Tuesday, October 30, 2012

House in a Storm (Sandy LINKS)

I doubt I was the only home-owner that was catapulted from their bed this morning with the need to check on every shingle and tree branch.  For the most part, it looks like we made it through ok.  There was a small leak in our bedroom that came through the back wall, but that stopped dripped sometime through the night.  I was up until 12:30 listening to the wind and examining every decibel for sounds of retreating roofing material.  It is too dark to tell for certain, but everything seems whole.  In fact, the whole neighborhood seems whole, except for maybe the Halloween skeleton poised to climb through the ground of my neighbor's yard.  That guy is probably in Pittsburgh.

I don't have much else to say for now.  I hope you all are safe, warm, and with power.

LINKS

"Millions of gallons" of raw sewage from a facility in Savage are overflowing into the Little Patuxent River as the power used to pump the sewage uphill to the treatment plant was lost.  Officials are not sure when the overflow will be able to be stopped.  One can only hope that the environmental impact of this kind of disaster is somewhat mediated by the heavy rains, but I doubt it.  Unfortunately, this is not Howard County's first run-in with waste-water overflow, and we actually had to settle a claim with the Maryland Department of the Environment back in 2010 regarding a similar event.  One of the provisions of that 2010 settlement was to draft an "Overflow Emergency Response Plan".  Should come in handy today.

The bottom of Main Street was evacuated last night with flooding expected for most of the buildings near the Baltimore County line.  Our brave little city on the hill.

Over 300,000 Marylanders will wake up without power this morning.  Keep them in your thoughts while drinking your morning Joe.

Here's how a good part of New York City lost power yesterday.  Scary:


With blizzards in Western Maryland, Gov. O'Malley suggested that just as we are "America in miniature" we are experiencing this hurricane "in miniature."  Too soon, Governor.  Too soon.  Get some sleep.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Make sure to check out the posts WB is able to get up between power outages.  The added value of weather-station Wordbones (WSw) is worth the click alone.

That's all for today.  Have a great day doing...whatever it is your house-bound heart desires.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Guest Post - 90 Million by Michael Cornell

Here is a guest post from my friend Michael Cornell who serves on the Columbia Assocation Board of Directors with me and is also the former Co-Chair of the Maryland Green Party.  I've found Michael to be a conscientious leader and I respect his opinions on matters of local and national scope. 

90 million - a big number that could change the world on Tuesday.

90 million. The number of those who are disenfranchised by the current economic and political state in this country that will leave them at home rather than at the ballot box. The sense of hopelessness and powerlessness combine to leave so many who could vote and make a difference, shuttered, and resigned that politicians simple don’t care, or aren’t able to affect change – “Change you can believe in” being the banner cry of Obama’s run 4 years ago. Then Congress simply refused to participate. The President settled into a “business-as-usual” posture, carrying on with the policies of his predecessor his devotees were certain he was going to change.

Obama-care simply “codified” and made worse everything wrong with the American Health Care system – ranked 37th in the world. Health costs will not be contained. Medical decisions are being made by insurance company bureaucrats interested in maximizing stock-holder wealth. Pledges and plans reduce to reduce Medicare and Medicaid coverage abound.

Environmental reforms, the increase in the vehicle fleet efficiency, for example, means virtually nothing when I can go out today and buy a car whose MPG is twice those being mandated by 2020. The XL Pipeline is coming regardless of the fanfare and celebration when the decision to approve the project was delayed.

Immigration reform? If by that you mean the Latino US citizen who was shot and killed near her home a few miles from the border, or the record number of deportations under Obama that dwarfs the number during the Bush years – then I guess we have that, too.

We have the largest prison population in the world – yes, the US is number 1! With 5% of the world’s population, we are not first by percentage of the population, but in total number! Our prison system is little more than modern day slavery. Many of those incarcerated are serving life sentences for non-violent crimes, or possession of drugs. Our penal system has been privatized, generating huge profits for its owners. Judges have been bribed to help meet inmate quotas. Prison labor is rented for pennies on the hour. Reform is nowhere in sight.

Progressives inside the Democrat party continue to support the party in spite of the disillusionment. The disenfranchised continue to see no hope.

The attack on women’s rights continues. Endless wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East continue, saber rattling against Syria continues. The use of predatory drones has expanded. Innocent civilians continue to die as collateral damage. Embassies are bombed. And yet the world is no safer.

Extremes in weather patterns and record setting heat continue to wreak havoc on agriculture, the environment and health. Disease carrying mosquitoes venture further and further north, the dust bowl has returned with a vengeance, a freak storms whose severity will continue to increase is becoming less newsworthy and alarming due to their frequency. And our leaders refuse to take action. Members of the House Committee on science continue to deny and dispute the science of climate change. These reincarnations of Nero fiddle while the world burns, content and secure with the money they amass from their relationships and contributions from big oil.

The differences between the two wings of the corporate parties falsely peddle wedge issues as the real issues of the day. The vast majority of Americans believe in equal rights for gays and lesbians – including the freedom to marry. The vast majority of Americans believe in a woman’s right to reproductive choice. The vast majority of Americans – even many of the 1% - believe tax reform is needed – not more tax breaks. China, welfare cheats and immigrants are blamed for our failing economy; not the bankers and Wall Street billionaires and many in the 1% whose actions of greed and lust for even more wealth than the reported $31 billion secreted in offshore accounts.

Lies repeated become truths. Orwell’s 1984 is no longer a work of fiction when terms like “job-creators”, “legitimate rape” and “apology tour” do not reflect reality.

90 million disaffected voters.

Those 90 million voting in force for third party candidates could change the world over night. Given a choice – and the media in collusion with the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates – have hidden those choices from the voters. Real choice is on the menu this year. And for those 90 million – they have a third alternative: Rather than staying home, they can say “no” to politics as usual. They can send a message.

(Here in Maryland, a clearly Democrat state, think of the message a small percentage of voters could send without endangering Obama’s electoral count.)

Although under-reported, the lies of Nader electing Bush have been clearly debunked but repeated so often they have become truth.

Here’s the real truth - No one owns your vote.

There is an alternative to either voting for the lesser of evils or not voting at all. In fact there are several alternatives.

Pick one!

At a minimum we can send a message.

90 million making another choice could change the world!

No Post Monday

Between work obligations and a lack of motivation, I'm passing on the Monday morning post.  I may get something up this afternoon, but my a.m. is spoken for.

Friday, October 26, 2012

CA Board Recap: October 25, 2012 Board of Directors Meeting

Start Time: 7:32 pm
End Time: 10:56 pm

This Board Meeting was a dedicated Work Session, run by the External Relations Committee, to review the proposed HOA legislation that would carve our certain provisions for the Columbia Association.  In a way, it showed some of the best and worst features of this Board.  In a positive sense, a seeming majority of Board members showed curiosity, problem-solving, and appreciation for the dedicated efforts our Executive Team's hard work.  On the other side, some Board members were confrontational, argumentative, and even tried to shut down the deliberations at an early stage to do away with the matter entirely.

(Note: A friend recently noted to me that using the term "Staff" to reference the Executive Officers of a $60 million organization was somewhat demeaning and pejorative.  I'm not one to get hung up on semantics, but in this context, semantics has led behavior.  I've tried my best to substitute "Executive Officers" or "Executive Team" to properly represent the stature of office, but am sure to slip).

CA Board in Microcosm

The HOA issue seemingly presents all of my concerns about the behavior of our Board in microcosm.  It raises:

1) Our trust of Executive Officers;
2) The rule of minority interests:
3) Our amateur approach to items of professional and technical complexity;
4) Prioritization of perception over reality (thanks Bill);
5) Our inability to do anything "big".

With that said, I was certainly heartened by what happened last night.  I figured this matter to be dead in the water and had been working over the past two weeks to talk to those looking to kill this initiative to see what we could do to meet the interests of all involved.  I failed miserably on this count, but as others have told me, it may have been a fool's errand to begin with.  My perception is that those opposing the HOA bill saw themselves taking the upper hand and were no longer interested in negotiating.  I see in in litigation all the time.

However, this Board opened up in the context of a work-session to get the rough edges smoothed out and I think a lot was accomplished.

The True Effect of the Proposed HOA Bill

As friend-of-the-blog Bill Santos noted, the Homeowners Association Act does not govern anything.  It is a regulatory document.  As such, the CA Board is not looking to change the governance of the Columbia Association or the manner in which residents may interact with this organization.  It is necessary to provide State remedy and enforcement for certain obligations that CA has taken on with respect to lien-payers. 

The proposal (PDF) offered by our General Counsel and Executive Team would not change the HOAA as currently applicable to the Columbia Association.  Unfortunately, for all involved, there have been some unintentional omissions and typographical errors that have provided many a "gotcha" for those looking to oppose this bill, and we absolutely must have this thing fly-specked before any further deliberation by the public or this Board.  Let me say that again.  We absolutely must have this legislation fly-specked before further deliberation.  At this point in the game, the bill could, and probably should, fail on a typo or the impression that CA is being reckless with resident's rights.

Those Board members concerned by the proposed bill have asked for a line-by-line comparison between the proposal and the HOA law on the books (PDF).  This is a reasonable request, but, yet again, looks to supersede the advice of CA's General Counsel in favor of an oft-misguided amateur interpretation of complex law.

The biggest sticking point for me last night was when our General Counsel described how there was nothing magical about the words "nonprofit community service corporation" and that we could have used language including the words "homeowners association" to the same ends as what they were seeking.  I laughed.  So much of this anxiety has been about "changing the classification of CA" (or "changing the governance structure of CA"), while standing on the clear presumption that "CA is a Homeowners Association."  We moved ourselves from midfield to the 1 yard line in our own end zone by picking language that did not include "HOA".  There are legal reasons why we would do this (avoid confusion, create distinction), but there are significant political reasons why this should have at least been an item of discussion.

Public Perception

It doesn't take too much creative thinking to presume what the public reaction has been on this.  Change + Legalese + Stoked Suspicion = Confusion and Conflict.  I appreciate and empathize with those in the community that are concerned about this change.  At one point last night, the Board was indicted for having less than half of its members at the public information sessions that have been held regarding this bill.  Many of us have jobs that do not allow for as many meetings as certain members of this Board have expressed interest in holding.  I will not stand in the way of superfluous deliberation, but I also reserve the right to determine my own balance.  In my own role as a Board member, I feel properly educated on the concerns of the community, as have been repeated in near identical form throughout this process. 

My concern is that we must not allow perception to guide our reality.  At one point last night, the concern was raised that, if we adopt this change, Real Estate Agents won't know how to represent the Columbia Association to prospective buyers.  When we are concerning ourselves with the conversations of individual residents and whether the bill is crafted in such a way that it may be digestible to all, regardless of intelligence, training, or interest, we are setting ourselves up to fail.  This Board, like any other public body, wants to be liked.  That's admirable.  I want to be liked.  But it is unfair to our Executive Team to put that in front of our fiduciary responsibility to the Columbia Association.

There is heavy lifting here.  We need to communicate a very complex legal issue to the public.  However, their verdict on the matter is not dispositive.  Leaders lead.  Every Board member has their own tact on this measure, but I don't think it can be disputed that we have a responsibility to provide a reasonable and fair representation of this matter to the public prior to casting our vote.  That doesn't mean we have to advocate for the bill, but it may suggest that we should not be campaigning against it.  Doing so, half-cocked, is a disservice to the public.

In conclusion, there is still a lot of road to cover, but the Board is finding its way to a conclusion on this bill, nearly a year in the making.  I never wanted the legislative session to bind our schedule, but I am coming to the belief that we have heard all of the objections that will be made on this matter, or will have heard all objections in the very near future.  We must incorporate those objections into our own decision-making, but then must vote.

I expected last night to be a discouraging continuation of the past.  Instead, it felt like the Board was moving forward.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Question 5: Maryland's Shameful Distinction

Amongst the litany of questions you will be asked on November 6 will be the seemingly innocuous Question 5, which is not much of a question at all:

Establishes the boundaries for the State’s eight United States Congressional Districts based on recent census figures, as required by the United States Constitution.

Well, yes you do, dear ballot question.  I will just go ahead and fulfill my part in this cute little dance by checking "For the Referred...STOP!

Now look at this rabbit one one-hundreth of a second after being hit by a shotgun blast:
Think of that poor poor rabbit before you vote for Question 5.  That's Congressional District 3, currently represented by John Sarbanes.  I'm not going to say the current configuration of that District is all that much better, but this, my friends, is a distinct tragedy of great magnitude.  When you need to use two modes of transportation, and more than 6 hours, to spend time in all areas of your District, there's a problem.

Maryland has the recent distinction of having the least compact Congressional Districts in the Country as determined by a computer program.  There's no doubt that these tactics for allowing representatives to choose their voters happens all over the Country, but the unsightliness of these maps ticks up as the party in power becomes more concentrated.

A former Congressional Staffer who lives in the area was kind enough to offer their analysis of why Question 5 is a bad idea, and told me I could post those thoughts.  I think you'll find that there really is no good reason to vote FOR this proposal, and innumerable reasons to vote against.

I dont' know if you've covered Question 5 yet on the blog, but if not I think it would be a good discussion.  You're probably aware that it puts the gerimandered Congressional district map in front of the voters for an up or down vote.  But unless you are a super educated voter (I know you are) the language of the question is so anodyne that most voters would assume they are just checking the box on a Constitutional duty.  As a matter of politics, good for the Democratic Secretary of State for approving the language, but as a matter of principle they are trying to pull a fast one over on the voters.
... I am an opponent of politicians choosing their voters through redistricting.  [Others have said] that "you can't take politics out of politics", what I [would respond] that partisan gerrimandering does just that.  By creating unresponsive partisan districts politicians only have to respond to the voices of the far left or the far right- Andy Harris loses his Democrats, Dutch loses his conservative territory, Donna Edwards has already said that she's going to actively ignore the Republican precincts of Anne Arundel she received, and Republicans in Washington County now are going to be drowned out in a new district that stretches from Chevy Chase circle to Deep Creek Lake.  Andy Harris and Dutch losing members of the other party means that there is less incentive for them to get all communities on board.  Politics, in its most basic sense (the hashing out of interests to come to a conclusion), is removed from politics.
On a local, practical level Howard County has three members of Congress now.  The borders of these districts within HoCo are serpentine and almost illogical- Glenwood paired with Druid Hill in Baltimore City and Hereford in far northern Baltimore County; Savage and Elkridge matched with Harve de Grace; then Columbia dissected between three members of Congress (look at the map Long Reach/Oakland Mills is like a jigsaw puzzle that makes the fight over Council District 1 look straightforward).  How does this impact our county's representation in the Congress?  The easy answer from the Dem establishment is that it is better because we'd rather have three members fighting for our interests rather than one.  But that's not an accurate representation of what actually happens.  As someone who worked in Congress for a decade the natural inclination of all members is to respond to your base.  In none of the districts that Howard is a part of are we a "base".  We need road funding, or grant assistance, or our County Exec needs help luring a business or getting an earmark we are a responsibility to be passed among three members, none of whom has to any initiative on the work but will gladly take the credit if something positive happens.  Howard County is a pot of wealthy, low need Democrats that can be divided up as a way to make safe D districts that much more uncompetitive. 
I saw how this happens first hand, when members look at a jurisdiction as votes to be divided rather than as a community to be represented.  That community was Detroit.  Four members of Congress dividing Detroit meant that no one took ownership at the federal level.  Sure, the city had Congressional representation that was less competent than ours, but the pattern is the same.  I saw the same thing happen in Salt Lake City (where the Democratic city was dilluted to make three Republican leaning seats instead having one D seat and two Rs).  Too often voters see the Congress as a place where a bunch of hacks vote yes or no on partisan legislation.  But there is another side, which actually takes up more work and resources than the voting, and that is the management of a community's issues before the federal bureaucracy- the grinding process of grants and earmarks; the finding of lost veteran benefits; attracting business and economic resources; and the laserlike application of small legislative fixes and technical corrections that can have huge impacts to a business or local government operation.  We won't get that sort of representation if in the distance of a small jog in Oakland Mills you pass through three CDs where we are only thought of as surplus Dems to be traded.
(Emphasis Added).

Despite all of this, there is a very good chance Question 5 passes in two weeks.  In fact, some of you, in your hurry, will probably unintentionally vote For Question 5, and then remember the exploded rabbit on your drive home (memorialized with a smack of the steering wheel).  The way in which the Question is worded shields the underlying crime scene from review.  "This is all a mere technicality, folks.  The tough work has been done for you.  Carry on."

Reluctant supporters have responded "So, us Dems are supposed to vote down our plan, helping Democrats, while Republicans across the Country are going to get their similarly offensive maps approved? No, thanks.  I'm having rabbit for dinner."  Ok.  Do that.  But recall Congressional Staffer's admonition above.  Howard County gets the splintered end of the stick...for the next 10 years.  If I can't get you on the "undermine democracy" point, maybe I can woo you with a fixed pothole or two.

I don't like referenda questions.  I don't think we ever will be capable of providing a sufficiently educated voter base to answer these questions appropriately.  But on Question 5, I appreciate the opportunity.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Conflict Managers (Wednesday LINKS)

There is an interesting line in Bob Woodward's Price of Politics where he notes that one's ability to succeed in politics depends a great deal on their ability to "keep their cool" when working with people you don't like or otherwise disagree with.  The interesting aspect of that comment is the presumption that politicians will be "working with" people that disagree with them.  In romanticizing epic stump speeches and invocations ("Ask not what your country..."), we ignore, if not discourage, the real purpose of politics - the management of conflict.

I pulled that definition from my college Political Science professor, Ernest Giglio.  We talk about "politics" often, but rarely take the time to define it.  Just "ahh, politics, don't ya love it."  Or "I hate politics."  And whatever definition you may prefer, it most likely will be insufficient. 

But the "management of conflict" seems to cover enough ground and almost appear optimistic.  Not the "encouragement of conflict" or the "production of conflict" -- management.  Like a 9-5er staring down a full inbox with a fresh cup of coffee in their hand.

I've been thinking about that definition, and Woodward's admonition, a lot recently.  In my own civic life, I've looked for opportunities to work with those that disagree with me to see if there is an opportunity for collaboration.  In a selfish way, it is also an opportunity for personal growth.

Most of our local politicos "get" this.  They see conflict and dive into the breach.  Certainly, others may characterize these actions as opportunism or hero fetishism, but what else do we expect of those we have deemed to be our leaders?  That's right, politicians are leaders.  It is their first and foremost responsibility.  This makes it all the more disappointing when they flop around in the mud.  "I can't follow you after that.  Let me get you a towel."

I've always said that my core evaluation for any putative elected official is their ability to be effective.  Strip off party affiliation.  Strip off ability to give a good speech.  Strip off whether or not I like the person.  Heck, you can ever disregard a number of their policy planks.

Can you keep your cool when working with people you don't like or otherwise disagree with to manage the conflicts that will be before you in office?  Because if you can't, everything else is a waste.

I hope you all will consider that evaluation when making your decisions on November 6.  Because if we don't, we're going to need more towels.

LINKS

Speaking of managing conflict, I liked this piece about Council-member Courtney Watson and Senator Barbara Mikulski touring Main Street Ellicott City last week.  These folks have been through a lot recently and, for good or bad, are being walked through a new transition related to parking.  Change, as it is wont to do, has created conflict.  Rather than dismiss these concerns, it is good to see our leaders stepping into the breach.

Speaking of which, construction is underway to convert the 101 free parking spaces along Main Street to sensor-based metered parking.  The construction should be complete by the second week of November, but the meter program will not go into effect until January.  Doubt there will be a ribbon cutting for that day.

General Growth Properties has sold Harborplace to Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., a company that is "collecting unique commercial landmarks."  In other news, I have an idea for the new Bond super-villain.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow takes a retrospective look at what Wegman's has meant for Howard County after Mrs. HowChow comes to the sad realization that it may just be another "grocery store."  I have not been back since my anxiety-ridden experience over the second weekend after opening.  I'll probably be back (love those subs), but will keep my primary shopping local.

The Howard County blogging scene has had some attrition over the past month "Lost in Columbia" HoCo Matt is moving on to more cemented pastures as he considers a move to Baltimore City and Trevor's HoCoPolitico has experienced a take-over of sorts that may interfere with your review of past Board of Ed interviews. 

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Presidential Debate: Round Three

I am coming to this post having seen absolutely no analysis of the debate by any of the talking heads or "post-survey-polls-of-people-who-don't-think-they-have-anything-on-their-schedule-for-November-6-but-need-to-check."  I've noticed that my friends on both the right and the left are declaring overwhelming victories for their guys.  My view, personal preferences incorporated, is that the President had the more impactful night in terms of media (they will eat up the "horses and bayonets" thing), but that your take-away from the debate depended entirely on your worldview.

Romney successfully, almost flawlessly, played on the insecurities of the American people in regards to foreign affairs.  That may be perceived as a slight, but in terms of tactics, it was his only route to avoid saying "I agree with the President" for 90 minutes.  Our economic and "soft" power is weakening.  Our military isn't big enough.  No body thinks we're tough anymore.  China is scary.  Countries are forming in the Middle East that we had no say in creating.  Israel is going to fall into the Sea.

Meanwhile, the President was faced with the ever-present "that's all?", which follows him around wherever he goes.  "You received the Nobel Peace Prize in the first year of your Presidency, yet our stature in the world is diminishing."  "I saw those crowds in Europe during your 2008 campaign trip.  Why couldn't we parlay that into something, anything, in terms of greater international coherence?"  Personally, I don't agree with those criticisms, and think we have seen a significant amount of collaboration in a time when most countries would be shutting down their borders, but the President will not be able to avoid those critiques in most circles. 

No matter how you saw the debate go, it did provide an opportunity to think critically about subjects that Americans are just not that interested in - other countries.  That's why I imagine this debate will have little to no affect on the Election.  I doubt many people were watching, certainly not the whole thing.  Nonetheless, let's look at some of the big topics.

Defense Spending

Mitt Romney has the unenviable position of being a deficit hawk neocon.  These positions are mostly incompatible, unless you are willing to be a complete hypocrite.  Within two sentences, I heard the Presidential Challenger say that our debt is our "greatest security weakness", but that we cannot allow sequestration cuts on Defense spending, which makes up 25% of the budget, has grown 81% since 2001, and corresponds with 4-6% of the US GDP (depending on whether you include Homeland Security, which, to me, is synonym for "Defense").  I would respectfully suggest that anyone looking to cut the federal deficit without any interest in addressing the runaway growth of defense spending should not be taken seriously.

China

The President's most fervent supporter would have a hard time describing Obama's China policy.  It is either nonexistent, or so subtle as to avoid detection.  Nevertheless, if you've been following along, the United States has struggled with any aggressive approach towards China since the 1990's.  Remember when Clinton was constantly pilloried for awarding China "Most Favored Nation" as they were spying on us and committing human rights abuses right and left?  George W. Bush, for good or bad, essentially ignored the Country and missed opportunities for long lasting diplomacy with the next super-power. 

But let me paint this scenario for you - A new President wins with a little over 50% of the vote.  His country's economy is recovering, but still very weak.  He is known for "evolving" on positions of substance.  He has a slim majority with Congress.  By way of ownership, you have significant control over this Country's currency and inflation.  You also consider yourself the world's next great superpower.

Ok, now that President has just declared you a currency manipulator and placed punitive tariffs on 80% of the goods you export to the United States.  Do you really tuck tail and concede?  Would you at least attempt some counter-blows before even thinking about cooperating?

As for the American consumer, how long does it take for our other trade partners to fill the gap left by China?  Aren't we assured some measure of inflation?  Will we just grimace and nod while wearing "America Strong" hats and paying 50% more for most manufactured goods?

As you can tell, Mitt Romney's China policy concerns me a great deal.  Playing tough is not always the right answer, even when the alternative is to seem weak.  These decisions have serious consequences.

Middle East

I will acknowledge that I could not make heads or tails of Mitt Romney's policy towards the Middle East.  I heard him say that he would arm the rebels in Syria, which (by now) really should be recognized as arming our next enemy.  The most basic understanding of Middle East history and policy will indicate that it is a tinderbox.  Flooding weapons into a conflict should never be considered a good idea.

I know that Romney blames the President for not picking out his favorite style of government for the nations that went through revolution over the past two years, but the banana republics of the 1970's and 80's are over.  In fact, the hand of the United States is a destabilizing force in the region, which tends to be suspicious of any government that cooperates with our diplomats.  And the idea that there could have been peaceful transitions for those overthrowing dictators is...well...I don't curse on this blog, but you can Mad Lib that one.

Yet again, the President does not seem to have a full control of the situation, but it takes an Ugly American to think that he should.  This isn't Risk.  Then again, a Presidential Challenger can get a lot of mileage out of noting a "lack of leadership" and the geopolitical risks that come out of instability to suggest a correlation between the two.

As you can see, I was very critical of Mitt Romney on this one, but that doesn't mean I think he did badly in the debate.  I just disagree with his positions.  I think that many folks who chose the Presidential Debate over the NLCS and Monday Night Football may have turned off their TV's thinking about how awesome it would be to be the World's Policeman once again.  Whenever you get to talk about the power and grandeur of the United States as a Presidential Candidate, you do so, and you do it loudly.  That's what Mitt Romney did.  I only hope that if he wins, he hires someone who knows something about these countries he's talking about.

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

2012 Election: Howard County Charter Amendments

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate as a member of the Howard County Charter Review Commission.  This was unquestionably one of the most rewarding and fulfilling civic experiences that I have had amongst all of the boards, commissions, and panels that I have found myself on over the past five years.  Serving with the likes of Ed Cochran, Charlie Feaga, Mike Davis, Sang Oh, Diane Richardson, Alice Giles...you get my point.  If I may be so bold, this was an All-Star team of community members who took their job very seriously and avoided most of the partisan bickering that would otherwise be expected from a group that was partly distinguished by party affiliation.

Enough with introductions.  You, the voter, will be asked to evaluate five Charter Amendments on the 2012 Ballot and it probably is a good idea to start thinking about where you stand now.  Some are "no-brainers", while others are at the very heart of long-running controversies.  For all of these questions, it is imperative that you vote.  By Charter, we cannot allow many of these Amendments without a majority of Howard County voters weighing in at the ballot box.  While you may be tempted to skip these questions and get off to work, they are just as important, if not more so, than your Presidential chad.  So please, give them your attention and consideration.

As opposed to the State-wide questions, these Ballot questions are listed by letter.

Question A -- "Any person has the right to inspect...records in the possession of any board, commission, office or department of the County..."

For reasons uncertain, our Charter presently limits access to certain public documents to members of the press.  Drafters of the original Charter must have presumed that Howard County would be such an interesting place that Public Information officials would be overloaded with requests to inspect documents, and, hence, put a filter on who could make such requests.  Thankfully, that rush on Ms. Marmaduke in the Land Records department never materialized and we can open access to everyone.  I would encourage you to vote Yes on the question, but if your intuition or convictions point you in a different direction, so be it.

Question B - Carry over of Unexpended Appropriations

This is an accounting measure that has caused the Department of Finance a great deal of trouble.  At present, unexpended appropriations to grant funds revert to the County Treasury at the end of the fiscal year.  This complicated things in terms of fulfilling the parameters of certain grants or assuring adequate financing for long-term projects.  In most cases, the Finance Department has just gone to the Council to have them pass a measure to carry-over grant funds to the following fiscal year, but this is certainly inefficient and burdensome to use personnel time for this task.

When it comes to technical financial matters, I know the tendency is to try to see the devil in the details...and I know some of you will see fit to do so.  However, I would recommend that you vote Yes on Question B to allow this simple matter of efficiency go through.

Question C -- Referendum Petitions Require 5% of Gubernatorial Votes Cast

I told you there was some meat on these bones!  During my very first read through the Charter, I sought out the Section on referenda, circled it, and put a star next to it.  I wanted all the warning possible for when this matter would be up for discussion.

At present, in order to refer a County law to the voters, a petitioner must collect 1,500 5,000 signatures supporting the petition.  This requirement comes cloaked in a somewhat convoluted sentence ("equal to 5% of the County's registered voters, with a minimum of 1,500 signatures required and a maximum of 5,000 signatures required"), but since Howard County has passed the point where 1,500 5,000 was 5% of registered voters, the 1,500 5,000 mark sticks.  Note that under the proposed change, the new petition floor would be somewhere around 1,800 5,080 signatures, so not a dramatic change, and still too low for some.

I wrestled with this one, friends.  I am not a fan of this thread of populism, but I do believe that so long as we have a mechanism for referenda, it should be a meaningful one.  I voted against this measure at the Commission level and am yet again weighing the merit of this Amendment at the ballot level.  The one log I just can't get over is that we are not plagued by referendum questions in this County.  There have been three efforts in recent memory to get a County law onto the ballot for public vote, all of which failed.  In each case, the petitioners collected signatures far in excess of the 1,500 5,000 floor, yet saw upwards of 70% of those signatures invalidated.  I'm not sure we should be considering whether or not signatures will be invalidated when evaluating a charter amendment that does not speak to the evaluation of signatures, but it is hard to ignore this component of the law.

Contra - Do we need to wait for the 21st Century to blow-up our referendum process before we try to get a charter amendment, and in the meantime take predictability and certainty out of our political process?  Is this amendment so egregious as to reasonably say that it prohibits referendum?  I don't think so.

I have no recommendation on this Question, but I hope you will vote either way instead of skipping over the question entirely.  As I come to my own position on the subject, I will be sure to let you know.

UPDATE: A comment from Commission Member Mike Davis:

Question C, regarding the signature requirements for a successful referendum on a local issue is, indeed, the most "meaty" issue, one that will require further elaboration.  While I understand your concerns about Question C, there are two or three clarifications that may be helpful.First, the signature requirement effectively is 5000 right now, not 1500.  Applying the 5% proportion to the number of registered voters in the last governor's race would yield a signature requirement of about 5090, as I recall.  As a side note, this requirement would still keep Howard County among the lowest in signature requirements among those 10 or 11 jurisdictions in Maryland that even allow referendum questions at all in Maryland for local issues.Second, the validity test for signatures is that a signer must provide first name, middle initial, and last name.  In the alternative, the signer can use first initial, middle name, and last name.  Thus, "John Q. Doe" or "J. Quincy Doe" would be equally acceptable.  This requirement, though state-mandated, is based on the need for the local Board of Elections to be able to substantiate that each signer is, in fact, a registered voter.Finally, whether there have been successful county referenda in the past is not really the test.  Maybe there just haven't been issues that have caught  widespread  public attention.  However, look at what's happening at the state level this year with numerous referendum questions on the ballot.  So, with the right questions, it is clear that sufficient signatures can be obtained.

Question D -- Electronic Posting of County Notices and Advertisements

If you've been to the George Howard Building, you've see a large bulletin board containing proposed County laws and Zoning Regulations.  That is by requirement of the Charter...and otherwise useless.  In the 21st Century, the baseline should be online accessibility, with everything else being secondary.  This Amendment would bring our Charter up to date and create a legal requirement for what our County, for the most part, already complies with voluntarily.

I encourage you to vote Yes on Question D.

Question E -- Technical Corrections

The thing about a Charter is that once it is passed, typos live longer than most household pets.  Most Charter Review Commissions saw it as below them to stoop down and adjust that comma or correct that reference to the Metropolitan Commission that does not exist.  Not us.  No, friends, we took on that heavy load.  And this was more controversial than I care to admit.

I would strongly recommend, if not plead, that you vote Yes on Question E.

That's all for today.  I am in a surprisingly good mood considering the butt whupping our dear Ravens took on over the weekend.  Can't put my finger on it, but I won't complain.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!


Friday, October 19, 2012

The 2012 Playing Field in Howard County (Friday LINKS)

I was recently having breakfast with a friend who also happens to serve in elected office and we were talking about registration numbers in Howard County.  I said, quite confidently, that Republican registrations had kept pace or exceeded Democrat registrations.  He seemed surprised.  I felt insecure.  The conversation moved on.

It turns out I was very wrong.  I don't know what department of my brain that idea came from, but it is about to get a restructuring.  The links for Voter Registration records from 2010 on the Board of Elections website are all broken, so I'm basing this review on January 2011 numbers.  I don't expect too much of a change (that Election to Christmas period sure is a boom for registrations), but thought I should put that out there.

Overall, active registrations have increased from 180,054 to 184,641 (4,587 or 2.5%).  During that time, Democrat registrations have increased from 86,834 to 88,128.  Notably, despite the increase of over 1,000 voters, Dem's ceded half a percentage point, going from 48.2% of the vote to 47.7%.

Meanwhile, Republicans have lived out the quip "If you're not moving forward, you're moving backward."  In 2010, there were 55,493 registered Republicans, which has increased by a mere 196 voters (0.3%) to 55,689 over the past two years.  They've gone from being 30.8% of all registered voters to 30.1%.

As you can expect, the bounty was left for unaffiliated voters, who increased in registration from 34,815 in 2010 to 37,708 in 2012, an increase of 2,893 or 8.3%.  The unaffiliated share of registered voters increased from 19.3% to 20.4%.

So the current mix of registered voters in Howard County breaks down 47.7% Dem, 30.1% GOP, and 20.4% Unaffiliated.  The last time we saw a general election, the breakdown was 48.2% Dem, 30.8% GOP, and 19.3% Unaffiliated.  There are 456 members of the Green Party and 658 Libertarians (both showing significant increases).

There really isn't much to take away from this, other than the fact that you shouldn't trust my breakfast statistics.  The real interesting thing to watch is the percentage of the vote President Obama is able to capture next month compared to what he did in 2008 (59.99%).  As Frank Hecker has tirelessly pointed out for us, unaffiliated voters are not blank slates.  They come in shades of purple.  Whether or not they are more red or more blue is yet to be seen.

LINKS

(The Baltimore Sun paywall is giving me fits this morning, so we're going to go outside our comfort zone)

Howard County police are looking for this creeper who secretly video-taped two young women in Ellicott City.  If you recognize him, turn him in.  OR if you live next to a guy who is frantically packing a U-Haul, call the police.  

The Flier picks Gertler, Giles, Scott for their Board of Education endorsements.  I like that.  Easy to remember.  Easy to say.  Gertler, Giles, Scott. 

The RCP Electoral College Map has given the lead to Romney after moving North Carolina into the "Leans Romney" group.  Meanwhile, polls from Ohio show it tilting further toward Obama.  This election very well may turn on who has the most resources down the stretch. 

New Hampshire's four electoral votes are turning out to be relevant in a tight race to the finish.

Thankfully, the Election is distracting us from the true terror that is the "fiscal cliff" waiting for us on the other side of 2012.  Currently slogging through The Price of Politics, which primarily focuses on the debt ceiling negotiations, it is troubling to see the desperation that set the stage for "the cliff" and not particularly encouraging in terms of seeing things resolved.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: HowChow goes back to Restaurant Alley (aka that Strip Mall off Hopkins Road) for a reader's review of cobbler at Smokin' Hot.  I can't say I'll be putting hot sauce on my desserts anytime soon, but Smokin' Hot is one of my guilty pleasures and this review made me want to get back there soon.

Thank you for the recommendations regarding voter resources yesterday.  I've posted links on the upper right hand side (if you are reading this on your phone, you can't see it, but I promise the links are there).  I apologize for the formatting, but for whatever reason, Blogger was being difficult.

Have a great Friday doing what you love!  Let's go Ravens!


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Low Education Education Voters (Thursday LINKS)

At the very heart of popular democracy as we know it lies four simple words: Low Education Education Voters.  Also known as "LEEVs" (pronounced "Leaves").

LEEV's will vote on November 6.  Proudly.  Brashly.  With day-long proof of their endeavor.  Yet not once will they investigate any of the candidates running for Board of Education.  Their decisions on this matter will be driven by two critical information points: 1) Order on the ballot; 2) Number of candidate signs between their home, workplace, children's school, and grocery store.

Lest we click our tongues, we've all had one of these blemishes on our ballot card.  Investigate Judge of the Orphan's Court, did ya?  Decipher the policy differences between Clerks of the Court, huh?  And what, may I ask, drove your decision on the election of judges?

Ken Ulman attempted to address this by the most blunt means imaginable last Fall when he proposed that at least some portion of the Board of Education be appointed.  This was presented under the shroud of "diversity", but most cynical observers would acknowledge that it had much more to do with LEEV's and their handling of the County's most valuable resource.  The problem is that page one of the Political Rulebook says "Overt attempts to take away the public vote will be treated with stern punishment and ridicule."  (Hence, redistricting).

But in terms of public policy, Ken was probably right.  Personally, I would have rather looked down the path of preference voting ("single transferable vote"), as proposed by Frank Hecker, but this may be too wonkish for any politician to try to take on.  Even then, the roving indiscretion of LEEV's would persist.

And let's not geek out of seeing that there are LE(Council)V, LE(Executive)V, and even LE(Presidential)V.  That doesn't mean we're looking to shut down the democratic vote entirely (leaving the discussion of the Electoral College as a fail-safe for another day).  In response, look at the results.  I would undermine this argument by getting too far into the merits of candidates with questionable qualifications and backgrounds, but those who support persistent litigants as members of our body politic may also point to the near permanence of incumbents as a result of LEEVs.  Overall, I think the system is broken and am not so sure it ever worked.

So what can you do about it?  If you support a candidate, get their signs out.  Now.  Today.  Tomorrow.  This weekend.  Encourage them to engage in the often humiliating activity of waving at cars to capture the "That's dedication" LEEV.  Post about them on Facebook, every day, to capture the "Subliminal message" LEEV.  Most importantly, make your friends and family aware of who you support.  This is very micro, but very effective.  I'll call these people the "proxy" LEEV.  "I'm not doing any research about this goofy election, but I trust John over there and he supports Gertler/Giles."  (Sorry, squeezing it in).

Then, pray.  Because while the ceiling for what a Board of Education can do is firm, the floor is not.  Pair that with an unpredictable voter base and dangerous ideas amongst the candidates and you have the makings of a disaster.

LINKS

I still think it is too early to tell what the result will be from Tuesday's Election, but I would encourage you all to pay more attention to what happens in the State polls than anything going on with the General Election polls.  The latter tends to trail the former.

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold promises to repay taxpayers for the costs of his defense attorney in a civil sex discrimination suit should the Court rule against him.  Right, because once he is disgraced and potentially removed from office, he will have all the motivation in the world to set things straight.  We let our political class get away with a lot, folks.  A whole lot.

Do NOT pee in public parking garages in Annapolis.  Don't do it.  The Mayor is on your case.

After Lance Armstrong had his second worst day ever yesterday, losing his Nike sponsorship and stepping down as Chairman of the Board for LiveStrong, the Ulman Cancer Fund may have indicated that it will continue to work with Armstrong in an unofficial capacity.  The article doesn't include language from UCF to this effect, but it is mentioned in the first paragraph.  This isn't a surprise.  I respect the appreciation and loyalty shown by the Ulman Cancer Fund during a time when everyone seems to be washing their hands of Armstrong.  The public embrace is a fickle thing.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: TJ looks at some points left on the table by Mitt Romney and the real concerns raised by the President's response to the Libya attacks.  Although I read it on TJ's blog first, I've seen this argument pop up in other post-debate Op-Ed's and wonder if Romney's team pick it up for next week's foreign policy debate. 

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Presidential Debate: Round Two

After the first debate, I thought it went decisively for Mitt Romney.  The President looked like he was sleep-walking and had a hard time articulating his positions or countering his opponents attacks.  After last night, I feel the second debate went decisively for the President for similar reasons.  Interestingly, after the first debate, partisans from both sides seemed to have been willing to acknowledge that Romney took the day (I don't like "won").  For reasons uncertain, my Red Team friends are calling this a draw, despite some serious missteps by their candidate that may or may not be attributable to the moderator (doesn't change that it happened).  Put it this way, Green Bay is not calling that game in Seattle a W.

In order to avoid the "real-time polling" and other nonsense that gets attached to these types of events, I watched the debate on PBS.  Based on what I'm seeing on social media outlets, this may have changed my view of the debate.  I didn't get to see the "undecided voters" spike their dials when Rombama said he visited with a construction worker in Mississippi who told him his child wants to be a science teacher when he grows up.  I don't know what MSNBC and Fox News do during the debates and don't care to find out.  I just wanted the meat, no bread.

In that context, I have to note that I think Candy Crowley has seen herself out of any future debate moderator positions.  You just can't live fact-check.  Can't.  Can not.  I always liked the quip "The loser always blames the moderator", but in this case Republicans have a legitimate argument.  First, the Rose Garden speech was not as cut and dry as Ms. Crowley would have us believe regarding "acts of terror" (nor is it as much of a "lie" as Republicans are arguing).  Second, whether or not Mitt Romney once supported an automatic weapons ban is not something that needs to be addressed in the context of a debate.  All of us, including politicians, are permitted to change our views on things when presented with different facts.  That was not fact-checking.  It was a counter-argument.  If either side to a debate says "Thank you, Candy", you are doing something wrong.  I know many of you will disagree with me on that, but I was sad to see such a venerated element of our Presidential Decision Making tainted in this way.

As for substance, we didn't get much.  I don't necessarily agree with my friends on the right that President has the same "burden of proof" with regard to policies as the challenger.  He has four years of policies, which make up the bulk of why Mitt Romney thinks he should be President.  Mitt Romney offers himself as a deficit hawk, or at least someone that is seriously offended by $5 trillion added to the deficit.  Nevertheless, he has presented the shell of a tax plan that would cut rates on everyone, yet only cut deductions for top earners.  He is welcome to run his campaign on this platform, but there is nothing wrong with voters wanting more.  The President has engaged in deficit talks with the prospect of a "fiscal cliff" of cuts and tax increases in January 2013.  A cliff partly of his own making.  He has a burden of saying how he is going to get us off of that cliff.  He is welcome to run for re-election without enunciating the manner in which he will do so (hence why the deadline was put in 2013 in the first place), but there is nothing wrong with the voters wanting more.

The only area of substance that I really felt I could get my hands around last night was the question about women in the workplace.  You will see a lot of jokes about "binders of women", but that wasn't the comment that stuck out for me.  Seeing workplace equality as an employer's prerogative to allow female employees time to go home and "make dinner for their families" just seems out of touch to me.  I often brag that most of my bosses are women.  They don't emphasize the need to get home to get Hamburger Helper in the oven.  Same for my co-workers.  What we really need is reasonably priced day-care and the continued ability to let women choose when, and if, they will be taking on the additional responsibilities of a family.  And so long as we are talking about non-policy "family values", they need 21st Century men to understand that the roles of a family do not come in prearranged formats.  Romney's comment was innocuous enough, but it seemed to show and unfamiliarity with the issue leaning towards indifference.  That's fine, but I wonder how it will play with those women at or near the pinnacle of their career thinking about what would have happened if they had ever asked to go home early to make dinner.

Although the President had a counter-punch that pulled some laughs, I think we've heard the last of Mitt Romney's investments in China.  The laugh-line will be what carries the news, but the President received his comeuppance for beating his opponent up about investments through a blind trust when the President's own pension makes similar investments overseas.  Saying that our portfolios shouldn't invest in China is only a few steps removed from saying that we can control gas prices with domestic production.  We're in a global economy.  You can make an intentional decision not to invest in China, but the effect of that may only be to limit your return.

Romney's hay-maker on immigration (i.e., the lack of a comprehensive policy) may have left a bigger mark if he had put greater emphasis on the true disadvantage of anyone looking to come into this Country legally.  The current wait time for skilled workers seeking a Green Card is 5 to 8 years.  That is completely unacceptable.  I thought Mitt may lay that card down, but he seemed so focused on looking Obama in the eye and asking "Did you?" over and over again that he didn't seem interested in framing the issue.

The main reason I felt the President will leave a better impression than Mitt Romney is because the whole debate seemed to be about him.  Mitt Romney's greatest criticisms seemed to be focused on the liberal platform planks from Obama's 2008 campaign that he failed to accomplish.  The President did a good job of countering some of those criticisms, but otherwise avoided the critiques all together.  I just didn't feel like anything stuck (other than possibly the immigration critique, but Romney will have to take that up with the minority communities that he is doing so poorly with).

In closing, I realized at the very beginning of the debate that I had lost my ability, to the extent I ever had it, to view these candidates evenly.  So take this analysis with a grain of salt.  Nevertheless, I think it is fair and did my best to remove the "lower brain" pejoratives that are dancing around my head. 

Have a great Wednesday doing what you love!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Parking and Public Ownership (Tuesday LINKS)

I don't know enough about the Ellicott City Parking imbroglio to offer significant comment on the outcome or how it was reached, but I can say that amongst the Old EC business owners I've spoken with, they break down into two camps:

A. Those who had a part in proposing the new method of parking and are advocating for its implementation.

B.  Those who had the new parking system "announced" to them and are against it.

This is completely based off of my observations and may not be a full representation of how this plan was designed, but I've heard from enough business owners to feel comfortable sharing that observation with all of you.

Trying to change the manner in which a business district operates is an enormous and intimidating task.  The very idea of change alone would seemingly make this a nonstarter for a line of businesses who have amongst them stores that have been in operation for over 50 years. 

"Change?  Sonny, I sold your Mom diapers for you.  Go change that."

But at some point, change is necessary.  Those of us who live in Columbia have seen the rough edges and blunt force of change over the past decade and are about to see a lot more.  The manner in which the public responds is unpredictable, other than the constant presence of opposition.  But let's get back to the two groups noted above.  They seem to be dictated by "ownership".  Is this change mine or is the change imposed by someone else?

The Columbia Association faces this in microcosm.  CA has had to make significant changes over the past two years that I've been on the Board and the nature of opposition or support for those changes i often predicated on the manner in which we have been able to accomplish "public ownership" of the change.  This is clunky and often sacrifices the perfect for the good.  You rarely get to implement the "cutting edge" plan.  It is safe, rarely risky.  But the evolution of the community incorporates the interests of those who are slow to change.   It is the difference between executing corporate policy and public policy.

This isn't my preference.  Anyone who knows me knows that I would much prefer the new innovation over the safe.  And for those who feel the way I do, we have an obligation to make ourselves heard amongst those who wish to slow down.  But that doesn't mean we get to decide the mater entirely.

One aspect of the parking discussion that deserves mention is the fact that this was a problem in need of solving.  The response of those opposing the new changes (i.e., paid parking) have said "Yes, but not like this."  That's where the slow deliberation of public ownership may not have a place.  We can second guess the Ulman Administration all day long (we do anyway), but a significant responsibility of the Executive Branch is to solve problems, often irrespective of the micro-politics at play.  For something as personal and emotionally complex as Old Ellicott City Parking, I think a lot of us would have love to see more buy-in from the business community.  Maybe that was attempted.  Maybe it wasn't.  But all complaints aside, the parking problem, for better or worse, has been addressed.  Whether it was solved will be left for future complaint or compliment.

LINKS

Ravens Cornerback Lardarius Webb and Line-backer Ray Lewis are both out for the season with injuries from last Sunday's game.  We'll see if Jimmy Smith and McPhee can step up in their absence.

Baltimore's largest Plaintiff's firm is handling the City Comptroller's lawsuit against the Mayor pro bono.  That law firm just happens to be Peter Angelos's firm, which introduces an interesting political dynamic to the suit.

Baltimore County has two zoning decisions on the 2014 ballot for referendum, for which developers and other business interests have contributed $225,000 to help fight against passage.  Putting zoning decisions on the public ballot is a very dangerous proposition and is bad policy.  It is one thing to challenge a generally applicable law, but something else entirely to have the public vote regarding what a property owner may do with their land.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: If you care about school redistricting, you really need to read Lisa B, Mrs. S's blog.  Not just this post, but all of the posts that came before it.  If you don't have a student in the school system, you should still care about redistricting.  We're not just talking about students and portable classrooms.  We're also talking about development, property values, and school transportation costs.  From my perspective, there are some very dangerous and concerning ideas that are being thrown around like they are nothing.  I appreciate Lisa's work to help educate us about the process and where it is going.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!  I may get together a LiveBlog for tonight's Debate.  Let me know in the comments below if you are interested.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Civility as Suppression (Monday LINKS)

One of the carry-over ideas from last week's Civility in Politics session was whether Civility, and the invocation to "Choose Civility", can be or is used as a means of quieting dissent.  As noted in the session, saying that someone is a liar or has lied could be considered uncivil in some circles.  If Miss Manners were consulted, she would probably advise that you should "politely excuse yourself from the conversation and ask the host if they need help getting out hors d'oeuvres." 

But there's a difference between being "civil" and being polite, right?  Are we still having a hard time figuring out exactly what the legion of green bumper stickers are asking us to do?  Is the word a catch-all for behaviors we don't like?  And if so, doesn't that wrap around to confirm that "Civility" is a means of censorship to conformity?

I've never been a huge advocate for the Choose Civility campaign.  There is something haughty about the two word instruction that just rubs me the wrong way.  But I appreciate the aspiration and often consider it in my own dealings, with a twist.  Am I going about this in a way that will bring on the best result?  Am I unnecessarily stirring the emotions of another individual in a way that will make me regret this later?  You can imagine that posting approximately 300 comments on the hustle and bustle of state, local, and national politics with these considerations in mind can be difficult.  It would be much more convenient for me to say that I "Choose Civility" if I ever knew what that meant.

And the comments?  Well that's the sticky wicket.  I don't expect them to be "civil" as much as I may hope to make it through the day without fervent disagreement.  And I do hope that.  I expect and appreciate (daily) disagreement, but to be completely honest with all of you, its not the most fun part of writing a blog.  Especially when I have to admit I'm wrong.  But in terms of civility, we don't get to dictate the manner in which people disagree with us, much more than anyone else can dictate the manner in which we thrust our opinions before them.  And maybe civility, in its ambiguity, wraps up considerate, professional, reasonable, open-minded, calm, Caps-lock-off, obscenity-free deliberation, but maybe it doesn't.  Maybe the whole idea of a blog flies in the face of civility? 

Who are you, sir, to be so loud?

All these years later many of us are still trying to figure those green bumper-stickers out.  And that's a good thing.  I would like to think that with the consideration there is some manner of embrace.  Probably not enough to put it on our cars, but at least enough to put it in our thoughts.

LINKS

With the redistricting of the 6th District, many projected that incumbent Representative Roscoe Bartlett would have to mobilize his campaign to meet new voters and raise his profile in new areas.  Most accounts would indicate that he has failed.  Challenger John Delaney has executed a 21st Century campaign in a 21st Century race, while Bartlett's campaign looks unable to take on the new dimensions of politics.  We often say that we no longer want "safe" districts and District 6 may be an indication of what happens when that safety is removed.

This article on out-of-state support for same-sex marriage opponents wraps up all of the hypocrisies of the campaign.  Advertising is being coordinated by a divorcee (excuse me, annulment-ee), paid for by overwhelmingly out-of-state money, and made up of acknowledged lies.  I'm sure that guy's marriage was destroyed by a loving same-sex marriage and he's just out for revenge.

A 1.6 acre floating marsh has been proposed for an unused corner of the Inner Harbor.  As much as this would help the health of the Harbor, state officials are objection...because of a pier walkway that would allow visitors to walk through the "park". 

A number of Maryland businesses will be paying about half less in unemployment insurance taxes next year as the State lowers the rate by 55% for those employers that did not have layoffs last year.  The talking heads will tell you that this revenue will be put into hiring more people.  Let's see if it plays out.

Featured Blog Post of the Day: WB postulates an interesting turn of events in which the Guv, Martin O'Malley, is appointed to a position in the next Obama administration, Anthony Brown moves into the Governor's seat, and Ken Ulman sits in as the new Lt. Governor.  In this story, Brown/Ulman run in 2014 and Ken goes for the number one spot in 2022.  I'm not buying this one.  I would find it very unlikely for O'Malley to leave his position as Governor to lead into the 2016 election as "Secretary".  It would also be a risky move for Ken to tie his carriage to a weak Brown ticket in what will inevitably be a tough primary against Gansler and Franchot, regardless of incumbency.  But its still fun to think about.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Dynamic, Interesting Place (Thursday LINKS)

Along the right hand side of my page, I have some of my favorite quotes from commenters and around the community that I have memorialized with a spot in cyberspace.  One of them is a quote from Larry Carson, former Howard County beat writer for the Baltimore Sun, in which he notes that Howard County is a "a dynamic, interesting place with people not content to just sit back and let the other person do things."

With a trip to California's wine Country still in recent memory, I've been thinking about Howard County as a "place" a good deal.  Michael Chabon's new book Telegraph Avenue, which specifically acknowledges Jim Rouse, has also stirred this silt.  In interviews and essays, Chabon describes Columbia as an ideal fallen short; left behind as its foundations became status quo.  I had always dismissed Chabon's disappointment or disillusionment as "Columbia Kid Made Big", until someone recently told me that they saw Chabon as a leader or spokesperson for Columbia.  Only in the 21st Century can a cynical critic double in as leader.

But then there's Larry.  You always think there is something about your hometown that is different than everywhere else.  I have to believe the same is true for your college town.  There is something sparkly about the place.  I offer that concession while adding that I do believe Howard County, and Columbia, are still dynamic, interesting places.  Unusual even.  Unique.

But "why"?  Do I have anything other than anecdotal experience and vapid Fortune Magazine rankings to substantiate my claim?  Probably not.  But if I were going to try to define it, I would say that the film separating the idea from the possible seems thinnest here.  "People not content to just sit back and let the other person do things."  We "do things."  And this element is otherwise without definition, leaving it vulnerable to even the slightest bit of scrutiny, but yet also true.

In that context, describing what we are, and what this place is, whether that be a failed city or an antiquated idea, is ephemeral at best and offensively simplistic at worse.  Our buildings may have slowed, but the community of individuals brought here on the ticket of ingenuity and "the new" have made a unique place.

"Yet another Columbian saying he's special."  Yeah, but not really.  If the quality I'm attempting to describe ever lent itself to quantification, I wouldn't sound so much like a ranting insecure fan-boy.  But how do you quantify communal leadership?  "Doing things"?  Columbia may not fit into the box that Chabon set out for it, but he doesn't get the convenience of stasis.  Howard County may be reviewed as resting on its riches, but that doesn't explain our accomplishments.  We're a "a dynamic, interesting place with people not content to just sit back and let the other person do things."  Live up to that.

LINKS

So last night's game hurt.  The Yankees are a very impressive team and Derek Jeter may go down as the best post-season player of my lifetime.  The Orioles have to find a way to pull themselves back together and force a game 5.  As a fan, I am still genuinely happy that my team is there.  With this legacy of mediocrity bordering on complete failure, our appreciation for the postseason probably surpasses any other fan bases' enjoyment of a World Series ring.

Very disturbing news out of Gallaudet University where the diversity officer was placed on administrative leave after her superiors discovered that she had signed a petition to put Maryland's same-sex marriage law on the ballot.  Marylander's for Marriage Equality have issued a statement condemning this decision and requesting that the official be reinstated immediately.  This obviously fits right into the accusations of marriage equality opponents, who say that those with dissenting views will be "oppressed" (for lack of a better word) into compliance once marriage equality is passed.  I will acknowledge that the fact that this is the "diversity officer" seems to add some context to the decision, but we all should be offended whenever someone's political views, expressed as a private citizen, affect their employment.

Former GE CEO Jack Welch appears to have lost his mind.  With respect to differing opinions, I've linked his explanation for why he thinks "Chicago" cooked the books on employment numbers showing that the unemployment rate was 7.8%.  There are interesting op-ed's floating around wondering what will happen if President Obama is re-elected.  Will the same folks that hinted the President was foreign born and now say he is manipulating jobs data believe the final result?  Do we have any common facts anymore?  Even election results?

After accepting a plead deal acknowledging that she used $800 in state money to pay a member of her law firm and campaign funds for her wedding, Delegate Tiffany Alston should be asked to resign.  If she fails to do so, she should be removed from office.  Long time readers have heard this from me before - We need a "good government" candidate to run on a platform of stricter penalties for those who breach the public trust.  Suspension is not enough.  Mistake or not, one strike and you're out.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  I enjoyed WB's look at what Frank Gehry's visit to Columbia means for the future of our City (while also disturbed by his low expectations for Downtown Development -- Annapolis?  That's it?).  Nevertheless, I hope Howard Hughes and John DeWolf look towards the next generation of architects and designers so that, once again, we get them before they make it big. 

That's all for today.  When I went to bed last night, I figured I was not going to get up to post.  Clause A, 2 of my Blogger Agreement allows that "After any significant late night loss by a Baltimore Sports team, the Blogger shall not be expected to post the following morning."  But I also know, however self-important this may be, that a lot of you will want something to keep your eyes away from ESPN. 

Have a great Thursday doing what you love!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Market Neutral Media (Wednesday LINKS)

I had a great time moderating yesterday's discussion of Civility in Politics.  I can't tell you how much fun it was for me to sit amongst educated, contemplative, and generally curious professionals talking about a complex subject, with nary a word about a candidate, political party, or the hurt feelings that carry along with the same.

One of the more interesting comments for me was right at the beginning from our featured guest, Sheila Kast of Maryland Morning.  She noted that our idea of an "unbiased media" may be a relatively new invention.  As recently as World War II, newspapers were brazen in their political affiliation, even so far as having their bent in the title.  It was the news wire services that ended up presenting the first glimpses at what we now characterize as media free of bias.  Why?  They wanted to increase their market-share.  If I'm selling my content to papers on the right and the left, I need to be sure that what I'm offering is either neutral or contains enough facts for either side to craft their derivative pieces with the slant expected by their readers.

That explanation seemed to frame our subsequent discussion about what we expect from our media.  What do we expect from those proffering "the truth"?  Is it naive to think such reporting exists?  Is it hypocritical to expect it without a great deal of introspection to our own motives in what we read/watch/listen to?

We obviously did not come up with answers yesterday, but this is a question without an answer, at least in terms of a ethical "what should X do?"  I think a fair expectation of media consumers is to "ponder" the news and issues our community/Country faces.  More question marks, less exclamation points.  What you'll find is that we are often offended when confronted with information, or news, that conflicts with our strongly held beliefs.  Rather than stand on that offense, it may be worthwhile to examine the fact.  We are entitled to minority views.  We are entitled to majority views.  What we are not entitled to is the freedom from confrontation; whether that be passive or aggressive.  How you address that confrontation is a foundation of your education and intelligence as a deliberative adult.

When we talk about media, what we're really discussing is the manner in which we address complex issues as a collective.  We are frustrated when our side is not properly argued, and vindicated when events play out like we expect/hope.  Sounds like sports, doesn't it?  What if instead, we just wanted to know as much as we could, and leave the answers for last?

LINKS

Don't worry.  These fall temperatures are abnormally low.  Yesterday's 54 high was the lowest since 1885.  Unfortunately, its looking like we will be breaking some more records before the week is through.

Recent polls have shown Mitt Romney taking a 2 point lead Nationwide and closing the gap in many of the critical swing states.  Nevertheless, today's polling still shows an Obama lead in Ohio.  Most are calling Thursday the most important Vice Presidential Debate in US History.  To them I say "Do you even listen to yourself when you speak?"

Political advertising for both sides of the Question 7 referendum has eclipsed the previous spending record from the 2006 Gubernatorial race.  Opponents of expanded gambling have spent $18 million while proponents have spent $17.7 million.

Steroid injections have been linked to a recent outbreak of meningitis effecting 8 Marylanders.  105 cases have been reported across the Country.

Luke Lavoie looks at CA's plan to expand Columbia's pathways by approximately 51 miles.  As I've noted before, the most critical aspect of the new Connectivity Master Plan is transforming our pathways into a useful transit system, with directional markers, named paths, and identifiable landmarks.

Howard County Budget Director Ray Wacks says that residential and corporate property tax revenues are exceeding projections by approximately $4 million total.  Meanwhile, income taxes are approximately $4 million less than projected.  Notably, Mr. Wacks states that homeowners must apply for the homestead tax credit by December 2012 or see their property taxes go up and that 64,000 households that would otherwise have been eligible have not yet applied.  Council Member Courtney Watson says this lapse is an "emergency", possibly implicating the use of the Emergency Notification System.  "Dear Homeowner, Go get that cheddar.  Sincerely, Howard County."

Featured Blog Post of the Day: Sarah promotes some of the materials the League of Women Voters have prepared to educate voters about the litany of ballot questions at issue in this year's election.

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ain't The Beer Cold (Tuesday LINKS)

"You watch the game last night?"

I was in the middle of a shuttle in the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and an older man with his son is beaming at me about five feet away.  It was the day after the Orioles beat the Texas Rangers in the AL Wild Card game.  I was wearing my old beat-up Orioles hat.  There was no way I didn't watch that game.

We engaged in a very loud, excited exchange about Brian Matusz striking out Josh Hamilton when I remembered where we were.  In the middle of the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.  Ranger Country.  People were staring.  Out of courtesy, I politely wound down the conversation and wished the man a pleasant trip back to Baltimore (we both were at the receiving end of a 3 hour delay and missed transfer).

I was thinking about that interaction last night, in the top of the 8th Inning when I saw Ken Ulman, or someone who looked a lot like Ken Ulman, going crazy with a rally towel on TBS.  Our calm, cool, and collected County Executive...going nuts....with a towel.  It was great.  Stripped of the formality of office, we were fans together.  All of us.

Regardless of the complaints about payroll and salary caps, there is something egalitarian about sports.  You didn't have to be wealthy to go to either of this week's Playoff Games.  You just had to really really care.  Tickets were available from around $25 (standing room) up into infinity, but we were all identically hostage to the outcome.

Just as we all will be nursing coffee this morning.

Any self-reflective sports fan has had the conversation with themselves after a tough loss: Why do I do this?  Why do I care about mercenaries who I do not know and do not care about me?  Most of these conversations have to come back to the collective.  We follow sports to be a part of something bigger, whether that is the regional "conversation" or just a unified point of attention over a moment in time.  That doesn't change the objective triviality of sports, but it certainly deepens the subjective component.  We're in this together...going nuts...with our rally towels.

LINKS

Did I mention the Orioles won 3-2 off of an impressive 3-up-3-down 9th Inning by Closer Jim Johnson?  Man didn't even smile after he struck out A-Rod.  All business.

Liberal blogger Andrew Sullivan is getting ready to throw in the towel after a Pew Research Poll showed Mitt Romney with a 4 point lead nationwide.  Seems a little dramatic, considering that the President still may have a cash lead and certainly holds serve in the swing states, but there is no doubt that we have a tight election on our hands.

In what presumably will be Lindsay McPherson's last Political Notebook for the Flier/Baltimore Sun, she looks at the number of Ulman staffers that have been hired by the subsequent Ulman administration, and their salaries.  This piece seemed a little off to me.  A little bit "so what?"  I expect campaign staff to be hired by the winning administration.  The real concern is when administration staff are actively working for the campaign on County time, and there is no indication in this piece that this has occurred.

Featured Blog Post of the Day:  On the most recent episode of And Then There's That, Dennis and Paul talk to an empty chair after Board of Education Member Brian Meshkin stood them up with less than a week's notice.  I was one of the people that said from the beginning that I did not expect Brian to appear on the show.  I was all the more disappointed that Mr. Meshkin saw it necessary to get lawyers involved.  As Paul said on the show, "Asking questions is not bullying."  Throwing around the words "defamatory" and "my lawyer", however, is bullying.  Intimidation to try to stop a conversation.  Thankfully, here in Howard County, we stand up to bullies.  Even the adult ones.

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

I'm Back...Sort of

Flying East to West - Eat dinner at 1 am body clock time, wake up at 4 am sunlight time, go back to bed.  No big deal.

Flying West to East - Hungry at odd hours.  Can't sleep until 2 am.  Forced wake up at 7:30 am -- Feel like a space alien.

I take these posts seriously and if I were to publish anything of substance today, I would just be setting myself up for well-deserved criticism.  I wanted to write a brief note to say I am back on the right side of the Country and happy to be back.

Also, a note for our bummed out Orange Nation.  Last night was a big win even in a loss.  I stayed until the last out.  I couldn't stop looking at the spray-painted "Post-Season" along the first base and third base lines.  Regardless of the score, it was a fairy-tale experience.  I know it is slightly loser-esque to say "Making it there is enough", but for the first time this year, I felt that.  We've waited so long for this and for any fan who left early, I hope it was worth the missed traffic.  Baseball success for teams like ours is often fleeting.  Enjoy every inning.

With that out of the way, the Yanks can't put up CC Sabathia every night.  Let's Go O's!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Presidential Debate: Round One

I am writing from the California coast, looking at the Pacific Ocean, and listening to a fog horn blare away.  Jane has yet to rise, confirming my fear that we have adjusted to West Coast time.

Speaking of which, dinner happens right smack in the middle of important TV events out here, so I had to watch last night's debate in two parts - Live and recast with commercial breaks.  The latter made a long debate even longer and definitely tested my seemingly inexhaustible interest in this stuff (check out my vacation reading selection).

To state the obvious, Romney won.  He won big.  As Charles Krauthammer has described, he won by two touchdowns.  And before anyone responds that Romney lied (implying that the President didn't), take a step back and think "Would this have been the first instance of deceit in a political debate?"  Anyone that has engaged in any meaningful form of debate knows how you treat a lie.  You refute it in a way that undermines your opponent's argument.  Obama's counter-punches were garbled nonsense, burying good points in rhetorical trash bags and meaningless anecdotes (Dear Mr. President, Most of us over 30 spent time in K-5 years sitting on the floor of our classrooms.  It is not offensive.)

You know what we should have been sick of hearing about by the end of last night?

"What exemptions and loopholes will you be closing Governor Romney?"
"Thank you, Jim.  Before I answer that, I want to know what exemptions and loopholes..."
"Interesting you should say that, but what I would find more interesting is what exemptions and loopholes..."

Admittedly, there were pulled punches by Romney last night too, but it is hard to criticize what seemed like a near blemish free evening.

If you're on Team Romney, you need to be able to answer this question -- What group of voters is interested enough to watch the Presidential Debate, but not interested enough to have a clear favorite a month before the election?

Presuming some strategy on behalf of Team Obama, and extending Krauthammer's analogy, the President seemed to be putting up a Prevent defense for the crowd he has already won over.  The worst thing that could come out of last night for the President would be a bad gaffe, socialist-imputing sound bite, or signs of losing his cool.  You know, the kind of stuff that gets put on 30 second ads in swing states between Live! with Kelly and the Katie Couric Show.  (Or turn into an Internet Meme).  It was clear in the interviews leading up to the debates that the Obama Campaign was not going for a W.  They promoted Romney's skills as a debater and that he had "much more time to practice."  It was almost like they were winking at their supporters and saying "This may hurt to watch, but its all part of the plan."

Any football fan knows that this is a bad plan.  "The only thing the Prevent defense does is prevent your team from winning."  Playbooks from campaigns past are worthless.  Each election has a new environment with new tools of discourse.  In the 21st Century, you're not winning if people think you're losing, regardless of what the polls stay today.  Popular sentiment spreads like a brush-fire between Facebook, social media, and "tell me now" technology.  That's not to say that minds will be changed, but it does have an effect on those who want to feel a part of a winning team.


It is near impossible, and foolish, to predict what effect this Debate will have on the Election, but I think it will at least wipe out the bump the President received from Romney's infamous 47% remark.  From there it depends on how much the Regular Joe/Jo cares about the 2012 Election and whether he (or she) chose CNN over ESPN on the last night of the regular season.