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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

P.G. County Officials Maxed Out?

At the request of State's attorney Glenn Ivey, the State Prosecutor is investigating whether several members of the Prince George's County government, including County Executive Jack Johnson and Councilmembers David Harrington and Camille Exum, misused county-issued credit cards, as was reported last week. The latter two, you'll recall, endorsed Michael Steele on the eve of the election, along with Wayne Curry and and some other Councilmembers. No doubt there's some bad behavior here, with few clean hands -- with the exception of Doug Peters and Tom Dernoga, perhaps. We in Prince George's need to do better at holding their feet to the fire.

As for Johnson, for a guy who just barely scraped past a primary challenge from Rushern Baker and lost a lot of his power due to recently passed charter amendments, you'd think he'd be a little chastened, right? Well, not so much. In an interview with the Post, he calls his reelection "the greatest victory I could have had," and "a very strong mandate to me that people like the direction I am taking the county." However, the article also gives signs that Johnson is taking a conciliatory approach from some of his opponents, so perhaps there's hope.



What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
The West
North Central
What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

This quiz is, I suppose, somewhat accurate. I grew up in western Maryland, near the Pennsylvania border, although apparently I could be from anywhere. To the extent I have an accent, though, it would be something not included in the survey: the Appalachian accent, which is similar to the Southern accent, but has a flatter, harsher tone. I know that when I am in western Maryland, West Virginia, and environs, I tend to slip into this accent.

Of course, the survey is fatally flawed because it doesn't include that all-important category: Merlinese.


I had meant to resume blogging yesterday, but the end-of-semester crush is about to begin, so I may not be able to post as often as I'd like for the next few weeks.

In other news, the Post ran an interesting profile on John Leopold, incoming Anne Arundel County Executive and one of the few triumphant Republicans in Maryland this November. He's certainly not your average Republican, or your average politician, even: Few politicians start out life as an abstract painter, for example. There seems to be a dearth of politicians with a creative streak (Martin O'Malley being an exception), but I think it's something that needs to be encouraged.

UPDATE: In this vein, the Post profiles John Hall, the first bona fide rock star Congressman.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving!

And with that, I'm off. I'll be back sometime this weekend.

Congressman Pothole

I was agnostic on the question of John Murtha or Steny Hoyer as Majority Leader; neither one struck me as particularly appealing or inspiring. This Post profile of him doesn't change my impression of him very much:

Hoyer persistently and successfully has secured federal resources -- some call them "Steny Dollars" -- for major projects in his district, which covers all of Southern Maryland and parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

Hoyer has helped to steer billions of federal dollars for several projects, including the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, the new Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the University of Maryland. He is credited with protecting two Southern Maryland military bases through the BRAC process.

One can only hope that Hoyer will devote as much attention to bringing about progressive change as he does to looking after his constituents, of which I'm one.

While we're on the subject of House Democrats, check out this run-down of Nancy Pelosi's "First 100 Hours" plan for January.

Verizon TV

The Gazette reports on Verizon's attempts to get a video-franchise deal (i.e., to sell TV service over their fiber optic network) with the Prince George's County Council. I hope the Council ensures that Verizon will provide service to the entire county; the article is unclear about about whether people outside of Bowie and Laurel even have access to the fiber optic network. And as Art Brodsky noted a while back, the big telecom bill Verizon was championing earlier this year (the same one that would have eliminated net neutrality, BTW) didn't do much to ensure equitable access to fiber optic video, so I'm not expecting them to have had a sudden change of heart since then on this subject.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Money, Meet Mouth

David Wissing scoffs at Rep. Charlie Rangel's proposal to brink back the draft, and in the process completely misses the point of the proposal. I think the Poor Man's reaction gives the appropriate response:
Oy. Charlie Rangel is not really advocating a draft. Also, Swift was not seriously advocating that the Irish eat their own children. Rangel is advocating a public debate about the costs of the war, with testimony from Administration officials, and he is advocating that war supporters in Congress make a choice between ending the war and commiting political suicide.

He then notes that Rangel voted against his own draft bill when he last proposed it in 2004, after the Republicans brought it immediately to the House floor, with no hearings whatsoever. Rather than seriously consider the possible necessity of the draft to shore up a breaking Army and Marine Corps, let alone debate the wisdom of continuing the war, they tried to score a political point. Indeed, Wissing's reaction, like many other conservatives, is one of scorn -- as if this war that they supported so much is unworthy of collective sacrifice.

To put it another way: We're constantly told by war supporters, from John McCain to Bill Kristol to just about any conservative blogger you could name, that a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would spell disaster. Even when, as the New Republic acknowledges, the current American occupation is unsustainable and Iraq is in the midst of unending violence. So what, exactly, should the U.S. do next? Of the three options that the Pentagon has put forth, one requires more troops, and another requires the armed forces to maintain the same tempo they're at now. How exactly are we to do either, given plummeting support for the war in all sectors of the population? If conservatives like Wissing aren't willing to call for a draft to bolster troop levels, what do they recommend? How serious are they about their support for the war?

Right now, I see only two options: start a draft to continue the war, or withdraw our troops from Iraq and rethink our policies in the region. Since the former is clearly unacceptable, even to the war's cheerleaders, what keeps us from going forward with withdrawal as soon as possible, other than the pride and vanity of our President, and his enablers in the establishment media and the conservative movement? This is why Congress' dereliction of its oversight duties has been so infuriating, and why I hope the new Democratic Congress will put as much pressure on President Bush as possible to start bringing troops home. This war has been an utter catastrophe, and there's nothing continuing the occupation can do to make it less of one.

Shore Against the World

Bruce says that Michael Swartz's "Prince Baltgomery" lament stems less from a urban/rural tension and more from the peculiar culture of the Eastern Shore:
Bombast aside, the Shore is a somewhat distinct society and culture with special geographic and economic characteristics. That distinctiveness, more than its Republican voting patterns, justifies the geographic exemptions that the Shore enjoys from many Maryland laws. I would prefer that more such laws be written locally under home rule, but full charter home rule is somewhat unpopular on the Shore due to the extra tax burdens of fully-developed local government. It isn't just liberal or distant government, but government period, that many Shoresmen resent, and I respect that view.
Of course, this raises the question of why the Eastern Shore and the Baltimore-Washington corridor are even in the same state. Indeed, Maryland's current boundaries, and its machine-gun shape, are a relic of colonial-era border disputes, which culminated in the now-famous Mason-Dixon line. So maybe instead of the Shore seceding, as Bruce suggests, Maryland should annex Delaware, which used to belong to us. I'm sure we'll be greeted as liberators :-)

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Monday, November 20, 2006

Is There Anything Those Oil Companies Can't Do?

Maryland Conservatarian writes:
I'm sorry but I'm still waiting for my local shale oil gas station to open up. Realistically, the only sure-fire way to make these alternative energy sources economically viable is to let the market decide if and when they come of age.


This all makes me appreciate our oil, coal and electrical companies even more. They have to go through considerable risk and expense to bring oil and coal to the surface, transport them considerable distances to convert them into a viable energy source for delivery to us. Meanwhile, solar companies just have to throw a solar panel on the roof...and yet somehow we still find it cheaper to go the coal and oil route.
Leaving aside MC's ignorance about how solar panels are manufactured, I'll concede that solar power alone won't meet our energy needs; the same is true, though, about ethanol, wind power, and biomass. Hell, the same is true of coal, oil, and natural gas, considered individually. This is why most experts on sustainable energy policy warn against finding a "silver bullet" to solve our energy problems.

I also find MC's veneration of the free market baffling with respect to fossil-fuel industries, given the massive subsidies that the oil, coal, and natural gas companies get from the federal government every year, more so since President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act into law last year. The truth is, as in so many other areas of the economy, government is going to play a role in the energy decisions we make. Whether government is a force for good or ill in this regard will be for the American people to determine.


Shorter Michael Swartz

If it weren't for the majority of Marylanders, Republicans would have won big!

Seriously, I think his claim of "the fiefdom of Prince Baltgomery" is undermined by the fact that much of the Democratic leadership in the General Assembly comes from the rural and exurban areas of the state Swartz claims are getting shafted by the urban and suburban core: Besides Mike Miller (Calvert & Prince George's) and Mike Busch (Anne Arundel), you have Senate Finance Chair Mac Middleton (Charles), Senate Executive Nominations Chair Philip Jimeno (Anne Arundel), and House Appropriations Chair Norman Conway (Wicomico & Worcester). Certainly Maryland's population centers are going to get a lot of attention in the General Assembly -- anything involving mass transit, for example, will require a lot of consideration from the state -- but as one who grew up in Frederick County, I've yet to be convinced that Baltimore, Prince George's, and Montgomery have it in for the rest of the state. (Though Michael's concerns about taxation in the Eastern Shore vis-a-vis Delaware are legitimate.)


Thursday, November 16, 2006

D.C. Going Green

Good move from the D.C. government:

The District is poised to become the first major city in the country to require that private developers build environmentally friendly projects that incorporate energy-saving measures.

By 2012, most large construction in the city -- commercial and city-funded residential -- would have to meet the standards, if the D.C. Council gives final approval to a new bill next month.

The era of "green buildings" would include devices such as low-flow shower heads and recycled materials and would require designing passageways that encourage walking, choosing drought-tolerant plants and improving air quality by reducing the need for artificial heating and cooling.

Although smaller cities, such as Pasadena, Calif., have adopted similar laws, the District would be the first large city to force private developers to meet the standards, said Cliff Majersik of the Institute for Market Transformation, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes green buildings. All 13 council members voted for the measure in a preliminary vote this week. "This is big," Majersik said.

No Money, Mo' Problems

The Post reports on the looming budget deficits awaiting Gov.-elect Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly next year:

According to analysts' projections, the state faces a shortfall of $413 million for fiscal 2008, which starts in July. That gap could be closed, lawmakers and fiscal analysts said, with relatively modest spending cuts or by dipping well into the state's "rainy day" fund.

Far more difficult choices are likely to occur in fiscal 2009, when projected spending is expected to exceed projected revenue by $1.6 billion.

The gulf, analysts said, remains largely attributable to major increases in education spending mandated by a 2002 law that was passed without a funding source.

In addition, the slowdown in the housing market is going to take the wind out of the economy, both in Maryland and nationally. And for his part, Bob Ehrlich mainly delayed the inevitable, by raiding funds meant for transportation and land preservation, while benefitting from a fortunate economic climate during his term.

Since there's only so many state programs that can be trimmed, and since O'Malley has a bunch of new policies he wants to fund, the debate is going to focus on how best to raise revenue, which, given the last few years, means talking yet again about slot machines. I had been meaning to comment on O'Malley's slots plan, as reported last week, and I hope that bringing slots just to race tracks will kill enthusiasm for the larger slots programs that Sen. Mike Miller and others have proposed. I've no beef with gambling as such, but as everyone should know, legalizing gambling as a means to raise money basically amounts to a regressive tax. Unfortunately, something in human nature seems to regard direct taxation, no matter how fair, as distasteful, while not minding more harmful back-door taxes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

2nd Policy Memo on Net Neutrality

The following is the second of four memos concerning network neutrality; the first one is also available for reading.



The issue of network neutrality -- whether providers of Internet access should be allowed to give preferential or adverse treatment to content and applications on their networks -- has given rise to two competing policy options, and with it, two competing coalitions of interest groups. Supporters of codifying the principle of neutrality into law, in order to, as they see it, preserve free expression and innovation online, include a diverse array of Internet-based firms, small businesses, consumer groups, and political advocacy groups from both the left and the right. Opponents of mandating neutrality, on the grounds that it would amount to needless government regulation, include the major telephone and cable companies, as well as some pro-business and conservative interest groups. This memo will describe the positions and strategies of the two rival coalitions, as well as the opinions of policy makers and of the country at large on the matter, and what impact the efforts of the two coalitions have had on them. As will be shown, net neutrality is not on the front burner of public debate, but it has generated a considerable amount of controversy, both in and beyond Washington. And while both sides have been able to claim victories in Congress, where the battle over a proposed telecommuncations bill has brought net neutrality to the fore, the issue is still far from resolved.

Public Opinion

In part due to the technical nature of the debate and the relative novelty of the issue, net neutrality has yet to assume a high profile in the public consciousness, as mentioned above. A national poll commissioned in September 2006 by Verizon, one of the largest telephone companies in the country and a staunch foe of neutrality legislation, found that only 7% of respondents had heard of the term. However, the vast majority of respondents expressed support for a "Consumers' Bill of Rights" that would provide many, but not all, of the things neutrality advocates want, including keeping network carriers from "blocking, degrading, altering, modifying, or changing the data consumers send or receive over the Internet." As for the term "net neutrality," the poll found little support for it. Many neutrality advocates have criticized the poll for being biased in favor of the telecom firms, and for characterizing net neutrality as inhibiting innovation and competition. Nevertheless, the poll does show that there is broad approval for choice and open access with respect to Web, TV, and other communications services. For each side, the key to winning will be to translate that general approval into support for the more detailed policy positions in the neutrality debate.

"Save the Internet"

The coalition trying to preserve net neutrality is comprised of two groups. The first, Save the Internet, consists primarily of public-interest organizations, such as the ACLU, Common Cause, the Free Press, and the Consumers Union. In addition, numerous small businesses, church groups, and bloggers who see net neutrality as essential to their livelihood are members. The organization is unusual in that it includes both liberals and conservatives; seldom does one see and the SEIU on the same side of an issue as the Christian Coalition and the Gun Owners of America. The second group, It's Our Net, is composed mainly of Internet-based companies, including giants like Google, Amazon, eBay, and Microsoft.

Both Save the Internet and It's Our Net believe in the same goals: No changes should be made to communications policy without adequate provisions for net neutrality. They see the current telecommunications bill, which was passed by the House and is pending in the Senate, as unacceptable without those provisions. They are especially opposed to what is called access-tiering, in which carriers would charge providers of content, such as a website or Internet telephone service, a fee to have their content be given priority in transmission. Not only would this hurt the ability of small businesses and startup companies to compete and innovate, they argue, but by giving that kind of power to the network carriers, it would have the potential to drastically limit what people can read, hear, and watch online.

The key to the neutrality advocates' strategy has been to engage Internet users from all walks of life and make the case to them that the Internet as they know it is threatened. Besides a massive letter-writing and petition campaign, as well as a nationwide series of public rallies in favor of net neutrality, the coalition has used many of the tools of the Internet, from blogs to the video site YouTube, to make their case to the public. They scored a significant coup in June when they helped circulate an audio clip of a speech by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), a neutrality opponent and lead sponsor of the Senate telecom bill, in which he notoriously referred to the Internet as "a series of tubes." Not long after, several Senators came out in support of net neutrality, making passage of the bill much more difficult. In general, the pro-neutrality coalition has sought to depict their opponents as being ignorant about the Internet's potential as a democratic medium, or else more interested in profits than freedom of speech, which neutrality advocates see themselves as defending.

More recently, the pro-neutrality coalition has been trying to block a proposed merger between AT&T and BellSouth, which was approved by the Justice Department without any conditions (including provisions for net neutrality) and currently awaits final approval by the FCC. Amid protests from members of the pro-neutrality coalition, the FCC has delayed a vote on the matter several times.

"Hands Off the Internet"

The opponents of net neutrality legislation are not quite as diverse as its supporters: Besides the cable and telephone companies and their respective trade associations, there are only a handful of pro-business and conservative advocacy groups, such as the National Association of Manufacturers and the Center for Individual Freedom, listed on the website for the main anti-neutrality coalition, Hands Off the Internet. Despite that, the groups wield an enormous amount of clout in Washington and in the state legislatures. Verizon's top lobbyist, for example, is former Rep. Tom Tauke (R-IA), and the cable and phone companies have collectively donated about $10.8 million in campaign funds to both Republicans and Democrats this past election cycle alone.

The goals of the anti-neutrality groups can be summarized as follows: They believe that network operators should have as much control over their networks as possible, and should be allowed to make whatever deals they like with content providers. Net neutrality legislation, in their eyes, will hamper their ability to improve and expand their networks, primarily because there would be not much incentive for the carrier to do so. In particular, the telephone companies have a keen interest in what is called video franchising, or television over phone lines. They wish to compete in the TV market with cable companies, who are already starting to provide phone service themselves, and believe that net neutrality legislation would make such capital-intensive projects prohibitively expensive, since they could not charge bandwidth-intensive content providers, e.g., Internet telephone companies like Vonage, more for their rate of usage.

Originally, the anti-neutrality coalition hoped to have quickly enacted new telecommunications legislation that would augment the regulatory changes wrought by the 2005 FCC and Supreme Court rulings, institute desired video franchising and Internet telephony rules, and eliminate net neutrality. And indeed, Congress early this year seemed eager to pass such legislation. But it was not long before neutrality advocates started to make their voices heard. Neutrality opponents responded by forming Hands Off the Internet and launching an agressive, multi-million dollar media campaign. Their ads portrayed the dot-com companies who favor net neutrality as trying to have the government "regulate" the Internet, while claiming that only the unregulated market can deliver the Internet, TV, and phone services that consumers want.

However, since Congress has failed to pass telecommunications legislation this year, the telephone companies, for one, are planning to move to the states to obtain video franchising legislation there; already such a bill has been proposed in the Pennsylvania state legislature. Outcry from consumer groups and local governments, however, forced a delay in the vote on the bill. Also, as mentioned above, AT&T and BellSouth hope that their proposed merger will go through with no strings attached, and therefore free them from neutrality requirements. There may also yet be action in Congress on the matter: Sen. Stevens has said he intends to bring the stalled telecom bill to a vote in the Senate during the lame-duck session.


Arguably, the net neutrality debate has been a kind of asymmetric warfare. Neutrality opponents have used their longstanding influence among policy makers to seek their desired legislation, while spending heavily to shape the media environment in their favor. By contrast, neutrality supporters have taken a more decentralized, individual-centered approach; one of the more popular appeals for net neutrality, for example, was a YouTube video made by a 21-year-old aspiring filmmaker from Alabama. The result so far, however, has been a stalemate: the cable and telephone companies have not yet gotten the regulatory changes they have sought, nor have the neutrality advocates secured their desired protections. Despite the intensity of the respective interest groups, the public debate has not yet provided a solution.


"All Those Problems"

OK, I promised myself I wouldn't kick around Michael Steele again, but I can't help it; it's just too tempting.

He was just on Wolf Blitzer's show. When asked about Trent Lott's election as Senate Minority Whip, and why he fell from grace a few years back, Steele says he'll make a great leader. He also says he forgives him for those unfortunate comments he made about why Strom Thurmond should have been elected President in 1948; apparently, humoring another man's racism is just something you do at birthday parties. Of course, it helps if you're a stone-cold racist yourself.

I also learned that he nothing to do with the deceptive sample ballots the Republicans passed out to African-American areas of Maryland; this despite his having claimed credit for the scheme earlier this week.

Amazing, such moral idiocy on display...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Language Games

In a sign of cultural divisions even within a Blue state like Maryland, the Washington Post reports that dual-language immersion programs are on the rise in the D.C. area, while the Baltimore Sun says that the city government in Taneytown, Carroll County, has passed a resolution making English its official language -- this despite the fact that only 1.5% of city residents are Latino, and only 37 out of 5,000 claim to speak English less than "very well."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Steele Denied RNC Chairman Job

Instead, Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and current RNC general counsel will co-chair, says the Washington Post.

As for Michael Steele, whose name was floated briefly as a candidate, I'm sure he'll find work elsewhere; in the wake of massive GOP losses among blacks and Latinos, the party needs more bamboozlers now than ever.

For more on Martinez, John Aravosis has a short take, and notes especially his homophobic tendencies.


Coal and the Damage Done

Jeremy Bruno from Frostburg has an eye-opening post on the effects of coal mining on waterways in western Maryland, complete with pictures. Check it out.


Hoyer v. Murtha

On the impending fight for the position of House Majority Leader between Jack Murtha and my congressman, Steny Hoyer, the consensus among liberal bloggers seems to be, it's a tough call. Neither are progressive Democrats; if you put aside the Iraq War, Murtha is actually even more conservative than liberal bete noire Hoyer, to say nothing of his ethical troubles. But Murtha's best selling point, as Ezra Klein points out, is that he and Nancy Pelosi have been allies for some time, whereas Hoyer has openly criticized Pelosi on several occasions. If Murtha were Majority Leader, Pelosi would have a strong hand to take on, not just Iraq, but many other issues the two might not see eye to eye on. On the other hand, Hoyer is apparently well-liked by many in the Democratic caucus, and one can argue that his history of political "realism" could move him to strongly support Pelosi if he thinks it will help him as well.

What worries me now is that Pelosi has staked much of her credibility as Speaker on winning this leadership fight; if she loses, it could haunt her and the House Democrats for months, if not years; Republicans and the established media would quickly revive the old "Democrats in disarray" meme (though Republicans are in for some backbiting and internecine warfare themselves). But at this point, I don't think anyone can say what will happen.


Bamboozlement Watch

The Washington Post details the Ehrlich-Steele "fake sample ballots from homeless people" plan. Apparently Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose image Ehrlich and Steele appropriated for their Election Day flyers in 2002, made a preemptive strike this year, asking that neither they "nor any group associated with [their] campaign use my picture on mailers or Election Day ballots."

In comments, Thomas Nephew tracks down the radio program (C-SPAN's Washington Journal) on which Steele made his "everyone does it" defense of the fake ballots, and the actual quote:
Again, I have to laugh at that because I, I find that that's somewhat amusing that that's the same tactic that Democrats have used in previous campaigns against eachother and I borrowed from that, one, two, I don't find that nowhere nearly as offensive as the, the signs that went up around my county calling me a "Clarence Thomas", that we have to reject the "Clarence Thomas" Michael Steele.

Saving Islands in the Chesapeake

From the Baltimore Sun:
The Maryland Port Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are proposing to spend more than $1 billion to rebuild two islands in the Chesapeake Bay -- the government's latest plan to use dredge spoil from shipping channels to enhance the environment.

The two agencies propose to remove tons of silt and sediment from the state's waters, then haul it down the bay to create a 2,000-acre wildlife preserve at James Island, a spit of land off the coast of Dorchester County that is quickly vanishing. The two agencies also want to replenish the shoreline at nearby Barren Island, another fast-disappearing remnant of land near Hoopers Island.
There seems to be a lot of benefits to the plan, as the article notes, but whether it will get the funding it needs, and whether the Army Corps of Engineers, given its history, will do the job right, in uncertain.


Going with Green Roofing

I'm glad to hear that a new bank headquarters opening up in Annapolis will be the first commercial building to include a green roof (via Blog Arundel). Indeed, I've wondered why more buildings in America don't have them, given all the clear benefits -- e.g., catching run-off, reducing heat, aesthetics, etc. Apparently, however, buildings with green roofs have specific structural requirements in order to accomodate all the extra weight, which makes it difficult for some kinds of buildings, especially older ones, to be retrofitted with them. The problem is not unlike that of hybrid cars: The technology is there, it's turning over the current fleet of (non-fuel efficient) cars that will take time -- time we may not have.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Michael Steele: Pro-Bamboozlement

Thomas Nephew picks up this comment from Michael Steele about the fake sample ballots the Republicans had out-of-state homeless people pass out in African-American areas of Maryland:
I just have to laugh at that. This is something Democrats have done to each other for a long time.
If true, a despicable comment. After a campaign in which Steele made his race his chief selling point to African-Americans, he would condone a scheme that so obviously takes African-Americans for fools, and then laugh it off? Well, if he wants to become head of the Republican National Committee, I say let him: he'll fit right in. And let's not forget that this isn't the first time Steele and Bob Ehrlich have bamboozled the homeless in this way.

Did anyone else hear the radio program Steele was on when he made the comment? Is it possible to get an audio clip of it?

Overheard in Takoma Park

Little kid in a grocery store: Mommy, can we get something to drink that doesn't have green tea in it?

Friday, November 10, 2006

Notes From After "The Thumpin'"

Several events conspired to keep me from posting until now. First and foremost, I was an election judge in Adelphi Tuesday, which takes up a lot more time than you might think. My Internet connection has also been spotty again -- we'll be switching from cable to DSL soon, thankfully. And there were plenty of school and personal matters to attend to as well.

Anyway, my thoughts on the election: Obviously, the last few days have been a good time to be a Democrat. After years of constantly being shunted to the margins, Democrats finally have some real influence over the direction of cour country. What's more, the Republicans' hubris has finally blown up in their face. Seeing George Bush forced to dump Donald Rumsfeld, a man who has damaged this country's reputation and whose incompetence has led to the deaths of so many Americans and Iraqis, was deeply satisfying. That said, I hope Democrats don't overplay their hand or try to pass too much too soon; the Gingrich Republicans tried that in 1995 and it backfired rather badly for them. As for recommendations, I think Kevin Drum's are pretty good.

In Maryland, despite attempts by Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele to illicitly swing the vote in Prince George's and Baltimore, they both lost, and deservedly so. Running on a no-agenda agenda, or pretending to be someone you're not, does not merit a popular mandate. Even better, the Maryland GOP was decimated, losing seats in both the Senate and the House of Delegates (MoCo Politics has some details). But the election also exposed some tension within the Maryland Democratic Party over the racial makeup of its leadership, as Howard Dean reminded us today. Yes, we have Anthony Brown and Ike Leggett, as Mike Raia notes, but in a state with the highest (and wealthiest) population of African-Americans outside the South, Maryland Democrats have a responsibility to set an example for the rest of the nation about diversity in public office. So far, we've only made baby steps in that direction.

Let me note a few of the local races that haven't gotten much ink:
  • Andrew Duck lost to Roscoe Bartlett by 20 points, unfortunately. This was a wave election, but evidently it didn't come to Western Maryland. The thing is, Bartlett wasn't deeply connected to the Abramoff machine, or the DeLay machine, or any other machine; he's just a kook who carries robes for a cult leader from time to time. So it was harder to hang the hat of corruption on him the way you could on, say, Curt Weldon. Still, Duck did better than Democrats have done in the 6th District in a long time, and he has set himself up well for 2008. Bartlett, after all, will either retire or be dead soon (he's 78, I think). I look forward to more good things from Mr. Duck.
  • I was quite pleased at the end of the night to see that the precinct I was in had voted for Jim Rosapepe over John Giannetti 2 to 1, which happened to be true across the board. Not only can we say goodbye to a fool and a turncoat, we can welcome some upstanding representatives, from Rosapepe to Joseline Pena-Melnyk.
  • In Frederick County, Mike Cady and Jim Lovell, the two pro-developer Republicans on the Board of County Commissioners, were crushed Tuesday, while Jan Gardner, Kai Hagen, Lennie Thompson, and two other Republicans won handily, changing the BOCC from 3-2 in favor of developers to 4-1 against. Now there's a move afoot to change the law so that Gardner, who won the most votes, but for complicated reasons can't become board president. Also, the movement for Frederick County to adopt a charter form of government like Montgomery's or Anne Arundel's appears to be reviving.
  • Will absentee ballots give Candy Greenway an upset win over Alex Mooney? Apparently not, but she certainly gave him a tougher race than he expected. Perhaps a rematch in 2010?
  • And it looks like Frederick (the city) will be sending an all-Democratic team to the House of Delegates, with Sue Hecht reclaiming her seat from Republican Patrick Hogan, and Galen Clagett holding on to his.
Since I mentioned above my work as an election judge, I should probably say a bit about how the voting machines fared. Despite my (and many others') fears, both the voting machines and the e-poll books did quite well. I worked with a well-trained group of election judges, and I trusted that everyone who voted in the precinct I was in would be counted. That said, we're still a long way away from a reliable voting system. Stephanie Dray points in the right direction, and I hope the General Assembly takes the issue up soon. I tend to vacillate between supporting an Oregonian vote-by-mail system or just having printers attached to the voting machines; at the very least, we should dump Diebold and amend the constitution to allow early voting.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

Urban, Suburban, Exurban

I highly recommend this Post article from yesterday on the political implications of suburban and exurban growth in the D.C. area. Development in northern Virginia, in particular, has wrought dramatic changes:
Lang and other demographers believe that density is destiny: Large lots and single-family houses contain Republicans, high-rises and townhouses teem with Democrats. When Fairfax's population topped 1 million, its move to the Democratic column in presidential years was certain, demographers argue.

"Fairfax is just too urbanized to be anything other than reliably Democratic," Lang said.

In Maryland, however, the situation is more mixed: Charles County is becoming more Democratic, thanks to African-Americans migrating from Prince George's, but other outer-ring counties like Calvert, Anne Arundel, and Frederick are seeing an entrenchment, if not growth, of Republicans. Why is this? I don't think it's because the Democrats have "moved far to the left," as one GOP official claims in the article -- though to be fair, the state party could do more to compete in exurban counties. On the other hand, the growth of military employees in Anne Arundel and Frederick probably has something to do with it, if we assume that they are more conservative than the population at large.

One thing to consider, and I may be wrong on this, is that the Virginia suburbs and exurbs have been developing for a longer time than the Maryland suburbs and exurbs, and thus are now maturing into the liberal hubs that the article describes. Of course, this assumes that, as quoted above, density is destiny as far as political affiliation goes. It certainly sounds true that density is more congenial to liberal politics than sparseness, but one has to ask whether that's because of self-selection (i.e., liberals choose cities, conservatives choose suburbs) or because urban life somehow shapes the way you think about the world. If you're a hardcore materialist, I guess, the latter will be a more appealing reason.

Incidentally, the New Politics Institute published a report a while back on how Democrats can compete in exurban areas. It's a good read.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Friday Video

A great video for Candy Greenway, who's running against uber-Republican Alex Mooney:


District 21: This Time It's Delusional

I haven't posted much about the District 21 Senate race between Jim Rosapepe and John "Lil' Lieberman" Giannetti, but I found this recent quote of his to be rather laughable:
"This time it's personal," said Giannetti, who, after losing the primary, switched to the Republican Party to set up the rematch.

"We got swift-boated in the primary," Giannetti said, referring to the ad campaign critical of 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's record in Vietnam.
As I recall, Rosapepe's main criticisms of Giannetti in the primary were his vote against the assault weapons ban in 2004 and his perceived closeness to Bob Ehrlich. The first is a matter of public record; and the second Giannetti himself amply proved by switching parties after losing the Democratic primary. The Swift-Boat guys, on the other hand, just made stuff up about John Kerry. But Giannetti proves he's a fast learner: He's been a Republican for little over a month, and already he's playing the victim.

Meanwhile, the Gazette and Diamondback both withdrew their endorsements of Giannetti, and a group of local Republicans are backing Rosapepe. If you live in the 21st District, I encourage you to vote for Jim Rosapepe, and throw John Giannetti out on his opportunistic keister.


Gansler Campaign (Once Again) Back On

It appears that the challenge to Doug Gansler's candidacy was appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which rejected the challenge yesterday, saying that, even if it had any basis, there is simply not enough time to provide any remedy. However, the ruling also invalidated the lower court's finding that bar membership is the main definition of "practicing law," as the Maryland Attorney General is required to have done for 10 years, so the question of what that actually means remains open.



Rule no. 1 for Republicans: When in doubt, suppress the vote:
A recently distributed guide for Republican poll watchers in Maryland spells out how to aggressively challenge the credentials of voters and urges these volunteers to tell election judges they could face jail time if a challenge is ignored.

Democrats said yesterday they consider the handbook, obtained by The Washington Post, evidence of a Republican effort to block people from voting Tuesday.


No one disputes the legality of having poll watchers set up folding chairs and monitor the election on behalf of their party. Typically, though, poll watchers are present to help ensure that their party's supporters get to vote, not the other way around.

A quick read of the handbook (PDF) reveals that, indeed, challenging people's right to vote is the overriding concern: Besides the money quote -- "Your most important duty as a poll worker is to challenge people who present themselves to vote but who are not authorized to vote" -- the handbook goes into considerable detail about how to challenge a voter, including threatening the election judges with jail time if they don't comply with the challenger's demands. Interestingly, the state board of elections' webpage on challengers/watchers describes them as being mainly observers of the vote, not active participants, and say the election judges have the power to eject any challenger/watcher who violates the rules.

In today's Post, Bob Ehrlich angrily denies the charges, while John Kane, the chair of the Maryland GOP, more or less affirms them. (Incidentally, Kane's wife is Ehrlich's secretary of state, and, in theory at least, in charge of the election.) As for the Steele campaign -- nothing. After the disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004, Steele has nothing to say about his party possibly being involved, yet again, in civil rights abuses, of which African-Americans will be the likely target. As Steve Gilliard puts it:
Boy, I bet Wayne Curry and all those spite endorsers feel pretty f*cking stupid now.

Michael Steele is going to remain mute on this because that is what he does, remain silent when the rights of blacks are challenged. He might mumble some grovelling excuse about how the white folks is right, but he might not even say that.

I would love, love to be proven wrong.
UPDATE: From Maryland Moment:
A spokesman for Republican Senate candidate Michael Steele said the candidate "encourages each and every Marylander eligible to vote to get to the polls on November 7th and exercise their most important right as an American citizen. He also stressed that all poll workers-- Republican and Democrat -- should follow the law to the letter."
That's it? Pathetic. Talk about not standing up when it counts.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

More Voting Problems

Confidence in elections? What confidence in elections?

From the Gazette:
The Prince George's County Board of Elections is scrambling to process thousands of absentee ballot requests just days before Tuesday's general election, and is placing the blame for any delays squarely on the state elections chief.

Interim County Elections Administrator Robert J. Antonetti, Sr. said that as of Wednesday -- the deadline for requesting absentee ballots -- the elections board had received 13,501 absentee ballot requests. All but 2,953 have been processed. Nearly 250 ballot requests are unfilled because the board ran out of the demanded ballot styles.

The board is missing three of the 37 ballot styles. Antonetti could not say which districts those ballots belong to.

In addition to meeting the absentee ballot requests, the board must also prepare about 300 provisional ballots for each of the 206 precincts. But the board does not have provisional ballots on hand to fill the needed 61,800 slots.

While most overseas absentee ballot requests have been filled, Antonetti said he is hopeful that all of the requests will be met. Each ballot must be postmarked by Monday for it to be valid.

"It would be a shame if we couldn't get them all out," Antonetti said.

What is holding up the ballots are issues with the ballot-maker, Diebold -- the same company that is supplying the sensitive voting machines, Antonetti said.

And from the Baltimore Sun:
With Baltimore scrambling to make sure next week's voting goes smoothly, city elections officials expressed concern Wednesday at reports that a rogue caller was contacting poll workers and changing their Election Day assignments -- raising the prospect that some precincts might not have the staffing they need.

State elections chief Linda H. Lamone contacted the FBI Wednesday after Baltimore officials reported that someone called at least 10 poll workers and falsely told them that their precinct assignments had been switched.

Baltimore Board of Elections Chairman Armstead B. Crawley Jones Sr. said that poll workers are receiving legitimate calls this week from employees at the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center, reminding election judges where to go and what time to arrive.

But the assignments have not been shuffled, Jones said. Such changes might be needed to fill vacancies but would not be made until early next week, he said.
Why oh why do we have such a rotten elections system?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

MD-Gov: Who's Ahead?

The question of which is right -- Sunday's Post poll, which showed Martin O'Malley beating Bob Ehrlich by 10%, or today's Sun poll, showing a virtual tie -- seems to turn on how big one thinks turnout among African-Americans will be next Tuesday. Phyllis Jordan of Maryland Moment explains:
The Sun said its poll is based on a model predicting black turnout will be about 19 percent. The Post did not use a model to predict turnout, but set up questions to screen who is likely to vote Nov. 7. About 25 percent of the 1,003 respondents in the Post poll who screened as likely voters were African American.

By comparison, African Americans comprised 24 percent of Maryland's turnout in the 2004 presidential election, 22 percent in the 2002 governor's election and 21 percent in the 1998 governor's race, according to exit polls.
I might have been too optimistic in my earlier post about O'Malley's prospects, but I still think Ehrlich has the harder hill to climb; even in the Sun poll, O'Malley does better in Ehrlich strongholds like Baltimore County than Kathleen Kennedy Townsend did four years ago. And given the general anti-Republican, anti-incumbent mood, Ehrlich has his work cut out for him in the next few days.

So whither African-Americans? I think the Post's interpretation of likely turnout sounds more accurate to me, given the historical trends, but there's still a number of variables in play. Unexpected events like Wayne Curry and other Prince George's politicians endorsing Steele, which I'll comment abut later, could throw all our expectations out the window.

You Can Get the Rape Emphatic...

...but you can't get the rape after penetration, it seems, according to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Via Scott Lemieux, the Happy Feminist explains:

The case is Baby v. Maryland, __ A.2d ___ (Md.App. 2006). According to the young woman's testimony, the defendant asked to have sex with her and she consented on the condition that he would stop when she told him to. She testified that the penetration hurt "so I said stop and that's when he kept pushing it in and I was pushing his knees to get off me." After she told him to stop, he continued to "keep pushing it in" for about "five or so seconds."

For reasons that I won't get into in this post, the prosecution's theory in this case was that the whole situation was coerced and that her consent was not freely given in the first place. The jury, however, asked this question during their deliberations: "If a female consents to sex initially and during the course of the sex act to which she consented, for whatever reason, she changes her mind and the man continues until climax, does the result constitute rape?"

The trial court declined to answer the question other than to refer the jury back to the original jury instructions, which did not specifically address this concern. The jury convicted the defendant and the defendant appealed. The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland held that the trial court erred by failing to answer the jury's question. The court further held that there is no rape under Maryland law if the woman consents to sex prior to penetration and then withdraws the consent after penetration. I should note that this interpretation of the law would apply regardless of whether the man kept thrusting for five seconds or ten minutes after the woman said to stop. (Sorry to be graphic, but it's necessary.)

HF goes on to explain how the common-law definition of rape, which the Court of Special Appeals draws upon in its decision, dates back to ancient notions of women being regarded as property and virginity being the most valuable part about them. This is a highly bizarre ruling, one that you would think would not happen in the United States circa 2006, and in a state like Maryland, no less. I'm not a lawyer, so perhaps Bruce Godfrey can shed light on this decision, but either the Special Appeals judges are ridiculously incompetent, or, as HF speculates, are deliberately provoking the Court of Appeals to overturn the ruling and clarify the law. Either way, this is an egregious setback for women's rights.

UPDATE: A TAPPED commenter illustrates the absurdity of the ruling:



What do you mean, stop?

I've changed my mind.

Sorry, honey, the Maryland court just ruled that you can't change your mind. See, penetration is like a legally binding contract, and once you've signed it, you're stuck. If you have a problem with that, call your lawyer after we're done. Now kiss me like you mean it.

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