When a calm, polite, team-playing PTA president like Julie Sugar reaches her "boiling point" . . .

. . . you know that something is deeply wrong with the recent performance of the BCPS school board. From her recent editorial on the Sun website:
[The] summer study task force to examine the current school board selection process in Baltimore County . . . was formed after legislators received numerous complaints from parents and community groups regarding BCPS and their poor handling of issues such as botched school renovations, major overcrowding in schools, AIM, and banning PTA craft fairs and community groups from public schools.

I have been involved in these issues over the past four years, and my frustration has reached a boiling point. Each time a problem arises, the BCPS administrators at Greenwood deny the problem, and then the board ignores it. Our only recourse has been to complain to our elected leaders to intervene on our behalf. Why? Because our lawmakers represent us, and our school board does not.

Over the past four years, the appointed board has rubber stamped every decision and priority of the superintendent – when in reality the superintendent works for the board.
She supports a hybrid board, but seems afraid that the task force will ignore public testimony and go off in a different direction. I share her fear.


Low-cost, flexible Megabus from the private sector vs. budget-busting, inflexible high-speed rail from the public sector

Michael Barone spots the winner.

It seems to me that two rarely-made comparisons work against high-speed rail:
  1. Any kind of railroad is comparable to older telecom technology (landlines, dedicated circuits and the like), while cars and buses are comparable to newer telecom technology (cell phones, packet switching and so on).
  2. The car-bus-and-road approach is more like modern distributed computing on the internet, while railroads are more like clunky mainframe technology.
"Big, centralized and inflexible" has worked OK at some times in the past. But "small, decentralized and flexible" usually wins out in the long run.

It also seems to me that high-speed rail proponents usually leave last mile considerations and other inconvenient numbers out of their analyses:
Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute notes that high-speed rail connects big-city downtowns, where only 7 percent of Americans work and 1 percent live. “The average intercity auto trip today uses less energy per passenger mile than the average Amtrak train.” And high speed will not displace enough cars to measurably reduce congestion. The Washington Post says China’s fast trains are priced beyond ordinary workers’ budgets, and that France, like Japan, has only one profitable line.
And, of course, railroads are less robust and more vulnerable than highway systems to terrorism, sabotage, and military attacks.


Cause & effect: Why gerrymandering is a root cause of so many ills in the US Congress & state legislatures

[UPDATE: Most people yawn at the issue of gerrymandering, but I think it is a critical problem. I drew this chart partly to clarify the issue in my own mind and partly to illustrate for others how pernicious and damaging gerrymandering really is.]

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Brendan Loy compares Mayor Bloomberg to Mayor Nagin

He doesn't like Bloomberg's choice to delay a decision on evacuation of New Yorkers living in "Zone A" low-lying areas:
Two days short of six years later, with a big-time hurricane hurdling toward a Sunday strike on his city, is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg making the same mistake? He has announced that he will wait until Saturday morning to decide whether to order a mandatory evacuation of the “Zone A” low-lying areas that are home to roughly 250,000 people. So, like Nagin, he’ll be ordering an evacuation on the very day before the storm’s landfall or closest approach, and with perhaps 12 hours or less before conditions begin to deteriorate. That seems pretty foolish. Heck, I thought late Friday was pretty late to get started. Saturday morning? Really?!
Loy also thinks it's a terrible idea to play the Jets-Giants pre-season game, even with an early start:

One thing I know is the wrong call is the decision to play the Jets-Giants preseason NFL game on Saturday, albeit with an accelerated kickoff time of 2pm instead of 7pm. Playing this game at all on Saturday is absolutely absurd, full stop. Saturday should be a day for evacuations and last-minute preparations, and that’s it. Adding pre- and post-game traffic to the evacuation traffic is beyond irresponsible, and even worse is the message that this sends to the public: that it’s business as usual, the hurricane is no big deal, let’s go watch a football game!

Look, I love football. But let me be clear. Going forward with the Jets-Giants game on Saturday is an unbelievably terrible, inexcusably irresponsible, utterly indefensible decision, and it must be overturned. I strongly urge Andrew Cuomo, Chris Christie and Michael Bloomberg to use the power of their offices to convince the NFL to call off this game, and if the NFL refuses to cooperate, I urge them to publicly shame the league into doing so. Anything less would be a failure of leadership. It’s an utter absurdity that going forward with the game is even being contemplated under the circumstances.


It's time for Maryland to start fixing the hugely damaging gerrymandering problem

The WaPo makes some good points on gerrymandering in their recent editorial.

1. It leads to extremism in both parties:
By planting more and more districts firmly in the camp of one party or the other, the [gerrymandering] process, abetted by computer wizardry and the hard-line leanings of both parties’ primary voters, leads directly to uncompromising, line-in-the-sand politicians.
2. It's already really bad in Maryland:
As even a cursory glance at Maryland’s current congressional map illustrates, the state’s district lines are so tortuously drawn as to be almost comical.

Fashioned by Democrats in 2001 after the last census, the map pays little heed to counties and communities and dilutes Republican votes where possible by dispersing them among districts. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as the city of Baltimore are each split among three districts . . . . The 2nd Congressional District — curlicue territories strung together by impossibly delicate tendrils of land — is a crazy-quilt confection drawn for the express purpose of ousting the incumbent at the time
3. Gov. O'Malley's redistricting committee is all about window dressing:
A redistricting committee appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is crisscrossing the state gathering the views of citizens. The panel’s five members include just one Republican, but in any event it is little more than a dog and pony show.
4. Few people are optimistic that we'll get a better result this time around:
And no one should be surprised when the district lines end up even more crooked and cockeyed than they are now, nor when elections become even less competitive than they already are.
5. Other states are starting to fix things:
There is a better way of doing things. About a dozen states have established nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions to draw electoral maps, and studies suggest that elections have become more competitive in those states.
6. Fixing gerrymandering is beneficial in ways that regular citizens of both parties support:
Competitive districts tend to favor more moderate candidates, at the expense of ideologues of all stripes. That alone would be an important step in the direction of compromise and a workable political system.
Bottom line: things are a mess here in Maryland, but there's no reason why we can't start start fixing the redistricting process. If other states can do it, we can too.


The connection between culture, stories and politics

Lawrence Meyers at Big Hollywood lays it out and suggests that the connection is so important that we should all be paying closer attention.

The tag line in the title: "politics is downstream from culture."

The job-killing NLRB

Joe Nocera of the NY Times gives an update on the Boeing fiasco:
In April, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Boeing, accusing it of opening the South Carolina plant to retaliate against the union, which has a history of striking at contract time. The N.L.R.B.’s proposed solution, believe it or not, is to move all the Dreamliner production back to Puget Sound, leaving those 5,000 workers in South Carolina twiddling their thumbs.

Seriously, when has a government agency ever tried to dictate where a company makes its products? I can’t ever remember it happening. Neither can Boeing, which is fighting the complaint. J. Michael Luttig, Boeing’s general counsel, has described the action as “unprecedented.” He has also said that it was a disservice to a country that is “in desperate need of economic growth and the concomitant job creation.” He’s right.


"Baltimore a national leader in unfounded rape cases"

Reports the Baltimore Sun.
The Baltimore Police Department has for the past four years recorded the highest percentage of rape cases that officers conclude are false or baseless of any city in the country, according to The Baltimore Sun's review of FBI data. More than 30 percent of the cases investigated by detectives each year are deemed unfounded, five times the national average. Only Louisville and Pittsburgh have reported similar numbers in the recent past, and the number of unfounded rape cases in those cities dropped after police implemented new classification procedures. The increase in unfounded cases comes as the number of rapes reported by Baltimore police has plunged — from 684 in 1995 to 158 in 2009, a decline of nearly 80 percent.
This could mean that women in Baltimore make more false accusations. It could also mean that police here are more likely to ignore legitimate cases of rape. Most likely, it's some of both.

UPDATE: Somewhat related, from Dr. Helen:
Pressured by the Obama administration, universities abandon any pretense of due process in sexual assault cases.


Gov. O'Malley and his redistricting commission: arrogance with no accountability

At the start of the redistricting hearing last night, State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch and their three colleagues could not have looked more bored.

But Annie Linsky of the Sun describes some testimony that seemed to wake them up:

Though the hearing was sparsely attended compared to others elsewhere in
the state, commenters made some of the most pointed criticism to date. David
Greene, a city resident, took lawmakers to task for the “arrogance” of
Maryland’s current congressional map.

Particularly in Central Maryland, that map cuts through counties and neighborhoods in a tangle of lines designed to link Democratic voters together and limit Republican power in Congress. He said one district resembles a cow-brand that lawmakers stamped on the state.

He compared the public lack of concern about gerrymandering to what he
says was once a similar attitude toward date rape.

“Everyone says 'politicians will be politicians,' “ Greene said. “It is time for us to shift our attitudes just as we did with date rape. Not acceptable.”

He drew applause when he asked: “Are you going to fix this problem or are you going to rape us again?”

If Miller and Busch want to stop the gerrymandering, it is easily within their power. Will they wake up and smell the coffee? Too early to say, but I think they might be surprised at how closely people will be watching them.



Watch it to the end. Of all the Powerline contest videos, this is the one that went viral even though it didn't finish in the top tier.

The idea of the $100,000 contest was to "effectively and creatively dramatize the significance of the federal debt crisis"


Testimony from tonights redistricting hearing

I have four things to say about redistricting.

1. If you think about what's wrong with Congress -- arrogance, corruption, incivility, and so on -- one root cause is safe districts. And of course a root cause of safe districts is gerrymandering.

2. At every level, I'd like to see compact districts that keep communities together. These districts should be drawn up by neutral bodies containing zero elected officials.

3. The fight against gerrymandering is a "strange bedfellow" kind of issue. In writing an article called Gerrymandering is Bad for the Bay I interviewed someone I often disagree with, the Executive Director of Maryland LCV, and found that I agreed with almost everything she said about redistricting. She said that it makes people less likely to vote, reduces the responsiveness of politicians, and makes it more difficult for *any* kind of community group to get help from elected officials. Republicans should build bridges with Dem-leaning groups like Maryland LCV and fight gerrymandering together.

4. In the fight against gerrymandering many of the "enemy" are on our side of the aisle. Gerrymandering is like chocolate. If you put a chocolate bar in front of a chocaholic he will probably eat it. And if you let a politician of any party choose the districts, he will probably gerrymander. Furthermore, most politicians at every level -- including Republicans -- tend to shrug at the problem of gerrymandering, deny that it is a problem and worst of all claim that there is nothing they can do about it. Here's how the blameshifting works:
  • County Council people say disingenuously "go talk to the Redistricting Commission" .
  • State Legislators say they are hamstrung by federal election laws, and
  • Congressmen say "Don't look at me, the state legislature and governor decide on what my district looks like."
In conclusion, we can't let politicians get away with this kind of misdirection. All elected officials in every party at every level should do two things at minimum. First, talk about gerrymandering in public and acknowledge that it is a huge problem. Second, remove themselves from the redistricting process.