Howard County Maryland Blog

Convention of States in Maryland

Nonpartisan Demonstration

Posted by bsflag2007 on Friday, October 26, 2007

Now here’s a committed group of activists who have managed to avoid the common land mine of waffling on their supposed beliefs depending on which party is espousing action — the anti slots crowd.

It may be due to the coincidental overlapping of religion and morality based objections with the bipartisan goal of generating revenue without actually asking the big players to dig deeper – although I have seen many other instances when “morality” issues have taken a back seat to economic and partisan concerns (but that would be another post)

In the case of objections to slots, even though many of the consistent organizers are “faith based” organizations and their objections ultimately based on particular religious tenets, they are joined by many social scientist types who point to non-religion based research that purports to link legalized gambling to myriad social ills and economically catastrophic impacts on families, communities, businesses and industry.

While I happen to find the evidence that certain unfortunate patterns follow the inclusion of a legal gambling establishment in a community persuasive, ultimately I am a free choice for adults kind of chick and don’t believe a big brother of government ought to be telling me that I cannot engage in a friendly wager or a game of chance.

The arguments that these establishments frequently attract criminal elements strikes me as yet another problem of enforcement of existing laws against whatever other illegal or criminal activity may be taking place – but putting aside that argument for a moment, I think I may have a compromise.

First, acknowledging the significant economic potential for the state coffers by offering this lucrative taxable source of commerce and also acknowledging the real potential for peripheral criminal activities perhaps one answer would be for the state to operate the gambling establishments.

Not just “license” the activity to some kind of sub-contractor – but actually be the operator of the business. Then all economic incentives would flow to the state, not just the tax revenue. Food and drink concessions? Same thing.

Sure, that would mean expanding government – but not in the usual way. It would be expanding the operations of government to include generating income instead of only spending.

All the costs associated with policing, prosecuting, jailing convicted offenders, and liability issues arising from illegal or otherwise actionable events would be paid out of the operating revenue from the gambling activities.

That way, eventually we would have a definitive answer to whether or not gambling is the economic boon some insist — or whether other increased costs are absorbed by other revenue streams as others insist.

Of course there will still be some economic and social costs that don’t get billed directly to the source – but that happens with other already legal activities that desimate families and communities —  such as alcohol, tobacco and firearms.

So lets give it a whirl – state owned and operated gambling —- if we are going to get stuck with the bills we should get ALL the income.

Cindy V

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Posted in General | 2 Comments »

Ulman Administration Does Something Right

Posted by bsflag2007 on Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am not so naive as to believe we can all agree on this – but I am very pleased that the Ulman administration has taken decisive action on the proliferation of illegal sign litter in the county.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/howard/bal-ho.signs24oct24,0,6894155.story

The scofflaws who plant their commercial enterprise signs on public and private property offend me on many levels.  Not only are they unsightly and a litter problem, and the periodic cleanup a waste of community resources  – but this illegal, uncompensated use of other people’s property provides an unfair business advantage to the offenders.

For those who are not engaged in business in HoCo, you may be surprised to learn that permits are required for most signs – and there are fairly stringent rules about how big, how many,  what materials, and where they can be placed.

The folks quoted in the Sun article who say they didn’t know about the laws, or just did what they saw other people doing have got to be kidding.   If they really don’t have enough sense to know that you can’t just conduct your business affairs on other peoples property, then we should question what other laws they don’t understand.   I therefore am making the following suggestion:

Not only should the businesses whose signs have been collected in this sweep be fined according to the law – but the they should also be referred to the enforcement divisions of all the other permit, licensing, taxing, zoning and compliance offices that would normally be required for their posted businesses.

Sound harsh?  I suppose.

It is very hard to be a small business person.  The paperwork will kill you.   However, as long as the laws and rules are in place and the rest of the businesses are spending their time and resources complying with them – then everyone must.

Now, if these folks want to put some time and effort into changing the rules to make it easier for small businesses to thrive without being run out of business by government paperwork …..

Cindy Vaillancourt

ps – while they are cleaning up the illegal signs – let’s not forget the huge commercial real estate signs erected on sites where no property is available.

Posted in General | 10 Comments »

Illegal Firings – Gov. Ehrlich – 0, Gov. O’Malley – 2 (and counting?)

Posted by Ed C on Saturday, October 6, 2007

From the Washington Times (Judge: Rehire state worker)

Nelson Reichart, a 29 year state employee, fired in June was reinstated by administrative judge with back pay and benefits:

Mr. Reichart was fired in June, after a news report in which he was quoted saying the state paid $1 million more than it should have for the 271-acre parcel known as the Kudner property in Queen Anne’s County. The land, earmarked for preservation, was bought for $5 million — a price that exceeded two state appraisals of its value.
David Sutherland, the owner of the parcel, was a member of the O’Malley transition team and the purchase also was authorized by Department of Natural Resources Secretary John R. Griffin, who had done consulting work on the property.

The General Assembly spent 13 months and 1.1 million dollars to find out that Gov. Ehrlich did not fire anyone illegally. In 10 months, the O’Malley administration has been rebuked by administrative judges twice:

Mr. Reichart is the second state employee whose termination by the O’Malley adminstration was rebuked by an administrative judge.
Judge Susan A. Sinrod ruled in June that the O’Malley administration illegally fired Greg Maddalone, a Republican who was appointed by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Posted in Ed C, Maryland, O'Malley | 1 Comment »

Let’s Just BAN Underage Drinking

Posted by bsflag2007 on Saturday, October 6, 2007

Another Howard County High School has jumped on the bandwagon and banned bringing beverages into football games.  That brings the current total to three (Wilde Lake, Centennial and now Howard).

The only drinks allowed will be those purchased at the concession stands.   According to one of the Principals involved, this is in response to an incident where teenagers were reportedly “drinking under the bleachers” during a football game.

Area principals report a “sense” that there has been an increase in underage drinking in recent years.   They also feel there is a link between underage drinking and disruptive behavior at sporting events.

Soooo…. they have decided to “ban” outside beverages from sporting events.  This ban applies to students and adults alike and will be enforced by staff members posted at the entrances to the venues.

I am not suggesting that there are any hidden agendas here – like increasing fund raising at school sponsored concession stands.

I am not suggesting that the “feeling” that there has been an increase in underage drinking recently is incorrect— though unless these kids are drink all day, every day it is hard to imagine they are drinking more than my classmates did in high school (back in the olden days).

I am not disputing the notion that alcohol fuels disruptive behavior and may be a factor in altercations at sporting events between rival teams.

However, I would like folks to take a moment and consider this perennial “fallback” position of “banning” certain items or activities purportedly to achieve order.

The “banning” of outside drinks at an outdoor high school football game in order to curb underage drinking and disruptive behavior strikes me as a feelgood measure with little chance of having any of the desired effects.

With the exception of the “report” that some kids were drinking under the bleachers — most of the “game night” drinking occurs in the parking lot or some other location before (and after) the game.

“Most” kids do NOT do their drinking inside school sponsored events – in plain view of teachers and adults —- this ban has the effect of penalizing everyone for the actions of a very very small minority who might better be monitored by having a security officer make an occasional trip under the bleachers

“Most” adults would not “smuggle” alcohol into a high school event for their underage offspring to consume  (even those who supposedly provide liquor to their children in the privacy of their own homes)—  so this ban effectively penalizes the random parent who totes in his own bottle of water or remaining fast food beverage.

This “ban” will not eliminate the need for staff and security officers to monitor the behavior of the spectators – it will not even reduce the “police” duties of the staff as staff members will now be in the awkward position of “searching” families as they enter the stadium.

Unruly behavior will still have to be dealt with whether it is alcohol fueled or not.  Or are we only going to intervene in disruptions that involve alcohol?

Even if the ban does 100% eliminate drinking “on site” does anyone actually believe that will have any effect on drinking “off-site” – other than possibly increase the chances that they’ll do their drinking in the car on the way to the game?

Bottom line – this strikes me as yet another “control freak”,  yet completely futile, feel good effort to pretend we are taking a firm stand against a very real danger.

Underage, irresponsible drinking is a problem, though I seriously doubt very much of it is occurring inside the stadium at high school football games.

This ban” on outside drinks for everyone is just sort of silly – and more than a little insulting to the rest of the community.

Ultimately, it is behavior that needs to be monitored — alcohol fueled or not.   These “bans” strike me as an abdication of adult responsibility to monitor and educate.

Cindy Vaillancourt

Posted in General | 6 Comments »

Thorton Spendning – What’s the old adage about insanity?

Posted by Ed C on Monday, September 17, 2007

Remember the adage: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I suppose a candidate for proving this would be Maryland’s Thorton spending. From the Examiner Advocates: $500M in Thornton funds misspent:

Yet this year, the special funding total still will increase to $1.3 billion, for a six-year total of almost $3.5 billion.

Reading and math scores for fourth- and eighth-graders have plateaued on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the past five years, according to the think-tank analysis.

I was going to write more, but the Editorial: Wasted dollars waste young lives pretty much sums up what I would have liked to have said.

One thing that puzzles me though are the comments by State School Superintendent Nancy Grasmick:

State schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick dismisses NAEP scores as inappropriate for measuring achievement of Maryland’s students. “The NAEP is not aligned to our curriculum,” said Grasmick, noting that NAEP only tests a sample of students.

Okay, but according to Peggy Carr of the National Center for Education, on the NAEP test:

“It’s not aligned with any one curriculum, and that’s by design because it represents the basic skills students should know, regardless of what students are taught.”

So, do the Maryland State tests adequately measure student achievement in basic skills? What is the Maryland curriculum? I’d think that reading, writing and arithmetic would be in there somewhere. If they are, shouldn’t a bunch of teachers and schools administrators be able to figure out a test to measure it? Maybe not:

As William Kirwan, the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland said recently, “exit requirements [for high school] are not at all aligned with entrance requirements of college.”

If Maryland is going to spend $3.5 billion dollars, wouldn’t you think that a few percent of that money could be used to create (or buy) a fair, objective test?

Here is my proposal. We spend a few dollars and team up with another state, say Wisconsin (pop. rank 18) or Arizona (pop. rank 20) (Maryland pop rank is 19) or any state with a similar number of students / teachers and create tests that are given to every 4th, 8th and 10th grader. We have teachers from both states create the tests and then get them reviewed by the NAEP people, the Dept of Education or educators from the State’s universities to verify that it really tests the basics. To measure reading and writing skills, the test should include short essays on material presented in the test to minimize the impact of having the subject covered in a particular locale.

To grade the tests, we send our students tests to Wisconsin and they send us theirs. The tests would be graded by say 3 teachers each and the final score would be the average. Throw in some random sampling and quality control and we’re done. The teachers could do the grading in a day. Because each state would be doing the same thing the only “additional” cost would be for some shipping. Hopefully each state would be a neutral arbiter for grading, because it really isn’t doesn’t matter that much to the Cheese-Heads how a particular Maryland school district performs, besides we would have those quality control samples if it became an issue.

So, the total cost for both Maryland and Wisconsin would be for X teachers to create 3 tests, a day of salaries to give the test (which we would have spent anyway), a day of salaries to do the grading, some money for shipping plus whatever review and quality control would cost. So for a fraction of the $500 million that was “wasted” last year both Maryland and Wisconson could get a netrual, comprehensive assement of every student’s progress.

Would it work? Probably not, but it seems obvious the current method isn’t working, so how about we try something, anything else and see if we can get a different result this time, otherwise its just insane.

Posted in Ed C, Education, Maryland | Leave a Comment »

The Myth of the Racist Republicans.

Posted by Ed C on Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Saturday, Hilliary Clinton spoke to a NAACP banquet in North Charleston, SC. She outlined her civil rights agenda, “Promoting Civil Rights and Fighting Discrimination in the 21st Century” Some of my favorites:

“Restore professionalism and remove politics from hiring, case deliberations, and policy decisions across the Department of Justice.”

Do you think she will accomplish by hiring Republicans? Just as in Maryland where firing a Democrat is crass partisanship, but firing a Republican, well that’s okay. (O’Malley firing illegal over GOP ties) MD democrats spent 13 months and $1.1 million of public money to find out that Gov. Ehrlich did not fire anyone illegally. We are still waiting to see if the O’Malley administration will be held to the same standard.

Sen. Clinton proposes the following:

Direct the Attorney General to submit – within 90 days of taking office – a report that recommends how to rebuild DOJ’s traditional role in defending civil rights and the rule of law, and that reviews charges of improper, politically motivated hiring to determine whether laws were broken.

How do you think she will do this? Well, we can look at the past Clinton administration to see how they handled it before (from the Wall Street Journal) :

Congressional Democrats are in full cry over the news this week that the Administration’s decision to fire eight U.S. Attorneys originated from–gasp–the White House. Senator Hillary Clinton joined the fun yesterday, blaming President Bush for “the politicization of our prosecutorial system.” Oh, my.

As it happens, Mrs. Clinton is just the Senator to walk point on this issue of dismissing U.S. attorneys because she has direct personal experience. In any Congressional probe of the matter, we’d suggest she call herself as the first witness–and bring along Webster Hubbell as her chief counsel.

As everyone once knew but has tried to forget, Mr. Hubbell was a former partner of Mrs. Clinton at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock who later went to jail for mail fraud and tax evasion. He was also Bill and Hillary Clinton’s choice as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department when Janet Reno, his nominal superior, simultaneously fired all 93 U.S. Attorneys in March 1993. Ms. Reno–or Mr. Hubbell–gave them 10 days to move out of their offices.

Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons’ Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint “Friend of Bill” Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to “politicizing” Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons.

As Sen. Clinton and the Democrats try to paint Republicans as racist, maybe a little history will help. In a 2004 book review for the Claremont Institute, The Myth of the Racist Republicans and in a recent Weekly Standard article, The Party of Civil Rights, Univ. of VA associate political science professor Gerard Alexander. (h/t PowerLine) provides some context:

A myth about conservatism is circulating in academia and journalism and has spread to the 2004 presidential campaign. It goes something like this: the Republican Party assembled a national majority by winning over Southern white voters; Southern white voters are racist; therefore, the GOP is racist. Sometimes the conclusion is softened, and Republicans are convicted merely of base opportunism: the GOP is the party that became willing to pander to racists. Either way, today’s Republican Party—and by extension the conservative movement at its heart—supposedly has revealed something terrible about itself.

And from the conclusion:

The point of all this is not to deny that Richard Nixon may have invited some nasty fellows into his political bed. The point is that the GOP finally became the region’s dominant party in the least racist phase of the South’s entire history, and it got that way by attracting most of its votes from the region’s growing and confident communities—not its declining and fearful ones. The myth’s shrillest proponents are as reluctant to admit this as they are to concede that most Republicans genuinely believe that a color-blind society lies down the road of individual choice and dynamic change, not down the road of state regulation and unequal treatment before the law. The truly tenacious prejudices here are the mythmakers’.

And from the conclusion of Prof. Alexander’s Weekly Standard Article:

It took no time at all for individual commentators to point out these problems, but it took decades for the intellectual orthodoxy to develop serious cracks. In the 1980s, Reagan administration lawyers challenged head-on the most expansive racial preferences and the assumptions that justified them. Welfare came under withering scrutiny from scholars like Charles Murray, and, in the 1990s, politicians and voters from both sides of the aisle enacted welfare reform to propel more of the poor into the labor market and toward lives of greater self-sufficiency. Just in the past few years, scholarship has begun to document some perverse effects of affirmative action programs. In 2005, the fortieth anniversary of the Moynihan Report was noted with articles that validated the original conclusions and condemned the smear that greeted its author.

In the end, the position that has best stood the test of time is the long-standing conservative proposition that improving individual capabilities–through quality education–is the best means of reducing socio-economic disparities, with the additional virtue of not being zero-sum, as racial preferences and minority set-asides are.

In the half-century since the 1957 Civil Rights Act, dramatic gains occurred in many areas, but rigid intellectual orthodoxies heavily contributed to the terrible worsening of problems in other areas. Maybe after 50 years, America is finally prepared to have a debate–driven by facts and not ideology–on how to tackle the remaining racial disparities.

If you can find the time, please read the both articles.  With that, I’m off to listen to Micheal Steele and support GOPAC.

Posted in Democrats, Ed C, Republicans | 19 Comments »

Gov O’Malley’s pick for Insurance Commissioner – With qualifications like these, what could go wrong?

Posted by Ed C on Saturday, September 8, 2007

As reported in the Examiner (O’Malley’s insurance chief puzzles many) and in the Baltimore Sun (O’Malley legal counsel to be insurance chief), Gov. O’Malley has picked Ralph S. Tyler, an adviser with no experience in insurance to oversee regulation on Maryland’s $26 billion insurance industry.

Quoting from the press release.

Tyler served as one of the Governor’s closest advisors as Chief Legal Counsel and led the effort to reconstitute Maryland’s Public Service Commission with independent and professional regulators.

I guess the definition of a “professional regulator” does not require experience in that particular domain.

As Baltimore’s City Solicitor, Tyler successfully led the lawsuit against the Maryland Public Service Commission and a pending BGE 72 percent utility rate increase this past summer. The lawsuit is credited with allowing the Maryland General Assembly to pass legislation to keep utility rates affordable and give utility companies more flexibility in purchasing electricity.

Yea, that worked out soooo well. Okay, so other than giving O’Malley an election issue, he was able to turn a 72% increase into a 72.5% increase. How does this rate as an accomplishment to “keep utility rates affordable”?

The Sun article also quotes Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, a Southern Maryland Democrat and the chairman of the Finance Committee that oversees insurance issues:

“… the Ehrlich administration’s focus on increasing competition in the state’s insurance market was good but went too far.”

Could Sen. Middleton explain how increased completion has been detrimental to Maryland residents?

The Sun aslo quotes Howard County delegate Warren Miller:

Del. Warren E. Miller, a Howard County Republican, said that if the commissioner sides too heavily with consumers, insurance companies will stop writing policies in the state.

“I hope we don’t go back to the days where the regulator was wanting something for free,” Miller said. “You have to be fair and balanced.”

Let’s hope this appointment benefits Maryland consumers, not just members of the Maryland Bar Association.

Posted in Ed C, O'Malley | 3 Comments »

It’s expensive to live in Howard County – Steven Sattler, CA Communications Director

Posted by Ed C on Thursday, August 30, 2007

From the Baltimore Sun: CA officials paid well.

The Columbia Association paid about $1.2 million in salaries to the top 8 association officials. The CA has an annual budget of $50 million.

The association manages open space, swimming pools and athletic facilities in Columbia, with much of its annual budget coming from taxlike liens paid by every property owner in the planned town.

I enjoy living in Columbia and use the facilities offered by CA regularly. That said, maybe some of the “expense” of living here should be attributed to that “taxlike” lien.

Posted in Ed C, Howard County, Taxes | 4 Comments »

The Wealthiest State in the Nation

Posted by Jim Walsh on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The U.S. Census Bureau just announced its annual income and poverty estimates for the nation.   Maryland has the distinction of having the highest median household income ($65,144) and the lowest poverty rate (7.8%) in the U.S.  Howard County had the highest median household income in Maryland ($94,260) and ranked third among all counties nationally (behind only Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia).

Combine these high income – low poverty figures with the high tax rates imposed here, and I’m at a loss to see how the State and its subdivisions can be complaining about “structural deficits” and a lack of revenue.  I recall many high-tax apologists spin our tax burden by noting that our taxes, as a percentage of household income, are at about the national average.  That argument has never made any sense to me.  If government is supposed to address its citizens’ needs, should not those needs, and the level of government services, decrease as the citizens’ wealth increase?  Given our high income levels, our tax rates should be below average.  Am I missing something?

Posted in Jim Walsh, Maryland, Taxes | 7 Comments »

Call me a liar

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, August 8, 2007

I said I wouldn’t write about “Climate Change” anymore.  Well something happened to change that.

Lately I have been able to bring myself to begin listening to talk radio.  So I tuned in Ron Smith at WBAL and his guest was Steven J. Milloy, the founder and publisher of JunkScience.com and CSRwatch.com.  (BTW: David Wissing also has an interesting post on the “climate change” issue and is encouraging everyone to quit walking and drive a car)

So, I called in and asked these question.

Steve, I have been trying to learn what I can about this debate and I think I have more questions than answers.

1. If 3% of greenhouse gases are made up of carbon dioxide and man contributes only to a percentage of that how can carbon dioxide have such a disproportionate effect on global temperatures and lead to such hysteria.

2. Please explain the Michael Mann “hockey stick”

I wanted to ask him about the “consensus” theory, but I did get to ask about the $29 billion US Global Warming Research Industry employing hundreds (if not thousands) of climate change experts.  What a gravy train.  Ron Smith’s retort “And Al Gore complains about the $10 million being spent to debunk climate change theory?”

Ron and Steve had a lot to say about both my questions.  They blasted Mann and wondered why he wasn’t drummed out of the business.  The consensus is that Mann threw out the “little ice age” in his model and if it had been included then the 20th century would look pretty normal.

Anyway, Steve has put out a $100,000 challenge.

$100,000 will be awarded to the first person to prove, in a scientific manner, that humans are causing harmful global warming. The winning entry will specifically reject both of the following two hypotheses:

UGWC Hypothesis 1
Manmade emissions of greenhouse gases do not discernibly, significantly and predictably cause increases in global surface and tropospheric temperatures along with associated stratospheric cooling.

UGWC Hypothesis 2
The benefits equal or exceed the costs of any increases in global temperature caused by man-made greenhouse gas emissions between the present time and the year 2100, when all global social, economic and environmental effects are considered.

Complete rules and an entry form can be found here

Posted in General | 6 Comments »