“So let’s get to work.” (Then we’ll pick your pocket.)

January 31, 2007 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on “So let’s get to work.” (Then we’ll pick your pocket.) 

Once again, I probably saved a half-hour in my life by reading over Martin O’Malley’s “State of the State” address. Obviously he’s only been in office two weeks so he has no accomplishments to speak of – hell he doesn’t even have his full cabinet yet.

But of course, he had to get in his gratutitous slams. Moments after noting that Maryland has “good and decent people on both sides of these debates (over the death penalty, slots, etc.)” he then remarked, “We cannot resolve every unsettled issue in just 90 days; nor can we heal in 90 days divisions that were four years in the making.” He also opened the speech by noting, “the drift of recent years.”

On a philosophical level, O’Malley is making mostly proper initiatives insofar as most of these items will be paid for (and paid for, and paid for some more) by Maryland’s taxpayers. The only whining he did about something he wanted from the federal government was asking for an expanded National Capital Region (ostensibly to receive more federal funding.)

But on a practical level, there are many problems that I think Maryland will face because of O’Malley’s so-called solutions. I can just run right through the text of the speech to point out a few of the more egregious ones; it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

I’ll start with where O’Malley states, “we now have an opportunity to put professional regulators back on the job at the Public Service Commission.” Regardless of who he places on the PSC, the fact remains that energy is going to cost more in the near-term future. A sustainable business model cannot be had by going back to the days where utilities have to beg and plead to raise rates. Further, in order to comply with the almost-certain state mandates on pollution control, the utilities need to raise the money from someplace. Putting anti-business hyper-environmentalists on the PSC will do nothing for consumers in the long-term, but by then O’Malley will be on to his next political stop.

(W)e will also start making regular, measurable strides toward increasing the participation of minority and women-owned businesses in the economy of our state,” continued the governor. To me, that sounds like just more set-asides and other discriminatory programs in state government. I want the best businesses to succeed, regardless of ownership. How many times has it been the case where the money behind the business is from white males, with the token woman or minority owner just to qualify for the set-asides?

Martin then worked through a number of spending programs for both K-12 education and working to freeze the cost of college tuition. The sad fact is that college costs will continue to rise regardless, and the costs passed on through additional fees or a higher cost for room and board. A tuition freeze sounds great, but tuition is only part of the outlay. Meanwhile, I suppose building new facilities for K-12 is a good idea, but I’m not sure at all that bricks and mortar will solve the problems within our public schools.

O’Malley spent a good deal of his effort on proposing his solutions to our health care issue. “Among other things the (Maryland Healthcare A)ct will create a Health Insurance Exchange to help small businesses find more affordable coverage for their employees – on a pretax basis. It will require insurance companies to allow younger adults up to age 25 to be covered under their parents’ policies. And it will also provide healthcare coverage to more children in our state.

The biggest trouble I see with this concept is that it applies more of a burden on the companies that sell health insurance in the state of Maryland. Unfortunately. O’Malley doesn’t address how this HIE program will promote competition. With the number of coverage mandates Maryland has, it’s like giving the consumer a choice of a Cadillac, Lexus, BMW, or Ferrari when their budget dictates a Chevrolet.

(As an aside, MPPI Senior Fellow Marc Kilmer has a good commentary piece regarding health insurance in today’s Baltimore Examiner. Kilmer also touched on this subject in a recent monoblogue interview.)

You know, Governor O’Malley worries a lot more about “saving the bay” than I do. Believe me, I lived by Lake Erie and if mankind couldn’t kill that body of water, I’m not worried much about Chesapeake Bay. Obviously there are a lot of common-sense solutions and Salisbury getting a good chunk of the $138 million O’Malley pledges toward improving local water and wastewater systems would help a great deal.

However, saying that, “(e)very dollar of Open Space funding this year – an estimated $289 million – will be spent on open space” means that the state will spend huge money buying land to take it off county tax rolls and further burden the counties who need the revenue themselves. And re-establish the Office of Smart Growth? Martin, let’s just call a spade a spade – it’ll be the office of anti-growth. It’s bad enough your party’s established a terrible business climate in Maryland (with the possible exception of one being a woman or minority), now you want to really make things tough by killing residential development.

And of course we come to where Marylanders “accept our responsibility in the fight against global warming.” Leaving aside that we really don’t have a lot to do about global warming, this was the opening for O’Malley to press for passage of the Clean Cars Act.

The biggest problem I see with the CCA is that it’ll raise the price of new cars anywhere from $200 to $1000. It’ll be a boon to car dealers in adjacent states that don’t have similar restrictions, but it also may mean that older, more polluting cars stay on the road longer. Moreover, those polluting heaps will sit in traffic that’s becoming worse.

Martin O’Malley and his allies seem to think that if you throw more money at mass transit, people will take advantage of it. Of the billion-plus dollars devoted to transportation in his budget, over 20% will go toward mass transit projects. The reality is that these modes of transport won’t ever carry more than a small fraction of the workforce and negligible amounts of non-commuter trips. These budgetary dollars simply do not address where the demand is and will be.

These are the monetary issues I have with the “State of the State” address. I also have an issue with some of the attitude.

This year, together, we are choosing to make progress on the priorities of the people who elected us. Implicit, however, in the choices we make this year is the faith that we have the courage to face up to the fiscal reality before us in the year ahead.”

“If not, we risk going back to a time that we were not particularly proud of — making life less affordable for middle-class families. Cutting funds to local government. Stealing from our children’s future by taking money away from open space, and shifting transportation dollars away from reducing traffic. I don’t believe that is the sort of future we would choose.”

Well, Governor O’Malley, what I chose was to have a fiscally responsible governor who didn’t find every excuse in the book to balloon the size of government. Unfortunately, I was in the minority in the last election. However, I don’t plan on being in the minority in 2010, nor it is likely you’ll earn my vote by advocating the programs you advocate.

Unfortunately, the GOP’s response left me wanting as well. It did a brief job of comparing and contrasting the Ehrlich record with O’Malley’s proposals, but I wanted to see some alternatives given to the people of Maryland as well.

Start by making Maryland more business-friendly by instituting tort reform and allowing more competition in the health insurance industry by reducing or eliminating coverage mandates. Worry less about the school buildings and more about the students. How about allowing state school funding to follow the child regardless of the schooling choice made by the parents?

Rather than re-establishing an “Office of Smart Growth”, let those who know the local situation best in the counties and municipalities decide what is smart growth for them. Instead of more regulations for the auto industry, accept the choice that most Free Staters have made as far as their personal commutes go and build better, safer highways.

The Maryland Republican Party missed an opportunity in their response. Let’s not be like the Democrats in Congress, who won not because they presented a better alternative, but simply because the GOP House and Senate members failed in living up to their promises. We are the party of better ideas, let’s act like it.

Weekend of local rock

January 29, 2007 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music · 1 Comment 

The other day I posted about hard decisions because so many good bands were playing the next two weekends. Well, weekend number 1 is history now and I ended up going to two shows.

Originally I wasn’t going to go out on Friday night after bowling but I had two strokes of good fortune happen while I was up in Seaford “heaving the rock.” First of all, we were one bowler short as the lady on my team had to babysit – so my team had only two bowlers and we were finished rather early. The second piece of luck occurred when I finally won our 50/50 drawing…geez, been in at least one bowling league a week for almost two solid years and I finally won once. While I need to win it probably 3 more times the rest of this season just to get to break even, the extra cash in my pocket and being finished so early made me decide to go ahead and check out Barking Crickets on Friday night.

Barking Crickets at the Cactus Club, January 26, 2007

And these guys put on a pretty good show in front of a reasonably packed house. Interestingly enough, I was led to believe by observation that the blonde lady who’s in my shot (lower left, you can’t miss her) is the mother of one of the band members. I think at least a couple sets of their parents were present and that’s pretty cool.

Usually when I know I’m going to go see a band, I’ll go to their Myspace site and listen in on the songs they put up (most bands put up 1-4 songs on Myspace to listen to and occasionally they’ll allow downloads.) While I added the BC link to monoblogue on Friday I didn’t stop to listen to their stuff because I didn’t plan to hit their show that night. So I went to the Cactus Club and got to listen to them live first, which made things a bit different. Their sound is more along the lines of alternative rock, which I can get into.

Because they were the only band playing, BC did need to fill up some of their show with cover songs. The three that I thought were best were their versions of “Superman’s Dead” (Our Lady Peace), “Seven Nation Army” (White Stripes) which was BC’s finale, and the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth”. So I’m sure someplace along the line I’ll check Barking Crickets out again, they put on a pretty good show. Next week they’ll be one of the bands at the delmarvanightlife.com 2nd Anniversary Party at Brew River so it’s a crack at checking these guys out there.

On Saturday night I drove back up to Seaford to see Semiblind again. I’d seen them at the X106.9 Spring Luau last year and liked their set at that show, so I decided to go see them again. Well, this is another good reason:

Michele's the co-lead singer of Semiblind.

This is Michele and she’s the co-lead singer. And boy she can sing. (The pic’s a little fuzzy, since I cropped it from a much larger shot.) It’s especially apparent on their original songs that she has a sort of smoky, sultry voice – not really a pop music style that most female singers would be associated with. One thing I really like about Semiblind is the vocal interplay between her and Jim, the guitarist and other lead vocalist.

Semiblind at Coyote's, January 27, 2007

Here’s the full band shot of Semiblind, the others are no slouches musically either. They really tore it up.

Now Saturday night these guys did quite a few covers, and only a handful of originals. Semiblind put their stamp on everything from The Doors to Janis Joplin to Tom Petty to the Rolling Stones to Nirvana and a lot in between. I really liked the covers, but it was a shame that they didn’t do a couple of their original songs they have on their Myspace site, particularly “Ocean Meets The Sky.”

That omission was one of two things that bummed me out about Saturday night at Coyote’s, with the other being such a small crowd. These guys and gal deserve better! I suppose part of that’s a function of Seaford not being a college town as opposed to Salisbury.

But they’ll keep on playing as Semiblind has plenty of shows lined up for the next couple months. Take the time and check them out!

monoblogue on Myspace

January 28, 2007 · Posted in Delmarva items · Comments Off on monoblogue on Myspace 

Today I created a Myspace site for monoblogue. I decided to do this because I don’t get to meet everyone who reads my website, but I figured people might want to know a little more about what makes me tick. It’ll be more personal than this website is.

I’ll place the link on my Bloglist, but here’s the URL in the meantime: www.myspace.com/monoblogger

(I couldn’t get “monoblogue”, someone got it before I did. Oh well. I got the next best thing.)

So over the next weeks and months I’ll add content and see how it works from there.

A 50 year plan: Role of government

January 27, 2007 · Posted in 50 Year Plan, National politics, Politics · 5 Comments 

The other night I read the State of the Union speech. Since I was out enjoying life (it was bowling night) I didn’t actually watch the speech but reading it took about 5 minutes, thus saving me about an hour of my life. These are just a few of many Bush Administration initiatives in the speech that I’ll use for illustration:

  • Setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017.
  • Dictating new fuel mileage standards for autos and light trucks. (I’ll bet Rep. Gilchrest is all over this.)
  • Changing tax laws regarding employer-paid health insurance and direct Federal funding to assist states that provide help for poor or hard-to-insure residents with health insurance.
  • Reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

For years Presidents of both parties have used the SOTU speech as a showcase for whatever programs they wanted to push. Invariably, these were billed as panaceas for problems that faced our nation, and always it was a Federal solution that would cure the ailment. To use Bush’s speech as an example, these new programs either create or extend Federal mandates on what states or private enterprise may do.

Unfortunately, these energy-related items may all have unintended consequences.

The most likely way that our country would meet the 2017 alternative fuel mandate is by the additional use of ethanol. While ethanol is more environmentally-friendly and comes from a renewable resource, it actually takes MORE energy to create a gallon of ethanol than a gallon of gasoline, and ethanol costs more to boot. It also drives up the price of corn, which is a food staple, so grocery prices would increase from the twin factors of higher prices for the raw food material and transporting the finished product. That’s going to be most apparent in prices for produce, which is almost always shipped long distances.

A similar conundrum exists with the government mandating additional CAFE standards. In recent years, the market has favored large SUVs which come in below average on the fuel efficiency chart. These also provide the largest profits for the Big Three automakers, and with less profit coming in because they can’t sell so many of the profitable SUVs the automakers are cutting costs the one way they can – laying off workers. The Michigan economy is already hurting as the Big Three buys out as many employees as they can, and raising the CAFE standard bar would be another blow to their efforts at recovery.

In regard to the other two SOTU items, these fall into a category that has bothered me for as long as I’ve been a student of politics. It’s the basis of this essay on the role of government.

I keep a small booklet-sized copy of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution on my desk. The Tenth Amendment reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The first and foremost objection I have to the current method of government (practiced by both parties; neither is blameless in this) is when Congress puts together a bill that holds either the carrot of giving additional Federal funds or the stick of a Federal money cutoff to a particular state based on their action or inaction on a particular measure. One example I see as I drive into Maryland is the sign stating that .08 BAL is the law in Maryland. Apparently Maryland was one of the last states to lower the BAL but got with the program once their highway funding started to (or was scheduled to start to) suffer.

One Senator was responsible for this, Ohio’s now-former Senator Mike DeWine. Tragically, he lost one of his daughters to a car accident involving a drunk driver. But if he had been a proper government servant he would have lobbied the state of Ohio to lower its BAL limit as a statewide effort to promote highway safety. Instead, after trying for a few years to get this adopted, he managed to place this stick in some Congressional legislation and thereafter states had the gun of losing part of their federal highway funding put to their head if they didn’t follow the .08 BAL standard.

A couple days ago I heard a radio news item talking about Delaware not having a compliant open container law, thus it loses a small percentage of its federal highway funding (the figure I saw was 3% based on a 2001 article.) Yet again, it’s an example of the stick being applied to a state government to bend over to the wishes of the federal government, which is once again overreaching its Tenth Amendment rights.

With the latter two SOTU examples listed above, state and local governments will be placed at the beck and call of what some bureaucrats and do-gooders in Congress want them to do. If you give health insurance to your heretofore uninsured residents, we’ll give you more money. If you don’t enact the federal NCLB regulations, we’ll take away your federal education funding. (The same principle applies to taxation for individuals as certain actions are either encouraged or discouraged, but that’s a topic for another day.)

There are three principles I’d like to see the next generation embrace when they get to the positions of power. First and foremost is an end to these government mandates. Let the states be individual laboratories of government as the Founders intended. It’s a shame that all the faceless bureaucrats who get to push paper and make sure that the lower reaches of government do exactly as they have dictated to them would lose their jobs, but perhaps their talents can be used effectively in some other task. Lord knows eliminating red tape would open up a lot of jobs in the private sector!

The second principle is not something that the Founders intended, but I’ve come to believe in the last few years they’ve become necessary. Additionally, the Constitution now has a precedent for it in the 22nd Amendment.

I think there needs to be term limits for Congress. Where I live now, this district has had the same Congressman since 1991. Maryland has one Senator who has held her seat since 1987, with the other just beginning his Senate career after two decades in the House of Representatives. He takes over for a Senator who served 30 years.

The Founders intended a legislature composed of public-minded citizens who would serve a short time in Congress then return home to their communities. President George Washington embodied this principle by refusing to serve a third term, despite the fact he would’ve almost certainly won in a landslide. It’s been suggested that a person be limited to three terms in the House of Representatives and two terms in the Senate, and that seems like a fair number. Ohio has term limits for its state officeholders of eight years. Of course, what’s happened in a few cases is that legislators who run through their four (two-year) terms in the Ohio House run for the Ohio Senate to take advantage of its eight-year limit (two four-year terms) and vice versa. Since the Ohio law was enacted in 1994, I haven’t noticed yet if the switchers will try to return to their original legislative body for another eight years. To combat that tendency, I’d also like added to the law a lifetime limit of 18 years in Congress (three terms in the House plus two terms as Senator.)

The third principle I’d like to see adopted is the automatic sunsetting of government rules and regulations after a point in time, say, ten years. Just as many government programs need to be reauthorized from time to time (like NCLB) encoded laws themselves need to be revisited occasionally.

After the 9/11 attacks, Congress enacted the PATRIOT Act, which curbed some of the civil liberties that libertarians in particular hold dear. If I recall correctly, the original authorization was for three years so it had to be reauthorized in 2005 – meanwhile, some of the supporters called for the provisions to become permanent.

I understand how curbs on certain rights are required during a time of war. During the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus for a time as part of prosecuting the war. President Franklin Roosevelt interred thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

But to me these provisions need not become permanent, as at some point in our future the War on Terror will be won. (If it’s not, then the diminished rights we enjoy now would become meaningless. I don’t think there’s a right of habeas corpus in Sharia law.) Occasionally someone will write a newspaper column or a website post about some archaic law that has long since outlived its usefulness but still languishes on the books. (A Maryland example is the concept of ground rent.)

The other factors in this are sort of sneaky. If a Congress is debating the merits of existing laws that have come to the end of their sunsetting period, they have less time to dream up new restrictions! Also, because of the term limit principles I’ve touched on earlier, it would be an almost entirely new Congress that debates the issue, and they wouldn’t have the ownership aspect to color their view. To use one example, would John McCain (a Senator since 1987) or Russ Feingold (occupying his Senate seat since 1993) be in favor of repealing their campaign finance law? It’s doubtful, but if it came up for renewal in ten years their successors may feel differently.

In my thinking about government, I think I have envisioned something a little closer to what the Founders intended. As it stands right now, the governmental pyramids are inverted – power is concentrated at the top, but that’s where the fewest people wield it. I believe government was intended to have the maximum power placed at the bottom of the pyramid with the people, then the “several States”, with the federal government at the peak of the pyramid – only intended to do things that have a national interest like coining money and defending our nation. The Constitution addressed the failings of the original Articles of Confederation and defined the roles of government more clearly.

As I stated when I began this occasional series, this change is not one that’s going to happen overnight – it’s going to take decades and the generation of my stepdaughter and whatever children she’s blessed with to accomplish these goals. But I believe it’s possible and it just may refresh the tree of liberty without shedding any blood of patriots, tyrants, or bystanders.

Speaking of my old hometown…

January 25, 2007 · Posted in Delmarva items · Comments Off on Speaking of my old hometown… 

A news item about Salisbury being one of the “100 Best Communities for Young People” came out awhile back and got a little comment on the local blogs. But that was for the 2005 competition. Today it’s been announced that Salisbury and Wicomico County is a repeat winner. What’s funny to me is that another one of the hundred was Toledo, Ohio – for a completely different (and to me more tangible) reason.

Both of these are from the America’s Promise website, with grammatical errors fixed by yours truly:

Wicomico County and Salisbury are being selected as one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People, in part, because of the launch of The Youth Leadership Academy to start…engaging youth more fully in our community as the policy makers, as well as service providers. Seventy youth participated and created lasting foot prints in the community including a 14 ft positive message graffiti mural on display at a local sports center, a public service announcement aired in cable TV promoting healthy habits, and a community poster denoting “Safe Communities.”

Now would it not be ironic if one of these seventy darlings was among those who sprayed graffiti all over downtown? That would certainly be a “lasting foot print.” On the other hand…

Toledo is one of the 100 Best Communities for Young People, in part, because of “Building for Success,” the single largest building project in the history of the Toledo (Public Schools). Through a city-school partnership, Toledo park land was exchanged to rebuild and renovate all district schools, in order to improve educational opportunities for (future) generations.

Aside from the fact that the America’s Promise folks must have butchered up the description, this actually was a very good idea. One of my first posts way back at the beginning of monoblogue talked about the old school I lived by. As it turns out, this particular school is one that will remain standing for some other use but there’s a lot of potential vest-pocket parkland that would be created by this program. Obviously some net parkland would be lost but there’s two benefits I see to this initiative:

First of all, the neighborhood gets a new park with new equipment and one that’s properly planned instead of being haphazardly laid out – in other words, the open space would be utilized better. Secondly, the school system saves a LOT of money on land acquisition and doesn’t have to deal with the costs of demolition or possible brownfield abatement. The money can be plowed into better facilities. (Well, at least I hope that’s what they did!)

Unfortunately, this concept doesn’t translate well to our situation with Bennett High School because there’s no large amount of parkland I’m aware of in Salisbury. Additionally, many feel that a better location for the school would be in the eastern end of the county so a parkland tradeoff would do those residents little good. The concept works in Toledo because schools there are generally “neighborhood” schools.

It’s a nice honor to receive this award, although I can just hear the anti-growth zealots groaning because it’s another draw to our community and another threat for “come-heres” to ruin the Eastern Shore way of life. I’ll say this though. While I’m happy that my old hometown shares this award with Salisbury, there’s a lot more wrong there that has little chance of being fixed. At least here we have an opportunity to make our future better because people do want to move here.

Hard decisions numbers 2 and 3

January 25, 2007 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music, Personal stuff · Comments Off on Hard decisions numbers 2 and 3 

After a bit of a hiatus over the holidays, the local music scene is cranking up again.

This coming weekend there’s four good bands in three different area venues (that I’m aware of.) In Salisbury, the Cactus Club has Barking Crickets on Friday night and Halflink on Saturday night, plus Island Way features All Down But Nine on Saturday. Up in Seaford at Coyote’s it’s Semiblind playing the tunes. (I’ve linked to all of these bands under “Local band links.” Pretty smart, huh?) I think I know which one I’ll go to, but all would be good choices.

Then the following weekend Halflink is up the road in Delmar at a club called Memories. (That’s one club I haven’t made it to yet, at least I know where it’s at – right on old Route 13.) But Brew River is hosting the DelmarvaNightLife.com 2nd Anniversary party with 10 bands on 2 stages and that starts at 9:00.

At the Main Bar it will be Nate Clendenen, Barking Crickets, The Making, Lower Class Citizens, and Hot Box. On the River side the order goes Lime Green, Another Vicious Circle, Project Sideways, Falling From Failure, and Hard$ell.

I think I’m going to add the local venues to my band links as well, because having a website is a damn good way to get the word out on who’s playing – IF someone keeps up the website! Cactus Club does a good job on that, and the main DNL site is decent.

I do have to commend our local clubs though. For a city the size of Salisbury, they have quite a few places to see good bands. Where I’m from a lot of the bars preferred to have cover bands or DJ’s and not many places hosted original music. That also extends to a couple of the local radio stations that play a lot of local music as well – X106.9 and Ocean 98 both do quite a bit to promote these local bands. It beats the hell out of playing Nickelback for the 3 millionth time. (I like Nickelback as much as the next guy, but they do get overplayed!)

So I’m looking forward to enjoying some of the local talent over the next couple weekends. Hope the monoblogue readers will join me!

Political dreams smacking the pavement of reality

January 24, 2007 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics · 4 Comments 

No, this is not a post about John Kerry.

Actually, a couple little news items from the world of Annapolis politics came to my attention and I thought they deserved some comment.

First of all, I came across this news story where State Senator Allen Kittleman (Republican and Minority Whip) wants to assure that all bills that are introduced in the Maryland General Assembly and get to the Senate at least receive a committee vote. Apparently these things are at the discretion of the committee chair. Kittleman’s point is that the people who testify on behalf of a bill’s passage deserve to have the item they testified on receive an up-or-down vote.

But that’s silly. There’s a lot of what the Democrats don’t want to happen in government that gets introduced. Here’s an example of an actual bill that might be affected. GOP Senator E.J. Pipkin (from the Eastern Shore) introduced Senate Bill 40, which would temporarily suspend toll collection on the Bay Bridge if the traffic backup grows to 30 minutes or more. In general, anything that denies the state government money is a no-go with the General Assembly (except that when it comes to land slated to be developed, the state is happy to buy that and take it off the tax rolls.) However, SB 40 appears to be a common-sense bill that one would be foolish to vote against.

As things stand now, it’s solely up to Sen. Ulysses Currie of PG County whether that bill gets voted on in commitee, and for all I know, he may not like the idea (particularly because it has a GOP sponsor.) By right as committee chair, he can sit on the bill and kill it by bottling it up in his Budget and Taxation Committee without a vote. No recorded vote against the bill – no ammunition for an opponent when election time rolls around again.

Now Kittleman’s measure has a “promise” to be “considered” when the Senate takes up rules changes later this month. But I can hear the “splat!” now as that idea bites the dust.

The other dream is where Governor O’Malley’s budget will be at least somewhat frugal. I got this press release from the Maryland Republican Party today. I suppose I’m not surprised (after all, the last Democrat governor did put the state in a $4 billion hole) but O’Malley’s first budget blows through just under 60% of the state’s current “rainy day fund” to the tune of almost $1 billion (in a $30 billion total budget.) Included in this spending spree are an additional 1,100 government jobs, which I’m betting will either be unionized (as a payback to his Big Labor toadies) or contract jobs (where the state doesn’t pay benefits.)

Remember, the governor won’t have that large rainy-day cushion anymore for FY 2008 but I’m certain he will want to increase spending even further. Even the cigarette tax pushed by radicals like Delegate James Hubbard (he of the ill-fated Wal-Mart bill) is only slated to raise $200 million in its first year – that plus the remainder of the rainy-day fund would still leave a big hole for next year’s budget.

At least Hubbard is honest about his intentions. Quoted from the Sun: “I know (O’Malley) said he’s not going to initiate any new taxes. That’s fine. He’s not going to initiate this. We’re going to initiate this and put it on his desk.”

Now I know a dream I have would drop and splatter like a water balloon, but why doesn’t the General Assembly consider (gasp!) spending cuts? Or find other ways to raise revenue?

Right off the top of my head, I have one idea. Why doesn’t the Chesapeake Bay Foundation – which was so proud about the state buying the bulk of the land slated for the Blackwater development in my link above – buy that land from the state government for the $10 million the state paid for it and place it back on the tax rolls (which would help Dorchester County as well)? Put your money where your mouth is, CBF. $10 million isn’t pocket change yet in this state, that’s half a month’s worth of the supposed revenue from the buck-a-pack additional cigarette tax.

Unfortunately, this sort of common sense that seems to occupy the Eastern Shore gets lost somewhere along Route 50 and just doesn’t exist anymore in Government House.

 

WCRC meeting – January 2007

January 22, 2007 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Politics · 1 Comment 

Little did I know that when I walked into our WCRC meeting tonight it would be a local bloggers’ convention of sorts – but, through a strange convergence of events it turned out to be one. Ironically, the main item on our agenda tonight was discussion of a new website for the Wicomico County Republican Party as a whole. But this local blogger subplot will be related a little bit later.

We began the evening with the usual club business (Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer given by Bonnie Luna, then Secretary and Treasurer Reports) and acknowleged the two County Council people who were present (District 2’s Stevie Prettyman and my councilman, Joe Holloway of District 5). It was also revealed that we’d gotten two additional notes of gratitude from last year’s candidates for the help our club provided to them. One was from the aforementioned Prettyman and the other was from Clerk of the Courts candidate James Gillespie.  

County chair Dr. John Bartkovich added a few remarks. The bulk of them reminded us of what we were there for, as he brought along a poster-sized rendition of the Republican Principles. He also wanted to inform the club that the Central Committee was getting set to meet with our cohorts in Somerset and Worcester to plan a tri-county Lincoln Day dinner with a springtime date, rather than June like last year. It was hoped we could get a more prominent speaker that way.

We then got the registration rundown from Woody Willing and in the last 2 months of 2006 we gained 128 Republicans in Wicomico County while the Democrats only picked up 40 voters. The margin is now just a shade over 4,000. (4,000 voters in 48 months? I think it’s doable.)

At that point, we had a surprise announcement from club member (and one of the Central Committee people I succeeded) Louise Smith. Today she placed herself on the primary ballot for the Salisbury City Council. In her remarks she stated that she wasn’t necessarily aligning herself with the anti-Dream Team per se, but that she was “aligning (her)self with the taxpayer.” Her main campaign theme is going to be accountability and she was already armed with examples of recent city financial mismanagement. With Louise adding her name to the ballot, it means that if Council President Michael Dunn decides to run again a primary will be required because seven people will have filed.

With that, we also got to hear from two other previously announced candidates who came in just before we got our meeting started. Terry Cohen told us about her main focus, which was responsive government. As part of that she sought to “focus on current resources rather than invest in special interests.” Fellow City Council hopeful Tim Spies also addressed our group, noting that his main focus as a City Councilman would be to adequately fund public safety, and that he was “interested in making Salisbury work for the people.”

Also, we heard briefly from the elected officials present, with Prettyman telling us it was just “business as usual” for the county and Holloway adding that the honeymoon wasn’t over yet. To me, this is a definite advancement over the previous County Council.

We then heard from Chris von Buskirk, who’s proposing to upgrade and maintain our party website. He gave a nice presentation that illustrated what we could do with the site under his tutelage. It would place a good face on the county party and become a one-stop shop for those interested in joining us (like those 4,000 voters I’m shooting to sign up in the next 4 years.)

Also, the club began the process of enacting two pieces of “inside baseball” – one to correct minor errors in and amend the bylaws; the other to nominate new officers. Both will be acted on next month in accordance with these same by-laws. We did place seven people into nomination as new officers, and I’m one of those duly nominated.

That turned out to be pretty much the extent of club business. So, about the bloggers convention…

As it turned out, the planned Salisbury City Council meeting turned out to be a relatively short one because the main zoning law change that was supposed to be discussed magically disappeared from tonight’s agenda, tabled for a future meeting. So several people who started there found their way over to our meeting.

Thus, sometime tonight or tomorrow you should see Louise Smith’s smiling face on Salisbury News because Joe Albero was there snapping away. (I think if he snapped a pic of me, it’s going to be a profile shot.) And I got to meet and talk to “Cato” of Delmarva Dealings (and his lovely wife) for the first time. I’d been looking forward to meeting him someplace since he runs a superb website. They’re a very nice couple, and one who appears to be interested in some further involvement with the club. (Could it be that their interest was whetted by my monthly meeting reports?) Unfortunately, we didn’t get Bill Duvall (Mister Duvafiles himself) away from his compound down in Allen or we would’ve had a real news event.

So next month there’s a good possibilty that I’ll become an “insider” of the club – that is, unless someone wants to tell us why they’d be a better person for the job than I or any of the other nominees who have stepped up to the plate. They’ll have their opportunity in 5 weeks, February 26th. We may get another visit from Salisbury City Council hopefuls as well since that’s the night before the primary (should one be required) – so that looks to be a fun meeting!

A 50 year plan: Community

January 20, 2007 · Posted in 50 Year Plan · Comments Off on A 50 year plan: Community 

I’ve decided to continue my “50 year plan” series with a look at what I call community. This isn’t necessarily political or issue-oriented, it’s more about what I feel is missing in the modern day and yearn to see come back.

Many years ago, I wrote a short essay called “Giving Back”. I think I wrote it for inclusion in the Rogue Elephant, which was the newsletter the Toledo Young Republicans did at the time I was involved with them. Unfortunately, I either didn’t keep or lost the copy so that essay’s pretty much lost to the mists of time. (In looking for it I found a lot of other interesting stuff but, alas, not what I was searching for.)

But I do remember the main points and that’s what I wanted to write about today.

As long as I can recall, State Farm Insurance has gone by the slogan, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” I don’t bring this up as an advertisement for their insurance but as a commentary on being good neighbors. Despite all of its problems, America remains blessed with the First Amendment freedom of the people “peaceably to assemble.” The problem is that in society today people tend to insulate themselves from group settings as much as they can. Many of today’s teens interact with each other through Internet sites like Myspace instead of doing what my generation did and hang out at the mall. Or, in generations past they would gather after school or on weekends at the local malt shop. Regardless of where these interactions occurred, they were a part of normal life.

This trend is even reflected in housing. Because I’m in the architecture business, I notice these things more readily, but it’s also a function of where I’ve lived. I’ve lived in a total of nine houses in my life, and these houses were built anywhere between 1897 and 1976.

In the four of these houses that were built prior to World War II, they all had pretty similar traits. All were fairly close to the street, and all had at least some covered front porch to them. This was pretty common among the houses along those particular streets and it encouraged neighborhood interaction. People would sit out on their front porches during summer evenings and visit if they saw a neighbor outside.

But the other five in which I’ve lived (including one my parents had built new when I was 11) only one had more than a small set of concrete steps in front and that porch was uncovered. The others were all relatively far away from the street (with part of this being setback requirements adopted in recent decades) and they had their family gathering areas in the rear of the house, either a concrete porch or a deck. (My parents built an enclosed porch on the back of theirs after I moved away.) It reflected societal trends away from interaction and toward more privacy. This was also reflected in those houses having larger yards and being farther away from the main city core.

In more recent times, some architects have questioned the role of housing in the community and an urban design trend restoring the central core has emerged. While in the case of this website “New Urbanism” has branched out into an anti-sprawl screed, I think there are other benefits to this type of community. It does take up less open space and infrastructure needs are reduced. Moreover, notice that many of their examples are in Europe, where cities were laid out centuries ago. As I stated before, most subdivisions now (aided by local zoning codes) spread out the houses and push people farther apart.

So where does my 50 year plan fit into all of this?

While we can’t just tear everything down and start all over, it seems to me that we as a society need to get away from being aloof and self-centered and get back to being more neighborly, regardless of housing style. The example I used about housing style just serves as a metaphor for what’s happened to us over the last several decades. We’ve become a nation that has let the 2% of bad apples dictate how we interact with others. By moving our collective selves off the front porch and out of sight, we insulated ourselves from the benefits of community.

People in my neighborhood most likely don’t know me from reading this blog. But if I say that I’m the guy who they see on his several times a week walks up and down the neighborhood streets, they may say, “ok, now I know who you are.” Hopefully when the weather warms and more people are outside they’ll recognize me and wave or say hello or whatever they do. And like most people, I’m not out here casing your house to burglarize it or looking to kidnap your child. I’m getting out because I enjoy walking through my adopted neighborhood and interacting with people I see, plus it’s good exercise.

At some point in the future, I’m going to use a “50 year plan” post to discuss consumerism, but for the purpose of this essay I’d like to touch on a little bit here.

To some in our nation, it’s all about “stuff” (i.e. he who dies with the most toys wins). For me, it’s more about experiences. I probably could afford a larger house and more expensive car, but what I have is just fine and suits my purposes. It’s my opinion that people need to spend less time and worry on stuff and more time on what’s important, like being part of their community.

To that end, I’d love to see the next generation start to get off the PlayStation a little bit more and do other activities. Join a community organization, get into a bowling league, even just get out and walk around the neighborhood. If you have kids in school, get involved with their PTA. And believe it or not, my ex-wife and I raised a child in the 1990’s without her having a TV in her room, her own personal phone, or us having cable TV. You can do this and turn out a child who becomes a productive adult. We made mistakes along the way and so has she, but nothing too disastrous and we all learned from them. One mistake we made was wanting “stuff” we couldn’t afford – fortunately we worked our way through it.

I live in a nice area of somewhat older homes (circa 1950’s) that’s not too expensive and built back when craftsmanship wasn’t a lost art. No, these homes aren’t all really big and they’re sort of close together, but I like it that way. And I think it’s something we need to get back to.

I’m going to close with a fond memory. When my ex-wife and I lived in Toledo, we lived on a street of mostly older homes in a fairly middle-class neighborhood. The most fun we had were the couple times where we petitioned the city to temporarily close our street for an afternoon and one of my neighbors brought their cousin in to do a hog roast – the rest of us did potluck. The kids could run up and down the street while we caught up with our neighbors and dodged water balloons. Everyone ate well and we all chipped in $5 for the hog roaster.

The reason this worked so well was that we had a good neighborhood where people got to know each other because they’d be outside on the front porch or out doing their yard work. Most of them were older and raised in an era when being neighborly was valued, not having the nicest car or the biggest TV.

So this is a call for community. Let’s find ways to come together and by gosh have some fun with other people!

A view on health insurance for Maryland

January 20, 2007 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on A view on health insurance for Maryland 

Recent monoblogue Ten Questions subject Marc Kilmer is the author of the Maryland Public Policy Institute’s first 2007 Maryland Policy Report. In it, he makes some common-sense remarks about how the so-called “Massachusetts Plan” may not be a perfect fit for our state and backs that up with some suggestions on how the problem may be solved (hint: it’s probably not something that Martin O’Malley and his Democrat cronies in the General Assembly are thinking of.)

At just a shade over 5 pages, it’s short but well worth the read. With this, Marc has made a great contribution to the debate surrounding the issue.

01.20.07

January 20, 2007 · Posted in Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

I’m sure you see the little black oval stickers on the back of some Volvo or Subaru that simply say “01.20.09” on them. Normally they’re on the other side of the bumper as the “You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war” bumper sticker (the quote is attributed to Albert Einstein.)

Imagine what they would feel if they woke up that day to hear a somber newsbabe:

Today at noon President-elect Newt Gingrich and Vice-President-elect Tom Tancredo take the oath of office – this despite Senate Minority Leader Hillary Rodham Clinton’s continuing assertions of disenfranchisement of Hispanic voters who gained amnesty 2 years ago and other fraudulent voting. (What the infobabe didn’t say was that she lost by ten points.)

Meanwhile, both newly-minted House Speaker Mike Pence of Indiana and Senate Majority Leader Tom Coburn of Oklahoma vowed to complete the dismantling of our government featured in the “Second Contract With America.”

(Pence soundbite: “We now have a historic opportunity to work with the originator of the first ‘Contract With America’ to roll back and cut out the excesses of government while preserving its essential functions.” For the 2010 elections, the unions would use the same quote but have it say “We now have a historic opportunity to…cut out the…government.”)

Also, Hillary Clinton is denying internet reports that as she vowed to work with the new administration, a blogger from the widely-read ‘Maryland Bloggers Alliance’ posted a video of Hillary from behind showing her fingers crossed behind her back.

It seems to me that (and maybe my memory’s a bit hazy, after all it’s been 8 years) that there was nowhere near this much speculation and buzz on who was going to be President at this time in 1999. Then again, we did have a heir apparent in media darling Al Gore, so nobody in the mainstream media cared too much about who the Republican sacrificial lamb would be.

But I couldn’t let this occasion of the midway point of George W. Bush’s final term go by without commenting. Of course, if the above happened the owners of these Volvos and Subarus would simply slap on “01.20.13” stickers, wouldn’t they? Some people just can’t be happy.

I suppose if I were into that sort of symbolism, one one side of my bumper I’d put my “Don’t Blame Me – I Voted For Ehrlich” sticker and the other side would have a sticker with a Maryland flag on it that read “01.19.11”. But I’m not into symbolism, I’m into solutions. Maybe it’s because I have a blog that suggests solutions rather than simply whines about what was.

Links and new members

January 19, 2007 · Posted in Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Links and new members 

A couple things as we go into our second-to-last NFL weekend. After Sunday, I’ll have to do stuff like reading and cleaning my house all weekend. I hate that 2 1/2 months between the end of football season (save for the Super Bowl 2 weeks hence) and the beginning of baseball season. Nonetheless…

Today as I promised a couple weeks back I’ve posted the campaign websites of hopefuls for President – not just Republicans and Democrats, but also from those minor parties on the Maryland ballot. I was informed via the Maryland Green Party website and the Libertarian list-serv that both of those parties turned in what they deemed as a sufficient number of signatures by the end of 2006 to maintain their status for the 2007-2010 election cycle in Maryland. So I have their potential candidates linked online as well.

For this effort, I give a large hat-tip to Ron Gunzberger’s Politics1 website as well as fellow MBA member David Wissing (The Hedgehog Report). It was through both websites that I found the appropriate links.

And speaking of the MBA, in the last couple weeks we’ve expanded in both number and subject content. 

In the last couple weeks we’ve added The Pubcrawler from Gaithersburg, who does mostly political commentary with a libertarian tone, plus we’ve added Charles Dowd (C. Dowd’s Blog), an illustrator and Web designer from Lansdowne who writes on a variety of topics. And with a website after my own heart (despite his allegiance to an inferior ballteam), the “Maryland Orioles Fan” brings Orioles Post to the MBA. As a long-suffering Detroit Tigers fan (until 2006) and a follower of the Oriole-affiliated Shorebirds, I feel his pain. He writes out of Silver Spring.

You know, it would be intriguing to know just how many people read one or more MBA-affiliated sites on a daily basis. I’m sure we reach thousands of Marylanders…even if I’m an “average” website with a couple hundred daily readers, that puts us respectably into four figures. Of course, I live in the area of Maryland outside the main population base so my numbers are likely on the low side. I’d bet we get at least 10,000 readers a day between all of us. Perhaps we need to start charging to advertise with these numbers.

I’ll likely add to my “50 year plan” this weekend (I know, where have you heard that before?) so check back. Meanwhile, check out the Presidential contender websites and my cohorts of the MBA, new and old.

Oh, by the way…the Presidential links have been set to appear in random order, not in order of my preference. So being at the top of my list doesn’t construe my endorsement.

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