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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Public Policy and the Brand X Decision

The following was written for my Political Analysis class, and it concerns a Supreme Court case that has important implications for telecommunications policy in general and the future of net neutrality in particular. I would love to hear any comments or feedback.


In National Cable and Telecommunications Association, et al. v. Brand X Internet Services, et al. (2005), the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that cable companies providing broadband Internet access are not subject to the common-carrier provisions of the Communications Act. The case determined whether cable companies, like telephone companies, are required to share their networks with third-party Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The plaintiffs (NCTA, et al.) were appealing a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a decision by the Federal Communications Commission which classified cable modem service as an "information service," i.e., exempt from common-carrier regulation. Writing for the Court, and joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that the FCC was within its rights to make that classification, citing precedent in the case Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council (1984). Justices John Paul Stevens and Stephen Breyer each wrote concurrent opinions offering minor addenda to the Court's opinion. The dissenting opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia and joined in part by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David Souter, found fault with the way both the Court and the FCC determined cable modem service to be an "information service," rather than a "telecommunications service," which would make it subject to common-carrier regulation.

In the Court's opinion, Justice Thomas adopted what might be called a "hands-off" approach to judicial regulation of cable modem service. He spends the first part of the opinion showing that Chevron v. NRDC provides the proper framework for considering the case. That ruling held that ambiguities in statutes are to be resolved by the appropriate regulatory body and not the courts, unless the court's interpretation "follows from the unambiguous terms of the statute and thus leaves no room for agency discretion." He also criticized the Ninth Circuit for failing to follow the Chevron precedent, preferring instead to go with one of its previous rulings, AT&T Corp. v. Portland (2000), in which the Appeals Court declared cable modem service to be a "telecommunications service" subject to common-carrier regulation. In sum, Justice Thomas contended that the complicated issues surrounding public policy are best handled with the expertise found in specialized agencies like the FCC and not by generalist bodies like the judicial branch.

Nevertheless, Justice Thomas went on to determine that the FCC's conclusions were a permissible interpretation of the Communications Act. He agreed with the FCC that the Act is unclear about whether cable modem service qualifies as an "information service," which entails using telecommunications (e.g., cable wire) to transmit and manipulate information (e.g., access the Internet), rather than a "telecommunications service," which entails the direct usage of telecommunications (e.g., the telephone). Moreover, he found that the FCC's conclusion that cable modem service is an "information service" was also reasonable. As for concerns that this decision would put providers of digital subscriber line (DSL) service, or broadband Internet over telephone lines, at a disadvantage, Justice Thomas answered that the FCC was following its historic treatment of cable and telephone service, respectively, given the different market conditions under which they arose. Again, deferral to the FCC's judgment was, in Thomas' opinion, paramount.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Scalia criticized the Court and the FCC's line of reasoning. He found it illogical that the two bodies regarded the various components of cable modem service to be its primary characteristic, rather than what it provides: Internet access. A proper understanding of the matter, Scalia said, would suggest classifying cable modem service as a "telecommunications service." He also was not persuaded by the Court's concern that applying common-carrier regulation to cable modem service would lead to an unnecessary expansion of regulation of the Internet. Ultimately, he chastened both the FCC and the Court for failing to use their authority: The FCC because they used the ambiguous wording of the Communications Act to justify not properly regulating cable modem service, and the Court because they seemed to grant the executive branch the ability to ignore judicial rulings. In other words, Justice Scalia regarded Justice Thomas' "hands-off" approach to be antithetical to good adjudication, and to good regulation.

The consequences of the Brand X decision proved to be swift. In August 2005, five weeks after the Court handed down its ruling, the FCC reclassified DSL as an "information service," acceding to appeals from the major telephone companies that the Court's decision gave the cable companies an unfair advantage in the Internet access market. Soon after, Congress took up legislation that would have amended the Communications Act to include provisions for broadband Internet phone and video service, among other things. However, the newly deregulated state of cable and phone companies provoked fears among many, from consumer groups to major Internet companies, that it would lead to cable and phone companies having "gatekeeper" status over the Internet, and thus place restrictions on both competition and free expression online. Supporters of codifying the latter principles into law, or network neutrality, launched a successful lobbying campaign to ensure that no telecommunications legislation would pass without neutrality provisions. While a bill without neutrality provisions passed the House in June 2006, a similar bill stalled in the Senate, and the debate over the future of the Internet remains at an impasse.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Push It

Dang, it seems like everyone but me is getting push-polled about "medical research experiments on unborn babies" by the Steele campaign or one of its proxies. Curses! It's times like these I wish I had a landline.


Cardin and Steele on Meet the Press

My take on the Cardin-Steele debate on MTP yesterday (excerpts of which are available at Oliver Willis' blog):

I don't watch MTP that often, mainly because I find Tim Russert to be pompous and smug, but the other reason was heavily on display this time: Politicians tripping over themselves to explain what they really meant when they said X, Y, or Z isn't much my idea of an informative debate. I guess it beats no rules at all, though...

Anyway, I thought Cardin acquitted himself decently, though once again he was put on the defensive a lot, particularly on Iraq. The whole line of questioning about whether Cardin would "cut off funding for the troops" was moronic, and you would think someone who had the good sense to vote against the war in 2002 would be able to project a lot more moral authority over a pair of sycophants like Russert and Steele. Instead, both Steele and Cardin sounded mealy-mouthed about what to do in Iraq -- Cardin because he was holding on to the unrealistic possibility of getting the international community involved in resolving the conflict, and Steele because he was trying to portray himself as both a critic and a supporter of the occupation. Of course, I found Cardin to be more credible than Steele on the matter, but to the casual observer, they sounded rather similar.

Cardin seemed to be on firmer ground when the debate shifted to stem-cell research, which he vocally supports. In the wake of the Michael J. Fox ad, Steele has been trying to explain that, in fact, he does support stem-cell research -- just not embryonic research, the kind that matters. Steele also got pinned a number of times on just how pro-life he really is. It turns out Steele is an advocate of "snowflake babies", and demurred on taking a position on confirming judicial nominees, a constitutional amendment banning abortion, or anything concerning abortion, for that matter. For a conservative Catholic, he seemed awfully shy about saying what he believes about the so-called life issues. It reminded me of Chief Justice John Robert's fake-out during his confirmation hearing, actually.

All in all, I think Cardin is a better legislator than a debator, which is fine with me. I'd rather have someone in the Senate who knows how to craft good policy than someone who knows how to please Tim Russert. But Steele didn't fare very well, either, coming off, by turns, as slick, bullying, and incoherent. This was probably the last chance for Steele pick up any undecideds or weak supporters of Cardin, and between this and the Purple Line gaffe, I'd say he blew it.

(Edited to sound less snarky.)

UPDATE: Jim Henley's comments on the debate are worth reading. He's more sympathetic to Steele, but says his performance was mostly "the usual Republican dancing."

Sunday, October 29, 2006


I've added buttons for Digg,, and Reddit for each post, for easy bookmarking (Hat tip to VideoWrap for the code).

WaPo Poll: O'Malley, Cardin Ahead

With about a week left to go, the Republicans don't seem to be getting much momentum:
MD-Gov: 10/26 (6/25); MoE +/- 3%; 1,003 LV
Ehrlich (R): 45% (39%)
O'Malley (D): 55% (55%)
MD-Sen: 10/26 (6/25); MoE +/- 3%; 1,003 LV
Steele (R): 43% (40%)
Cardin (D): 54% (52%)
Zeese (G): 1% (--)
The pool of undecided voters seems to have mostly dried up, and both Steele and Ehrlich are hitting the ceiling on their potential support. Simply put, there aren't enough Republicans in Maryland; and unlike in 2002, the moderates aren't breaking for the GOP and the Democrats have put up some decent candidates. That said, it's troubling that the poll finds more enthusiasm among Ehrlich/Steele voters than O'Malley/Cardin voters.

The internals for this poll are rather interesting. Steele's only winning characteristic is his personality (what a surprise!), and about a third of those polled see their vote for Senator as a vote against President Bush. With Ehrlich and O'Malley, the results tend to be more mixed, with a few notable exceptions: O'Malley wins on public education and working with the General Assembly -- compared to Ehrlich, just about anyone would -- while his most appealing characteristics are his vision and his empathy. Lots of people have remarked on O'Malley's Clintonesque demeanor, and this seems to confirm it.

It also appears Ehrlich's anti-Baltimore attack ads haven't had much of an effect: a slight plurality say Baltimore under O'Malley is getting better, unchanged since the last poll in June.

As for the effect of last week's Purple Line incident or Cardin's skipping of the NAACP debate in Charles County on the Senate race, it remains to be seen, since they occurred just as the poll ended. But it doesn't seem likely, given these numbers, that they will give Steele much, if any, room to maneuver.

Sun Endorses O'Malley

A good counterpoint to the Post's endorsement of Bob Ehrlich last week:

In the next four years, Maryland is likely to face a return of $1 billion annual budget deficits. Issues of growth and development, the continued degradation of the Chesapeake Bay, the quality of public schools, the region's congested roads and strained transit systems, the rising cost of health care and the future of the state's economy are of paramount concern. Such issues require a governor with vision who can work with the General Assembly and overcome what has devolved into a dysfunctional and contentious atmosphere in Annapolis.

Mr. O'Malley has demonstrated these leadership skills.


Of course, neither Mr. O'Malley nor anyone else can claim that the city's chronic problems are now solved. Far from it. There are still too many murders, too much poverty and too many failing students in the public schools to even contemplate such a notion. But the progress under the mayor's tenure is clear and irrefutable. He has demanded accountability to a degree that his predecessors did not - and his CitiStat tracking system has become a national model.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has fared less well running a government - despite having far greater power and resources available to him. Too often the former congressman has chosen to score a political point rather than make policy.


Mr. O'Malley and Prince George's County Del. Anthony G. Brown, his well-qualified choice for lieutenant governor who brings diversity and legislative experience to the ticket, have crafted a platform that promises reforms and new ideas. They have vowed to bolster public education and make college more affordable, improve the health care system, expand drug treatment, protect the environment, focus on the state's expanding knowledge-based economy, alleviate traffic gridlock and increase openness and accountability in state government. All are laudatory goals. Where the proposal falls short is Mr. O'Malley's opaqueness regarding how all of it might be financed beyond cost-cutting and efficiencies.

But at least the Democrats have a vision. Rather than outline any plans for state government in the next term, Mr. Ehrlich's campaign has been devoted primarily to portraying Baltimore as the seventh level of the netherworld. Such a stilted view of reality would be harmless enough if its underlying message were not so destructive.

The Sun also notes, as I tried to do, that Ehrlich, an alumnus of the Gingrich revolution, doesn't really do divided government that well -- which is why it's odd that the Post, among others, hopes that Ehrlich would take the lead in working with the General Assembly. I suppose the General Assembly could take more initiative, but, as the Sun notes, when they have, e.g., malpractice reform, Ehrlich has punted.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Gansler Campaign Back On

The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court has thrown out a challenge to Doug Gansler's eligibility to run for Attorney General, the WaPo reports. It turns out that membership in the state bar was the main hurdle to pass, as Bruce Godfrey, Stephanie Dray, and others have speculated. The judge in the case also took into consideration Gansler's record of community service in Maryland.

This decision, incidentally, might explain why the Maryland Court of Appeals took Tom Perez off the ballot for the Democratic primary, since Perez has only been a member of the state bar since 2001, and the state constitution requires the AG to have "practiced law" for 10 years. I say "might explain," because the Court of Appeals, inexplicably, has yet to issue an opinion on that case. I suppose bar membership is as good a standard as any, though it's unfortunate that Perez, whom I supported in the primary, was unable to run because of it.

As for Gansler's opponent, Scott Rolle, whose campaign manager represented the bartender (!) who brought the suit -- well, this was probably the one chance he had of actually winning. Remember, this is a man who ran to Roscoe Bartlett's right in the 2004 congressional primary. Not the sort of person, I think, a majority of Marylanders would support.


Friday, October 27, 2006

Teh Funny

It's as if Christopher Guest made a mockumentary about politics:

Read more about Steele's Purple Line gaffe here.

(Hat tip to MoCo Politics.)

Friday Flickr Find

Since race and public transportation have both been in the news lately...

originally uploaded by techne.


Eyes on the Prize

Bruce, Andy: let's not lose our heads. Cardin's decision to not come to the NAACP debate yesterday was, no doubt, a gaffe -- but was it a dealbreaker for African-Americans? I can't say for certain, but I do think we play into Steele and the Republicans' hands when we shift the debate from the predominant issues of the day, like Iraq, to matters of identity politics, as important as those are. And let's not forget that Ben Cardin, and not Michael Steele, will vote for Harry Reid as Senate majority leader (if Dems get a majority), which is all the difference in the world when it comes to putting a check on George Bush's use of power.

That said, Democrats really do need to stop taking African-Americans for granted, or else we're going to have more Michael Steeles taunting us down the line. Personally, I think the Maryland Democratic leadership needs to cut a deal with the African-American community: support Cardin in '06, and in 2010, when Barbara Mikulski will (most likely) retire, we'll get behind an African-American candidate, whether it be Anthony Brown, Ike Leggett, Glenn Ivey, Elijah Cummings, or whomever. I usually don't support party leadership picking winners, as they seemed to do with Cardin this year, but this is an issue the Maryland Democratic Party needs to address, soon.

UPDATE: On the other hand, if Steele keeps committing gaffes like these, Cardin's no-show might not be so harmful for him. MoCo Politics' description of the event as a "fumble" is apt.

Clean Money

It turns out that Bob Ehrlich's fundraising letters containing real dollar bills were not, in fact, illegal, the Post reports.


Voting Problems

So what are the lessons of learning that a major repair of electronic voting machines in Maryland in 2005 was only disclosed this week? For some reason, when I read the article, I kept thinking of America's use of private military contractors in Iraq -- i.e., for certain essential public duties, such as elections or national security, it may not be best to have private companies, with motives often divergent from the public interest, providing the services. The article also underscored the ineptitude of state elections administrator Linda Lamone -- who, as the Sun reports (hat tip to Bruce), may not be able to provide enough absentee ballots to meet demand for the election. All the more reason to vote (if you can) against Question 4, which the Post, to its credit, came out against yesterday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Turning Purple

I didn't catch the Cardin-Steele-Zeese debate today, but I will say this: If this election turns on whether Cardin knows all the locations on the proposed Purple Line, I'm going to puke.

UPDATE: OK, having learned more, it appears most political debates are mostly scripted for a reason. They don't turn out nearly as pretty as they do on, say, The West Wing. I was dismayed to see that Cardin was put on the defensive a lot, though I did like this bit:

"I just wish the congressman would get off his talking points and listen to what I'm saying and listen to what I've said on this issue and stop trying to drill home a dead point that doesn't reflect my reality," Steele said, when Cardin tried to tie Steele's support for the war to President Bush's policy of maintaining military presence in Iraq. "I know the words that come out of my mouth," Cardin interrupted Steele. "It's a very simple question, very simple question, very simple question," he said.

"What is the question?" Steele responded.

"Should we have gone into Iraq?" Cardin asked.

"Yes, we should have, to deal with the terror that was there," Steele said.

So, to recap: Ben Cardin can't remember off the top of his head where the Purple Line would begin, while Michael Steele still believes invading Iraq was somehow related to fighting terrorism. Clearly, Kevin Zeese is right: There's no difference between them.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fear of a One-Party Planet

In both the Post's tepid endorsement of Bob Ehrlich today and Barry Rascovar's mash note to the Governor from last week, one of the most prominent reasons they give for voting for Ehrlich is not so much his accomplishments, which have been mediocre, nor Martin O'Malley's (perceived) shortcomings, but the belief that, as the Post put it, "an O'Malley victory would herald a return to the brand of one-party Democratic rule that has served the state poorly in the past." This strikes me as misguided, even though I recognize the value of divided government -- we could certainly use some of it in the federal government right now. But it seems to me there are two ways one can go about it. One way is for the opposing parties to forge some kind of compromise, either by genuinely bipartisan legislation or (more likely) by bargaining over specific policy proposals. Mike Raia alludes to Mark Warner's tenure in Virginia as an example of this. The other way is the path of constant oneupsmanship that Ehrlich, and to a lesser extent the General Assembly, chose. Given how often the Assembly has overriden Ehrlich's vetoes, one could even argue we have had two governments in Maryland for the last four years. If this is what divided government looks like, I can do without it.

A further thing to consider is that, even in the context of one-party rule, you're still going to have divisions in the government. Maryland may be a majority Democratic state, but that doesn't mean it's ideologically uniform, which you could see during the BGE crisis in the spring. Moreover, barring any last-minute rallies (or court orders), you're going to have O'Malley as Governor, Peter Franchot as Comptroller, and Doug Gansler as Attorney General. With three highly ambitious men like that in the executive branch, one could argue it lessens the probability of a go-along-to-get-along attitude running rampant in Annapolis, as Rascovar and the Post fear. Matthew Yglesias' comments on a character from The Wire are worth quoting in this respect:
Maybe it's just 'cuz I'm an asshole, but I find myself a lot more sympathetic to Tommy Carcetti than a lot of Wire-watchers seem to be. It's his very cloying, grating, somewhat unprincipled ambition that, I think, makes it plausible that he'd be a good mayor. Politics is not, at the end of the day, a game in which the pure of heart are going to succeed, so you can just cross that option off your list of possibilities. What Carcetti has going for him is that he's clearly not the kind of guy who's going to be satisfied if his last job in politics is Mayor of Baltimore. To take the next step and become governor or senator and nurse vague ambitions for the White House he's going to need, on some level, to do well as mayor and improve the city. By contrast, you see a more pernicious type of politician in Clay Davis and Clarence Royce -- men who lack higher ambitions and are therefore motivated primarily by veniality.


I, for one, will be very incensed if Republican AG candidate Scott Rolle succeeds in throwing Doug Gansler off the ballot, seeing as how I've already voted for him by absentee ballot. Never mind the dubious legal grounds for challenging Gansler's eligibility to run; the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court will run into some serious disenfranchisement issues, not to say logistical ones, if it goes along with this challenge.

And while we're on the subject of Rolle, let me say, as a native son of Western Maryland, the term "Fredneck" County does not offend me in the least.


MD-06: Duck on the Upswing?

Via Eric Luedtke, some good news from my hometown [emphasis added]:
Encompassing the western portion of the state -- and reaching from growing exurbs of Washington and Baltimore to the mainly rural panhandle -- the 6th District has the most conservative constituency among Maryland's eight districts.

Redistricting by the Democratic-controlled legislature early this decade made the district even more Republican in order to bolster Democratic majorities in other districts -- and increased the electoral security of Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, whose victory margins moved from already comfortable to landslide.

This year, though, as Republican Party fortunes have waned in general, Bartlett is facing the most spirited challenge he has seen in years. Democratic nominee Andrew Duck entered the race as a political unknown and he still has a small campaign treasury. But his background as a former Army Intelligence officer and Iraq War veteran -- and his easy-to-remember last name -- are drawing Duck more attention than Bartlett's previous longshot challengers. has changed its rating on the race to Republican Favored from Safe Republican.

A member of the "Fighting Dems," the sizable group of veterans running for Congress this year as Democrats, Duck has strongly criticized Bush's handling of the war in Iraq, calling for an internationalization of the forces seeking to keep the peace there, and a full congressional investigation of abuses at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons.

That latter issue hits closer to home in the 6th than in most congressional districts. Several of the troops involved in the prison abuses were from a unit based in western Maryland.

At a recent event for Democratic veteran candidates in Washington, D.C., Duck said, "I served on the ground in Iraq, and I can tell you I've seen this course, and we need to change course in Iraq now."

Despite his emergence as a credible longshot, Duck has not received financial support from the national Democratic Party and is running an underfunded campaign. As of the most recent campaign finance reporting deadline, covering receipts through Sept. 30, Duck had raised $153,000, and had just $15,000 cash on hand.

That was far behind Bartlett, who had $364,000 left to spend -- mainly, though, because he had leftover money from past, easier campaigns. The incumbent, who takes a minimalist approach to fundraising, reported just $283,000 in new receipts during the 2005-06 cycle.

Duck did receive some help in the form of a recent campaign visit from Maryland's two Democratic U.S. senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and the retiring Paul S. Sarbanes.

I think this reflects more the prevailing mood of the country than any specifics of the race -- I've yet to even see a poll done. But it does signify how badly the Republicans are faring, and how unlikely it is, I think, that they will pull themselves out of the downslide they're in. I don't expect a total blowout, even in the Maryland Senate and Governor's races, but I don't see where they'll get the traction to come back.

Meanwhile, 6th District residents: Help a brother out, and support Andrew Duck. And read Eleanor Clift's profile of Duck; it's fascinating.

Googlebombing and Collective Action

Andy Kujan supports and Mike Raia opposes the MyDD-led effort to Googlebomb the election, i.e., divert Web traffic to news articles critical of Republican candidates in key races. I side with Andy on this one, but want to make a point about logistics. Googlebombing is a great idea, particularly because it's not a standard part of political campaign toolkit, and might deliver some unexpected results. But it's the sort of thing you need a large number of people to carry off. It wouldn't work so well if it were just Maryland bloggers doing a Googlebomb on Michael Steele, say, because there simply aren't enough of us to do it sucessfully.

It also helps that you have a high-traffic blogger like Chris Bowers directing the whole thing, though perhaps that's too strong a word. While there's certainly an incentive to Googlebomb or doing some other political activity (i.e., help Democrats win elections), having a structured format makes participation easier.

UPDATE: I almost forgot:

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl

--AZ-01: Rick Renzi

--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth

--CA-04: John Doolittle

--CA-11: Richard Pombo

--CA-50: Brian Bilbray

--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave

--CO-05: Doug Lamborn

--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell

--CT-04: Christopher Shays

--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan

--FL-16: Joe Negron

--FL-22: Clay Shaw

--ID-01: Bill Sali

--IL-06: Peter Roskam

--IL-10: Mark Kirk

--IL-14: Dennis Hastert

--IN-02: Chris Chocola

--IN-08: John Hostettler

--IA-01: Mike Whalen

--KS-02: Jim Ryun

--KY-03: Anne Northup

--KY-04: Geoff Davis

--MD-Sen: Michael Steele

--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht

--MN-06: Michele Bachmann

--MO-Sen: Jim Talent

--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns

--NV-03: Jon Porter

--NH-02: Charlie Bass

--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson

--NM-01: Heather Wilson

--NY-03: Peter King

--NY-20: John Sweeney

--NY-26: Tom Reynolds

--NY-29: Randy Kuhl

--NC-08: Robin Hayes

--NC-11: Charles Taylor

--OH-01: Steve Chabot

--OH-02: Jean Schmidt

--OH-15: Deborah Pryce

--OH-18: Joy Padgett

--PA-04: Melissa Hart

--PA-07: Curt Weldon

--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick

--PA-10: Don Sherwood

--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee

--TN-Sen: Bob Corker

--VA-Sen: George Allen

--VA-10: Frank Wolf

--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick

--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What Makes Steele Run?

The Post profiles Michael Steele today. Most of it just goes over his biography, but the parts that deal directly with the Senate race are pretty good:

Now, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, he is running vigorously against the political system that promoted him. All the while, though, he is relying on the gifts that have gotten him this far: a confident charm and an intuition that says a hug is better than a handshake.

Here is Steele, 48, campaigning in Hagerstown: "Washington, in my view, has gotten outside of itself. It is a place none of us recognize."

Here is Steele on TV, in one of his ubiquitous blank-background ads: "Washington has no clue of what's going on in your life."

There are a few things odd about Steele's anti-Washington rhetoric -- don't 278,000 of the Maryland voters he's wooing actually work for this clueless federal government? -- but start with the most basic one.

If "Washington" is given its most literal definition, meaning the District, then Steele's nemesis is his own home town.


Steele's opponent in the Senate race, Democratic Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, is a wonkish, pedestrian orator. But so far, Cardin has also proved resolutely unwilling to shoot himself in the foot.

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 -- and where issues such as the Iraq war and the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina might keep black Democrats from crossing party lines -- that might be all Cardin needs to win.

"A good Democratic candidate running a good campaign will beat a good Republican running a good campaign in a statewide race every time, just because of the numbers," said Donald Norris, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

To counter this disadvantage, Steele has run a campaign that portrays him as above party, beyond party. In avoiding Republican-specific policy recommendations, however, Steele sometimes ends up sounding as if he's avoiding specifics altogether.

He offers policy proposals, including increased restrictions on lobbyists, tax exemptions for new businesses and a 120-day suspension of the federal gasoline tax.

But often, when pressed on domestic- or foreign-policy questions, Steele responds not with firm positions but with a call for larger, more inclusive discussions.

Energy? Get environmentalists, solar advocates and nuclear people in the room with oil and gas interests. Health care? Get all the players in the room. North Korea? Get China involved.

"We need to get them in the room. We need to get them at the table," Steele said.

The one thing he always mentions is Washington, how the culture of partisan bickering needs to change. Steele, however, is not above a bit of political gamesmanship himself.

At his Hagerstown speech, he criticized Cardin because Democratic Party operatives fraudulently obtained his credit report.

"Anyone who wants my credit report, I'd be happy to give it to you," Steele said. "If you want to know about me, ask me."

Later that day, a Washington Post reporter asked: Is it possible to get your credit report?

"No, it's not," Steele said.

Unfortunately, the article overlooks the fact that Steele holds very conservative positions -- on taxes, on abortion rights, and since I've just mentioned it, on stem-cell research. It's not merely that Steele is running a campaign of glittering generalities -- he's deliberately trying to hide what he believes. As I've said on another occasion, we live in a time when the calls for unity and bipartisanship from the likes of Steele all too often mean, "Let's forget the bad stuff that happened and focus on tomorrow" -- even if tomorrow's policies are no different from yesterday's or today's.

UPDATE: Matt Stoller on Joe Lieberman and unity talk:
Some people are confused about why I'm blogging so extensively about Joe Lieberman and using such morally freighted language. 'Sure he's kind of a jerk, but he's not really that bad,' seems to be refrain.

Here's the problem with that analysis. Yes, he is that bad. This race is a proxy for the 2008 campaign where we will face one or more Lieberman-McCain-like-candidates who want to whitewash the Iraq War and use extensive dirty and probably illegal tactics, all the while floating above the fray as a sincere man of integrity.

Our country is in very deep trouble, and it's because of hustlers like this and our willingness and desire to believe them.



If you haven't yet seen the Michael J. Fox ad (part of a series) criticizing Michael Steele on stem-cell research, go check it out:

It's a good ad; I just wish he had mentioned Steele's opinion of stem-cell research.

Predictably, the right-wing pundits are shedding crocodile tears:
The advertisement for Cardin is similar to a spot he filmed for Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. That ad drew national attention yesterday when radio personality Rush Limbaugh opined that Fox was "either off his medication or acting."

"This is exploitative in way that's unbecoming either Claire McCaskill or Michael J. Fox," said Limbaugh, according to a transcript posted on his Web site.
And the Steele campaign too:
"To me, this is a shame that they're exploiting someone like Michael J. Fox for something that the scientists say is not going to do anything," said Douglas Stiegler, executive director of Maryland's Family Protection Lobby.

Steele campaign spokesman Doug Heye agreed, saying he considered the ad "in extremely poor taste."
As Atrios notes, it was no big deal when Fox did an ad in support of Arlen Specter in 2004. Apparently, controversy is only when Democrats do something with an emotional appeal.

My question is: Why don't Democrats, with all their supposed connections to Hollywood, do more of this kind of political advertising? Of course, it helps that Fox has a history of advocacy on the subject of stem-cell research; he's not some random B-lister flying in for a TV spot. Plus, given how much the Right loves to demonize Hollywood, it's probably best not to give them an unnecessary opening. Remember how badly the Guardian's letter-writing campaign to Ohio voters in '04 went.

UPDATE: I found Bruce's rejoinder to the Steele campaign to be appropriately indignant.


New Design

I got tired of the old design, so here's the new one, courtesy of Maystar Designs.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Faith-Based Thing

Via the League, we find that Gov. Ehrlich apparently thinks the separation of church and state is "made up." I would chalk this up to simple pandering: Ehrlich has never struck me as a fundamentalist true believer. Rather, his mindset seems closer to Karl Rove's, who, if David Kuo is to be believed, is more concerned with using faith-based initiatives to lure conservative Christians to the polls than with actually implementing them. In 2004, however, he did sign an executive order setting up a small agency called the Community Initiatives Office that has few powers, but is hooked into the federal faith-based program. That said, I still think Ehrlich's support for faith-based initiatives is more rhetorical than real. Consider this anecdote from the Baltimore Sun in 2004, when the CIO was launched:

During a morning announcement yesterday, Ehrlich and Steele highlighted several projects they said illustrated the types of partnerships between the state and nonprofit groups they hoped to repeat, indicating that Ehrlich's administration has been undertaking some activities even before the formal creation of an agency.

Those partnerships included the Sanctuary at Kingdom Square, a large Baptist church in Capitol Heights that is refurbishing a dilapidated strip shopping center inside the Capital Beltway for church activities and other uses.

"The state's role was to assist Glendale Baptist Church in securing financing, legal counsel and other resources needed to turn this mall into a thriving economic engine," said a news release from the governor's office.


But the pastor of the church, Anthony G. Maclin, disputed the state's description of its role yesterday. "I'm not trying to create any waves, but I am highly offended that they would even imply that they are the catalyst that made this deal happen," Maclin said. He said the lieutenant governor's office did not help the church get financing with Bank of America. [emphasis added]
In short, Ehrlich's remarks seem to be part of a pattern of demagoguery. Like many other Republicans, he's willing to tear at the constitutional fabric of this country if it has the chance of earning him a few more votes on Election Day. I don't think Maryland needs that sort of leadership.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Weekend Flickr Find

Blue Lady originally uploaded by QuiteLucid.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Stop Reading this Blog

...and go over to Jack and Jill Politics. Jack Turner's post on Barack Obama is thought-provoking and wonderfully written:
It will be nice (yes, nice) to have a president who can speak the national language and, it's fair to assume, doesn't let the voice of Jesus dictate his policies. It will be nice to have a president who looks different from all previous office-holders. A President Obama would be very nice.

But he will not save us, no matter how you define "save" or "us," because the entire social, political and economic system in this country needs work, and that's beyond the reach of any single man.

Let's all try to remember that.

MD-Sen: Giving Loyalty a Bad Name

Even conservative Gregory Kane thinks Michael Steele's appearance with Don King and Mike Tyson was ill-advised:
I understand loyalty to friends. I can even understand how King fits into Steele's commitment to getting blacks more focused on business and economic development and cutting back on help from the federal government. There isn't a better by-your-own-bootstraps, rags-to-riches story than King's. His many detractors in recent years seem to have forgotten King's extraordinary accomplishments.

And he did it against insurmountable odds. Perhaps King himself put it best with one of his favorite quotes: "Only in America."

He's right. Only in America could a former numbers runner who stomped a guy to death on the street leave prison, put his sordid past behind him and use his exemplary entrepreneurial skills to become a millionaire. That truth doesn't get said enough about America. If Don King is one of the few who wants to say it, I'm more than willing to listen.

On the matter of endorsing one of Maryland's three candidates for the U.S. Senate, I'm leerier. I have no doubt King sincerely supports Steele's promise to turn boarded-up buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue into businesses. But I have to wonder who will vote for Steele with King's endorsement who wouldn't have voted for him without it.

King's endorsement of Steele -- like that of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who endorsed Steele yesterday -- is one the lieutenant governor really didn't need.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Sign Language

Yet another reason why driving on Route 1 is so frustrating:
After more than a month of what many in District 21 considered false advertising, newly-anointed Republican Sen. John Giannetti replaced many of his Democratic campaign signs with an up-to-date batch this week.

The replacement comes after Derek Walker, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Committee, filed a formal complaint to the State Board of Elections, charging that keeping the Democratic signs up was "a deliberate attempt to mislead voters and avoid informing the public of his party affiliation," according to submitted documents.

Walker said Giannetti has violated Election Law 13-401, a law disputed in a 1986 case, Snyder v. Glusing, in which Republican literature listed candidates who were not the Republican nominees.

"This is just another example of Giannetti's lack of integrity," Walker said.

Giannetti is certainly taking his sweet time replacing the signs. In College Park, the old Democratic signs still outnumber the new ones, which leave out any party affiliation as well as the color photo of him. For someone whose blog used to be virtually all about the aesthetics and politics of signs, you would think he'd be more diligent about something like this.


MD-04: Wynn's Men Awaiting Court

Al Wynn may have won the Democratic primary, but two of his aides are still in trouble:

The campaign workers are still facing second-degree assault charges stemming from the widely publicized fight that broke out between them and a volunteer for Wynn's political opponent Donna Edwards at a debate with Wynn (D-Dist. 4) in Largo Aug. 16.

Wynn's workers, William Boston and Darius White, were charged on Aug. 29 with assaulting Edwards' volunteer Larry Batie, of Cheverly. Boston is also Wynn's community relations coordinator.

I can't wait for 2008 to roll around.

Steele and Tyson

Great post by Steve Gilliard on the teaming up of Mike Tyson and Michael Steele:
You know why I haven't had to photoshop pictures of Steele since last year?

Because of sh*t like this. He can whine that bullsh*t about me working for the Dems all he wants, but on God's green earth, I would have NEVER thought of putting Mike Tyson in a Steele shirt. He's getting the endorsement of a convicted rapist. I know he married his sister, but come on, Tyson scares criminals, forget honest people. When you have such rich materials like this, why create fiction.


But what is totally infuriating is the contempt [Steele] has for the black intellect. Mike Tyson hasn't been anyone's hero in a long, long time. In fact, his pathologies scare a lot of people. And the GOP tosses yet another criminal in our faces as a indicator of black achievement.

Where is the black GOP Barack Obama or even Harold Ford? They don't f*cking exist, because while the GOP allows a quick route up, people of character usually avoid them. Blackwell, Swann and Steele are an embarassment to politics. They could never be as inept as they are and survive Democratic politics.


Just finished my microeconomics midterm. Remind me to know more about natural logarithms...

Lest my last post give the impression that I'm being overly optimistic about the Democrats' chances of winning back Congress, let's consider the recent Survey USA poll showing Ben Cardin and Michael Steele tied at 46%. This dKos diary has a pretty good analysis of the crosstabs. Since this is the second SUSA poll showing Cardin and Steele neck and neck, and since SUSA tends to have pretty good numbers, I think there is cause for concern, despite the clear trend in Cardin's favor. Clearly, the only way Steele can win is by peeling away enough blacks and moderate whites to overcome the Republicans' minority status in Maryland. And sure enough, that's what Steele and the Republicans have been attempting, including, most recently, appealing to black social conservatives. Of course, if Steele continues to associate himself with crazies and throw fits over the use of the word "slavish," while dismissing things that actually matter to people's lives, then his plan might backfire.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What Will Steny Hoyer Do?

Zachary Roth of the Washington Monthly has an illuminating profile of Steny Hoyer, who is not only the no. 2 House Democrat and in line to become House Majority Leader after November, but is also my congressman. Unlike Nancy Pelosi, in line to become the next Speaker of the House, Hoyer is far more centrist, i.e., conservative, on a number of issues, particularly Iraq, bankruptcy policy, and lobbying reform. While Democrats need a centrist in the leadership to help keep more conservative Dems in line, Roth points out the possible shortcomings of the Hoyer's leadership:
But the flip side of Hoyer's obsession with process and old-fashioned relationship building is a reluctance to think strategically about changing the ways that Washington operates -- even when doing so would benefit Democrats. Over the last year and a half, Hoyer -- a protege of Tony Coelho, the former California congressman who revolutionized Democratic fundraising in the 1980s -- has led an aggressive effort to raise money from K Street lobbyists. Even more important, he has seemed unwilling to fundamentally rethink the unhealthy relationship between lobbyists and legislators that currently drives our political system. If Democrats are not only to regain power, but to maintain it and govern in a fairer and more responsive fashion, they'll need to unite behind root-and-branch reform. But the evidence suggests that Hoyer lacks the political vision, and the will, to do so.
Already K Street is directing contributions to Democrats, in anticipation of a Democratic takeover. While everyone should be glad to have sanity return to Congress, those of us interested in not just correcting the Republicans' errors, but advancing a progressive agenda of our own, might end up being disappointed. That said, I think Harold Meyerson's projection of what the Dems will do if they win is spot on.

Having moved into Hoyer's district only recently, I know of him mainly through denunciations of him from Atrios, Markos, et al, which are referenced in Roth's article. It's important to remember that, as Roth says, Hoyer is no Joe Lieberman -- he is not in love with his own contrarian self. Rather, he represents something something more complex than Lieberman: the moderate-conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Unlike the relatively homogeneous Republicans, we liberal Dems are going to have negotiate with the moderate Dems in order to get any of the policies we want enacted. That doesn't mean liberals should abandon any ambitious plans for, say, health care or the environment, but it does mean we have a higher hurdle to jump.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Voting Absentee in Maryland

Requests for absentee ballots in Maryland this year are on the rise, according to the Sun, due mainly to recent changes in the law and the voting machine debacles in the September primary, as well as endorsements of absentee voting from Bob Ehrlich and Doug Duncan. I like voting absentee myself, despite some past problems, and I wouldn't mind having Marylanders do all its voting by mail, as they do in Oregon. However, I don't think it's worth dispensing with the secret ballot and making voters easier to influence -- I'm thinking of, say, women in Republican households who don't like President Bush or the Iraq War, but don't want to cross their husbands. This is why we need early voting -- oh wait.

While we're on the topic of voting, let me second Thomas Nephew's opposition to Question 4 on November's ballot. Linda Lamone, the elections administrator for this state, has been remarkably callous about citizens' concerns over electronic voting machines; her callousness doesn't need to be rewarded, as Question 4 would do.

MD-06: Gazette Endorses Andrew Duck

Now here's a coup (emphasis added):

Bartlett has held the seat since 1992, and many believe him to be a shoo-in for an eighth term. However, we do not believe that is sufficient reason to endorse him.

Our support goes to Duck, who we believe has the potential to represent the future of District 6. We thank Bartlett for his service to this district and the country.

Possibly the biggest issue facing this nation is the war on terror, what some circles are starting to call World War III. Clearly, one of the biggest components of that war is the ongoing struggle in Iraq.

Duck served in the Army for 20 years, and was in Iraq in 2003. He saw first hand the results of the decisions being made, and believes we are headed in the wrong direction. He says we need to change our policies by shifting from combat operations to peace enforcement techniques, as was done in Bosnia.

The details of his position on Iraq are too many to include in this space, but we encourage readers to visit The Gazette Web site,, to learn more. District 6 will benefit from having a representative who not only served in the military, but also was on the ground in Iraq.

In other issues, Duck believes the federal and the local governments need to cooperate more with one another to improve the infrastructure in District 6, specifically Interstate 270. Duck sees the need to extend the HOV lane all the way to Frederick, and for improved mass transit.

He believes in economic development, and that federal telework centers would help. He is also for America working toward energy independence, and believes District 6 could become a world leader in alternative energy research.

With all the farming in Mid- and Western Maryland, the residents of District 6 surely would benefit from this research. We believe Duck's efforts can help lead a growing and changing District 6 in the early years of this 21st century.

In a time when the pool of potential Democratic pickups is, against expectations, expanding, Duck's campaign has been unjustly neglected. Check out his website, and consider giving it the support it deserves.

UPDATE: See Duck and Bartlett at a recent candidates' forum.

Mike Cady Hat Drama

Frederick County Commissioner Mike Cady, Republican, fierce advocate of development in the county, and master puppeteer, is now on Youtube. You can see the infamous hat incident unfold in real time:

Mike Steele's Punch-Out!!

Like just about everyone else, I found myself agog at the sight of Michael Steele associating himself with Don King and Mike Tyson, the latter being his ex-brother-in-law, among other things. Of course, he's done this before, during the last presidential campaign, so this is not a mere lapse in judgment. You would think there would be plenty of black athletes that Steele could draw upon for support -- athletes, while usually apolitical, tend to be conservative when they do enter public life. On the other hand, even Charles Barkley, perhaps the most politically outspoken of contemporary athletes, has disavowed his ties to the GOP, so perhaps ex-felons like King and Tyson were the best Steele could do. If I were him, I'd stick with Russell Simmons.

(Thanks to Mike Raia for the photo.)

UPDATE: The Sun's coverage of the event is, I think, appropriately skeptical.

Deadline to Register to Vote in General Election Today

If you haven't yet, hop on board the freedom train.


Monday, October 16, 2006

District 21: John Giannetti Not Getting Loving Anymore

From the Gazette:
Both the AFL-CIO and the Maryland State Teachers Association, which endorsed Giannetti in the primary, are endorsing his opponent, former delegate Jim Rosapepe, for the general election. The unions withdrew their endorsements after Giannetti lost the Democratic primary to Rosapepe by almost 20 points.

Giannetti switched parties in late September to run in the Nov. 7 election, after the unions made their decisions -- but the unions haven't budged on their latest round of endorsements.
Only the local police union is still behind Giannetti, and even that may change.

If you want to amuse yourself for a while, check out Giannetti's blog. Not much since the primary election, but the old posts show the wisdom and maturity you expect from a public figure. Example:
I have to write a brief word about our Fantastic Four signs. (This is the term that Mark Cook--or "Cookie", as I call him--has given the signs) These signs, perhaps by miracle, somehow survived the brunt of Ernesto. Imagine a sign-strewn hill in Laurel---scores of signs in all shapes and sizes. Then imagine Ernesto--a blustery tropical storm that had winds blowing from the southeast, opposite of normal local winds--blowing down everything in its path. Now imagine a litter-strewn hill in Laurel--same hill...all the signs destroyed by the forces of nature. All signs but one...somehow, the forces of nature were no match for the most unique and attractive sign of the lot...the Fantastic Four signs. Giannetti, Cook, Everette, and Sarich were the defacto Kings of the Hill wherever you could see.
Reminds me of Katie Couric's blog, actually.


Sunday, October 15, 2006

What It's About

Midterms are coming up, and my Internet connection is still on the fritz, so I haven't been posting as often as I'd like. Hopefully that will change...

The Baltimore City Paper's two political columnists write this week about the Mark Foley sex scandal. While Brian Morton takes aim at the Republicans' attempts at shifting the blame (e.g., Patrick McHenry's baseless charge that Democrats somehow had to be involved), Russ Smith tries his damnedest to downplay the matter, and completely misses the point in the process.

It might be a cliché to say it's not the crime, it's the coverup, but it certainly applies here. Surely it's not "sanctimony," as Smith claims, to to be outraged that the House Republican leadership knew that Foley was a sexual predator and not only did nothing about it, but encouraged him to run for reelection (with some help from Karl Rove, to boot). What substantial difference is there, after all, between Foley's behavior and that of the men who show up on Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator" series? And what substantial difference is there between the House Republicans' coverup and the Catholic Church's coverup of molesting priests?

It's also a total non sequitur to bring up the scandals of former Rep. Gerry Studds, as Smith does, or Bill Clinton. I'm not going to defend either man's conduct -- though for what it's worth, Studd's relationship with an underage page seems to have been consensual, and the page later appeared with Studds in public to support him, two things that aren't, as yet, the case with Foley. As reprehensible in their behavior as Clinton and Studds were, what they did is in a far different league than Foley's actions. When the one of the objects of Foley's affections is calling even the non-explicit emails "sick sick sick," etc., you know something is wrong. I can't believe Smith, not to mention the Republican Party, is trying to defend this.

(Title of this post a reference to Hendrik Hertzberg's great essay about right-wing hysteria over the Clinton-Lewinsky affair; sadly, it's not online.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sock Puppetry

Oh, how I miss Frederick County:
Frederick County Commissioner Mike Cady caused a stir at Brunswick Railroad Days on Sunday when he toured the crowd with sock-puppet caricatures, seemingly making fun of fellow board members John L. Thompson Jr. and Jan Gardner.

All three are seeking re-election to the board in a campaign centered on Frederick County growth and development.

One of the puppets had blonde hair and a red hat, portraying Ms. Gardner.

The other had a shock of black hair and was dressed in a white suit, Mr. Thompson's trademark, according to several people who saw them and were later interviewed by The Frederick News-Post.

On Monday, Mr. Cady said his puppetry was 15 to 20 minutes of harmless fun and that was that, as far as he was concerned.

For outsiders, let me bring you up to date: Cady, a Republican, is a militant supporter of development in Frederick County. Thompson is a Republican and Gardner a Democrat, but both are strongly in favor of limiting, if not halting, development in order to preserve open land and the county's small town atmosphere. All three have frequently been at loggerheads over development during the past four years. Moreover, Cady has had a history of outlandish behavior: last year he tried to have a county employee fired for not taking off his hat during a Board of County Commissioners meeting; when that failed, he tried to delete the employee's salary from the county budget.

As for his performance, as it were, this past weekend, here are some of the reviews. First, from Del. Rick Weldon (R):

The puppet show at the Republican table made Mr. Weldon uncomfortable. Mr. Weldon, a Brunswick resident, sponsored the table for all GOP candidates who made it through the primary.

He laughed when the Thompson puppet was brought out, he said. Then it got weird.

"After a couple of minutes, though, it frankly got a little creepy," Mr. Weldon said.

And what did the Democrats think?

Newly elected local Democratic Central Committee member Diane Fink was staffing the Democrats' table when Mr. Cady arrived. It was the first time she had met the commissioner, she said.

She said Mr. Cady stood at the table for about 10 minutes doing his show, acting as mediator between the Thompson and Gardner puppets.

Mr. Cady hugged the Gardner puppet into his shoulder, and said, "Now, now Jan, don't cry," Ms. Fink said.

When Mr. Cady repeated his shtick on Ms. Gardner crying, Ms. Fink responded.

"Look, Jan Gardner's a wonderful woman and you really need to be nice," Ms. Fink told him.

Mr. Cady patted her shoulder, Ms Fink said.

"Aren't you just sweet," he replied before walking away.

I don't know whether to laugh or shake my head in embarassment. One thing's for certain, however: Cady needs to go. Frederick County residents should consider voting for Gardner and Thompson (my first and last endorsement of a Republican), as well as the other Democrats running: Ron Wolf, Dick Floyd, and of course, Kai Hagen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Crass, Yes, but Illegal?

The legislative committee charged with investigating Gov. Ehrlich's hiring and firing practices has come back with a 130-page draft report. According to the Post and the Sun, the report finds that Ehrlich's people did indeed fire workers based on political affiliation, and in so doing violated state law. Republicans, who made up only four of the twelve members of the committee, are crying foul, even while admitting that the Ehrlich administration was misguided. Senate minority leader Lowell Stoltzfus, for example, is quoted as saying:
I saw some crass behavior by certain people who first came in to work for the governor. It was a new regime. They behaved in a way they shouldn't have. But you can't legislate for crass behavior.
It's important to remember that even though the workers who were fired were employed "at-will," i.e., could be fired for no reason, state law requires personnel decisions to be made "without regard to the employee's political affiliation, belief, or opinion." But, it seems, Ehrlich in 2003 and 2004 sent out his people, including the "Prince of Darkness" himself, Joseph Steffen, and they began letting workers go with little or no consultation from the relevant agencies. The case of the five employees fired from the Public Service Commission, who were escorted out by security and had their photos posted in the lobby, was particularly egregious.

Was this investigation a partisan witchhunt, as Ehrlich and the Republicans allege? Well, it would be naive to claim there weren't any political motivations behind the investigation. On the other hand, even the Republicans don't seem to be challenging the basic findings of the report, just its necessity. I would argue that having partisan loyalty not be the sole criterion for public servants is very necessary. Democrats in Maryland haven't been perfect in this regard, I admit, but one need only look at Iraq and New Orleans to see what the patronage mindset gets you.

Speaking of Joe Steffen, where has he been lately? After Ehrlich fired him for spreading false rumors about Martin O'Malley, he disappeared for a while, reappeared briefly when he was finally compelled to testify to the legislative committee, then disappeared again. I remember him saying on the Marc Steiner show that he was going to start a blog (join the club). Did anything ever come of that?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Kai Hagen in Frederick

It was a travel day for me and my girlfriend, hence the lack of posts. We did manage to catch the rally for Kai Hagen in Frederick at the Carroll Creek amphitheater. It was a big crowd, about 200 people, which is quite impressive for a small city on a Sunday evening. Curbing the rate of growth was of course one of Kai's rallying points, but I think that understates why he has attracted such a following. (He's done a impressive job with fundraising, with mostly small donors.) Kai comes across as a very unpretentious fellow; besides his usual all-denim attire, you quickly get the impression that the issue of growth and preserving Frederick County's small-town character really is the primary driver of his campaign, and not his ego, which is pretty rare among politicians. This may be why so many long-time residents of Frederick County of both parties are supporting him: It's a political campaign aligned with a particular social movement, that of preserving a way of life while still being forward looking. I don't know if there's a lesson here for people outside Frederick County, but I think it's worthy of Marylanders' attention.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's a Gas

From the Baltimore Sun:
Businesses and local governments are teaming up to generate electricity or steam from the methane gas produced by decomposing garbage buried in landfills. The move is prompted by rising natural gas prices, federal tax breaks and recently enacted state requirements, but it also helps combat a major environmental problem - global climate change - by curbing releases of harmful "greenhouse" gases that trap heat in Earth's atmosphere.

Earlier this week, Anne Arundel County officials announced plans to sell Fort Meade the gas yielded by the county's 564-acre landfill in Millersville. If a deal can be struck, the gas would be piped five miles to the Army base and burned to produce heat or electricity for a new building planned to handle an influx of new workers expected in the next few years.


Meanwhile, without any fanfare, three massive engines have begun to generate up to 3 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 1,900 homes - from the methane-laden gas collected at Baltimore County's Eastern Sanitary Landfill near White Marsh.

And city officials say they are entertaining several suitors for the gas building up in the 149-acre Quarantine Road landfill in South Baltimore. The overseer of the city's waste disposal figures the fumes, now treated as an air pollutant or potential safety hazard, could yield millions of dollars worth of energy - and savings for taxpayers.

"This has been a quixotic quest of mine for a few years now," said Mark Wick, chief of the city's solid waste environmental services. He calls it a potential "win-win situation."

For years, operators of landfills have been required to monitor, collect and vent or burn the fumes produced by the millions of tons of garbage buried in them. Landfill gas is about 50 percent methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, and it has caused explosions and fires when it has seeped into nearby buildings.

It turns out that Prince George's and Montgomery Counties have had this sort of program since the 1980s, but it hasn't more widely adopted until now. I would also add that this is good news that we're developing an alternative fuel program, is it really good news that we've got so much waste that the gas it produces is an environmental threat? Wouldn't we be better off reducing the amount of trash we produce? And what kind of waste actually turns into methane in the first place?

UPDATE: This article from Mike Ewall provides a critical perspective on the use of landfill gas as fuel.

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