Howard County Maryland Blog

Convention of States in Maryland

Archive for July, 2007

Harry Potter and the Final Hours

Posted by Jim Walsh on Friday, July 20, 2007

As I write this, it is less than 12 hours before the seventh and final book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – goes on sale. My older daughter began reading the series when she was in third grade. Fascinated by all the buzz, I borrowed her copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the first book in the series, released in the U.S. in 1998) and have been an avid fan myself ever since. Using my kids as my cover, I have attended a number of prior midnight book releases and other Harry Potter events over the years.

I have enjoyed discussing the books with my girls and speculating about forthcoming plot twists. At the risk of being proven wrong within the next half-day, I was the first one in our house to decide that Snape was actually good. My daughters have come around to my point of view, at least on this issue.

I assume that everyone has at least a passing familiarity with the series, even if you haven’t read the books yourself. Joanne Rowling (rhymes with “bowling”) has created a fascinating parallel world that draws the reader in deeper and deeper. Her vivid descriptions of the world of wizards and witches make this world believable to the reader. Although the books are most popular among younger readers, the author never dummed down her stories or wrote in an overly-simplistic fashion. The plots are elaborate. The wizarding world has good, evil and those we’re not sure about. It also has fence-sitters, back-stabbers and do-nothings who fail to heed numerous warnings about forthcoming dangers until it’s right on top of them – in short, a world much like our own in many respects.

J.K. Rowling has (rightfully) been credited with helping make avid readers of millions of younger readers. You can find many devotees debating the merits of the works of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. She has also inspired numerous would-be writers who create their own Harry Potter stories (check out FanFiction.com).

Not surprisingly, although the core group of Harry Potter fans was initially in the age range of 8-12, the core fan age range is now more like 8-20.

Of course it will be fascinating to find out what happens in the final battle between Harry (and the other members of the Order of the Phoenix) and Lord Voldemort (and his Deatheaters), but it will also be bittersweet to know that this will be our last taste of Bertie Botts’ Every-Flavor Bean (“Alas, earwax”), chocolate frogs (that hop) and butterbeer. Like many others, we will be at a local bookstore at midnight tonight. I guess I’ll have to let my daughter read the book first before I borrow her copy. Thank you, J.K. Rowling for this fascinating journey.

Posted in General, Jim Walsh | 2 Comments »

Ban on Political Satire

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, July 20, 2007

A rather timely topic…

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) – The vast majority of people in New Zealand are against a recent rule approved by lawmakers that bans using images captured inside Parliament to satirize, ridicule or denigrate lawmakers on broadcast and print media, according to a poll by TNS released by TV3. 71 per cent of respondents disapprove of this measure.

Labour party leader Helen Clark has acted as New Zealand’s prime minister since December 1999. In the September 2005 ballot, Labour elected 50 lawmakers to the 121-seat House of Representatives, and assembled a coalition government with the Progressives. United Future and New Zealand First agreed to support the administration in confidence and supply votes for three years.

In June, New Zealand’s House of Representatives voted to institute new media rules, which in effect ban the use of images in a way that satirizes, ridicules or denigrates lawmakers. Breaches of these measures can be treated as contempt of Parliament, a charge that can result in imprisonment.

Various media outlets in the country have criticized the new provisions. On Jul. 17, deputy prime minister Michael Cullen defended the rules, saying, “The issue the MPs are most concerned about is misrepresentation.”

In March 2005, speaker Margaret Wilson banned cameras from TV3 for seven days after the network showed associate education minister David Benson-Pope asleep during a parliamentary session.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Going Forward On the Tower?

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, July 20, 2007

Well the law suit has been dismissed.  Is the fight over?  Mr. William Rowe, mid-Atlantic vice president of WCI Communities’ hopes so.

“My hope is that now we have a hearing examiner ruling, a board of appeals ruling, a Circuit Court ruling complemented by a unanimous [planning board] vote against the proposed zoning amendments. All of them put together complement each other and should be enough to convince everybody that the project was approved appropriately,”

According to the article I don’t think those members of the community fighting the towere are through.  However, it takes money to file an appeal and I don’t know what financial resources these folks have.

The question remains.  What is Ken Ulman going to do?  This is a set back for him in terms of his campaign promises.

As a reader commented earlier:

If Ulman ends up dropping the height limit pursuit, in favor of the tower, he has broken a campaign promise. Even though the end result is what you want, you attack him for breaking a campaign pledge.

If Ulman sticks with the height restriction, then he is blindly pandering to CoFoBoBo et al, and is making decisions that are bad for business. The end result isn’t what you want, and you attack the guy for that.

Either way, the guy can’t win in your perspective.

That reader is correct.  This is a no win situation for Ken Ulman.  He played politics with a hot potato in order to get elected and he knows it.  What he does on this issue will be a real test and show of his character.

Posted in Howard County, Ulman | 3 Comments »

In kind…

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Help me with an ethical dilemna. 

According to Maryland Election Law which can be found in a summary format under Chapter 7 – Contributions and Transfers

7.4 In-Kind Contributions

An in-kind contribution includes any thing of value (except money). For example, a person can contribute bumper stickers to a candidate’s committee. The amount of the contribution equals the fair market value of the bumper stickers. An in-kind contribution counts towards the donor’s contribution limits.

Services provided to a campaign can also be considered an in-kind contribution if the type of service is one that the person normally charges for providing.

Example

  • Ms. Daisy Designer, a commercial artist, designs a logo for John D. Candidate, free of charge. Since designing logos is something Daisy would normally charge $1,000 for doing, Daisy has made an in-kind contribution of $1,000 to John D. Candidate’s committee. This $1,000 counts toward Daisy’s contribution limits discussed in Chapter 7.2 of this Summary Guide.
  • Daisy Designer still wants to do more to help John D. Candidate. She volunteers to stuff envelopes and answer phones at John D. Candidate’s campaign headquarters. Since stuffing envelopes and answering phones is not a service that Daisy normally charges for providing, her activities are not considered to be an in-kind contribution to the campaign.

If a “public relations executive” volunteered as a “Communications Director and a Senior Advisor” on a Maryland candidate’s election would that be considered an in-kind donation? How much would be charged for those services in the “real” world?  Of course it depends on what exactly a Communications Director/Public Relations Executive did for the candidate and how much time that person put into the campaign.  Is that person’s expertise as a “Communications Director” in anyway related to their expertice as a “public relations executive”?  And of course would those services and time be worth more than what is permitted by campaign finance law?

7.2 Contribution Limits

A person can contribute no more than $4,000 to one campaign finance entity, and a total of $10,000 to all campaign finance entities, during the four-year cycle.

Now if the services provided are related to the person’s profession experience and something they would normally charge for then:

  1. it should simply appear as a line item on the candidates finance reports, and
  2. if they exceed the contribution limits the candidate would be obligated to pay the difference to the volunteer and also note that on the campaign finance report.

However, I don’t note any such expenditures or contributions on the candidate’s financial reports.  Now the “volunteer” didn’t do anything wrong.  They worked for the candidate they felt was the best person for a specific elected office.  That is to be commended.  However, the candidate accepted services from this volunteer and they would know if the services that the volunteer provided actually met the standard of in kind donations.

If you noticed something this troubling what would you do?  I am open to suggestions on that question.  Any idea how the Maryland State Board of Elections would handle such a violation before I ask them?

Posted in Fundraising, General, Maryland | 33 Comments »

POINT OF PRIDE

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, July 18, 2007

If you have children in the Howard County Public School system then you are already aware of this good news.

The School System sent out this notice

The July issue of Forbes Magazine lists the Howard County Public School System among the top ten school districts in the nation when it comes to providing the best public education for the price. Read the “Best and Worst Districts For The Buck” at the link below and see how the HCPSS stacks up!

Forbes used a complicated formula to come up with this list.  However, HCPSS ranked 7 of 97 schools that met Forbes criteria.

From the article

More spending doesn’t necessarily buy you better schools. With property taxes rising across the country, we took a look at per-pupil spending in public schools and weighed it against student performance–college entrance exam scores (SAT or ACT, depending on which is more common in the state), exam participation rates and graduation rates.

The full rankings can be found here.

As you may also realize.  CNN Money Magazine came out with their annual report on the best places to live in the USA.  In 2006 Ellicott City/Columbia ranked 4th.  Well both are off the top 100 list in 2007.  Man, Ken has only been in office for 7 months – how quickly things change (if you can’t take a joke close your browser now).

For this year’s list we focused on smaller places that offered the best combination of economic opportunity, good schools, safe streets, things to do and a real sense of community.

However, Elkridge ranked number 42 – congratulations.

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

O’Malley Whine er Watch

Posted by David Keelan on Friday, July 13, 2007

The Democratic party sent out an email that really brought back some memories.  Remember during the election last year when Ken Ulman put up a web site that told absolute lies about Chris Merdon’s record.  Yes campers, I just said Ken Ulman is a liar.

At the time I traced the web site to Mr. Ulman’s campaign and posted the evidence on this blog and people called ME a liar.  I was told that Ken wouldn’t stoop to that level.  After all Art McGreevy had even said Ken was above that kind of thing when he trashed Mary Kay Sigaty in the County Council race.

“There is an old saying: “How you run is how you govern.” Ken Ulman is running a positive, well-organized campaign. He is working hard every day. It was these traits that led to his endorsement. [Teacher’s Union]  If how you run is a reflection of how you will govern, the community will be well served by Ken Ulman.”

For example here are a couple comments regarding my allegations about Ken Ulman’s involvement with therealchris.com at the time:

Yeah, really. Even if the Ulman campaign is behind this, as you suggest, do you have any evidence that the allgations contained in the website are inaccurate or misleading?

And

It also takes real Chutzpah to suggest that the publishers of this site are trying to hide thier indentity from the public. Right on the web site itself it says:

“By Authority of Maryland Democratic Party, Ken Banks, Treasurer.”

I refuted many of the lies Ken Ulman told about Merdon’s record and no one ever responded or came to Ulman’s defense.  They just called me a liar.

The next day or two Ulman admited he was behind the site.

The Democratic Party was quoted at the time:

This site is “not unusual,” said David Paulson, communications director for the Maryland Democratic Party, adding that the party not only pays for http://www.therealchris.com, but also http://www.therealsteele.com, which blasts Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, Republican U.S. Senate candidate.

“There is cooperation between the Ulman campaign and the Democratic Party,” said Paulson, who declined to discuss the level of Ulman’s involvement.

As Ken Ulman said at the time and I quote this because even though it is a bunch of BS it seemed to work for him:

“Folks want to spread conspiracy theories,” he said. “If folks don’t like the fact that their records are being pointed out, it’s part of the campaign.”

Do you know what?  When you examine campaign finance records their is no record of the Democrats paying for the www.therealchris.com (either domain name or hosting services) their is no record of the Democrats paying to printer for the thousands of mailers that promoted the web site either.  How do I know ?  The printers mark on the mailers clearly identifies the printer and producer and it is the same printers mark on Ulman other campaign literature.  I see that Ulman’s campaign paid a mailing house a lot of money during the campaign.  I don’t see that the Democratic party made any payments to the same mailing house.  So did Ulman’s campaign pay for the web site and the mailers and inappropriately use the Democratic Party authority line?  Does this violate campaign finance laws – we will find out.  That is a different story and will let you know what the State Board of Elections says.

So what is the fuss?

The fuss is the excellent web site www.omalleywatch.com , Martin O’Malley’s alarm regarding the site, and how a tactic they perfected is now coming back to haunt them.

The memo I referenced above is here and explains the issue.

Evidence is mounting that former Governor Bob Ehrlich and his new North Carolina law firm’s Maryland-based staff are the driving force behind a totally anonymous and controversial smear website. The owners and operators of that website have gone to great lengths to both communicate their partisan attacks to the press and keep their identities secret from the voters of Maryland.

The Dems know something about scare tactics… 

The Democrats and Martin O’Malley are obsessed with discovering who is behind the site.  Strike that.  They are obsessed with connecting Bob Ehlrich to the site.  Now they think they have a smoking gun and are trying to fire up the loyalists.

Unlike Ken Ulman and www.therealchris.com where I connected the IP addresses and the ISP / web hosting company to www.kenulman.com do you know what the Democrats came up with?  An email memo to reporters and bloggers written by a former Ehrlich press secretary who works for the same law firm Ehrlich works for now.

So here is a synopsis of the Democrats proof.

Person A worked for Ehrlich at Government House.  Person A then went to work for Ehrlich at Womble Carlyle.  Person A issued a memo to a reporter discussing their concerns about an O’Malley land deal.  The same points and concerns show up on a blog (www.omalleywatch.com) Therefore, Bob Ehrlich is behind www.omalleywatch.com.

Absolutely spot on brilliant.  Can’t get anything past Martin O’Malley and the Democratic Party.  Just incredible detective work.  No wonder crime is practically non-existent in Baltimore City.

Read the Examiner story by Len Lazarick.  No mention in The Baltimore Sun that I could find this morning.

Lets get real.  The Democrats have no problem attacking Steele and Merdon with smear web sites and lying about their records and trying to conceal who is involved.  Yet a legitimate site (www.omalleywatch.com) comes out that fairly examines O’Malley’s administration and to them it is a major consipiracy.   No one lied at omalley watch.  Can the Democrats say the same?

The State Comptroller, Mr. Franchot, happens to find the site to be useful because he used the same referenced memo in a board of publics work meeting (the same one where Ken Ulman was the director – remember) to question the Governor and the deal.  It was a great memo, why wouldn’t the Comptroller use the information?

As O’Malley Watch so eloquantly put it in their response to the whiners at Government House:

Evidence is mounting that the Maryland Democratic Party (MDP) and the O’Malley administration wet their pants several times a day over the new phenomenon known as omalleywatch.com. Several members of Governor O’Malley’s staff have been overheard referring to information on the site. The Governor himself referred to the site as “critics” at the Board of Public Works hearing.

Now since www.omalleywatch.com has started to create some real credibility O’Malley has to tear it down.  Unlike my response to www.therealchris.com where I proved that Ken Ulman was a desperate liar when it came to Chris Merdon’s record the Democratic Party and O’Malley refused to address any of the points in the referenced memo.

I bet that they never will.

I think who ever is behind omalleywatch.com should come forward.  However, for the Democrats and O’Malley to whine about the use of a tactic they perfected is just ridiculous.

We are getting the same BS about BGE, Maddalone, Slots, the budget gap, unfunded mandates, etc.  This is what the Democrats are worried about?

Posted in Howard County, Maryland, O'Malley, Ulman | 22 Comments »

Broadband Internet Applications

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, July 12, 2007

Pardon this shameless promotion…

Working for a broadband provider my co-workers and I often ask ourselves.

How long can we play the internet speed game?  DSL, FiOS, and cable modems are fighting a speed game?  One day one is faster than the other and the next day the other is faster than the others.  Can anyone really tell the difference between 5mbps and 15mps?  Unless you are a large enterprise business really pushing the limit on your internet connection how much does speed really matter?  How fast is fast enough?

or this very funny PacificTel DSL commercial

I think the real question is this.  No that we all switched from minature horses to stallions what are we going to do with our fast broadband connections at home and in our small businesses?  I think everyone is still looking for the next killer application.

First we had email.  It remains the single most popular application on the internet.  Other popular applications are on-line gaming, music, photo, and video downloads.  VOIP is really pressing the metal but one can only get so much bandwidth for voice and still have adequate bandwidth for other applications.  If you are a small business you really can expect to get more than 2 voice lines on your broadband connection and still use it to simultaniously send data upstream?

So, Verizon just announced what I think is a great application for DSL subscribers – specifically small businesses who process credit card transaction – a service that is growing by leaps and bounds.  According to Verizon:

Small and medium-sized businesses with a broadband connection from Verizon Online have a new option that offers faster discounted credit, debit and payment processing services: Verizon Merchant Services, Payments Powered by Chase Paymentech.

By using credit card processing services, offered through Chase Paymentech, businesses can expand or begin processing credit or debit transaction services for their customers. The ability to accept credit or debit payments using Verizon’s broadband-based service speeds checkouts and pleases customers.

Even more important:

Depending on the volume of transactions processed, the payment processing discounts offered to Verizon’s broadband business customers can completely or partially offset the monthly cost of the merchant’s broadband connection.

Shouldn’t our broadband connections not only make life a little easier but also help pay for the things we do everyday anyway?

More information here.

So.  What is the so what?  Credit card transactions (and the like) will now take seconds rather than minutes on a dial up connection.  To a business this means a lot especially during peak shopping hours.  This is an application that small businesses will appreciate and help them justify a DSL connection at their place of business.  And it might even pay for itself.

What other applications would you (as a business or consumer) want to see for your broadband connection (regardless of the technology)?

One that I would like to see is an integration of the cell phone “chaperon” feature with your FiOS TV service.  Chaperon service allows a parent to know where their child’s cell phone is located.  Say you give you child a cell phone and tell them they can go to the Columbia Mall with friends with clear instructions to not leave the mall.

From Verizon Wireless:

ChaperoneSM lets you easily locate your loved ones from your Verizon Wireless phone or PC – in real time.

ChaperoneSM with Child ZoneSM lets you define a zone – an area designating a school or summer camp. When the Chaperone handset enters
or leaves the zone, an alert will be sent automatically to designated Chaperone Parent handsets with text messaging capability.

Why not alert the parent on their FiOS enabled television?  Give them an alert with an interactive map.  I don’t always have my phone with me – especially when I am relaxing and watching television.

Your turn.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Tax Increases Being Prepared…

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Get ready for tax increases.  First comes the prep work.  Senator Pipkin says it all…. but it comes down to this “SCARE TACTICS”.

Senator E. J. Pipkin (R. Upper Shore 36) voiced outrage at “fear and strong-arm tactics to force counties to support tax increases.” He pointed to an e-mail, prompted by the O’Malley administration and sent on July 5 by the Maryland Association of Counties’ (MACO) chief lobbyist, Dave Bliden, to various county leaders to motivate local government support of impending tax increases.

Why is MACO doing the bidding of the Governor’s office?  Aren’t they the Association of Counties?  Why on earth would they involve themselves in this battle?

Pipkin characterized the e-mail as “an end-run around most local elected officials which resembles the type of arm-twisting used by Tony Soprano and his ilk.”

Yep, they didn’t tell County Council nor our House or Senate representatives.  This went straight to the County Executive’s offices.

Referring to Josh White, the Governor’s Intergovernmental Relations Chief, the e-mail said, “Josh is interested in coordinating a message for the Governor as he goes on roadtrips to the counties. He (Josh White) is looking for not just the property tax equivalents, but real vignettes of the county ‘doomsday budgets’…like closing libraries, reductions in deputies, larger class size, no support for volunteer firefighters. I (Bliden) suggested a goal of 10 examples for each county, if the proposed State ‘doomsday budget’ comes to fruition…..”

Doomsday budgets.  Get ready folks.  We are going to have to shut down County Government.  Make no doubt about it the libraries will have to go out of business.  Please nominate 10 examples of your own for Howard County in the comments section below.

Now I will bet that Calvin Ball’s living wage bill will go foward without question.  No matter how much that contributes to the “doomsday budget” Ken Ulman will be screaming and crying about shortly.  Did I hear someone ask “Why will Calvin’s bill go foward?”  That is a good question.  As one reader put it to me:

Call it “charity for the unions” ask why, in the face of an alleged budget crisis would they consider raising costs that might require tax increases. Just paying back their union buddies for campaign donations and volunteer poll workers.

 The reader then encourages me to:

Call them out for buying votes with our tax dollars.

Well, honestly I didn’t think of Calvin’s bill in that light.  Now that the point is raised I have to ask the question.  The reader’s comments make sense to me.  We will have all the proof we need when we get the “DOOMSDAY” scare tactics thrown at us and Calvin’s bill passes.

Bliden goes on to say, “the Gov could be visiting the counties during the next weeks, which presents an opportunity to deliver. And, with a good product, we could share with the other counties to get them motivated. Something for discussion at our July 13 meeting.”

“It boggles the mind that such terms as ‘opportunity to deliver’ and ‘good product’ would be used to bamboozle Marylanders into handing over more of their hard earned money to the state,” said Pipkin.

Bliden continued, “Another good perspective would be having interested constituencies there to show their interest, e.g. the volunteer ff’ers (firefighters).”

Hmmm.  I wonder if Ken is going to call on the union here in Howard County.  He will probably pack the rooms with them.  He has probably told Mayor O’Malley that he can deliver any union the Mayor wants.  Although water meter readers at Public Works might be questionable.

Pipkin said, “I thought I was beyond shock and outrage until I read about using volunteer firefighters to help beef up the propaganda campaign to get locals to rally behind the state tax increases. The e-mail lays out an arrogant and shameless blueprint for getting locals to back tax increases. As Bliden says, the next few weeks of gubernatorial visits to the counties ‘is a good opportunity to make a case, and, even more important to convince the Governor we (the counties) are there 100% to help him help us.'”

“Absolutely shameless!” said Pipkin.

The referenced email follows:

Ladies and Gentlemen–

I just spoke to the County Executive Smith and Jan Gardner about a conversation I had with Josh White, the Governor’s Intergovernmental Relations Chief, about which we wanted to motivate a a response.

Josh is interested in coordinating a message for the Governor as he goes on roadtrips to the counties. He is looking for not just the property tax equivalents, but real vignettes of the county “doomsday”

budgets”… like closing libraries, reductions in deputies, larger class size, no support for volunteers firefighters. I suggested a goal of 10 examples for each county, if the proposed State “doomsday budget” comes to fruition..

The Gov could be visiting the counties during the next weeks , which presents an opportunity to deliver. And, with a good product, we could share with the other counties to get them motivated. Something for discussion at our July 13 meeting. Another good perspective would be having interested constituencies there to show their interest, e.g. the volunteer ff’ers.

This is a good opportunity to make a case and, even more important, to convince the Governor we are there 100% to help him help us.

Can you get your team motivated? We would be most willing to work with them.

Best wishes.

David

As Monoblogue put it:

I suppose my issue with this attitude is that, judging by this e-mail, counties are more interested in protecting their turf than asking the tough questions, both of themselves and of Governor O’Malley.

What would those tough questions be?  Examining our ever increasing spending  and stoping Calvin Ball’s “living wage” bill.  Despite what some people think Marylander’s are not open to having their pocket picked when Government can’t control their appetite for our money.

The Examiner picked up this story this morning.  Think it will be in The Sun?

Posted in Howard County, Maryland, O'Malley | 8 Comments »

Hail the Hoyts

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A story worth repeating….  Did you ever hear about Rick and Dick Hoyt?  They are the father and son athletic team.  The father used to be a cigarette and beer drinking kind of guy.  Things changed.

Now read about the father son team that they inspired.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

Reader Contribution

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Britian Has Talent strikes again.  This little girl has a very impressive voice.

Please pardon the earlier reference to poor Madeleine McCann.  I had posted this in whole from a reader’s comment under Paul Potts and did not catch nor understand the reference to Madeleine.

Posted in General | 3 Comments »