize for attacks occurring hundreds of thousands of miles away.

Lest we get too far away from this unbelievable story about the 1st Congressional District, the Democratic candidate for Congress, Wendy Rosen, has resigned after it was discovered that in 2006 she may have voted in both Florida and Maryland elections.  Considering that Democrats have spent much of 2012 refuting accusations of voter fraud in relation to new voting requirements across the Country, Ms. Rosen's deceit could not be much more embarrassing.  It is almost like a Republican demanding government provided health care.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah breaks down the League of Women Voter BoE interviews.  I truly appreciate her (and Chris's) work on this project and will (again) encourage you to check this clips out.  I think you will find some certainty in the sea of "what-the-heck-am-I-doing" that normally makes up the Board of Education ballot choice.  I've made no secret of my support for David Gertler, and I particularly liked his story about growing up the son of a carpenter, yet lacking in applicable carpentry skills.  Education provided him the opportunity to be something other than a failed carpenter.  As the math-disabled son of an accountant, I could absolutely empathize. 

I'm going to the game today.  It is a mini-birthday present to myself.  I never take off work (haven't taken a vacation this year), but this Orioles season is one to remember.

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Columbia: Less Than Center (Wednesday LINKS)

This past weekend Jonathan O'Connel of the Washington Post profiled "Town Centers" under the topic of whether city life can be exported to the suburbs.  In describing these new developments, it sounded as if he was reading off a laundry list of everything we aspire to have in our New City of Columbia:

Street grids are plotted around central plazas surrounded by condos, apartments and shopping. Public transportation is arranged, parking garages are hidden from view, and all the things that people love about D.C. and cities like it are layered on: public art, sidewalk performers, outdoor movies, street festivals, block parties and food carts.

O'Connel used Reston, VA as his example for most of the piece, describing it in language bordering on satire as the "titan of town center developments."  For any Columbia-ites, this may be a bit of a smack, considering the constant comparison that certain elements of our community maintain with Reston.  Here's some news: We ain't Reston.

In fact, O'Connel could indirectly be read to argue that Columbia aspires to be Reston.  The new walkable communities that are all the rage right now are modeled after our southern neighbor, Columbia not excluded.

Nevertheless, despite being an also-ran in the town center concept, O'Connel levies some of the criticisms that Columbia has often heard about its own development:

Critics of town centers consider them soulless corporate replicas — no more real cities than Disney World’s fairy-tale fiberglass-and-concrete showpiece is a real castle.

The Village at Leesburg may not feel like Williamsburg in Brooklyn or U Street in D.C., but it demonstrates how smartly county governments and developers are mimicking what feels so unique about the urban experience.


People love cities because of their eccentricities, things that developers cannot build or import: the tattoos on the woman who passes you on the sidewalk, the street person who bums cigarettes and always remembers your name.


The feeling of walking down M Street in Georgetown or on U Street cannot be duplicated, Lanier argues, because these areas were built not by a developer with a singular vision but by time.

Someone who spent their entire life in and around Columbia may balk at the idea that Columbia is "soulless" or "artificial."  It's not just age.  It's not just Jim Rouse's soul.  O'Connel ends with the observation that real urban communities develop character in a "down cycle" when "old businesses are forced to close and new ones are ushered in."  In that, we find our character.  Old leaders are respectfully retired and new leaders emerge.  As neon and fresh pain fades, the people stand out in contrast. 

The more I read this article, the less I felt it applicable to Columbia.  It is an important read for all of us preparing for the new, but does very little to describe our past.  It would be ignorant to say Columbia has not faced a "down cycle".  We have.  What we look like coming out of it will be as defining as the purchase of 14,178 acres fifty years ago.  This time, we got soul.


Your Baltimore Orioles are tied for first place (again) with the New York Yankees after the O's beat the Rays 9-2 and the Yanks lost to the Red Sox in the bottom of the 9th.  I had the pleasure of watching the end of the Orioles win and then switching over to the MLB network to watch the walk off single that won the game for the Sox.  With Jason Hammel potentially heading back to the DL, nothing is going to be easy over the next month.

Recent polls show that Mitt Romney may have taken a significant lead in Virginia, while losing a lot of ground in Ohio and Florida.  For the uninitiated, if Ohio and Florida go to Obama, that's ballgame.  The rest of the states become irrelevant.  Circle your calendar for the October 3 debate.  It is the Super Bowl of this election.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz just does not seem to be able to get a handle on County pensions.  This summer he wrote an editorial lecturing the State and other County governments about how they should handle their pensions after reducing the projected rate of return.  Yesterday, he announced that despite this measure, the County will be forced to borrow $255 million to fund the pension system.  As I noted before, we should only hope that Kevin is Chicken Little and Ken is the pig with a house made of brick.  (I mixed fairy tale nursery rhyme metaphors, but I think it works).

A 13-year old boy pulled a gun on his teacher and classmates at Stemmers Run Middle School.  Nothing to see here.  Please look away. 

Ann's House of Nuts in Columbia is closing and moving to Minnesota.  We will miss you, Ann.  Please don't tell us you're moving to Eden Prairie.  It would be too much.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Lisa B featured Board of Education candidate David Gertler's new series of "math and science appreciation sessions for Howard County students."  As a pol-watcher, I find it fascinating that David is reaching out to this disenfranchised constituency of the Howard County School System (i.e., students) and am very happy to see it.  It also adds some meat to the bones of "We need STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)", which has become such a trite phrase of education policy as to make it presumed for all candidates.  For parents, check this out.  I know David personally and like him a great deal.  He will not use your kids as vote-pawns.  This is for real.

On a related note, please check out the League of Women Voters YouTube Channel for interviews with all of the Board of Education candidates.  I spent a good part of last night reviewing these clips and thought that some candidates, for good or bad, showed their true colors once put in front of a camera.  This is yet another reason to join the LWV and support their continued advocacy for Howard County voters.

That's all for today.  Have a great Wednesday doing what you love.  I'll be posting the birthday fundraiser tomorrow.  Jane and I are excited about this project and hope you will decide to support it, even if you don't want to wish me a happy birthday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

No Post Tuesday

A rapidly beating heart and a scheduling prognosticating imagination kept me up way past my bedtime after a tremendous 44-13 win by the Ravens over the (at least temporarily) lowly Bengals.  As such, I allowed myself a little extra sleep.

Not that you all wanted to talk about politics today anyway.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Board to Tears (Monday LINKS)

A local political watcher and I were discussing what we were going to do on election night.  Noting that there was no real purpose in watching the Howard County rolls come in like in 2010, he added "We've got nothing going on.  Except the Board of Education, I guess."

There is nothing exciting about the Board of Education.  Their powers are limited.  Most significant policy changes are prompted by Staff.  Despite our wildest concerns, no real harm can produce from their actions on any given night.  (As I've recently said - we had someone on the Board that was in litigation with the Board while serving, yet the lights stayed on).  And for similar reasons, the number of people that are truly interested in this election are slim.

However, I would like to offer a slightly different perspective.  While there is an absolute floor for how much the Board could hurt our education system (in this County, the Executive/Council would intervene and/or circumvent misguided decisions), there is no ceiling.  Good ideas on education policy by smart people can dramatically improve our education system and make it a premiere program in Maryland, to the extent it is not already.
  • The use of technology to foster and promote individualized learning.
  • New efficiencies in the way we spend County dollars to enhance education while controlling costs.
  • Refining processes of citizen engagement on topics like redistricting and curriculum development to manage expectations and minimize strife.
These are aspirational focuses that can, and should, be developed at the Board level, should they ever be allowed to move beyond the time-exhausting conflicts of yesterday's Board.

I say all of this because anger, no matter how good it feels, is no way to premise a vote.  Rejecting the "status quo" is fine, so long as you are truly interested in wiping out the successes as well as the failures.  I am much more interested in candidates that will look at the problems facing today's Board as a matter of process rather than policy.  "What are we doing now that we could do better?" not "We're doing it wrong."

It is September 10.  You have eight weeks to figure out exactly what your Board of Education vote means to you.  I recommend you use it, if for no other reason than so many other people do not.


New polls came out over the weekend showing a significant bounce of about 4-5% for President Obama after the convention, with additional polls giving him the lead in Ohio and North Carolina, two "must wins" for Mitt Romney.

Team Romney is reporting that they will no longer be buying ads in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania.  (As Trevor politely noted below, there is a dispute as to whether there has actually been a hold on ad buys in these states or whether the writers linked herein were jumping the gun).

Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr. (D) has eased off his demand of Ravens Owners Steve Biscotti to silence Brendan Ayanbedajo, noting that "the football player and I have a right to speak our minds."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: I had a great time on And Then There's That last Friday.  I felt like I was a little wound up, but thankfully did not spill anyone's drink.

That's all for today.  Moving a little slow this Monday after a busy weekend.  Have a great Monday doing what you love.

Ravens 27, Bengals 13.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Make Up Song (Friday LINKS)

The last night of the Convention felt like that part at the end of a Rom-Com where the guy buys flowers and shows up in the rain to say that he's sorry for building-a-relationship-on-a-lie/kissing-another-girl/allowing-his-inner-jerk-show-through and reminds the girl of all of the good times they had together.

How different is "You are the change" from "You make me want to be a better man"? (That line still gets me).

And I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed with the President.  Minutes before he spoke, I turned to Jane and said "This is the most important speech he will ever give."


"Because he has all of the momentum on his side right now and if he can blow this open, it may be the difference between being a failed one-term President and a historic two-term President during what may be recalled as the most severe crisis this Country has seen in a century."  Hyperbole?  Don't mind if I do.

Acknowledging that I was 75/25 watching the Orioles game and the Convention last night, the overall tone of the evening had the slightest tinge of conciliation.  Not so much "We messed up", but rather "We know this didn't go the way that we had planned."  That's good.  They needed to say that or else lose every voter that never really bought into the "Hopey Changey" thing (that is the last time I will ever use a Palin quote in a non-sarcastic or non-sardonic manner).  These voters want a confession before they re-up.  In fact, CNN had a panel of undecided voters that they surveyed after the speech who had little dials to record their impressions.  The "You are the change" moments scored poorly.  They mini-confessions scored very well.

Regardless of the outcome of this election, I think the history books will look back at 2008-2012 as a consequence of having an over-confident President being confronted with a lack of legislative experience.  Partisans will point fingers, but if Civil Rights legislation could be passed in the 1960's, the debt ceiling can be raised in the 2010's.  Contemporary historians (is that a real noun?) are already noting President Obama's errors (read this link), but I don't think these missteps are so severe as to upset a re-election bid.

If I were to give the GOP Convention a B- for being overly focused on the base, I have to give the Dem Convention an A.  It really felt like you were watching a talented musician play their favorite instrument.  Sure, there were problems, but no matter how much the press tried to inject controversy, the "stars" shone through.  I would be surprised to see a fair-minded Republican (or independent) disagree with that assessment, but welcome the response.

Nevertheless, as I noted yesterday, Conventions do not matter all that much.  But neither do debates.  This election is a drop of molasses between now and November.  It will take a lot of time and effort to move it.  Democrats promise to roll out a ground game never before seen in Presidential elections while Republicans have money to burn on the air.  If you feel strongly about this election, you're going to have to get in your car or on the phone.  Ohio and Virginia are key.  Obama is gaining steam in the Midwest, with reports that Team Mitt is pulling out of Michigan.  That means with Pennsylvania looking more and more in the bag, the President may only need one more swing state to lock this election up.

Don't listen to the National polls.  They are worthless.  Follow the map. 


ORIOLES MAGIC!  FEEL IT HAPPEN!  If you have a baseball fan in your life, buy them Orioles tickets right now.  It's ok.  The rest of the blog will wait.

I went to high school with this guy.

If you want a holistic view of creating a pro-business climate, whether at the state or hyper-local level, you need to read this piece in the Washington Post about the Siemens plant in North Carolina.  It will become apparent why Ken Ulman, and other politicos, were reticent to shut the door on the intermodal plant in Elkridge.  That's not to say that there are no trade-offs or that the red carpet should have been rolled out for CSX, but it definitely gets to the context of such decisions and why there are no easy outs in politics.

Art Modell died this week.  As I said on Facebook, I cannot think of another stranger who brought more happiness to my life than this man.  Call sports silly, but as I've become older and my brother and I moved out of the house, Ravens games have become a lasting bond between my Dad, my brother, and I.  Don't get me wrong, my family is, and always will be, very close, but sports adds that sticky stuff to bring people together.  Except for Steeler fans.  I do not like Steeler fans.

I also found it touching that many Ravens players and Coach Harbaugh visited with Mr. Modell in his final days.  Tell me sports are silly now.

Now, what is silly is a duly elected Democratic member of the Maryland General Assembly writing a letter to the owner of the Ravens telling him to "quiet down" his linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo for being vocal about his support for same-sex marriage.  He owns the team, doofus.  Not the players.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah posts about CA's upcoming screening of "Urbanized" on 9/18.  These presentations are a great way to get people excited about Columbia and take ownership of its future.

Sorry for the late posts this week.  I've been burning the candle at both ends and try to fit in the extra sleep where I can.  I don't know why I am apologizing, but I feel like I should.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  See you at the Yard.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Bill Clinton

I don't have time for a full post today, but wanted to provide some quick thoughts on last night's Convention.

Bill Clinton said everything that Barack Obama couldn't say.  The entire speech seemed like a textbook Closing Argument for the Defense (to pick up my analogy from last week).  Rebut the arguments from the other side while reasserting your strongest points.  Tell me Clinton didn't look like an "Old Virginia Lawyer" to you last night.  All he left out was "Well I'm just a poor Country boy from Arkansas, but even I can figure this out."

I thought the speech was very effective at getting to the nuance that President Obama's team wants to explain when telling the American public "We accomplished more than the Republicans would have you believe."  Democrats have been ignoring the "Stand on Your Record" approach and have instead gone full barrel attack on Mitt Romney, which is a strategy doomed to failure.  Anyone who has read any books about the last 20 years of Democratic politics will note that it is often Bill Clinton who will be the one to say "You're doing it wrong."

So what did he say?  He noted the areas that the Stimulus worked and why it was necessary.  He parsed down the GOP's attacks regarding Medicare and explained, in concrete arguments rather than fluff, how the $700 Billion "cut" to Medicare would not endanger Paul Ryan's Mom or any other Senior.  Most importantly, he explained why Government is not the enemy as the only person that has taken a stage over the past two weeks that has presided over a Budget Surplus (apologies if Clint Eastwood feels that he may fit that description as well).

Bill Clinton, and everything he represents, is something the Republicans will have a hard time responding to in the context of this election.  Everything they say they want to do (balance the budget, create jobs, spur economic growth), he did.  The Republican resume does not include the words "Balanced Budget" or "Surplus".  Only their cover letter.  Bill Clinton had many faults, and it was risky to have Slick Willie tell the American Public what's "true and not true", but he was a fiscal steward worthy of respect.  There are many responses and critiques of such a position, but those wishing to do so will either credit the previous administration(s) or Congress, which then brings on the question of who is to blame for the current state of things in America.

Convention speeches are too late and too long to have much of an effect on the public at large.  Last night competed with September baseball and Wednesday Night Football (Dear NFL - women are going to revolt if you keep moving these games further into the week).  But if this Convention is indicative of how the Obama campaign is going to design its message, the Democrats have strong footing for the next six weeks.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Small Business of the Year (Wednesday LINKS)

Yesterday, the Howard County Chamber of Commerce publicly announced that my father's accounting firm, Coale, Pripstein & Associates, P.A., would be named its Small Business of the Year for 2012.  I had known about this for a few days, but had been asked to keep it quiet.  You can only imagine how difficult this was for a proud son (with a daily blog), but I went along with this request begrudgingly, all the while writing the eventual post in my head.

My Dad was the son of school-teachers.  He was solidly middle class when the middle class was more solid.  There was very little that was extravagant about his young life, but by the stories I hear, he saw a small glimmer of what it was to own your own business in his grandmother's dance school that was just down the street from his house.  It would be pure speculation to say that Dad was inspired by this, but I know that we don't hear too many stories from his youth, yet the dance school comes up quite often.

Dad started out of school working for someone else.  He did this for ten years until deciding to go out on his own shortly after I was born.  Although I don't discuss it with him often, as I've grown older I find myself thinking more and more of the decision he and my Mom made to cut the cord and go out on his own.  How courageous.  The amount of confidence, self-assuredness, and maturity necessary to make that huge leap into the abyss as a thirty-something with a toddler underfoot is as inspiring as it is terrifying.  And it's not like my Dad grew up in a family of entrepreneurs.  He was quite literally stepping into the dark.

Growing up, I never wanted for anything.  I had braces, tried two different musical instruments (failing miserably), and drove my own car at 16.  I think my Dad will admit that my Mom was a "third partner" of the firm, as she made sure that my Dad had the fewest worries possible once he came in the door.  Dad always worked longer hours than everyone else's Dad, which meant my Mom had to work double-time to get our homework finished, get us to school events, and make sure we still had a social life to speak of, despite living on a street that was eerily devoid of children.

Sure, my Dad may have missed a (see musical instruments above) performance or two and he beats himself up about it on a regular basis.  But as I tell him, I would never have had it any other way.  That two-decade long seminar in work ethic is one of the most valuable treasures my parents passed down to me.  You don't go home when the clock moves.  You go home when the job is done.  As I got older, and was able to set my own bed-time, I remember trying to stay up for my Dad during tax season.  Every once in a while, I would be able to do it, but it was much more often that I would have to tap out around midnight.  Those few nights I made it, my Dad would smile when he came through the door and saw me, otherwise accepting that it would be another night without seeing any of the people he worked so hard to support.

My Dad was the one that taught me the value of community and the obligation to give back.  Despite the long hours and the mounting responsibilities, my Dad's resume of community involvement is unparalleled.  He was the one that impressed upon me that service is not a choice; it is an obligation of good fortune.  When you see something you can fix, you do it.  You don't need to wait to be asked.  Most importantly, being dependable is more important than being "everything."  Don't offer to help if you can't see it through.  Don't serve just to get your name on a piece of paper.  Commit to the job at hand, give it everything you have, and don't expect anyone to thank you when it's done.

I'm obviously very proud of my Dad, but right now the feeling is more one of satisfaction.  Finally.  My Dad is a humble man and does not seek out honors.  He never advocated for awards or self-nominated his business, no matter what commercial success that may bring.  Finally, someone out there saw everything that I've seen my entire life and say "You know what, that's pretty spectacular."  I'm just glad to see it done.


The Orioles cut into that pesky run differential last night with a 12-0 whuppin' of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Oh and, by the way, they are also tied for first place in the American League East.

I had a Board Operations Committee meeting last night and missed most of the DNC speeches, but I did hear pieces of Gov. Martin O'Malley's speech, which was then put in the background on NPR on my drive home.  It sounded like he may have had one too many 5-hour-energy's.  I hope the Dem's don't spend the whole week beating up on Mitt Romney.  It would be a waste.  Michelle Obama's speech was spectacular and was exactly what Team Blue wanted out of last night.  I hope the-powers-that-be can contrast that against whatever message O'Malley was able to get across as he was hopping around the podium.

I hope the State does more than three workshops for the thousands of laid off workers from the Sparrow's Point Plant.  This is an opportunity to intervene and transition these workers from failing plant to successful employment.  Current operations seem to indicate that all we are preparing them to do is "be unemployed."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Love this post by WB about new shops popping up in Old Ellicott City.  It seems like there is a gradual shift in the character of our old town to meet an emerging yuppie demographic in the area, while keeping its hipster charm.  Main Streets can rarely be all things to all people, but it is great to see new attraction points developed to bring in a different crowd from time to time.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Presidential Standard of Care (Tuesday LINKS)

The decision underlying this Election has been cast both as a "Choice" (i.e., Obama or Romney) and as a Referendum (i.e., Does Obama deserve another four years?).  Over the past month, since Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, it has almost seemed to me like a trial.

There are definitely preferences between parties as to how you see this election.  Democrats want you to think of it as a choice, because that let's them work in the question "Who do you like more?" that the President has won quite handily.  The Republicans would like you to view this election as a Referendum, allowing them to stand on the poor circumstances this Country finds itself in and say "Isn't it time to let someone else give this thing a try?"

But the messaging has taking on a life of its own, removed from any strategy set out by either party.  The Republicans are essentially saying that the President has committed Executive Malpractice and will soon have the burden, whether in campaign commercials or the debates, to show what the President should have done to put this Country in a better position than it is now.  On the Dem side, they will have to play defense, which is a horrible place to be with the election two months away, but a comfortable enough spot considering where the polls are in most States.

Similar to a trial, the Republicans will be expected to put on witnesses, like slighted Navy SEALS and disgusted economists, to show that the President has not performed his job in accordance with what should have been expected of him.  This is slightly different from a referendum in that the bad outcome alone is not sufficient to win the day.  The American Public has already indicated that although the status quo is bad, they are not willing to disturb it reflexively without understanding what the alternative may be.

Most important of all, for the Republican side, will be Mitt Romney's ability to sub in as the Republican's key expert witnesses to tell the American public "This is what I would have done."  We already know that he would not have approved the automotive bailout and felt that such an effort would fail.  He was incorrect on the latter part, but let's hear what he thinks our economy would look like if we enabled creative destruction, at the expense of millions of jobs in 2009, as opposed to sticking our hands in the scales.

The reason this is so important is because a significant majority of Americans still blame President Bush for the current state of the economy.  Romney can change that if he can finally communicate what it is that he would have done.  This discussion about the Debt is an important one, but premature.  On the other side, if President Obama can succinctly explain why he did what he did, the extent to which it was successful, and what he plans to do next while he owns the news cycle over the next week, Mitt Romney will be in a very bad position with a little over six weeks to make his case.

Above all things, a Mid-Term Election is about upsetting the status quo.  You can call it a choice, referendum, or President on trial, but the average voter that does not watch Conventions or the Debates is going to the polls to decide two questions: Whether they are better off than they were four years ago AND Whether things could have been worse.


Joe Saunders flirts with a no-no into the 5th Inning (maybe he is good at baseball) and the O's beat the Blue Jays 4-0.  With a Yankees loss, the O's are now 1 game out of First Place in the American League East and, so long as they can win one more against the Jays, this weekend's series against the Yanks will be for the division lead.  If you have not been out to the stadium for this amazing season, it is time to buy tickets.  Heck, buy me one too.

Rolling Stone has its version of a rebuttal to the Niall Ferguson piece in Newsweek last month in an excoriating long form article about what it is that Bain Capital did to companies via leveraged buy-out and why that may undermine Mitt Romney's indignation over the National Debt.  It is written by uber-liberal (so liberal he doesn't like Democrats) Matt Taibbi, but this uber-liberal also happens to have a good mastery of the craft, so I highly recommend reading the piece.

With 90% of Howard County oblivious to the problem, Maryland will be expanding the Howard County truck rest stop to address the dangerous practice of shipping trucks parking along our highways that result when the rest stop is full.  I'm sure the residents will have no problem with that...what's that?  They do?

Former Governor Ehrlich asks whether "Jewish voters" can be sure of President Obama's commitment to Israel.  Wow.  So we're at that point in the election, huh?  Foreign policy is not important...unless we're threatening the end of Israel?

For those that are poll-watching with me, it looks like the immediate post-Convention polls are showing a 2-4 point bump for Romney with the biggest swings happening in North Carolina.  Nevermind. 

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB looks at some of the structural improvements to Old Ellicott City that are underway and planned for the near future in the wake of flooding and the trail derailment last month.  I think we can expect to see a lot of attention paid to Ellicott City over the next few years as targeted development brings more residential properties to the area.

That's all for today.  Have a fantastic Tuesday doing what you love.  For most of us, this is a four day work week, which for me always feels "just right."