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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Wages of Bamboozlement

Sen. Barack Obama has introduced a bill to harden the penalties for voter intimidation, as well allow people to sue those who use deceptive tactics on Election Day. I wonder what he had in mind...


Saturday, January 27, 2007

When They Kick at Your Front Door, How're You Gonna Come

We all saw this coming:
Gov. Martin O’Malley is ready to fire the Public Service Commission. And if he doesn’t, the legislature is ready to dilute the power of its chairman.

The troubled PSC, which dominated politics in 2006, promises to be a focal point of this year’s General Assembly session.

O’Malley administration officials are prepared to replace all five commissioners or fire Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler, an Ehrlich administration appointee who has borne the brunt of criticism over a recent massive hike in electricity rate hikes.

And the General Assembly will consider a bill that will expand the five-member PSC to seven members.

The bill, to be introduced by Senate Finance Chairman Thomas McLain Middleton, also would let the PSC choose its own chairman, which would effectively end Schisler’s chairmanship.

Now if the General Assembly would reconsider its misguided attempt at deregulating electric utilities, we might actually get somewhere.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

People Get Ready

Maryland Conservatarian says he was being tongue in cheek with his earlier post on diversity and the Democratic Party. Fair enough; although given the frequency with which conservatives have taunted the Democrats for preaching diversity but not practicing it (the Steele campaign provided a wealth of examples), one could be forgiven for taking him at his word.

Of course, the whole question, "Is America ready for a black/woman/Latino/etc. President?" is rather silly. Press coverage of elections, however, is a constant search for novelty and drama, so talk about Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama is plagued by the "significance" of electing either one, to the detriment of talking about their actual policies. Hopefully, when we get closer to the primaries, we'll see a more substantive discussion come to the fore in the traditional media. (It's already happening on the Web.)

On the other hand, given the history of gender (and especially race) relations in this country, electing non-white or non-male President would undoubtedly mark a turning point in our history. After all, it's not as if the exploitation of prejudice is that far in our past.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The First 100 Hours: How Maryland Voted

The New York Times has a handy webtool showing how members of the House of Representatives voted on the six bills that made up Speaker Pelosi's "First 100 Hours" agenda. One of the remarkable things about these bills was how many Republicans voted for them, including 82 (!) who signed on to a minimum wage increase. How did Maryland's delegation vote? Well, naturally, all six Democrats voted for all six bills. As for the Republicans, Roscoe Bartlett and Wayne Gilchrest, let's take a look:
  1. Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act: Bartlett and Gilchrest both voted no.
  2. Fair Minimum Wage Act: Bartlett no, Gilchrest yes.
  3. Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act: Bartlett no, Gilchrest abstaining.
  4. Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act: Bartlett and Gilchrest both voted no.
  5. College Student Relief Act: Bartlett and Gilchrest both voted yes.
  6. Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives for the Nation Act: Bartlett and Gilchrest both voted yes.
So all in all, Bartlett didn't deviate from the GOP line much, except on student loans and energy policy, which Bartlett, to his credit, is rather forward-thinking on. Gilchrest, as might be expected, was less of an ideologue (the minimum wage vote was a surprise). This doesn't mean they'll be voting Democratic, but it does mean the lockstep voting behavior of the past Republican Congresses masked a lot of differences of opinion among the GOP rank and file.


Your Crusade Is Just a Losing Fight

Michael Swartz replies to my post mocking his grasp of foreign policy. Sadly, there is not much of a learning curve. Of the various polls I cited showing widespread public disapproval of the war in Iraq, Michael writes:
All this tells me is that the constant beatdown by the partisan media has borne fruit and turned Americans against the War on Terror. As I noted before, back on September 12, 2001 we couldn’t wait to turn our guns on whoever knocked over the Twin Towers. But Americans now seem to be cursed with a short attention span and the enemy is smart enough to see how the steady drumbeat of criticism is yielding results much as the antiwar slant in the media eventually doomed South Viet Nam to a Communist takeover.
Or, call me crazy, maybe the American people have grown weary of an increasingly violent conflict that has killed and maimed so many Americans, and has no clear mission or any tangible relationship to the national interest. Everyone was for going after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and elsewhere; after all, they were the ones who attacked us. What invading Iraq had to do with that, however, was always rather shadowy, and the Bush adminstration had to lie, deceive, and bully the American people into going along. How many people were called traitors and appeasers for having the temerity to think going to war with Iraq was a bad idea, especially since we hadn't even caught Osama bin Laden yet? Then when the war came, it turned into an occupation that has dragged on and on and on, managed in perhaps the most incompetent manner possible by this administration, which intends to drag this war on and on interminably in the same incompetent manner. You can see why so many Americans have become angry at this President.

So it's rather appalling that Swartz attributes this change of sentiment to the "partisan media," as if Americans couldn't make up their own minds about Iraq. As if the mounting casualties and sectarian violence have all been just the inventions of editors in a newsroom. Swartz and the other dead-enders in the Republican Party may not be willing to admit it, but the American people are done with this war. And no, that doesn't mean doing nothing, as Swartz alleges. It mean stopping an insane policy that has made this country less safe, and trying something that works. Withdrawing our troops from Iraq is just a start.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Are We Who We Say We Are?

MC, about blacks, women, and the Maryland Democratic Party:

I think you attribute to race and sex what would be better explained by partisan affiliation and other factors. Ellen Sauerbrey's sex didn't make up for the fact that she was a Republican, with all the baggage that carries in this state. Granted, Parris Glendening wasn't the greatest of politicians, but nothing about Sauerbrey ever struck me as superior in this regard -- an impression that continues to this day.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend? There's a reason her nickname among Democrats is "Worst Campaign Ever." Not to mention that, as Timothy Noah argued at the time, many people took out their frustration with Glendening's problems (and peccadilloes) by voting for Bob Ehrlich, much as some in 2000 vented their disgust with Bill Clinton's infidelities by choosing George W. Bush over Al Gore.

Kweisi Mfume? It is true that the Democratic Party preferred Ben Cardin, and feared Mfume's name and personal history would scare off moderates, such as those who voted for Ehrlich in '02 (see above). But even by underdog standards, his campaign was, by all accounts, not well run. The fact remains, however that black Democrats are fully integrated into the party's infrastructure (Besides Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, witness how many black Democrats have committee chairmanships in the House of Representatives). Can the same be said of black Republicans, honestly? How many black Republicans are in Congress? Oh, right, there are none.

As for Anne McCarthy -- who is Anne McCarthy? Seriously, I think if the Maryland Republican Party had known William Donald Schaefer would lose the primary, they would have fielded an actual candidate.

I could go on (I haven't even mentioned Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland institution if ever there was one), but the truth is, while the Democrats have had an imperfect record on promoting a diverse party, they are giants compared to the GOP. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama (and Bill Richardson, for that matter) are just the latest examples of that.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

You Can't Write a Song That's Gonna Save Your Health

I meant to comment on this earlier, but it looks like Fair Share is dead for good. Which is fine with me: As I've said before, we live in a much different political climate than we did when Fair Share was first proposed, and Maryland ought to be out there with Massachusetts and California in taking substantial steps toward making good, affordable health care available to all.

Having said that, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm in Annapolis (at least not right now) for such an overhaul. And the plan that would likely be considered -- the Health Care for All bill created by the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative and sponsored by Del. James Hubbard of Bowie in the last session -- has a lot to offer, but suffers from a major flaw: By focusing mainly on covering the uninsured, it more or less leaves the employer-based health care system in place -- a mistake, in my opinion. Besides the fact that having something as important as your health insurance tied to your job is a large impediment to prospering in a fluid job market like today's, employers shouldn't have running a health care plan as part of their job description. It's put GM and Ford on the verge of bankruptcy, and many other businesses are already ditching it, leaving their workers in the lurch. I understand there are good reasons to take this "market-based" approach -- you don't want to upset what insured people already have, for starters -- but this plan, or something like it, needs considerable improvement.

Twilight of the Donald

William Donald Schaefer's last day as Comptroller is Monday, and as Maryland Moment reports, he's not taking it very well.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Talking It Out

The League combs through Martin O'Malley's new budget so you don't have to. The Post and the Sun also have good analyses. For a first year budget, it looks pretty good -- Funding for K-12 school construction is increased, and college tuition is frozen, as O'Malley pledged to do during the campaign, all without tax increases. Of course, the rub is that he balanced the books by dipping into the state's "rainy day" fund, which he won't be able to do next year. He will, however, have a whole year to talk with legislators about how to overcome the future deficits. Mike in comments makes the point that, because the General Assembly's session is so short, much of the policy debate will likely be informal, behind-the-scenes negotiation between the Governor and House and Senate members. I don't have much to add to that, but it is worth remembering that much of what we call government rests on informal arrangements among policymakers, out of which emerges, eventually, the right law, program, etc. -- something that Bob Ehrlich, for one, never seemed to grasp.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Blogging Resources for General Assembly Session

Let me note three great sites for people who want to follow the current legislative session:
  1. Everyone should thank Bruce Godfrey for putting up a Maryland politics wiki, which we've needed. The content is still thin, but that will probably change soon.
  2. Maryland BillHop is another wiki, but for legislation. Also needs more content.
  3. The Baltimore Sun's guide to the current session has lots of good information on issues, legislative procedure, etc.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Let's Get It Started

As you may have heard, Martin O'Malley was sworn in as Governor. David Lublin has the text of his inaugural address, if you want to read it. Now obviously, no one can say for certain at this point whether O'Malley will be do a good job. One thing, however, that is interesting is that, despite the lofty rhetoric of his recent speeches, he's not taking an aggressive approach to promoting his agenda, as the Post notes. And while several Democrats in the General Assembly have put forth a number of ambitious proposals, O'Malley hasn't yet committed political capital, as it were, to any of them.

Compare this with the newly-elected Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York, who has proposed a panoply of initiatives, ranging from universal preschool to campaign finance reform. The House of Representatives, meanwhile, has been quick to pass a series of important legislation, albeit of narrow range. Indeed, among progressives, there's a sense that we are in a moment where Democrats can begin to set the terms of political debate in their favor, rather than constantly arguing within Republican frames. It's a shame, then, that O'Malley, in one of the most Democratic states in the union, doesn't feel confident enough, at least not yet, to pursue a strong progressive agenda. The Post article above attributes this reticence to experience as Mayor of Baltimore, which certainly would kneecap most idealist politicians. And as I've mentioned, tackling the coming budget deficits may well curb any chicken-in-every-pot instincts in Annapolis. But I hope O'Malley doesn't let his reticence, however well founded, get the better of him.

UPDATE: Dan Rodrick's column on O'Malley's inaugural address covers the same ground in more detail:
O'Malley represents a generation of politicians - he's one year younger than Barack Obama - who can take a fresh approach to things, who can set high ideals and dare the states and the nation to achieve them.

But - and I never thought I'd be saying this - in some respects, it appears O'Malley has become too cautious in his approach. His inaugural speech was another example.

One of the attractive qualities of this guy was his impatience.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Good for a Laugh

Proof that parody websites are sill good for a laugh, long after their targets have left the scene.

"Death or Glory!" Becomes Just Another Story

Here's a rule of thumb that has served me well: Anyone who uses the term "Islamofascism" knows nothing of either Islam or fascism. Case in point, Michael Swartz's reaction to a letter from Sen. Ben Cardin on Iraq. It almost seems cruel to have to point out to him that regarding the whole of the Middle East, with all its complexities, as a single "Islamofascist" threat is not only shockingly ignorant, it is astoundingly dangerous. Agitating for war, as Swartz does, without understanding who the hell we're supposed to be fighting -- that sort of thing tends to lead to disaster, as you might have read in the news lately. Hint: the real enemy's name begins with the letter "q"; it doesn't end with it.

Another rule of thumb: Anyone who says the following, and doesn't call for a draft, is fantasizing:
So this is a message from me to both of my Senators, Senator Cardin and Senator Mikulski (who also had remarks about the troop buildup.) It will be time for the troops to come home when we have achieved victory in the Long War. That will be the point when the threat from Islamofascists and their allies has subsided to an internally manageable level because of the use of our force to a point where free and elected governments thrive - not just in Iraq, but Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and any other country that yearns for freedom in the Middle East.
Our Army and Marine Corps is on the point of breaking just in Iraq and Afghanistan. How the hell does Swartz think they can up and depose the Iranian regime, the Syrian regime, the Lebanese regime, etc. without drafting every able-bodied male, including me and him, into a war that would last decades? Swartz may be willing to gamble with other people's lives, but I am not, and neither is the majority of Americans. Oh, and the troops Swartz claims understand the danger of his "Long War"? They're against the war too. I know it must be hard for a staunch conservative like Swartz to see the country turn against his party's agenda so strongly (e.g., he laments, "And even if Americans did speak with an antiwar tone in their vote, it still doesn’t mean they’re right"), but as Matt Yglesias once said, a comic book view of the world can only explain so much. It's time to get serious.


Monday, January 15, 2007

New Rules for the New Boss?

The General Assembly's investigation of Bob Ehrlich's questionable hiring and firing practices may result in Martin O'Malley not enjoying the same amount of power over at-will state employees, the Sun reports. If I recall, there was some concern from various quarters that the Democrats in the General Assembly would regret trying to constrain the Governor, in this and in other areas, once a fellow Democrat comes into office. This may, indeed, be the case here, but unless O'Malley has his own Joseph Steffen, I doubt it. Moreover, even if the General Assembly does make new rules regarding executive appointments, O'Malley is still going to have a lot of power: The General Assembly only meets 90 days out of the year, meaning that the executive branch (including the Comptroller, Treasurer, and Attorney General) will, of necessity, have a lot of control over not just the broad agenda, but the details, of government.


Why Did Martin Luther King Hate America So Much?

By now, the legacy of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement have become so cliché that conservatives feel free to style themselves the true heirs to both, while liberals have, in fact, betrayed them. (This so-called traditional liberal is a good example.) So it's helpful to remember that King held some rather radical views that would earn him the enmity of many of the people, liberal and conservative, who laud him today. Views like these:
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
In this vein, check out John Edwards' speech on Iraq at the same church where King made the above speech almost 40 years ago. How little things change.

UPDATE: These two posts on Dr. King's radical legacy are worth reading.

Friday, January 12, 2007

They Like to Watch

Members of the House of Delegates Environmental Matters Committee watched "An Inconvenient Truth" yesterday. It's certainly a novel approach to educating lawmakers. Hopefully, this will be followed up with initiatives to combat carbon dioxide emissions and promote clean energy in Maryland.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

We're Just Trying to Do This Jigsaw Puzzle

Maryland's General Assembly convenes today. Both the League and the Post give good rundowns on the items likely to be on the legislative agenda, among them reforming the archaic ground rent system, raising vehicle emission standards, dealing with the possible abolition of the death penalty, and amending the state constitution to allow early voting.

Looming over all this, I think, will be the coming budget deficits, and the prospect of either cutting programs, raising taxes, or both. Like many states, and unlike the federal government, Maryland effectively cannot run deficits: The Governor must submit a balanced budget to the General Assembly, which in turn can only delete appropriations from the budget, not add to it; and should a special session be called, any new appropriations must be matched with new taxes or other revenue sources. (See this for more details). This restriction, I think, hampers the ability of the state to adequately respond to the needs of Marylanders. Not that I'm advocating being fiscally irresponsible, à la the Bush Administration, but rather that a modest, manageable deficit might be preferable to, say, having to yet again put off support for education, especially in Baltimore. Paul Krugman, BTW, made a similar argument a while back with respect to the new Democratic Congress.

Speculation aside, I think Martin O'Malley and the General Assembly will need to take a good, hard look at both Maryland's spending commitments and its tax code before they can make headway on any major policy initiative, of which there are a few. No doubt also Comptroller Peter Franchot will weigh in on the matter as well.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Halloween in the Hood, Cont'd

The Johns Hopkins student behind the infamous "Halloween in the Hood" debacle has had his punishment reduced, although details about the specific punishment are being kept private. Whatever it is, it is probably more appropriate than suspension, the sheer stupidity and insensitivity of his antics notwithstanding.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Smart Growth and Politics

I'm still in the process of catching up on the news, especially stuff that came out over the Christmas break that fell by the wayside. But let me note this Baltimore Sun article on Martin O'Malley's plans to revive the Office of Smart Growth in Maryland, which also fell by the wayside during the Ehrlich administration. The need to tackle sprawl will be especially acute in the next few years, as more BRAC jobs come into the area.

One issue the article raises, which I hadn't considered before, is the political implications of Smart Growth; namely, that by directing development toward existing urban areas, one risks denying economic growth to suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas. Of course, economic growth isn't a zero-sum game; and indeed, many rural Marylanders (e.g., in Frederick County) see sprawl as a threat to their way of life. Still, there is a paper to be written about the economic winners and losers of Smart Growth policies, and whether clamping down on sprawl produces unintended consequences vis-à-vis the equitable distribution of prosperity.

UPDATE: In fact, it already exists, albeit from a biased source.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Things I Learned Over the Christmas Holiday

  1. On balance, religious Christmas music is much, much better is secular Christmas music. Not that the content necessarily makes it better; but it seems holiday music written before a certain decade -- even music that's not explicitly religious -- is just more melodically and thematically interesting. In other words, yea to The Boar's Head, nay to Wonderful Christmas Time.
  2. Speaking of music, the day will soon come when people will have no idea what the song White Christmas is about. Well, maybe not in Denver.
  3. Champagne and Chambord? A great combination. Champagne and Ouzo? Not so much.
  4. Apparently, the best way to keep a New Year's resolution is to resolve to continue what you've been doing.
  5. Some people die well; others die horribly.
Overall, I had a good Christmas and New Year's. We're breaking in a new cat, which, after a few missteps, is adjusting well to her new surroundings. And yes, if I get a digital camera, I will subject you all to Friday cat blogging :-) Regular posting should resume soon.

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