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June 5, 2009

Frederick Douglass: A Living History Presentation - Juneteenth at Silver Spring library

by Montgomery County

The Silver Spring Library's African American Book Group will host a free Juneteenth program highlighting the life of abolitionist Frederick Douglass on Saturday, June 20, at 11:30 a.m. at the library located at 8901 Colesville Rd.

"Frederick Douglass: A Living History Presentation" will introduce the audience to the African American great, as played by performance artist Bill Grimmette.  Children and adults are welcome to attend the event, which is sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council and Montgomery County Public Libraries.  The Frederick Douglass presentation is part of the Maryland Humanities Council's "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Remembrance and Reconciliation" series.

One of the leaders of America's abolitionist movement, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland in 1817. While a young house slave, he was taught to read and write.  He escaped in 1838 and published his famed autobiography, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass," in 1845. A noted speaker, Douglass influenced important figures such as Abraham Lincoln.

Grimmette is a local living history interpreter, storyteller, actor and motivational speaker who has performed throughout the United States and abroad. He has researched and performed the characters of W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker, Estevanico a Augustus Washington. He has appeared at the Smithsonian Institution and on National Public Radio.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the country. It marks the occasion when, on June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas first learned of their freedom -- two years and a half after President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.

For more information about the event or the book group, call 240-773-9420/TTY 301-565-7505.  For directions, visit Branches and Hours at http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/library.

Media contact: Bonnie Ayers, 240-777-6507
Program details: Silver Spring Library, 240-773-9420

[Source: Karen Falcon (Montgomery County, Maryland, public affairs office), "Juneteenth Celebration Featuring Frederick Douglass Portrayal to be Held at Silver Spring Library", press release, June 5, 2009

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June 5, 2009

Prince George's County FY 2010 Budget

by Eric Olson, District 3 Councilman

On June 1st, the County Council passed the FY2010 budget.  This was not an easy budget year as the County juggled declining revenue due to the economy as well as fewer resources from the State.   Below are some key items in the budget:

* The tax rate for unincorporated areas of the County will remain at .96 cents per $100 of assessed property value.  In municipalities, this rate varies depending on the overlap of services between your municipality and the County.  Please check with your municipality for your specific County tax rate.

* The County will be cutting 55 positions and current employees will be forgoing merit increases, costs of living adjustments, and will be taking a 10-day furlough.  As I mentioned in my May E-News, I will also be forgoing my cost of living adjustment and will be returning the equivalent in pay of the 10-day furlough. 

* Budgets for most agencies have been reduced by 10%.

* I worked with my colleagues to identify nearly $12 million in additional cuts, which enabled the County Council to minimize the reductions to the School System.  Originally, there was a proposed billing of $23.6 million to the School System.

* Park and Planning will be shifting roughly $30 million in each of the next two years to assist the County with its operating budget expenses.  While this action has helped minimize more dramatic cuts to the County's operating budget, it is a short-term solution that may affect the ability of Park and Planning to fund future projects as easily as they have in the past.

[Source: Councilman Eric Olson (Prince George's County, Maryland, County Council District 3), "FY 2010 Budget", Community E-News newsletter, June 2009 -- www.Princegeorgescountymd.Us/district3

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June 5, 2009

PG County - Riverdale gets local code enforcement office for walk-in service

The Prince George's County Department of Environmental Resources & Property Standards Group now has a satellite office in District 3 at 5008 Queensbury in Riverdale Park at the Riverdale Park Town Hall.  This office can assist citizens living in Council District 3 with their concerns about Housing, Zoning & Commercial Properties.  Resident walk-ins are welcome.  Hours of Operation are Tuesday and Thursday 9:30 - 12:30 p.m.  

[Source: Councilman Eric Olson (Prince George's County Council District 3), "Local Code Enforcement Office Now in District 3", Community E-News newsletter, June 2009 -- www.Princegeorgescountymd.Us/district3

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June 5, 2009

Education - Maryland High School Assessments (HSA) Requirement Not a Barrier to Graduation

by Maryland State Dept of Education

The Class of 2009 has risen to the occasion.  With graduation just around the corner, 97 percent of students in this year's senior class had met the High School Assessment requirement, according to local system survey data released last week to the Maryland State Board of Education.

As of May 15, more than 53,000 students of an estimated graduation class of 55,000 had completed the HSA requirement.  Local school systems reported that most of the remaining students were involved in the alternative Bridge Plan projects in an effort to gain their diplomas before their graduation ceremonies.

Approximately 1,460 seniors were still working on the HSA as of the survey date, down from 4,660 just seven weeks earlier.  Since then, local systems have reported that hundreds more students have met the requirement.

"It is a pretty exciting moment," State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said as the positive survey results were being released.  "The data are changing daily."

MSDE officials have consistently said that the HSAs raise standards but would not act as barrier to graduation for students who have kept up with their coursework.  The new data are consistent with that notion, and counter the claims of some that the HSA requirement would keep qualified students from receiving their diplomas.

Board member Mary Kay Finan said that early reports about students struggling with the HSA had given her cause for concern.  "It is very encouraging to see those numbers change," she said.  "The graduation rate should be even better next year."

Students who do not complete their HSA requirements prior to the close of school this spring could complete them over the summer.

The launch of the HSA program several years ago was the culmination of nearly 20 years of research and study on the part of the Maryland State Board of Education.  The Sondheim Commission on School Performance in 1989 put forth a plan of more rigorous academic performance standards, which led to a study of high school exams in 1993.  The State Board voted in 2004 to make passing the HSAs a requirement for the Maryland High School Diploma for the class of 2009 (this year's seniors), a measure supported by a broad cross-section of business and higher education leaders.

Source: Maryland State Dept of Education newsletter, Education Bulletin, June 5, 2009 -- http://msde.state.md.us/MSDEBulletins/2009/june_05/index.html  

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June 5, 2009

Education - Maryland's math standards receive positive review, ideas for improvement

by Maryland State Dept of Education

Maryland's PreK-8 mathematics standards provide students with an appropriate and effective foundation in math, according to an independent review released last week.

The report also found that the state's standards provide good alignment with the American Diploma Project's benchmarks, the national movement to develop high standards across states.

"An Analysis of the Maryland PreK-8 Voluntary State Curriculum in Mathematics," a report by Achieve, Inc., took a close look at the state's math standards in comparison to other standards being touted by other organizations.  Reviewers were asked to help improve the standards as the state continues to strengthen its educational offerings.

The report, part of a series of reviews taking place on Maryland's standards, was released this week to the State Board of Education.

"The world is changing and the demands for students are changing," noted Laura Slover, vice president for content and policy research for Achieve.  She said that schools across the nation need to increase the rigor of their mathematics programs, so students are competitive with their peers in other nations.

Achieve reviewers compared Maryland's PreK-8 curriculum with not only the American Diploma Project's (ADP), but also the National Mathematics Advisory Panel's (NMAP) "Foundations for Success," the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).  The report found that Maryland's standards effectively address the procedural skills in mathematics, and complimented the state on the way it has improved standards since Achieve began working with state officials.

Reviewers made a number of suggestions designed to further strengthen the standards.  The report suggested that rigor be increased in some specific areas, such as geometry and probability.  In addition, it said that the progression of knowledge and skills could be more clearly defined and developed rather than repeating objectives from one grade level to the next.

State officials plan to review Achieve's work in detail before altering the mathematics standards.

Source: Maryland State Dept of Education newsletter, Education Bulletin, June 5, 2009 -- http://msde.state.md.us/MSDEBulletins/2009/june_05/index.html  

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June 5, 2009

Education - Maryland joins Common Core State Standards Initiative

by Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools

Governor Martin O'Malley and I this week joined the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led effort to develop common English and mathematics standards for the nation.

Maryland and 45 other states have become part of the initiative. Only Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas have not joined us.

By signing on to this effort, the Governor and I are coming together with colleagues from across the country in the development of common K-12 standards that are research-based, aligned with college and workforce expectations, and internationally benchmarked. This is a logical next step for Maryland, as we have been at work for many years to raise standards and strengthen accountability for our students.

Achieve, one of the key groups leading this effort at the national level, has worked alongside Maryland in many areas, including the recent review of the mathematics curriculum (see separate story). Maryland also is part of the multi-state American Diploma Project, which Achieve also is spearheading. That project is designed to strengthen graduation standards across the 35 participating states.

The fact is that we need a high standard for all of our students. The new common core project will help level the playing field with students in other nations.

For more information about the new common core initiative, go here.

Source: Maryland State Dept of Education newsletter, Education Bulletin, June 5, 2009 -- http://msde.state.md.us/MSDEBulletins/2009/june_05/index.html  

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June 5, 2009

Education - 271 "Green Schools" in Maryland

by Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools

The Maryland Association of Environmental and Outdoor Education last week recognized 69 new Maryland Green Schools, two new green environmental education centers, and 24 re-certifications. With these new schools, there are now 271 Maryland schools with Green School Status – a new record.

Maryland's Green Schools Awards Program is a holistic, integrated approach to authentic learning that incorporates local environmental issue investigation and professional development with environmental best management practices and community stewardship. This terrific program celebrates Maryland's model environmental education efforts.

For additional information on this program, including a list of our new Green Schools, go here.

Source: Maryland State Dept of Education newsletter, Education Bulletin, June 5, 2009 -- http://msde.state.md.us/MSDEBulletins/2009/june_05/index.html  

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June 5, 2009

Education - Maryland's 24 local Teachers of the Year

by Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools

Maryland's number one ranking in education is the result of a group effort, from students to parents to educational administrators. At the core of all this success are our wonderful teachers.

All 24 local Teachers of the Year for 2009-10 were honored last week by the Maryland State Board of Education. The honorees will compete for the statewide honor, which will be announced this fall.

This year's group is particularly noteworthy. We have elementary, middle, and high school teachers vying for the title of Maryland Teacher of the Year, each of them bringing something special to their nomination.

For a complete list of this year's nominees, go here.

video camera icon   VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS

2009-2010 Teachers of the Year

(May 28, 2009)

The Maryland State Board of Education meets and congratulates the 24 Maryland Teachers of the Year. In October, Maryland will select from this group a single Teacher of the Year to represent the state in the national competition.

Source: Maryland State Dept of Education newsletter, Education Bulletin, June 5, 2009 -- http://msde.state.md.us/MSDEBulletins/2009/june_05/index.html  

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May 22, 2009

Maryland abortion rate - 29%

"According to the Guttmacher Institute, which was founded by Planned Parenthood, 29 percent of pregnancies in the state are ended by induced abortions. Nationwide, the rate was 19 percent." That's from a story published by the Gazette newspapers in DC suburbs today.

Other info of interest in the story:

* "With abortion opponents outnumbered [in Maryland] and a 1992 referendum on abortion rights showing nearly 2-to-1 support [in Maryland], pro-choice supporters [in Maryland] have little reason to engage their pro-life counterparts."

* "... legislation that would give health care providers the option of offering a sonogram before an abortion died in committee [this year]. Opponents saw it as an attempt to make a woman feel guilty before the painful decision to have an abortion... Sen. Thomas McLain Middleton (D-Dist. 28) of Waldorf ... opposed the sonogram legislation, viewing it as an attempt to guilt a woman out of an abortion... He chairs the Finance Committee, which hears many abortion issues... "It chips away at those abortion rights that women have. You can't be half pregnant on this issue," he said. He suggested that supporters, who want to reintroduce the measure next year, talk to the other members in his committee."

[Ref: Douglas Tallman (Gazette staff writer), "On abortion: Can we talk? | Despite Obama's plea, debate lags in Maryland", Gazette.net, May 22, 2009]

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April 11, 2009

by Steve Schulin, Maryland Independent Party

Prayer to continue to be part of University of Maryland graduation; U Prez overrides U Senate

The University Senate, a group of 175 students, faculty and staff, voted 42-14 on Monday to abolish the prayer, a long-standing feature of the graduation ceremony. Senate Chair Kenneth Holum said many people on the large and diverse campus "felt excluded or marginalized" by previous prayers.

The Senate vote begged for juxtaposition with another story involving the campus in recent days -- the use of public facilities to show X-rated movie. A conservative blogger in Arizona, for example, wrote about these events under the title "At the University of Maryland porn is protected speech, prayer is not". The Washington Times editorial started with "The University of Maryland at College Park is on a mission to demonstrate its hostility to the core values of the community."

The subject of the role of prayer in public affairs is one to which I've given much thought (and personal prayer) since getting involved in starting a new political party. Every Maryland Independent Party meeting and conference call has included prayer, typically one at the beginning and another as we close. I often ask for a participant to volunteer to lead us in prayer, and there are no requirements that the prayer be anything other than the way the individual chooses to pray. When I pray, it's in Jesus' name, because that's what my religious beliefs call for. Please feel welcome to join in on our Saturday morning statewide conference call starting at 9:05 am eastern -- dial-in phone number is 712-421-7885. Passcode 2008#

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April 10, 2009

Maryland legislature likely to protect Chesapeake Bay from homeowner pollution by requiring $5,600 septic systems with nitrogen-removal

A bill to reduce Chesapeake Bay water pollution by requiring nitrogen-removing technology in all new and replacement septic systems along the waterfront, similar to one which the Senate passed last month, was passed by the Maryland House today. Under the plan, the state would pay the price difference for replacing existing systems with less polluting ones, but new homebuyers along the shore would be responsible for the full cost of enhanced systems, which run about $5,600 apiece.

The House rejected the impassioned pleas of more than a dozen lawmakers, mostly Republicans representing waterfront counties, who believe the requirements will prove too costly for some low-income homeowners in the 1,000-foot shoreline zone known as the "Critical Area." The final 85-48 vote included many Eastern Shore delegates in opposition.

The Senate narrowly approved a similar proposal late last month, and the two chambers must work out their differences by Monday, the final day of the Assembly session.

[Source: Julie Bykowicz (Baltimore Sun), "House approves septic-upgrade bill", The Baltimore Sun, April 10, 2009 1:44 pm]

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April 10, 2009

Montgomery County govt's stealthy affordable housing initiative is a financial ball-and-chain on nearby homeowners

Montgomery County gave a $5.4-million loan to a nonprofit developer to buy the 29 remaining units in a luxury development called the Ashmore at Germantown. The nonprofit, AHC Inc., is renting out the units to lower-income individuals and families at rates of $993 for two bedrooms and $1,124 for three bedrooms. To qualify, potential renters can't make more than 55 percent of the area's median income, which would be a cutoff of $54,120 for a family of four.

Folks who bought condos before the housing bust say the county's move has permanently hurt the value of their homes. Bob Haines and his wife, for example, bought a three-bedroom, two-bathroom home in 2006 for $378,000. Now he thinks it's worth about $240,000. "They've created a huge negative impact on the residents," Haines said. Ashmore residents say turning so many units into rental properties will make it difficult for prospective buyers to obtain credit — banks typically are hesitant to give mortgages in developments with many renters. And the stigma attached to affordable housing may scare off potential buyers who manage to get financing. "There's a real possibility that we're not going to be able to sell [the condo] under any circumstances," Haines said.

Ashmore condo owners said they were angry that they didn't find out about the deal until after it happened and without a chance to voice their concerns. "My own tax dollars are being used to my own detriment," said Mical Owens, one of Haines' neighbors. "And we had no voice."

An AHC representative tried to allay some of the residents' concerns at a meeting Monday night by telling them that his company conducts a background check on perspective tenants and looks for renters who will contribute to their community. "These are not people with issues," said Alan Goldstein, an AHC senior project manager. Richard Nelson, director of Montgomery County's Housing and Community Affairs, says he thinks the county's purchase in Germantown will enhance property values because of AHC's reputation for responsible management.

[Source: William C. Flook (Examiner staff writer), "Local homeowners irked as counties muscle in on market"The Washington Examiner, April 10, 2009]

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April 10, 2009

Maryland adopts speed cameras for work zones and within a half-mile of schools - 12 mph over limit will prompt $40 ticket

In Maryland, speed cameras will be allowed in highway work zones and within a half-mile of schools. Owners of vehicles captured traveling at least 12 mph above the posted limit in camera-monitored zones would receive $40 citations in the mail. Owners could contest those tickets in court and would not be penalized with points on their licenses.

The Maryland House voted 94-41 to approve the Senate plan, after about a dozen amendments to alter or weaken the proposal were rejected. Gov. O'Malley has said he will sign it into law.

The measure would expand a pilot program in place in Montgomery County. Police there say cameras, which are installed and maintained by private vendors with police oversight, have reduced speeding.

Critics call speed cameras a Big Brother-style intrusion that amounts to a new tax, and have been struggling for days to turn back the initiative. "This has little to do with safety, and much to do with revenue," Del. Michael D. Smigiel, a Cecil County Republican, said of the program. Earlier in the week, several delegates urged the House to amend the speed-camera bill to be fine-free, sending only warning letters for the first few speeding infractions. Others proposed distributing camera profits in the form of tax rebates for all Marylanders. Such amendments, they argued, would alleviate concern that the cameras are a cash cow for local and state governments. On Friday, lawmakers debated an amendment that would have specifically ensured that the specialty license tags issued to General Assembly members are subjected to tickets. The idea was rejected, 34-85, after Democratic leaders assured their colleagues that there was no way to exclude lawmaker vehicles.

The House approved a broader speed-camera program last year and looked ready to do so again. But House leaders have chosen to accept the Senate's more limited plan. This year, Gov. O'Malley had proposed speed cameras in residential neighborhoods, but a Senate committee initially authorized them only in work zones. After much debate, the program was expanded to include schools.

[Source: Julie Bykowicz (Baltimore Sun), "Speed camera measure approved by Assembly | System to monitor highway work, school zones; O'Malley to sign bill", The Baltimore Sun, April 10, 2009]

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April 10, 2009

Maryland legislature: hate crime definition expansion to include more groups, now a done deal

Maryland's hate crimes statute already provides additional protection to victims attacked because of race, religion, national origin or sexual orientation, and additional penalties to perpetrators of such crimes. The The state House of Delegates approved adding extra penalties Friday night for violent crimes against victims singled out because of age, gender, disability or because the person is homeless. The homeless provision was added at the insistance of the Senate, where Frederick County Sen. Alex Mooney has struggled for years to convince the House of Delegates to add homeless people to the list. Some said they thought the Republican's bill was a cynical attempt to water down hate crime laws.

[Source: The Associated Press, "Legislation may expand Md. hate crime protections", The Baltimore Sun website, April 10, 2009 7:54 pm]

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April 10, 2009

Fake ID and identity theft mill - Baltimore man sentenced to 13-plus years in prison

Maurice Racks, 54, of Baltimore, was sentenced Friday to more than 13 years for his role in a decades-long identity theft scheme, federal prosecutors said. Prosecutors said information from mail stolen from outdoor mailboxes was used to apply for fake driver's licenses and other identification. The U.S. Attorney's Office said some of the fake IDs were made using a photo machine stolen from a Motor Vehicle Administration office. Prosecutors said telephone lines were also cut at homes that were targeted to prevent verification. Another member of the identity theft ring has already been sentenced to more than 11 years and two others are awaiting sentencing. The scheme began in the early 1980s and ran until last year.

[Source: The Associated Press, "Baltimore man gets 13 years in identity theft scheme", The Baltimore Sun website, April 10, 2009]

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April 10, 2009

Preakness - emergency bill backed by O'Malley, to prevent losing the race like we lost the Baltimore Colts 25 years ago

The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Friday to a bill that would authorize the state to acquire the Preakness, Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park, either in a bankruptcy auction or by eminent domain. The governor and Democratic leaders in Annapolis say the state needs broad condemnation powers to ensure that the historic second jewel of the Triple Crown continues running at Pimlico. Despite concerns about the measure, it appears headed for speedy passage in both chambers -- underscoring the political and cultural potency of the Preakness for Maryland politicians.

Magna Entertainment Corp., the Canadian company that owns Pimlico and the Preakness, filed for bankruptcy protection last month, prompting concerns from top elected officials that potential new owners may move the race. On Thursday, an O'Malley aide told lawmakers that the state was at risk of permanently losing the race unless the General Assembly strengthens the state's authority to buy the rights to the Preakness and the facilities at Pimlico — with or without the owner's permission. The legislation also would authorize the state to buy or exercise eminent domain to seize the Laurel Park racetrack, a Magna property.

State officials are contemplating acquiring Magna's assets, including a training track in Bowie, then selling them to a private entity that would commit to preserving Maryland's thoroughbred horse racing legacy, especially the Preakness.

Speaker of the House Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert, have indicated they support O'Malley's efforts. But some lawmakers voiced concerns Thursday about the legislation's cost. "It would be extremely irresponsible for us to go into the purchase of an asset of without having a detailed consideration of how we recoup [our costs]," said Sen. Rona Kramer, D-Silver Spring/Damascus. "There is no analysis at this point and I think there has to be." Senate Republicans said the bill would do little more than give O'Malley political cover in case Maryland loses the Preakness. "I certainly want to save the Preakness as well, but I just want to make sure we don't do it in a way that's not appropriate," said Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman, R-Howard.

Del. Brian J. Feldman, a Montgomery County Democrat, questioned whether the financing scheme envisioned in the bill is viable in light of tight credit markets. Under the legislation, money for the Preakness and any other Magna assets would be raised by selling revenue bonds issued by the Maryland Economic Development Corp. Robert C. Brennan, the public corporation's executive director, acknowledged that raising millions of dollars during a recession for long-troubled horse racing assets "could be very difficult. ... Hopefully, there would be investors interested."

The state's claim to the race or tracks could also be voided by the federal court overseeing the bankruptcy.

[Sources: The Washington Examiner, "O'Malley aide: Md. at risk of losing Preakness", April 10, 2009l; and Gadi Dechter (Baltimore Sun), "State Senate approves Preakness bill | Measure would empower Maryland to acquire tracks, historic race", The Baltimore Sun, April 10, 2009 8:21 pm EDT]

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April 10, 2009

Baltimore man held without bail - suspected of selling guns to gangs

A Baltimore man is being held without bail after being charged with unlawfully selling several guns and rifles to an informant with MS-13 ties and an undercover agent posing as his gang-member friend. The sales occured between September 2007 and last month. The man's attorney claims that his client was selling his private gun collection to a longtime friend and a man posing as his friend's friend. In Maryland it's legal to sell a private gun collection without a license, and federal law makes the same exception. The sales were made by 53-year-old Michael Papantonakis, at his Utz potato chip stall at Lexington Market.

The reason for no bail is the informant's claim that Papantonakis' sister called and threatened him with violence. Papantonakis' attorney agrees that the sister called, but only to express her outrage over the informant's "betrayal of the Papantonakis family". The informant had known Papantonakis for more than 20 years, the attorney said, adding that the informant had unrequited romantic interests in Papantonakis' sister.

There apparently is a tape recording of Papantonakis telling the informant that a gun shipment would be coming soon. There is reportedly also evidence that Papantonakis told the informant "You know they go quick", and "We're real used to selling to Bloods and Crips."

[Source: Freeman Klopott (Examiner staff writer), "Man accused of selling guns from potato chip stand", Washington Examiner, April 10, 2009]

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April 10, 2009

Maryland Representatives' diclosures of earmark budget requests

Taxpayers for Common Sense has been tracking down the newly-required disclosures from each of our Representatives about their earmark requests. This is not such a straightforward task, but the information has been found for every Maryland Representative. Here are the links for our Maryland disclosures:

MD-1: Rep. Frank Kratovil http://kratovil.house.gov/appropriations/

MD-2: Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger http://dutch.house.gov/approps2010.shtml

MD-3: Rep. John Sarbanes http://sarbanes.house.gov/release_details.asp?id=77

MD-4: Rep. Donna Edwards http://donnaedwards.house.gov/pdf/MasterApprops.pdf

MD-5: Rep. Steny Hoyer http://hoyer.house.gov/issues/approps10.asp

MD-6: Rep. Roscoe Bartlett http://bartlett.house.gov/Issues/Issue/?IssueID=4853

MD-7: Rep. Elijah Cummings http://www.house.gov/cummings/appropriations.shtml

MD-8: Rep. Chris Van Hollen http://vanhollen.house.gov/HoR/MD08/Legislation/Issues/FY10+Projects.htm

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April 9, 2009

Maryland county and state governments - millions spent to address mortgage meltdown

County governments throughout the Washington area are jumping into the housing market to address the foreclosure crisis. According to the online foreclosure-tracking Web site Realtytrac, Fairfax County had more than 11,900 foreclosure filings last year, with more than 10,000 in Prince William County and just under 10,000 in Prince George’s County.

Montgomery County on Wednesday pledged about $2.5 million to nonprofit organizations that provide foreclosure relief, as well as loans to AHC Inc. to buy, renovate and resell foreclosed properties in the Germantown area. Last month, Maryland announced $4.7 million to revitalize neighborhoods throughout the state, including $400,000 to target neighborhoods in Montgomery hit by foreclosure and $375,000 to the Housing Initiative Partnership in Prince George’s County to invest in neighborhoods rocked by foreclosures.

[Source: David Sherfinski (Examiner staff writer), "Governments tackle foreclosure crisis through homebuying programs", The Washington Examiner, April 9, 2009]

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April 9, 2009

Maryland pre-schooling is mandatory - half of our 4-yr-olds are in private programs, a third in state-funded programs

In Maryland, where state law requires preschool services be offered for all low-income 4-year-olds, the numbers have gone up by about half since 2001, to 26,800, according to a report released Wednesday by the National Institute for Early Education Research. Overall, more than one-third of Maryland’s 4-year-olds are in state-funded care. Oklahoma ranks first in the nation, with 71 percent of its students enrolled, while Minnesota ranks lowest, at 2 percent. Twelve states have no state-funded preschool programs.

The growth has come with significant costs, and financial crisis is threatening further expansions. Maryland spent nearly $105 million on preschool in 2007-08, according to the report, or about $3,800 per student. With the addition of federal and local funds, per-child spending rose to nearly $8,600. But planned program expansions are on hold while Maryland re-prioritizes spending, according to a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley. The state is likely to face billion-dollar annual budget deficits through 2014, according to analysts.

Private preschools account for about half of students enrolled in Maryland.

[Source: Leah Fabel (Examiner staff writer), "Study: State-funded preschool effective but costly", The Washington Examiner, April 9, 2009]

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April 1, 2009

Economy: 5-million green jobs? "Absurd", sez U Md's Prof. Morici

Not everyone is persuaded by Obama's estimate of 5 million green jobs in 10 years. That is, in a word, "absurd," says Peter Morici, a business professor at the University of Maryland and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission. "We can't devote that many people to that activity in this economy without incurring very substantial costs, unbearable costs."

Quantity debate. David Kreutzer of the conservative Heritage Foundation sees flaws in rosy estimates of green jobs. The taxation or borrowing necessary to raise the billions for green investment, he says, will squeeze out or destroy other jobs.

Conservative economists seem most concerned about some of the mechanisms that might be used to force existing industries to go green, such as tighter emissions limits. A Heritage study on a bill in the Senate last year that would have limited carbon emissions concluded there would be significant net job losses. The more energy-intensive sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, would get hit the most. "In our modern economy, we're using fossil fuel to replace human sweat and to run the electricity that undergirds virtually everything," Kreutzer says. "The part of the economy that's going to be hit the hardest will be the electricity generation, because that's done with coal. If you look at fossil fuels, coal has the most carbon dioxide per Btu [British thermal unit]. So, if you put a tax on carbon dioxide, it's going to be felt the most by the electricity industry. Some of those costs get passed on; there's no other way." Higher costs for electricity consumption mean cuts elsewhere--like payrolls.

[Source: Liz Wolgemuth, "The Truth About All Those Green Jobs", U.S. News & World Report, April 1, 2009, p. 18]

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April 1, 2009

Hospital Emergency Rooms under stress in Maryland, as elsewhere

Fourteen hospitals in the Maryland suburbs had 619,878 emergency visits in 2000 and 767,708 in 2007, an increase of about 25 percent.

In December, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) released its annual report card on the state of emergency medicine. It gave the nation's emergency-medicine system a C-minus overall and termed it a "ticking time bomb."

The normally understated Institute of Medicine (IOM) subtitled its 2006 report on hospital-based emergency care, "At the Breaking Point." Both reports underscore the increasingly distressed state of hospital emergency departments.

The numbers tell part of the story.

Between 1993 and 2003, the IOM report said that the population of the United States grew by 12 percent, hospital admissions increased by 13 percent, and emergency-department visits rose from 90 to 114 million-a 26 percent increase.

Over the same period, the United States experienced a net loss of 703 hospitals, 198,000 hospital beds, and 425 hospital emergency departments. Moreover, patients coming to ERs today are older and sicker and require more complex and time-consuming workups and treatments.

The nation's hospital emergency system, ACEP said in its 2008 report, is "under more stress than ever before."

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April 1, 2009

Hospital Emergency Rooms - waiting time data appears to be up in Maryland, as elsewhere

Long waits are a touchy subject for hospitals -- most won't reveal how long patients wait for emergency treatment.

There are different ways to measure patient waiting times. One is to calculate the time it takes for a patient to see a physician; another is to measure the total time a patient spends in an ED. According to the ACEP report, the average waiting time nationally to see a doctor in emergency departments has more than doubled in the past decade to just less than one hour, and the average time spent by patients in an ED is four hours.

The Washingtonian asked every hospital in the area to disclose its ED waiting times. Most hospitals refused.

According to a Rand study (June 2008), the median time patients wait in a DC emergency department before seeing a physician is 90 minutes, double the national average of 47 minutes. The median time from triage to discharge is 3.7 hours, 25 percent longer than the national average.

The consulting firm Press Ganey conducted a 2007 patient survey of ED experiences for 1,524,726 people in all 50 states but not the District. It found the average time patients spent in Maryland emergency departments was 275 minutes, or just more than 4½ hours. In Virginia, the average visit was four hours and 45 minutes. These were among the longest waiting times in the nation, with Maryland 42nd and Virginia 46th among the 50 states.

The ACEP report found that even patients experiencing pain or heart attack face delays. Researchers at Harvard Medical School reported that the median waiting time in hospital emergency departments for patients suffering "acute" heart attacks-when fast treatment is critical-increased from 8 to 20 minutes between 1997 and 2004. Waiting times likely are longer today.

"The emergency-care situation has gotten worse year after year," says Washington Hospital Center's Dr. Mark Smith, "and what really strikes me now is just how fragile the whole healthcare system has become. Everything has been squeezed out of it that can be squeezed, and we already are facing a space-and-capacity crisis. A bad flu season could be a catastrophe because we are operating on such a thin margin."

[Source: John Pekkanen, "Trouble in the ER", Washingtonian, April 2009, p. 64]

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April 1, 2009

Medical malpractice - a toxic insurance climate for physicians in Maryland and elsewhere

The average medical-malpractice award in Maryland is $319,977, nearly $35,000 more than the national average. The average medical-liability premium for specialists is $100,625, compared with the national average of $65,489.

The ACEP report card gave Maryland a D-minus on its medical-liability environment. Neighboring Washington DC got an F -- the worst in the country. Virginia got a C-minus.

Physicians see a toxic medical-liability climate in the area. One result: the chronic unavailability of on-call specialists such as neurosurgeons. This means that some patients who come into the ED with a serious medical emergency, be it a broken leg or stroke symptoms, may not be treated by a specialist.

Dr. Robert Rothstein, director of emergency medical services at Suburban Hospital, says "My on-call docs don't want to take ER calls because they're afraid to come in and see someone who is uninsured or drunk or who is not going to pay them and is likely to sue them. So what happens to the guy who breaks his ankle and comes to the ER and needs an orthopedic surgeon at 3 am? He's not going to get one, at least not very easily."

"You can't pay enough money to on-call specialists to have them come into the ER and put themselves at that kind of liability risk," says Dr. Mark Smith, chair of emergency medicine at Washington Hospital Center. "I'm not surprised we have a shortage of on-call physicians. I'm surprised we have any at all."

[Source: John Pekkanen, "Trouble in the ER", Washingtonian, April 2009, p. 64]

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March 30, 2009

Baltimore's new crime fighting strategy: focus on 'bad guys with guns'

Baltimore City Police Department's new crime fighting strategy is an acute approach focusing on getting gun offenders off the streets for longer.  It is routinely referred to in this city as 'bad guys with guns.' The PD, mayor's office and US atty's office are all behind the effort of tracking gun offenders, training police to look for and arrest bad guys with guns and a push to make illegal gun laws and sentencing stronger. WMAR-TV's Brian Kuebler (ABC, channel 2) -- kuebler@wmar.com -- is working on a series of stories about this, and is looking for suggestions naming a criminologist or law enforcement expert to provide an unbiased opinion on this latest strategy. His deadline is tomorrow at 6 pm.

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March 16, 2009

Study - 71% of restraining orders are issued for frivolous or false reasons

The Maryland legislature is considering legislation to help protect potential victims of murderous partners. Sad tales of such cases are being cited as rationale for restricting the gun rights of some folks. The Governor has been jawboning in favor of this approach.

There has been some opposition reported in the media, but a press release today (on a different domestic violence prevention approach), emphasizes that "false allegations of domestic violence have become widespread in our society. Referring to persons accused of partner abuse, state delegate Luiz Simmons of Maryland notes, 'There are tens of thousands of Maryland citizens who have not been found guilty of anything.' An analysis published last year in the Cost Management journal concluded 71% of restraining orders are issued for frivolous or false reasons."

The Cost Management study cited above is B. P. Foster, Analyzing the cost and effectiveness of governmental policies", Cost Management, May/June, 2008, pp. 5-15.

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March 16, 2009

Maryland - Bowie woman sentenced to 9 years in prison and ordered to pay back $24-million to DC for her role in property tax refund scheme

Jayrece Turnbull, age 34, of Bowie, Maryland, was sentenced today to nine years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for receipt of stolen property, conspiracy to commit money laundering, tax evasion and mail fraud, in connection with a property tax refund scheme in which over $48 million were stolen from the District of Columbia Office of Tax and Revenue. The judge (U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams, Jr.) also ordered Turnbull to pay $24,521,720.66 and, in order to satisfy such money judgment, to forfeit three residences, a Mercedes Benz car, designer handbags, fur hats, shoes, china, three plasma televisions, jewelry and monies held in 26 bank accounts.

According to her plea agreement, Turnbull is the niece of Harriette Walters, a former manager within the District of Columbia Office of Tax and Revenue. Beginning no later than 1989, Walters began embezzling money from the District of Columbia by preparing fraudulent property refund vouchers that listed entities created by Walters’ co-conspirators.  Illegitimate property refund checks were then issued based on the fraudulent vouchers that were prepared by Walters.

From January 2001 to April 2007, 82 fraudulent District of Columbia checks totaling $24,521,720.66 were deposited into accounts for which Turnbull had signatory authority. The deposits ranged from $74,299 to over $450,000.  Turnbull never owned property in the District of Columbia.

During the course of the scheme, Turnbull also wrote personal checks totaling $226,000 to Walter Jones, then a Bank of America employee involved in the scheme.

As part of the scheme, on June 18, 2007,  Turnbull deposited a fraudulent District of Columbia government check for a purported taxpayer “First American Home C/O D.F., Esq.” in the amount of $410,000 at a bank in Bowie, Maryland. On June 27, a bank employee spoke with D.F., a real estate attorney who obtained refunds of property tax overpayments for clients in the District of Columbia.  The attorney stated that neither First American Home nor Turnbull was a client.  On July 9, 2007, a bank employee met with Turnbull and requested information about her business to verify her claim to the funds from the property tax refund check.  Two days later, Turnbull filed a trade name application for “First American Home,”  listing herself as the business owner.  She forwarded a copy of the trade name application and application for identification number to the bank.  Bank personnel observed that the applications were filed after the bank had asked for supporting documentation from Turnbull.

On September 17, 2007, Turnbull hand delivered a letter written on District of Columbia government letterhead to the bank’s branch in Laurel, Maryland.  The letter was addressed to “First American Home” and purported to confirm that the company had participated in the D.C. Tax Office’s annual real property tax sale and that Turnbull was a registered representative of the company.  The signature of a tax office manager was forged.

Turnbull failed to file a tax return for 2007, failing to report the taxable income she gained from this fraudulent scheme.

Harriette M. Walters, age 52, of Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for wire fraud and money laundering conspiracy; 10 years for District of Columbia tax evasion; five years for federal tax evasion; and an order to pay restitution in the amount of $48,115,419.09.  U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia Emmet G. Sullivan has scheduled her sentencing for May 14, 2009 at 10:15 a.m.  Alethia O. Grooms, age 52, of Clinton, Maryland and Samuel Earl Pope, age 61, of Washington, D.C. also pleaded guilty to their participation in the scheme and are scheduled to be sentenced on April 28, 2009 and May 5, 2009, respectively, both at 10:15 a.m.

Judge Williams sentenced Ricardo R. Walters, age 33, of Ft. Washington, Maryland, on July 23, 2008 to 78 months in prison for receipt of stolen property and conspiracy to commit money laundering, and ordered Ricardo Walters to pay $4,205,318 in restitution.  Judge Williams sentenced Richard Walters, age 49, of Bowie, Maryland, who is Harriette Walters’ brother, on November 4, 2008 to 51 months in prison for receipt of stolen property and conspiracy to commit money laundering, and ordered Richard Walters to pay $4,900,199 in restitution.   On December 8, 2008, Judge Williams sentenced former IRS employee Robert O. Steven, age 55, of Edgewater, Maryland, to 46 months in prison, and his wife Patricia A. Steven, age 73, of Harwood, Maryland, to 70 months in prison, for receipt of stolen property and conspiracy to commit money laundering in connection with the scheme and ordered that each pay $8,833,310.32, and, in order to satisfy such money judgment, to forfeit three Jaguar cars, two residences, jewelry and monies held in four bank accounts. On December 11, 2008, Marilyn Yoon, age 40, of Derwood, Maryland, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for possession of property obtained by fraud and Judge Williams also ordered that Yoon pay restitution of $526,130.  Walter Jones, age 34, of Essex, Maryland, was sentenced on January 5, 2009, to 78 months in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering and was ordered to pay restitution of $17,941,817.30.

Connie Alexander, age 53, of Bowie, Maryland has also pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for receipt of stolen property and 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering at her sentencing scheduled by Judge Williams for May 6, 2009.

[Source: U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland, "NIECE OF LEADER IN D.C. PROPERTY TAX REFUND FRAUD SCHEME SENTENCED TO 9 YEARS IN PRISON | Over $24 Million in Fraudulently Obtained D.C. Government Checks Deposited into Accounts Held by Jayrece Turnbull", March 16, 2009]

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March 16, 2009

IRS presumed bogus return was on the level - sent check for $231,560

The fellow involved in the following scheme got sentenced today to 3 years in prison, but I'm pretty disgusted that the IRS cut him a check for $231,560 based on the reportedly bogus tax return.

On February 12, 2007, Matthews sent to the IRS a tax return for 2006 in the name of the "WAYNE MATTHEWS TRUST" and listed "Wayne Eric Matthews" as the fiduciary.  In this return, Matthews claimed that the trust had income of $694,680 and a deduction of $694,680 for fiduciary fees.  Matthews also claimed that $231,560 in federal income tax withheld had been paid to the IRS, and therefore that the Trust was owed a refund of $231,560.  Matthews did not include any trust documents, designation of beneficiaries, proof of income, or proof of withholding with the return when he submitted it to the IRS, nor did the IRS have any evidence of income or withholdings for the Trust.  The IRS issued a check on March 20, 2007, made payable to the Wayne Matthews Trust, in the amount of $231,560, which was the claimed refund amount.  The check was deposited on March 26, 2007. Less than two months later, on May 15, 2007, Matthews filed an almost identical return for tax year 2005, also claiming a refund of $231,560.  Based upon an on-going investigation, a refund check was not issued for the second claim. Testimony at trial showed that the WAYNE MATTHEWS TRUST was not established until after the refund check was received and had no withholdings reported to the IRS.

[Source: U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland press release, "FALSE TAX RETURNS BRING THREE YEAR SENTENCE FOR PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY MAN | Claimed Refunds of Over $563,000 to Which He Was Not Entitled", March 16, 2009 [The press release hasn't been posted yet, but look for it at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/md/Public-Affairs/press_releases/press09a.htm]

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Front page notes from Maryland newspapers - Mar 4, 2009

Secondhand stores scramble to implement federal toy safety regs, CPSC says it doesn't have the resources to go after yard sales (yet)

Secondhand shops have been extremely cautious after Consumer Product Safety Commission legislation confused many store owners, who thought that they would have to test children's items. Some Carroll County merchants, like Christina Eckrote, thought they would have to go out of business. "People were flipping out," said Eckrote, the owner of Share It Again Children's Consignment in Manchester. "It was scary." Originally, the CPSC said children's products couldn't be sold in the United States if they contained more than 600 parts per million of lead, even if they were manufactured before Feb. 10, the date that manufacturers and importers would have had to begin testing items. But the CPSC has granted manufacturers and importers of children's products a one-year testing and certification stay of enforcement that ends Feb. 10, 2010. This gives them one year to begin testing and certifying children's products.

If a secondhand store owner sold a suspect item and a complaint was filed, the CPSC could take action against the store, said CPSC spokesperson Nychelle Fleming.

But they won't be coming after people for holding yard sales or garage sales. "The commission doesn't have the resources for that level," Fleming said. "We don't have the resources to go to every home in the country. However, we do expect consumers to be responsible and keep children safe."

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-District 6, recently co-sponsored legislation with U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Arizona, that is intended to ensure that only safe toys, books and clothing are offered for children. Among the things that House Resolution 968 would do is protect secondhand shops from potential liability. It would also allow smaller manufacturers to certify lead content by using the lead testing done by the suppliers of their parts. Bartlett spokesperson Lisa Wright said the legislation would protect stores from liability by grandfathering their inventory and not punishing them if they were complying with the laws. They wouldn't be punished for a first violation. "It gives them the benefit of the doubt for tying to comply with the law," Wright said.

Wright said Bartlett many constituents were confused about the CPSC's interpretations. "Right now, they are operating under the uncertainty that they don't think that they can continue with their business," Wright said.

[Source: Jennifer Jiggetts (Times staff writer), "Getting the lead out | Secondhand shops concerned about potential safety guidelines", Carroll County Times, March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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Death penalty - chaos in the Maryland Senate

Since 1978, when Maryland reinstated capital punishment, the state has executed five convicted murderers. Five men are on death row. Last year, O'Malley asked former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti to lead a study of capital punishment in Maryland. The commission recommended abolishing the death penalty, noting the costs involved, the potential of executing an innocent person, and racial and geographic disparity in its use. Baltimore County prosecutors have been the most aggressive in the state in seeking the death penalty, accounting for 45 percent of the death sentences but only 12 percent of eligible murder cases from 1978 to 1999, a 2003 state-funded study found.

Yesterday, two Democratic senators from that county changed the nature of the death penalty debate, quickly silencing discussion of repeal. By a 25-21 vote, the 47-member Senate adopted Sen. James Brochin's amendment to reject repeal and instead prohibit the death penalty in cases where there is only eyewitness testimony. Then, Zirkin proposed restricting the death penalty to murder cases in which there is conclusive DNA evidence, video evidence or a videotaped voluntary confession. Buoyed by support from some death penalty opponents who recognized that the repeal effort had failed, Zirkin's amendment passed easily. "This may be the high-water mark of what can be achieved this year," Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and death penalty opponent who heads the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said later.

It was clear that some senators might not have understood the implications of the amendments from Baltimore County. Sen. John C. Astle, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, and Sen. Rona E. Kramer, a Montgomery County Democrat, voted yesterday morning to move forward with repeal. Both then voted to adopt Brochin's amendment. Astle said afterward that he planned to change his vote on the Brochin amendment. Asked whether she was confused about what Brochin's amendment would do, Kramer said, "Right now, I'm not going to discuss it." Jane Henderson, director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions, said it took her a moment to realize what Brochin's amendment had done. "It was quite a comedy of errors," she said. "I don't hold out much hope that they know what they're doing." Brochin said he did not intend to confuse the Senate and that he believed that the lawmakers who voted in favor of his amendment understood its effect. "My intention was to make current law into a stronger statute," he said. "It was clear to me."

[Source: Julie Nycowicz and Gadi Dechter (Baltimore Sun), "Chaos in the Senate | Lawmakers turn away repeal of death penalty; debate to resume today", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 4, 2009, p. 1]

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Death penalty bill stays alive in state Senate by one vote, as one Frederick Republican joins 23 Democrats

Frederick Sen. Alex Mooney cast the only Republican vote Tuesday to keep a bill to repeal the death penalty under consideration by the Maryland Senate. The 24-23 vote allowed the Senate to keep the bill on the floor after a rare procedural move overrode an unfavorable committee recommendation. Calling it a vote of conscience, Mooney said he wanted to keep the bill alive so he could offer amendments more strictly limiting use of the death penalty. Mooney does not favor a full repeal, but has said he supports limiting the death penalty to those who kill while in prison.

Mooney said almost 400 constituents had contacted him on the issue and he thought they deserved a full debate on the issue. "I would say that having this floor debate, while uncomfortable, is what we're down here to do," Mooney said.

Frederick Sen. David Brinkley, who supports the death penalty, voted against keeping the bill under consideration. He later voted for an amendment that would implement the death penalty only in murder cases with conclusive videotaped evidence or biological evidence. "Maryland needs the death penalty," Brinkley said. "It is not frequently employed, but I believe it needs to be there for the truly abhorrent crimes that exist." He also said the death penalty can be used as leverage to encourage people to plead guilty and accept a sentence of life in prison without parole.

When the Senate takes up the measure again today, more amendments on the bill are likely.

[Source: Meg Tully (News-Post staff writer), "FREDERICK SENATOR KEEPS DEATH PENALTY DEBATE ALIVE", Frederick News-Post, March 4, 2009, p. A1]

An AP story on this was the lead on front page of Salisbury Daily Times. Elkton's Cecil Whig also ran the AP story on front page.

[Wednesday afternoon update] The Senate today passed an amended bill which restricts the use of capital punishment to murder cases with biological or conclusive videotaped evidence. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), said he would not accept amendments from the House of Delegates, where a bill for total repeal of death penalty is still being considered. House Speaker Michael Busch said he believed there were enough people in the House to approve a repeal. Senators seeking repeal were disappointed in the outcome, and some pledged to revisit the issue next year. Source: Bryan Witte (AP), "MARYLAND: State Senate backs compromise death penalty", delmarvanow.com, March 4, 2009

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Pollution discharge practices by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations will now be available for public scrutiny (Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County)

A state court has ruled against a Maryland Farm Bureau request that Nutrient Management Plans be kept confidential.

"Nutrient Management Plans are part of a farm's business plan and business strategy," Bill Satterfield (executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry) said. "Releasing these business documents serve no public good and are more encumbrances and costs for farmers and chicken growers... Critics of the chicken industry can use these business plans to push their own anti-chicken industry causes and cause delays and costs for chicken farmers trying to remain in business."

WaterKeeper Alliance -- the umbrella conservation group that challenged the Farm Bureau request -- says the billion pounds of poultry manure produced in Maryland each year poses a severe threat to the Chesapeake Bay and other local waterways. According to a WaterKeeper statement, a bill is before Maryland's legislature that proposes to destroy these newly public documents after three years in order to keep them out of the hands of the public. "Maryland is finally catching up with other states across the country that have for years given citizens the tools they need to help enforce our country's environmental laws through citizen actions," said Michele Merkel, Chesapeake regional coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance. "State lawmakers must not cave to the demands of their friends in the poultry industry who seek to continue operating with impunity and out of view of the public."

[Source: Calum McKinney (Daily Times staff writer), "Court: Farm plans are public documents", THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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Illegal immigration - Frederick sheriff to testify about 287(g) at U.S. House hearing today

The 287(g) agreement between local police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will be the subject of a hearing today before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins will testify, as will several state and federal officials.

The 287(g) program was the first of its kind in the state, and corrections officers began their 287(g) duties in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center on April 11, 2008. Since then, the sheriff's office has arrested 337 people identified as in the country illegally. Of those, 309 are undergoing removal proceedings, Jenkins said.

Justin Cox, a lawyer for CASA de Maryland, the state's largest immigrant advocacy group, opined "We're glad that the committee is exercising some oversight of the program, which suffers from a number of significant problems that more attention could help remedy".

Jenkins has repeatedly said the sheriff's office does not engage in racial or ethnic profiling, and that only those who break the law should fear being arrested and detained under the program.

[Source: Nicholas C. Stern (News-Post staff writer), "SHERIFF TO TESTIFY AT FEDERAL HOMELAND SECURITY HEARING", Frederick News-Post, March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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Electricity - 'deregulation has failed'

Gov. O'Malley joins the chorus.

[Source: Cheryl Mattix (Cecil Whig), "O'Malley joins charge toward re-regulation", CECIL WHIG (Elkton), March 4, 2009, p. 1]

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Voting technology - Maryland change hits snag

Officials warn that no vendor will be able to meet the state's requirements for paper ballot voting by tomorrow's deadline. The problems are so vexing that some are suggesting delaying implementation of a system that provides a verifiable paper trail beyond the 2010 elections.

[Source: Baltimore Sun, "MARYLAND | NO PAPER BALLOTS". March 4, 2009, p. 1 (teaser for p. 8 article, "State likely to miss paper-ballot system deadline"]

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Frederick County budget cuts - Commissioners propose partial solution to $27-30M shortfall for coming FY

Frederick County Commissioners cut $20 million from their capital budget Tuesday to close some of the deficit they face next year. Fiscal 2010's capital budget, as recommended by county staff, was $80.5 million, including a $22.5 million contribution from the county's general fund. Commissioners chopped $10 million from each of fiscal years 2010 and 2011. Fiscal budget years run June 30 to July 1.

The cuts, from the general fund contribution to the capital budget, are intended to help the county close its projected $27 million to $30 million operating deficit for fiscal 2010, which begins July 1. The commissioners cut $3.9 million from the pavement management program in 2010 and an additional $4.5 million from 2011, or roughly 45 percent each year. They also eliminated the county's participation in state road projects, saving $500,000 a year for 2010 and 2011. The commissioners also pushed back several out-year projects, including delaying the start of phase five of the Adult Detention Center from 2012 to 2013, and pushing back the county's warehouse and storage facility from 2013 to 2014.

The commissioners will be bringing the capital budget to public hearing March 17.

Commissioner John L. Thompson Jr. cautioned against delaying too many projects, noting they're cheaper to do in a poor economy. "Postponing these may be more costly in the long run," he said. Thompson said he'd rather see the county cut funding for firehouses and payments to the City of Frederick for Carroll Creek Linear Park, among others, but said he didn't have enough support on the board to do so.

[Source: Justin M. Palk (News-Post staff writer), "COMMISSIONERS CUT CAPITAL BUDGET TO SHRINK DEFICIT", Frederick News-Post, March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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Allegany County Schools FY2010 budget smaller than this year. That's different.

Layoffs and furloughs aren't planned for teachers at Allegany County Schools, though the superintendent's proposed 2010 budget would shrink the instructional payroll by more than $300,000. Payroll would be reduced through retirements and staff positions that won't be replaced as the district's student enrollment continues to drop. Allegany County has lost 1,200 students since 2004, Finance Director Randy Bittinger said; it's gained 127 staff. For the first time in years, the proposed budget is smaller than the year before — $114,038,708, compared to 114,800,611, a decrease of $761,903, or .66 percent. To review the Allegany County Schools Superintendent's proposed 2010 budget, go to www.acps.allconet.org. Click on "Administrative services," then "Finance."

[Source: Kristin Harty (Times-News staff writer), "Despite slim budget, no teacher layoffs planned", Cumberland Times-News, March 4, 2009, p. 1]

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Crime increasing due to stagnant economy

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said she felt that crime was increasing because of the stagnant economy. She alluded to a Feb. 23 bank robbery in which two women held up a Susquehanna Bank branch.

The comments were highlighted in Hagerstown paper's story obout events Tuesday including five, six, or seven shots fired from one vehicle at the driver of another. An arrest has been made in the case, in a differeny county based on linking other incidents which occurred the same day. The police report that the suspected shooter and target knew each other.

[Source: Heather Keels (Herald-Mail), "HAGERSTOWN | Minivan hit by gunfire | Police say shots were fired on Boward Street Tuesday morning", The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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Salisbury primary results - 16% turnout for Mayor and City Council District 1

Former councilman Jim Ireton made it through the city primary Tuesday by a landslide vote, more than 300 ahead of City Council Vice President Gary Comegys. The Wicomico County Board of Elections still has about 200 absentee ballots that will be counted by Thursday. The results of a tight race in District 1 could change, too. Incumbent Shanie Shields led the pack with 71 votes followed by Cynthia Polk with 69. Voter turnout was up over the last mayoral primary, despite some remaining icy roads. A total of 2,053 voters cast a ballot, in comparison to about 800 in 2005. The voter turnout this year was about 16 percent.

[Source: Laura D'Alessandro (Daily Times staff writer), "Salisbury Primary Election | MAYOR: Comegys, Ireton -- DISTRICT 1: Polk, Shields", THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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How cold is it? (Knoxville fire)

A fire, started while the occupant was using a hair dryer to thaw frozen pipes, burned down a mobile home in Knoxville.

[Source: The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), "Knoxville mobile home burns", March 4, 2009, p. A1]

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Cumberland picked by Roses for new store

Despite the sagging economy, Cumberland is getting a new department store. Discount retailer Variety Wholesalers Inc. of Henderson, N.C., says it will open a Roses Store in the building Value City vacated late last year. Roses competes with stores such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. Variety Wholesalers President Wilson Sawyer told the Cumberland Times-News that Roses plans to add 12 new stores this year. Sawyer said the Cumberland store will open within the next few months and employ 40 people.

[Source: Jeffrey Alderton (Times-News staff writer), "Roses Store filling Vallue City void in Cumberland">, Cumberland Times-News, March 4, 2009, p. 1]

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Obama touts bargain stock prices

The president said that Wall Street has been hammered so hard that "buying stocks is a potentially good thing."

[Source: THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), "Obama says buy stocks", March 4, 2009, p. A1 (teaser for story on A6)]

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Birthday present from the Os to you

The Baltimore Orioles are giving away tickets to Camden Yards during the month of a fan's birthday.

[Source: THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), "Spend your birthday with the Orioles -- for free", March 4, 2009, p. A1 (teaser for story on B1)]

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March 3, 2009

Front page notes from Maryland newspapers - Mar 3, 2009

Maryland appellate court rules murderer must be given sentence including possibility of parole

In 2003, Jack L. Hammersla, Jr. murdered a 68-year-old woman, His first conviction was overturned on appeal on the grounds that pawn slips and jewelry evidence should not have been admitted at trial. He was convicted again, and the appeals court let that conviction stand. But the appeal did result in requirement that the murderer be resentenced, with no chance of reimposing the life without parole sentence.

According to Maryland law, a defendant found guilty of murder in the first degree may be sentenced to imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole only if the state gives written notice to the defendant, at least 30 days before trial, that it will seek that sentence. Hammersla’s appeal claimed that the state did not give him proper notice before his second trial.

While the state gave Hammersla proper notice before the first trial, when the appellate court vacated that decision, it “wiped the slate clean.” The state did not give appropriate notice before the second trial, according to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision.

A motion filed by Hammersla’s attorneys in 2006 says the second notice was filed Sept. 19 and the trial began Oct. 2, 2006.

In a response to a defense motion seeking to strike life without parole as a sentencing option, prosecutors said they never withdrew their first written notice — signed by Hammersla on May 19, 2004 — before the start of the Oct. 2 retrial. Since prosecutors never withdrew the notice and because they also sent Hammersla a letter reminding him of their intent, the prosecutors said life without parole should remain a sentencing option, according to the response.

[Source: Erin Julius (Herald-Mail), "HAGERSTOWN: Man convicted of murder to be resentenced", The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), March 3, 2009, p. A1]
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Maryland lawmakers begin push to outlaw surveillance tactics

Brushing aside assurances from the Maryland State Police that troopers will never again secretly monitor and collect information on peaceful protest groups, state lawmakers and Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration are moving ahead with a plan to outlaw such tactics and will push for legislative action at hearings today.

[Source: Baltimore Sun, "MARYLAND: O'MALLEY SEEKS LAW IN SURVEILLANCE SCANDAL'S WAKE", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 3, 2009, p. 1 (teaser for story on p.3)]
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Electricity prices prompt Gov. O'Malley to propose, as Baltimore Sun puts it, "partial return to a regulated energy industry"

O'Malley unveiled a plan that would allow the state to regulate future power plants if such a move is determined to be in the best interest of customers. The proposal wouldalso allow the state to decide when new plants are built, taking that authority from utilities.

[Source: Laura Smitherman (Baltimore Sun), "A bid to curb energy firms | As bills soar, O'Malley opens door to regulating future power plants", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 3, 2009, p. 1]
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Stimulus dollars - more details about Maryland spending coming on March 9

More than $3.7 billion of the federal stimulus package signed into law last month will go to Maryland governments, according to a review of the law by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. That includes $2.2 billion for fiscal stabilization and Medicaid to relieve stress on state and public school budgets; $765 million in infrastructure grants; $396 million for education aid; $102 million in additional grants to local governments; and $285 million in other grants.

Much of the money has yet to be allocated, but some early announcements include:
* $2.3 million for public transit in the Tri-State area
* $2.3 million for federal highway resurfacing projects in Washington County
* $2.2 million for the Hagerstown Housing Authority

The county is waiting to hear back about which, if any, of the almost $1 billion worth of county and municipal infrastructure projects submitted for consideration will be selected to receive funds, said Joseph Kroboth, the county’s director of public works. State agencies will update local officials on the selection process at a meeting March 9.

Maryland's stimulus tracking site is at http://statestat.maryland.gov/recovery.asp.

Maryland Association of Counties has similar site: http://www.mdcounties.org/legislative/AFRRA.cfm.

[Source: Heather Keels (Herald-Mail), "WASHINGTON COUNTY | Local projects to benefit from stimulus", The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), March 3, 2009, p. A1]
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Home sales down in Carroll County - 50% fewer Jan sales than 2007, average price down from $361K to $278K

The real estate market in and around Carroll County is at a virtual standstill, foreclosures are still high, and house prices have plummeted. A coouple in Hampstead put their home on the market in late November. and dropped their asking price since then (from about $350K to about $306K. They've had six or seven lookers, total.

[Source: Bryan Schutt (Times staff writer), "REAL ESTATE | Sellers stuck in a buyers market | Owners continue to struggle to sell houses", Carroll County Times, March 3, 2009, p. A1]
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Governor backs expanding the historic-building tax credits

Proponents say the tax incentive, offered for commercial and residential projects for up to 20 percent of its cost, had been one of the most effective of its type in the nation. It began in 1997 and spurred economic development and revitalization of communities in Baltimore, Annapolis and small towns across the state.

[Source: Baltimore Sun, "BUSINESS: HISTORIC-BUILDING TAX CREDIT PLAN PICKS UP STEAM", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 3, 2009, p. 1 (teaser for story on p. 10)]
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NAACP hits Frederick County govt on school employee wages, and on civility

Frederick County's NAACP is backing the school system in a debate with the county government over employee salaries. The NAACP got involved because of the importance the group places on education, and because of the importance of keeping discussions of the education budget civilized, said Guy Djoken, president of the County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. County and schools officials could have discussed differences in what they pay their employees without resorting to accusations of fiscal irresponsibility, he said.

[Source: Justin M. palk (News-Post staff writer), "NAACP STEPS INTO DEBATE BETWEEN COUNTY GOV, FCPS", Frederick News-Post, March 3, 2009, p. A1]
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Maryland School Superintendents' man in Annapolis

Carl Roberts was superintendent of Cecil County public schools for 12 years. That system had some 16,500 students and 2,200 employees at 29 schools. During his tenure, the share of county funding improved so much that at least twice, the school system received its full annual budget request. He started a tradition of monthly lunch meetings with the county commissioners that continues today. He is applying the same kind of 'hands-on' approach at the state level, as executive director of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland. "Everything you do in the 90-day session is dependent on what you do outside of the 90-day session", he said. He talks with legislators every day.

[Source: Cheryl Mattix (Whig staff writer), "Former superintendent graduates to Annapolis | Carl Roberts begins new career as lobbyist for school administrators", CECIL WHIG (Elkton), March 3, 2009, p. A1]
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Water and sewer rate change proposal - Westminster has online calculator for customers to see effect on their bills

The city of Westminster has made it easy for folks to see the effects on their bills if proposed water and sewer rate hike is passed. See it at http://www.westgov.com/water/default.aspx.

[Source: Bryan Schutt (Times staff writer), "Westminster rate calculator goes online | Tool makes it easier to figure out new bills", Carroll County Times, March 3, 2009, p. A1]
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Snowfall was heaviest south and east, an unusual pattern for a storm here


[Source: (Baltimore Sun), "Winter's bluster", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 3, 2009, p. 1]

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March 2, 2009

Front page notes from Maryland newspapers - Mar 2, 2009

Childhood asthma could be reduced 50% by 2012 by indoor air improvements

...[M]any asthmatic inner-city kids are under assault inside their homes -- where cigarette smoke, dust mites, mold and even cooking smells can make them sicker than car exhaust or ragweed. Researchers are finding a direct link between the air children breathe at home and the asthma attacks that are the source of hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits in the U.S. every year. The latest study, published last month by Johns Hopkins researchers, quantified the increase in asthma symptoms for every increase in air pollution inside Baltimore homes.

Such findings have begun a movement of health professionals who are going door to door to educate families about the potential dangers of indoor air andhelping them clean up their homes. Their goal is to reduce childhood asthma by 50 pecent by 2012.

[Source: Stephanie Desmon (Baltimore Sun), "The danger inside", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 2, 2009, p. 1]

Maryland state budget - the $3.7-billion federal lifesaver isn't enough

The prison system, mental health programs and juvenile justice are facing significant cutbacks in Maryland, despite the state being flush withfederal dollars for education, Medicaid and infrastructure projects. In some cases, lawmakers and advocates have questioned how agencies will be able to function within constrained budgets.

Meanwhile, the economy continues to deteriorate and state officials are bracing for more bad news later this month when the latest estimates of tax revenues are due. Analysts have warned that annual collections have fallen as much as $500-million below expectations for the current budget year and next.

[Source: Laura Smitherman (Baltimore Sun), "U.S. aid falling short in Md. | Prisons, mental health, juvenile justice face cuts", The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland), March 2, 2009, p. 1]

$100-million worth of tax credits proposed for revitalizing and renewing existing areas in MD

Over the past eight years, over $1.2-million in tax credits have been granted under Maryland Heritage Structure Tax Credit Program for 13 commercial and 6 residential projects in Cumberland and Frostburg. A task force study indicates that the renovated projects show a return of $1.02 in the first year for every dollar invested. By year five, the return rises to $3.31 for every dollar invested. The present program expires on June 30, and bills in the state legislature are aimed at extending and improving the concept. In the Senate, SB 158 has a hearing scheduled for Wednesday at 1 pm before Sen. George Edwards and the Budget and Taxation Committee. Its companion bill in the House, HB 309, has hearing at 1 pm Thursday before Del. LeRoy Myers and the Ways and Means Committee. The bills would authorize the granting of up to $100-million in historic rehab tax credits over the next five years. The bills would also turn the program more into a "first come, first served" type of thing, rather than the indefinite wait in current system after submitting application to Maryland Historic Trust for approval. The bills will also delay when the credit is claimed, to two years after project completion. The current credit is more like a grant, to be claimed as expenses are incurred. This fiscal delay should help the legislatin pass muster despite the economic difficulties, according to Gene Bracken (executive director - Greater Baltimore Committee).

[Source: Kevin Spradlin (Times-News staff writer), "State bills aimed at updating tax credit", Cumberland Times-News, March 2, 2009, p. 1A]

Cumberland - revitalizing the commercial area known as South Cumberland corridor

During 1983-1989, there was a Virginia Avenue revitalization program where "businesses cleaned up the front of their buildings, painted them and got new facades" recalls Paul Shircliff, owner of Garrett's Clothing Store. "The avenue was really dressed up at that time. If they're going to redo the street and put new walks in and trees and so on, eventually the businesses will clean up their properties and it'll be attractive again like it was 25 or so years ago down here." The city is working with programs to that will help fund property improvements. And two new facilities are planned to open this year -- the Allegany County Human Resources Development Commission at 125 Virginia Ave., and Rite Aid on the corner of Industrial Blvd and Virginia Ave.

[Source: Tess Hill (Times-News staff writer), "REVITALIZING VIRGINIA AVENUE | Programs help South Cumberland flourish", Cumberland Times-News, March 2, 2009, p. 1A]

Crisfield - revitalizing the downtown

Mayor Percy "P.J." Purnell describes the efforts to jump-start the revitalization of Criswell's downtown and waterfront thusly: "The whole reason is we look at downtown andnothing is happening." So, the City Council recently took the first step towards selling a pair of downtown properties owned by the city -- by declaring them surplus property. One is a downtown parking lot -- the site of a 1987 fire that destroyed a row of Victorian-era storefronts. The Council set a minimum bid of $300,000, plus required that all utilities for the entire block be moved underground and that a public restroom be included. The other property declared as surplus is the Somers Cove Motel. The minimum bid for that was set at $450,000 with various restrictions, including project timeline.

[Source: Liz Holland (Daily Times staff writer), "Crisfield tries to revamp iamge | Proposals sought to kick-start downtown", THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Salisbury - marina's financial problems

The Port of Salisbury Marina is the topic of City Council's work session today. The Council has not passed a $30,000 budget amendment requested by Public Works to get the marina through its bills for the rest of the offseason. Two thirds of the council coted to approve the amndment, but two council members voted no, wanting more time and a different approach. City administrators decided to go ahead and pay the bills using alternative funds, to ensure the marina does not go under. The council meeting agenda today also includes discussing pavement maintenance study with Public Works director, an emergency management plan, and a shoreline protection program on Isabella Street.

[Source, THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

E-Z-Pass - $1.50 monthly fee to be charged, beginning July

Indignant is the word The Sun uses to describe toll-paying drivers across the state who use the E-Z Pass to zip through toll plazas. The Maryland Transportation Authority plans to start charging every account a fee of $1.50 a month. The new fee will first be charged for July, 2009.

[Source: Baltimore Sun), "SUMMARY OF THE NEWS | MARYLAND | E-Z PASS FEE", March 2, 2009, p. 1]

Highway toll hikes - mere 24 days notice

In January, MdTA decided to raise tolls with only 24 days notice and one public hearing. The toll increases targeted truckers with 50% hikes, and E-Z pass users with fee increases. Del. David Rudolph and two Cecil County co-sponsors have introduced a bill, HB 922, that would require 60-day public notice before raising tolls, fees and other charges. It's one of several bills responsding to public outcry over the latest increases.

[Source: Cheryl Mattix (Whig staff writer), "Proposal looks at toll hike timing", CECIL WHIG (Elkton), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

EMS helicopters - study recommends fewer airlifts, but nobody's volunteering to be the one left on the ground

A panel of nationally recognized experts in emergency medicine and emergency air transport has issued its final report on Maryland's emergency medical services helicopters, but one Cecil County official says it won't mean much here. "The effect on Cecil County will be minimal", said Michael Dckard, Jr., chief of field operations for Cecil County Department of Emergency Services.

[Source: Jane Bellmyer and Cheryl Mattix (Whig staff writers), "State report recommends feer airlifts | Little impact on local responders expected", CECIL WHIG (Elkton), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Missed opportunity for AIP - Hagerstown mayor primary March 10

The next mayor of Hagerstown will take office June 1. The primary is being held March 10. The incumbent, a Republican who had been appointed by the City Council in 2006 after the then-Mayor quit, has three challengers for his party's nomination. There is only one Democrat running. The annual salary for the post is $28,000.

[Source: Dan Dearth (Herald-Mail), "HAGERSTOWN: Primary election set for March 10", The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Missed opportunity for AIP - Salisbury mayor and District 1 city council primary election - March 3

A list of candidates in the primary can be found on the city's web site at http://www.ci.salisbury.md.us

[Source: Salisbury Daily Times, "EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW...| How to vote in the Salsbury primary", THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Preventing freezing on roads by pretreating, up to 3 days ahead of storm

Up to three days before a winter storm begins, State Highway Administration workers are able to pretreat major roads to prevent freezing with a water-and-salt solution made in only eight locations in Maryland, one being Westminster. Pretreating roads with salt brine is a very effective tool for delaying and possibly preventing problems, according to SHA's David Buck: "you're trying to prevent that initial bond [of ice and snow] to the road." The solution contains 23-24% salt and freezes at 6 degrees below zero. Not all SHA trucks are equipped with the capability to lay down the solution; 99% of its use has been on interstate highways.

[Source: Karen Kemp and Bryan Schutt (Times staff writers), "Salt brine rarely used in Carroll | Wet roads prevent pretreatment before Sunday's storm, SHA says", Carroll County Times, March 2, 2009, p. A1]

You are what you eat dept: switch to plastic bottles for school milk in Washington County MD public schools

Paper is out and plastic is in -- for milk containers [in Washington County Public Schools]. The switch, which took effect about a month ago, lets the school system recycle more, said Jeffrey Proulx, the school system's supervisor of food and nutrition services. Also, may think milk tastes better when it's packaged in plastic, Proulx said, pointing to a noticeable jump in sales after the change.

[Source: Andrew Schotz (Herald-Mail), "TRI-STATE: Schools pick plastic for milk", The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Good Citizen standard (for dogs)

To be a Canine Good Citizen, a standard established by the American Kennel Club, a dog must accept friendly strangers, sit politely for petting, remain confident despite distractions and walk through a crowd without jumping on anyone, among other things.

[Source: Andrew Schotz (Herald-Mail), "WASHINGTON COUNTY | Dogs, owners test their bounds", The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Carroll County video site on the web

Check out the online video site at http://www.carrollcounty.tv.

[Source: Carroll County Times, March 2, 2009, p. A1]

March is National Nutrition Month

National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the American Diatetic Association. Consumers are reminded of the importance of healthful eating by making informed food choices and developng sound eating habits and physical activity habits.

Joni Rampolla (director of nutrition, Medifast), interview by Carrie Anne Knauer (Times staff writer), "Dietician offers tips for nutrition month | Expert says Americans should develop sound eating habits", Carroll County Times, March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Farm Awareness Week

Farmers team up with Sussex residents in an effort to minimize hazards that can occur with operating farm equipment [teaser, pointing to p. 3 story]. The full story is about a local proposal for "Farm Equipment Awareness Week", geared towards helping general public understand that farmers do have to get from field A to field B, and that others driving on the road need to have an awareness of slow-moving farm equipment.

[Source: Salisbury Daily Times, "SAFETY IS AIM OF FARM AWARENES WEEK", THE DAILY TIMES (Salisbury), March 2, 2009, p. A1]

Thought for the day

Every day, the Cumberland Times-News presents a "QUOTABLE" quote. Today's is from Agnes Repplier, an American essayist who lived from 1858-1950: "Just as we are often moved to merriment for no other reason than the occasion calls for seriousness, so we are correspondingly serious when invited too freely to be amused."

[sbs note: Maybe the perspective embodied in this quote explains why the Times-News, when confronted by the reality that the current occupant of the White House has not provided prima facie case to show that he meets the natural born citizen requirement to serve as President, decides that silence is the appropriate response.

[Ref: Cumberland Times-News, March 2, 2009, p. 1A]

- respectfully compiled by Steve Schulin, Maryland Independent Party

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Front page notes - Mar 1, 2009

March 1 front page - The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Md.)

* Controlling crime in a free society: strip-search abuse alleged by many in Maryland

- see expanded coverage of this story at AIPnews.com

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March 1 front page - The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown, Md.)

* Taxes on alcohol have not been raised in more than 30 years -- about 2 cents in state taxes per glass of wine or shot of liquor and about 1 cent in taxes for a 12-oz beer. Raising the tax to an equivalent of 5 cents per drink would raise an extra $80-million a year in revenue, all else being equal. The lead story in today's The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown features a pull quote from Sen. Donald F. Munson (R-Washington County): "People are going to go back to making the stuff in the bathtub." The article wins our AIP's Awesome Aliteration Award today for the headline "Booze tax boost bugs beverage businesses".

* Missed opportunity for AIP in Hagerstown, where City Council will be elected in May 19 general election. A primary will be held March 10. The current council consists of 5 Demcrats. All the incumbents are entered in the primary, and 4 other Democrats are running too. The top five Democratic primary votegetters will advance to general election. Four Republicans are running. They will all advance, as could a 5th Republican if there was a fifth. There's one "unaffiliated" candidate who advances automatically to the general election. The winning candidates take office June 1. The city pays its councilmembers $8,000 per year. The newspaper has asked questions of all the candidates -- their answers, and video statements, are available at www.herald-mail.com.

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March 1 front page - The Daily Times (Salisbury, Md.)

* This has been a mild flu season, but the Maryland numbers suggest that the bug's far from done. Wicomico County Health Department cited the February deaths of teenagers in Howard and Frederick counties in issuing late-season reminder: "It is not too late to get vaccinated against seasonal influenza."

* $3.7-billion is Maryland's "share" of the federal stimulus package signed into law Feb. 17 by Pres. Obama. On Friday, Gov. O'Malley announced that a state web site will be launched -- under a program called 'StateStat' to allow public to track how the money will be spent during the next two years. Some plans have been announced, but the bulk of the stimulus awards will come after reviewing requests by each county. Somerset county submitted more than $36-million in requests -- for preventing shoreline erosion, dredging harbors, fixing aging bridges, upgrading wireless systems, and building water and wastewater systems, according to Salisbury Daily Times.

* Missed opportunity for AIP in Salisbury, where mayoral and District 1 City Council primaries will be held Tuesday. The District 1 polling location is St. James AME Zion Church on Mack Avenue. In District 2, voters go to Harvest Baptist Church on South Boulevard and Wicomico Presbyterian Church on Broad Street. Polls are open from 7 AM to 7 PM

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March 1 front page - Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.)

* The top story in Carroll County Times is on the many dog doo piles that don't get removed by the pet owners. There's not much that officials can do, says the headline. Last year, Piney Run Park management distributed fliers to remind pet owners to clean up after their pets. That worked for a while, but the effect wore off, said one dog walker, who has been thinking about having his own dogs wear signs proclaiming "We clean up after ourselves."

* BG&E offers a billing option which allows customers to pay using an annual averaging instead of the bills fluctuating from month to month. The state Public Service Commission has received hundreds of customer complaints abut high energy bills his winter. At a PSC hearing last week, BGE said that cold weather is largely to blame for higher bills.

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Front page notes - Feb 28, 2009

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February 28 front page - The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

* The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.) announced that it will no longer publish Monday editions of the paper, after the March 30 issue.

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February 28 front page - The Daily Times (Salisbury, Md.)

* Delaware teacher said "We're the backbone of the state" at winter retreat of Delaware Education Association. The group found out Monday that VP Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, would attend. "Signs reading 'Joe, Jill and Ted: I'm standing by you for change' adorned every chair at the 170-seat event Friday night", according to top story on front page of Salisbury Daily Times.

* Friday was the deadline for Maryland chicken farms to apply for new EPA permit for nutrient management. A Wicomico County official reports hearing from only approximately 50 of the estimated 300 farmers who need permits.

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February 28 front page - The Washington Post (Washington, D.C.)

* The Obama administration proposed rescinding broad new job protections for health workers who refuse to provide services they find unconscienable. Supporters of the proposal praise it as a crucal victory for women's health and reproductive rights. Opponents condemn it as a devastating setback for freedom of religion. The proposal has a 30-day public comment period, which could result in a compromise.

* EPA chief Lisa Jackson told her staff about having grown up in an area where she and other blacks had to drink from unsafe water fountains because of their race. "Now in 2009, I am, along with you, responsible for ensuring that all Americans have clean water to drink. Change has certainly come to this agency."

* The 4th quarter economic data for last year is much worse than expected. Instead of 3.8% drop in GDP in initial Commerce Dept projection, production sank 6.2% -- the sharpest contraction since 1982. The lead story on front page of Washington Post says "The data fueled doubts about whether the Obama administration has adequately sized up the challenges it faces in trying to pull the country out of recession."

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February 28 front page - The Washington Times (Washington, D.C.)

* The bailout of Citigroup was restructured yesterday, and the new deal increases the risk that taxpayers will lose some or all of the $45-billion already infused into the company. The Treasury is giving back the previously acquired preferred shares in exchange for common stock. The common stock differs from preferred in that it pays no dividends and it can be quickly wiped out if the bank does not survive. The federal ownership stake in the company is as much as 36%.

* The 2.4 percentage-point revision in Q4 GDP figure was nearly 5 times the average correction between "advance estimate" in January and the "preliminary estimate" yesterday.

* "By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end", Mr. Obama said yesterday in a speech at Camp Lejeune. More than 90,000 troops will come home over the next 18 months. Up to 50,000 troops will remain after the deadline to train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. The Anchorage Daily News emphasized that all US troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by December 2011.

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February 28 front page - The New York Times (New York, N.Y.)

* The gray lady's take on what's important about the worse-than-expected Q4 GDP data is shown in the headline of lead story on front page: "Sharper Downturn Clouds Obama's Spending Plans". The LA Daily News ran the same Peter S. Godman story below the fold, with archive photo of 1940s bread line or somesuch, with headline "As economy spirals down, some see greater chance of depression".

* 'Tax-and-spend' label now embraced, rather than avoided. "For years, Congressional Democrats tried to avoid anything that would draw the tax-and-spend label. But they have cautiously embraced President Obama's budget, with its blend of new spending and tax increases, hoping to turn the old attack line to their benefit." That's the front page teaser for op ed by Carl Hulse and David M. Herszenhorn. The teaser is titled "Taxing and Spending Democrats Can Embrace".

* The tax increases faced by folks in $200,000 to $400,000 annual income range may not as bad as they expect. Those who are already limited by the AMT will not see the same rise as those who have thus far avoided triggering AMT. All else being equal, folks who live in states with relatively low income and property taxes will be hit harder by the federal tax increase.

* ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX networks can not sustain the model they've been using. Network dramas cost $3-million an hour to produce. The NY Times says to look for more low-cost reality shows, more news and talk, and revenue-generating ideas like subscriber fees or switch to cable.

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February 28 front page - Daily News (Los Angeles, Calif.)

* SPIRITUAL FILM OF THE YEAR: "WALL-E" - The year's top redeeming film is about a lovable robot, says the teaser atop the front page, complete with photo of the robot examining a Rubik cube. Go to "FAITH B1" is the pointer.

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February 25, 2009

Montgomery County EMTs are trained to look for red 'file of life' on your refrigerator -- get one, free

The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services, is offering County residents a free 'File of Life', a communication tool that emergency medical personnel can use to get quick information about an individual's medical history

The 'File of Life' is a red plastic magnetic pocket that attaches to a refrigerator.  Inside the pocket is information about health history, medications, allergies, and emergency contact information.  Rescue workers are trained to look for the 'File of Life' and report finding it can save valuable time, enabling quick assessments of medical situations.

"In addition to being vital when individuals are unconscious, the 'File of Life' removes the risk of people forgetting to mention important health issues," said Shawn Brennan, program manager of senior health promotion in the Department of Health and Human Services.   "Caregivers and those already using the 'File of Life' agree that having medical information in one place is quite useful."  

To request a free 'File of Life', call the Department of Health and Human Services, Senior Resource Line at 240-777-3000 (TTY 240-777-4575).

[Source: Shawn Brennan (DHHS program contact), "County Offers 'File of Life' to Residents; Provides Emergency Personnel with Important Medical Information", Montgomery County press release 09-093, February 25, 2009]

February 8, 2009

James McBride's Song Yet Sung was picked for the 2009 One Maryland One Book program

The One Book program drew more than 6,500 Marylanders to discussions, films and writing contests in 2008. This year's program begins in earnest in September, focusing on Song Yet Sung's tale of Maryland Eastern Shore slave traders, runaways and a prophet who foresees the racial challenges of modern America. A panel at the Maryland Humanities Council debated 10 books, including The Namesake, The Kite Runner and Digging to America, before choosing Song Yet Sung. To meet One Book's goals, the book had to address race and identity, appeal to readers from different backgrounds, and connect to high schoolers. Other considerations: Was the author alive? From Maryland? Willing to participate in the program? The three finalists also included The Color of Water by McBride, and Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.

[Source: Dave Rosenthal, Read Street, February 8, 2009]

February 8, 2009

Maryland - prisons strained in Calvert and St. Mary's Counties

It costs about $25,000 a year for the state to take care of one inmate. That includes about $3,700 a year for variable costs, such as food and medicine. Officials at overcrowded jails must house inmates carefully to make sure facilities are safe. Most officials consider 80 percent of capacity a safe number.

The St. Mary's jail, which has a capacity of about 245 beds, averages about 315 inmates a day. Calvert's detention center, which has a capacity of about 170, averages about 240 inmates a day. Charles is the only county in Southern Maryland where officials say overcrowding is not a problem. Its detention center has about 380 beds and holds roughly that number of inmates. St. Mary's has a $36 million expansion planned to upgrade its jail to 524 beds by 2013, according to Capt. Michael Merican, commander of the jail. That expansion has faced some resistance, as politicians and residents in Leonardtown have expressed concern about inmates escaping. Calvert has a similar expansion planned, although details are not finalized, said Milton M. Crump, the county's jail administrator.

In Southern Maryland, Merican said he has seen more people paroled than ever, and he has lobbied judges to put more criminals on home detention, particularly those who normally would serve weekend sentences.

State officials are experimenting with moving prisoners into treatment programs. This is expected to save millions of dollars, although officials say the program is not specifically a money-saving tactic. The Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services recently announced a partnership with several nonprofit groups to release 250 inmates from Baltimore City about three years early, on the condition that they undergo drug treatment before and after they leave. The program will save almost $3.2 million, although about $2.4 million of that will be used to cover drug treatment and other related costs, said Diana Morris, director of the nonprofit Open Society Institute of Baltimore, which helped develop the program. State officials say they see the program as a win-win. The nonprofit groups kick in the money to cover the treatment at first, and the state ideally will use the money it saves to cover treatment in the future. "It just made a lot of sense," said Tomi Hiers, assistant secretary and chief of staff for the Maryland public safety department. She said she hopes those who receive treatment will not be repeat offenders. Violent offenders are eligible to be released as part of the program, officials said, although they will have to go through normal parole hearings. Hiers said that the program is not a direct response to budget pressures but that it comes at a time when money is tight.

[Source: Matt Zapotosky (Washington Post staff writer), "D.C. Area Jails Look To Cut Spending; Crowding Adds to Woes In St. Mary's, Calvert", The Washington Post, February 8, 2009, Bulldog Edition, p. C1 (Metro section)]

February 5, 2009

Definitions can be tricky, says Missouri Roundtable for Life

Our personhood efforts here in Maryland have already involved a good deal of outreach to get the strongest possible language for proposed constitutional amendment. A story out of Missouri today reminds me of just how important and difficult a task this is:

COLUMBIA - The Missouri Roundtable for Life hosted a town hall meeting on Thursday to share its take on stem cell research in Missouri.

The group is against human cloning and public funding for embryonic stem cell research. Current Missouri laws ban human cloning, but the Missouri Roundtable for Life says the law still allows cloning and the group disagrees with the very definition of cloning.

The organization says human cloning is the asexual production of a new living organism done through somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT.

Under Amendment Two of the Missouri Constitution, SCNT is protected. Missourians voted to pass Amendment Two in a statewide ballot in 2006. Missouri Roundtable for Life says the ballot language wasn't clear.

Valinda Freed is the regional coordinator for the Missouri Roundtable for Life. She said, "The voters of Missouri were certainly misled because the wording that was on the face of the ballot said it would ban human cloning and in effect, we were approving human cloning."

Bob Pund from the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures says opponents to stem cell research use the word cloning to make Amendment Two unpopular.

The Coalition for Lifesaving Cures Web site says the Missouri Roundtable for Life intends to ban "promising stem cell research allowed by federal law," and "They know a majority of Missourians support all forms of stem cell research. In other words, running an honest campaign wouldn't get stem cell opponents what they want, which unfortunately would be a ban on promising avenues of medical research." 

The Missouri Roundtable for Life met at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Columbia Activities and Recreation Center to inform voters on the issue of stem cell research.

[Source: Emily Rau (KOMU-TV News), "Anti-Cloning Group Hosts Forum", KOMU-TV (NBC - Columbia MO), February 5, 2009]

December 19, 2008

Maryland - Unemployment up 40%, to 12-year high, though we're still better off than most states

The October unemployment statistics from federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Maryland unemployment rate of 5%. That's the 15th-lowest unemployment rate amongst the states. But it's also nearly a 40% rise in the unemployment rate here since April. The national rate for October was 6.7%. Capital News Service reporter attributed the low rate here as "largely due to the many government jobs in the state".

We have 30-plus publicly-run career centers, located throughout the state, which provide job-seekers with free resources like printers, copiers and fax machines, and they host workshops and career fairs.

"We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of people utilizing our services," said Barbara Rodriguez, director of the Wheaton One-Stop Career Center.

In past months, the center in Wheaton used to see 70-80 job-seekers each day, Rodriguez said. She estimates that they now see 200-250.

State officials aren't entirely sure when the situation will get better and they are even less sure how bad it will get before then.

"It depends on what economist you listen to, but the projection is that by next summer the situation should start to level off," said Andy Moser, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor. "How high the unemployment rate's going to go? I don't know the answer to that question."

[Source: David Hill (Capital News Service), "No end in sight as Maryland's job picture worsens", Hometown Annapolis.com, December 18, 2008]

AIP affiliates can comment on this story here.

December 17, 2008

Maryland - Welfare on the rise again

Welfare reform was one of the early accomplishments of the recent short Republican-controlled Congress era. The number of U.S. families getting cash assistance plunged by two-thirds, from a high of 5 million in the mid-1990s to 1.7 million in 2007. But after years of falling or steady caseloads in almost every state, including new reductions prompted by federal rule changes two years ago, welfare rolls have begun to increase in recent months, spurred by the bad economy. Here is what is happening in Maryland: From a low of about 48,000 cases in the spring of 2007, welfare rolls expanded by 15 percent to 55,000 by September, then grew by another 2,500 cases in October. The article discusses the job-centric nature of welfare reform. When jobs are available, it's not nearly so tough for a person to shift from welfare to employment. The article quotes Kevin McGuire, executive director of family investment for Maryland Department of Human Resources as saying: "The problem is, what we are seeing here is something that looks more like 1936 than 1996."

Data from other states (and DC too) is presented in sidebar: California, Delaware, Florida, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington.

[Source: Amy Goldstein (Washington Post staff writer), " Welfare Rolls See First Climb in Years; Job Losses Bring Applicants From Middle Class, Test New Focus on Finding Work", The Washington Post, December 17, 2008, p. A1]

AIP affiliates can comment on this story here.

December 17, 2008

Maryland - It's been three years since the last quintuplets were born here

On December 2, Anne Arundel Medical Center delivered the first quintuplets in the hospital's 106-year history. If Maryland Independent Party's platform had been in place, the children would not be U.S. citizens. The Washington Post this morning reported that the mother -- Adwai Malual, 28 -- had come to the US from the Sudan to get her mother-in-law's blessing of her pregnancy. Family members told the Post that mother-in-law traditionally plays an important role in a woman's pregnancy. She traveled to her mother-in-law's home in Minnesota, but while she was there, she suffered complications and had to be taken to an emergency room, doctors said. When it became clear she would need more sophisticated treatment, she traveled to Prince George's County to stay with close family members -- a few miles away from Anne Arundel Medical Center. She called the hospital and said she feared something was wrong. She was told to come in right away. When physician William Sweeney gave her an ultrasound, it showed all he needed to know: quintuplets at 19 weeks of development. If mother and children were to survive, the doctor concluded, they would need all the help they could get. That began 11 weeks of intensive treatment involving more than 30 physicians, nurses and other specialists at the hospital in Annapolis. Yesterday, doctors and the woman's family announced the good news. Mother and the five babies were just fine. And although they will spend the next three weeks in the medical center's neonatal unit, the prognosis is good. "With quintuplets, you take all the difficulties that can happen to a normal pregnant woman and multiply by five," Sweeney said. "We were prepared for the worst and got the best." Within the first few days, Sweeney formed a team of specialists. Their goal was to extend the pregnancy as long as possible without risking the health of Malual or her babies. She came to them at 19 weeks, with a womb already stretched almost to the equivalent of a full-term 40-week pregnancy. Every week they could wrest from nature gave the babies a better chance at life. "Twins average 36 or 37 weeks, triplets 32 or 33. With quintuplets, beyond 28 is great," said obstetrician Joseph E. Morris. Doctors had her eating constantly. But with her swollen belly, she couldn't eat more than a few bites without feeling full. When Malual reached 30 weeks, she exceeded doctors' greatest hopes. Already her body was showing the signs of wearing down -- shortness of breath, an overworked heart and a tiring kidney. So they scheduled surgery for Dec. 2, a slow morning in the delivery room. The team had practiced for weeks, staging four walkthroughs to get the complex choreography of equipment and surgical procedures exactly right. Nurses had color-coded equipment and alphabetized hats and tags so they could tell the babies apart. The morning of Dec. 2, five obstetricians stood by. The doctors made the incision and reached in to remove the babies. The first was Nyantweny, the biggest of the five at 2 pounds, 15 ounces. A boy, Deng, came second, then the rest of his sisters: Nyandeng, Abyei and Athei, who was the smallest at 2 pounds, 2 ounces. They were already in great shape. Like many premature babies, they had to be fed milk through a tube, and three of them required humidified air for their first day to support their breathing and open their lungs. "At this point, they just need to grow and thrive," neonatologist Suzanne Rindfleisch said at yesterday's briefing. "I keep telling my daughter, 'This is God's work. This is a miracle,' " Abyei said. She was able to tell the babies' father and grandfather in Sudan about the births. Her husband is in the military in the Sudan and did not accompany her on the trip to USA.

The family does not have health insurance. It typically costs $1,150 a day for a baby in the intensive care unit. Hospital officials, who declined yesterday to put a final price tag on the weeks of treatment and the choreographed births, said they would work with the family on payment and absorb some of the cost if necessary. As for the quintuplets, after a few more weeks, once they can feed on their own and maintain body temperature, they will be ready to go home, although it remains unclear where that home ultimately will be. In the short term, Malual has told her doctors that she intends to stay with her family in Prince George's for a few weeks. "They're absolutely part of the family at the hospital now," said nursing director Misa Ewin. "It'll be sad to see them go."

[Source: William Wan (Washington Post staff writer), "Happiness Times Five; Prognosis Is Good for Quintuplets Born to Sudanese Woman in Md.", The Washington Post, December 17, 2008, p. B1]

AIP affiliates can comment on this story here.

December 17, 2008

Maryland state government scrambling to deal with $1.9-billion projected budget shortfall

Yesterday, a Maryland state panel almost doubled projected budget shortfalls that it forecast just three months ago for the current and coming fiscal years. Legislative analysts expect a $1.9 billion hole in the state's $14 billion general fund next year. ... In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) announced yesterday that he is requiring more than 67,000 state employees to take as many as five days of unpaid leave to relieve pressure on the current year's budget. O'Malley did not rule out layoffs in the coming year and acknowledged that it would be "mathematically impossible" to spare additional cuts to several of his priorities, given the growing budget challenges. "We have to look at a lot of things we would otherwise not consider," he said. "What we have to brace ourselves for is there will be virtually no increases to anything and decreases to quite a number of things."

... The furlough plan announced by O'Malley in Maryland will affect more than 67,000 employees and contract workers and generate a projected savings of about $34 million this year, administration officials said. Thousands of other state employees whose salaries are paid with other funds, including transportation workers, will also be affected.

Leaders of the General Assembly said they would impose a similar plan on lawmakers and legislative employees, and Maryland university officials indicated that they were working to quickly pull together furlough plans for more than 22,000 employees.

Patrick Moran, director of AFSCME MD, the state's largest labor union, said he thinks that the furloughs would "hamper the ability of state employees to deliver services."

O'Malley has laid off 40 workers in several rounds of recent budget cuts. But aides said he and lawmakers have eliminated about 1,500 vacant jobs. A legislative panel last night recommended eliminating an additional 1,000 vacant positions.

O'Malley told reporters that the new furlough plan, which exempts many public safety and health employees, is only a part of spending cuts that will be needed to balance the budget this fiscal year, which ends in June. His office is planning another round of midyear cuts that aides said will be presented early next month and total at least $400 million.

His proposed spending plan for the next fiscal year is also due to the General Assembly next month. O'Malley balked at providing specific cuts yesterday but acknowledged that several initiatives he supports might be scaled back.

Those include an expansion of subsidized health insurance, a new fund to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay and additional funds to help counties, including Montgomery and Prince George's, where the cost of providing education is determined to be more expensive.

O'Malley indicated that he would like to freeze tuition at Maryland universities for a fourth year in a row next year, but several leading lawmakers questioned whether that goal is realistic.

University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan said it remains too early to know what other cuts could be required from universities to help close the gap. "We have no idea what, if any, expectations would be for the system," Kirwan said.

Next year's anticipated shortfall in Maryland exceeds the gap that prompted O'Malley to call lawmakers into a special session last year in which they raised a record amount of taxes in an attempt to restore long-term balance to the state's general fund.

So far, there has been little appetite in Annapolis to raise taxes again. Besides spending cuts, O'Malley and lawmakers are considering using the state's capital budget to pay for some operating costs and tapping Maryland's rainy day fund, a step they have been reluctant to take in the past.

Yesterday, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) called the revised revenue estimates "the worst revenue projections I've seen, at least as long as I've been in office."

A report accompanying the new numbers, issued by the Maryland Board of Revenue Estimates, said: "Economic growth in Maryland has all but ground to a halt and has now perhaps reversed, largely as a result of the sustained downturn in the housing market."

[Source: John Wagner and Anita Kumar (Washington Post staff writers), "Md., Va. Eye Even Deeper Cutbacks; More Layoffs, Furloughs Ahead", The Washington Post, December 17, 2008, p. A1]

AIP affiliates can comment on this story here.

December 11, 2008

Maryland and the Death Penalty - Final Report of Committee chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti recommends abolishing the use of the death penalty

by Steve Schulin, special to AIPnews.com

The conclusion was announced last month. The body of the report was released today. Here's the bulk of the info in the table of contents, followed by link to pdf of the report. The pdf also includes a minority report, signed by 8 of the 21 committee members. 

The minority report includes much that deserves to be considered. I recommend reading it first. 

ISSUE 1: RACIAL DISPARITIES

Racial Disparities Throughout the Criminal Justice System
Racial Disparities in the Maryland's Capital Sentencing System
Racial Bias and Capital Juries
The Negative Effects That Racial Disparities Have on the Criminal Justice System

ISSUE 2: JURISDICTIONAL DISPARITIES
The Presence of Jurisdictional Disparities in Maryland's Capital Punishment System
The Source of Jurisdictional Disparities in Capital Cases
The Problem with Jurisdictional Disparities

ISSUE 3: SOCIO-ECONOMIC DISPARITIES

ISSUE 4: A COMPARISON OF THE COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH DEATH SENTENCES AND THE COSTS ASSOCIATED WITH SENTENCES OF LIFE IMPRISONMENT WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE
The Cost of Capital Cases
Why Do Capital Cases Cost More?
What Has Maryland Gained From Its Capital Punishment System?
Will Elimination of the Death Penalty Increase Some Costs?

ISSUE 5: A COMPARISON OF THE EFFECTS OF PROLONGED COURT CASES INVOLVING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT AND THOSE INVOLVING LIFE IMPRISONMENT WITHOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE

ISSUE 6: THE RISK OF INNOCENT PEOPLE BEING EXECUTED
Introduction
Widespread Exonerations and Reversals Reveal Fatal Flaws in the Capital System
Frailty of Eyewitness Testimony
False Confession Cases
Limitations of Science
Legal Complexities and Prohibitive Defense Costs
Erosion of Public Trust and Confidence in the Judicial System

ISSUE 7: THE IMPACT OF DNA EVIDENCE IN ASSURING FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY IN CAPITAL CASES
Role of DNA Evidence in Investigations, Prosecutions, and Exonerations
Scarcity of Credible DNA Evidence
“DNA is a Hard Science”
DNA Labs Are Not Error-Free
DNA Laws in Maryland
Conclusions Relating to DNA

OTHER ISSUES
Deterrence
A Religious Perspective on Capital Punishment
The Risk to Correctional Officers
Juror Issues: Comment Arising from Jury Composition and Qualification

APPENDIX A: Report of the Victims' Subcommittee
Victim Services in Maryland
Victim Services in the Future for Maryland
Conclusion of the Victims' Subcommittee
Victims' Subcommittee Chart

APPENDIX B: Commission Member Biographical Information

APPENDIX C: Testimony List

SOURCES CITED
Articles, Reports and Lectures
Oral Testimony
Written Testimony
Maryland Statutes and Regulations
Court Cases

Source: Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment | Final Report to the General Assembly, December 12, 2008 -- http://www.goccp.org/capital-punishment/documents/death-penalty-commission-final-report.pdf

November 22, 2008

Maryland's Carroll County - outmigration

Facilities Planner William Caine said ... that a Maryland Department of Planning study showed that the number of people leaving the county in 2006 exceeded the number moving in. Caine said he has not yet analyzed the data, but he plans to give a detailed presentation on enrollment to the school board in January... Enrollment at Carroll County Public Schools has declined for the third year in a row... According to data released by the school system's facilities department Friday, enrollment has dropped 1.27 percent, from 28,261 in 2007 to 27,902 this year. It was the largest decline since 1986. While the actual number of students enrolled this fall was 300 fewer than the school system had projected, Facilities Planner William Caine said he isn't surprised by the data given the current economic and housing markets. "Not as many homes are being built in the county," he said... Caine said he has not yet analyzed the data, but he plans to give a detailed presentation on enrollment to the school board in January. Total enrollment is projected to slowly decrease for the next six years, according to the report...

Actual enrollment

2004-05: 28,774
2005-06: 28,914
2006-07: 28,579
2007-08: 28,261
2008-09: 27,902

Projected enrollment

2009-10: 27,776
2010-11: 27,623
2011-12: 27,492
2012-13: 27,331
2013-14: 27,245
2014-15: 27,197
2015-16: 27,293
2016-17: 27,388
2017-18: 27,670
2018-19: 27,868

[Source: Karen Kemp (Carroll County Times staff writer), "School enrollment declines", Carroll County Times (Westminster, Maryland), November 22, 2008, p. A1]

November 12, 2008

Mass transit proposal - Purple Line

map from Wikipedia

The proposed 16-mile Purple Line would connect Metro lines across Prince George's and Montgomery counties, including a stop at the University of Maryland.

... Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari was optimistic that an Obama presidency will be good for Purple Line funding.

"We are confident we will compete successfully for federal funding for up to 50 percent of it," said Porcari. "If you look at the history of transportation projects in the state where there is a consensus and where our elected officials are strongly behind it, we find the funding for it."

... In a meeting at the University of Maryland, College Park campus hosted by the "Terps for the Purple Line" student coalition, which is comprised of several major student organizations, proponents of the Purple Line were optimistic about receiving federal funding for the project under an Obama administration.

... Pumping money into infrastructure projects could be one way the Obama administration and the new Congress go about creating jobs in a foundering economy.

On his web site, http://www.barackobama.com, Obama pledges to "re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country."

[Source: Christopher Carey (Capital News Service), "Purple Line Advocates Hopeful about Obama Administration", November 12, 2008]

September 2, 2008

Core Values are the Keyes to Success
Chris Core's new show on DC50-TV is well worth watching

by Steve Schulin, Candidate for Congress, Maryland Independent Party

(Rockville, Maryland) September 2, 2008 -- A new political discussion TV show debuted here in Washington DC area Saturday. It's archived on the web and is well worth watching.

The host of the show is well-known by folks around here -- his name is Chris Core. He's been doing radio here for many years.

His first interview was with the head of Maryland's McCain campaign -- former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. Here's a transcription of part of their conversation:

Q: Where is the conservative movement now?
A: It depends on what happens in this election -- and if McCain wins, how he governs. I do not know the answer to that.
Q: I mean is it in trouble, is it going to abandon him? Conservatives don't like John McCain, in general.
A: There are a couple of folks auditioning for the Ronald Reagan position. Romney's one ... and Newt Gingrich as well is auditioning for the job. There clearly needs to be a philosophical leader emerge of right of center people -- Republicans, Democrats, Moderat- uh, uh, Independents -- in this country.

Chris also had a local pollster as a guest -- Keith Haller (president of Potomac, Inc.). Haller said that "...in my gut, and certainly what I see scientifically in a lot of the states, Obama has all the possibilities of winning this thing in a landslide. He mentioned that McCain may be pulling out of Iowa and New Mexico because he's so far behind there. Pressed by Chris to identify three crucial states, Mr. Haller specified Virginia, Colorado and Ohio.

The weekly Saturday TV show is titled "WEEKEND NEWS with Chris Core". It is broadcast on UHF channel 50 at 6 pm Saturday and replayed Sunday morning at 9:30. The video archive is on the show's web page at http://www.dc50tv.com/pages/weekend_news_with_chris_core/

The web page has a couple of listener poll questions and a listener comment section. Here's the comment I left:

Core Values are the Keyes to Success

Great show, Chris. Of the presidential candidates, Alan Keyes of Montgomery County best represents my views. I support his decision to continue to run for President as an independent this year. He's on the ballot in California, Florida, and Colorado so far. New state parties are being formed across the nation to provide conservatives a home. Here in Maryland, its the Maryland Independent Party. These parties are affiliating nationally as America's Independent Party. We had our first national convention in August and nominated Dr. Keyes for President and Brian Rohrbough for VP. Brian is an example of our "Every citizen a leader" moto. He became a citizen-activist after his son was killed at Columbine HS on that awful day. Our new party is already the 3rd largest national party in terms of number of registered voters, and I assure you that we're not satisfied with being #3 for long. I think the Republicans are Whigging out, Chris. Best wishes on your new show. Your interviews of former Maryland Gov. Ehrlich and pollster Keith Haller were interesting, and I look forward to seeing more Core Values segments, too.

August 16, 2008

Hollywood knows what a 'spectator sport' is

One of the ideas that my favored candidate for President has repeatedly stressed is that we the people are in danger of losing our precious experiment in self-governance. The process that picks our candidates and even decides the agenda is dominated by a relative few. The only solution is for many more folks to get much more involved. As part of my own choice to become more personally involved, I've added "Maryland" as one of the search terms I routinely use in sifting through the daily news. A column in Variety yesterday was one such hit. The Maryland part of the article wasn't so interesting, but I was struck by the columnist's characterization of the presidential election as a "spectator sport", and his discussion of polling: "For those fuzzy on math, here's a key equation to remember: Big events + media hype = bogus, meaningless numbers. To illustrate this trend, look no further than two spectator sports dominating the summer: the presidential election and the Beijing Olympics. In each case, figures are regularly distorted by the hunger for impressive-sounding facts, and perpetuated by misleading polls, fatuous studies and unquestioning reporting. In preliminary judging for this faulty-math competition, the U.S. election -- where the stakes are presumably higher -- clearly takes the gold. Nowhere is the appetite for numbers more ridiculous than almost-daily polling on the presidential contest, which seldom pauses to acknowledge how the margin of error renders perceived 'trends,' up or down, utterly bogus. Nor is there much mention on TV of whether poll respondents can be trusted, as the Wall Street Journal noted in an Aug. 2 piece titled, succinctly enough, 'When Voters Lie.' As far as lying to pollsters, consider a recent Rasmussen survey, which stated that 26% of Americans say they watch cable news daily for information about the campaign. Sounds good, except that would mean more than 58 million adults watched cable news on an average day. Yet based on a two-week span during which the poll was conducted, Nielsen data indicate Fox News, CNN and MSNBC totaled 31.5 million viewers daily -- suggesting that self-reported viewing was off by 45%. Even throwing in Headline News and CNBC, CNN placed cable news' combined reach at 19%, meaning 7% of those replying either misled Rasmussen or couldn't remember what they watched. Take this as additional evidence that polling reactions are influenced by what people think is expected of them -- one reason PBS does better in polls than actual ratings, while the reverse is generally true for pro wrestling and porn. It's also why surveys about media sex and violence should be approached skeptically, since everyone knows the 'right' answer, whatever their own viewing habits. Political polling obviously serves a purpose and provides cable talkers something to chew over. It's only when hosts and their sounding boards take the results' validity as gospel -- analyzing every dip and rise as if major shifts are occurring -- that the process graduates from amusing to absurd." [Source: Brian Lowry, "Spin makes big events even bigger | Cable news chews on Olympics, election", Variety, Aug. 15, 2008, 2:15 pm PT]

The cost of a reasonable campaign for sheriff of a jurisdiction of 30,000 - $50,000

While an uncontested election in Steuben County typically costs the candidate and party less than $1,000, contested races can rack up big sums, according to county Republican Party Chairman William Hatch. Hatch said $50,000 is a reasonable campaign budget for the sheriff's race. "Mailing fees have about doubled in the past few years, meaning bulk mailings are twice as much," Hatch said Wednesday. "You figure there's an electorate of 30,000, there's $7,500 right there. And then there's the cost of printing the flyers. There's no doubt it costs a lot of money." Other expenses in the race include political consultations, a paid campaign manager, printing, signage, fundraiser materials and contributions to party and others' campaigns.

One of the candidates, who has bankrolled his campaign to the tune of $14,000, is quoted as saying "I feel a candidate should be able invest in his own campaign if he's asking others to." He has received approximately $24,000 from other contributors. Another candidate has contributed $21,000 to his own campaign, while receiving $775 from others.

The winner of the Republican Primary will receive some party funds to continue the battle, Hatch said. "We will step up to the plate," Hatch said. "But the candidate had better come up with a budget."

[Source: Mary Perham (Gatehouse News Service), "Candidates open finances to public", Steuben Courier (New York), August 17, 2008 issue (posted online, August 15, 2008)]

Other Maryland mentions and mutterings

* Mercury emissions from cement plants: "...quarterly emissions testing -- which often involves just a three-hour sampling of the emissions from a cement silo -- can give misleading results. That was the experience in one city in the U.S., where a plant in Maryland that claimed it was emitting 16 kilograms of mercury was actually spewing out 40 times as much, or about 682 kilograms." Continuous monitoring equipment that is reasonably accurate for mercury is being used by some companies in Europe and the USA, according to Alvaro Linero, from the Department of Environmental Protection in Florida. Such equipment costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range, and is certainly more accurate than periodic stack testing, he said. [Source: Martin van den Hemel (Richmond Review, Canada), "Lafarge among worst mercury polluters", BCLocalNews.com, August 15, 2008 5:00 p.m.]

* The cloverleaf interchange was patented by Arthur Hale of Maryland in 1916, and was first constructed near Woodbridge, New Jersey in 1928. [Source: Owen Sound Sun Times (Ontario, Canada), "Auto Almanac", August 14, 2008]

* Baltimore has a murder rate eight times higher than that of New York City. [Source: Kevin Carey, "Too Weird for The Wire | How black Baltimore drug dealers are using white supremacist legal theories ...", Washington Monthly, May/June/July 2008]. If you have ever been curious about the "sovereign individual" concept, you'd probably find this article worth reading for that alone. For the rest of us, the glimpse into the murderous world of Baltimore crack and heroin trade is just plain chilling.

* Places to petition in Hagerstown this weekend. You've heard of flea markets? Well, an event featuring dog washing is being billed as a flealess market. This, and more, listed in Herald-Mail's Weekend column.

* In 1985, 69 people in the Andean highlands village of Accomarca were massacred. The Peruvian Army lieutenant's men blocked an escape route while a subordinate officer and his men forced the villagers into buildings, where soldiers then opened fire. The lieutenant has been in Maryland since the early 1990s. He was arrested in Baltimore last year, and was was being held by federal authorities on immigration charges. Last March U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan ordered the man to pay $37 million in damages to two women who survived the massacre and the estates of their slain family members. The plaintiffs had accused him and another of war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity and illegal killings. He was returned to Lima on Friday on a Customs and Border Protection aircraft and was turned over to Peruvian authorities. [Source: Associated Press, "US deports ex-Peruvian officer accused in massacre", PR-inside.com, August 16, 2008 2:09 am]

August 15, 2008

Maryland quick to decide to abandon touch screen voting, but others were quick enough that voters won't use them this year

This year, less than a third of the electorate nationally will use touch screen voting. That's down from about half in 2006. ... [T]he shift away from the suspect touch-screens is gaining momentum. ... ... State governments in Alaska, California, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Tennessee and New Mexico have decided to replace their touch-screen electronic machines. While some states have completed the switch, others won't finish replacing the machines until 2010... EDS President Kimball Brace said touch screens would be used statewide this fall in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Nevada, Utah, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina, and in significant parts of or pockets of a dozen other states.

... Congress pushed counties toward electronic voting equipment — a reaction to the uproar over irregularities in Florida's 2000 presidential balloting. ... In 2002, Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), creating minimum election standards and allotting nearly $3 billion to states to upgrade voting equipment, voter registration databases and otherwise to improve election administration. Facing deadlines to spend their so-called HAVA money, counties across the country began ordering new machines.

... Keith Ashdown, the chief investigator for the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, called it "sort of the classic case of the best intentions gone awry" by throwing money at a problem. "If a little more time was spent deciding exactly what they wanted to purchase, we may not have to be starting from scratch in many counties," he said.

... "What has traditionally happened in this country is that a change in voting equipment happens once in the lifetime of an election official. With some election officials, it never happens," said EDS' Brace. "We're now upwards of almost 60 percent of the country that in the last eight years have changed their voting equipment."

[Source: Greg Gordon (McClatchy Newspapers), "Did Washington waste millions on faulty voting machines?", McClatchy Washington Bureau website - mcclatchydc.com, August 15, 2008]

August 11, 2008

Abortion is the subject of a play this weekend in Baltimore



Today's Examiner includes a rave review for The 'A' Word -- a play at The Mobtown Theatre in Baltimore this weekend. See the review here.

August 7, 2008

Oprah delivered a million votes to Obama in primaries, but lost half a million viewers, sez U Md economists

The New York Post's Page Six ran a story this week on how two University of Maryland economists had concluded that Winfrey had delivered a million votes to U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. ... Craig Garthwaite and Tim Moore were able to calculate that Winfrey was the motivating force behind precisely 1,015,519 primary votes for Obama, and his startling but undeniable defeat of once-sure-thing Hillary Clinton. The paper is available here. Here's from abstract: "In this paper, we use geographic differences in subscriptions to O! – The Oprah Magazine and the sale of books Winfrey recommended as part of Oprah's Book Club to assess whether her endorsement affected the Primary outcomes. We find her endorsement had a positive effect on the votes Obama received, increased the overall voter participation rate, and increased the number of contributions received by Obama. No connection is found between the measures of Oprah's influence and Obama's success in previous elections, nor with underlying local political preferences. Our results suggest that Winfrey's endorsement was responsible for approximately additional 1,000,000 votes for Obama." The authors controlled for "differences in county populations' race, age, sex, marital status, educational attainment, family size, income, poverty status, home ownership, house prices, labor force participation, unemployment, veteran status and urban/rural mix."

This manifestation of political clout is a double-edged sword, however, as it was earlier noted that Winfrey's ratings had dropped since she came out for Obama last fall. In a piece in the Los Angeles Times' Top Of The Ticket political blog, Andrew Malcolm detailed how Winfrey's show has lost half a million viewers since this time last year, and how her 'favorable ratings had fallen from 74% to 66% while her unfavorable ratings jumped by more than 50% from 17% to 26%.'

A mention of this shift in public opinion last April, while the Democratic primaries were still a contested thing, prompted an avalanche of comments on the Times blog by female Hillary supporters who were angry about Winfrey abandoning what they considered to be the most viable female presidential candidate ever. As noted on several political blogs at the same time was the likelihood that a notable portion of Winfrey's viewership – stay-at-home mothers – might have been Republican supporters. Many who commented on the Times blog said that they'd switched their allegiances to Ellen DeGeneres' show, while others claimed to have sold their TVs to buy ammunition.

Winfrey's ratings have been declining for much longer than the current election cycle, however, as the Times noted a drop in viewers from 9 million during the show's zenith three years ago to 7.3 million today, with a 25 per cent loss of her female audience between 25 and 54 during the same period.

[Sources: Rick McGinnis (Intellevision columnist, "Oprah's political gambit may have hurt her image", Metro Canada - Calgary, August 7, 2008;
Ben Smith (Ben Smith's Blog on politico.com), "Quantifying the Oprah effect", August 5, 2008]

Educ - avg parents to spend $594 to send each K-12 student back-to-school

... the average back-to-school expenditure for students kindergarten through high school is $594, according to the National Retail Federation. That's up over $30 from last year... And the federation said that one-fifth of parents set aside a portion of their government stimulus check to re-equip their offspring... At over $20 billion in clothes, shoes and batteries, sending the K through 12 crowd on their way is an industry.

[Source: Dale McFeatters (columnist, Scripps Howard News Service), " Endless summer? No, endless school", seattlepi.com, August 7, 2008 11:32 a.m. PT]

Educ - longer school year -- to 200 from 180 days -- to compete with China?

Many schools now resume in early to mid-August, a development that seems thoroughly un-American. Now the sound that inspires back-to-school dread may not be a tree full of crazed locusts but the Fourth of July fireworks. Independence Day means only 30 more days until school starts. There is even talk of lengthening the traditional 180-day school year to 200 days because just as a previous generation was threatened with the specter of Russian worker-drone students the current generation is threatened with the joyless grinds of Chinese schools.

[Source: Dale McFeatters (columnist, Scripps Howard News Service), " Endless summer? No, endless school", seattlepi.com, August 7, 2008 11:32 a.m. PT]

Educ - summer assignments trend, including Maryland school with 100-page math packet

Even when the kids are physically not in the building over the summer, many of them are not really out of school. To combat the dreaded – and, it must be admitted real, "summer learning loss" – schools are assigning summer homework. These are not the lists of light summer reading of yore. One Maryland high school sent its students home for the summer with 100-page math packets. There are heavy duty reading assignments. With essays. And in some districts the work reportedly counts as a regular-year grade.

The typical adolescent, because that's what adolescents do, will let it go until the last minute, causing even more trauma when the bugs of August sound. Three days to go and the poor kid hasn't written a word on the nature of good and evil in Milton's "Paradise Lost," much less read the poem of which Samuel Johnson said in broad understatement, "None ever wished it longer than it is."

The endless summer becomes the endless school year, and the reason no child gets left behind is because no child ever gets out of school.

[Source: Dale McFeatters (columnist, Scripps Howard News Service), " Endless summer? No, endless school", seattlepi.com, August 7, 2008 11:32 a.m. PT]

Trees - ash trees at risk from nonnative insect, spread via firewood; emerald ash borer first detected in US in 2002 (Michigan)

The insect disrupts a tree's ability to transport water and nutrients. Symptoms of EAB include winding tunnels just under the bark, one-eighth inch, D-shaped exit holes on the trunk, as well as canopy loss, usually from the top down. Other symptoms include vertical splitting in the bark on the trunk and increased woodpecker activity. Agricultural and forest experts estimate that the beetle has destroyed 50 million trees so far. It now lives also in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada, according to a report released by the University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and National Resources. The insect is bright, metallic green with a flat back. Adults typically are one-half inch long.

[Source: KETV-7 (Omaha), "Invasive Beetle Moves Closer To Nebraska | Insect Inhabits Native Ash Trees", August 7, 2008 5:40 pm CDT

July 28, 2008

* Md. Reviewing Concerns About Death Penalty
Associated Press

Five inmates have been executed since Maryland reinstated the death penalty in 1978. Wesley Baker, who was put to death in December 2005, was the last person to be executed in Maryland. Maryland currently has five men on death row. There is a de facto moratorium against capital punishment in Maryland because of a ruling in late 2006 by the state's highest court. The court ruled the state's protocol for lethal injection was implemented without proper approval by a legislative committee. Executions can't resume until the O'Malley administration submits new rules for the committee to approve. O'Malley has directed the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections to begin working on the protocol, a process that could be finished by the end of the year. Gov. O'Malley, a death penalty opponent, has supported repealing capital punishment in Maryland. However, repeal attempts have failed in the past two years.

The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment is scheduled to report recommendations to the Maryland General Assembly by December 15. The panel held its first of several hearings today. The subject today was racial, economic and jurisdictional disparities in the death penalty.

University of Maryland criminologist Raymond Paternoster was one of the witnesses today. He released a study in 2003 that concluded Maryland prosecutors were more than twice as likely to seek a death sentence for black defendants who killed white people than black defendants who killed black people. Paternoster found geographical disparities in his study as well. For example, Baltimore County prosecutors were more than 13 times more likely to seek a death sentence than prosecutors in the city of Baltimore, he told the panel.

Deborah Poritz, a former chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, noted similar disparities among counties in New Jersey, which repealed the death penalty this year. "It is difficult to sympathize with a cold-blooded killer, but it makes no sense that a murderer in one county is subject to the death penalty when an identical crime would be treated in an entirely different way, if it were committed in another county," Poritz said.

Former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti is leading the commission, which consists of 22 other people. The commission includes three relatives of murder victims and Kirk Bloodsworth, a former Maryland death row inmate whose case was the first capital conviction overturned as a result of DNA testing in the United States. The panel is scheduled to hold two more public hearings in August, and other meeetings through November. Members of the public can testify at the hearings. The commission also is charged with studying the risk of an innocent person being executed, and will compare costs of "prolonged court cases involving capital punishment" with costs for life imprisonment without parole.

July 19, 2008

Marylanders' score in top half of US in index summarizing life expectancy, education, income

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A report released this week presents data, by Congressional District, used to assess how well folks are doing using life expectancy, educational attainment and enrollment, and median income as criteria. Description of methodology and a variety of excerpts and whatnot are available via http://measureofamerica.org/2008-2009-report/summary/. The data shown above for Maryland is from info made freely available via Media Kit link.

June 29, 2008

If you don't see a good choice, create one - that's what self-government is all about

Reuters released a story today about black presidential and vice presidential candidates going back to Frederick Douglass (who escaped from Maryland as a slave). I noticed that the article mentioned Alan Keyes only in regard to 1996 and 2000 campaigns. I submitted the following comment:

Your article notes that "Alan Keyes ran for the Republican nomination in 1996 and in 2000." He also ran for the Republican nomination in 2008 (he even earned delegates in NC) and has announced that he is continuing to run as an independent candidate. Folks across the nation are working to get him on the ballot. About a week ago, Colorado was the first state in which he met the requirements to be listed on the ballot as an independent for President in November. Great news for God-fearin', liberty-lovin', sovereignty-conservin' Americans came out of California this weekend, as the American Independent Party formally switched its national party affiliation to the new national party which supports Dr Keyes for President. This switch immediately makes the new America's Independent Party the third largest political party in the USA, in terms of the number of registered voters. Here in Keyes' home state of Maryland (where his family has lived since the days when they were slaves) a new party is being formed -- Maryland Independent Party -- and he will be our favorite son candidate for president on every ballot in the state come November. I agree with Alan Keyes that "If you don't see the choice, make the choice. If don't see the choice, create that choice for your country. That's what self-government is about. Government of, by, and for the people can't be produced if the people aren't willing to work at it."

Reuters moderates comments before publishing them. You can check on the whole article, and see if they published my comment, here.

The quote from Dr. Keyes, by the way, is from a really interesting radio interview last week -- the quoted comments are at about the 43-minute mark in the mp3 archive of the June 25 radio show available here.

[June 30 update: thanks and a tip o' the hat to poster at American Political Report for pointing out that there is a bigger party. It's a state party, so America's Independent Party is beter described at this point as the third largest national political party.]

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Another example of income tax being used to stifle free speech

Our tax code requires pastors to distinguish between taxable and non-taxable activities when it comes to expressing views about candidates. In fact, many pastors are reluctant to put their church's tax-exempt status at risk that they forego even permitted activities just to be on the safe side of the IRS.

Here's a story that crossed my desk today that puts the matter into good perspective:

Minnesota pastor could be in trouble with IRS
by Charlie Butts - OneNewsNow - 6/29/2008

Pastor Gus Booth of Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minnesota, could be in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.

Booth preached a sermon encouraging his congregation to vote against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama when Clinton was still actively in the Democratic presidential race. He used scripture to outline why both candidates were out of line for supporting abortion and homosexuality. The IRS has imposed strict restrictions on what pastors can do and say in the political arena.

"I mean the law, the IRS law is unconstitutional. I have a freedom-of-speech right to be able to say whatever I want to say from behind the pulpit -- and they have no right to impede that," the pastor explains.

Booth was asked about the possibility of his church losing its tax-exempt status. "I would think they would try to and maybe they intend to, but ultimately I don't preach the gospel in order to get a political deduction. If we lose our tax-exempt status, then so be it. I want to keep it because it keeps more money in the kingdom, and we do good things as a church. I mean we do so much more than politics here, it's amazing," Booth adds.

The Alliance Defense Fund will stand by Booth in the event the IRS challenges his actions.

"I preached a sermon," Booth explains. "It was an opposition sermon based on the presidential candidates of Clinton and Obama -- that's when Clinton was still in the race -- and I evaluated their positions on some key issues in light of scripture. And scripture has come to a conclusion that those two issues -- specifically abortion and homosexuality -- are vehemently opposed [by God] ...." And because both candidates are "okay with those sins," Booth says he "just encouraged [his] congregation not to vote for them."

If the IRS relieves the church of its tax-exempt status, Booth says that means he must pay taxes in order to preach about sin as it relates to politics.

- - - end of article (and thanks to Charles Lewis of South Carolina for forwarding this. Charles is inspiring folks across the nation every day through his Save America Summit work. Please let him know if this piece was helpful to you -- email waywwords@charter.net)

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McCain hit for tax avoidance (California home property taxes unpaid for 4 years)

A blogger who calls him/herself "The Bag of Health and Politics" castigates McCain in an article here. At least one of The Bag's comments seems reasonable:"If a friend of mine who owns property in southern California was 4 years behind on her property taxes, her home would be foreclosed on. But not John McCain, he can skip out on his fair share and continue to live the high life." The Bag had a post yesterday that discussed Bill Clinton. The whole article is an interesting read, but the following sentence seems especially noteworthy: "In 1998, Bill Clinton turned his party into a party of liars. He failed to be square with Democrats. Despite that, Democrats went to the mat for Bill Clinton, and kept him from being impeached for his extramarital affairs." I am heartened to see The Bag start to speak openly about what Democrats have surely understood since the stonewalling of impeachment began. They will remain a party of liars at least as long as they keep trying to pretend that Clinton's impeachment was about sex. See the whole blog article here: Bill Clinton's Rage Overshadows McCain's Meltdown.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Notes related to today's front pages

Crack cocaine-fueled violence hit America's inner cities in 1989

The top story on front page of The Sun of Baltimore is on this year's lower muder rate in Baltimore, which is on a pace to be the lowest since 1988. Officials attribute the trend to "new crime-fighting strategies, including a focus on the city's most violent criminals."

Doctors squeezed by price controls, may turn into a crisis of availability of care

The middle of the front page of today's Sun explains why the president-elect of Maryland State Medical Society is thinking of leaving his practice next year. He's been a family practice physician in Crofton for 30 years. Half of his 4,000 regular patients are in Medicare. On Tuesday, a 10.6% reduction in Medicare reimbursement rates will take effect "unless Congress intervenes". I'm not sure why the Sun reports it like this, given that the Senate is on holiday until after 4th of July. "But even without the cuts, some doctors like Sroka of Crofton aren't sure their practices can survive. Private insurers reimburse at lower rates in Maryland than elsewhere, and the cost of living and overhead here are high, as are malpractice premiums. It's all adding up to a crisis, health care providers say. Practices may drop Medicare patients, and some will fold altogether. Already, Maryland has a shortage of clinical practice physicians in several regions, and that's expected to worsen as young doctors increasingly forgo private practice for salaried positions or leave the state for areas with higher reimbursement rates. 'The long and short of it is I was a wealthy doctor 15 years ago. I'm a struggling doctor today,' Sroka said. 'I am at the point now of thinking about quitting.'"
Full story

"Redneck Paradise"

That's the name of the float shown in this joyful photo taken at a cancer benefit yesterday in Springfield, Maryland.
photo from Cumberland Times-News
Full story

Gambling and taxes, and volunteer fire departments

The top story on front page of today's Cumberland Times-News is
"State may seek local lotto revenue | Report could mean lawmakers after control; fire hall hurting without gaming". The LaVale Volunteer Fire Department in Allegany County was clearing about a thousand dollars a week from their gaming hall. But a bill passed by state legislature this past session bans slot-like machines such as were used there, and their hall is now dark, with machines removed. The fire department is looking to cut their budget for the fiscal year that begins Tuesday by the $50,000 they had projected as revenue. I don't like state-supported gambling, and I really have a problem with the state promoting gambling through advertising and cute colorful game pieces prominently displayed at stores. One of the many benefits of abolishing the federal income tax and shrinking the federal government is that there will be less squeeze on state and local funding mechanisms based on principles that we can all support.

Obama's "57-state" lapel pin

graphic ridiculing Obama statement
This wasn't on any front pages that I know of, but it should be. I doubt there's an adult who was here during Dan Quayle's stint as VP who doesn't remember his statement at a spelling bee. Where are those reporters today? Why are they silent on this 57-state statement by Obama? Thanx and a tip o' the hat to Freeper B-Cause for examining the implications of the 57-state statement.

And the article which prompted B-Cause's post is also worthwhile reading, here. The comments on this article prompted me to post about Obama campaign's foray into changing the presidential seal:

America's Independent Party highlights the E pluribus unum motto right on its masthead. This party was formed by folks who support Alan Keyes' decision to leave the Republican party. It's already the party with the third-largest number of registered voters in the USA, thanks to the affiliation Friday of American Independent Party, of California. The E pluribus unum masthead was added to Maryland Independent Party website last night. This new party also is the result of Keyes supporters, and I expect it will formally affiliate with the new national party in coming weeks. Poll data here in USA shows three-quarters of the public explicitly characterizing the country as being on the wrong track. I see Obama and McCain as representing two rails on that same track, both heading to a disastrous destination. The Keyes campaign has been hosting national public town hall style conference calls since October. In his opening comments on the call last Thursday (June 26, 2008), Dr Keyes talked about the changes to the presidential seal. The audio recording is archived at the Keyes campaign website.

Dr. Keyes' comments about the seal start at about the 11-minute mark of the mp3 file available here.

Open government

The top story on front page of today's The Daily Times of Salisbury discusses the relatively poor job of publicizing meetings done by Somerset County government.
Full story

Oil price impact on road repairs

Front page stories today out of Salisbury and Hagerstown point to problems already becoming apparent in road maintenance. Both articles cite the more than 60% rise in price of asphalt.

New laws taking effect in Maryland this week

Starting Tuesday, children under 8 in Maryland will be required to use a federally approved car seat, unless the child is 4 feet, 9 inches or taller or weighs more than 65 pounds. Violations can result in a $50 fine.

Maryland residents will, starting Tuesday, be required to indicate whether each dependent child claimed as an exemption on income tax returns has health care coverage.

Medicaid reimbursement rates will rise for dentists treating childen. in an effort to help avoid a repeat of the tragic death last year of 12-year-old Deamonte Driver. Bacteria from an untreated dental abscess spread to his brain.

Adults without insurance, employed by small business, who have incomes at 116 percent of the federal poverty line, will be eligible for Medicaid. Medicaid coverage of children will also be expanded in other ways.

An AP story highlighting these and other laws that take effect on July 1 was on the front page of the Salisbury paper. An online version of the article is available here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Notes related to today's front pages

Who's accountable to the voters for this $6-million-worth of poor judgement?

The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown has a teaser above the masthead pointing to a story on p. C1: "Ex-Fort Detrick scientist, government settle in anthrax case. The Washington Post actually ran the story at bottom of front page, reporting that the settlement involves the federal government paying the biological weapons expert a settlement valued at $5.85-million in exchange for his dropping the lawsuit claiming violation of his privacy rights. The government did not admit wrongdoing.

"MY GUN PERMIT"

The Mideast edition of Stars and Stripes has an AP article on the DC v Heller decision, with a great photo of Dick Heller in a crowd in front signing a rally-goer's sign which says "The Second Amendment | My Gun Permit".

Building our new party's press list, reporter by reporter

The lead story in the Hagerstown paper is a tri-state piece on the DC v Heller decision: "Ruling on guns has local support", by reporter Josh Shaw. I added Josh to MD-press list. Dear readers, if you come across a reporter covering matters related to Maryland Independent Party platform, please forward whatever contact info you have for them to ideas@marylandindependentparty.org

Another endorsement for McCain

An AP story out of Vietnam is at bottom right corner of front page of the Hagerstown paper: "Jailer from 'Hanoi Hilton' says he'd vote for McCain". He says there was no torture of the prisoners, and that McCain made up his stories of beatings and solitary confinement in an attempt to win votes. Nonetheless, he considers McCain a friend and is quoted as saying yesterday that "If I were an American voter, I would vote for Mr. John McCain."

One of the reasons I think Sen. McCain will not be elected is that I have not heard, nor can I imagine, a good answer to the reasonable question: "Sen. McCain, how can the American public be assured that during your years of cativity, our enemies did not turn you into a 'Manchurian Candidate'?

On state and local taxpayers' dollars paying for lobbyists to better compete for federal funds

The Herald-Mail highlights an online poll question in a cute "What do you think?" box placed near bottom left. Today's question: Should local governments pay lobbyists to help them obtain federal or state funding?" Vote yes or no online at www.herald-mail.com.

I realy like the outreach represented by such polls. I hope all readers here will consider each comment an invitation to comment without explicit poll. If you think it's at all disrespectful, for example, to ask the Manchurian Candidate question above, please let me know.

High voter turnout isn't the be-all, end-all

The top story in The Washington Post made me think about the abysmally poor voter turnout in last week's special congressional election. The article was about Zimbabwe's election, and clearly shows that high turnout isn't always indicative of a thriving system. President Mugabe wants high turnout: "Mugabe's militias drove a frightened electorate to the polls Friday, checking off names of voters and threatening vengeance on those who failed to cast ballots for [him]." Each ballot has a serial number, and the identity of who casts each numbered ballot is recorded. A voter named Spencer Mashonga, whose parents live in subsidized government housing, is quoted as saying "We have been warned that we will lose our house if we don't vote for [Mugabe]. So we just have to vote. It's not like we want to vote." The Reuters photo accompanying the story is evocative in many ways. It features a close up of an old woman showing her finger, marked with dye to show she had voted. Her face displays focus and ambiguity. The reddish color of the dye is apt given the violence which prompted opposition candidate to withdraw.

Propagandizing from the get-go at The Washington Post

Above the fold in the Post is a story by Lori Montgomery and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum titled "Key Bills Caught In Senate Logjams | Session Marked by Filibusters, Ploys. The lead sentence of the story matter-of-factly portrays climate change as one of the "critical economic issues" that the Senate has failed to address. This sure seems a strained view of climate change issue. It is true enough that the mandatory CO2 cap bill that was filibustered would have had dire economic impact, but the claim that climate change is a critical economic issue seems designed to promote the alarmist view of CO2-climate. It's true enough that climate does change, and that such change does have significant economic impact. If we had not recovered from The Little Ice Age, for example, many things in many places would be significantly different. I respectfully point out that that characterizing climate change as a critical economic issue in this case is nothing more than alarmist exaggeration.

The article also appears to proclaim that the top issue in the coming election is "the sputtering economy".

I suggest that the top issue should be broader: the miserable leadership failure of the major parties in recent years.

One article I recommend today is a commentary piece from p. 13 of The Globe and Mail out of Toronto, Canada. "Global Warming: Science by Intimidation", by Rex Murphy, is an excellent discussion of some of the shoddy work being promoted as scientific.

Medicare

Below this propagandizing story just discussed was a pointer to a page A3 story: "U.S. freezes Medicare pricing system."

If there was some way this story could be spun to positively reflect on government control of our sick care/health care, I suspect more of the story would have been on front page.

Obamanation

In the middle of the Post front page is a large story about an Obama/Clinton event held in in a picturesque field or somesuch next to a home with a tractor in the back and what looks like a church next door, in the town of Unity, New Hampshire. The photos evoke enthusiasm and attentiveness of lots of attendees and a happy Obama speaking to them with a happy Clinton standing dutifully close behind.

The picture of the crowd also prompts me to think about the low-turnout election here I mentioned earlier. I've been voting at the same Candlewood Elementary School precinct here in Derwood, Maryland for the last twenty years. Typically, be it a general election or primary, voters have to pass through a sort of gauntlet of folks encouraging vote for particular candidate or slate. And I've gotten the impression over the years that the gauntlet invariably includes two members of the public school teachers union. It is my understanding that the reason schools are closed on election day is because the union wants its members to be able to man the polls in this fashion. I found it striking that not a teacher was present on this day when they weren't "on the clock".

The Washington Times also prominently displayed the fruits of the photo op. As much as I like Times editors, I think they do us a great disservice by going along with the major parties in closing the door on coverage before the ballot slots are closed. Three quarters of Americans say our nation is on the wrong track. Yet the same old two tracks, channeling us to the same destination, are given virtually all the promotional coverage they want, to the exclusion of other candidates. I suspect that most Americans don't know that Alan Keyes is running for President as an independent, and that folks across the nation are working to get him on the ballot.

Gasoline is getting to be more expensive than bottled water

At lower left of the Post front page is an interesting piece titled "Fuel Prices Boost Cause of S. Asia's Maligned Rickshaw". It notes that South Asian gvernments, after long decrying rickshaws as embarrassing symbols of the Third World, are being countered by folks who tout the rickshaws as environmentally sound and economic. I was in Charleston, South Carolina for a wedding a couple weeks ago, and bicycle pedicabs were a common sight. The bride and groom even left the recption in one. Very cool. Speaking of public conveyances, I called the Montgomery County government Taxicab Unit yesterday to get a feel for how much fuel saving potential is presented by taxicabs. I had read about a test in Calgary and Edmonton where hybrid engine vehicles were substituted for the some of the normally-used Crown Victorias. The gasoline savings were impressive, representing payback period of 14-18 months for the entire price of purchase. Here in my county, there's a bit of a disconnect between the price of gas and the taxicab owner's decision-making, because the gas is paid for by the driver who leases the car from the cab owner who has the taxi license. We have 650 taxicabs in Montgomery County. The county does record the mileage on the vehicles during annal inspections, but that data is apparently not routinely compiled into annual taxi-mile number. So I don't know how many miles or how much fuel is used by this sector. One of the officials who talked with me noted that there is one hybrid taxi on the road now, with another expected to be deployed after being repainted Monday. One other is planned to be deployed very soon. New York City and Arlington, Virginia are much quicker in adopting hybrid engine cabs. He mentioned that installing fare meters on hybrid cars has not been so straightforward a task, due to differences in the design of the cars. Taxicab companies here in Montgomery County typically purchase 3-year old vehicles as replacement taxis. The cost difference between a three-year old Crown Vic at $10-12K and a hybrid today is significant. A big part of that is that there is not a large supply of 3-year old hybrids available on the used car market at this time. The cab companies do feel pressure from drivers, however, so there is not a total disconnect between the owners and gas prices.

Korea

At bottom right, the Post highlighted some inside stories, including page A10 story on "N. Korea Destroys Coolling Tower". The added description highlighted by the Post is "The televised demolition is a symbol of its willingness to abandon nuclear weapons." I will look at the article, but that description sounds like tripe to me. A symbol of abandoning nuclear weapons would be to abandon any weapons they already have. I think the blowing up of the cooling tower is indeed a step in the right direction, but it is more a symbol of Korea's fear of China than anything else.

Electricity price Another inside story highlighted is a page B1 story on "Dominion Issues 18 Percent hike". The additional detail provided is "The huge rate increase will cost customers of the Virginia electric company an average of $16 per month starting July 1."

Food poisoning

And another highlighted story is a page D1 article about "FDA Continues Tomato Probe". "More cases of salmonella are reported, so officials think tainted tomatos may still be in stores."

June 20, 2008

The Plame game: 900 to 0

Googling today's news stories for "Plame" reveals over 900 articles about Scott McClellan's testimony at House hearing today. The ones I read were full of dark accusations. The fact is that McClellan stated: "I do not know whether a crime was committed by any of the administration officials who revealed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters, nor do I know if there was an attempt by any person or persons to engage in a cover-up during the investigation."

This prompts 900 stories? Sheesh. We couldn't even get a single local paper to inform folks that the special general election congressional candidates had each been given 4-minute video slot on Montgomery public access cable channel 21, where the videos were broadcast over a dozen times during the week before the election. Shame on the Gazette and other papers for censoring the news by their utter silence. If any editor at one of these local rags has the good sense to decry the abysmally low voter turnout Tuesday, and yet fails to fess up to their own dereliction, I hope you'll send 'em a note asking why they were silent. Heck, don't bother waiting. Ask 'em today.

I sent Gazette a transcription of my remarks the day they were recorded, and provided as much info about the broadcast plans as I knew at the time. That info never got used in a story, but the Gazette did see fit to report a claim that we had not succeeded in getting even a single petition signature. The reporter had several weeks prior reported that folks across the state were gathering signatures, and was reminded of this the day after the false claim was published. No retraction was published. No correction was published. Well, at least you know the quality of coverage that you can expect if they maintain their quality at this level.

photo of one of five turbocharged clipboards used at Rockville Hometown Holidays in circulating Maryland Independent Party petition for signatures

I even sent the reporter a "How to turbocharge your clipboard" feature I had written for petition circulators, with this photo of one of five clipboards used to collect signatures at HometownHolidays in Rockville.

June 16, 2008

Steve's Comment re: AP article published at Annapolis Capital

A better choice

There are two places online where voters in the June 17 special election can compare the candidates, including more than the two mentioned in this article. The League of Women Voters invited all the candidates to answer the same questions. The answers received from four candidates are published in the League's voters guides - I'm sorry that the rules for posting comments here specify no links allowed. Google for ["League of Women Voters" Maryland Montgomery]. Also, the same four candidates were invited by Access Montgomery to record a 4-minute video statement. The statements by the four candidates can be seen online [Google for "Access Montgomery"] -- and have been shown several times on Montgomery County cable channel 21.

I'm one of those candidates whose answers you can read in the voters guide and who you can see in the video. My name is Steve Schulin. I'm a registered write-in candidate -- votes for me on June 17 will be counted. If you'd like to see a God-fearin', liberty-lovin', sovereignty-conserving Representative in Congress, I ask for your vote on June 17. My campaign web page, as are those of the other candidates, is shown in the voters guide

Steve Schulin - Rockville, MD

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June 16, 2008

Steve's Comment re: pro-Edwards blogging by John Daly (of Rockville)

Donna Edwards, like McCain, Clinton and Obama, proposes mandatory caps on carbon dioxide emissions. If you liked the 85% rise in electricity prices here in Maryland since 2006, you'll love the thousands of extra dollars a year that such caps will cost a typical household. I'm running as an independent write-in candidate, and I respectfully urge voters to send a message to Donna Edwards and all those others. I thank the blogmaster in advance for posting this, and hope he'll do so before the election tomorrow!

http://www.md4steve.org [note: website removed April 2009]

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Steve's Comment re: Philip H. Coons blog (of Waldorf) and Baltimore Sun article which Phil highlighted`

A better choice

There are two places online where voters in the June 17 special election can compare the candidates, including more than the two mentioned in this article. The League of Women Voters invited all the candidates to answer the same questions. The answers received from four candidates are published in the League's voters guides. Also, the same four candidates were invited by Access Montgomery to record a 4-minute video statement. The statements by the four candidates can be seen online -- and have been shown several times on Montgomery County cable channel 21. I'm one of those candidates whose answers you can read in the voters guide and who you can see in the video. My name is Steve Schulin. I'm a registered write-in candidate -- votes for me on June 17 will be counted. If you'd like to see a God-fearin', liberty-lovin', sovereignty-conserving Representative in Congress, I ask for your vote on June 17.

Here's the links

My campaign web page is at http://www.md4steve.org [note: website removed April 2009]

The League of Women Voters voter guides are at
http://www.lwvmd.org/pg/pgc.special.vg.pdf -- Prince George's County
http://www.lwvmd.org/mont/vgspecialcongdist4.pdf -- Montgomery County

The Access Montgomery 14-minute video compilation is at
http://www.accessmontgomery.tv/cn4_1_0.htm

Steve Schulin - Rockville, MD

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Steve's comment to Washington Post blog entry

Thanks, midanae, for naming the others for whom votes will be counted tomorrow. Four candidates registered early enough to be included in the voters guides published by League of Women Voters -- the Montgomery County version is available at http://www.lwvmd.org/mont/vgspecialcongdist4.pdf -- and there's a 14-minute video compilation of statements by the same four candidates recorded at the Montgomery County public access cable TV station -- the video is available for online viewing at http://www.accessmontgomery.tv/cn4_1_0.htm

I invite folks to learn more about my God-fearin', liberty-lovin', sovereignty-conserving platform at http://www.md4steve.org [note: campaign website removed April 2009]

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*

May 25, 2008

Wind energy - Carroll leads Maryland counties in accomodating homeowners' small systems; state grants available

The expense to install a windmill can range from $12,000 to $55,000... Tim Fluharty, who owns the Tilghman-based Fluharty's Electric, has put up eight windmills - including Abey's [Green Point crabber Paul Abey] - on the Eastern Shore, and has several dozen more proposals out from interested individuals, he said. Fluharty installed his first about a year ago at the company vice president's house, to pique curiosity... The Abeys estimate that their electricity bill has gone down by one-third... Paul Abey ... expects the turbine will pay for itself in four or five years. "I can't see how we can lose on it."

Most counties in the region don't address wind turbines, but Carroll County tweaked its zoning ordinance earlier this month to allow residents to install the systems [small wind energy systems]... Earlier this month, the Carroll County commissioners approved a zoning ordinance amendment that allows property owners to install up to two "small wind energy systems," each consisting of one tower not to exceed 150 feet in height. The amendment was the culmination of a process that began with several residents' inquiries at the end of last year, county officials said... And the state has begun offering grants to help people pay for them... Last fall, the Maryland Energy Administration launched a Windswept Grant Program for small wind energy projects. The pilot was spurred by the rising number of requests for assessments, said Crissy Godfrey, wind program manager for the administration. "It's been very popular," Godfrey said of the grant. As of December, she said, there were about two dozen wind projects in Maryland, most on residential properties, the majority on the Eastern Shore... Unlike Carroll's modified ordinance, zoning regulations in most area counties don't address wind turbines. In Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, a windmill is considered an accessory structure, subject to the same restrictions as objects such as sheds. Property owners usually have to get a variance if the turbine surpasses regulation height - 15 feet in Baltimore County, 25 feet in Anne Arundel. In Frederick County, the planning division is expected to present a proposed amendment on wind energy systems in about six months, officials said.

... Wind users connected to the power grid can benefit by building up credits for surplus energy they produce, a supply they can fall back on when needed, Godfrey said. They can also sell power back to utilities, Godfrey and Baring-Gould said, although they don't necessarily get the same value... Mary Bowman is one of several people in [Carroll] county ready to forge ahead with wind power. The Eldersburg resident has seen her monthly electric bill soar to about $425, almost three times the amount she used to pay - even while attempting to cut back on energy use by flipping on ceiling fans and reminding her children to turn off lights. "They have a chokehold on us," Bowman said. "There's got to be an alternative so we're not working to pay BGE. ... We have to start looking to the future. We have to start looking at alternatives."
[Source: Arin Gencer (Baltimore Sun reporter), "Electricity coming out of the air |Power costs have people looking into individual wind energy systems", The Sun, May 25, 2008, p. 1]

May 12, 2008

Free expression of religion: not a universal value in Maryland

A church in Columbia has proposed constructing a new building to include a 16-foot cross on the side facing Twin Rivers Road. An op ed in the local paper describes what the writer calls Columbia's "peculiarly militant form of ecumenism", and reports that "Exterior religious symbols have been more or less taboo at Columbia's interfaith centers from their inception as laboratories of cooperation between people of different faiths. The St. John's plan, the objection goes, tears at the interfaith ideal that is woven into the fabric of Columbia, integral to founder James Rouse's intent to create a place where no race, religion or social class would dominate others. As Wilde Lake Village Board member Mary Pivar put it, the new cross would be a 'stop sign to diversity and inclusiveness.'"

[Ref: Doug Miller, "Balancing faith, tolerance is Columbia's cross to bear", Columbia Flyer, May 8, 2008]

Example of impact of high electricity price in Maryland

In 2005, the single biggest electricity user in the state was the Eastalco aluminum smelting plant near Frederick. The plant, which employed 600 workers, required approximately 350 megawatts of our state's power plant capacity. During its 35 years of operation, the plant surely overcame many challenges. But it could not overcome the prospect of the tripled electricity bill that was the best deal it could negotiate for 2006. So, on December 15, 2005, the company decided to shut the plant. Within a month, 500 of the 600 jobs were cut. Soon thereafter, 75 of the remaining 100 jobs were cut. The site already has nice connection to the power grid, so a company named Sempra Energy considered building a power plant there, and purchased an option on the land. The company laid out plans for a 600-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant, to be called the Catoctin Power Plant. An article in Saturday's Frederick News-Post reports that the company has shelved the plan. Sempra spokesperson Art Larson said that while there's a need for more power in the region, "at this point, economics doesn't warrant going further". He said the plant would not be built without an energy contract in place. The company is curently moving forward on renewable energy pojects in southwestern US, but has no other plans for this area.

[Ref: Ed Waters, Jr., "Economic climate causes company to shelve power plant plan", Frederick News-Post, May 10, 2008]

May 4, 2008

Some notable items in last few days

Obstacles to voting recalled

In 2006 primary, some Maryland precincts had long lines and delays. Our state's Attorney General Doug Gansler, in a speech this week, recalled voters being lined up in huge "snake-like" lines at Evangel Cathedral, a church in Upper Marlboro. "This is America in the 21st century, yet it took three hours to exercise their franchise," Mr. Gansler said. "It reminded me of the days of literacy tests and poll taxes - obstacles to voting - to just merely exercise one of the most fundamental rights that we have in our democracy."

The article mentions that most of the problems -- human errors and technical problems -- that delayed voting in some of the state's largest jurisdictions, were addressed by the time of the 2006 general election.

[Source: Associated Press, "Task force releases report on 2006 voting irregularities", The Capital (Annapolis), April 30, 2008]

52,000 ex-convicts' right to vote was restored by Maryland last year

The same AP story mentions "a change in the law last year allowing convicts who have completed their sentences to vote, a change affecting an estimated 52,000 citizens."

Receipt please

Of all the hare-brained actions by our legislature in recent years, few are as contemptuous of our citizens as the one to spend millions of dollars on voting machines that allow no independent recount. A letter to the Cumberland Times-News this week puts the issue into good perspective. Here's an excerpt:

The vulnerabilities of Maryland's voting system were well documented in the study done by Prof. Edward Felten and his colleagues at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. Prof. Felten testified before a committee of the Maryland House of Delegates in 2007 about the results of his study.

His report is one reason that the Maryland Legislature voted unanimously to abandon touchscreen voting in favor of an accessible paper ballot/optically scanned voting system for 2010. In a time of severe budget constraints, the funding for a new voting system has been provided, signifying the importance of this switch.

The complicated set up and breakdown procedures, which Ms. Amyot explained [in letter published April 27], are a response to the security vulnerabilities built into the current voting system. Accomplishing all the tasks necessary to secure the voting units adds to the long hours that election officials must devote to Election Day.

It does not, however, address the most basic security concern that results from the state's dependence on the manufacturer (Premier Election Solutions - formerly Diebold) for the programming and technical assistance to run the system and compute the results. It does not compensate for the fact that paperless computerized voting occurs within a "black box" where votes are recorded and counted in secret by a system for which the manufacturer claims proprietary rights.

[Source: Mary Howe Kiraly (Bethesda/Cumberland), "Problem with touchscreen voting is well-documented", Cumberland Times-News, May 1, 2008]

Petition process and practices - controversy in Missouri

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had an interesting article today about petition-gathering in their state. I'd like to stress that the petition for Maryland Independent Party is an entirely volunteer effort. Here's excerpts from the article, followed by link to full text:

* With petitions having become an increasingly popular way to get issues before voters, the practice has been met by critics who say the process favors groups with deep pockets and is ripe for abuse. ... About half of the states ... allow citizens to petition for ballot access. In Missouri, to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot requires at least 130,000 signatures, which must be spread from throughout the state. This year, the secretary of state approved 25 initiative petitions for signature collection, up from 11 in 2004. The petition process has its roots in Progressive Era populism, and there are still issues -- such as the push in Missouri for a ballot item encouraging renewable energy -- that are largely volunteer-driven. For other interest groups, the petition has emerged as a way to bypass the Legislature. The state's casinos, for instance, have paid over $195,000 to a Michigan firm -- National Petition Management Inc. -- to collect signatures that would rescind the state's $500 loss limit. "It's pay to play," said Todd Donovan, a political science professor at Western Washington University who has studied the effect of initiative petitions.

* At the Capitol... there is a move to further regulate signature gathering in the state. Storch has authored a bill that would prohibit signature companies from paying by the name, a law in effect in Wyoming, North Dakota and Oregon. "I think that the last few election cycles have demonstrated that this business of initiative petitions has become a serious one," Storch said.

* Though conceived as a grass-roots way for citizens to take issues directly to voters, collecting signatures on some measures has also become a big business. Well-funded organizations can contract with firms who, for a hefty fee, will guarantee ballot access. Individual signature gatherers are sometimes paid $1 or more for a name. States elsewhere have sought to crack down on petition circulators, either by limiting the time organizers have to collect names or making it illegal to pay by the signature. Now, some say, it's time to clean up the process in Missouri. "The ballot initiative goes to the heart of the democratic process -- we need to make sure it is not being abused," said state Rep. Rachel Storch, D-St. Louis.

* The process ... can be easily manipulated by those who peddle the petitions, Donovan says. One trick: Using a clipboard to cover the part of the petition that tells voters what they are actually endorsing. "There are professionals out there who know how to play the game," Donovan said. "Even when they are doing things legally, they have a song and dance."

* Signature collectors sometimes present voters with two or three petitions at a time, making it confusing for voters to know which one they are signing. Even the names can be potentially deceiving -- an effort to rescind the spending limits at casinos mentions schools, but not gambling.

* FIERCE BATTLES
In the absence of strict regulations, those on both sides of contentious ballot issues in Missouri have taken to policing each other's tactics. The result: a rhetorical battle playing out in front of voters at popular signature-gathering spots such as post offices, libraries and government buildings. This spring, the fiercest battles erupted over a measure to ban affirmative action. A group of volunteers and paid canvassers have mobilized against the initiative, which is similar to ones in other states that have generated complaints about deceptive petition tactics. Critics here say even the initiative's name -- the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative -- is misleading and may fool some people who don't realize it would ban affirmative action programs backed by the state and local government. The liberal-leaning group Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, has deployed crews of workers at $8 an hour to make sure people know what they are signing, even if it means being assertive about spreading their view. "I like to call it being pleasantly persistent," said ACORN organizer Jackie Tyler. Tyler said her workers were educating voters. The opposition has another name for them: "blockers." Last week, Tyler and a crew of about 20 ACORN workers dispersed through the region, responding to a hot line where people can call to report sightings of signature gatherers. One of those tips led her to the Maryland Heights Post Office, where she saw a petition gatherer juggling about six yellow and blue clipboards attracting a small crowd. Armed with a pile of yellow fliers that say "Think before you ink!" Tyler tried to approach voters, warning the affirmative action petition would harm women and minorities. The signature collector, David Ulmo, a furniture salesman from Kansas City, had a yellow flier of his own to counter Tyler's. "Please ignore these paid 'blockers' who use thug tactics and intimidation to stop you from signing," his flier read. "Don't be bullied into walking away." Later, Tyler laughed at Ulmo's flyer. It will make it onto a dartboard back at the office, she said.

* Tim Asher, who is leading the Missouri Civil Rights Initiative, said critics who accused them of deceptive practices lacked evidence to back their claims. "I've never heard anyone misrepresent the issue," he said. The local and national offices for National Ballot Access -- the Georgia company hired by to collect signatures for the anti-affirmative action drive -- did not return numerous phone calls.

* Ken McKoy, a veteran political activist and African-American pastor, would never dream of adding his name to a petition seeking the end of affirmative action in Missouri. But that's exactly what he nearly did when approached recently by a signature gatherer ... who pitched the proposal as a push to end discrimination. "He looked like a progressive -- he had tattoos, he had an earring, he may have had a mohawk," McKoy said of the petitioner. "He seemed like a left-wing hippie type guy. And he almost got me." Welcome to Missouri's wild and largely unregulated petition gathering season, which culminates Sunday as more than two dozen groups are due to submit signatures to the state on issues ranging from gambling limits to eminent domain.

* Dave Maus, a retired salesman from Oakville, said a young woman approached him about two weeks ago with the casinos petition. He recalled her saying the measure would raise $105 million for schools. It wasn't until he got home that he realized the initiative would also do away with wagering caps and limit the number of casinos in the state. "I know we should always read a petition, and that's nobody's fault but my own," he said. ... Anne Marie Moy, a spokeswoman for the casino effort, defended the title of the ballot campaign -- "Yes for Schools First" -- as accurate. The proposal would raise the amount of casino taxes -- to 21 percent from 20 percent -- dedicated for education. "I don't think it's deceptive," Moy said. "I think it very clearly states the most important thing that the initiative is going to accomplish."

* According to the Missouri secretary of state's office, 15 voters have submitted an affidavit asking that their names be removed from a petition -- 14 on the affirmative-action push, and one on the casino petition.

[Source: Jake Wagman and Kavita Kumar, "Petition deadline is here -- but sign with caution", St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 4, 2008]

April 18, 2008

The democrats aren't so pro-choice when it comes to the choices on the ballot

Bob Benenson of CQpolitics.com recalls that the last special Congressional election in Maryland was in April 1996, to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Kweisi Mfume (resigned to become president of NAACP). The circumstances were very different then, but it is noteworthy to point out that fully 27 candidates arose for Democratic primary in that case.

There will be no primary this time. And that is because our Democrat Governor requested our Democrat-majority legislature to pass a bill to set a single special election date with nominees chosen by party officials rather than by primary voters. The move was justified as cutting the length of time that the seat will be vacant and saving taxpayers the roughly $1 million it would have cost to hold a primary. See Bob's article here.

April 17, 2008

* Gov. O'Malley plans to call for June 17 special election for House seat to be vacated by Rep. Wynn

April 11, 2008

* Education - differentiated accountability - MD is one of two states to express interest in federal pilot program to improve on No Child Left Behind Law [Wash'n Post editorial]

* MD-4 special election, and date, is up to Gov. O'Malley; Donna Edwards wants it

* Rep. Wynn relinquishes seat on House Energy and Commerce committee, to avoid distracting "the critical work of the committee to combat climate change, achieve energy independence, and protect our environment" [see same link as the above item]



(c) 2008 - 2009 by Steve Schulin. All rights reserved.

Questions or comments? Email steve.schulin@nuclear.com