Wednesday, December 22, 2010

DADT Is Repealed; Dream Is Undone

The Senate passed the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) after much drama and rhetoric echoed across the Chamber.  Despite dire warnings thundered by John McCain and other Republicans, several from his party crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats and Independents 65-31; President Obama and the Democrats can point to a much needed win.  It was the right thing to do.

And for those who complained about this decision being made in the lame duck session -- it was the Republicans who delayed any decision until after the Pentagon's long survey and study had been released.  In Congressional hearings recently when Secretary of Defense Gates and many senior military officials testified in favor of repeal, Senator McCain challenged their responses.  He got General Amos of the Marines -- who has been outspoken against changing this regulation to testify against any changes since "we are in war time and unit cohesion could be compromised."

Despite these words, this legislation has been long due.  In a country which has prided itself on showing the world how to be free, civil rights for the LGBT population have long been denied.  Some states and local governments have expanded civil rights.  The Federal Government has a fairness policy and anti-discrimination in hiring.  Despite studies which have shown that the American public has been supportive of repealing DADT, and younger generations are said to be more tolerant than their elders, we still see behaviors and bullying which have led to youth suicides.   More than 15,000 armed forces members have been dismissed over the tenure of this errant regulation.  The Center for American Progress recently published a cartoon which showed a casket being carried out of a Veterans Cemetery with the caption reading -- "they found out he was gay."   Doesn't that give you pause?  This cultural change has been compared to the integration of the military by President Truman after WW II.  There are obvious differences.  Race is generally -- but not always -- a visible and permanent characteristic.  Sexual orientation and gender preference is less casually determined. 

Some people choose to not broadcast their relationships, nor should they have to do so.  It is said that some military members have had long careers, living a dual existence very carefully.  The decision to come forward, should be a preference, but not be mandated.   The formal military policy changes should be implemented in a short while.  The generals have said that the military runs on discipline and rules will be followed. Some military members, who were dismissed honorably, are now being allowed to apply for re-enlistment.  Politics and cultural change sometime cross paths.

Shouldn't we be grateful, as a society, that we have so many patriots who care about this country, despite its lack of fairness, that they are willing to risk their lives to keep all of us free?

Unfortunately, the Dream Act did not become law in this Congress.  Again, Republican foot dragging and posturing against immigration reforms and civil rights for those born here or brought here as children was responsible, with help from a few Democrats.  The vote on this bill was 55 for and 41 against.  Now in what universe, is this not a majority vote?  Only in a place such as the US Senate which agreed that a majority is not a winning vote -- it must be a cloture-proof majority of 60 votes.  How Democrats ever got suckered into that one is something that remains inscrutable to most Americans.  The Senate, this plodding, deliberative body with a preponderance of millionaires could have demonstrated their populist appeal and understanding of "other classes" by passing this modest request for our newest Americans.  Instead, they denied both President Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid an opportunity to make good on campaign promises made to Hispanic voters especially. 

Both sides know that the Hispanic vote has transitioned to the Democrats in recent elections.  Again this is a Civil Rights decision.  Again this is an area in which the many, deny the rights of the few -- but growing -- body of immigrants who have enriched our country in many ways.  Hopefully, the names of those who voted for and those who struck down this years attempt for the Dream Act, will be trumpeted across the land and all will be known.  Sadly, many young people who wanted to serve in our military and attend college will be harmed in real life by these partisan games.  Our economy would have been aided by the skills they might have earned.  Their families could have lived on a higher income scale. 

The short-sightedness of these decisions, in this economy belies the words voiced frequently, about equal opportunity and the promises of America made across the world.  While some say this is a reward for illegal behavior and should not become law, others wonder: should the child be punished for desperate actions taken by their parents?  Should we not reach out and try to pull these young people into the core of our communities?  Since we don't have this Federal Dream Act, I encourage others to develop these programs at the state and local levels.  Maryland already has a Dream Act on the docket for this year in which any legitimate graduate of a Maryland High School can receive in-state tuition, even if they do not have a U.S. birth certificate or green card.  It should receive support and be passed.  Montgomery County already allows such students to attend Montgomery College.  Isn't that the proper thing to do?

Let's hear from you on these two topics.  How should the Senate have voted in your opinion?  If you disagree with these decisions, what would you propose instead?

Monday, December 13, 2010

A House Divided or Democrats being Democrats?

Many Democrats are berating the President for "caving in" to the Republican demands on tax breaks for the rich and estate taxes.  Senator Bernie Sanders brought back the old fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor the other day. Congressman Chris Van Hollen is one of the Democratic Congressional members leading the battle to oppose the tax cuts on the House side.  What's a party to do?

First, we as Democrats should take a deep breath, express our discontent, and move forward.  Dana Milbank had an interesting column in the Washington Post in which he claimed that the White House stood aside and listened to Congress on the Health Care debate.  It did not push or pull and almost allowed the public debate on health care to be side-swiped.  The 2009 summer of Congressional dithering, town meeting posturing and Senator Max Baucus' refusal to allow the public option even to be discussed almost derailed the health care bill.  We all watched as the Republicans snipped and clipped and tried to destroy any options proposed.  We saw no real proposals or constructive alternatives offered by the other side.  Still, by the narrowest of margins, the Senate passed a bill which, although imperfect, became the first major overhaul of health care in decades.  Sure, the pharmaceutical companies and the health insurance carriers are doing their best to undermine its provisions, which they had signed on to, but we have a bill enacted into law.   We now have protections for children with congenital conditions and students can stay on their parents health care policies until age 27.  Insurers can no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or remove those with chronic conditions from coverage.  No, we did not get my choice -- a single payer option nor a broad public option, but we have something.  As Democrats we can celebrate that victory.   Now where do we go from here? 

Secondly, as a Democrat, I believe we have a Presidential election we must win in 2012 and we cannot do that if we are not united.  When the Republican leaders come in and say their first priorities are to deny President Obama a second term, doesn't that say something to Democrats?  Why are Democrats not calling them out here?  When the economy was allowed to tank under their President and their policies, how can they try to get away with this negativity?  Because -- wrong as they are -- they stick together.   President Obama is trying to get a deal done here.  If the lame duck session cannot get it enacted, then he can point to a blown agreement.  This should be his best chance -- if Democrats can support their President.  Should the other side be holding up every other piece of legislation to get their way?  Of course not!  However, due to the archaic Senate rules when a supermajority is required to agree on anything and 51% is not a majority,  how does one break the stalemate? 

Additionally, we should not support tax breaks for the rich.  If this were a way to stimulate jobs, why hasn't it happened in the last ten years?  Why are oil companies, banks and Wall Street all back in the black with record profits, while the average American is seeing income flattened?  So -- skip the tax breaks for the rich -- and skip the roll back of the estate tax provisions for millionaires.  Let's allow the small businesses up to $500,000 of income a break, if that is what it takes, to compromise.  But do make certain, that until unemployment significantly decreases, the long term out of work people will continue to receive the pittances that keep them off the street.  Over the last year, Democrats have been all over the place.  We have yellow dogs and blue dogs and even some down dogs, while our opponents have mostly stood their ground and we could not capitalize on our majority.  Democrats allowed the Ben Nelsons and Blanche Lincolns to go their own way.  Did that help in the end?  Retool, offer constructive amendments, stand up for something.  Find a way to work together. 

Finally, when he initially came into office, the President reached out across the figurative aisle and was rebuffed.  He first stayed on the sidelines.  Now he has stepped forward and has tried to find a way to work out a deal.  The President has worked to secure many of the promises made on the campaign trail.  He has not been perfect -- but compared with his predecessor -- well there is no comparison.  He wanted to close Guantanamo -- the Congress refused to allow him to bring the detainees here.  He wanted to have civilian trials.  Again, the other side started an uproar.  He wanted to address "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell," but the Senate cannot even gather a vote, even though the Secretary of Defense and many Generals testified for it.  On the wars -- Iraq has wound down significantly.  Afghanistan is another issue -- let's give him 50% here.  As a progressive, I want to push the President further away from the minority party, but I also want to make our country work well.  I want to govern in spite of the Republicans, precisely because they do not act to support the common good.  As President Obama said so eloquently in 2004, we do not have only blue states or red states, we have the United States of America and we should work together.  Others have said that more practically -- we have purple states where red and blue are joined together in order to govern. 

What do you think?  Is real governance truly the art of the compromise?  Is confrontational politics the only way to go?  Should Democrats support or challenge President Obama on the tax cuts?  Do you think the mid-term elections sent a true message or was the message skewed by the media and the money involved? 

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Politics of Breast Cancer

Elizabeth Edwards died this week at the age of 61.  She lost her fight against the ravages of breast cancer after too short a battle.

Many admired Elizabeth for her forthright and upfront campaign to beat this odious disease.   She lived a full life in her modest time with us, becoming a lawyer and raising four good children.  She also refused to become a victim, neither from the assault of disease nor the personal trials she faced.   She refused to allow cancer to define who she was.  She took on the insurance industry, as she became a voice for many whose opportunity for health care had been denied.  She was an advocate for the public option and testified frequently before Congress and advocacy groups from her think tank position at the Center for American Progress.  She understood that many foreclosures, long before the recent increases, were due to the expenses of uninsured families trying to pay for medical expenses.  She knew that over half of all bankruptcies were a direct result of medical bills owed by those who were not insured or had been under-insured.  She knew about the politics of breast cancer. 

Many in health care today support the public relations campaigns that have brought the treatments for breast cancer front and center into the public consciousness.  One cannot walk into a shopping mall without seeing multiple pink ribbons adorning products from sneakers to lingerie as corporate America jumps on the breast cancer awareness band wagon.  But, many wonder, has the incidence of breast cancer decreased with this awareness?

Have we increased the diagnoses without increasing the knowledge about causation?  Aside from testing for genetic pre-disposition and some familial tracking, we are not much further along in halting the incidence than we were a generation ago.  We do not understand why some young pre-menopausal women get the disease -- and may have a much more invasive condition than others.  In fact, some medications which were said to be helpful, such as hormone replacement therapy, subsequently were found to cause harm.   Screening mammograms were promoted, then demoted, first as an annual test, then decried as too costly.   Insurance companies tried to schedule mastectomies as outpatient procedures.  Only huge publicity against "drive thru" mastectomies cancelled these requirements.  (The reasoning, incredibly, by the companies was that these are not vital organ parts and therefore are expendable!) 

Elizabeth Edwards did not make it to the five year mark cancer free, so she could not be labeled a "survivor" according to the American Cancer Society guidelines, but she did teach survivors and others how to fight.  Generations ago, women did not mention that they had cancers.  It was a disease which was whispered about; patients often were not told of the finality of their diagnoses.  Elizabeth put this practice behind her and went public from the first day of her diagnosis. 

Only by bringing out the incidence and challenging the politics of breast cancer will women begin to address a cure.  The Race for the Cure has helped a lot of women -- but it should not be an end point.  Women should be racing to determine the causes and prevent the occurrence.  This was something which Elizabeth understood quite well.  Elizabeth would be the first to admit that she had an atypical course of diagnosis and treatment.  She had enough money to buy what ever health care she wished to obtain and treatment continued until just before her death.  She had standard and experimental treatments, but in the end, the disease -- as it often does -- won out.  During recent years Elizabeth was a strong advocate for dismissal of the use of pre-existing condition clauses in insurance contracts.  She stated many times that sick people need to get the care which is required by their illness, what ever it is.  She acknowledged that Americans have great care available for those who could afford it.  However, she noted, that while we spend more on healthcare than anywhere in the world, we are only 36th in longevity.  We have too much care that is ineffective and too many practices that are unhealthy.

Women must ask what toxins in our environment, food or water have increased the numbers of women -- and men -- getting breast cancer.  Incidence according to one study has increased from an average in the 1940s of 66 per 100,000 population to an average of 127 per 100,000 today.  Death rates of 25 to 24.7 per 100,000 have remained constant across this more than 60 year span.  There have been advances in care from the disfiguring radical mastectomies to more minimal surgeries today.  There are staging and hormonal testing for cell descriptions.  Radiation, chemotherapies and hormonal treatments have been greatly improved.  But, to my way of thinking, until women stop thinking that wearing pink ribbons will cure breast cancer, we will not be on the road to eradication of this disease.  Until women speak up and say, "find the cause and stop the increases in incidence," we will not see change.  We should do this to honor the life of Elizabeth Edwards and all who suffer today and have suffered in the past from this disease.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Buying happiness this season?

The Washington Post had a column in the Saturday (December 4, 2010) "On Faith" page in the Metro section which caught my eye.  It showed two hang tags which noted:

"The consumer society is constantly tempting us to spend money we don't have to buy things we don't need for the sake of a happiness that won't last.”

The quote comes from Lord Jonathan Sacks of Britain who is the Chief Rabbi there.  The comment was made at an unusual 'Conference on Happiness' held recently at Emory University and described in the article.   At this conference which also included the Dalai Lama, an Episcopal bishop and a Muslim scholar, all spoke of differing views of what goals one should pursue in looking for happiness, yet came to agreement in declaring that happiness is an internal achievement, not one met by goods, material wealth or property.  Happiness was described as coming back from the goodness one sends out to others or when one has achieved an internal goal such as equanimity.  Happiness was also equated with degrees of scale; a cold drink of water on a scorching day brings a happy satisfaction of thirst, but is not to be equated with the happiness of the birth of a child.  Further discussion considered affluence and satisfaction and how while it distances one from humble origins, this often brings worry, little joy and removes the ability to remember and to be thankful.

What does this have to do with politics, one might ask?  I think we are seeing a voting public which is having buyers' remorse regarding votes which have not brought about the change they hoped for.  No matter that the change was ill-defined, and vaguely promised; it was expected to make things better.  When it did not, the voters went to the polls and voted the opposite way from the previous election, or they just stayed home.  This is analogous to the toy being broken and discarded before the charge card bill arrives in the mail.  Instant satisfaction or disruption?  In this era of sound bites and short takes that comprise our news casts, with little objective analysis, is it any wonder that fast solutions are expected?  After all, doesn’t Law and Order solve heinous crimes with complex DNA testing in less than one hour?  Shouldn't our President be able to solve the complex economic mess in 18 months?  It doesn't matter when you are out of work, that the stock market has bounced back, the banks are making more money than ever and business are showing record profits, does it?  But statistics show that they are hoarding the funds and not increasing staff -- does this make sense?  Are they planning on holding out until 2012?

America has always outwardly prided itself on having a populace which works hard, plays by the rules and gets a reward at the end of the day.  Well, somehow we woke up one day and found out that the rules had all been changed and we were the last to learn about them.   Remember when bills were due once a month on the same day of the month -- every 30 days -- it was.  Then credit card companies learned they could make more money if they changed the due dates and had different interest rates on varied amounts due, so that it became very hard to pay on time, then of course one could be charged late fees.  The mortgage you transacted with your neighbor, the banker in your town bank, was sold to some conglomerate which had no interest in assisting you if a downturn hurt your income and your mortgage payment was late.  They could just as easily sell your home to another without adequate notice or due process. 

Is this the kind of change Americans voted for?  Of course not!  Americans just want to have the downward spiral stopped.  The average income for the middle class American has decreased in the last decade or so. Our habit of making the world better for the next generation has been thrown off course.   Despite the fact that here in the DC Metro area, that several of the highest income counties in the nation are where we call home, the rest of the country is still suffering double digit unemployment.  People who thought they were secure have lost their jobs, their way of life, and their homes, often by being caught up in circumstances beyond their control.  They face bleak times for the holidays.  But, even those with jobs are keeping an eye on their wallets.  They know that they must live within their means and want their government to try to do the same.  They know that buying ever more goods and standing in lines on Black Friday does not buy happiness.  They really know that going into debt with on line orders on Cyber Monday or TV shopping at "midnight only" offers is not the answer to their problems.  But what is being offered in return?  The current discussions of extending unemployment versus extending tax cuts for the rich show the increasing divide between the wealthy and the rest of the country.   The wealthy are not losing their homes, even if their business had to be bailed out.  Only threats from the Administration kept the bailed out banks from paying out bonuses with taxpayer's money. They are on track to pay bonuses again this year.  Some of the biggest contributors to Republicans in the 2010 campaigns, now that unlimited monies have been permitted by a partisan Supreme Court, have come from those whose excess funds were reined in after their businesses had been rescued.   When Sarah Palin asks snidely: "How's that hopey changey stuff workin' for ya?".  She hits a nerve, and the inability of the Democrats to provide a reply is not a good omen for the future.

President Obama has inspired many; he needs to show the promise of a better tomorrow, needs to hold out a real sense that happiness is around the corner -- that we are on the recovery road, but he also needs to realize that small minded nay-sayers are out to sabotage his administration and do not care if the country suffers in the meantime.  What would you tell the President to do? 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Four Billion and Counting

The budget for Montgomery County is now over four billion dollars and has been so for the last few years. Over half of that sum goes for funding our educational systems; additional fixed amounts account for salaries for county employees. MCPS pays for about 22,000 employees; the county covers about another 10,000 people. Those salaries are a large portion of the fixed costs that are necessary expenses in every county budget. Recent reports have put salaries, benefits and pensions at 80% of the budget. Last year approximately 56% of all revenues received went to cover costs at MCPS and Montgomery College. Variable costs include snow removal, unexpected repairs of roads or buildings, sudden increases in costs of goods.

What is not calculated in the budget numbers are economic downturns, abrupt decreases in expected income and falling tax revenues. Budgets are predicated on expected revenues as forecast by income and sales taxes, fees and transfer taxes from real estate transactions. When those fall significantly below expectations, belt tightening must occur. Counties and states must report out a balanced budget; they cannot extend out balance sheets beyond the current year. Editorials have recently spoken out in favor of significant reductions for contracts of "overly generous benefit packages," sometimes worth more than the paycheck over time. But how does the county do that? Incoming Council President Valerie Ervin has asked for legislation requiring arbitration to ensure that any negotiated agreements fit within budget guidelines which are affordable. This could be done moving forward, but where does this leave agreements which are already in place?

The country has a Debt Commission appointed by the President to come up with suggestions for savings and revenue enhancements in the future. The county has no such luxury, so I'm asking readers to weigh in here. Which programs can we cut? We certainly cannot pay people less than we did last year -- can we? Well, if furloughs are again given as a solution, we are already planning on doing that. And, since granting a waiver to the MCPS employees last year, did not sit well with the other county employees who did have enforced days off, where should we go in the future? (Then there was that confusing addition of more leave days, which never quite made sense to me.) However re: MCPS, the Board of Education said accepting the furloughs would have made the issue of underfunding the Maintenance of Effort even more of a burden and make it more likely for the county to be refused another waiver by the State Board, which has to approve it. It appears to many people that this is a regulation which has outlived its usefulness, but that remains an issue for the state delegations, especially since it has remained in effect and is adhered to in most other counties in the state.

So -- no easy solutions appear on the horizon. Many major questions remain unanswered. The ambulance fees were defeated, no monies were found there. The government just announced that federal pay is frozen for the next two years, so no increases in income taxes from that group can be anticipated. There are approximately 50,000 federal employees who call Montgomery County home and a few hundred thousand in the State of Maryland, so the negative ripples flow across the state. What should we expect from the new council? First they are not going to be able to print money -- the county does not have an independent treasury -- so they are going to have fewer revenues to work with and will be able to do less than they did last year. Secondly, the make-up of the council committee structure is changed with the new council members being added and some shifts in structure. Finally, County Executive Ike Leggett has asked for 15% cuts from many departments and is expecting reports from department heads soon with their suggestions. The health and safety areas are being asked for about 5% cuts. Education is also targeted, although the BoE cannot realistically expect exemption from the belt-tightening, the Superintendant has asked for increases, despite the budget issues, since enrollment has increased somewhat. It looks as if we will have to be seeing increases in class sizes, if the school board is going to look at this issue seriously. Recreation is discussing closing down programs and having partial day services. The Para-medics are not going to receive promised increases.

Although we are looking at serious concerns, the county situation is better than what happened early last summer, in some states, where large numbers of teachers were laid off and schools were let out early. Just how close are to that scenario? That is something that is not readily apparent to the casual observer. Should we be asking all county employees at the executive grades to voluntarily give back ten percent of their salaries? Sadly that would be a symbolic gesture, more than it would be a savings measure. When one saves thousands, yet needs to save millions, somehow it does not make ends meet. Just as cracking the piggy bank is not going to pay ones mortgage. As mentioned above, one significant issue was the cost of our county employees’ benefits packages. MCPS employees pay low co-pays and have a better health plan than the other county employees. Would it be cheaper in the long run to have the county negotiate with a single health benefit provider and supplementary packager for all covered employees? Just what should the county ask of its union employees? How sustainable are ever increasing county salaries when the average earnings over the last decade for most other workers have been flat and retirees have seen no COLA increases in the last two years? How realistic are annual raises and step increases as contracted measures? Does private industry (aside from Wall Street and the banking industry) give bonuses in bad years?

So -- you taxpayers out there -- which services are you willing to do without this year? We have already seen our libraries cut to the bone, parks and recreation services flattened, emergency services decreasing response time, roads patched instead of resurfaced, services to the needy diminished in our safety net areas, what is left? Let me hear from you -- on Monday our new Council is being installed and our County Executive takes office for what he has said is his final term -- what message shall we send to our elected officials?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Are You Ready to Fly?

Flying used to be a fine way to travel.  Then as airlines started losing money and reducing services, flying became more of a hassle.  The tragedies that happened on September 11, 2001, brought more worry and more dismay for travelers.  We have endured more restrictions, stopped carrying shampoo, beverages and sharp objects, and seen more cumbersome regulations, such as shoe removal, impact our trips.  But until now, Americans have taken these obstacles mostly in stride; however recently the climate in airports has changed.  Have you noticed the lemmings marching toward the airports?  Can lemmings even march, you ask?  (Lemmings are small rodents living in the far north near the arctic -- they have demonstrated herd behavior in migration, but do not commit mass suicide as is sometimes claimed.)  Are Americans demonstrating this same behavior?  Are we taking leave of our senses?

What ever has happened to the credible dialogues we used to be able to have in this country?  When the so called underwear bomber tried to set him self ablaze last year, the hue and cry was to hurry up and implement full body scans.  This technology was said to be able to protect against an attack of this type.  Now that full body scanners have arrived at many airports, as the country approaches its busiest travel season, the right wing is raising a ruckus.  Former Republican candidate Governor Mike Huckabee blasted the Obama administration for this "invasion of personal rights," notwithstanding the fact that his own son was apprehended trying to board a plane with a handgun in his carry-on bag.  (I personally, have never carried a gun in my briefcase -- so I have not had the problem of forgetting that one was there, have you?  Didn't the staff of a certain Democratic Senator have a similar problem last year? )   Huckabee apparently indignantly demanded that profiling be used instead of these new TSA practices and also suggested that the First Family fly on a commercial flight and be subjected to these security measures.  If this weren't so arrogant, it might even be thought of as humorous.  

Recent polls showed that Americans overwhelmingly supported tougher security policies.  The body scanners were thought by most to be a moderate solution.  If the passenger cannot or will not walk through the scanner, a body pat down is used.  A pat down -- by its very nature -- is intrusive, so why go though it if it is not required?  Pilots are exempted -- but flight attendants were not -- does that make any sense?  It appears that the pilots have a stronger union.   As soon as the fear mongers got hold of this issue, they tried to sway public opinion; a group tried to organize a massive protest this week to slow down the system on the busiest flight times.  Polls started to show opinions shifting, as the drumbeats of negativity increased.  Could one assume that this was because the conservative talk hosts compared notes and talking points?  Guess what happened?  The protest was a flop; passengers wisely stopped taking the bait on this topic.  Cooler and calmer heads prevailed.  Americans wisely stated that they want to be able to fly safely and securely and if this is the next level for security -- they will go with it.   Faceless images viewed remotely do not appear to trouble passengers as much as the possibility of missing their flights from pointless delays.  One passenger looked at this and protested in a humorous vein -- she wore a bikini and was passed through in record time!  Now obviously this is not the solution for everyone.  Some people, such as myself, would not travel that way, but the point was made quite visibly made.

I ask that we return to a common sense approach.  Apart from the choruses of "isms" which the Obama administration is being accused of, aren’t these negative voices the same folks who also claimed that the Democrats are soft on protecting our freedoms?   When I grew up we were taught to respect the Office of the President, even if we did not always approve of what actions were chosen.  Somehow that lesson has been forgotten.  Somehow today others can find nothing that is worthy of praise, when we have a country which is beginning to be renewed.  Reports from terrorists recently have said that success in disrupting our country was achieved by use of the printer cartridge bombs.  They did not have to explode to cause fear, the threat was enough.  With obstacles such as this facing our travelers today, shouldn't we as a country speak with a single strong voice and be grateful that our Federal government has protected us and will continue to do so, through the efforts of many hard-working employees?  Shouldn't we support the decisions of experts who have set up measures which should help us travel more securely?  Shouldn't we turn our backs on those who would exploit our safety, if it gave them a chance to make the present administration look inept?   Look ashamed Bill, Glenn, Sarah and Rush -- even you can do better than this.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reasons to be Thankful

Tonight a friend sent out a quote from John Kennedy about his reasons for being glad to be a liberal. It mostly concerned thoughts about caring for others, their civil rights, their well being, looking ahead and not behind and not being rigid in thoughts or actions. I found much to agree with here and have always worn my liberal hat proudly. This is a county of volunteers, of people helping others, whether it is in being a volunteer coach, a tutor to someone who has poor English skills, or someone who makes sandwiches for the homeless. Many here do see themselves as their brothers' or sisters' keeper. Moving forward, looking toward Thanksgiving, I find that we, as a community, have much to be thankful for, even in the midst of a still troubled economy. When there is an announcement that our community has a need -- for food, for warm clothes, for assistance for a family after a fire -- people step up and speak out.

Food Banks throughout the area are reporting increased demand and more difficulty in meeting the needs of their clients. Manna Food Bank in Rockville is now open on some Saturdays, so additional people can get provisions. Olney HELP mentioned that its shelves were almost bare and the community came together. Tonight in a town gathering at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service, canned goods were collected and financial contributions were made to provide for this need. $1,400.00 in cash donations was collected and will be used to assist those who need help now. The OIney Farmers Market regularly joins with other local markets in donations of fresh fruits and vegetables from their growers to assist Manna.

I am also thankful for the service mentioned above as it brought out the best intentions of brotherhood, and the promise of America. There has been so much negativity in the media lately and news of intolerance so widely promoted, that this event stood out in a strong counterpoint. Very often intolerance is so based in the fear of the "other" -- the unknown person or unfamiliar practices. Protestant and Catholic religious members, Quakers, Jewish congregations, Muslims residents and African Americans, from the faith communities and others from the area, came together to celebrate their common interests and share their different ways of being thankful. A local synagogue was the host for the event. It was filled by hundreds of people. A procession of clergy from across the community shared messages and religious passages throughout the service. The evening began with the sound of the shofar -- symbol of a new start, and the Muslim call to prayer and ended as the female cantors joined with an African American choir in singing "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me," followed by the Hava Negila.

Afterwards congregants shared desserts and drinks and actual conversations with each other. Some spoke of their wonder that this communal event happened and mentioned that this gave them faith for the future. Some people were overheard mentioning that this was their first time in a synagogue as they remarked about the architecture and simplicity of the building. Others said they hoped that this would become an annual event. Most times these quiet good moments receive little notice, so this is a season and a time when one can get away with a bit of good news, so I am running with it!

Do you have a good story to tell or a special reason to be thankful? Please share it here, as I put politics aside for a few brief moments, to celebrate some of those good people who make up our special county. Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving to all those who read this blog.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Legislators Listened

Every autumn there is a tradition in Montgomery County and elsewhere for elected officials to hear about some of the issues on the minds of their constituents.  Recently, one of these sessions was held in Rockville and many of the Senators and Delegates elected in Montgomery County came to hear what county residents had on their minds.  The event was held in the County Council third floor Chamber and televised on the County Cable Channel as a live event.  Approximately 100 people were in the audience and about 40 additional people had signed up in advance to speak on a variety of topics.

In attendance were: Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Brian Feldman, both leaders of the County delegation and the following members in Alphabetical order: Senators:  Jennie Forehand, Rob Garagiola, Nancy King and Jamie Raskin.  Two newly elected senators also attended:  Roger Manno and Karen Montgomery, both are currently Delegates.  Delegates attending were: Kumar Barve, Al Carr, Jim Gilchrist, Ana Sol Gutierrez, Tom Hucker, Anne Kaiser, Ben Kramer, Susan Lee, Kirill Reznik and all the newly elected, but not yet sworn in, Delegates:  Sam Aora, Bonnie Cullison, Ariana Kelly, Eric Ludetke, Aruna Miller, Shane Robinson, and Craig Zucker.

The first speakers were members of the official Montgomery County community, the County Council President, the legislative liaison, and localities, as mayors from Gaithersburg, Takoma Park and Rockville addressed the legislators.  Representatives form Montgomery College and The Universities of Shady Grove also spoke.  The County Chambers sent representatives to speak to their priorities as did the League of Women Voters and others from workforce development and small business.

The mayors mentioned very many transportation concerns, increased traffic, failed intersections and the need to fund highway ramps, improve intersections and fund the Purple Line.  The Mayor of Rockville several times mentioned the impact of the approved Seneca Science Center and the White Flint development on local communities.   Concerns were voiced about the need for state transportation funding.

The academics addressed concerns about the need for continued stable support of education at the college level, and the chambers stressed as their focus for businesses to not be subjected to additional taxes, the necessity for a positive business climate and opposed combined reporting.   Many representatives from groups around the county spoke, some to opposite sides of the same issues.  Some supported the suggested alcohol tax, industry spokespersons opposed it.  The Committee for Montgomery pushed construction of the Purple Line, implementation of a gasoline tax, and opposed any return of teacher pension liability to the county.  They also asked for the county to do more outreach to broaden the tax base by attracting more businesses.

Two people spoke passionately about the need to retain necessary green space, keeping the Capital Crescent Trail intact and not building the Purple Line in its right of way, while others supported the need for the Purple Line, especially in light of BRAC.  The President of GOCA (Greater Olney Civic Association) requested that the state release funding for necessary grade separated intersection improvements at State Routes 97 and 28, soon to be impacted by the opening of the ICC.  He also asked for support of the HOA unpaid dues bill in foreclosure situations and opposed any fees for school bus transports.  Another speaker mentioned inadequate oversight of the banking industry in foreclosure proceedings. 

Several progressive groups spoke about the need to fully fund healthcare, perhaps with the alcohol tax, pass combined corporate reporting regulations, and increase transparency with legislative committee votes made public.  Others spoke about health care being a human right and needing to be considered as a civil right. They urged full funding of the Maryland Health Care initiatives.  Peace groups and Veterans against the War also spoke out of the need for military spending to be brought home to meet the cares of the American people in many areas of social concern.  Others spoke about the social costs of homeless and injured veterans.

The evening ended with the voices of social conservatives speaking out for fiscal responsibility and against support for immigrants or undocumented individuals. They further decried budget items spent on ESOL, in-state tuition at Montgomery College and voiced their perception that immigrant gangs have caused increased crime and an upsurge in gang violence.

So what should one conclude about this exercise in democracy?  First, the evening was one of civil discourse, even among disparate groups and among legislators from different perspectives.  All speakers were treated with respect; the few questions asked by the elected officials were relevant without any grandstanding.  Will this solve our dilemma of funding in a very tough budget year?  Probably not.  But for the people in attendance or watching from home, the evening allowed reasonable people to make their case, whatever their issue.  For a short while, reasonable people disagreed without being disagreeable.  This was ever so much better than the town hall meetings held on health care last year when people were trucked in with the sole purpose of being rabble-rousers.  This is the way our country should work.  Will the elected official return to Annapolis in January and enact each of these measures? -- nope.  But they and the petitioners who came before them have connected in a way that is uniquely American and a way that makes our country, state and county function in a more democratic manner.  I hope we can all support this.  I know, as do you, that one encounter does not pass a bill and that citizens who support issues must tell their elected officials, sometimes more than once, how they feel.  Nights such as this are a good beginning.  There were many issues such as local education funding, the death penalty, the environment, clean air and water which were not discussed.  There will be other meetings and those issues may arise then.

Do you disagree?  Do you believe that this exercise is pro-forma and that the lobbyists who function in Annapolis have much more influence than the voters? Was your issue not mentioned above?   What is your suggestion to make the system function better?  Let's hear what you have to say.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The President Should Stand His Ground

The pundits are emoting, the editorials are advising and the populace is confused.  What did the mid-term elections mean in a general sense?

Did they mean that the country has rejected the Democratic agenda?  Did they really mean that the Republicans have a better plan?  Or did the voters send a different message to the politicians?  Did the Independents sway the election to the right this time, when they had gone to the left in 2008?  It has been said that this was a wave election, one which rejects the status quo and instead sends a tsunami crashing ashore, washing away those pols who did not listen to their constituents.  Was it really?

Minority Leader Boehner has indicated that the new agenda of the Right will be to undo the gains the Democrats have made over the last 22 months.  He has said he expects adherence to his agenda by the President, and indicated his belief that the people have spoken and rejected the so-called excesses of the current Congress.  This group of negative thinkers, whose main contribution to significant outreach by the President was to refuse to negotiate, decline to produce constructive alternatives and in short, not earn their pay, now claim they are in charge.  Senator McConnell is now calling for Republicans to pledge not to support earmarks.  Do you believe him, or is it another ploy for publicity?  Did earmarks or years of war spending put our country in this financial mess?  Is that actually what this election meant?  Do any of these negative folks remember that this was a mid term-election and that President Obama's term is for four full years?

This election seemed to show that the country is still divided, between polar opposites.  Large numbers of unemployed people need jobs and they do not particularly care who they blame.  Unlike the Great Depression, which lasted for several years, the current generations know only brief recessions, mild downturns, which like pendulums swing back again quickly.  Workers today face a rust belt crossing our great industrial core states as jobs have moved overseas to far off lands with cheap labor.  Unemployment at 9.6% is far too high; too many also are working at low wage interim positions.  Outsourcing has been a real issue.  American workers have a right to expect better of their country.  Why have we given tax breaks to companies whose workers are based offshore?  American companies moved factories from the New England and Midwestern industrial centers, first to the South and then to Mexico and the Caribbean, and finally on to the Far East, always in search of the cheapest prices for labor, goods and services.  When the Chamber of Commerce boasts of American industry and small businesses, they neglect to mention how many large companies outsource.  Who thought that when Americans played ping pong in China and President Nixon visited, that a generation later, the Chinese would hold many of our financial  fortunes, from the dollars they own, and the bonds they could call due, to the goods they produce so inexpensively?  Where can an American worker go to count on a good paying job?  Certainly one could now begin to head to the centers of the auto industry which is starting to rebound --  in part from their bailout and partially from previous concessions from the workers.  They should thank the Democrats for this. General Motors will soon again sell stock through an IPO -- Ford is showing profitability now.  The TARP has made a profit and the financial sectors are bouncing back; but this has not been well promoted.  The stimulus money is planned out over a couple of years and its marks are seen as communities have added roads and fixed water mains and bridges.  Schools are beneficiaries as well. Teachers have been returned to work in many communities due to supplemental funds received for education.

Banks are again making money for the most part, but they are still not loaning to the small business owner.  Banks are continuing to foreclose, even when homeowners are negotiating in good faith.  Many have been found to not allow required due process.  With all of these problems, none of which can be solved by the click of a pen, or the snap of a finger, no wonder that the Democrats were turned down at the ballot box.  After all, it was they who were in charge, right?  Some might say "wrong"; the first year of President Obama's term was spent trying to right wrongs, reign in financial markets, and create some guidelines for a run-away Wall Street culture.  He took office with the country already deep into the recession and the confusion over the stability of the American model of unregulated finance promoted by the previous administration.  The United States is slowly climbing out of this hole. President Obama's analogy of finding the car in the ditch was quite apt; he tried to drive it out with no tires, is it any wonder the ride was a rocky one? 

Have the Democrats tried adequately to market their record of achievements? No.  Has the incessant drum beat of negativity on conservative talk shows been misleading and deliberately so? Yes.  Should the President change his communication style?  Maybe.  Should he capitulate to the acclaimed but artificial "will of the people" –NO.  The President was elected to serve a four-year term.  It is not over.  Should he talk to the Republican leaders?  Certainly -- part of their job is to also find a way to work together with the Democrats and to compromise when reasonable for both sides.  The President should stand his ground: talk and listen but absolutely remain in charge.  Those of us who agree with him should also let him know of our support. 

What do you think Democrats should do to change the dialogue? 

Send a comment here; if you would, please let me know who you are and tell me if you wish to use a pen name.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A week of contradictory images

Sunday was the annual Royce Hanson Awards given out by the Countryside Alliance in upper Montgomery County.  Peter Eeg introduced the 2010 honoree, Anthony (Tony) Cohen, who traced the path of the Underground Railroad by walking across Maryland and elsewhere, highlighting many areas in Montgomery County.  His book won national renown and he has been acclaimed for his scholarship in this area.  Tony who began his first journey in the historic community of Sandy Spring, now lives in Olney, Maryland.

The event was held along rustic Black Rock Road at the Historic Button Farm, which is operated as a park and owned by the MNPPC with the aid of the Menare Foundation which was founded to tell the slave story by Tony and others.   The site is being restored to reflect a look at the farming world known to slaves and others in the 19th Century in this area and will eventually have a resource center and living history museum.  A farmhouse dating from the early days of the 20th Century and an even older barn will be centerpieces of the planned historical center.  Today the Farm grows heirloom vegetables using techniques from the past, operates a CSA and donates vegetables to the Manna Food Center. 

The Countryside Alliance is a group which advocates for the Upper Montgomery County area; the Executive Director is Caroline Taylor; information can be found at:

Thursday was a Day for remembering our Veterans, both past and present.  The new Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring and the splendid Silver Spring Civic Center were the sites for a series of day long tributes.  Many veterans organizations held fitting tributes to the fallen, but not forgotten, and to those who still serve.

Veterans bands played, Jazz tributes were offered and public officials paid homage to the troops. Many Native Americans were present to reflect their service in the military units here also.   In an evening ceremony, young dancers gave rousing and talented performances with contemporary, traditional and exploratory dance exhibitions.  The Maryland Youth Ballet and The Round House Theatre both had troupes whose performers showed great professionalism.  Congressman Chris Van Hollen spoke and urged public members to visit the injured at Walter Reed or Bethesda Naval to display our gratitude and concern for their well being.  Events such as PTSD, or amputated limbs do not end with a war, they stay with the service member and their families for the remainder of their lives.  Military suicides are increasing. Many of our current homeless are veterans of the current or previous wars and have never found their way back to being who they once used to be.  It is right that we as a society should pause to say thanks.

The evening ended with a talented blues band playing very spirited music to a then sparse crowd, unfortunately. 

In the days of a volunteer military, fewer families have members in the military forces, unlike the days of World War ll when nearly every family was touched by war.  There can sometimes be a disconnect between the civilian and the military populations.  Some espouse peace, others advocate for war.   Either way, when our country calls, the military answers the call and whether we personally agree with the mission or not, we need to be grateful for their service.

The week ended on a decidedly strange note as news reports told of the FBI's arrest of Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson and his wife, Leslie, a newly elected -- but not yet installed -- County Council  member, on charges of corruption, witness and evidence tampering as well as destruction and alteration of records in a federal investigation.  Apparently wiretaps were made of incriminating conversations and videos were taken of illegal actions.   Of course, all are innocent until proven guilty, but initial reports do not look good for many in our neighboring county.  Newly elected County Executive, Rushern Baker, will soon take office in an atmosphere much more difficult than he earlier anticipated. 
As one who has run for office, valued the trust of others and cheered public integrity, I can only ask: what were they thinking?  And, as someone asked me this morning, how could $79,000 supposedly fit into a bra?  As is said -- stay tuned.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Speed Camera Issue

Recently statistics were announced about revenues from speed cameras in Montgomery County.  To date millions of dollars of revenue have been realized from these seemingly innocuous metal poles with cameras.  A camera in Olney along Georgia Avenue northbound was noted to the one with the highest revenue, much to the chagrin of many motorists.  Some have bemoaned what they see as a sweetheart contract with the company which maintains the cameras and keeps about $16.00 of the $40.00 ticket assessed.  County officials say this frees up manpower for other more important tasks, as the vendor company monitors and calibrates the lights, resets the cameras and downloads the images.  They then process the digital picture of the license plate and car, have the police review it, and send the notices to motorists for payment of this fee.  

A more recent development has been the mobile cameras chained to trees or posts along a roadside somewhere near you.  These squat metal boxes are not as easy to spot as the triad of silver poles for the fixed spots, so they are likely to be money makers.  Check Crabbs Branch Way near Iroquois, and Route 108 near the Laytonsville Fire Station, if you like to see one….if they have not been moved already!  County government is not the only department using these resources; municipalities such as Chevy Chase, Gaithersburg and the City of Rockville have all been successful with speed camera placement.

Although some say no one likes the cameras, apparently they are appreciated by the police officials who market them as an important tool in pedestrian and driver safety.  Originally touted as a safety measure in school zones, their placement has now been seen in areas far from schools.  Recently changes in state law have mandated that those near schools not be in play outside of school hours.  Police statistics do indicate a definite decrease in average speeds in the county.  The funds were supposed to be targeted for pedestrian safety, but the increase in cameras and collections have brought many to question those limited targeted uses.  After all, just how many count down walk lights can a county install?   Cross walks have been expanded, pedestrian safety education has been increased and fewer people have died in pedestrian accidents recently, so some changes have been made.  Still, some of the busier neighborhoods for street traffic still have issues with people crossing in the middle of the block to get to a store, catch up with friends or catch an arriving bus.  These spur of the moment crossings are the ones least considered and most hazardous.

There are a couple of groups trying to ban the cameras, claiming they are an infringement on individual rights and adding to the "Big Brother" aspect which is increasing in today's world.  Others say "just shut up and drive the speed limit!"   The county is dependent on the revenues, so there may be more cameras to join the approximately 120 cameras currently in place.  It is doubtful that they will be shut down and numbers may even increase.  Others would wish that other wider span cameras be used to track crime, not drivers.

What do you think?  Is this fee a hidden "drivers tax" as is claimed by some?  Have you been caught by the cameras?  Do you think they slow down traffic as one drives ten miles under the speed limit when approaching a known camera site -- all those in the know, that is!   What would you suggest as a solution to drivers driving too fast, the need to cross the county in a reasonable amount of time and pedestrian safety? 
While there is a list of camera sites on-line, are they really accurately described as governmental spying?   Let’s hear your thoughts on this issue.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Montgomery County Votes Democratic again!

It may be no surprise to a lot of county residents that the County Council remains in Democratic hands as do all of our county elected offices from Sheriff on up through the Court House to the entire State House delegation.  County Executive Ike Leggett easily won another 4 years in office, but given the budget problems he faces, this may be a pyrrhic victory.  For the first time in quite a while, the Republicans actively contested many of the offices across the county; none of the races were closely contested, even though the Party was more visible this season.  The top vote getter from the County Council race was apparently at-large Councilmember Marc Elrich, who was also the top winner in the Democratic Primary.  Hans Reimer, the newcomer, who came in second in the Primary, won the fourth spot as Floreen and Leventhal took the second and third spots, respectively.  Governor O'Malley won another four years in the Governor's seat defeating former Governor Ehrlich by about fourteen percentage points, a much wider margin than had been predicted.  Our Congressional delegation stayed the same with Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Congresswoman Donna Edwards both winning easily.  Senator Barbara Mikulski returns again with another big win as Maryland's senior Senator.

Elsewhere in Maryland, Democratic first-term Congressman Frank Kratovil, who won a squeaker in 2008, was not as lucky this year and lost in a rematch with seriously conservative physician, Andy Harris.   Harris will now represent the Eastern Shore and northern reaches of Maryland.  The state will be bookended by conservatives as octogenarian Roscoe Bartlett, who represents the sixth congressional district in the western part of the state, is also a Republican.  Bartlett defeated veteran Andrew Duck in a rematch from 2006.

Looking at the state as a whole, this division between east and west is borne out in the way the counties broke in the Governor's race.

Montgomery, Prince George's, Charles, Howard, Baltimore City and Baltimore County all voted for O'Malley.  Every other county went for Ehrlich, so we have a blue center and red peripheral areas.  Of course the counties that went for O'Malley are the most populous in the state, even though they are fewer in number.  Does this preface Maryland becoming a true purple state in the future?  Or is the state actually two separate entities with little exchange of ideas between the center and the edges?  One surprise comes from Frederick County as the nemesis of progressive thought; Senator Francis X. Mooney apparently went down in defeat to his Democratic opponent, Ron Young.  (Absentee ballots have yet to be counted and the spread is currently only about 600 votes, so stay tuned, folks!)  But Democrats had little room for jubilation in Frederick County, as the entire County Commissioners slate went to the Republican candidates.

Can we draw any conclusions from these results?  Maryland has always been reliably blue, but has rural pockets of conservatism.  As a state we have been somewhat shielded by our strong economy from many of the ravages of the downturn, although there has been a strong dip in expected resources among the income tax base, real estate revenues and sales taxes.  Foreclosures have been a significant problem in many areas locally and the housing market has not yet bounced back.  If Democrats cannot bring in more business income to the state, then local and state elected officials will have a very hard time balancing the budget. Subsequently, many financial expectations will not be met.  This could cause more dissatisfaction among voters in 2012.  The upcoming legislative session in Annapolis may well be a very difficult one with significant regional divisions.  Many in Montgomery County believe the County is seriously short-changed with state dollars -- perhaps the margin of victory given the Governor here may have some impact in the future.  We may see rises in the gasoline tax and the additional of a modest alcohol tax to supplement future transportation and health care changes, although funding for the both the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transit way are not likely.  The looming teacher pension transfer, the loss of the ambulance reimbursement fees, and the Maintenance of Effort concerns in the county means that a lot will be asked of our state delegation. 

What do you think the County delegation should address as the top three priorities in the next legislative session?

What are your conclusions about state politics this week?

What would your advice be for the County Council?  Let's hear from you!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Time to stand up and VOTE

Tuesday November 2nd has arrived -- it is now time for Americans to stand tall and let their votes be counted.  The TV ads will cease their incessant accusations, the mailbox will soon appear to just contain bills and junk mail; the messages on phone voice mails will probably decrease by 90%.  Dirty tricks are starting with fake magazines; false directions are being given about polling places and dates. In Georgia, tea party intimidators are announcing plans to challenge voters and decrease turnout, especially in minority districts.  When informed voters stay home, others with ill intent can make their votes seem larger. 

Much of this is not unique in the annals of American elections.  However the scope of it all this year certainly has escalated.  There has been more money spent in this mid term election than in previous Presidential year Elections.  It will soon be seen what the effect this entire advertising barrage has had.  Hopefully all of this negativity will not convince voters to stay home.  Voters must believe they have a stake in the outcome for them to make the effort to vote.  What kind of America is desired?  Is it the America that supports the lowest common denominators among candidates -- those who stand for nothing and want to tear down everything?  Or could it be the America that does believe that problems can be resolved if all work together with a common mission to make this the best country possible. It is predicted that the Democrats will hold precariously onto a Senate Majority but lose the House. It would be terrific if the pollsters and pundits could be proven wrong.

In Maryland the only sensible choice is to vote for the O'Malley/Brown team for Governor.  Two articles in the Washington Post described the personal styles of the two candidates for Governor.  O'Malley was described as putting in 18 hour days and asking for accountability across the state.  Ehrlich was portrayed as one who worked hard on his golf game while in office and hard as a lobbyist when out of office. He claims working class roots from the suburban Baltimore area. His running mate -- Mary Kane, who was the Secretary of State in his former administration -- is from this county.   Montgomery County was courted by O'Malley who was born here, while Ehrlich seemed to flirt with the County, then turned his attentions to Baltimore County where he is not favored to win either.   Current Lt. Governor, Anthony Brown -- a Reserve Army Officer who hails from Prince George's County, is expected to bring many of that county's significant African American voters to the ticket.  This will be in contrast to the race won by Ehrlich in 2002 against Kathleen Townsend when her pick for a running mate alienated many in this general area who had expected Ike Leggett to be on her ticket.   Voters sat on their hands in that race.  We cannot have that happen again as this state needs all good Democrats to step up and VOTE. The <i>Gazette</i> editorial which endorsed Ehrlich gave many spurious reasons to support him; the greatest seemed to be that one-party rule was somehow unhealthy. That argument does not hold water at the state or federal levels. So the best advice one can give is to vote for the person who has done a good job and stick with the known qualities of candidates who have served well.

Lastly -- support the Ambulance reimbursement -- Vote YES on Question A.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Witches, Goblins and Boogeywomen -- the real ones!

It is not just the season of Halloween which is spooking us all out now.  It appears that the Trick-or-Treaters are the least of our current problems and potential cavities from sugar overload are not our largest fears.

What is frightening are the current groups of women candidates running from the far right and with the Tea Party support.  Add to that mix the spectre of Sarah Palin in her red election suit stomping around the country telling people they need to reclaim their country.

What these women fail to realize with their fear-mongering, class and culture warfare and talk of a constitutional interpretation unrecognizable to most is that the country they want to have has never existed.  They speak of going back to simpler times, is it the times of child labor and worker exploitation they wish to revive?  Or is it the times where the banks failed, poor houses existed for the widowed and the elderly, or when hospitals were places one went to die?  Is it the times when we had no interstate roads or minimum wages or adequate public health or food safety protections?  Just how far back do they wish to go?  Perhaps back to the times before they could even legally vote or run for office?

Women have been candidates for almost a century now, but it is doubtful that there has ever been such a group of strange characters as are currently seen.  How could anyone compare an O'Donnell from Delaware "I am not a witch; the constitution does not mention separation of church and state" or an Angle from Nevada -- "People are illegally pouring across our northern and southern borders; we should cut out Social Security and Medicare programs" with our own Barbara Mikulski?  Think of Barbara shepherding the Lilly Ledbetter pay parity law through the Senate and her fighting to prohibit insurers from making a victim of domestic violence experience further harassment by being denied insurance. (Domestic violence was termed a pre-existing condition!)  Although she is less than five feet tall, our Senator Mikulski stands heads and shoulders above these candidates, because she stands tall for women and children, families, fairness and equality, health care, education for all, job security and homeland safety. 

Where are today's educated women among the ladies of the right, those with significant resumes such as held by Sandra Day O'Connor, Kay Bailey Hutchinson or a Jean Kirkpatrick -- who were moderate to conservative, but whose knowledge and service have been valued with bi-partisan support?  Where are the accomplishments of civic service, achievement in academia or business from either Angle or O'Donnell?  They came from the fringe of politics and are not running to build up our country but instead to detract from it.  They do not announce plans for Senate initiatives they support, but rather indicate what they would attempt to roll back.  These current women candidates are not obviously empathetic to the needs of hearth and home, but are trying to tough out their male opponents by touting their own unyielding stands on public issues untroubled by facts.  Knowledge of complex financial matters does not seem to be a strength; however scape-goating poor Americans, or demagoging the issues of immigration and health care produces money from the committed.  With luck and intelligent voting by Americans, these candidates and others who are going backwards in time will be silenced at the ballot box.  Americans may wish for better times and hope for change but they can realize that one does not make progress walking backwards.  Halloween will be over by Election Day.  It will be time for these hobgoblins to be put aside as well.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Early Voting – does it change the campaign culture?

Now that we have early voting offered in some form in 32 states (including Maryland) and the District of Columbia, some wonder if it has changed the culture of campaigning. 

In the early days of our country, the Founders, true to the mores of their time, decreed that only men could vote; in many places only landowners were allowed to cast a ballot.  Later, voters were induced by promises of drinks given to those who showed proof of having voted.  In cities and along the lawless frontiers, Election Days were frequently marred by much public drunkenness and brawling.  Urban bosses were later said to encourage multiple votes by casting ballots for those whose names were found on local headstones.  It took many years and many public protests for women to finally gain the right to vote early in the 20th Century; the right to vote for African Americans took much longer and was coupled with the Civil Rights movement.  Poll taxes, stringent voter exams and outright intimidation were commonplace across many areas of this country during that era.  During the marches in the 1960s lives were lost and forever changed by this struggle which was eventually won.  To some, this seems far away, an excess of another era, but for many who remember, this struggle has defined their lives and they would not miss an election.  Some – even in this day and age – try to discourage voters from showing up at the polls by misinformation or intimidation; a recent ad was aired to try to tell Hispanic voters to not vote since immigration reform has not yet happened.  But if you ask many people what attribute is the hallmark of our democracy, often the right to freely and privately vote is mentioned.

So why then do we usually have only slightly more than half of the registered voters actually casting a vote in National elections?  In 2008, approximately 231 million people were of voting age and eligible from our population of over 300 million.  122 million people actually voted.  Consequently, about one-third of our population decided who will govern this country.  In off election years, such as this one, where more campaigns are local, voter numbers decrease even further.  So how does a candidate reach out and convince someone to vote?  Some have complained that voting is too difficult; lifestyles are not conducive to voting at a fixed time and place.  Early voting has changed some of that and has decreased some excuses; absentee no-fault voting is trying to encourage more participation in the process.

Traditionally voters are reached in an ever narrowing circle of contact outreach efforts.  There are the coffees, the kickoffs, the debates and public events and other forums.  Mail is employed as are phone banks and robocalls (automated calling).  Personal door-to-door contacts are stressed for the very committed voters, the ones you really want to get out there and vote – because the candidate knows they share similar views or ideals.  Then, as Election Day draws closer, one looks to GOTV (Get out the Vote!)  Voting day would arrive and lines were seen at the polling places.

Anyway, this has been the time-honored tradition for most of the last half of the 20th century.  Before our country became as mobile and as transient as it is now, there were assigned contacts in many urban areas whose primary jobs was to get the voters to the polls.  The person who voted early in the day was prized, because that would make the rest of the day easier for the campaigners; once off the list, this was one less voter that needed to be steered to the polls.  Once the voter arrived at the polls, he or she might have to run the gauntlet of partisans offering paper sample ballots or campaign literature in hopes of creating a last minute change in voter choices.  This has been the way Montgomery County has managed the election process for many years.

Now much of that has changed.  One may vote early, on the weekend or during the week, somewhat in advance of Election Day. There is wider access absentee voting.   (Montgomery County polling places are listed below.)  What effect does this have on the GOTV efforts as described above?  Will this increase the turnout of voters?  How will the last minute frenzy be altered?  Are we, as a country, moving toward a voting month such as states like Oregon have?  Oregon has no polling places, just mail in voting.   Voter out reach is not limited to Election Day.  Since there are paper ballots, there is no dispute about electronic machines losing or changing votes.  Does it increase turnout or make voting too detached, too sterile?  Would such a system work in an eastern state such as Maryland?  What is your suggestion to better engage the voter?

You do not have to vote in a home precinct during early voting - but you do on Election Day.  Turnout was very low during the Primary - let's get out there this time and make our voices heard!

Bauer Drive Community Recreation Center, 14625 Bauer Drive, Rockville 20853
Germantown Recreation Center, 18905 Kingsview Road, Germantown 20874
Marilyn J. Praisner Community Recreation Center, 14906 Old Columbia Pike, Burtonsville 20866
Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street, Rockville 20850
Silver Spring Civic Building, 8525 Fenton Street, Silver Spring 20910

You can cast your vote at any early voting location in the county between Friday, October 22, 2010 and Thursday, October 28, 2010 from 10:00am until 8:00pm (except Sunday, October 24, 2010).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Montgomery County is Multi-talented

The Music Center at Strathmore hosted the annual Executive's Awards for Excellence in Arts and Humanities ceremonies on Monday.  Those in attendance were treated to an evening which featured performances from many local artists and represented some of the multi-faceted, multi-cultural aspects of the local arts scene.  Awards, presented by County Executive Ike Leggett and his wife, Catherine, were also given to many who led local groups, both large and small and to those who organized financial support for the many arts groups in our county.

Two special honors were given:  The years of contributions to the arts by the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation -- and the new center they endowed at Montgomery College were showcased by the giving of the Patron Award.  All of us in the Metro area have been the beneficiaries of their generosity.   A Lifetime Impact Award was given to Carol Trawick.  Anyone who knows her is aware of the many organizations (both arts and others) she touches personally with her energies and leadership, our county is richer by knowing her.

The individuals honored for their singular contributions included Ken Rucker for 40 years of volunteerism at the National Capital Trolley Museum,  Shizumi Shigeto Manale  for her Japanese Dance group, Suzanne Richard for work with the Open Circle Theatre, Eve Burton for her story telling group at the Libraries, and Michel Bobbitt for his work with Adventure Theatre.  Tamar Hendel received a Lifetime Achievement Award for her devotion to creative arts and therapeutic art.

County Council members – Council President Nancy Floreen, District 1 Councilmember Roger Berliner, and at-large members George Leventhal and Marc Elrich, also announced the multiple recipients of county arts grants monies, several of whom were present for the festivities.  More than 150 groups and individuals were among the awardees of county sponsored grants.

The evening featured several artists in performance -- a Japanese dance company (Shizumi Kodomo Dance Troupe) a South African street dancer performance (Lesole Dance Project), selections from a musical under rehearsal (She Loves Me) by the Damascus Theatre Company, drum based dancers from a highly energized African dance troupe (Sinte) and the combined local folk type group (Jennifer Cuttings OCEAN orchestra and singers from the Washington Revels).

Arts and Humanities Chair, Jacqueline Manger (yes, the wife of our Police Chief) was the Master of Ceremonies; she kept the energy level high and the program for the evening flowing smoothly. 

In tough budget times the arts are often left off funding or donation lists, because they are so-called "options."  They should not be, because the beauty of music and dance, the delight in art and architecture, the joy in live performances, the written and spoken words that entertain and enrich our souls and ourselves, are integral to the human psyche.  These are the skills which set us apart from nature -- the actuality that we as people can create and imagine that which we cannot see or some can see differently than others.  These talents are unique and are properly celebrated; they should also be supported with our funds as individual contributors and continued with our county funds as official statements of support, even when budgets are tight.  Our county is fortunate to also have corporate sponsors who step up and contribute to this event and the corresponding County Executive Ball for the Benefit of the Arts & Humanities which is held every December and uses no taxpayer dollars.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fired Up and Ready To Go -- Where?

The polls are flip flopping up and down; Democrats up here, Republicans are up there.  The rumors say the Democrats are in for big losses and that this mid term election will be a repudiation of the mandates of 2008, but will it?  With just two weeks left before the November election - and with some states already doing early voting, the mood of the country appears to be poised for some kinds of changes.  What are the reasons for this mood shift in the brief time since our last national election?  How much has the suspect money controlled by Karl Rove and others through secret PACs influenced this turmoil?  Have the Democrats traditional allies, the unions, had their voices overwhelmed in this avalanche of partisan ads?   Will the usual ground game be enough for the party in power?   Are the Democrats still fired up enough to get out there and fight for their message?

We have an articulate President who has effected some significant social changes with health care and Lily Ledbetter, moved cautiously on the foreign stage and effectively withdrawn from Iraq, so why are he and the Democratic Party seen as unpopular?   He apparently is beset from the Democratic right and left; one group saying he went too far with health care and the other side saying he did not go far enough and conceded too much.  One group liked getting out of Iraq but did not approve of increasing a presence in Afghanistan, while the other bemoans a continued presence in Guantanamo, despite the Congressional prohibition against jailing the prisoners on American soil.  And – this just includes critics from his friends!   When one is pummeled from both sides, the end result is still painful.

Other topics still needing resolution include: the immigration debate which has stalemated, “don’t ask don’t tell” which remains frozen while a military review is awaited; the deficit grows and the greater economy is stagnant.  Even as gains have been made by the Stock Market, big financial institutions and the auto industry, Main Street has not yet seen an economic bump up.  Foreclosures and home values remain problematic, unemployment is still an issue and stimulus dollars are moving slowly.  Democrats have split into yellow dogs, blue dogs, and hot dogs; (something the opposition would never allow), while we pay the price for being divided.  We, as a party need to learn three things:

1.    How to disagree amongst ourselves without a poison pill, 
2.    When to really come together, rather than running from an agenda which we helped to create,
3.    How to appreciate the fine lines necessarily drawn in compromises, which really are the Art of the Deal.

Why are we not making the point loudly that we did not get in this mess overnight and we cannot make it go away by wishing it so?   Why are we not doing a better job of pointing out the wing nuts whirling around us?  Many people fought against Medicare for 40 years until it was enacted; now the same people who are saying get government out of my life are saying don’t cut my Medicare.  Those who talk about waste in government, are also saying leave Medicare Advantage (the HMO section that has been found to be overpaid and wasteful) alone; makes little sense -- but Congress is running scared.  Our 8th District Congressman, Chris Van Hollen, speaking before a hostile audience earlier in the year, said it well -- government keeps the planes from crashing into each other with the traffic controllers, and keeps our medicines safe through the FDA, and keeps our country moving with interstate commerce and the Department of Transportation, which one do you wish to give up?   More electeds should make this case.

This is a country used to IM, texting and 24/7 media.  Change is desired, but it is somehow expected to be achieved as rapidly as the next seasonal cycle.  President Obama wanted change, but we have a tiered government.  Congress is holding up his desired appointments, so many departments are not at full strength in leadership; a President should have a pre-determined period of time to establish his people in place.  There are the legislative, the judicial and the executive branches, and each has derailed some of the changes sought.   Republican opposition has stalled action on necessary bill passage in the Senate, requiring cloture votes on the simplest measures.  The Supreme Court decision on corporate spending has unleashed a torrent of right wing money to help oppose any agents of change.  The White House correctly moved quickly on getting its programs identified and proposed, but seriously erred in allowing compromise and concessions to the Republicans; this allowed the Senate to slow down the momentum, while the opposition geared up spawning the Tea Parties and other fringe groups.

Since it appears the Congress will be less friendly to our goals than before, it is up to Progressives to limit anticipated gains.  We must get out the vote and stand behind our candidates.  Progressives need to decide just what our agenda is; do we want to stand on the sidelines allowing ourselves the satisfaction of purity of thought?  Or are we going to unite, get out there and fight to give President Obama some support with a Congress which has a mandate to make this country work?  Are we going to expect our President to wave a magic wand to obtain change or are we going to help him do the more difficult work of repairing this polarized country and finally make real  differences happen?   Or are we going to dig in, insist on 100% or nothing, and end up with nothing?  Are we ready to accept the challenge?