Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Land Deal Continues

Kudos to O'Malley Watch for following this brazen attempt by the O'Malley administration to aid and abet their cronies in dipping into our pockets.

Now on Wednesday Langenfelder is going to go for the hat-trick of schemes to get taxpayer dollars. The Board of Public Works is going to vote on the purchase of an industrial site for $7.2 million. The price equates out to $97,000 an acre and is the higher of two appraisals done for the property. The property, owned by Atchafalaya Holdings, will be sold by the State for the $7.2 million, but then the State is going to lease a waterfront portion of this land to CJ Langenfelder & Sons for $215,000. The interesting thing is that Jim Matters is the president of CJ Langenfelder & Sons and also the managing partner of Atchafalaya Holdings. Hmmm, so they are selling it to the State, and leasing it back from the State at a substantial profit to them.

Jim Matter’s defense of the deal is that he doesn’t want to see another housing development on the Eastern Shore. But the rules in Queen Anne’s county states that on this property, only 1 – 2 houses MAX could be built there. And these houses would cost between $800K to $1.1 million. In reality, Mr. Matters and CJ Langenfelder & Sons knows that the only way to profit out of this deal is to sell the land to the State where they make they make at least $5 million more than if a private developer bought the land.


Be sure to read it all. If they are this bold in their first months in office, then by the end of two terms they'll be taking the change out of your car's ashtray.


More below the fold.

Not One Penny More

If there is one thing conservatives have in common with the lefty nutroots who frequent Daily Kos and similar sites it is that we've grown accustomed to being pandered to, hit up for contributions, and then deserted.

As with the Democrats, the default position within the heirarchy of the Republican party is one of supporting incumbents regardless of how useless they may be. This strategy got us Linc Chafee and Arlen Specter and it is being played out again to ensure that Wayne Gilchrest is re-elected despite his record clearly indicating that he'd be much more at home in the Democrat party.

That the National Republican Congressional Committee is supporting him is no huge surprise. That they would stick their noses into a primary is just bad form. That the chairman, Representative Tom Cole, would find the necessity of supporting Mr. Gilchrest so important that he'd sacrifice his integrity to do so is simply inexplicable.

There is more to this sad story below the fold.

This first came to my attention via Monoblogue who posts an email from the Gilchrest campaign touting his endoresement by the NRCC and Representative Tom Cole. From Monoblogue:

National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Congressman Tom Cole endorsed the re-election bid of U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest today, and urged Marylanders to return Gilchrest to Congress in the 2008 election.

“Wayne Gilchrest is an important part of our Congress and our Party, and I am pleased to offer my strong support for his re-election,” said Cole.

“While we may not agree on every issue, the strength of our Party lies in our diversity of opinions, and in the end, Wayne offers an honest and thoughtful perspective in the House.”

The NRCC is the Congressional arm of the Republican National Committee. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma is the elected national Chairman.


Only on May 10, Representative Cole wrote this at Redstate where I am an editor:

While we work to rebuild our Republican majority in the House, the NRCC’s business is beating Democrats. As a general rule, as long as I am Chairman, the NRCC won’t pick winners and losers in Republican primaries. I’ve always believed that local leaders, activists (like you), and ultimately, the voters make the best decisions about who would make the best candidates and ultimately, Members of Congress. As Roll Call recently reported:

“Cole also said that he will refrain from doling out personal endorsements and campaign contributions in primaries while he is chairman. Cole’s decision partly is due to the wishes of House Republicans, who in a recent closed-door meeting were fairly unified — and vocal — in their desire that the NRCC avoid playing kingmaker in contested primaries. But Cole also attributed his policy to a belief that candidates who navigate a primary without help or anointing from Washington, D.C., insiders emerge battle-tested for the general election and in a better position to secure the support of grass-roots Republicans.” (Roll Call, 2/5/07)


Always a skeptic of the self-puffery candidates send out and wishing to reconcile the seeming inconsistency between an endorsement in the primary and a promise not to endorse candidates during the primary I contacted an acquaintance on the NRCC. Is this true I asked. Yes, I was told. You realize this will make a lot of your small donors a lot less than happy, I asked. He replied (reprinted here with his consent):

It is Cole’s job as NRCC Chairman to give this committee and our members the best opportunity to win back the majority. Part of that responsibility is protecting incumbents, the other part is reclaiming territory we lost in 2006 --- all to develop the roadmap to 218. Without a Republican majority, as Cole previously stated on RedState, the conservative agenda can not and will not move forward. We see the disastrous consequences of liberal leadership in the House: the Democrats have raised taxes, bent over backwards to reward the trail lawyers and Big Labor, and are spending with reckless abandon. The NRCC is first and foremost an incumbent retention committee. Cole is doing everything he can do hold seats as well as expand our numbers to get to 218 so that the conservative agenda can move forward.


Wayne Gilchrest is a terrible choice for MD-1 which could elect a mainstream conservative in Andy Harris.

I, like Monoblogue, have given my last penny to political groups. From this point forward I will give only to candidates.








More below the fold.

Victory for Charter Schools

From the Examiner:

Local school boards must give charter schools the same amount of money as traditional public schools, Maryland’s highest court decided Monday.

“Public charter schools are public schools, not prep schools or parochial schools,” said attorney Richard Daniels, who represented two of the charter schools. “They cannot force charter schools to take funding in services, instead of funds.”


This is great news for the charter school movement and for all parent with children in public schools. The case involved, suprise, surprise, the City of Baltimore trying to screw several charter schools (complete decision here) out of funding the State Board of Education had decreed they were entitled to. Baltimore attempted to do this by decreasing the per student payment for all manner of things. As the court noted:

Under that funding model, the city board advised that the per pupil funding for FY 2006 would consist of $5,011 in cash and $2,943 in s ervices, some of which City Neighbors did not seek, did not need, and did not desire. In calculating the per pupil allocation, the city board excluded Federal entitlement funds, system administrative costs, fun ds for special education, transportation expenses, expenses for health services, expenses for utility services, and the cost of food
services.


Monopolies are an inherently bad thing. We see the outcome with utilities and we see it with public school system, both tend to respond to inefficiency and ineptness with a demand for more taxpayer money. This case should be cheered by everyone.


More below the fold.

Four Choices

The cause célèbre over the weekend has to be the rather bizarre case unfolding in Ocean City involving a Ms. Christy Lynn Freeman and at least four dead babies.

While there is no doubt that the headlines are good for circulation numbers, and for the political career of the State's Attorney, color me unimpressed.

More below the fold.

By way of background, Ms. Freeman reported to a hospital complaining of cramps and bleeding. When examined the doctors quickly discovered the reason, according to Reuters:

Doctors at the hospital determined that Freeman had been pregnant but was no longer, prompting police to search her apartment.

At the apartment, police also found a garbage bag hidden in a trunk in Freeman's bedroom. Inside were three smaller plastic bags, two of which contained the remains of two more infants, and a third contained what police said was a placenta.

The next day, the remains of a fourth infant were found in another garbage bag inside a Winnebago motor home parked in Freeman's driveway, according to a police statement.


She was booked on charges of first- and second-degree murder.

The medical examiner has already determined that the most recent infant was stillborn and the investigation into the status of the other three is proceeding.
Despite this the State's Attorney of Worcester County, Democrat Joel Todd is driving on:

The legislature passed the law after it was amended to include language that abortion-rights advocates said would protect a woman's right to a medical abortion. Some say it is unclear whether the law protects women from prosecution for self-induced abortions.

Another question involves the viability of Freeman's baby, which a preliminary report by the state medical examiner determined was stillborn. Maryland's statute does not cover fetuses that cannot survive outside the womb.

Still, Worcester County State's Attorney Joel J. Todd said yesterday that he's proceeding with the case on the basis of the 2005 law. "It is under that theory that she has been charged," he said.


This is simply grandstanding. The law Maryland passed to allegedly protect babies in utero was specifically constructed to exclude tha actions of the mother. Had it not been so constructed it never would have passed the General Assembly and that portion of the 9,000+ abortions (9,321 were performed in 2003, the most recent year for which federal data is available) performed in Maryland on babies in excess of 21 weeks gestation (1.4 percent of all reported abortions were carried out on this group of infants, which would make Maryland's share about 130) would be called what they are, murder (over 30,000 children with less than 28 weeks gestation were recorded as live births in 2004).

According to the bill sponsor:

The law was designed to punish those who kill a pregnant woman or her fetus but not to outlaw abortions, said Del. Christopher B. Shank, a Washington County Republican and a bill sponsor. "We didn't want abortion to become a factor."

The statute includes a paragraph exempting "an act or failure to act of a pregnant woman with regard to her own fetus." Some say the provision appears to trump the provision authorizing prosecution of those who have "wantonly or recklessly disregarded" the likelihood that their actions would lead to the death or injury of a viable fetus.


In my view, there is no difference whatsoever in the dismembering of a viable fetus in a state sanctioned abattoir and a mother leaving a pre-term baby to die of exposure and neglect. The child is dead and the mother has exercised her "right to choose."

Mr. Todd's decision to pursue this particular case given the facts and the law seems to be nothing more than political grandstanding while laying off of the responsibility for dropping the charges on a grand jury.








More below the fold.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Pay For Work

(Crossposted on Annapolis Politics)

A recent post by Brian Griffiths asked what could possibly be wrong with cutting 1000 vacant state jobs as a way to reduce the budget deficit.

One thing is wrong: they shouldn't stop there. Today's Capital reports:

Recently, House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, said the legislature will look at cutting up to 1000 of the estimated 1,965 state job vacancies currently funded.

Am I a fool for thinking that ALL of the vacant jobs should be cut? Better yet, if vacant positions remain funded, where does this money go?

I own a business, and I can tell you that I will pay precisely nobody that does not work for the business. As taxpayers, we are owners of, and participants in, the government. Is the above request too much for us to ask?


More below the fold.

Tax the Other Guy

A rather silly push poll conducted last week by a far left Alliance for Tax Fairness which purported to show that Marylanders, unlike virtually every other demographic group, are willing to tax the bejeezus out of themselves in the name of better services.

I contend that poll showed what we all know that people are willing to support higher taxes for better services so long as they are reasonably sure they won't have to pay those taxes (hence the large number saying that soaking the rich was fine with them) or they simply are bereft of second order reasoning (business taxes are passed on to consumers and who, exactly, do the people polled think will pay for a surcharge on landfill dumping).

If you need to convincing look no farther than Clarksburg. There a fairly wealthy community is locked in a death match with Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett over paying fees for better services.

Clarksburg activists say they are still sifting the legal and policy documents that County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) offered up yesterday as a possible way to resolve a dispute over whether to tax residents to repay developers for at least $60 million in roads, sewers and green space they agreed to build more than a decade ago when they won development rights.

Lynn Fantle, author of a report for a panel convened last year by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) to examine the dispute (and, some say, to get it off his agenda during an election year), said she was still struggling to understand what Montgomery County gains by allowing developers to be repaid for infrastructure.

After all, she said, the development community builds the roads, installs the sewers and provides green space to support their multi-million dollar developments where many houses are now valued at $1 million and more.


Mind you, we aren't talking about a lot of money here. The article says $1500 per year per household (that's $125 per month, probably less than what is spent on Starbucks lattes and arugula salad by those households. And 100% of the money is spent on the local community where the taxpayers live, it isn't like it is disappearing into a sump in Annapolis.

But when and affluent and lefty community, presumably the ones most likely to say "hell, yes, tax me harder," actually has to dip into its own pocket rather than into our collective pocket the bleating begins. Let me add here, I'm not saying they are different from other people, rather they are exactly like the rest of us in having the conceit that we know best how to spend our own money.

I really hope the O'Malley administration takes the Alliance poll seriously. It will make the next legislative session a lot of fun.


More below the fold.

Waiting for the Outrage

We reported earlier in the week about the fairly transparent attempt by Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson to install a puppet regime to oversee the financially trouble Dimensions Healthcare organization.

Now that his motive is gaining public notice, he's taking a couple of steps back.

His original demand was for the resignations of four of the eleven board members. The remaining seven members, including Johnson's chief of staff and two handpicked members, would recommend the four replacements.

I'd just like to pause for a moment to note that while the Post reports:

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) is trying to dispel fears that he's out for control of the Board of Directors of Dimensions Healthcare, the company that runs the county's hospital system...

His critics have charged the rump board left over would be stacked with Johnson allies, including his chief of staff and two members who were named to the board at his chief of staff's suggestion.


The Post, itself, has yet to report on the ramifications of how Johnson's control of the board will effect Dimensions and health care in PG County.

Now Johnson has come up with another scheme. He wants a organization of black ministers, called the Collective Banking Group, to select the replacement members.

I'm all for the involvement of religious organizations in the public sphere. I am less than convinced that, however, that this particular move is a good idea from at least two standpoints.

First, Jack Johnson was heavily supported by the black ministers in PG County. This group is composed of his allies. Nothing wrong with that but this is simply a subterfuge to get his personal selections on the Dimensions board and not have to answer for it.

Second, I unalterably opposed to patently racialist organizations no matter how noble their goals. Such organizations are wrong and allowing them to have a substantial voice in how public monies are spent is doubly wrong.

So now clock is running until the outcry over "separation of church and state" and the various good government types who seem to gravitate to the left complain about this obvious power grab. Personally, I'm using a calendar.


More below the fold.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hey! Look Over There!



On tape, a robbery and attempted shooting in Baltimore.


Baltimore is on the ropes. It is on track to achieve, if that's the right word, 300 homicides by year's end. The police commissioner has been punted. Five of the city's schools have been labeled "persistently dangerous".

So what does the Baltimore police department focus on? In a cross between crass legerdemain and a perversion of the "broken window" theory the Baltimore police have decided to focus on dog fighting.

More below.
From the Baltimore Sun:

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the city health commissioner, and Frederick H. Bealefeld III, the acting police commissioner, are expected to announce the creation of a multi-agency dogfighting task force today. A police detective will investigate dogfight rings and will collect evidence against organizers, trainers, breeders and spectators. The effort could stem violence in the city and animal abuse, officials say.

"People who are destroying animals and engaging in this criminal conduct are ... also associated with drug culture and drug dealing," said Bealefeld, the former head of a police narcotics unit. "This is absolutely an easy integration into our gang enforcement efforts and our overall goal to reduce violent crime in the city."


The press releases accompanying his arrest have made a point of emphasizing a connection, undocumented as far as I can tell, between dog fighting and illegal drugs and illegal guns. It may be true but I can make the same parallel stick to rappers and no one is organizing a task force to put them out of business.

This is nothing but cynical showboating. A celebrity, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, has been charged with dog fighting. The Baltimore police leadership, and I use that term advisedly, have glommed onto dog fighting as a device to convince a battered population that they are interested in doing something.


More below the fold.

Commit A Crime In Anne Arundel County? Don't Worry, Just Buy Your Way Out.

(Crossposted on Annapolis Politics)

It was reported yesterday that an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court assigned NO jail time to a man who pleaded guilty to first-degree assault. The defendant stabbed his victim as the result of an argument over who was next in line to buy a crab cake in a carry-out restaurant in Linthicum.

The judge, Michele D. Jaklitsch, suspended the convict's sentence because he agreed to pay the victim $25,000, explaining

"I think that it is important for the victim to get his money rather than wait seven to 10 years when he gets out."

This was not the civil trial--it was the criminal trial for the defendants offenses against the people of the State of Maryland! Hogwash!!

The way to deter criminal behavior is to provide a disincentive to commit the crime. Where is that disincentive? The message has been sent: don't worry about what crime you commit, you can just buy your way out. Somebody send the memo to Paris Hilton!

Maryland is becoming known for its ridiculous sentences to criminals. If we can't even properly punish violent offenders and sex criminals, what chance do our other laws have of being enforced?

In Virginia you go to jail for reckless driving--in Maryland you can buy your way out of stabbing someone for a crab cake. Geez, this post pretty much wrote itself.


More below the fold.

Marylanders for Higher Taxes?

A recent poll by the leftwing advocacy group Alliance for Tax Fairness claims to prove that Marylanders like high taxes. They say:

Middle and working class people in Maryland are feeling squeezed by high energy costs for both electricity and gasoline, and yet they still recognize the need for more revenue to pay for worthy programs and to solve the state’s budget problems. There is considerable support for a fresh look at the tax structure in Maryland and for fiscal overhaul that asks the wealthiest corporations and individuals in the state to invest in Maryland’s future.


According to the press release this poll proves Marylanders are slavering for a tax increase. When you look inside we don't know a lot more than we do know.

But a closer view seems to indicate that they buried the lede.

Click below to continue below the fold.

The bottom line in the poll is that the information provided doesn't tell us enough to know what, if anything, the poll means. We don't have the actual questions, except for a couple of cases, and we don't know how the questions were asked. We don't know anything about the response rate. The sample size seems to be 500 because a survey that elicited 500 actual respondents would be very expensive.

We don't know the sample demographics or the respondent demographics, we don't know how the sample was chosen, or how the samples were weighted.

What we do know is that when asked:

"Maryland lawmakers should propose a budget alternative that includes more than the tax increases needed to close the deficit so that they can protect education funding, seniors, and the most vulnerable members of society."


Most Marylanders contacted in this survey agreed. I'd agree, too. I simply think that the "more that the tax increases" part would include using a machete on the state budget.

In fact, the presentation by this group shows that 36% of respondents favor closing the budget gap by cutting the budget alone while only 6% favor doing it by raising taxes. 50% favor doing fixing the budget by a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

This fact doesn't find its way into the press release and, unsurprisingly given the emotional nature of the question wording, contradicts a key finding ballyhooed by this group:

In a tougher choice between two positioning statements, only 29% select the statement that “Since Maryland is facing a large deficit next year, lawmakers
should focus on solving that problem with a combination of budget cuts and just the amount of tax increases necessary to balance the budget.” Twice as many respondents (62%) prefer this statement:

“Maryland taxes corporate income and income of wealthy individuals at some of the lowest levels in the country, yet we have many unmet needs in funding education, health care, and Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Lawmakers should go beyond plugging the hole in the budget and create fairer tax system that asks the wealthiest corporations and individuals to invest in Maryland’s future.”


What does leap out at you, however, is that the willingness to raise taxes does not extend to the respondents themselves.

55% are against increasing the sales tax by 1 cent only 18% are described as strongly in favor of this. 79% are against raising the gasoline tax. Raising taxes on businesses only gets an unequivocal yes from 29 percent.

63% are in favor of increasing the state income tax to 6% on those making over $225K. 68% are in favor of a "millionaire's surcharge."

If we take this reluctance to tax oneself as a serious phenomenon, and I do, then the most favored means of increasing taxes will wilt once they are proposed. A landfill tax is going to be passed on to consumers via the waste collection companies. If the tax rate goes up on those making over $225K we can be sure it will go up on those making less.

This is the equivalent of a push poll. It was written in order to elicit a certain response, a response which is counterintuitive to anyone who has watched state and federal budget battles.

When lawmakers start proposing some of these tax increases we'll see how they are received by the public.


More below the fold.

Venture Marxists

We all know what venture capitalists are but few are familiar with the exploits of the more widespread but lower profile class of investor known as venture marxists. These entrepreneurs are found in government where they try to pretend they have business acumen and use your money to prove it. They are actually pretty easy to spot. The first time you hear someone talk about the government "investing" in something or the other you are most likely talking to a venture marxist.

Sometimes amusing things happen when their activities get gobsmacked by the free market, or as much of a free market as exists in Maryland.

This cautionary tale comes from my home county, Washington County.

More below the fold.

Washington County, like so many counties, uses school funding as a stalking horse to raise funds that the voters probably would not approve as a bond issue. "For the children" is the battle cry of protaxation forces across the nation as though taking money from the parents of children to spend on various harebrained schemes was a noble concept.

The county came up with the idea of creating an excise tax on new construction in the county to replace the previous system of a fee based on the square-footage of the building. Effective 1 July 2003, if you wanted to build a house in Washington County you were slapped with a $13,000 fee. Developments with more than 25 homes were charged $26,000 per single family home and $31,000 per multfamily unit beginning with the 26th unit constructed.

This money was supposed to go into a fund, a "lock box" if you will, with the funds allocated:

(1) 70% for schools;
(2) 23% for roads;
(3) 2% for public libraries; and
(4) 5% for parks and recreational facilities, public safety, water and sewer infrastructure, and agricultural land preservation.


In the course of creating this tax they created a few exemptions. First, homes under 1500 square-feet were exempted. Home additions were exempted. Replacement homes that did not increase either the number of units or the square-footage were exempted.

The county projected this would bring in $15.3 million in FY 2007.

Anyone care to predict what happened?

Economics 101 jumped out of the tall grass and affixed itself to the County's fourth point of contact.

Washington County's excise tax revenues fell sharply in fiscal year 2007, coming in at $11.5 million below budget projections, Washington County Budget and Finance Director Debra Murray said Wednesday.

The county budgeted $15.3 million for excise tax revenues in fiscal 2007, which ended July 1, but received only $3.8 million, Murray said. The county earned $7.1 million in residential excise tax in fiscal 2006.

Murray said she knew in September that excise tax revenues for fiscal 2007 would not meet budget projections. She sent a memo to the Washington County Commissioners, who shifted about $5 million from other areas to help cover the projected shortfall.

The remaining $6.5 million will hopefully come from surplus funds generated in fiscal 2007, Murray said. [...]

Murray said a slowdown in the housing market is to blame for the shortfall in the tax, which is charged on new homes built in the county. She said permits for new residential construction in Washington County fell 40 percent between 2006 and


Anyone could have written the ending to this movie. $13,000 is a lot of money. The housing market didn't necessarily slow down but the county created incentives to remodel your existing home, to demolish your current home and rebuild, and to ensure your new home was under 1500 square-feet. People respond to economic stimuli as surely as markets. The fact that the county apparatchiks are suprised speaks more to their lack of... of... gosh, mental wattage than anything else.

And these are the people who are making "investments" with our tax dollars.



More below the fold.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Abuse of Discretion

If you want to understand sentencing guidelines, "three strikes" laws, mandatory minimums, etc., you need look no farther than two cases in Maryland.

First, in Baltimore County a couple of geniuses broke into Victory Villa Elementary School and poured an industrial strength drain cleaner on a playground slide and used a paint brush to spread the substance on handlebars, etc. of other playground equipment. Three year old Payton Potochney suffered second and third degree burns on his legs and back and has undergone skin grafts to repair the damage. Circuit Court Judge Mickey J. Norman ordered that the two cretins, aged 16 and 17, be tried as juveniles for scarring a three year old child for life.

Second, in Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Katherine D. Savage dismissed the case against a man accused of repeatedly raping a 7-year-old relative because his right to a speedy trial was violated. That the violation was largely the making of his own attorney didn't seem to matter very much and that the grounds for the violation (the inability to find an interpreter when the defendant had graduated from high school and attended community college in Montgomery County) was to ridiculous to be believed.

For every bleat about the lack of judicial discretion there are a half dozen stories of addlepated judges ruling against reason and the good of society that has caused legislators to strip that discretion from them.


More below the fold.

The Truth Is Out There

We all like to get the talking points from the Big Guys. It makes those of us farther down the food chain feel important, sort of like we have a seat at the table, or are at least in the room, when decisions are being made. In that sense, we bloggers are like your garden variety journalists.

Free State Politics has obviously received theirs from the O'Malley administration.

More below the fold.

As a budding energy policy wonk, and a Maryland politics blogger, Gov. O'Malley's recently convened energy summit has been like manna from nerd heaven for me. So far the big topic has been the Public Service Commission's backing of revenue decoupling a few days ago, where utilities earn money based on the number of customers they have, not how much energy they sell, giving them incentives to promote efficiency and conservation. This idea has been used by California for a number of years, and it's helped the state increase efficiency and lower consumers' overall energy bills. Other states -- New York and Idaho -- have adopted decoupling as well.


Let's look at these claims.

Not to quibble but the definition provided here of decoupling is misleading. What it allows utilities to do is to bill the customer for the cost of electicity (or gas) and for the cost of maintaining the distribution system. The utility is still guaranteed a return on its investment regardless of the amount of electricity used which means that we, as consumers, will pay more per kilowatt-hour (kWh) used if everyone conserves energy. According to the California state fact sheet on decoupling:

California’s long-standing “decoupling” policy is designed to remove the disincentives for utilities to promote energy efficiency and conservation among energy customers. Decoupling ensures that utilities retain their expected earnings even as energy efficiency programs reduce sales.


The EPA has this to say:

Decoupling profit and sales volume is an option for overcoming utilities’ built-in incentive to increase shareholder profits by selling a greater volume of electricity (a.k.a. “throughput incentive”) and disincentive to implement energy efficiency and demand management programs that reduce sales. Typically, when profits are decoupled from sales, the utility is entitled to revenues needed to cover its fixed costs, including profits. If sales exceed projected levels, the revenue in excess of the allowed revenue is returned to customers by adjustments to the next year’s rates. Similarly, if sales are below anticipated levels, the customers make up for lost revenues in the next year’s rates. The cost of fuel and purchased power are generally treated separately and are passed on to customers though needed increases or decreases in prices.


Now this may be a laudable public policy goal if you buy into the whole global warming hysteria but from the standpoint of a person on a moderate or a fixed income this is not a good deal in any way shape or form.

But does it lower our energy bill?

If we look at the data provided by the Energy Information Administration between 1990 and 2005, inclusive, the price of electicity per kWh increased from 7.83 cents to 9.45 cents, about 21%. If we consult an inflation calculator we can see this is less than the rate of inflation which would have resulted in a cost of 11.7 cents.

How did California, which instituted this decoupling in 1982, make out? Their costs increased by 25% from 9.98 cents to 12.51 cents per kWh. How did Maryland do? Our costs increased by 17%.

They mention some other states that have tried decoupling. Idaho apparently only started in 2006. New York experimented with it between 1993 and 1997 and then abandoned it. In 2004 their public utiliites commission recommended against reinstating it.

There are some other states which have used it but seem to have been conveniently forgotten.

Washington state decoupled in 1991. Their electicity costs have gone up by a whopping 49%. Oregon decoupled in 1992 and has seen prices rise by 53%. Maine abandoned decoupling in the mid 1990s when an economic downturn slammed residential consumers with a huge rate increase to make up for lost revenue from commercial customers.

What decoupling does is achieves the utilities's goals in energy deregulation (spinning off the risk of power generation and the unprofitability of transmission) while allowing the utilities to continue to be guaranteed a profit and otherwise operate as a monopoly.

The goal of decoupling is not to provide cheaper or more reliable power to the consumer. It can't do that. The best it can do is create a feel-good as you spend a lot of money on energy efficient appliances to attempt to reduce your electic bill which, in a best case scenario, is going to continue to go up slowly.









More below the fold.

Montgomery County's Slow Motion Kelo

While I think most of us can sign onto the concept of zoning laws the manner in which those laws are being used to regulate development and growth in exurban Maryland is problematic.

Aesthetically, most of us appreciate open space and farmland. But the recreational use and general ambiance of those open spaces are overshadowed by three factors. First, the land is desirable for development. Second, small farming is a very marginal economic activity. Third, and most importantly, that land belongs to someone who has an extraordinary financial interest in how it is used.

We've written about Howard County trying to ensure that only the righteous are allowed to develop land there and a similar drama, though without the theological undercurrent, is playing out in Montgomery County.

Continue below the fold.

The issue revolves around how the 93,000 acres in western Montgomery County now zone as Agricultural Reserve will be preserved. The zoning in that area limits development to one home per 25 acres (full disclosure, I live in a Agricultural Reserve area).

The inhabitants want to be able to continue to subdivide their property under the Child Lots provisions in the law in order to provide their children with a lot upon which they can build. Sadly, few farmer's kids can afford to buy in Montgomery County.

There are claims by "advocates" for the Agricultural Reserve system that the system is being abused and that the Child Lot exemption is being used to build homes for persons who are not related to the landowner.

The core issue, however, is land use. What the "advocates" here are doing is essentially inflicting a form of Kelo v. New London in which they are taking the farmland for a "public use." Actually, it is more severe than Kelo because no compensation is being offered. The taking here is just as real as if the land were confiscated because where there is a very hot market for 1-acre lots there is virtually no market for 25-acre-plus lots for anything other than as country estates for people who feel cramped in Potomac.

Property rights either exist or they don't. When we've arrived at a point where persons with no definable interest in your property can dictate how your property can be used then property rights have ceased to exist. That is where we are in Maryland.


More below the fold.

Cognitive Dissonance

Capital Punishment goes after The Capital over their publication of a list of county employees who make over $100K (usually liberals refer to them as "the wealthy") and says:

CP would like to see The Capital print the salaries of its top executives. We all know what a pittance it pays its reporters, but if they are going to print the complete list of every government official earning over $100k per year, don't we deserve to know what their top exec's make? Don't we deserve to know their corporate financial details?


He misses the point. County employees are called "public sector" employees for a reason. They work for the public and the public has an inherent right to know not only their compensation package but their work rules. This is sort of gobsmacking when a conservative has to remind a liberal about openness in government. The subset of this concern about salaries is whether the people are being paid commensurate with their duties.

The Capital is privately owned (word of the week: private)and is under no obligation to reveal its financial workings.

For instance, we wrote last week about how Speaker Mike Busch pulls in over $100K as a county employee (ironically running the parks for the county)while also making $80K as a Speaker. Some may see no conflict here but I think most of us would agree that the county provides Mr. Busch with a much more liberal leave and absentee policy than most of us have.

From this point he goes on to exhibit a lack of understanding of some basic principles of blue collar work and general administration.

Cops, firefighters, and paramedics rack up a lot of overtime because it is cheaper to pay them overtime than it is to hire a new one. Capital Punishment conveniently ignores the costs of training them. And he ignores the fact that the overhead and fringe benefits paid (sick leave, annual leave, social security , pension benefits, insurance) are both expensive and fixed. For instance, once you earn $97,500 social security contributions cease saving the employer 6.2% So it is much cheaper to pay time-and-a-half, or even double-time, than it is to hire a new worker.

They also work lots of overtime because a lot of them like their work and the extra money is nice. If you've ever worked in a blue collar job, whether in public safety, construction, or manufacturing, you'll know there is no shortage of volunteers for overtime.

But CP does make a good point. Public eduction is plagued by administrators and specialists. I don't know that I agree that we need more guidance counselors but for sure we need to get more of the school personnel budget into the classroom and out of the headquarters. The general public sector has the same problem.

This is where the cognitive dissonance comes in. Somehow we are supposed to disapprove of The Capital publishing the high earners in county government and simultaneously condemn them for not publishing the same information on the school system. Just because The Capital has been negligent on one front doesn't mean they were wrong on the other.


More below the fold.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Takoma Park vs. Annapolis

(Crossposted at Annapolis Politics)

A recent post on this site chronicled a resolution by the town of Takoma Park, MD, which supported impeachment of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney. The city has a history of quirky resolutions, and scarily the citizens seem to be fully supportive.

I'm sure that you are thrilled, as I am, that Annapolis finally has a competitor in the race to pass meaningless resolutions! The City of Annapolis has a solid history of passing resolutions that apply to places they have no control over. Here is a summary of some of those things:

-Resolution supporting Midshipman Owens. Proper Jurisdiction: United States Navy.

-Resolution apologizing for slavery. Proper jurisdiction: the 1865 Congress of the Confederate States, perhaps.

-Supporting the Martin Luther King Institute of Non Violent Studies at Sojourner Douglass College. Proper jurisdiction: Board of Regents, Sojourner Douglass College.

-Inappropriate Ethical Behavior by Maryland Public Service Commission. Proper Jurisdiction: Maryland General Assembly or United States Supreme Court, I think. (I seem to remember that the supreme court has original jurisdiction when states are sued. But maybe not.)

You would think that the city has no problems of its own.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.. see for yourself...bring it on Tacoma Park!


More below the fold.

What's the Downside?

(Crossposted)

Is this supposed to be a bad thing?

Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch says lawmakers may cut 1,000 state jobs to help balance the budget.

Busch says the possible cuts would be made next session after a serious examination by legislators.

He says lawmakers will try to make the cuts through mostly vacant positions.

So to recap: nobody loses their job, the current status of state services are not impacted, and it saves money off of the budget? What is supposed to be the downside?

And the better question is this: if these positions are able to be sacrificed in a budget crunch, like those nonessential services closed up north during the Pennsylvania budget crunch, why did they exist in the first place?


More below the fold.

A Blinding Flash of the Obvious

At first blush I thought a political breakthrough had been achieved. The Baltimore Sun headline read Energy forum keys on supply. Any time you can get Democrats to start talking about supply and demand rather than fairness it is a quantum leap in the reality level. Then I saw the subhead: "Conservation plans to top discussion list."

Conservation deals with demand, not supply. So how is one going to focus on supply when demand tops the discussion list?

Not to fear, it got much scarier.

More below the fold.

Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that eliminating the link between power companies' profits and the amount of energy they distribute - a plan recently approved for Pepco, the Washington-area utility - could be one of the most effective strategies for reducing electricity bills across Maryland.

Officials with that company say they could begin incentive programs to help consumers conserve energy as early as this fall, and the idea of "decoupling" is likely to be a major issue at the energy summit O'Malley will hold in Annapolis today.

"In the past, the energy companies had a profit motive in promoting consumption," O'Malley said. "If we can decouple that, I think it's a step in the right direction."


This is just nonsense.

As Martin Watcher pointed out in The New Energy Plan - Same Great Price - But Not So Much For You this is just not how the energy utility system works.

The energy utilities governed under the Public Service Commission have an essential monopoly on supplying electric power. In return for this monopoly the utility is supervised by the state and is guaranteed a fair return on its investment.

At one time this made a lot of sense, just as it did with the phone companies. When electrical production was in its infancy. Now perhaps not so much.

The idea that you will save money through conservation if conservation becomes the norm is lunacy. As conservation decreases the number of kilowatt demanded, the utiliites will charge more per kilowatt to deliver it. They will make the same amount of money and you will pay more per unit. There is really no way around it.

When energy deregulation hit the assumption was that the utiities would be broken up into what was referred to as Gencos (generating companies which no one wanted because of environmental liability), Transcos (transmission companies who would manage the high voltage transmission lines and substations), and Discos (who would deliver the power to your home and send you the bill -- which everyone wanted to participate in.)

From a legal and regulatory view this has nearly come to a screeching halt. The idea of energy deregulation is predicated on a national power grid which allows excess energy produced in Alabama in the winter to heat homes in upstate New York and allows excess production from New England to air condition Atlanta in August.

This has all bogged down in a morass of bickering over stranded assets and the fragmented national power grid which is managed by folks who need it to stay that way.

The bottom line is that the electrical generation costs of BG&E or PEPCO or Allegheny Power fluctuate only mildly with the cost of fuel. Their costs are driven by the infrastructure it takes to generate and transmit electricity and to maintain its facilities. The holders of their debt and equity are guaranteed a return on their investment because without that guarantee no one would invest in a utility.

Bringing additional power plants on line, or taking them off line, may very well make your life more or less pleasant but it isn't going to affect your electric bill.

One final note. O'Malley Watch noted how the governor's hand picked Public Service Commission chief Steve Larsen has a record of screwing taxpayers. Don't look for that record to change.




More below the fold.

The Dimensions Healthcare Coup

If you lived in the District during the reign of our own Papa Doc Duvalier, Marion Barry, you saw how a municipal institutions were turned into self perpetuating swamps of patronage, graft, and corruption. City government agencies did not exist to provide services, rather they esisted to provide jobs which translated into campaign contributions, campaign workers, and votes for the Barry machine.

Nothing unusual in one respect, big city mayors have historically used patronage as a political tool. What was unusual about the District at that place and time was that there was no pretense of providing services.

The jury is still out on whether and to what degree Prince George's County is heading in that direction under Jack Johnson.

Still more below the fold.

Right now we are being treated to the spectacle of a non-profit organization which runs several health care facilities in Prince George's County suing the county government for the funds necessary to keep them in operation.

Dimensions Healthcare runs Prince George's Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital, Bowie Health Campus, Gladys Spellman Specialty Hospital and Nursing Center, and Larkin Chase Nursing and Rehabilitation Center making it the largest provider of health care services in Prince George's County.

County Executive Jack Johnson alleges maladministration and says he will release the funding if four of the eleven board members are replaced and the method for selecting the board is changed. Johnson has two votes on the board now and the removal of four more members would give him six of the eleven votes.

On the surface there is no problem here. But when we scratch deeper it gets more suspicious.

Back in February a gentleman by the name of Corbett Price was brought in by the Prince George's county council to examine the finances of Dimensions Healthcare.

Call him friend or foe of embattled health care systems, consultant Corbett Price is back where he intended to be years ago: overseeing the financials of Prince George's County's Dimensions Healthcare System.

County officials have dispatched him to perform a financial analysis of the ailing system -- nearly two decades after the then-Dimensions board had relieved him from his CEO post there and barely four years after Price and his consulting firm submitted back-to-back bids to take over the system.

As a result, the county has raised a few eyebrows with its decision to designate Price, lauded as a heaven-sent businessman by some and condemned as an overly ambitious steamroller by others, to serve as watchdog over its debilitated hospital system.


An advocacy group is accusing the county of setting the system up in a no-win situation then blaming it for deficiencies.

The state offered a permanent solution to the problem in May which would have involved the state purchasing the real assets of Dimensions Healthcare and, in return, a state appointed authority would manage the system. The county balked an the proposal died.

The council rejected an eight-year, $329 million deal offered by the state on the final day of the legislative session last month. County Executive Jack B. Johnson announced last week that the county would pay "tens of millions" to keep the hospital open for the next 15 months -- a stop gap measure to give the county time to reach a long-term deal with the state over the county's future.

Dobson called the failure to reach an agreement during this year's 90-day legislative session a "gross dereliction of duty" and said that the council is not reaching out to the O'Malley administration to try to come to some type of an agreement. "It's crazy."


Crazy indeed.

Unless the real agenda here is to gain control of the hospital system. If so, one has to wonder why anyone would want to control a hospital and clinic system that caters to a largely uninsured or under insured clientele. Two thoughts come to mind. the first is that there is money to be made by bringing the board directly under control of the county. The second is that it would provide a lot of jobs to the right people.


More below the fold.

Takoma Park Votes

Takoma Park. The very mention of the place brings guffaws. It is probably the most self-consciously serious joke in the nation.

Just as they saved us from ourselves during the Cold War by making their city a nuclear free zone and thereby keeping the Soviets at bay, now the city council there has voted to bring down the Bush-Cheney dictatorship.

Over the years, Takoma Park has declared itself a nuclear-free zone, established an immigrant sanctuary law and written a 5,000-word manual for its trash and award-winning recycling programs.

Last night, its City Council voted to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.


This is just another of the actions by Takoma Park that remind one of nothing so much as an earnest but not terribly bright ten-year-old glomming onto an idea and pursuing it for all they are worth. Heroic in a sad and pathetic kind of way.

Readers from Free State Politics, let your corporate masters know that I demand this award. I have just the place for this lovely tribute to the Takoma Park city mascot at home.


More below the fold.

Our Seventh Democrat Congressman

The Baltimore Sun runs a cute little piece of home state boosterism touting Maryland's perceived clout in the Congress due to the number of Democrats it has in its delegation.

There are a couple of observations to be made here. You don't have influence if you vote lockstep with the party leadership. In actuality, Maryland is the equivalent of the homely girl in high school who had a reputation as a cheap date. Maryland's Democrat delegation will vote for whatever harebrained scheme Baltimore Native Nancy Pelosi sticks in front of them. There is no need for anyone to bargain with them on anything.

The second point is what we've been hammering at for a while, Wayne Gilchrest needs to go:

In the 110th Congress, the state's two Democratic senators and six Democratic representatives enjoy a degree of influence that may exceed any of the 109 previous sessions. Only 13 states have as many House Democrats as Maryland's six - and just eight of those states also boast two majority-party senators, as Maryland does in Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin. Even Wayne T. Gilchrest, one of the delegation's two House Republicans, frequently crosses the aisle to vote with the majority.


The American Conservative Union's voting tally ranks Wayne Gilchrest as less conservative than Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. Gilchrest's general knavishness on the question of the Iraq War, his support of government funding of abortions on demand, and his general voting record make a compelling case for retiring him in 2008.


More below the fold.

A Correct Move on DNA Testing

In one of the few bright spots in the long, cold night of the O'Malley administration the governor announced yesterday that the backlog of DNA tests in criminal investigations was on the way to being solved.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said yesterday that a significant state backlog in DNA testing is likely to be eliminated by early next year and that he is considering asking the legislature to allow sampling from suspects before they are convicted.

O'Malley (D) made the announcements during a visit to the state's forensic lab in Pikesville. The outing was intended to showcase progress made during O'Malley's first six months as governor in addressing an inherited backlog of 24,000 untested DNA samples from convicted felons.

[...]

O'Malley said the state has made progress by hiring additional scientists, raising salaries at the lab and buying much-needed equipment. He and state police officials, who run the lab, said that at the current pace, the backlog will be eliminated by February.


At least that's the story today. We'll be sure to check back in and see how much of the funding for "raising salaries and buying much-needed equipment" found its way into the pockets of politically connected Democrats.

Be that as it may, the governor is right on one issue here. DNA samples, just like fingerprints and a mugshot, need to be taken at arrest. Waiting until conviction to take these samples, given their value in clearing cold cases (here | here), makes no sense.

The penumbras formed by various emanations from the Bill of Rights, we are told, give us a "right to privacy." We do not, however, have a right to anonymity.


More below the fold.

Hoodoo Economics

Governor O'Malley, in his effort to lay the predicate for a whopping raid on taxpayers's wallets, has begun touting the incredible degree of fiscal austerity brought to bear since those profligate days of the Ehrlich administration.

When Gov. Martin O'Malley began discussing the state budget deficit with a group of businessmen at a Frederick County Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week, he pitched his administration's frugality as the first step in putting Maryland's fiscal house in order.

"We are going to solve it in a number of ways, and in fact, we have already begun," the first-year Democrat told the crowd. "The budget that we introduced and that the General Assembly passed almost unanimously was a budget wherein the size of your state government, spending-wise anyway, grew by only 2.7 percent, compared to 12.5 percent growth the year before. It all happened in that same flurry of getting sworn in and going to inaugural balls and did not get much attention, but our budget grew by 2.7 percent compared to 12 percent the year before."

[...]

The question of how much O'Malley restrained spending is important because the governor is using his administration's belt-tightening as a major part of his pitch for higher taxes. He has said that he could not ask voters to pay more to the state before he makes the government as efficient as possible, and his claim about restraining spending is a key part of his effort to convince the public that he has done so.


Continue below the fold.

O'Malley is dealing in deception. This should be no surprise to anyone who has watched him action.

He conflates all funds received by the state and any decrease in those funds constitutes belt-tightening. So when the federal government reduces grants to the state for any number of activities, O'Malley treats this as if he had held the line on spending. Those cuts do not, I say again do not, have any bearing whatsoever on the $1.5 billion "structural deficit" facing the state. That deficit applies only to those state programs funded directly by our taxes and fees.

When all is said and done, according to the Baltimore Sun:

Factoring out all those one-time costs, Ehrlich increased ongoing general fund spending by about 10.5 percent and O'Malley boosted it by 7.7 percent. The latest round of cuts, approved this month by the Board of Public Works, brought O'Malley's spending increase down to 6.4 percent.

[...]

Both governors increased spending far faster than state revenues were expected to grow. The 10.5 percent spending increase in Ehrlich's final budget outstripped revenue growth of 3.8 percent. The gap under O'Malley is narrower but still present: Ongoing spending is budgeted to increase by 6.4 percent, but revenue is expected to grow by 4.5 percent.


Ehrlich's record aside, the fact is that Governor O'Malley is trying to sell a bill of goods here to justify a tax increase. It is to the Sun's credit that it exposes this sham even if it can't resist carrying on its jihad against Bob Ehrlich.




More below the fold.

First Stone, etc.

I'm a Roman Catholic and about as conscious of my failings as a person can be. But anything can be carried to extremes. I think P. Kenneth Burns's commentary on the guilty plea of Thomas Bromwell crosses the line from thoughtful to unserious.

But think about this before you start judging Bromwell for being one step from Enron, how many times have you wanted to play with the “big boys.” How many times have you looked up at the television and saw a charismatic figure who was the toast of the town or impressed a room and said I wanted to be that guy or that gal.

Bromwell had the gift to captivate an audience according to his friends. That charm, his punch in rhetoric made him one of the stars of Maryland politics. But he made the wrong choice because he felt that he did not have the tools to carry out his power. By tools, I mean money. Think about the millions of dollars that will be spent on next years election alone to influence out votes through advertising, only on a smaller scale.


Let's be serious here. His wife had a no-show job. In exchange for legislation that allowed Comcast to keep some $76 million in overcharges to its customers (those would be fellow Marylanders) his sons got jobs.

I come from a different culture. One that says you do not lie, cheat, or steal nor do you tolerate those who do. This is a bipartisan prohibition as far as I am concerned.

Whatever promise Mr. Bromwell had as a politician he forsook his duty and his oath to sell himself at auction... repeatedly. This selling of influence had direct and indirect costs for all of us. He deserves our scorn, not our sympathy.


More below the fold.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A One Time Answer

My co-blogger Brian Griffiths notes below a rather silly comment that has appeared on Free State Politics.

Interesting also, is the inclusion on the site (which goes by the somewhat misleading name "MARYLAND POLITICS") of redstate.com front page poster Streiff. I wasn't aware that Streiff was a Marylander. Either way, I wish him and the other 25 percenter's over at "redmaryland" luck. I am sure that insane brand of radical conservatism at Redstate.com will translate well to Maryland readers. I also wonder whether Eagle Publishing is has any financial interest in "redmaryland".


Because the left likes to construct conspiracy theories out of whole cloth I'll take the time to answer comment.

Yes, I am a front page poster at RedState. I have been a front page poster there since December 2004. I still post there. I encourage you to drop by and join the conversation at one of the nation's leading conservative blogs.

As a note, I'm not "included" in this site, this is my blog to which Brian Griffiths and Greg Kline have generously agreed to cross post material from their own sites.

Yes, I do live in Maryland -- Washington County -- having moved here from downtown DC four years ago.

This site's name is not "somewhat misleading" at all. A quick look at the site Welcome page would have revealed that the site is only about Maryland politics as would the cutline under the blog title.

I'm happy to be a "25 percenter." One of the great things about this country is that you don't have to follow the lemmings over the cliff. Redstate's conservatism is only "insane" by the marxist and kleptocratic norms followed in Maryland.

Eagle Publishing acquired Redstate last autumn. Those of us who write there still do so voluntarily, without remuneration, and without editorial direction. That this site is hosted on blogspot should be a major clue that there is no money involved. There are no ads on the site because the occasional problematic content is more trouble than it is worth. The reason this site exists is just like the title says. It is to discuss local issues from a conservative and Republican standpoint, something that is rare in Maryland.

Hope this clears things up. Of course, a quick email as a matter of courtesy could have answered the Eagle Publishing question but that wouldn't have been as much fun.


More below the fold.

Great Work If You Can Get It

Bud the Blogger at the No BS Zone has an interest story on how Speaker Mike Busch pulls in $100,283 for allegedly running parks in Anne Arundel county while at the same time pocketing $56,500 for his other part time job in the General Assembly.

Incredibly, there are county officials in Anne Arundel County who make more than the governor and the deputy state's attorney in Anne Arundel makes nearly the same as the attorney general. (See here | here .)

I'm not one to begrudge people their salaries. A workman is worthy of his pay and all that. But criminy, these folks are public employees at the county level. It is hard to believe that a county government can have nearly 100 staffers drawing over $100K based on the requirements of the job.

I think we see another "structural deficit" on the horizon here.


More below the fold.

Hat Tip to O'Malley Watch

Martin Watcher was kind enough to link to one of our stories yesterday.

The wild overselling of the move of net of about 4,200 jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground as some kind of economic engine for Harford County has reached slapstick levels with various O'Malley administration and Harford County officials treating this minor influx as being worthy of some kind of Manhattan Project.

Just hold onto your hats when the funding requests hit the Maryland General Assembly.


More below the fold.

More Self-Dealing

I am conflicted about this post.

On the one hand the marxists in the Department of Natural Resources who seem to operate from the philosophy that landowners in Maryland are simply squatters on *their* property received a pimpslapping. But on the other it demonstrates, like the Queen Anne land scam, the ability of O'Malley allies to do pretty much what they want.

From the Washington Post:

When his plan for clean energy ran smack into a rare habitat on a rocky Appalachian ridge, Annapolis businessman Wayne L. Rogers turned to people he knew could help: his contacts in the Maryland General Assembly.

State law and the environmental protections it afforded all but scuttled his proposal last year for 24 windmills atop Backbone Mountain at the state's western edge. So Rogers waged a successful campaign to have the law changed -- and environmental review gutted -- for wind-energy projects such as his.

I know, I know, you're thinking what's the big deal? This is the way our system of government is supposed to work. You work within the system to change the laws. At a certain point working within the system begins to smell like corruption. Again from the WaPo:
The Department of Natural Resources, which had conducted the lengthy environmental review of the Synergics project and opposed the bill, did not provide testimony before the committee. When two of the agency's top wildlife scientists showed up, they were told by DNR's legislative staff member that they could not testify, according to several people who are familiar with the case and spoke on condition of anonymity because of the political nature of the bill. The department's name was crossed off the witness list of opponents, records show.


More below the fold.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Projecting their own image

Well, here is one of the more inane things I have read recently:

Interesting also, is the inclusion on the site (which goes by the somewhat misleading name "MARYLAND POLITICS") of redstate.com front page poster Streiff. I wasn't aware that Streiff was a Marylander. Either way, I wish him and the other 25 percenter's over at "redmaryland" luck. I am sure that insane brand of radical conservatism at Redstate.com will translate well to Maryland readers. I also wonder whether Eagle Publishing is has any financial interest in "redmaryland".
Are Maryland liberals (who I guess spout an insane brand of radical liberalism?) that freaking jaded as to think that a one-week old site hosted on Blogspot that carries no advertising is some sort of financial endeavor? This coming from the crew who has been bankrolled by a special interest group and carries banner advertising on their site? Looks like somebody is trying to project their own corporatist image onto this, more grassroots oriented site.

I don't wish the FSP folks ill, because I read their site frequently so I know what the other guys are up to. But for God's sake, this is picking a pissing contest for no good reason. Because clearly, if they weren't worried about the "25 percenter's" over here, we wouldn't be having this discussion...


More below the fold.

Fighting Crime through stupidity

(Crossposted)

This is asinine:

Baltimore could become the first big city to publicize names, photographs and home addresses of people who are convicted of shootings or other gun-related crimes, the latest twist on a national crime prevention trend of exposing names of certain types of criminals.

Legislation that Mayor Sheila Dixon introduced in the City Council last week would direct the Police Department to create a database for gun offenders that is similar to the existing online statewide sex offender list. She said she would like the names to be public, and offenders would have to register with the department, in person, every six months or face a misdemeanor charge and possible jail time.

Other cities - including Chicago, San Francisco and Boston - that have seen increases in gun violence in the past few years are considering similar measures for gun offenses, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police endorsed the concept at its annual conference in Boston last fall. New York City began a registry this year, but it is not open to the public.

"This will help inform the community about some of the activities taking place in their neighborhood and hopefully will act as a deterrent to people not to get involved with illegal gun activity," Dixon said in an e-mailed statement. "I am hoping people will just think twice about picking up a gun because of the risk of the registry and the long-term stigma attached to being placed on it." She expects a hearing on the bill Aug. 8.
This reminds me of a line spoken by Lt. Kaffee in A Few Good Men:
Thank you for playing "Now Should We or Should We Not Follow the Advice of the Galactically Stupid".
The naïveté of Mayor Dixon's plan is so mind-numbingly amazing that it is astounding that she has ever been elected to City-wide office. Is Dixon so out of touch that she really believes that a "long-term stigma" is really going to stop a repeat offender in a city like Baltimore? Where 300 people are brutally murdered every year? Is Dixon so out of her mind that she really believes a gun registry is going to stop violent crime on the streets of Baltimore.

It is complete lunacy like this that is the reason that big city streets, except in rare instances such as Giuliani-era New York, see dramatic decreases in violent crime. Instead of dealing with real solutions to reduce crime, such as increasing police or using tough crime fighting strategies, cockamamie ideas such as this are proposed instead. It is mind-numbing to consider that city leadership would rather reduce crime through stigmatization and computers than by actually arresting criminals, prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent of the law, and getting them off the streets.

More proof that it doesn't really matter who wins this upcoming Mayoral election...


More below the fold.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Shame of Wayne Gilchrest

Opposition to abortion has been part of the national platform of the Republican Party since 1980 and rightfully so. Abortion is a hideous practice that makes even its defenders into contortionists. Bill Clinton wanted it to be "safe, legal, and rare," in fact he wanted it so rare that he supported the use of intact dilation and extraction, aka partial birth abortion.

Wayne Gilchrest admits on his official website to being "generally pro-choice" saying:

He supports reproductive health programs that seek to prevent abortions by preventing the unintended or unwanted pregnancy.


Thursday he had his chance to do so but, instead, voted to help keep the abortion industry in business with federal funds.

Continue below the fold.

On Thursday, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) presented an amendment that in my view is hard to argue with. He wanted to forbid federal money from funding the abattoirs run by Planned Parenthood. Despite the bookkeeping fiction, the fact is that every federal dollar that goes into Planned Parenthood frees up one of the dollars they raise from other sources to fund their unregulated clinics.

The amendment, as expected, failed 231-189.

True to his 90% NARAL Pro-Choice America voting record (I guess a 90% record in favor of abortion qualifies in some circles as "generally" in favor of it).

Going back to Mr. Gilchrest's website, he says:
[b]ut he does NOT advocate abortion as a means of birth control and does not support abortion on demand at any point in a pregnancy...


Yet in this vote that is precisely what he did. Make no mistake about it this is a vote in favor of the practice of abortion, it is not some nebulous vote on the concept of "choice." Mr. Gilchrest could have remained true to stated position and voted to end federal funding of this abominable practice. Instead he chose to side with his new best friends on the left and vote for funding.





More below the fold.

Shocker : The Baltimore Sun is down on the GOP

(Crossposted at Conservative Refuge)

One wonders how many interns got crushed in the editorial stampede for The Baltimore Sun to print its opinion piece "Can GOP bounce back?" (no that's not a typo the GOP is unworthy of an article in the Sun)

Don't let the title fool you. The author, self-hating Republican pollster Frank Luntz, paints a pretty dim view of future Republican chances. Ahh, the media loves nothing more than "Republicans" validating their view that the GOP is a gang of washed up losers who can do nothing right.

For the true believers reading this tripe, however, there is great solace in the fact Luntz's diagnosis is as flawed as his prognosis.

Click below to read below the fold.

He begins by cherry picking some meaningless, generic poll numbers and then points out the obvious that the President's poll numbers are low to make his point. It takes a few paragraphs before he acknowledges that the approval of the Democratic Congress is lower. (He dismisses this as one piece of good news is sea of bad.)

Not to worry, though, Good ol' Frank has the answer. Like all self-important political consultants whose ideological loyalty is as strong as the size of their next payment, his remedy for the Republican party is simple: Stop being so Republican!

His course of treatment is a "forward-looking agenda, unparalleled message discipline, a strict focus on the tens of millions of independent voters, an innnovative candidate and campaign and a lot of luck." You have to love consultants but let's break that down a bit.

Luntz claims that "the success of the Republican Party since 1980 was to eschew definition or brand." In one sentence, Luntz has revised the history of the conservative movement over the last three decades as non-ideological. Correct me if I am wrong, but a commitment to lower taxes, strong national defense, traditional values and pro-growth economic policies sounds a hell of a lot like a definition and brand. It is also the description of the stated beliefs of the Republican Party since 1980.

Even more absurd, Luntz suggests that the GOP develop a "forward-looking agenda" even though since 1980 "whatever hopes, dreams and aspirations people saw in themselves were seen in the Republican Party." How exactly did that happen without an agenda, a definition or a brand?

These are just a couple of the astounding idiocies in this piece. I will let you, gentle reader, have a field day with the rest.

What Luntz ignores in his independent-loving, Reagan-denying pulp fiction is that the setbacks of our party have been the result of discontent within our party. It is not that we don't have a "forward-looking agenda" or a brand or definition its that we have leaders who have alternatively, ignored, denied or violated it. Lump in some scandal and a long and difficult war and you still have to be amazed that it will only take a 15-20 seat swing in the House of Representatives and 2 seats in the Senate to swing it back to Republican Control.

Whatever people think about President Bush, he ain't on the ballot in 2008. The barely more popular than pedophiles Democractic Congress will be.

We do not have to deny our success. We do not have to redefine ourselves. We do not have to change what we believe to court independent voters who choose to consider themselves above partisan identity.

We need to be true to our conservative beliefs, a well sold and markatable brand and recruit candidates that convince Republicans who want to be convinced that they really mean it this time.

While The Baltimore Sun may fall all over itself to print the views of a RINO consultant that our best days are behind us, it does not make it so.

Hang in there, we will get there.


More below the fold.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bromwell takes a deal

(Crossposted)

Official Annapolis just clenched a little...

Former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr., the ex-tavern owner who became one of Annapolis' most prominent politicians, agreed Friday to plead guilty to accepting payoffs from a Baltimore construction company executive in return for securing publicly funded contracts, defense lawyers said.

The result of weeks of negotiations, the plea agreement came almost two years after federal prosecutors hit the Baltimore County Democrat and his wife, Mary Patricia, with an 80-page federal racketeering indictment in October 2005.

Bromwell was accused of using his political power to help Baltimore-based Poole and Kent in exchange for more than $200,000 in cash, bogus salary and discounted home-improvement materials.

Except, and this is truly bizarre, everybody else may get off free and clear (there really is more below the fold):

Notably, and somewhat unexpectedly, Bromwell's agreement does not require him to provide any details to authorities about other possible crimes that might implicate public officials. Bromwell's original attorneys told The Sun more than two years ago that prosecutors indicated they would accept a guilty plea from the former senator only if he in turn provided incriminating information about other officials.

Had the case gone to trial, prosecutors were expected to air excerpts from secret FBI tapes in which Bromwell used crude language to lambaste fellow politicians and boast of his ability to make lucrative deals happen.

Potential witnesses included a state legislator, one of the city's wealthiest developers and several former state Cabinet secretaries, court papers show.

Now this is truly surprising. The fact of the matter is that if anybody was in a position of strength to bring down a ton of people in the General Assembly, it was Bromwell. The fact that prosecutors did not go for the home run and try to use in an effort to bring these other officials down is particularly peculiar, especially given the language that Bromwell used in reference to other members of the General Assembly.

It was no secret that other members of the Senate Finance Committee and Senate leadership were incredibly nervous about Bromwell's position and the information that Bromwell knew. I wonder if all of these officials are breathing a sigh of relief. Or should we be considering the fact that maybe, just maybe,further investigations and more indictments are coming down the track.

One thing is for certain. For the first time in a long time a member of the General Assembly has actually taken the fall for being on the take. It is one of Annapolis's worse kept secrets that he is not the only one. How long will it take before the truth sees the light of day?


More below the fold.

When does it end?

Go to the Anne Arundel County website, and you will now see this banner with a smiling picture of Publicity Seeker at-large County Executive John Leopold.



I find it humorous that after Leopold made such a production about removing the name of the County Executive from the large brick signs along roadways as you enter Anne Arundel County, he has gone about slapping his name on everything he could possibly think of. He is turning into what this guy would be if he were bald and untalented...


More below the fold.

An Odd Comment

This series of statements from this morning's Sun is just odd:

Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday that she replaced her unpopular police commissioner because she "wasn't feeling that drive like I wanted to" and said she was impressed with the way his interim replacement, Frederick H. Bealefeld III, peppered colleagues with engaging and challenging questions during crime meetings.

In an interview hours after she formally announced she had asked Leonard D. Hamm to resign amid plunging support and soaring numbers of homicides and shootings, Dixon confirmed long-standing claims from officers and their union that Bealefeld has effectively been running the department for months.

For this reason, the mayor said Bealefeld's appointment would not signal a change in the strategy to fight crime. But his style could reinvigorate a department struggling with what Dixon called an "out-of-control" murder rate.
So in an effort to turn around crime in the city, Mayor Dixon is appointing the guy who has been running the show while things were going to hell in a handbasket? Is that really the kind of admission that any Executive wants to make? That their department head has been an absentee manager and was replaced due to performance while simultaneously promoting the guy who was in charge while performance was poor?

That's no way to run the Rotary Club, much less a city with a skyrocketing murder rate...


More below the fold.

Still More on the Land Deal

What picqued my interest was the headline in the Baltimore Sun story that reads Developer and four others sue Queen Anne's, claiming bias. At a minimum a man-bites-dog story.

The story is rich in irony. The Democrat owned Queen Anne County board of commissioners is being sued by a developer for trying to keep out the people from the second of John Edwards's "two Americas."

Yesterday, [developer John C.] Stamato and four other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against the five Queen Anne's County commissioners, contending their delays to halt the project, specifically the affordable housing, amounts to a "pattern of discrimination against minorities" that violates federal housing rules.

Stamato has been joined in the lawsuit by two builders, including Maryland-based Enterprise Homes Inc., an arm of the Rouse-founded organization that supports affordable-housing interests across the United States. Two African-American residents who say they cannot afford to buy a home in Queen Anne's County have also signed on as plaintiffs: a United Methodist minister in Grasonville and a Denton resident who works in Annapolis.


Good stuff. Nothing like watching a freshly hoisted petard. There is also a delightfully nebulous statement by Carl O. Snowden of the Attorney General's Civil Rights office

"They aren't opposed to all development. They are opposed to a certain type of development."


Buried is a bit of information that makes the smoke blown by the O'Malley administration seem more and more like a cover up of corruption. There is more below the fold. Really.


One of the defense put forward by John R. Griffin, erstwhile secretary of the department of natural resources, is that while he was being paid by the land's owner to prepare a feasibility study on its purchase by the state he did not know that the land had failed a perc test making it impossible to develop with out connection to county water and sewage systems.

Queen Anne's County designated the parcel as a growth area in 1998 and, until two years ago, it was slated for immediate water and sewer access. But the commissioners voted in 2005 to hold off service for 20 years. They shortened that delay in 2006 to between four and 10 years. They refused to further expedite consideration May 8 - though a $32 million sewage plant opened in Grasonville a week later, according to the complaint.

Just southeast of the parcel is a 270-acre tract that the state and county hope to use as recreational space; the land deal turned contentious because the $5 million purchase price is nearly $1 million more than the average of two appraisals.


Claiming you were ignorant of a perc test is viable if you were working on the assumption that the parcel could get the water and sewage hookups. But if you know that the county has blocked the extension of water and sewage lines into an neighboring parcel for as much as 20 years then the reason for the perc test becomes obvious and the denial of the existence of the perc test becomes much more untenable.


More below the fold.

The Sacrificial Lamb

From the Examiner:

A former military officer with 30 years of service has been named chief of staff for the Baltimore City Public Schools System. Schools Chief Executive Officer Andres Alonso on Thursday put Maj. Gen. Bennie Williams in the high-ranking position in an effort to bring changes to the way the system operates.

In his new capacity, Williams will be responsible for implementation of school system plans, policies and programs as well as leadership guidance as they relate to the goals of the schools’ Master Plan, according to a statement released by the school system.


I can write the end to this movie right now. Read below the fold.

I am not a fan of public education or of the educrats who run the schools but in all fairness, a school can only work with what it has. Your child is in school for maybe six hours a day for about 180 days per year. The idea that the institution is going to present you with a markedly different child than the one you send off in the morning is just silly. It isn't.

Therein lies the problem with most poor performing school districts, be they in the inner city or in Appalachia. To paraphrase Richard Pryor from some years ago, if you follow an illiterate kid who doesn't value education home you are going to find parents who are illiterate and don't value education waiting on him. Well, maybe waiting or maybe out buying crack or crystal meth.

And, to a great extent, schools are screwed up because the people who run them flourished under the existing system and not only do they not have an incentive to change the system they are terrified of the system changing at all.

To remedy this schools always cast about for the Man on Horseback to right the wrong, fix the problem, and make it all better. It doesn't happen that way.

Back in 1996, retired Lieutenant General Julius Becton was hired as the chief executive officer of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Becton was real soldier's soldier. I was a baby lieutenant when he was commander of VII Corps in Germany. If you grab a copy of Clay Blair's The Forgotten War you'll read plenty about him.

I had the privelege of working with LTG Becton as he tried to turn the DCPS around and failed miserably.

The bottom line is that even though you replace the guy at the top with a very talented guy, the staff that runs the system doesn't change. Unless the new boss has the ability to quickly and visibly fire underperformers nothing changes.

Someone once note that any project goes through a predictable set of phases: enthusiasm, disillusionment, panic, search for the guilty, punishment of the innocent, and praise and honor for the nonparticipants.

We're now at the enthusiasm phase.


More below the fold.

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