Sticking up for Amendment 10

February 29, 2008 · Posted in National politics, Ohio politics, Personal stuff, Politics · 3 Comments 

I came across an interesting story today from the state of Vermont. Yesterday a State Senate committee there passed a bill to create a task force to study the effects of lowering Vermont’s legal drinking age to 18. The sponsor of the bill, State Senator Hinda Miller, called it an effort to bring the underage drinking on college campuses out of the shadows:

“Our laws aren’t working. They’re not preventing underage drinking. What they’re doing is putting it outside the public eye,” Vermont state Sen. Hinda Miller said. “So you have a lot of kids binge drinking. They get sick, they get scared and they get into trouble and they can’t call because they know it’s illegal.”

Obviously if a bill such as this came to Maryland it would have a lot of support from the SU student community and local watering holes like The Monkey Barrel or the Cactus Club. Opposing it would be local law enforcement and college-area neighborhood groups.

But my point isn’t really on the merits or drawbacks of lowering the drinking age to 18. They actually raised the drinking age to 19 in Ohio just before I turned 18, which pretty much pissed me off, but managed to wait until just after I turned 21 to raise it to that age. No, the portion that appealed to me about the story was this small effort to restore state’s rights in this country, and a short history is in order.

In my native state of Ohio, there was a statewide ballot issue back in 1983 to raise the drinking age from 19 to 21, an effort that failed by a 59% – 41% margin. (Having just turned 19, you can pretty much guess which way I voted.) In raw numbers the difference was over 600,000 votes. I was among over 1.9 million voters in the Buckeye State who clearly stated that their will was to keep the age as it was at the time. But three years later the people’s choice was thwarted by a federal bill called the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. Passed in 1984, Congress compelled states to raise their drinking age to 21 lest they lose federal highway funding and Ohio decided to forefit that right of self-determination in 1986. Seeing the option ratified by the people of my state thrown out because the federal government thought they knew best was an important lesson in politics that further galvanized my political views.

And this option is not without risk for Vermont should they choose to follow through all the way with it. At stake is their $17 million of highway funding that the federal government provides to Vermont’s state government and in an era of budget shortfalls throughout the country that money is going to yell really loud.

However, much ado has been made of late about cutting earmarks from the federal budget while little attention is paid about these infringements on the Tenth Amendment rights states have to determine their own laws. If the federal government would stop being a passthru for funds that they simply deliver back to the states, untold millions would be saved. But the problem lies with those inside the Beltway who really enjoy having the power to make states squirm and bend to their will by threatening to withhold federal funds if they don’t adopt particular laws and regulations Washington bureaucrats foist upon them.

While the idea of lowering the drinking age may or may not appeal to those reading here today, I think we should all encourage the state of Vermont to make this stand against federal laws that unjustly usurp their rights of self-determination. 

Crossposted on Red Maryland.

A minimum of global warming?

February 28, 2008 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics · 6 Comments 

Late edit: Reaction from the Maryland GOP to the global warming bills is at the end of the post. 

According to the weather.com website, the average February 28 high temperature for Salisbury is 50 degrees while the low is normally 31. So why is it 22 degrees out as I write this at 8:30 in the evening?

Well, weather here is like that in many other places – the standard joke is if you don’t like the conditions on the Shore, wait 5 minutes and they will change. The last couple days we’ve been under the influence of a frigid high-pressure system, something that happens a couple times a winter. This one just happens to be later than most. But we’re in a winter that has seen unusually large amounts of snow in various regions of the country, along with similar reports from China and snow falling in Baghdad for the first time in memory.

And there are ominous signs that this could be a future trend. A recent editorial in Investor’s Business Daily points out research by Canadian scientists suggesting that the activity on the sun is entering a phase known as the Maunder Minimum, with a decided lack of sunspot activity over the last year or so – unusual for solar activity, which tends to fluctuate in an 11-year cycle. The last similar phase, one the phenomenon was named for, traces back to the 17th century and coincided with a century of very chilly global weather.

While these scientists are looking for additional funding to conduct their solar research, they come to a much different conclusion than many of their peers in the community:

R. Timothy Patterson, professor of geology and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Center of Canada’s Carleton University, says that “CO2 variations show little correlation with our planet’s climate on long, medium and even short time scales.”

Rather, he says, “I and the first-class scientists I work with are consistently finding excellent correlations between the regular fluctuations of the sun and earthly climate. This is not surprising. The sun and the stars are the ultimate source of energy on this planet.”

Patterson, sharing Tapping’s concern, says: “Solar scientists predict that, by 2020, the sun will be starting into its weakest Schwabe cycle of the past two centuries, likely leading to unusually cool conditions on Earth.”

“Solar activity has overpowered any effect that CO2 has had before, and it most likely will again,” Patterson says. “If we were to have even a medium-sized solar minimum, we could be looking at a lot more bad effects than ‘global warming’ would have had.”

Of course, Investor’s Business Daily is no scientific journal, but why should we be skeptical about observations such as the ones this Canadian team has found when we readily accept the word of non-scientist Al Gore about global warming being imminent because of all the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels? Yes, there are scientists who agree with Al Gore, but how many of them are looking for research grants too? Besides, the warmest year in recorded history wasn’t 2007, or even 1998 – it was in 1934, well before the SUV was invented.

So I’m going to accept the premise, borne out by historic events, that we’re in for an era of lower global temperatures. In the meantime, we in Maryland may have to deal with the effects of the regulations proposed in HB712/SB309. Among its goals are, “achieving a mandated 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2020 and a mandated 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2006 levels by 2050.” Not only that, this bill would require:

  • a cap-and-trade system for emissions trading (of course, these credits would be purchased from the state, with the proceeds going to help reduce energy bills for low-income residents and “measures to reduce vehicle miles traveled”);
  • require electric companies to track and account for the greenhouse gases they create;
  • also, “if, in the Department’s discretion, auction proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative are inadequate to fund the necessary administrative and technical costs of implementing this subtitle, the Department may establish a Greenhouse Gas Emissions fee of no more than 4 cents per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted to be paid by a source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state.”

So, beginning with the adoption of the bill on June 1st, the Department of the Environment has three months to put together the list of compliance measures that would start in 2009, and the measure would fully culminate by 2012.

Of course, these idealists in Annapolis don’t look at the impact this would have on Maryland residents and businesses. If you thought the electric rate increases we’ve had over the last couple years were bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Of course, should these increases be denied by the PSC, then the companies will have no choice but to limit the supply or face bankruptcy. Can anyone say rolling blackouts?

And a “measure to reduce vehicle miles traveled” sounds to me like a car tax based on the number of miles you drive. That would be after they invest huge tax dollars in mass transit that no one really wants to ride and slash highway funding so that the traffic which does remain will be in perpetual gridlock on pothole-strewn roads.

Meanwhile, heating your home through these colder winters will become an iffy proposition because of the supply shortages and extremely high costs for electricity or fossil fuels like heating oil or natural gas. (That is, if you still have a job in Maryland since businesses will flee these repressive regulations as quickly as possible.)

I don’t accept the premise that this bill is even necessary given the recent research on a theory that is more valid as that of mankind causing global warming. Certainly we will someday need to evolve past fossil fuels to power our lives but that day is beyond the lifespan of both me and my daughter, plus any children she has. We have plenty of oil and natural gas out there but too many restrictions on fetching our native supplies, not to mention the virtually untapped nuclear power aspect of generating electricity. If we spent half as much time dismantling restrictions on drilling for oil as we did debating the fallacy of manmade global warming, gas might not be over $3 a gallon.

And we wouldn’t have to worry about those colder winters ahead, knowing that we had the energy available to be able to heat our homes in a comfortable manner at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, the thought of energy independence doesn’t seem to permeate the minds of those in Annapolis who think they know better.

*****

Today the Maryland Republican Party reacted to HB712/SB309:

Democrats in the General Assembly have now held hearings on Senate Bill 309 and House Bill 712, bills that would require the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 90% by 2050. Recent newspaper articles have focused on the impact these bills would have on Maryland’s economy and the likelihood that factories would shut down and people would lose jobs. The fiscal note for these bills indicates that there will be significant cost implications for small business, but that no study has been conducted.

Dr. Jim Pelura, Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, released the following statement:

“Marylanders are blessed to live among such beautiful natural resources, and we have a duty to be good stewards of what we enjoy today and pass on to future generations.  There are ways for us to accomplish our mutual goals of a healthy economy and healthy environment, but it cannot be found in more government regulation.”

Will Gilchrest do the unthinkable?

Earlier this month, the political career of Wayne Gilchrest ended with a resounding thud as he lost the GOP primary by nine points to Andy Harris. Even more shocking was the margin that he lost to Harris by on the western side of the bay.

So my antenna went up when I saw a story dated yesterday on The Hill newspaper’s website by Aaron Blake that quoted Gilchrest’s right-hand man Tony Caligiuri whining about a lack of polling and support from the National Republican Congressional Committee. While NRCC head Tom Cole personally endorsed Gilchrest in the race, Caligiuri noted:

“They never offered to do any polling for us or really do anything financially for us before the primary, yet they were polling the Harris-Kratovil race, which was kind of a curious thing. The fact that they spent however much it costs to test Harris in a poll without ever doing anything to support the incumbent is kind of a chilling message to incumbents.”

Tony blamed some of the lack of effort by the NRCC on the fact that Gilchrest wasn’t one to support the party through contributions from his own campaign, and also stated that it wasn’t likely Gilchrest would be active in the GOP after his term expired. For his part, NRCC Chairman Cole told The Hill that sharing the information with Gilchrest would have needed to be listed as an in-kind contribution; moreover, the NRCC wasn’t in a financial position to “save” its members in contested primaries.

The money quote from the story comes near its close though:

Caligiuri left open the possibility that Gilchrest might endorse Kratovil in the general election after a nasty primary battle with Harris. Harris defeated Gilchrest 43-33, bringing an end to the centrist incumbent’s 18-year House career.

Gilchrest has regularly won two-thirds of the general election vote, making his endorsement potentially key to an uphill battle for Kratovil. (Emphasis mine.)

So it appears that a guy who voted with Nancy Pelosi almost half the time in a survey last year could be endorsing someone who will vote with her at least 70% of the time, based on Democrat loyalty from that same sampling.

Speaking of Frank Kratovil, he appeared Monday morning on the AM Salisbury radio program with Bill Reddish. In a brief interview, Kratovil commented that the manner that the Republican primary was contested will have a “great impact” on the general election. And to make sure that occurs, I’m certain their campaign has video of every commercial and a copy of every mailing produced and sent out by Wayne Gilchrest and E.J. Pipkin.

In stressing his experience with the immigration issue from the point of view of someone trying to enforce laws, Frank talked about working to make driving without a valid license a jailable offense, so the ICE agents would at least have an opportunity to deport scofflaws in the country illegally. Prior to that, they’d pay the fine and not be heard from until the next time they were stopped. It’s an issue he’s running far to the right of most Democrats on, at least until he’s told what’s what by Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer after he wins in November.

Reddish also asked about Kratovil’s Iraq policy, where he once again trotted out his standard line that going into Iraq was a “mistake” and told the radio audience he thought the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group should be followed, using “carrots and sticks” as needed to get other countries to share the Iraqi load. The failure of diplomacy was a “fair criticism” of the Bush Administration.

Frank concluded by alluding to Harris’s “dismal” record on the environment, and he seems to have a friend here. To get a perfect Maryland LCV score last year, Andy would have had to vote for a ban on coastal dredging, a ban on detergents containing phosphorus, for adding solar energy to the renewable energy portfolio utilities in Maryland are now mandated to have, for the Clean Cars bill, for more restrictive stormwater management, and against weakening energy efficiency standards. He scored 18%, getting credit for the 47-0 passage of the stormwater regulations. Personally I would have gotten a zero for that crap because had I been in the Senate that vote would have been 46-1.

But Frank has no score because he’s not in the General Assembly, so we’re only led to assume that he would be for what he claims Harris is against – the perfect blank slate. We just have to infer his positions on a number of issues by the company he keeps, notably Martin O’Malley. As the campaign goes on, though, some of us will be paying attention.

Crossposted on Red Maryland.

A look at our infamous county

February 26, 2008 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Politics · 2 Comments 

Two incidents have rocked our county government to the core within the last two weeks. It’s sort of unusual for me to talk about county government affairs because these pertain only to a limited audience, but these events have made headlines throughout the state and nation.

I’m going to begin with Davis Ruark and his alleged DWI offense. After being pulled over and blowing an amount reported in some local circles to be way over Maryland’s .08 BAL, Ruark announced he was taking some time off to clean up his act, and this is commendable. I’m glad he’s addressing his personal problem, although it would have been preferable to have done so prior to his being pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving.

But it leaves his office shorthanded and unable to complete tasks at hand; meanwhile the fact that a loaded gun was found in his car could very well spell the end of his career should he be convicted of the charge of possessing the weapon while intoxicated. (This would be among items listed in the Constitution of Maryland as just cause.) Thus, several in and out of the blogosphere have called on Ruark to resign.

If you read further down the section, you find that unlike most offices of a political nature, it’s not the local party that recommends a successor for the State’s Attorney post but the county’s Circuit Court judges. If I’m reading this list correctly, we have three with two, including the Administrative Judge, originally appointed by Governor Glendening, while the other Associate Judge is an Ehrlich appointee. So I’d lay odds that Ruark’s successor would be one of his fellow Democrats but I could be pleasantly surprised too. Either way, it sets up what could be an intriguing and to the best of my knowledge rare contested race for State’s Attorney here in Wicomico County – one that wouldn’t have been on the radar screen for likely another decade or more since Ruark is only 52 and certainly could have held office as long as he wished without opposition. Even if he beats this rap and hangs on, this will be an issue in 2010.

Another impact of the Ruark absence may be a needless delay in trying the case of wholesale theft that local businessman Ray Lewis and several county employees have been accused of. Quite possibly the March 10 grand jury date cited in the Daily Times story by Greg Latshaw is jeopardized by Ruark’s sudden and extended departure from the county. Meanwhile, other fallout from this incident has been swift and severe as longtime Public Works head Rai Sharma abruptly retired last week. It was under his watch that the alleged thefts occurred.

Many point the finger at County Executive Rick Pollitt for not being diligent enough to notice items under his watch, while others defend him since he’s only been on the job for 14 months. I’ll get back to Pollitt shortly, but Bill Duvall at Duvafiles brought up a great point – our County Charter allows an Internal Auditor (Page 8 here); however, none was selected by this Council. Again, while it’s allowable to use the Pollitt defense for this group since most have only been on the job 15 months themselves (5 of the 7 were first elected in 2006), it’s worth asking if the IA job was even filled when the revised Charter was adopted in 2004. That period was when the County Council still held the task of running the county, and it’s interesting as a side note that all four Democrats who were serving there at the time declined re-election in 2006.

Returning to our County Executive, it’s unfortunate for him that I’m a saver. Not only do I have the Memory Division I call monoblogue, I keep campaign literature as well. Under “Responsive & Responsible County Government” Pollitt pledged:

A Pollitt Administration will demand the highest level of respect for our constituents and the strictest attention to our financial responsiblities. We will control the budget, insist on efficiency, and we will remember that we are there to serve. Period. (Emphasis mine.)

Further, this episode makes me wonder if he followed through on something he described at a candidate forum in Pittsville, October 12, 2006:

In fact, Pollitt claimed that each year he started the Fruitland city budget from scratch and built it as a whole (rather than the federal style of baseline budgeting.) Pollitt advocated a “climate of thrift and economy” with incentives for department heads to save money. (Again, emphasis mine in reprint.)

I’m not doubting Pollitt’s sincerity on the incentive portion, but if the budget truly were rebuilt each year perhaps the differences in usage of fuel oil and other items purloined from the county may have been more apparent in the numbers and wish lists that were submitted by department heads.

A discussion at last night’s WCRC meeting evolved about a comment that was made by Pollitt at the same Pittsville forum. As I described it:

Pollitt closed by pleading guilty to the charge brought by his opponents of being a bureaucrat and said he did so “with a lot of pride.”

Instead of a bureaucrat, it was agreed that what we need is leadership. Unfortunately, the GOP County Executive candidate in the 2006 general election, Ron Alessi, has his own questionable dealings as well so neither side is smelling like a rose right now. And at a time when the City of Salisbury has its own troubles with financial accountability, much thought should be given to how much trust we have with government dealing with the dollars that they exact from us as the price for living where we do.

Harris seeks to meet and greet with Salisbury-area voters

I found out this evening that Republican candidate for Congress, State Senator Andy Harris, will be the guest of “an informal gathering to meet with friends and anyone interested to learn more about Senator Andy Harris. There is no cost, and children are welcome.”

So here’s a chance to talk to the candidate yourself without any sort of obligation.

This will occur at the residence of Mark and Hala McIver, 26144 Nanticoke Road, Salisbury from 2 to 5 on Saturday afternoon, March 1, 2008. Contact Dustin Mills at (262) 909-6922 or Mark McIver at (443) 735-2836.

I’ll see you there.

Also, for those of you in Somerset County he’ll be attending your county’s Lincoln Day dinner that evening.

WCRC meeting – February 2008

February 25, 2008 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – February 2008 

It was back to a more normal meeting this month for our group, but we still had over 30 people come out to find out what was going on within the local Republican Party and hear from our speaker, the Director of the Campaign Finance Division of our State Board of Elections, Jared DeMarinis.

Of course, we did do the usual business of reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, hearing the minutes from January’s meeting (mercifully kept sort of brief regarding the guest speaker), and our treasurer’s report. Then we heard from our Annapolis-based guest. And while he was one of the attorneys who successfully convinced the New Jersey Supreme Court to severely bend election laws and allow state Democrats to place onetime Senator Frank Lautenburg on the ballot to replace the scandal-plagued Robert Torricelli in 2002, I’ll not hold that against him for this report.

The key part of his remarks was to explain what our club could and could not do for candidates at the state and federal level, along with the differences between our situation and a political action committee. While we don’t have a PAC, some other clubs do and they have to be carefully divided financially. Of particular interest to us was the aspect of campaign coordination because among our members are a number of local elected officials and the possibilty of conflict of interest does exist. We also were made aware of the financial limits our club was placed under for candidate support during any four-year cycle, including the one we’re in now that extends through the end of 2010.

However there were a couple interesting loopholes that could be exploited in the area of issue-based ads, ads that could even feature a candidate’s name and positions on particular issues. For example, if we placed an ad that said candidate A would be a tax cutter if elected while candidate B wouldn’t be, that would likely pass muster unless we specifically asked people to vote for or elect candidate A. (I actually had names typed in but decided it best to omit them. You can probably figure who’s who in the Congressional race.) These ads would not apply to our club’s four-year cycle limits. However, DeMarinis was referring to state laws specifically – the federal laws are much more thorny and the registration limit for financial contributions quite low. I also found it noteworthy that the state board looks at 527’s “with a suspicious eye” because they seem to be the vehicle of choice in federal election financing.

Of course, I asked the question about websites like this one, where I openly advocate for candidates. Fortunately for me, they haven’t gotten around to being very restrictive on what I say (nor should they ever be) and because I make it clear that the website is my own opinion and not that of the Central Committee as a whole, I’m well within the law.

Another query I had was about the time when I seek re-election. Longtime readers will recall I had my authority statement online when my campaign for the office I hold was active. I also had to claim a portion of my server fee as an in-kind contribution to myself because I used this website in my campaign to a small extent. One change in the interim has been made where a campaign committee is considered to be a continuing committee for all offices, so when I run for re-election I would have to maintain the committee until I filed the paperwork to dissolve it. In 2006 I filed my paperwork as a non-continuing one, now it’s no longer possible to do so.

Overall, it was an interesting topic to delve into and prepare us for upcoming elections.

We also heard as usual from Central Committee head Dr. John Bartkovich, who noted that the Lincoln Day dinner was a success and recognized again our Republicans of the Year, both of whom were in attendance tonight. He also put out a call for unity now that the primary is behind us and announced we’ll have a booth at the Delmarva Chicken Festival here in Salisbury in June.

Other announcements were made about the club’s Crab Feast now on the schedule for September 20th and needing help at the club’s Salisbury Festival food booth in late April. Also, the Lower Shore YR’s meet this Thursday, 7 p.m. at the Backstreet Grill here in Salisbury (formerly Pesto’s. I’ll see you there.)

I have one more announcement from the proceedings tonight in my next post, shortly.

Carnival of Maryland 27

February 24, 2008 · Posted in Personal stuff · 2 Comments 

And so we begin year two of this biweekly potpourri of contributions from many of Maryland’s finest bloggers here from my humble abode on the Eastern Shore. I’m happy to play host for the third time.

I got an interesting assortment of submissions this time that mostly seemed to focus on two general areas: the natural world and the political arena. And it just so happens I can work the two together because I got a nice bridge from one of my contributors as you’ll see. It’s sort of like a rainbow.

Yes, that’s called a lead-in because first up is a brief post by Annapolis Capital Punishment writer Paul Foer regarding a double rainbow he spied over his hometown recently. It was the culmination of a period of unusual weather that also aroused the curiosity of a frequent C of M contributor and host, “The Ridger”. February is her pictorial look at the birds and weather that she featured a few days back on her site The Greenbelt.

While “MamaBird” actually lives just outside Maryland, she provides the green in the rainbow from natural to political with a post outlining mankind’s effect on the natural world. In Whither Our Water? Addressing Hormones in Our Waterways she takes the time to ask questions of an expert in the field because of her concern about the health of the Potomac River. (Of course, anyone with a knowledge of geography knows that the river provides much of Maryland’s southern border – thus the tie-in.) Simpler, cleaner living on the homefront is the concern of this author whose blog is called Surely You Nest, and it goes without saying water quality is a political topic moreso here in Maryland than many other places.

It’s this transition to the political aspect which leads me to discuss that category of posts I received. Attila at Pillage Idiot talks about a political Mission Impossible: running as a Republican in Maryland’s Eighth District against entrenched Democrat Chris Van Hollen, a man so confident of winning re-election he now directs the nationwide drive to put more Democrats in Congress.

A lack of choice is the lament of “The Patriot Sharpshooter”, whose website is known as Common Sense. In asking What did we do to deserve this selection?, he compares those still standing in the Presidential field and posits the big winner this November will be – apathy. In another submission, he thinks that the alliances Presidential candidates make are important as well, in this case it’s Democrat hopeful Barack Obama.

Turning to state politics, “Blogger1947” talks about a House bill that would affect the selection process of school board members in Baltimore County. His criticism of the bill is aptly titled, Will we NEVER learn about politicians? It’s a good question to ask.

I’m also chipping in as I usually do with two posts of an Annapolis nature, but two that are related. Frequent readers here know I pay pretty close attention to the goings-on in our General Assembly and last weekend I wrote a pair of posts I call the Legislative Checkup. Part one dealt mainly with bills sponsored by Democrats and part two those backed by the GOP. I use what bills my local legislators here on the Lower Shore sponsored as a point of reference but these measures will affect us all here in the Free State.

Since my two contributions talk about blue and red politics, that combination which makes violet brings to an end the natural to political rainbow aspect of this Carnival. But I still have a couple other items that came in so I suppose we can think of these as the pot of gold.

We’ll start with an item from Creating a Jubilee County, where Joyce talks about obtrusive website advertising getting in the way of the reading she wants to do. Personally I notice that on a lot of sites too, but after all isn’t that the idea of advertising? I do agree that sometimes enough is too much.

Finally, I found out something I didn’t know and a lot of people might be surprised to learn – that The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried here in Maryland despite never living in the state during his lifetime. It’s just another interesting sidelight J.C. has found as he travels On The Red Line.

With that, we’ve lifted the lid on year number two of this biweekly look at the scope of Maryland blogging we call the Carnival of Maryland. As always, I’d like to thank the contributors who submitted the results of their hard work and passion but most of all I’d like to thank all of those who take the time to read through all that has been posted. Hopefully you enjoyed reading all of the posts half as much as I enjoyed putting this together this week.

While I don’t yet know who will be the host, stay tuned for Carnival of Maryland 28 on Sunday, March 9. Now I do, it’ll be Bruce at Crablaw’s Maryland Weekly.

Weekend of local rock volume 10

February 23, 2008 · Posted in Delmarva items, Local Music, Personal stuff · 2 Comments 

Those of you who read monoblogue last weekend know that I spent quite a bit of time looking at the Maryland legislative website. Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoy that sort of research but after awhile all those bills and fiscal notes look the same and one needs a break. Luckily I had secured a ticket to a great event that happened last Saturday night:

At least when I saw this I knew I was in the right place at the right time.

It’s a bit of cheating from a “local” rock perspective, but there’s not a lot of national acts who come down this way at this time of year. So I took a pause for the cause, as part of the 98 Days ’til Summer Flip Flop Ball proceeds went to benefit the Food Bank of Delaware. (And to think there was a developer who wanted to tear down at least a part of Ruddertowne to put up more condos.) Fortunately Ruddertowne is still standing and the event was pretty well attended as you can see here. Where the crowd is gathered is where the munchies were set up, and despite the damage it did to my diet, the finger food that was served was excellent.

A look at some of those who were eating, drinking, and being merrily rocked by the two bands that were there.

I’ll cheerfully admit that I own no flip-flops (if you saw my feet you’d thank me for that) but I decided to make the trip up to Dewey Beach anyway once I found out who was headlining because I hadn’t seen the Smithereens since their Date tour in 1995 and I like the group’s music. I believe my quote when I heard the promo for the event on the radio was, “Yeah, I’m f**king there!” They’re sort of a departure from the heavy stuff I like but they put together some good tunes.

First up though was a Bruce Springsteen tribute band called E Street Shuffle.

If you like Bruce Springsteen, these guys put together a reasonably good homage to The Boss.

I managed to bury the drummer in the shot (he’s stage left behind the man with the black guitar), but these six guys played about a dozen of Bruce’s hits and kept the crowd entertained for the hour or so they were on. Admittedly I’m not much of a Springsteen fan so I’m not going to vouch for how well they represented the experience of seeing Bruce live, but they were pretty good musicians anyway. And they did their job, which was to warm up the crowd for the headlining act.

Most of these guys have been playing together since their high school days so they were pretty tight.

Since the last time I saw the Smithereens in ’95, they parted ways with original bassist Mike Mesaros, replacing him with Severo “the Thrilla” Jornacion. He’s closest to the camera in the picture above. So as you can tell, their website picture is a bit dated. Here’s another shot of the Thrilla:

Severo handling the vocals on one of the three Beatles covers the group played.

The other three have been together pretty much from day one in the suburbia of northern New Jersey. From top to bottom is lead vocalist and guitarist Pat DiNizio, lead guitarist and vocalist Jim Babjak, and drummer Dennis Diken who also had a turn singing a Beatles cover.

Vocalist Pat DiNizio has put on a couple pounds since I saw him last, but haven't we all? He still can sing though.

Jim Babjak's guitar hooks created the base for most of the bands hits in the late '80's. You can see I wasn't the only photographer.

Dennis Diken hasn't lost anything in the 20 years since the band made its name. I squeezed that shot between a couple folks just in front of me.

So now you’ve been introduced to the band, and you wonder what the heck were they famous for? Most of the songs they played came from a group of four albums that spanned a period from 1986 to 1991 – Especially For You (1986), Green Thoughts (1988), 11 (1990), and Blow Up (1991). While the order may not be perfect and I might have missed a song, this is the set list as I recall it:

  • Only A Memory (opening song)
  • Top Of The Pops
  • Since You Went Away (from Pat DiNizio’s solo album)
  • House We Used To Live In
  • Especially For You
  • Spellbound
  • Drown In My Own Tears (by “special request” for a lucky lady in the audience)
  • Don’t Bother Me (from their latest CD, Meet The Smithereens)
  • I Wanna Be Your Man (also from “Meet“)
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand (also from “Meet“)
  • Behind The Wall Of Sleep
  • Blood & Roses
  • Room Without A View
  • Yesterday Girl
  • A Girl Like You (closed the set)
  • Blues Before And After (first encore song)
  • Behind Blue Eyes (a cover of The Who’s classic to close the show, with a lot of our singing.)

In case you’re wondering, Meet The Smithereens, which came out last year, is a song-by-song tribute to the Beatles’ Meet The Beatles album. The group claims a heavy influence from a number of British Invasion groups and in this case they decided to pay homage by redoing that album with their own style. In all they played about an hour and 40 minutes. I have a another band shots that turned out halfway decent, I believe it was during an extended solo from House We Used To Live In:

You can tell these guys are pros but they have fun. They generally play about 20 shows a year despite not having an album of original material since 1999.

As I mentioned I’d seen these guys on the tour supporting the album A Date With The Smithereens in 1995 and also was at a show on the tour after Blow Up in 1992. All three of these have been club dates and in the latter two I found out Jim wasn’t afraid to go into the crowd and play, literally playing at the bar next to me in ’95 and at arms’ length in front of me last Saturday. But this time part of the deal was the band hanging around after the show and signing items they had for sale. So now I have this nice hat to wear:

It was a treat to meet the band after the show.

I had only two issues with the concert itself. One is that they played nothing off probably my favorite Smithereens album, 1994’s A Date With The Smithereens – not even the single from that CD called Miles From Nowhere. It’s just a minor quibble since there were other songs that I wasn’t expecting to hear like Spellbound or Room Without A View.

The second problem was something that I swear follows me and that’s sound issues. These weren’t all that bad, just a faulty microphone during the Beatles part of the show where I couldn’t hear the vocals very well. It was fixed after a couple songs and they were good to go again.

It was a great show though, and I’d recommend making the trip to see them if they come nearby. That may be a possibility since I understand they are releasing a double CD (one with their classics recorded live, the other with new stuff) later this spring or early summer. It’ll be something to add to my CD collection for sure.

A second wave that’s up in arms

February 22, 2008 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on A second wave that’s up in arms 

As a student of the local blogosphere, I’ve noticed that there’s quite a few sites that have sprang up over the last few weeks and months where particular people who have an axe to grind with those in authority place themselves on a Blogspot site (or in some cases actually get their own domain name) and put their opinions out for everyone to see. Today I added a few more links to local sites that fit this bill under “Delmarva Bloggers” and I’m sure that there’s similar sites to these in other small towns up and down Delmarva.

While this trend is as old as the blogosphere (remember the excitement when Duvafiles first became known, or the late lamented Justice For All or Crabbin?), it rarely makes headlines. But local media took notice earlier this week when Salisbury City Councilwomen Debbie Campbell and Terry Cohen began their own website in order to get news out about happenings in the city of Salisbury, leading to a citizens’ meeting last night that a couple dozen people attended. Because this wasn’t a meeting sponsored by the city, it came across to many as a backdoor effort to influence what went on within the city’s administration – arguably, a regime which deserves further scrutiny because of a series of tardy audits and questionable dealings with developers.

Similarly, those mostly anonymous scribes in smaller hamlets are attempting to catch that same lightning in a bottle Campbell and Cohen have found and shine that light on the wrongs that they perceive happening where they live. But for the most part, these bloggers work outside the sphere of local government and it’s more newsworthy when two who are in the inner circle make this sort of grassroots effort.

On the other hand the same anonymity that can protect some who write what they feel about local affairs can also make them appear to be a more dubious source. Certainly Campbell and Cohen are in their position because the voters trusted them with the task, but it is possible that others who blog on their local affairs have positions within their own town’s government and risk their livelihood by being whistleblowers. I’ll grant the possibility, but in general if your information is good you should have no need to hide behind a screen name. I allow commenters to do so under a screen name, but 99% of the time I at least give my first name when I comment. I don’t worry about hiding my identity too much because anyone with a little bit of common sense can deduce who I am anyway by tracing it back to my website. (There’s only seven on our Central Committee, and I’m the only Michael. Plus I swear Joe Albero must have 200 pictures of me anyway, counting the blurry ones.)

There is one thing that all of these sites and millions more on the Internet want, and that’s change. Not the lip service paid to it by politicians who promise the world but only seem to do just enough around the edges to keep getting reelected term after term while the root of the problem isn’t addressed, but structural changes in how things are accomplished. In short, they seek to make life easier and better and if that comes at the expense of those who have grown plump at the trough of taxpayer money, them’s the breaks. Most of these bloggers look at things in the town or county they live in, while others like me look at the bigger picture – in my case, trying to educate readers on the benefits of liberty and smaller government at all levels.

We live in a golden age of being able to place our opinion on a worldwide forum for relatively little cost. But the day may be coming where this medium will be taken away by those who have the wherewithal and the lust for absolute control to do so. It’s this thought that should make us redouble our efforts to bring about the sort of change that does solve our problems while the opportunity still exists.

Another opinion on adult education

Since I’ve been hot and heavy on legislative matters this week, I recently received some thoughts from a loyal reader about my post regarding shifting the state’s adult education from the Maryland State Department of Education to the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.

Thanks for highlighting the discussion about Adult Education that’s being joined in Annapolis. From my personal perspective, its difficult to determine whether this effort is an inter-agency squabble and food fight, or whether it has its roots in the conflict between the Governor and the Superintendent of Schools. They have recently publicly reconciled after an in-person meeting. So we will see.

Adult Education is one of those non-sexy areas, and it doesn’t have a lot of high profile folks hovering on the periphery to advocate for it. Some of the ‘facts’ sent to you are at variance with ones listed by the Department of Education, and at this writing I’d give MDE a decided edge for accuracy since they have been running things.

But here’s the nub: most folks utilizing Adult Education services fall into 3 distinct groups: folks needing help with very basic educational (ABE) skills (think primary school skillsets); folks seeking help with secondary education (ASE) skills (generally plan to achieve their GED); folks seeking to learn English (ESL or ESOL). The mix varies from county to county.

A high percentage of these folks are already employed, regardless of the program they are enrolled in so the notion that they are ‘found money’ in terms of being potential new entrants to the workforce is a pipe dream. As adults, they have come to realize that building their skills or achieving their GED is an important personal goal for a variety of reasons. So they come to class before or after work, while juggling family issues. On a number of levels they are every bit as motivated as the folks taking evening classes at SU, Wilmington, UMES, Wor-Wic or Del-Tech – just one notch lower on the skills/grade level scale – for now.

Nature is sometimes cruel; some of these folks work very hard to grasp basic reading and math skills but don’t have the innate ability to acquire higher level skills despite sincere and ongoing efforts.

Other folks left school, at a variety of ages and grade levels, for what seemed like good reasons to them at the time; their academic standing at the time they left varies widely, as does the number of years that have passed since their formal schooling ended.

There is a general misconception in the population that a GED is easy to acquire – a drive through window, if you will. Not so. I have heard that about 40% of our High School graduates cannot pass the GED exam; don’t have a specific cite to offer, but having seen the types of problems GED students must pass, and having seen HS students up close for several years, I don’t doubt it. The GED is a lengthy standardized test of 5 subjects and if you answer correctly you pass; if you don’t, try again. The only section with a smidge of subjectivity is the essay, but the readers who score them have a lot of training and experience.

If you peruse the catalogs at Wor-Wic, SU or UMES you’ll see quite a few remedial courses which are in place to help the students bring their skills to college level minimums before tackling the regular curriculum; pretty much the norm these days for colleges and universities across the land.

As you noted the 750,000 figure covers a lot of ground and lacks specifics. MD’s 2006 population estimate is 5.6 million so that would represent a very sizable chunk of the potential workforce. The state archives show a 2006 civilian workforce of 3,009,143, with 2,892,620 employed and 116,523 (3.9%) unemployed.

Viewed this way, even if 100% of the unemployed are included in DLLR’s figures, then the remaining 634,000 are gainfully employed or are not desirous of being in the workforce. There is generally a lot of volatility in the folks who are unemployed; many of them are folks who have all the skills DLLR wants to provide, they are just between employers at the moment, and thus ought to reduce the 100% of unemployed we credited to DLLR above, which would drive the number of happily employed folks with a missing skill or credential upwards.

“Limited literacy skills” covers a lot of ambiguous territory. Many, many folks enjoy their jobs and are good at them but would bog down making a speech or writing an essay; unless they have a burning desire to do so they may not regard themselves as lacking even though DLLR does. Same argument applies to self sustaining and satisfied folks without a HS diploma. English language skills issues are tougher to quantify; in many cases folks who are more recent arrivals may lack all 3 elements discussed. For purposes of my discussion I’ll assume they’re here legally to avoid getting off on a tangent.

From my observation the local ABE/ASE/ESL program operates efficiently and effectively. ASE students use it for GED prep. It has very modest funding but attracts a seasoned faculty with gobs of teaching experience, credentials and advanced degrees. They are retired teachers who love to teach; teachers who are moonlighting; ex-teachers raising younger children and desirous of a more flexible schedule before seeking F/T work again. They attract notable volunteers from a number of career fields including engineers and educators. Most positions are part-time and have no benefits. I think DLLR would be very hard pressed to recreate such a fertile garden, especially for the funding.

Because students are enrolled voluntarily, behavioral issues are rare and the emphasis remains on instruction and studying. ‘Class’ proceeds at the individual’s pace so folks who are better prepared, or have less rust on their skills, can proceed to take the GED more rapidly, while someone needing more time is free to take it. The GED exam is actually administered by the MDE at SU once a month.

I think our local One-Stop Job Market run by DLLR does a good job with its current tasks, but those folks are not trained or credentialed as teachers and educators. I’m sure MVA could take over licensing architects since they already do licenses; course it might take them a while to tumble to the nuances of the profession. Same story here.

In closing, I’m uncertain as to the motivation for this proposed switch, but I don’t think it would benefit the students or the state, either financially or on a results basis.

If DLLR has some sort of magic formula to guide and control ‘workforce’ development, then by extension we should also give them Pre-K through PhD so that we’ll have the perfect statist solution – all the time. Enough nurses, doctors, architects, waiters, farmers, poultry workers, etc. in exactly the proper towns and counties – all selected by the folks who know best what’s best for us. Or not!

Yes, it’s a long blockquote but well said. And further buttressing the argument on a financial level is the fiscal note from HB367/SB203. Pay particular attention toward the end when it’s argued by the MSDE that the DLLR is woefully underestimating some of their costs while the fiscal note only shows an additional annual expenditure of perhaps $200,000.

This is another in a series of bills that were introduced on behalf of Governor O’Malley, but what I find curious is that unlike most other items desired by the Administration such as the mortgage and foreclosure reforms, no one is willing to co-sponsor this measure. It seems like the only one who wants it now may be DLLR head Tom Perez since, as it was noted by my reader, Governor O’Malley and Nancy Grasmick have at least figuratively kissed and made up. Now that the hearings have been held for both the House and Senate versions, the next step is to see how the respective committees treat this proposal.

Crossposted on Red Maryland.

Saying “suuuey!” in Maryland

February 20, 2008 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Saying “suuuey!” in Maryland 

When it comes to treating the state treasury like a loan office, our Delegates and Senators have gotten to be pretty good at the game. So far in this session there’s a total of 309 bond bills entered into the legislative annals. Of course, the pork isn’t spread around evenly – I actually went through the list and subdivided it by county. Note that the numbers don’t nearly add up to 309 because most of these are crossfiled between House and Senate, and I’ve ranked counties by the number of bond bills submitted on their behalf. Not surprisingly, Baltimore City leads the pack with Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties close behind.

  • Baltimore City – 39
  • Prince George’s – 30
  • Montgomery – 24
  • Anne Arundel and Baltimore County – 12 each
  • St. Mary’s and Washington – 5 each
  • Dorchester and Frederick – 4 each
  • Allegany, Carroll, Cecil, Charles, Harford, Howard – 3 each
  • Caroline, Kent – 2 each
  • Calvert, Garrett, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico, Worcester – 1 each

It says something when you take the lowest 17 counties on the list, add up their total bond bill projects, and still have a lower number than Baltimore City by itself. Between our four counties on the Lower Shore, we have just seven earmarks so I’d have to say our local legislators are showing very good restraint.

Obviously these bills aren’t introduced to become law per se, the real idea is to get them included among the millions of dollars that’s awarded late in the session when bond bills are placed into the next year’s budget. So, you ask, what are our local people trying to get included? You know I’m not going to disappont you, with the exception that I’m not going to link to the bills because, quite frankly, I don’t have all night to write this!

Funding sought in Dorchester County includes $480,000 for the WaterLand Fisheries (HB244/SB670); $150,000 for the Galestown Community Center (HB571/SB153), $1 million for the Bay Country Kid’s Club Facility (HB548/SB668), and $500,000 for the Dorchester County Family YMCA (HB547/SB669).

In Somerset County, $200,000 in assistance is asked for Bending Water Park (HB1007/SB892).

Wicomico County’s project is a new Epilepsy Association Facility, at a state price tag of $170,000 (HB1001/SB893).

$250,000 for the Rackliffe House is the lone Worcester County bid (HB1003/SB894).

I also found it interesting that some of our local delegation had signed on as co-sponsors for funding sought in other counties. Obviously Senator Colburn, whose district stretches northward to include Talbot and Caroline counties, would place his name on funding requests from those areas, but why would he be one of those asking for $100,000 for the Aquaculture and Seafood Retail and Distribution Market in Prince George’s County? Delegate Rudy Cane also has a PG County project under his name as a co-sponsor, $300,000 for the Delta Alumnae Community Development Center.

In that same vein, Delegate Norm Conway is co-sponsoring $350,000 for the Camp Fairlee Manor in Kent County and, along with Delegate Jim Mathias, two of several asking for $250,000 for improvements to the Maryland Food Bank in Baltimore County. Perhaps there’s a local benefit to these, but in an era where political candidates are crucified for every pork-laden measure they vote for (like the “dance hall in Montgomery County” Andy Harris was accused of voting for, surely part of a much larger state budget); it just makes me think that in this time of needing to cut state spending we should try to get out of the loan business. Yes, many of these are worthwhile causes but should it be our state’s place to pick and choose which ones receive taxpayer largesse?

Isn’t one bill enough?

February 19, 2008 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Isn’t one bill enough? 

In last fall’s special session, one thing that was pretty much passed in the dead of night was the infamous extension of our newly increased sales tax to computer services. Once the day broke and news got out about this additional levy on the IT business, howls of protest could be heard from Oakland to Ocean City. Straight away it was vowed that this issue would be taken care of in the regular session which started last month.

And was it ever! Now the degree to which this has been addressed is almost ridiculous. There are now SEVEN bills floating around in the General Assembly that for all practical purposes are identically worded and seek to accomplish the goal of wiping out the computer services aspect of the sales tax. In order of introduction, these bills are:

  • SB41 (lead sponsor Senator Andy Harris, introduced January 10 with 3 sponsors)
  • SB46 (sole sponsor Senator Jennie Forehand, introduced January 10)
  • SB138 (lead sponsor Senator David Brinkley, introduced January 18 with 14 sponsors)
  • HB187 (lead sponsor Delegate Gail Bates, introduced January 21 with 20 sponsors)
  • HB196 (lead sponsor Delegate Shane Pendergrass, introduced January 22 with 72 sponsors)
  • HB253 (lead sponsor is the Minority Leader, Delegate Anthony O’Donnell, introduced January 23 with 37 sponsors)
  • HB326 (lead sponsor is Delegate Jeannie Haddaway, introduced January 25 with 34 sponsors)

Since only the House versions have a hearing scheduled at the moment (March 12), my guess is that the Senate versions are going nowhere. It’s not like they’ll need a conference committee for these, unless of course we have amendments tacked on.

One objection I have to all of the versions of the bill is that they’re deleting the part about sales tax not applying to computer services for use in homeschooling. However, that may be the intent of the revised paragraphs which don’t specifically mention homeschooling but could be construed to include those sorts of programs. (Since I know Delegate Haddaway occasionally reads here, maybe she can elaborate.)

I think the likely scenario is that the bill which winds its way through the General Assembly toward the Governor’s desk will be HB196, simply because a Democrat is the lead sponsor. Then the $200 million question becomes – will Governor O’Malley sign it into law? If he chooses to veto it, my understanding is that the General Assembly cannot take up overriding the veto until the next session unless the veto happens seven days or more prior to sine die. For this to occur the bill needs to get through both chambers before the 83rd day of the session; otherwise, a veto could come after the session ends and the tax will have to be collected beginning July 1st. (By my count, the House hearings take place on day 63, which leaves about 3 weeks to assure a chance for O’Malley’s yea or nay.)

And of course, there will be some Democrats who complain about needing a way to make up for the so-called shortfall, particularly since the FY09 budget will also be debated at the same time. (Lord knows they won’t make any spending cuts.) That’s where the amendments will likely come in, and Republicans will have to be careful not to step into a new tax trap if they get an amended bill to consider at the last minute.

But it still boggles my mind that we have seven bills which deal with the exact same thing. I guess that’s politics in Maryland for you – all these politicians can claim they sponsored a bill to eliminate the computer services tax when re-election (or election in the case of Senator Harris) rolls around.

Crossposted on Red Maryland.

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