Are the devoutly religious the new persecuted group?

March 31, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Cathy Keim, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Are the devoutly religious the new persecuted group? 

By Cathy Keim

To those of us old enough to remember 1993 like it was yesterday, all of the hysteria over the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) seems a bit overplayed. That was the year that Congress passed the federal RFRA with a unanimous vote in the House and a 97 to 3 majority in the Senate. President Bill Clinton happily signed the bill with not a protest or complaint.

For those of you that were not around then, the bill came about because Native American Indians were having trouble protecting their sacred grounds from intrusions such as roads and also were getting into trouble for using peyote in their religious ceremonies and then testing positive for drugs at their place of employment.

Many groups across a broad spectrum from the American Civil Liberties Union to the National Association of Evangelicals united behind this law. And hold on to your hats: then-Congressman Chuck Schumer of New York introduced it into the House!

So, if we have a federal law protecting us from being substantially burdened from our free exercise of religion, then why do 19 states have their own RFRA? In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that the federal RFRA could not be applied at the state level, so some states enacted their own RFRA to cover issues at the state level. These state laws are essentially the same as the federal law.

How did 19 states pass their RFRA laws without any protest, but suddenly when Arizona passed an amendment to their existing law in 2014 there was such a ruckus that the governor vetoed it? In an action foreshadowing the NCAA threat to remove their basketball tournaments from Indiana, the NFL threatened to move the Super Bowl XLIX from Arizona if the law stood.

The thing that changed in the intervening 22 years was that gay marriage went from not even being on the horizon to an accomplished fact in many states. An example of how incredibly fast this sea change occurred is right here in Maryland. The gay marriage law was defeated in 2011 by a close vote mainly because black lawmakers from Prince George’s County and Baltimore declined to accept the argument that homosexuals were being discriminated against in the same way that blacks had had their civil rights denied.

In February 2012, the bill passed by a narrow margin. In response, petitions were circulated and signatures obtained to place this bill before the voters on the November elections as a referendum for its repeal. This is where it got very interesting. On May 9, 2012, President Obama publicly stated that he was for gay marriage. Once he changed his position, the opposition to gay marriage in the black community decreased markedly and Maryland became the first state to pass gay marriage by a popular vote with 52.4% voting to maintain the state law permitting it.

The change in the last 22 years was one-sided. The conservative Christian voters and the orthodox churches did not change their position. They are still standing squarely on their Christian beliefs as stated in the Bible, which they believe is the infallible Word of God.

The liberal churches and politicians are the ones that shifted. Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, decided that he favored gay marriage. The Catholic Church did not budge. For the first time in history, sexual orientation has become the most important defining factor in our society.

Christians have been the acceptable group to ridicule; in fact, the only politically correct group that can be ridiculed for some years now. Christians that actually believe the orthodox tenets of their faith are considered to be bigots, rubes, stupid, and pathetic.

Homosexuals are defined only by their sexual orientation. Think about it: it doesn’t matter whether they are male or female, black or white, old or young, beautiful or ugly, intelligent or stupid – the only characteristic that counts is their sexual orientation. No other group wants to be so rigidly defined by only one characteristic.

Once that one characteristic is made known, all other people are to acknowledge that being gay is the best choice, not only for the homosexual, but for everyone. They are not equal; they are more equal.

My preference is that I would know somebody by their many attributes, not just one. I don’t know of heterosexuals that make this the defining factor of their existence. We are all sexual beings to one degree or another, but it is not the highest or most important part of our being.

Since homosexuals insist that this is the most important piece of their identity, they leave the rest of us little room to go our merry way. Despite most people not wanting to engage on the issue, we are forced to declare where we stand.

For orthodox Christians, there can be only one position. The Bible declares in both the Old and the New Testament that homosexuality is wrong. I know that this is hurtful to our friends and relatives that are gay, but the Bible leaves no room to wiggle. Trust me, I do not know any Christians that are gleeful about the difficulty that this truth brings to anyone that is struggling with their sexual identity.

So now we are at the point of the RFRA laws. The gay agenda and the orthodox Christian beliefs are on a collision course that cannot be avoided. Indeed, it would seem that the gay agenda is devised with this end in mind. No other course of action is acceptable except that everyone agree that the homosexual lifestyle is equal to the heterosexual lifestyle.

This is why we are seeing so many religious freedom lawsuits across the land. When orthodox Christians are pushed to choose between their religious beliefs and the law of the land, they will choose their religious beliefs, even if it means losing their business as several have.

These cases are not as simple as have been reported in the media. For instance, the florist in Washington state, sold flowers to the gay man on a regular basis, ostensibly a nonreligious transaction. What she refused to do was to use her God-given artistic talents to create special floral arrangements for his marriage to another man, which her conscience could not allow.

The wedding photographer in New Mexico refused to use her God-given artistic talents to create photos for a gay wedding that would have required her to be an integral part of the ceremony. These people were unable to violate their conscience by participating in a ceremony that their religious convictions and all of history said was wrong.

So, whose beliefs are more important: the gay couple that wants to force people to participate in their wedding – a religious event – or the people that respectfully decline and refer the gay couple to another business?

How it is answered will determine whether our country is still a land of religious freedom as outlined in our First Amendment.

In Indiana there is an overwhelming flood of coercion from many companies that say they will not do business in Indiana if the governor does not veto the law. This is another case where the conservative politicians need to stand their ground. Once they have chosen their position based on their principles, then they should stand no matter the pressure that is exerted.

The presidential candidates had better be looking at this issue and deciding where their principles lead them because this question will be tossed at them. In fact, it would be helpful if they would intervene now and let everyone know where they stand. Rather than cowering before the media, let the conservative politicians play offense and stand for their principles and support Governor Pence.

RFRA: what’s the big deal?

Much has been made about the state of Indiana passing its version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, making it the 19th state to have such protection. According to this Washington Post blog post by Juliet Eilperin, Indiana already had an RFRA-style mandate from the courts, but took the additional step of codifying it into statute. Indiana Governor Mike Pence took to the Wall Street Journal to explain that:

As governor of Indiana, if I were presented a bill that legalized discrimination against any person or group, I would veto it. Indiana’s new law contains no reference to sexual orientation. It simply mirrors federal law that President Bill Clinton signed in 1993.

It’s worth pointing out that Illinois has a similar law, one passed with the support of some obscure state senator named Barack Obama.

But what I would like to know is why it’s been cast as a license to discriminate against gays and lesbians. This narrative is an extension of various cases where devoutly religious business owners have been sued by same-sex couples who wished to use their services but were refused on account of the business owner’s religious views. To me, common sense and courtesy would dictate that the couple simply take their business elsewhere, but in these cases the aggrieved parties tried to make examples of the business owners (and generally succeeded in wiping them out of business.)

Ask yourself: would the same result have occurred had a homosexual male refused to print something a devout Christian sought related to Romans 1:27, which in the KJV Bible reads, “And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” It’s unlikely such a request would even be made, but somehow I think the results in this case would be in favor of the business owner.

We could also create a number of parallel examples which ignore sexual orientation, though. Eilperin quotes extensively University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock, who makes the case that:

“These state RFRAs were enacted in response to Supreme Court decisions that had nothing to do with gay rights or same-sex marriage,” explained University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock in an e-mail. “And the state court decisions interpreting their state constitutions arose in all sorts of contexts, mostly far removed from  gay rights or same-sex marriage. There were cases about Amish buggies, hunting moose for native Alaskan funeral rituals, an attempt to take a church building by eminent domain, landmark laws that prohibited churches from modifying their buildings – all sorts of diverse conflicts between religious practice and pervasive regulation.”

Seems to me this only developed a sexual orientation angle because there’s an agenda to “normalize” homosexual relationships, expressed best in the ongoing to equate same-sex “marriage” (which I consider a civil union) with the real thing, between a man and a woman. Of course, the state of Maryland recognizes these same-sex unions so in the eyes of the law of this state they are equal.

So I hear all these threats to boycott or punish the state of Indiana, and the threats seem to be working as some want to “clarify” the law. Does that mean that one group will be given special protection? I thought the idea was equality under the law, but we see what the real goal is.

One truth of modern life is that discrimination exists, generally on a small scale: I may discriminate against McDonalds in favor of Burger King because I don’t like the service I receive at the golden arches or think I don’t get value for the money. In its most basic terms I discriminate every day, making my choices based on a number of factors, so I suppose if the aforementioned McDonalds had a gay manager I might be in trouble.

But John McCormick of the Weekly Standard makes a good point:

Indiana’s RFRA does not grant a license to discriminate. First of all, the state of Indiana, like 28 other states, has never prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation at public accommodations. Even without such laws in most states, discrimination doesn’t commonly occur because the United States is a nation that is tolerant of gay people and intolerant of bigots. Mean-spirited actions by a business owner anywhere in the country would almost certainly be met with a major backlash. (Emphasis mine.)

The fact is 99.9% of businesses don’t give a rat’s rear end about gay, straight, white, black, male, female as long as the money is legal tender and the checks don’t bounce. RFRA simply dictates the terms when the exceptions prove the rule.

Informally making it formal?

When you stop laughing, hear me out.

It’s only been two months since he left office, but I think we can all agree our somewhat esteemed former governor is all but an official announcement away from throwing his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring. And when you consider that Hillary Clinton is continually being tarred by scandal after scandal (Benghazi and her e-mail questions) and blunder after blunder (the Russian “reset” button and discussing the “fun deficit”), Martin O’Malley almost looks sane. Come on, what else do you have on the Democratic side – the gaffe-prone Joe Biden? “Fauxcahonotas” Elizabeth Warren? One-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is the one who has the exploratory committee going, but the far left considers him a “Reagan Democrat” who they can’t support.

So when you see the above photo on the O’Malley Facebook page (which is where I got it) you have to ask if the “taking on powerful and wealthy special interests” message is meant for Hillary? After all, look how much the Clintons’ foundation has raked in over the years. And his message today about the presidency “not (being) some crown to be passed between two families,” would resonate with a lot of people who believed the propaganda about how disastrous the George W. Bush tenure was and are already tired of the constant turmoil surrounding the Clinton family.

Perhaps Delegate Herb McMillan put this best, noting, “Raising taxes on the poor and middle classes 83 times isn’t the same as taking on powerful wealthy special interests.” But it’s more than that.

Obviously the laughter among many who read this website comes from knowing how rapidly O’Malley would genuflect to particular special interests when it suited his purposes. Environmentalists got a lot of goodies during MOM’s reign: California rules on emissions, punitive restrictions on development in rural areas (via the “tier maps”), an ill-advised and job-killing moratorium on fracking, and of course the “rain tax.” Illegal immigrants, too, had a friend in O’Malley, but productive taxpayers – not so much. He also decided to work on legalizing gay marriage only after his electoral coast was clear in the state – if he had tried to run for re-election on the issue he would have lost the black vote in 2010. (Remember, that was before Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the issue.)

Say what you will about Martin O’Malley, but he is the lone Democrat openly considering the race who has executive experience – on the other hand, there are a number of GOP candidates who can boast the same thing: in alphabetical order there’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. Depending on who the GOP puts up, the “experience” tag could apply to the Democrat. We’re not saying the experience would be a good one, but it is what it is.

Don’t be too shocked if the O’Malley’s March national tour makes a lot of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s his way of pandering to the special interests he cherishes the most, and if people are fooled by this sudden bout of populism it’s their own fault. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Update: At Front Line State Jim Jamitis echoes these sentiments, with a great headline to boot.

monoblogue music: “A Haze Of Grays And Blue” by Heather Powell

March 28, 2015 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off on monoblogue music: “A Haze Of Grays And Blue” by Heather Powell 

If you recall last week’s review, I mentioned Heather Powell did a remake of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax for “Fully Re-Covered.” It’s not featured on this set of ten original tunes, but her version of the ’80s hit would fit well into her newest album, which came out last month.

If you are looking for a performer who squarely inhabits the adult contemporary mode, you needn’t go much farther than Heather Powell. Her most recent release reflects well on her background as a theater major at the College of William and Mary. While that’s nothing particularly unusual, the fact she also was in ROTC and served overseas in the Army’s Medical Services Corp before becoming the commander of their inaugural theater company makes her more unique than most. (Thus, in the military her theater WAS the theater.)

Simply put, she’s at home on the stage, as this video of Awaken shows.

“Haze” is Heather’s second album, following a 2012 release “Believe It To Life.” Now as part of the True Groove family, she’s the beneficiary of their instrumental and production talent – so how did it translate on this effort?

From the opening notes of the upbeat first track, Unexpected, she sets an expectation that this will be an album with a touch of the romantic. In particular, Unexpected is a song which could cross over into a more mainstream rock format thanks to a nice bit of guitar work. While it’s only a 3 1/2 minute song, it seems quite a bit longer – in this case, that is a good thing. Wishing is another song which could be considered among the most radio-friendly.

As I noted above, having a stable of studio artists (and being in the New York market in general) means that almost any musical element is at a performer’s beck and call. True Groove uses several of these talents, and in the case of Heather’s album it’s nice to have the background vocals of Kevin Jenkins available for the wistful ballad Remember The Love, the horn section employed on Awaken, or the string section on the last song See Me.

However, I found the string section a little too cloying on Falling, which weakens the song somewhat. It also sounded to me that Heather’s vocals were just a little below par on Black And White Thinking, as it seemed to me she strained to reach the high notes.  Along with a somewhat forgettable song called Blue Light, they are the weakest efforts on the ten-song compilation. These aren’t bad, but they could be better.

Toward the end of the CD are two better songs: Distance, which lends a touch of jazz and has a nice slow fade, and the reminiscent Unstoppable, where Heather thinks back to her youth and wonders, “when did I lose my spark?” It’s a little strange because she doesn’t seem old, and certainly has the resume to make one believe she’s a ball of energy.

“A Haze Of Grays And Blue” exudes the type of vibe one would expect to feel on a romantic evening with a glass of wine and willing partner. Maybe it’s because that, for some reason, I could easily imagine Heather playing at our Autumn Wine Festival – I suppose that’s because it’s the type of music I could envision that crowd getting into.

While it’s by no means a perfect album, the nice thing about it is that you can listen for yourself and be the judge.

The noisy, tiny minority wins again

March 27, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The noisy, tiny minority wins again 

It’s concession time in Annapolis: for another year, the will of Wicomico County voters will be thwarted by a group refusing to accept that the answer to the elected school board question should be decided by the voters, not a small group who’s worried that their power base may be threatened.

Today I received a press release from my Delegate, Carl Anderton, admitting the bill is defeated for the session. In it, Anderton noted that:

This delay affords us the opportunity to have an inclusive year-long dialogue about the issue. It will give everyone more time to weigh in and reassure anyone with concerns that next year’s bill is reflective of community input.

Yet if the “dialogue” is in the tone and tenor of the testimony offered by Jim Ireton, there’s no use in conducting the discussion. In fact, he said at the hearing, “I think the discussion should end now.” After all, according to Jim, an elected school board would “debilitate our public schools.”

And if there are public hearing with a number of proponents speaking, I’m sure Ireton would echo his charge about a “sparsely attended public hearing” attended by only proponents. It’s the “small band of supporters” who also gerrymandered the county, placed us under a “crippling revenue cap” and “refuses to be responsible.” These are all quotes from his testimony before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. (He comes on at the 4:00 mark.)

Here is the dirty little secret Carl will eventually learn – there is no amount of dialogue which will satisfy them. For whatever reason, the appointed status quo satisfies their desire to have a malleable board that has generally been selected with the approval of the teachers’ union. Since the Democrats have occupied the governor’s office for much of the last forty years, the appointments were made with that interest group in mind. The only accountability was to the sponsors who backed them, and as long as a couple of those “yes-men” were from a minority group, all was peachy keen in their world.

To them, an elected school board is scary because accountability may be introduced. Again, consider what Ireton thought about the voters of the county which chose to install a revenue cap and would prefer an elected school board.

They are scared. But we’ll give them the public hearings, and for that I better damn well see Jim Mathias as a co-sponsor. I honestly think his not sponsoring the bill is what prevented it from going forward.

As the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say, “wait ’til next year.” No more excuses.

Ted Cruz: a palette of bold colors

March 26, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, Cathy Keim, Inside the Beltway, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Ted Cruz: a palette of bold colors 

By Cathy Keim

I finally had the time today to watch the entire Ted Cruz speech at Liberty University on March 23, 2015, where he announced that he is running for president. It seems certain that he has locked up the conservative right position. I don’t see that he left room for anybody to get past him, nor am I sure that there is anybody who would try. He is going to run a campaign that many conservatives have been calling for: A conservative running unapologetically as a conservative.

His campaign, if he continues on this course – and I see no reason he would budge since he has been saying the same thing since he arrived in Washington – will put to the test the notion that a true conservative can win the presidency. John McCain and Mitt Romney never even tried to run as all out conservatives.

Sarah Palin was the closest to an all out conservative in those two cycles and she was hampered by being the vice presidential candidate, so she had to march to John McCain’s orders. Many folks believe that he would have lost by an even greater margin if he had not had her on the ticket.

Since Mitt Romney chose a moderate GOP insider, Paul Ryan, as his vice president and got even fewer votes than John McCain, there may be reason to believe that theory.

We can expect that all the dirt that was thrown at Sarah Palin will be turned onto Ted Cruz. One twist is that the liberal media and politicians will not be able to use his alma mater since Ted Cruz has the credentials from Princeton and Harvard Law to stand up to any of the jabs. He also has the debating skills and the spine to resist the onslaught.

He will have the same fight that Palin has had that is even worse than being attacked by the opposing party – the GOP will viciously savage him. The mainstream GOP has already shown their disdain for Senator Cruz as they have not backed him in any of his efforts to fight for the Constitution, against Obamacare, and against executive overreach.

In an article for the Boston Herald, Jennifer C. Braceras points out that Ted Cruz is the mirror image of Obama, standing for exactly opposite positions, but with eerily similar backgrounds. She even addresses the birther problem:

Indeed, similarities extend even to bizarre “birther” claims that neither men are “natural born citizens” qualified to be president.

Cruz — whose father fled Castro’s Cuba — was born in Canada. Obama was born in Hawaii, although some on the right question whether he was actually born in Kenya (his father’s birthplace). The question of birthplace is, of course, irrelevant — both men were born to American mothers, thereby granting them U.S. citizenship at birth and making them “natural born citizens” for purposes of the Constitution.

While she does not see the birther issue as a problem, she does postulate that the electorate will not stand for another brilliant Harvard law grad after eight years of our current one.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Ted Cruz. I supported his 2012 run for Senate because I remember him from law school as a brilliant, intellectually curious, and hard-working conservative whose political views closely tracked my own.

So somebody who says they like his views and finds him brilliant concludes by saying that he doesn’t have a chance because of the Harvard arrogance tag. With friends like this, you don’t need enemies.

The mirror image comparison to President Obama is interesting, but fails to address a key difference. President Obama does not like America and Senator Ted Cruz does. What a sea change that simple distinction makes.

Furthermore, I have observed that people of principle who work hard in their field of endeavor because of their firmly held principles, are frequently savaged by their peers because they recognize that this individual is different than they are. The principled approach to life encourages accusations of arrogance because of the assurance with which principled people conduct their lives. Once their mind is made up on the course of action, they will pursue their goal even if it is not popular. This can seem like arrogance to people who cannot understand what they are seeing since they run their lives not on principle, but on public approbation.

Jeb Bush is gearing up for a run and he has already made clear that he will not be courting the conservative branch of the GOP. He is for amnesty, Common Core, and his energy policies are wrong. The biggest hurdle may be the burden of bearing the Bush name. Many citizens are not interested in a family dynasty ruling over them.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, has been making a lot of news with the possibility of running. He has been an effective governor in a blue state and has taken on the unions and won. He is certainly a candidate to watch. As a counterpoint to Ted Cruz’s Ivy League background, Walker attended Marquette University, but never graduated. Some people will see that as a negative, but just as many may see it as a plus after observing what so many Ivy League alumni serving as politicians, media people, and government leaders have done to our country.

Ben Carson is contemplating a run, but after the gay mafia firestorm he caused by offering an opinion on whether one is born gay, many wrote him off.

There are many others considering a run. Time will tell how many actually jump in the ring.

It would behoove the conservatives to make their decision as quickly as possible, throw their weight behind one candidate, and once the decision is made to stand firm. The onslaught from both the Democrats and the GOP insiders will be brutal. Nothing is to be gained by attacking the conservative candidate for every perceived misstep. Instead, once the choice is made, the conservatives need to close ranks and fight hard for the battle will be vicious. Every conservative candidate will be questioned over and over about gay and transgender issues, abortion, evolution, climate change, and religious freedom. They need to have their principles inform their position and then stand. Do not walk anything back once they say it and the conservative base needs to have their back.

This can all be done with a smile. It may be war, but engage in the battle with a smile because we are in to win. Our determination is based on the premise that we believe in what we are fighting for: no less than the soul of America.

Hoping to win a GOP Cruz in 2016

March 25, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Hoping to win a GOP Cruz in 2016 

Ted Cruz 2016As most who do not inhabit the space under a rock now know, Texas Senator Ted Cruz formally announced his candidacy for President on Monday. While he Tweeted the news just after midnight, the formal announcement came in an address at Liberty University later that day.

Perhaps the best part about the announcement, though, is the absolute conniption fit those on the Left had at the news. First I heard from the so-called “factivists” at the Democratic National Committee:

President Ted Cruz.

If you’re like us, Michael, just reading that phrase probably sent shivers down your spine or produced a pretty serious roll of the eyes.

But as of this moment, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is officially running for president, and if we don’t do everything in our power to stop him, the possibility of President Ted Cruz could become a reality.

So here are three things everyone needs to know about wannabe President Ted Cruz:

  • He led the GOP’s government shutdown, costing the economy a staggering $24 billion, as part of a personal crusade to take away quality health care from millions of Americans and give control back to the insurance companies.
  • He has obstructed everything from raising the minimum wage to paycheck fairness to immigration reform.
  • He would give corporations and the richest Americans huge tax breaks, at the expense of working Americans.

Interesting how these “factivists” don’t know the real facts. And by the way, I don’t have too much of a problem with a President Ted Cruz. My eye roll is at your abject ignorance.

The government “shutdown” of 2013 (which was really a slowdown because essential employees still had to work) only “cost” $24 billion according to an estimate by Standard & Poor’s. Supposedly it was the amount taken out of the economy. But some believe that was a dubious estimate because it didn’t account for shifts in productivity. It was a gamble, where the payoff could have been a savings of $1.4 trillion over 10 years by the repeal of the ill-advised Affordable Care Act.

As for the second portion of that statement, the real question is whether we were in better shape when an insurance company “controlled” your health care or whether some far-off bureaucrat controls it. The real goal is patient control and I suspect Cruz would work us back in that direction more quickly, vowing in his address to Liberty University to make “health insurance personal and portable and affordable.” That’s just SO scary.

Secondly, it seems to me the people of Texas sent Cruz to the Senate for the very reason of obstructing the list of items these political “hacktivists” would like to foist upon us. Raising the minimum wage is a proven job-killer, the Obama administration needs to look in the mirror when complaining about “paycheck fairness” and immigration reform needs to begin with securing the borders.

And of course, whenever someone talks about simplifying the income tax system it’s always portrayed by Democrats as tax cuts for the rich. Why shouldn’t our tax form be only a page or two?

Of course, then the other liberal outlets delivered their usual amount of snark, calling his speech a revival of obsolete evangelism, reminiscent of televangelists, or sniffing that students were forced to attend. All that obscures the real point: Cruz laid out a very conservative agenda on a number of issues, and it will take a strong dose of common sense to undo the damage of the last six years.

I don’t think it’s coincidental that I have written this piece and found that my colleague Cathy Keim had her own thoughts. This quick take is tonight’s dose of Cruz, and tomorrow morning you’ll get to see what she has to say. It will be worth the wait, I promise.

WCRC meeting – March 2015

Those members who attended last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting got a somewhat different perspective on the Annapolis political arena. Instead of hearing from one of our representatives – who were sort of busy at the moment, seeing that Monday nights are session nights in our state’s capital – we instead gained the perspective of Pat Schrawder, the district representative for Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought “mostly good news from Annapolis.”

She explained that not all members of the General Assembly have a district representative, but given Mary Beth’s “frenetic” schedule as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she thought it was prudent to have someone back home. (Appropriations meets five days a week, according to Pat.) As it turned out, though, the Eastern Shore delegation “is running very well” in Schrawder’s opinion, in part because those on it represent all the key committees, and they have met with “most of” the large groups.

The good news was that the “chicken tax” and a “farmer’s bill of rights” had both been killed, and a “full-court press” was being placed on the Pinsky bill to instill the PMT regulations. (This may be a moot point, as Pinsky placed a hold on his regulations pending acceptance of a deal between stakeholders which would put a revised version in place.) Schrawder pointed out regulations are more flexible than legislation, which was an advantage for the agricultural community.

Pat also relayed that the Hogan budget, which was in balance as submitted, was still a better deal than the O’Malley budgets as most of the structural deficit had been eliminated.

And while Delegate Carozza was “working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else up there,” Pat added that Mary Beth was still interested in hearing from her constituents, and happy to receive the correspondence. Moreover, one goal they had was to have as strong a link to Wicomico County as they had to Worcester County.

Schrawder also announced that a legislative scholarship was available to a student in her district, with the application deadline coming up on April 15.

Turning to Central Committee news, we learned that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be put on hold until this fall as the preferred speaker, some governor named Larry Hogan, wasn’t going to be doing speaking engagements until then. We may need to change the venue because of this. Mark McIver also noted the upcoming state convention in Ocean City, encouraging those at the meeting to attend and see how a convention is run.

I also reminded the group that we had sent the names of prospective Wicomico County Board of Education applicants to the state.

Speaking on behalf of County Council, John Cannon noted that the “Evo bill” had passed the House of Delegates and Senate, although there was a minor difference between the two versions to work out. County Council was also watching the PMT regulations, the original version of which they opposed. Also, they had finished the Capital Improvement Plan and were now working on portions of the budget.

Cannon also commented that MACO (the Maryland Association of Counties) was “staying relatively conservative” with its actions this session.

John also explained some of the process behind the elected school board bill, conceding that “we rushed it through” but noting that the hybrid option was placed to appease the cries for “diversity” and to avoid the prospect of turning over the entire board in one election and eliminating all the institutional knowledge.

However, he believed the struggle to get this through the General Assembly would be “an uphill battle” because opponents wanted more public hearings. I made the case that the bill had the deck stacked against it early on when it received a late hearing date. If there needs to be a re-introduction next year it should be pre-filed as there was no one to do so this session.

At this point, the new officers were sworn in. Incoming president Shawn Jester said that “this club did more to make Wicomico County a Republican county” than anyone else and hoped the good work could continue.

That good work will be celebrated next on April 27, with a speaker to be announced.

Landlines, anyone?

March 23, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Landlines, anyone? 

By Cathy Keim

Two or three weeks ago I was asked on a phone survey if I thought that landlines were still important or if I would prefer to allow the telecommunications companies to invest in newer technology rather than continuing with outdated landline maintenance. The question seemed deliberately skewed so I assumed that the phone company was behind the survey – but I did not get a clear answer when I asked.

I had two more phone calls about phone service that culminated today in a paid phone caller requesting that I call Senator Mathias and tell him that I wanted SB577 passed. I was not prepared to call Senator Mathias with so little information, so I decided to look the bill up and see what it was about. SB577 is the Public Utilities – Telecommunications Law – Modernization sponsored by Senator Catherine Pugh of Baltimore City and cross-filed with HB1166 sponsored by Delegate Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County. The summary states:

Providing that a telephone company is not required to file with the Public Service Commission a specified tariff schedule except under specified circumstances; limiting the type of services in which a telephone company may not establish a new rate under specified circumstances; allowing a telephone company to discontinue or abandon a specified service under specified circumstances; providing that a specified prior authorization is not required for specified transactions; etc.

Since the summary didn’t reveal much, I then called Senator Pugh’s office and spoke with a very friendly staffer. She said that the purpose of the bill was threefold.

  1. Currently telecommunication companies cannot discontinue a service or change their rates unless they ask the Public Service Commission (PSC) each time they wish to make a change. They pay a tariff to the PSC for this service. The new bill would remove this requirement.
  2. Change the franchising rules so that the current provisions do not apply to any transaction between a telephone company and another entity (that is not a gas company or an electric company) if a common parent entity directly or indirectly controls more than 50% of both the telephone company and the other entity.
  3. Change the securities rules so that the current provisions do not apply to any transaction between a telephone company and another entity (that is not a gas company or an electric company) if a common parent entity directly or indirectly controls more than 50% of both the telephone company and the other entity.

Since her boss, Senator Pugh, is sponsoring the bill, she had a very positive opinion of the legislation.

Next I called Senator Mathias’ office and spoke with his very pleasant staffer. She said that they had been getting several phone calls asking the senator to support SB 577, but that the callers did not seem to know anything about the bill. I suppose that they had received the same phone solicitation that I had received.

She had a much less positive view of the bill. She said that the bill would allow the telecommunications companies to abandon services, limit services, and establish new rates without authorization from the PSC. She indicated that the bill was still in committee, but if it made it to the floor, she doubted that Senator Mathias would support it in its current form.

For a more detailed comparison of the current law vs. the proposed law you can go to the Fiscal and Policy Note.

This statement in the Technology section made me wonder if this referred to the dropping of copper landlines in favor of the fiber optic system.

PSC or any other State unit or a unit of local government may not restrict, through an order, a regulation, a rule, a resolution, or an ordinance or in any other manner, a telephone company’s choices to use any otherwise lawful technology or facility to provide its services. A telephone company may satisfy its statutory and regulatory obligations through the use of any lawful technology or facility of its choosing.

Articles like “How Verizon lets its copper network decay to force phone customers onto fiber. Fiber is fast, but copper is reliable – even during multi-week power outages” paint an unflattering portrait of an evil corporation that is up to no good.

The lengthy article accuses Verizon of preferring the fiber optic system because it is cheaper to maintain, but it cannot be used without electricity so it is worthless in a power outage of a week or two like those that happen due to hurricanes. The cell phones are also worthless if the cell towers are down or out of power.

This brings us back to the argument for government regulation of utilities because we are dependent upon the utilities for society to function. Our dependency on electricity, gas, and communication systems is increasing each year. Most people no longer have the ability to survive for long without electricity. We no longer have backup systems like a fireplace for heat or if we do, the large woodpile to get us through a major power outage. Without electricity you cannot pump gas at the gas station. Food doesn’t get delivered to the stores. Without electricity your phone doesn’t work unless you have an old fashioned landline.

Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. posted a letter to the Senate Finance Committee that concluded:

Maryland’s communications networks allow its citizens to conduct business, contact loved ones, and call for help in emergency situations. These services are too vital to the economic and social health of the state to prohibit the Maryland Public Service Commission from acting to protect consumers, especially in the face of impending technological and political changes. As Maryland legislators continue to deliberate on the future of its networks, Public Interest Advocates urge the Senate Finance Committee to ensure Maryland’s communications networks serve five core values: service to all, consumer protection, network reliability, competition and interconnection, and public safety. These values have served our phone network well for decades and have created one of the most successful communications platforms in the world. Maryland must continue to defend these values and resist ill-advised deregulatory pressures to ensure that the phone network continues to be a network that Maryland residents can rely on.

From what I can tell about SB577, I would say that it is poorly written and its passage would result in a lot of confusion. I am for limited government and concerned with the excess of government regulations that make it difficult for companies to innovate. However, the potential impact on our citizenry for their defense and public safety makes me place this discussion in the “needs to be under the government oversight” category for now, particularly since this is being discussed at the state level, which is exactly where this discussion belongs.

Competitive advantage

March 22, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Competitive advantage 

On Friday I received the latest update from Newt Gingrich in my e-mail box. Even though I don’t always agree with him as to tactics – and his Presidential campaign in 2012 went nowhere but to Salisbury University – the one thing you cannot take away from him is the 1994 Contract With America, signifying a Republican resurgence in the post-Reagan era. And you have to respect him for thinking years or decades forward, such as he did in this case.

His piece on Friday looked at the economic prowess of states which did not collect an income tax in comparison to those that did. It even cited some of the same Art Laffer data that unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar used in his pitch to eliminate Maryland’s state income tax.

But the part which intrigued me came toward the end, when he wrote about the effort by Vince Haley, a State Senate candidate, to eventually eliminate Virginia’s state income tax. Certainly it doesn’t have a great chance of success in the near term with a Democratic governor, but one has to ask what the effects would be if the commonwealth made it all the way down that path – and how would it affect us?

For nearly four years, a significant part of the time of my outside job has been spent on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I’ve been over most of that strip from Chincoteague to Cape Charles for some task or other, but if you just pay attention to the drive along U.S. 13 you can see that the ESV is not the wealthiest area, nor are many ingredients for prosperity present. Compared to Virginia’s 4% population growth as a whole, the two counties which make up the Eastern Shore are leaking population, with Northampton County (the more southern of the two, closer to the Norfolk region) dropping by 2 percent and Accomack County (closer to Maryland) holding almost steady, with an estimated decline of less than 20 people in a county of just over 33,000.

By way of comparison, the two combined are less than half the population of Wicomico County, and there are good reasons for that: their geographic isolation at the end of the Delmarva Peninsula and a lack of job opportunities outside of the Wallops Island NASA station. Locally, their slogan is “You’ll Love Our Nature” and that is one thing the area can boast given its coastlines on Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are often less than 20 miles apart and meet at its southern tip.

Elected officials of all stripes are trying to increase business at the Wallops Island complex as they see the potential of unmanned space flights from the facility, with the prospect of good-paying ancillary jobs the spaceport creates. But the benefit of not having an income tax would likely be an influx of well-to-do retirees and others with the disposable income residents of the ESV currently lack. It may even be a better attraction than coastal Delaware and its lack of a sales tax, since those outlets are a relatively easy drive away from the northern reaches of Virginia’s slice of the peninsula.

Those who try to promote the area probably realize that prospects for certain types of businesses wouldn’t be very good because the ESV lacks some of the infrastructure necessary for manufacturing. But if the area becomes advantageous in a financial sense thanks to an elimination of the income tax, it can become a playground of sorts for affluent retirees who would like to slow down and enjoy a more rural lifestyle, allowing the remainder of the residents to share in that wealth. On the other hand I can also understand where many ESV residents may object to eliminating the state income tax, especially if they receive Virginia’s version of the Earned Income Tax Credit they call the CLI.

If all this came to pass, though, Maryland would be left in the middle, suffering from having a sales tax-free state siphoning off its retail industry and an income tax-free state choking off its wealth. (Don’t forget that an income tax-free Virginia may have devastating effects on the capital region of Maryland, too.) Of course, we can work to eliminate both those issues but it would take a larger sea change in philosophy than Annapolis has the stomach for.

It may not be the golden ticket to prosperity, but given the slow decline of our Delmarva neighbors to the south a drastic measure like eliminating their income tax may be the only way to resuscitate the area.

monoblogue music: “Fully Re-Covered” by the True Groove All-Stars

March 21, 2015 · Posted in Music Reviews · 2 Comments 

Once again, the stable of performers that make up the New York-based True Groove Records are featured on monoblogue music. This time, it’s a 13-song compilation of cover songs that comes out at the end of this month; however, the lead single Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is already available.

The thirteen tracks selected run the gamut of nearly a half-century of popular music from a variety of artists and genres – it’s a set that includes songs from Nine Inch Nails (Hurt) and Glen Campbell (Wichita Lineman) as consecutive songs, for an extreme example. These songs are covered by a number of the artists in the True Groove family, which includes familiar names whose work I’ve reviewed such as Tomas Doncker, Lael Summer, and Marla Mase but others as well: Kevin Jenkins, Heather Powell, Charlie Funk, Touchy Feely, Samuel Claiborne, and James Chance are also featured artists.

While I was familiar with some of the tracks, I wanted to go back and hear some of them I wasn’t familiar with in order to help me review this release. So it was I listened to the aforementioned lead single Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick – originally done by the late Ian Dury and the Blockheads and reworked by Marla Mase. It’s quite the unusual song, but Mase does this fairly faithfully to the original as the song is almost spoken rather than sung. Hearing the original made me realize the song works well for Mase as opposed to others in the True Groove lineup. It’s more like an order to hit her with the rhythm stick rather than a request, but I still think it was an odd selection to introduce the release.

Probably the better choice as a lead single would have been the newest song, Wires. Originally done by The Neighbourhood a few years ago, Lael Summer adds a little bit of smoky soul to a song which already had a good urban feel.

In fact, the tendency on many of these songs is one of adding a different element to them – a good example is the leadoff song originally composed by Elvis Costello, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding. That straight-ahead rock song gets a dose of blues from Tomas Doncker in his rendition. It also works well on both Heather Powell’s take of Relax, as she re-imagines Frankie Goes to Hollywood as a slow dance, and the similar treatment Touchy Feely gives to The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way.

Yet different elements and tempos aren’t always the answer. The “Jesus and Moses, Mohammed and Krishna” background chant utilized by Kevin Jenkins in his effort at Spirit In The Sky, the old familiar Norman Greenbaum tune, fell flat with me and did little to help a pedestrian remaking. Similarly, while Charlie Funk makes a slower run at the Tom Jones chestnut It’s Not Unusual, he doesn’t have the dynamic vocal Jones carries in his song.

And I couldn’t understand why Doncker and Josh David wanted to extend the opening of Why Me Black Brother Why when The Mighty Diamonds put together a fine message and reggae song in the first place. It came across as mere filler.

Some songs, though, stay rather true to the originals. Lael Summer added a previously-released rendition of Hall and Oates’ Do What You Want, Be What You Are from her debut album last year which maintains their style and tempo. And while he missed with redoing Spirit In The Sky, the version of Wichita Lineman Kevin Jenkins adds would do the middle-of-the-road styling of Glenn Campbell proud, with additional harmonies.

And there are those which fit right in with the True Groove vibe. such as James Chance evoking James Brown on the motivating I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothin’ or the closing song, We’re A Winner, made famous by Curtis Mayfield but shared in this case by Doncker, Jenkins, and Summer.

Lastly, though, I wanted to talk about a song which blew me away. Perhaps it’s my musical roots in heavier rock, but Samuel Claiborne’s rendition of Hurt (made famous by Nine Inch Nails and later by Johnny Cash) has a much more menacing feel in its guitar work. It may be one of the best songs I’ll hear this year.

Taken as a whole, the Fully Re-Covered compilation has more ups than downs, and that’s to be expected when so many influences and directions are involved. Once it comes out on March 31, it will be worth a listen.

The state budget shell game

March 20, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The state budget shell game 

By Cathy Keim

Governor Hogan was elected because voters had had enough of the O’Malley spending spree. Before Hogan was sworn in, the budget shortfall of $1.2 billion over the next eighteen months was already public knowledge. Everybody knew that cuts were coming; only the particulars were uncertain.

Because Maryland has a strong executive branch, the General Assembly can only cut the budget or move money around. It cannot increase spending. The House is squandering many hours debating how to find the money to undo cuts that Hogan made, particularly to schools and the state employees’ COLAs.

Last July, Martin O’Malley gave the state employees a cost of living increase of 2% despite knowing that the budget was not in good shape. I would like to point out that employees in the private sector are not seeing cost of living increases. Why the state employees deserve a taxpayer-funded pay increase when the taxpayers are not getting their salaries increased is hard to justify. Governor Hogan rescinded that increase in his budget because the state did not have the funds to support it.

He also declined to fund the schools to the level they desired. Yet his budget gave a 1.3% increase to education over last year’s budget, so it is hard to make the case that he cut the budget drastically. One might have expected a 0% increase when we are facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the upcoming months. That sort of deficit on a smaller scale is what causes taxpayers to choose ground beef over steak. But then we have to actually balance our checkbooks rather than use creative accounting to get the job done.

Let’s take a moment for some background information. Despite our budget shortfall, Moody’s just gave Maryland an AAA rating once again.

Why is this AAA Bond rating so important? “Retention of the AAA ratings affirms the strength and stability of Maryland bonds during difficult and volatile times,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “This achievement allows us to continue to invest in our communities’ schools, libraries, and hospitals while saving taxpayers millions of dollars thanks to the lower interest rates that follow from these ratings.” (Emphasis mine.)

Maryland is one of only 10 states that has the AAA bond rating from all three firms that assign ratings, Moody’s Investors, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s included the following warning when assigning the AAA rating:

WHAT COULD MAKE THE RATING GO DOWN

  • Economic and financial deterioration that results in deficits and continued draw downs of reserves without a plan for near-term replenishment
  • Failure to adhere to the state’s tradition of conservative fiscal management, including failure to take actions to reverse its negative fund balance
  • A state economy that does not rebound in tandem with the rest of the country
  • Failure to adhere to plans to address low pension funded ratios (emphasis mine)
  • Downgrade of the US government

Why does Maryland have low pension funded ratios? Because all that pension money just waiting there for the retired employees is too tempting for the politicians. They have dipped into the fund before. In 2011 as a corrective measure, Martin O’Malley reached an agreement with state employees that if they would increase their contributions to the retirement fund from 2% to 7%, then the state would put in $300 million annually to fund the pensions at an 80% level by 2023. That would still leave the pension fund $20 billion short, but that would be an improvement. The state employees have been putting in their extra 5%, but the state has not been putting in the entire $300 million. They find other ways to spend that money.

Now we are finished with the history and back to the present. The House debated for hours yesterday whether to fund the pension plan with the full $300 million or to take a portion of the money to continue the 2% increase in state employee’s wages and increase school funding. As I write, it is uncertain how the issue will be determined and whatever the House decides will still have to be reconciled with what the Senate produces.

Politicians seem to prefer to pay their supporters now and to let the future take care of itself since they will probably not still be in office when that bill comes due. It is a pleasing shell game. The politicians appropriate raises and perks for their constituents who then pay union dues, and then the unions donate money to the politicians –  lather, rinse, repeat.

According to the Washington Post, those public servants/union members might want to take note that:

In an effort to block relatively modest budget cuts proposed by Mr. Hogan, mainly to schools and public employees’ wages, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis are pushing a plan to revamp the formula for scheduled contributions. According to Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the few prominent Democrats who opposes the scheme, it would shift $2 billion into the general budget over the next decade, then cost the state $4.5 billion in the following dozen years — meaning Maryland would face a net $2.5 billion in additional costs over time in order to keep its pension promises.

Additionally, even if the state did put all the funds into the pension plan that they promised, the pension fund would still be underfunded by $20 billion in 2023. Since over 382,000 current and former employees are covered in this plan, it would seem to be a rather important item for the state to fully fund the pension program.

So our esteemed politicians in Annapolis are willing to risk our credit rating which could lead to increased interest payments when borrowing funds, underfund the pension program that thousands depend on, and incur $2.5 billion in additional costs to finally keep its pension promises, just so that they can override Governor Hogan’s budget.

While that may be a winning hand for the politicians, their constituents that get the 2% cost of living increase, and the unions, it is not a winner for the taxpayers.

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