Thursday, July 31, 2008

John McCain's Trash Talk Express

If I were John McCain …

If I had voted to launch a completely unnecessary war on bogus evidence, a war that led to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of servicemen and women, an unnecessary war that was destroying our nation’s economy, an unnecessary war that was stretching our armed forces to the limit and leaving us unable to exercise military force where needed ...

If I’d spent the last eight years cheerleading the president who had the man responsible for 9//11 cornered like a rat in Afghanistan, but then chose to divert our forces to Iraq and let the real enemy get away ...

If I’d supported tax policies that for the past generation had so starved the federal and state governments that our bridges, roads, and levies were crumbling ...

If I’d supported an administration that left the poor of New Orleans to drown when some of those levies finally collapsed ...

If I’d supported the deregulation that led inevitably to today’s housing crisis, knowing that countless Americans were losing their homes because of my policies ...

If I were leading a political party that ran the K Street Project, where lobbying firms knew they had to hire Republicans and be Party members in order to have influence on the Hill ...

If I had spent eight years cheerleading a president who so politicized governance that you had to be Party member to get a government job or contract ...

If my policies and those of my party had caused so much damage to the nation I love, you can bet that I would do anything to talk about something else -- anything else.

If I were responsible for such devastation, you can be sure I’d change the topic to Obama and Paris Hilton, Obama not visiting troops, Obama being a flip-flopper, and Obama being an uppity … candidate.

So it is not surprising that the McCain campaign is engaging in a filthy campaign of lies and misdirection.

Because he and his supporters would do anything to change the subject.

And that’s how everyone who cares about our country should respond every time the Republicans change the topic away from their record and hurl some new piece of garbage from the Trash Talk Express:

“If I were responsible for [pick any of the above], I’d be changing the topic to Paris Hilton [or whatever the latest distraction is], too.”


Jennifer Dougherty for Congress

By Marc Korman.

Recently, Jennifer Dougherty paid a visit to the Montgomery County Young Democrats at their monthly meeting. Dougherty is running for Congress in the 6th district of Maryland, which includes Frederick, Alleghany, Carroll, Garrett, and Washington counties and parts of Baltimore, Harford, and Howard counties. The district also has six, sparsely populated precincts in Montgomery County. The district map can be seen here. Since 1993, the 6th district has been represented by Congressman Roscoe Bartlett. Barlett has won the district with over 55% of the vote since 1992. It was specifically drawn for a Republican, going for President Bush with 61% of the vote in 2000 and 65% in 2004. So what is Dougherty’s game plan for knocking off the incumbent?

The Incumbent

Roscoe Bartlett is 82 years old and sits on three House Committees: Armed Services, Small Business, and Science. The House of Representatives was Bartlett’s first political office, although he ran unsuccessfully for Congress once before. He has had a diverse career including working as a teacher, a research scientist, inventor, businessman, and farmer. He has 20 research patents to his name.

In Congress, Bartlett is known for his science background and his involvement in naval issues. He does not have much of a record of passing legislation. Looking through the Library of Congress’ bill tracker, there is no indication that Bartlett passed a single bill or amendment on the floor during his entire Congressional career. To be fair, that does not necessarily mean he has not done anything, as often times legislation is combined with other bills or amended in committee.

The Challenger

Jennifer Dougherty was a one term mayor of Frederick from 2001 to 2005, beating a two term incumbent. However, she lost the Democratic primary in 2005. Dougherty has owned and operated a number of businesses in Frederick. Earlier this year, she defeated Iraq war veteran Andrew Duck for the Democratic Congressional nomination. Duck had run against Bartlett in 2006, keeping him to his lowest share of the vote since 1996. Although that was still a 59% victory for Bartlett.

In describing her mayoral term, Dougherty discussed her work to increase jobs in Frederick and improving public safety through police reform.

The Issues

Dougherty focused on three issues she thought would be important in the upcoming election. The first was energy/gas prices. Bartlett has a long history of discussing peak oil, the idea that oil is a finite resource, but Dougherty believes his record is lacking. Bartlett supported the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act in 2005, which is largely regarded as too generous to fossil fuels, at the expense of alternatives. The second issue was the economy, with Dougherty discussing some of the truly impoverished areas of the 6th district where jobs are sorely needed. She discussed the need to balance the free market with sensible regulation. The final issue mentioned was public safety, including homeland security issues, especially those stemming from Fort Detrick in Frederick.

The Plan

But those issues have little to do with how Dougherty really plans to become a Congresswoman. Her real plan can best be summarized as the two Bs: Bush and Bartlett.

The only reason the 6th Congressional district is in play is because the Republican brand is decimated thanks to President Bush. Dougherty needs to position herself to ride the Democratic wave, if it exists, on Election Day.

To help position herself for that wave, Dougherty needs to spend time talking about Bartlett. One issue that Dougherty probably will not discuss, but she has been asked about, is Bartlett’s age. Another issue now on the table is Bartlett’s property sales and his failure to disclose his estimated income. But the issue Dougherty brought up when she spoke is effectiveness, noting Bartlett’s lack of legislative accomplishment. Although Dougherty did not mention it, I know that Bartlett has introduced legislation for several years to allow GI Bill education benefits to be transferred from the servicemember to a family member. But it took a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Senator, Jim Webb, to actually turn it into law.

The Chances

So what are Dougherty’s chances? She likely needs a big Democratic wave to take the seat. As discussed above, the district is made for a Republican. Dougherty is also behind in fundraising. She only had $41,000 cash on hand, compared to $337,000 for Bartlett after the last fundraising quarter. Dougherty also mentioned her plan to canvass every house in certain neighborhoods, as opposed to limiting herself to registered voters or some other type of targeted effort. That demonstrates, to me, a lack of a serious campaign plan. Alternatively, she has an ambitious neighbor to neighbor phone banking plan that asks volunteers to make just a few phone calls a day to maximize the time of her volunteers and impact on voters.

While Dougherty has an uphill battle, the past two years have shown Democrats can win in unexpected places. If Jennifer Dougherty works hard, raises some money, and knocks on the right doors, she could be positioned to ride the wave to the Capitol.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sierra Club: No Need for LEED

The Washington Business Journal reported this tidbit about the Sierra Club:

The greenest of green organizations, the Sierra Club, is buying an office condominium in NoMa. But it won’t be joining in the green building craze — or at least it won’t be seeking the imprimatur of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification.

The Sierra Club is under contract to buy three floors — 28,000 square feet — of J Street Development’s office condominium project at 111 K St. NE in the neighborhood north of Massachusetts Avenue.

The nonprofit’s build-out will have green and energy-efficient elements, but the space will not be certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The building itself will not be certified either.

The Sierra Club declined to comment on the decision to forgo review and certification under the LEED program.
I could point out that LEED-certified buildings have lower long-run energy costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and encourage the creation of green jobs - but why should I have to explain those things to the Sierra Club?!?

On top of this, J Street Development, the owner/builder/developer of 111 K Street NE, is not a union contractor.

So I guess one black eye is not good enough for the Sierra Club. They had to go for the twofer.


County Council: Tell Us More About Bait Cars

At a 7/28/08 work session of the County Council’s Public Safety Committee, Chairman Phil Andrews and committee members Marc Elrich and Don Praisner asked the Montgomery County Police Department for more information on successful bait car programs. Car thieves everywhere shuddered at the news.

Regular readers will remember how I declared war against car thieves after my neighbor’s car was stolen last fall. In researching the best practices for suppressing the lurking, squealing thieves, I quickly found British Columbia’s amazing website. British Columbia is one of dozens of jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada that employs large, aggressive bait car programs to capture and deter car thieves. When a thief breaks into the bait car, its cameras begin recording, its GPS device activates and an alarm is triggered at police headquarters. The police then swoop in to capture the now-pitiful criminal and the video is posted on the Internet and other media outlets. The combined effect of apprehension, deterrence and the massive media campaigns that accompany these programs have produced double-digit declines in theft in British Columbia, Minneapolis, Dallas, Stanislaus County in California and other jurisdictions. Arlington County, Virginia reports that bait cars have helped cut its car theft totals to the lowest levels since 1965. Best of all, many bait car programs are paid in whole or in part by insurance companies. We have combined all of this information and more in the heavily-demanded Bait Car Bible available here.

The Public Safety Committee interviewed Acting Assistant Police Chief Wayne Jerman. Jerman said that Montgomery County purchased two bait cars in 2004: a 1991 Toyota Corolla and a 1995 Honda. Neither proved desirable to the car thieves, who have only committed one theft and one break-in on the cars over the past four years. Unlike other jurisdictions, the county does not promote the cars. (British Columbia’s famous slogan, “Steal a Bait Car. Go to Jail,” has been the centerpiece of its award-winning “advertising campaign.”) Jerman described the bait car programs in both Prince George’s County and Fairfax County as “successful” but did not have statistics on their performance.

Council Members Don Praiser (left) and Marc Elrich.

Chairman Andrews noted that Montgomery County experiences roughly 2,500 car thefts per year, much lower than in Prince George’s County (where it is 12,000 per year) but still, in his words, “a high plateau.” Mr. Andrews stated that vehicle-related thefts were the number one category of crime in Montgomery and handed out a reported crime list from the 7/17/08 Washington Post. Of the 120 Montgomery County crimes in that report, 56 were car thefts or car break-ins. Mr. Andrews told the Assistant Chief, “It seems to me we need to do more in this area, especially in those parts of the county where it is a problem.” He asked Jerman what more could be done to have a greater impact on car thefts.

Assistant Chief Jerman admitted that the police could use more bait cars, stating, “Two is not enough.” But he described them as “labor-intensive,” saying that each needed three officers – two to drive it to the drop-off point and another to monitor it from headquarters. The auto theft unit’s nine investigators together record a 70% recovery rate of stolen cars (but not the valuables inside), which everyone agrees is a good performance. But if the thieves were deterred from stealing the cars in the first place, how much more effective could the investigators be?

Public Safety Committee Chairman Phil Andrews.

Mr. Andrews then put his finger on the key issue: why have bait car programs worked so well in other places? Noting that British Columbia has used its program to cut its auto thefts from 26,000 in fiscal 2004 to 17,000 in fiscal 2007 – a decline of 35% – he told Jerman, “What I want to get is more details on how they do it... What have they done that has been so successful?” Mr. Andrews specifically asked for information on how funding is collected from insurance companies, how much costs are paid by the police themselves and how successful jurisdictions deploy the cars. Assistant Chief Jerman agreed to find out and the Public Safety Committee will reconvene in the fall.

It’s clear that the County Council, and Phil Andrews in particular, have heard us and are responding to our blockbuster letter from last fall. We will see whether the police believe that bait cars can work in Montgomery County. But if they can achieve the same success that other jurisdictions have seen, the county’s citizens will benefit in two ways:

1. The most common type of crime in the county will be seriously reduced.
2. Over the long run, the police may then be able to redeploy their resources to more serious problems, like home burglaries and violent crime.

As for the sniveling car thieves, I have one message for you: enjoy yourselves while you can because the good times won’t last forever. As our friends in British Columbia say:


Update: The Gazette's coverage, which includes statistics on car thefts and break-ins, is here.

Update 2: Here's an article from the Washington Post detailing the successful use of a bait car by D.C. police in March.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Transgender Bill Defenders Gear Up for a Fight

Reacting to a recent court decision allowing the anti-transgender referendum to proceed, the transgender bill’s defenders have launched a new website and are seeking staff.

Upon looking at the website, I was struck by the fact that it did not list its backers. But the site does list a treasurer: Christine Grewell, who served as treasurer in the 2006 campaigns of County Council Member Marc Elrich and District 18 delegate candidate Dana Beyer. (Ms. Beyer, a staffer for the bill’s lead sponsor, Duchy Trachtenberg, is a Vice-President of Equality Maryland and a prominent backer of the bill.) As many donors may be uneasy about contributing to an anonymous site, more names than just Ms. Grewell’s may be helpful.

Incidentally, wouldn’t it be outrageous if the shower nuts started a pro-transgender site to collect donations? That would be one way to drain the enemy of resources! But the shower nuts are not clever enough for that and Basic Rights Montgomery is a real organization.

According to this press release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Basic Rights Montgomery is chaired by Equality Maryland board member James R. Walker Jr., who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the county’s Board of Elections. Equality Maryland is seeking a campaign manager and the new website’s purpose is, in part, to raise enough money to pay that person. Whoever it turns out to be, that individual could never be paid enough money to tolerate the hysteria coming from the other side.

In the end, the greatest advantage held by the bill’s backers may not be money or staff, but the referendum’s language as approved by the County Council. The language reads:

Shall the Act to prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, cable television service and taxicab service on the basis of gender identity become law?
This ensures that every voter will be reminded of the ultimate purpose of the transgender bill: outlawing discrimination. Few Montgomery County voters will knowingly support discrimination so the shower nuts have a high curtain to climb.


MARC Train’s Mea Culpa

By Marc Korman.

I recently wrote two posts on the MARC train. In my post, I outlined some of the reforms I felt MARC needed to take before embarking on its planned expansion. Since I spent some time criticizing MARC, I want to also give credit where credit is due. On July 23rd, the Maryland Transit Administration sent the message below to the subscribers to the MARC email alert system after a series of MARC delays:

A Message from the MTA Administrator

For the past six weeks on-time performance for MARC Train service has fallen far below what customers expect or deserve. During June Penn Line trains were on-time 81% of the time; Camden Line trains were on-time 63% of the time and Brunswick Line trains were on-time 63% of the time. Although some service disruptions are unavoidable, there were instances where we could have taken actions to reduce the anxiety, frustration and inconvenience that you and your family, friends and colleagues experienced. Specifically, service was disrupted for the following reasons:

• Rising summer temperatures put additional stress on equipment and tracks, increasing the likelihood of failure;
• A severe storm cut power to the track signals and blew down trees along the Brunswick Line, forcing us to cancel service;
• A fuel tanker overturned on I-95 in Baltimore City, causing fire authorities to close the Camden Line;
• Our fleet of diesel locomotives is nearly 40 years old, and despite a major overhaul 10 years ago is increasingly unreliable;
• Electric locomotives used on the Penn Line have been out of service for a scheduled overhaul, requiring us to use the older diesel locomotives instead and
• Persistent reliability problems with our newest electric locomotives.

We are taking immediate corrective steps to regain your confidence in us. I have directed MARC Operations to review and analyze each recent incident with Amtrak and CSX Transportation, and implement measures to reduce this risk of reoccurrences in the future.

Penn Line customers should know that MARC managers communicate with their counterparts at Amtrak on a daily basis to anticipate and address issues that cause service delays. We are also working closely with Amtrak to improve the reliability of the electric locomotives. An overhaul of our four AEM-7 electric locomotives is nearly complete with the first overhauled unit back in service in early August and the second in service by mid-August.

For customers of the Brunswick and Camden lines, you should know that CSX has recently relocated dispatchers from Jacksonville, Florida to Baltimore which should greatly improve the communication and reliability of the service.

As we have previously announced, MTA has awarded a contract for the replacement of the diesel locomotives, and 26 new units will arrive in Maryland at the rate of two a month beginning in early 2009. Maintenance on the existing units will be enhanced to keep them operating safely.

In the mean time, we will continue to provide real-time information about MARC service using our email notification system. You can also see the current location of any train at To further enhance our communication we have initiated a project to replace the public address system at all stations.

As MARC customers, you deserved better -- a lot better! We regret any inconvenience you have experienced and thank you for your continued support of MARC Train. Over the next several days MARC managers will be available at Union Station to monitor the service and answer your questions.

Paul J. Wiedefeld
My personal experience with these delays was that my Camden line train’s engine broke down, not only delaying my train, but the Penn line train trapped behind us. Luckily, I have an understanding boss. But despite my continued frustration with MARC, I appreciate the Administrator sending a comprehensive message explaining what went wrong and efforts to improve it. The pitch for the MARC Tracker is a bit disingenuous, since the Tracker does not send updates in a timely matter.

MTA needs to keep these updates coming while also making the other needed reforms I outlined previously: improving communications, tackling the operations and maintenance needs of the system, and addressing congestion on the rails.


Target: Eric Luedtke

Last month, I called for the revival of the state’s liberal blogosphere. That call has been answered! And the saviors of the online left are... the online right.

As I ended my series on the state of Maryland blogdom, Isaac Smith and Eric Luedtke resumed regular posting on Free State Politics. That has attracted significant attention from Red Maryland, the nexus of the state’s conservative blogosphere. Over a nine-day period from 7/17/08 through 7/25/08, conservative bloggers criticized Luedtke by name in nine posts on five different days. Luedtke’s views on transit, education and the environment made them howl like coyotes in the hills!

These Red Maryland bloggers have probably never met Eric Luedtke. Slightly-built, Luedtke has the appearance of a first-week college freshman searching for his backpack to avoid being late for class. A soft-spoken teacher from Burtonsville, he is no proponent of the two-by-four liberalism practiced by some on this blog. The laptop-toting, coffee-sipping Luedtke is about as threatening as dew on the grass.

But Luedtke is really driving the conservatives nuts as some of their criticism is strikingly personal. In one post, Brian Griffiths accuses Luedtke of promoting “racial nonsense” and says the following on accountability in education:

Luedtke, as we mentioned, is a teacher. He is a member of the teachers union. Once he reaches tenure, he is virtually unable to be fired. How's that for accountability?
This follows Griffith’s labeling of Free State Politics bloggers as “privileged Caucasians.”

All of this attention from conservatives is having an unintended consequence: they are helping to revive Free State Politics. Every time they link to one of Luedtke’s posts, they encourage their readers to visit them and pass them on. In the three weeks prior to 7/17/08, Free State Politics averaged 181 visits per day. But over the nine-day anti-Luedtke jihad, Free State averaged 268 visits per day – an increase of 48%.

On behalf of the Maryland left, I extend my sincere gratitude to Red Maryland for coming to the aid of Free State Politics. I only have one question for them: where’s the love for me?


Monday, July 28, 2008

How Low Can Bob Ehrlich Go?

In an astounding interview on WBAL last Wednesday, former Governor Bob Ehrlich blamed former Maryland Attorney General Joe Curran for the state police spying scandal and went on to tell state legislators not to “micro-manage” the police!

Following are excerpts from an interview of Governor Ehrlich by conservative talk show host Bruce Elliott on 7/23/08:

On this issue, somebody authorized 288 hours of spying on peace and anti-death penalty groups. I personally would like to know who and why. The implication from Martin O’Malley yesterday was somehow it’s the responsibility of the former administration. Thus, he is, it seems to me, kind of implying that a piece of paper crossed your desk and you signed off on this.

Yeah, which of course is silly. There’s not a whole lot to add to what I guess Superintendent Hutchins has already told the press. Police agencies are paid to protect us, Bruce. They make discretionary decisions regarding their operations. Governors do not get involved in those operations quite obviously. There are however Assistant Attorney Generals that they report to. Assistant Attorney Generals are assigned to every agency in state government. And so if Martin O’Malley has an issue with regard to the Attorney General’s actions during our administration, he should probably talk to his father-in-law [former Attorney General Curran].
A spokeswoman for current Attorney General Doug Gansler immediately denied that the state police asked the Attorney General’s office for an opinion on the investigation. Here is more from the former Governor:

OK Bob, do you have a problem with this? Knowing what you know now.

I don’t know a whole lot. I know this Bruce – here’s what I do know – that if there would be a danger to the public or a public official or something or some element occurred within these groups, the Martin O’Malleys of the world, talk radio folks of the world would be the first to ask me why weren’t the state police or the agency involved doing their job? So it’s a very interesting issue, obviously. I have no problem with the oversight. As I’ve said, that’s what Assistant Attorney Generals do. But if you really want to get into the state legislature micro-managing the state police agency, I’ve got a big problem with it...
But the former Governor is not done yet.

OK now, Jim Brochin, a Senator you know from Baltimore County, Democrat, said the whole thing is disturbing. He is somewhat comforted by assurances made by [current Superintendent of State Police] Sheridan and O’Malley and is not considering legislation. Now that does raise an interesting question, Governor. The indications from Governor O’Malley are, well, this just took place under the previous administration and somehow stopped as if on cue when you left Government House.

It would be interesting to ask, again I’m not [unintelligible] but, what similar operations were performed by Baltimore City Police during his tenure as Mayor. But again the issue here is, Bruce, the press is doing its job, I think the Attorney Generals really need to be talked to and we need to find out exactly what they said, what interaction there was between the state police in this case and the Attorney General assigned to that agency. But the last thing I want is the Brochins or the [Senator Brian] Froshes of the world getting involved in the day-to-day operations of the state police agencies or defining probable cause. I mean, these are not exactly people I want making those decisions. I’d rather have the people we pay to make those decisions make those decisions.

Yeah, but somebody has to sign off on it, gov. I mean, somebody has to say, yes, this is a good thing. And if it was Curran who signed off on it or somebody in his office, I think that the public would like to know who did, and why, and who authorized the continuation of this kind of surveillance…

Well, where do you draw the line? Bruce, my main question, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, but where do you draw that line on a day-to-day basis?

Look, I think it’s perfectly justifiable to say that if you might have a problem here, yeah, you better take a look at these groups. But somewhere within the first, you know like, hundred hours, in other words, the first two-and-a-half solid weeks of surveillance, assuming this is a forty-hour work week, that somebody would say, “You know what? These people are creampuffs…”

Well, I think it’s an appropriate thing for the last three, four, five, whatever, State Superintendents of Police and the Attorney Generals assigned to the police to give you, provide the parameters. But again, I’d be very careful about going beyond that, because I don’t want the Brian Froshes of the world telling the state police what they can and cannot do on a daily basis.
Blair Lee has criticized this blog in his Gazette column this week:

And, of course, the liberal bloggers went into lynch mob mode. Maryland Politics Watch launched a four-part series, ‘‘Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police” and went completely over the top with this: ‘‘If you want to surrender your liberties to tyrannical government, vote for Bob Ehrlich in 2010.”
While we appreciate Mr. Lee’s regular reading of our blog, we would like to point out that we ran a five-part series, not four. Let no one claim that we devote too little attention to civil liberties here! And we will concede that at the time we made the statement he cites, it may have been premature. But we now know the following about Governor Ehrlich’s views from both his statements in the Sun and the above interview on WBAL:

1. He declines to say that there was anything wrong with the investigation.
2. He blames the former Attorney General for the spying without a shred of evidence to back up his view.
3. He believes that the state police should not be monitored by either the Governor or the legislature. In other words, the state police should be accountable only to themselves.

So now I will say it again:
If you want to surrender your liberties to tyrannical government, vote for Bob Ehrlich in 2010.


Friday, July 25, 2008

State Police on Spying: Unfortunately, More of the Same

According to the Washington Post, Maryland State Police Superintendent Terrence B. Sheridan has reviewed the circumstances of the political spying that occurred under his predecessor. Sheridan's comments, like so many out of the administration on this issue, sound great ... but any hope of reassurance falls apart upon a closer examination.

But before we get to implications for the current administration's activities, there's the question of 2005-2006. Who ordered the spying that occurred during the Ehrlich administration? According to the Post article, Sheridan reports that

the commander of the special operations division at the time made the decision to spy after receiving a request from a department preparing to monitor protests related to the scheduled execution of Vernon Lee Evans.
No evidence has been reported that Governor Ehrlich ordered it or even knew about the spying that occurred during his administration.
Ehrlich said in an interview on WBAL-AM this week that he was not asked to approve the spying. Sheridan's predecessor, Thomas E. Hutchins, has said Ehrlich was not aware of the program.
I trust that investigations by Congressional committees and the MD Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will get more information about exactly what happened in 2005-2006, and why.

Now, what about today? What about this administration?

The Post reports Superintendent Sheridan's assertion that "Law enforcement has no right or authority to infringe on citizens' rights to free speech or public assembly." (emphasis mine)

I'd agree with that. In fact, it's in the Constitution.

Nevertheless, Sheridan also says the surveillance was lawful.

That means that, in Sheridan's view, spying by the Free State Stasi on yours and my peaceful political activities without a scintilla of evidence of criminal activity or national security danger is not a violation of our rights to free speech or assembly. That's a pretty damn narrow interpretation of free speech and assembly - one that Comrade Stalin would have heartily agreed with, I'm sure. And unless Governor O'Malley contradicts Sheridan, it would appear that this frighteningly cramped view of our First Amendment freedoms is the official position of the O'Malley administration.

Sheridan's statement has other implications, as well. If the surveillance was lawful, then clearly the State Police does have "the right and the authority" to do exactly what it did. So Sheridan's statement that "law enforcement has no right or authority to infringe on citizens' rights to free speech or public assembly" is a meaningless distractor, obviously referring to something other than the what he's being asked about.

It's a statement meant to fool people into feeling complacent, like the other statements we've heard from the administration over the past week. And the distraction seems to be working, judging from the general lack of interest in the mainstream media or among elected officials to find out what's going on NOW, in the O'Malley administration, and not just during the Ehrlich administration.

The Post reports Sheridan's belief that the spying was simply bad judgment, adding his assurance that "this method will not continue." But given his less than candid use of misdirection make it look like he was saying something he wasn't, his assurance is not enough.

And I find chilling his assertion that we should rely on the judgment of those in power, rather than the force of law, to protect our right - a belief shared by Governor O'Malley.

I will be urging my District 18 legislators to sponsor legislation next session to address this issue. I put my faith in the rule of law, not the kind hearts of governors and police superintendents.


Light Rail is Catching On

A guest post by Hans Riemer.

Hi everyone, it's Hans Riemer — Silver Spring resident, political activist, regular MPW reader — and now, occasional MPW guest writer.

Some of you might remember me as the guy who ran for Council and said he was going to build the Purple Line or die trying. I’ll have you know that I’m still working on it — and I’m not going to up my life insurance policy.

Today, via Purple Line NOW, I bring you a quick update of how light rail is catching on around the country and even the world.

Now, here in Maryland, a lot of people don’t realize that the Purple Line is intended to be light rail. Light rail can be integrated into an existing community harmoniously because it is smaller scale, quiet, and incredibly modern. In Europe, you see light rail laid down right in the middle of many of the oldest and most beautiful cities.

By contrast, metro-scale rapid transit trains are expensive, loud, and, unless they are built underground, very disruptive to existing communities.

Purple Line = light rail = wave of the future:

The Houston City Council voted 13-2 to give the Metro Transit Authority permission to move forward with construction of five light rail lines on city streets. Groundbreaking for the East End line is expected next month. These lines were previously planned to be bus rapid transit, however the City switched gears based on their positive experience with Houston’s first LRT line, which is a source of civic pride.

A recent survey of 1,000 Texans about transportation issues found that a majority of participants support investment in light rail, regional rail, and high-efficiency bus systems, and also oppose the building of new toll roads. 76% of the respondents support a regional rail system connecting Texas cities. Nowhere is this amazing transformation of priorities more evident than in Dallas where the area transit agency DART is working on expansion plans to add two rail lines by 2013 for a total of 91 miles and 93 stations.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted to support the Central Corridor Light Rail alignment through the heart of campus... The line is an 11 mile $892 million project, which will link downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. Like Purple Line plans in College Park, automobile traffic will be banned from one road segment passing through the heart of campus. The project will come with $20 million worth of road improvements in the university district east of the Mississippi River.

Phoenix will become the latest Sunbelt city with light rail when it opens its first LRT Line in December. The 20-mile line connects the Phoenix to Tempe and Mesa and was initiated in 2000 when voters approved a 20-year transit sales tax by a wide margin.

The French LRT system continues to expand by leaps and bounds with the network expected to grow to 358 miles of tracks by 2015. Mulhouse, a small city in the northeastern Alsace region is the latest to open a line. “We wanted a tram that called attention to itself,” says Deputy Mayor Michel Samuel-Weis, “as a symbol of economic vitality, environmental awareness and civic improvement -- transportation as an integrated cultural concept.”

Montgomery and Prince George’s county voters and legislators are remarkably unified on the Purple Line. It doesn’t take an engineer to see that the problem we face in the Washington region — the state’s economic engine — is that our regional transportation plan was originally designed largely to get people in and out of DC. But today, more people are moving around the region rather than to and from the center. The Purple Line should be the start of a new approach to transportation in the region—and just a start.


Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police: Part Five

Among other things, the state police spying scandal reveals immense differences between Governor O’Malley and former Governor Ehrlich. Voters would be wise to remember their contrasting reactions in 2010.

Governor O’Malley has said that his administration “does not and will not use public resources to target or monitor peaceful activities where Maryland citizens are exercising their First Amendment rights.” Nevertheless, Paul Gordon faults him for not pushing corrective legislation. That could be a mistake because legislation might be an effective way to keep the state police from causing further trouble on the current Governor’s watch. Even so, Governor O’Malley has a powerful incentive to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past: political survival. He has fragile relations with some parts of his base and if he sanctions another police investigation of peaceful protestors – especially after promising not to do it – his relationship with the left will be irreparably damaged.

Former Governor Ehrlich, on the other hand, is unburdened by relationships with the left or any concern for civil liberties. The Baltimore Sun reports:

Friday, Ehrlich said on WJZ-TV that he was “sympathetic” to the principle that police should not spy on groups when there no evidence of wrongdoing.

But he added, “We pay state police to make decisions, and obviously they bring discretion with them to their jobs every day, so their job on a daily basis obviously is to weigh the relative value of intelligence they've received and to make decisions accordingly.”

A governor or police chief risks being blamed for not doing his job if an activist “cell” or organization takes actions that put people at risk, Ehrlich said. People could ask, “‘Why weren't you doing your job? Weren’t you supposed to have intelligence operations out there to monitor this sort of situation?’” he said in the television interview.
Put aside for a moment whether the non-violent death penalty activists were a “cell” that “put people at risk.” Governor Ehrlich could have said what his former State Police Superintendent Thomas E. Hutchins had the decency to say: “Whatever occurred during my tenure I obviously am responsible for.” Instead, the Governor’s statements hint that he would tolerate, and maybe even encourage, these sorts of activities if he were ever re-elected. That provides a compelling rationale for why he should never be allowed to hold elected office again.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Court Sides with Shower Nuts (Updated)

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenburg ruled today that the anti-transgender ballot referendum could go forward. But his opinion was based on one narrow issue: the timeliness of the challenge. Equality Maryland is vowing to appeal.

Judge Greenburg rejected an argument from Equality Maryland that the voter's name be entered on a petition exactly as it appears on the voter registration rolls. I agree with that reasoning as few voters carry their registration cards and petition gatherers should not be expected to carry hundreds of thousands of voter registration records with them. But he also ruled that the Board of Elections applied the wrong standard for calculating the petition threshold necessary to trigger a referendum. And he said that the Board had a greater responsiblity for verifying signatures than acting as "something more than that of a bean-counter."

So if the judge believed that the Board applied the wrong standard for gathering a sufficient number of names for the petition and that the Board did not perform due diligence on the signatures, then why should he let a technical issue like timeliness rescue an otherwise faulty petition? After all, this ruling allows the Board to make future mistakes on petition thresholds and encourages future ballot groups to slip in dicey signatures. If the signatures are suspect and the wrong standard for certifying them is applied, why allow the referendum to stand under any circumstance?

One way or another, Montgomery County voters will not support discrimination. Even the shower nuts sensed that when they objected to the wording approved by the County Council for the ballot. But if Judge Greenburg's decision is upheld, the will of the voters will only be expressed after great sums of money - and great amounts of vitriol - are expended.

Update: Jim Kennedy at Teach the Facts has more details on the ruling.


In Praise of Phil Andrews

Margarita-drinking penguins surf off the sandy beaches of Antarctica. Osama bin Laden sips matzo ball soup in Tel Aviv. George W. Bush admits the Iraq War is a mistake. But in an even more unlikely event, I am praising Montgomery County Council Member Phil Andrews for winning a spending increase in this year’s budget. These are strange times indeed.

Regular readers know that I am a career trade unionist. During the last county budget round, I vigorously disagreed with Mr. Andrews’ recommendation to cut two percentage points from the public employees’ cost of living increase. I went out of my way to demonstrate how the unions’ contracts were affordable on this blog. And still Mr. Andrews faced down three hundred chanting, stomping union members and told them, “Employees need to do their part… It would be unfair to expect taxpayers to pay a tax increase to fully fund employee contracts that would be 8% next year.”

But Mr. Andrews is no mere budget cleaver. While he was pursuing labor savings, he was also trying to restore another part of the budget that was of utmost importance to the county. In his original budget plan, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed doing away with the police department’s community service officers (CSOs). The CSOs maintain regular contact with community leaders and citizens inside their districts and train them to implement Neighborhood Watch programs. My neighborhood had just started a watch program and feared seeing them abandoned just as we were creating one. Moreover, many African American, Latino and immigrant leaders protested losing an important communication channel to the police. The total savings from the elimination of the liaison officers was only projected to be $623,000 (out of a $297 million deficit).

Mr. Andrews, Chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, would have none of it. He declared:

The officers in these positions provide a crucial link between the department and the public and often are the main link between community members, HOAs and other groups... A relationship has developed between the CSOs and folks in the respective district that very much needs to continue.
Mr. Andrews promptly formed an alliance with Police Chief Tom Manger and guided the restoration of the CSOs through every step of the budget process. Other spending hikes and cuts would come and go, but the CSOs survived. Yes, Mr. Andrews wanted to limit spending in some areas, but he fought hard to fund a program he believed made sense. And as the summer crime season begins, the CSOs are working with my neighborhood and many others to greet the criminals with wary eyes in every house.

But that is not all. Last year, a group of nine civic associations in Silver Spring, Wheaton and Kensington representing 4,440 households wrote to the county asking for implementation of a bait car program. As we detailed in January, bait cars are decoys rigged with cameras and GPS devices by the police to catch car thieves. We asked Mr. Andrews to consider the idea, but that was before the budget crisis dominated Rockville. However, he never forgot about us and has scheduled a Public Safety work session on the issue on July 28. Perhaps he will agree with us that bait cars are a cost-effective way to fight vehicle crime and perhaps he will not. But the fact is that none of our associations are located inside his district and he had no direct self-interest in helping us. He listened to us anyway.

One of Rockville’s most brilliant lobbyists once told me, “I communicate with everyone. Someone might disagree with me nine times in a row, but they could be with me the tenth time.” And so it is with Phil Andrews. Even his detractors admit that he will tell you exactly what he thinks without hesitation and will stick to his word. Crime-weary neighborhoods are lucky to have him in Rockville; the criminals are not.


Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police: Part Four

The Maryland State Police file on anti-death penalty protestors contains a chronological record of the state’s spying on liberal activists but little else. There is much, much more to this story that must be discovered.

1. Who Ordered the Investigation?
Former Superintendent of the State Police Tim Hutchins claims that Governor Ehrlich did not know about the investigation. If that is true, then who targeted the anti-death penalty protestors? Was it Hutchins or someone closer to the Governor? Did anyone on the Governor’s staff know about it or condone it?

2. Why Go After Anti-Death Penalty Activists?
On page 14 of the file, even one of the spies admits, “Most death penalty protests in the past have not been violent.” And yet the state labeled the investigation “Terrorism: Anti-Government.” No allegation was ever made that these activists were linked to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban or any other terrorist group. If the police wanted to investigate a violent group, what about anti-immigration activists? After all, the Gaithersburg day laborer center was set aflame a year ago and Casa de Maryland has been targeted with bomb threats. Did the police simply prefer to investigate liberal groups?

3. What Was the Involvement of Other Organizations?
The spies regularly shared their findings with other law enforcement organizations including other branches of the state police, the Department of General Services Police, the Baltimore City Police Department Intelligence Unit, and the Annapolis City Police. What did these agencies do with the information? The involvement of the Baltimore City Police is especially important because Martin O’Malley was the Mayor of Baltimore at the time. If the city police used information passed on by the state police to launch their own investigation, then former Mayor O’Malley bears as much responsibility for them as former Governor Ehrlich has for the state police.

4. Were There Other Investigations?
The spying on anti-death penalty protestors began in March 2005, well after 9/11. Were there other investigations in the interim or did the state police wait three-and-a-half years before deciding that terrorism was a problem? If peaceful anti-death penalty activists were targeted, was any liberal group safe?

All of these questions and more require a thorough public investigation. The Church Committee played a vital role in curbing abuses by the CIA and FBI after the excesses of the 1950s and 1960s. Perhaps Senate Judiciary Chair Brian Frosh will subject the state police to similar scrutiny in his upcoming hearings.

There is one last dimension to this story: what does it say about Governor O’Malley and former Governor Ehrlich? We will explore that in Part Five.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On Political Pulse

Montgomery County Council President Mike Knapp will be on the 'Political Pulse' TV Show on:

Thursday, July 24th at 9:00 p.m.; and Tuesday, July 29th at 9:30 p.m.

Topics that will be discussed include:

--Whether County taxes are too high;

--Whether the County needs to cut or slow the rate of spending such as on salaries, which constitute about 80% of the County's operating budget;

--The state of the relationship between the County and the State; and

--The possible effect on the County if the slots referendum on the ballot in November, 2008 does not pass.

Political Pulse is on Channel 16 TV in Montgomery County.


Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police: Part Three

In November 2005, the spies became concerned that death warrants signed for Wesley Baker and Vernon Evans would stir the protestors to increased militancy. After a meeting of the Baltimore Coalition to End the Death Penalty on November 15th, an agent of the Secret Police wrote this:

There were approximately 30 people at the “emergency” meeting which was called because of several pending executions. Gov. Ehrlich signed a death warrant for Wesley Baker for the week of December 5th and a death warrant is likely to be signed for Vernon Evans soon with a possible execution date in early 2006. Crips founder Stan “Tookie” Williams is also scheduled to be executed in California on December 13th. Attendees at the meeting included family and friends of Baker and Evans, people from Amnesty International, the National Socialists, students from Goucher College and members of the public. Emotions were high at the meeting with increasing inflammatory rhetoric about “making noise” to try and stop the executions.

Intelligence indicates that attendance at the below listed events is likely to be large with some events drawing several hundred people. Information about the events is being widely posted on the Internet, at many college campuses, in area churches and through leafleting sessions around the state. Although most death penalty protests in the past have not been violent, the potential for disruptions and problems continue to exist due to the strong emotions the issue illicit from people on both sides of the debate. Members of the family of Baker’s and Evans’ victims have not been outspoken in the past about either their support or anti-death penalty feelings.

Finally, eight months of hard work by the Secret Police would pay off. The anti-death penalty activists were set to launch possibly violent protests and the spies had a list of them. To date, the spies had put in 144 hours of investigative work. They had attended 17 events and meetings on a covert basis, using secret email accounts and false identities. At last they were poised to jail Max Obuszewski and his socialist allies once and for all.

Unfortunately for the spies, the protests would happen but the violence would not. At a November rally outside the Governor’s Mansion, the spies reported, “There were no disturbances at the protest and no problems were detected by the covert troopers. The protestors left the scene without incident."

At a November meeting held to discuss plans for Wesley Baker’s execution, the spies reported, “No plans were discussed at this meeting to cause any civil disruptions during the run-up or during the week that Baker is scheduled to be executed.”

At a December rally at Supermax, the spies wrote, “There were at least 100 people at the protest which lasted approximately 1 ½ hours. The group held signs and marched in circle in front of Central Booking before walking around the prison and then ending with speeches by activists and politicians who are against the death penalty. Traffic was not disrupted and no protestors caused any problems.”

All told, the Secret Police attended seven meetings and five rallies between November 2005 and May 2006. They found no violence, no disruptions and no illegal activity of any kind. The file does not state why the investigation ultimately ceased, but it may have been due to simple boredom. The spies attended 28 different events and invested 288 hours of time with no return.

The 46-page file from the hidden vaults of the Secret Police generates more questions than answers. We will ask those questions in Part Four.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

O'Malley Fails Civics 101

Through a spokesperson, Governor O'Malley assures us that no legislation is needed to prevent a recurrence of the political spying undertaken by the State Police when Bob Ehrlich was governor (and which he says isn't happening under his watch).

Why does he say we don't we need any legislation? Because we can be assured that his administration won't engage in that kind of conduct.

According to the Baltimore Sun:

O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the governor . . . is confident that the state police will not undertake surveillance without evidence of wrongdoing during his administration and that legislation isn't necessary at this point.
Oh, okay.

We don't need to rely on laws to protect our most basic rights when we can instead trust in the good nature of the governor.

What Governor O'Malley seems to have forgotten is that we have the rule of law precisely because we cannot rely on the good will of whoever holds power. Has he learned nothing from history, to say nothing of Civics 101?

Our protection against abuses of our rights is the rule of law, not blind trust that those in power will be good people.

Since the spying story came to light last week, the governor has not clearly said that what the State Police did was illegal. He has not given a pretty good but not completely satisfactory denial that his administration has engaged in similar activities. And now he opposes legislation to put our basic First Amendment protections into state law, so that we can have specific processes in place to prevent these abuses.

Surely the governor knows basic civics. And even if he doesn't, surely he knows that the next governor may not be so gracious toward the people as he apparently is.

O'Malley's "you don't need laws to protect your rights - just trust me" approach to this issue does not indicate a healthy respect for civil liberties. Nor does it make me more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to figuring out what his own administration has been up to.


Ban the Monster Trucks!

I had one reaction when I heard about County Council Member Mike Knapp’s new bill prohibiting large trucks from parking in residential neighborhoods: it’s about time! Just look below to see why.

This fearsome charter bus has been the source of much conflict in my neighborhood. Yes, this is the same neighborhood mentioned in the Post article, but since I live here and they do not, I have the pictures! The above monster bus is owned and parked by a resident on the street outside of his single-family home. It is a giant monolith that dominates the block. The woman across the street keeps the curtains in her living room shut because if she opened them, this would be her view – her only view. But for all the wars fought by the neighbors to eject the lumbering mastodon, they have been stymied by one fact – it is perfectly legal under current law for the owner to park it where it is.

Want more? For years, a boat was parked in the street only two blocks away from the above monster bus. The boat was left there for so long that it sank into the asphalt. Lord only knows what it took to get it out.

One reason why many of these vehicles are parked in neighborhoods is that their owners are running businesses out of their homes. That’s legitimate so long as the business use does not infringe on the residential character of the neighborhood. (The Montgomery County Board of Appeals regulates business locations in residential areas through its issuance of special exceptions.) But some types of businesses, especially ones engaged in heavy industrial activities, simply do not belong in residential neighborhoods.

My own industry, construction, is an example. Many contractors operate their record-keeping operations out of their houses. So far, so good. But when they park heavy vehicles on residential streets and use their backyards as material storage sites, that’s an issue. They may protest that compelling them to use commercial parking is an unreasonable business expense. But their competitors can and do maintain commercial lots, sheds and storage facilities and pay for them through overhead markups on their bids. By using neighborhoods as industrial parking lots, some contractors are gaining an unfair cost advantage over their competitors at the expense of their residential neighbors. Mike Knapp’s bill would put a stop to it.

There should not be a civic association in the county that should not favor this bill. So go ahead and write the council! As for me, I am going to tell the poor lady on the back end of the above monster bus that she may someday be able to see the sun again.


Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police: Part Two

Max John Obuszewski is not an ordinary liberal. The 63-year-old Baltimore resident has a long history of anti-war and anti-death penalty activism. He has participated in multiple anti-Iraq War protests at the Capitol. His Internet mailing list was named the best in the Baltimore metro area by the Baltimore City Paper in 2000. He even wrote a piece for film director Michael Moore’s website criticizing spying by the National Security Agency and was arrested for protesting there. In fact, Obuszewski told the Sun that he had been arrested at least 70 times for protests going all the way back to the Vietnam War.

Now here was a target worthy of the attention of the Secret Police. Obuszewski was no mere socialist from Takoma Park; he was a nationally-known, almost professional protestor. He was a big fish. He had to be watched.

So the Secret Police began gathering information on Obuszewski. Here is what they found:

The heavily redacted portions of the first two pages raise questions. What did the spies find out about Obuszewski? How did they collect it? Did they search his trash? Did they tap his phones? Did they obtain his financial information? Did they follow him around in his private life? Did they watch his friends and neighbors? We may never know. That’s why they are called the Secret Police!

Despite the spies’ obsession with Obuszewski, they were not rewarded with evidence of illegal activity. To the contrary; the protestors were consistently peaceful. After a 5/24/05 meeting, the spies wrote this about their plans to support Vernon Evans at a court hearing:

The group is planning to meet up outside of the Court of Appeals and “pack the courtroom.” They said they would likely wear armbands to show their support for Evans. The 60 minute oral arguments in Evans’ case are scheduled to start at 1000 hours so the group said anyone who tries to get into the small courtroom should get there at approximately 0915 hours. The people who can’t get in are going to try and stand silently near the courthouse holding signs protesting the death penalty… The group was very firm about any protests being silent and non-disruptive because they were worried about damaging Evans’ case.

But Obuszewski wanted a loud protest outside the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s office. That piqued the interest of the spies, who reported:

The MSP Annapolis Barrack, Department of General Services Police, Baltimore City Police Department Intelligence Unit, and the Annapolis City Police were informed about the above events.

Through November, the Secret Police went on to monitor Obuszewski and the other anti-death penalty protestors at two courtroom hearings, one rally and nine internal meetings. Unfortunately for the spies, no illegal activities occurred.

1. At a 6/6/05 Supermax rally, the spies reported, “There were no problems observed at the event.”

2. At a 6/7/05 court hearing for death row inmate Wesley Baker, “There were approximately 10 to 15 anti-death penalty activists who were inside of the courtroom and none caused any problems. There were several additional protestors outside of the courthouse who held signs against the death penalty and they were joined by those in the courtroom when the hearing was over. No problems were observed.”

3. At a 9/2/05 court hearing for death row inmate Vernon Evans, “The people in the courtroom did not cause any type of disturbance during the arguments and no problems were observed. Four members of Evans’ family were also in the courtroom and also did not cause any disturbances. There were no problems observed outside of the courtroom and the group left after the hearing was concluded.”

The vast majority of the spies’ time was spent in meetings with the Committee to Save Vernon Evans, often attended by fewer than ten people. Typically, the attendees discussed publicity around the Evans case, publicity around the death penalty issue generally and sometimes participation in other protests (like those against the war in Iraq). Violence was not discussed. Nevertheless, the spy would sign each report with the simple statement, “Due to the above facts I request that this case remain open and updated as events warrant.” But why?

The spies would soon have their work put to the test. We’ll find out how in Part Three.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer Reading List: Maryland A History

By Marc Korman.

So you have finished reading the Great Society Subway? Why don’t you take a peak at Maryland: A History by Carl Bode.

The book was published in 1976, part of a 51 volume set about each state and the District of Columbia published for the bicentennial. Many people who read MPW probably know all about current and recent events in Maryland, but they may be less familiar with some of the rich history Bode shares. For example, did you know that Maryland was the only state to give its electoral votes to Know Nothing Presidential candidate (and former president) Millard Fillmore in 1856? Or that the Maryland colonial legislature met for only six weeks once a year? Or that a deal once existed between the Eastern Shore and the rest of the state that one of two US Senators would always come from the Eastern Shore, or else the Eastern Shore would threaten to merge with Delaware? These and many other interesting tidbits that make up Maryland’s history, political and otherwise, can all be found in Bode’s book.

Bode tells the historical story of Maryland through biography. The early chapters covering the 1700s and 1800s are largely told through the stories of two men. The first is Daniel Dulany, an immigrant who arrived in Maryland as an indentured servant and rose to legal, business, and political prominence as a vast landowner and one of the founders of Frederick. The next is Severn Teackle Wallis, another prominent businessman and politician who spent a lifetime working for political causes in Maryland, including advocating that Maryland join the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The second half of the book introduces such notable Marylanders as Arthur Pue Gorman. Gorman is one of a breed of Senators from the late 1800s who was both the state political boss and a US Senator, similar to the better known Marcus Hanna from Ohio. Before the 17th Amendment established direct election of Senators, political bosses could ascend to the Senate with ease since they were appointed by state legislatures beholden to them for their elections. Gorman, along with Baltimore political boss Freeman Rasin ruled the state with an iron hand. Another is Johns Hopkins, a bookkeeper who rose up in the banking world and established “The Johns Hopkins University for the Promotion of Education in Maryland” and “The Johns Hopkins Hospital” and eventually left $7 million to them upon his death in 1873. The book closes with the story of James Rouse, who established the corporate-run planned community of Columbia which he envisioned as a utopia that could enhance happiness and turn a profit. Interestingly, Rouse was in many ways following the model set by the New Deal, which established Greenbelt as a planned community in the 1930s.

There is much more in Bode’s book then can be recounted here. Bode chose to only share a few post-World War II stories, so the book primarily ends long before most readers of the blog were born. But the book is still worth a read to learn about the state’s history and how we came to be what we are today. It will also provide answers to trivia questions, for instance where the state nicknames of “Old Line” and “Free” state came from. One downside to the book is that it largely overlooks Montgomery County in favor of areas the author views as more vibrant historically. Still, you cannot understand Maryland politics without understanding the Eastern Shore and Baltimore, and Bode’s book offers plenty to improve your knowledge.


Ticking Time Bomb: Who Were the Spies?

Who in the Maryland executive branch gave the spying orders in 2005-2006? And who are the undercover police officers who worked so diligently to sabotage our First Amendment rights?

I don’t know their identities. But I do know that they are dangerous. Their actions make that abundantly clear. And if this or a future administration decides to resume the sort of undercover spying that is more characteristic of a police state than a free democracy, we have no reason to think these individuals will do anything but once again collaborate.

I assume that most of the people involved in the bureaucracy of the Free State Stasi were simply following orders. But "I was just following orders" is not an excuse. When a government official tells you to break the law, your obligation is to the law, not to that government official.

When government employees follow that principle — when they refuse to carry out the illegal orders of an overreaching executive — they protect citizens from losing the constitutional rights we cherish. Our freedom relies on civil servants’ refusal to break the law.

It scares me to know that our state police has members who were so willing to spy on people and monitor our constitutionally protected political activities. And it scares me to know that they’d do it again.


Inside Ehrlich’s Secret Police: Part One

Much has been written about the spying undertaken by Maryland’s State Police against liberal activists. But the most revealing story is contained in the actual documents unearthed by the ACLU. What did the police do? Why did they do it? Come with us down to the secret vault as we reveal the inside story of Bob Ehrlich’s Secret Police.

The 46-page file is remarkable for its lack of context. It does not begin with a rationale for the espionage that began on March 14, 2005. It does not state who ordered it or why. It does not state the names of the officers involved in the investigation or their superiors. At the top of the first page, it merely states that the first entry is a “Supplement to Intelligence Report Initiated by Analyst Sparwasser.” So on March 13th, there is no spying. On March 14th, suddenly there is. Or so the files of the Secret Police would have us believe.

The first entry is a report by an agent who attended while “undercover” a meeting of activists in Takoma Park about death-row inmate Vernon Evans. The spy’s report is humdrum: the meeting attendees discussed putting out flyers, going to other meetings and events and soliciting donations. The report contains no evidence that violent acts, crime or terrorism was discussed by anyone at the meeting. Nevertheless, the report states, “After the meeting, [redacted] set up a covert e-mail account, was accepted on the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty Yahoo List Serve and also contacted a man who attended the Takoma Park meeting about attending future meetings.” Accepted as a confidant by the anti-death penalty group, the spy had established a regular channel of information that would enable continuous monitoring and reporting on the group to superiors.

The Post article discusses an individual named “Lucy” who was later suspected by the activists. Was “Lucy” the spy writing these reports? It is hard to tell from the documents, which redact any mention of an officer’s name. The reports could have been written by one spy, two spies or many spies. The Secret Police protect their own identities just as they track the rest of us.

The very next day, a spy attended another organizational meeting in Baltimore. There the sisters of inmate Vernon Evans, convicted of murder and languishing on death row, discussed their communication strategy with politicians and the press. They did not discuss bombing, or shooting, or subversion, or terrorism against the government. They only discussed how to save their brother from being put down by the state. The spy reports, “The goal which many of the attendees stated was a moratorium on executions until a study promised by Governor Ehrlich about racial disparity in the judicial system was completed.” Apparently, that was enough to justify further spying and the espionage continued.

Interestingly, the report states, “Further intelligence will be added as it is developed. The above information was relayed to MSP Executive Protection Section and Baltimore City Police Intelligence Section on 3/16/05 by [redacted].” Did the Secret Police really worry that the anti-death penalty activists posed a physical threat to Governor Ehrlich?

Two more reports follow on meetings attended by the spy “in a covert capacity:” a town hall meeting in Takoma Park and an anti-death penalty rally at Baltimore’s Supermax facility. The spy named as many attendees as he or she could identify, including “exonerated inmate Shujaa Graham,” “Mike Stark, a socialist and organizing member of the Maryland Campaign to End the Death Penalty” and Vernon Evans’ “sister, Gwen Bates.” The spy wrote, “Each speaker mentioned the April 9th rally at Supermax but no one advocated any kind of violence or disobedience.” But still the Secret Police persisted. After all, at any gathering of socialists, exonerated inmates and liberal activists, violence would be the inevitable result. It was just a matter of taking more time, gaining more trust, working into the inner circle of the activist leadership and their nefarious true purpose would be exposed.

Finally, the spies’ persistence would be rewarded. Because attending the Supermax rally was none other than Max John Obuszewski, a person who would quickly become the central figure in the investigation. We will find out how the Secret Police dealt with Obuszewski in Part Two.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

O'Malley Responds to Political Spying

Governor O'Malley's response to the uncovering of the Ehrlich administration's Free State Stasi sounds good upon first read. However, upon closer inspection, it may still leave unanswered just what kind of "intelligence gathering" is permissible under the O'Malley administration.

The Governor's office released a statement consisting of two paragraphs. The first paragraph sounded the right notes:

"While these events happened in 2005 and 2006 under the previous administration, the Maryland State Police, under the O'Malley-Brown Administration, does not and will not use public resources to target or monitor peaceful activities where Maryland citizens are exercising their First Amendment rights."
He could have ended his statement there. Unfortunately, there was apparently a need for a second paragraph:
"The State Police and other law enforcement agencies have an obligation to take seriously and investigate all potential threats to public safety consistent with state and federal law, including the Criminal Intelligence Systems Operating Policies contained at 28 Code of Federal Regulations Part 23. But where there is no evidence of a potential public threat, illegal activity or criminal wrongdoing, all investigatory or intelligence gathering activities shall cease."
This raises questions that I was hoping would have been put to rest.

The first paragraph says that the Maryland State Police does not monitor and target peaceful activities protected by the First Amendment. However, the second paragraph says that the State Police and other law enforcement agencies investigate potential threats etc. That begs the question: Since the first paragraph is explicitly limited to the State Police, is there a part of the state government other than the State Police that "use[s] public resources to target or monitor peaceful activities where Maryland citizens are exercising their First Amendment rights"? Why was the statement written to limit the coverage of the first paragraph to the State Police, while the rest of the statement covers the entire law enforcement and intelligence gathering apparatus of the executive branch?

Another problem raised by the second paragraph is its use of the phrase "consistent with state and federal law." The problem is that the State Police clearly believed the activities they were engaged in were consistent with state and federal law. Without a clear statement that Governor O'Malley believes that the political spying revealed by the ACLU was illegal, the statement his office released might say nothing about the very activities that prompted its release.

This is the same problem that plagued the State Police superintendent's response quoted in the initial Washington Post article.

Over the past several years, especially in response to 9/11, we have seen such an erosion of commitment to the principles of the First Amendment that I find it difficult to simply give the executive the benefit of the doubt.

I look forward to information from the governor's office that would allay my concerns.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Congressional Investigation of Maryland Spying

Reports of Gov. Ehrlich's spy operation have gotten the attention of Congress. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, chair of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has announced an investigation of the surveillance of Maryland citizens engaged in constitutionally-protected political activities.

According to a press release from Congressman Kucinich's office:

Washington, Jul 18 - “I think that most people would be upset to know that police were spying on lawful citizens and infiltrating peaceful organizations, rather than chasing down real criminals. At a minimum, such police spying is clearly a waste of taxpayer dollars and a diversion from the mission of protecting and serving the people. I want the subcommittee to determine how widespread these activities are and who ordered them,” Kucinich said.

Congressman Kucinich is Chairman of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Maryland State Police officers infiltrated Maryland peace and justice groups engaged in peaceful, non-violent activities. The documents were made public through a lawsuit.

Mother Jones magazine uncovered evidence of surveillance of environmental groups by Beckett Brown International on behalf of several large corporations. The information and documents were provided by a former investor.

While I am glad someone in Congress is looking at this, I would urge the Maryland General Assembly to take action, as well. The legislature should determine the extent of the Free State Stasi's activities under Governor Ehrlich and whether similar activities are continuing today.


Purple Line Debate Continues

This morning, the Washington Post printed a letter of mine defending supporters of protecting the Capital Crescent Trail from the Purple Line. On Free State Politics, Eric Luedtke has attacked your gentle blogger as blinkered, unknowing tool of the economic and racial elite. You can read my reply on FSP as well. On MPW, you can read earlier posts by Adam Pagnucco and Pat Burda to get informed as well. Even Red Maryland is getting in on the act.


The Free State Stasi

As important as it is to condemn in no uncertain terms the Ehrlich administration's use of secret police to spy on Marylanders engaged in constitutionally protected political activities, our current governor is not off the hook. Nowhere does the Washington Post article say that this odious practice has ceased under the O'Malley administration.

The key paragraph from the article:

"No illegal actions by State Police have ever been taken against any citizens or groups who have exercised their right to free speech and assembly in a lawful manner," Col. Terrence B. Sheridan, the state police superintendent appointed last year by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), said in a statement. "Only when information regarding criminal activity is alleged will police continue to investigate leads to ensure the public safety."

The first quote, clearly designed to make people think it is a denial, in fact tells us absolutely nothing. If O'Malley officials believe that Stasi-like spying on us is legal, then the phrase "no illegal actions by State Police" tells us nothing about whether the activities are still going on under O'Malley.

Unfortunately, we do not know if the State Police or anyone else in the O'Malley administration considers spying on legal, constitutionally-protected political activity to be illegal. After all, the Ehrlich folks thought it was legal. So the first quote is the classic non-denial denial.

The other part of the quote is equally misleading: "Only when information regarding criminal activity is alleged will police continue to investigate leads to ensure the public safety." (emphasis mine)

"Continue to investigate ... " That means that the police have already begun what they consider "investigating leads to ensure the public safety."

In other words, spying.

Regardless of the legality of this spying, it is reprehensible, frightening, and simply unacceptable in a free country.

We need answers from Governor O'Malley, and we need them now.


Supporting the Transgender Non-Discrimination Act: Part 2

By Marc Korman.

In part one I discussed the contents of the Transgender Non-Discrimination Act up for repeal on the November ballot. For the policy reasons alone, I oppose repeal. But there are also two political reasons: ballot initiatives run amuck and rewarding the far right.

Ballot Initiatives Run Amuck
I first got involved in politics while in college in California. The Golden State has provided us with endless hours of entertainment from Hollywood, the ability to read MPW from Silicon Valley, and the nectar of the gods from Napa. Unfortunately, it has also set the tone for ballot initiatives. As of 2003, 85% of California’s over $100 billion budget was controlled by state initiative and not the legislature and governor. California’s ability to raise revenue has also been severely harmed by a property tax cap so rigid even Ronald Reagan opposed it at the time and the need for supermajorities in the legislature to raise any tax. That means when California has a problem, for example an electricity crisis as they had a few years ago or an infrastructure deficit as they are currently experiencing, elected officials cannot effectively work for solutions. For a full treatment of California’s political decline relative to its increased ballot initiatives, see Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom. California has helped trigger a national increase in ballot initiatives. Their use has grown from just 88 across the country during the entire decade of the 60s, to 204 in 2000 alone.

The biggest problem with the growth of ballot initiatives is that complex issues of public policy are being boiled down to single paragraphs on ballots, thirty second commercials, and knee jerk reactions by voters. The latest example is a Colorado ballot initiative which would declare a fertilized egg a person for the purpose of constitutional rights. That’s an important issue, but probably one that should be informed by oversight hearings, scientific panels, and careful deliberation, not attack ads.

Unfortunately, Maryland seems to be joining the ballot initiative trend with not only the transgender referendum, but also the slots referendum which I consider an abdication of responsibility by Annapolis. Our country and its states are famous for democracy, but that word does not appear in the US Constitution. Republic does, because we elect representatives to go to Washington, DC and state and local capitals to do the hard work of research and deliberation on matters of public policy. They do not always do it well, but it is their job and instead of taking it off their hands through ballot initiatives, we need to hold them accountable at elections.

Rewarding the Far Right
Now all my reasoned policy and political process discussion gets cast aside in favor of cold, partisan politics. I do not believe that most opponents of the transgender bill are discriminatory, but I do think they are discomforted. As with many white Americans when it comes to African American equality and many heterosexual Americans when it comes to gay rights, they do not hate, they just do not know. The problem is greatly enhanced with transgendered issues because there are fewer and people are less likely to meet and know them. With time, as with these other communities, understanding will grow. Just as with discrimination against African Americans, homosexuals, and other groups, there will always be stragglers, but change will come.

However, those who will be rewarded should the referendum succeed are not just the discomforted. Some are discriminatory, and many more are just politically motivated. They will revel in the success of the referendum regardless of the policy because it comes in liberal Montgomery County. They will crow on talk radio and use it as a tool to raise more resources and recruit new members. The same organized right wing groups have already been rebuffed by the Maryland courts over the sex education curriculum. They need to be defeated here too or they will be empowered to challenge progressive Democrats throughout the County in 2010. Would they win much? Probably not, but it is a fight that could be entirely avoided by defeating the referendum.

For policy and political reasons, I oppose the transgender referendum. But, as my contracts professor always said, “reasonable minds can differ.” I hope as the debate continues we remember that it is reasonable that we need to be, not prejudiced or dogmatic.