Saturday, December 10, 2022

Some Considerations Regarding Howard County Bill 10-23

If this bill is designed to be a "conversation starter," then why do some (let us call them non-opponents of the bill) seem determined to quash any conversation on the topic until it "evolves?"  So, we can only have a dialogue on certain terms? Whose and why?

Who, precisely, was clamoring for this "conversation" to even take place? We have very recently changed how Howard County Board of Education members are elected.  Surely, don't we want at least a couple more election cycles to pass before considering another significant change?  Frankly, in the present author's point of view, the current system seems to be working rather well.

And why should Howard County voters accept the "oh, the bill will change" line of argumentation as a valid reason to keep an open mind? If one believes that the proponents of this bill are recommending a fundamentally bad change, what reason is there to believe that their version 2.0 will be any better, especially if it maintains the appointment element? "You hated the first iteration, but wait until you see our watered-down bill!"

One more note on conversations, it seems as though some Board of Education members have had discussions with these legislators and/or their staffs, while others have not, despite inquiries apparently behind made by the former.  I thought the Board of Education only exercised power as a collective body, wouldn't it have been best to implement a formal, coherent, communications approach, from the sponsor side, so different Board members weren't hearing different messages at different times?  The communications to date seem very...selective.

And what is the motivation for those who seem to be carrying water for 10-23?

The timing of the bill is interesting insofar as it was filed right before the election, presumably (in part) so no one could say that it was filed in response to any particular outcome.  That said, I would be interested in knowing if anyone possessed any poll data showing that Dan Newberger (for whom I voted) was likely to finish behind both Jacky McCoy (for whom I voted) and Linfeng Chen.  If both McCoy and Newberger won, would there have been any demand for this type of change?  Would this bill have been withdrawn?  If so, doesn't that prove the intent behind the bill?

You know what is also interesting about the timing of this bill?  If it proved to be a non-starter (which indeed seems likely to be the case), the debate is taking place four years removed from the next state legislative elections.  In short, when memories of this issue will have faded.  In further short, it is not likely to be a primary-able issue by 2026.  And I believe this bill, as currently written, should invite primaries for those who support it.  It is not a simple process bill (and such bills rarely are), it goes to the heart of what it means to be the Party of the People.  Let the people, via the ballot box, decide who serves.

In solidarity.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Howard County Bill 10-23 is a Terrible, Terrible Idea

Senator Clarence Lam (D-12) and Delegate Courtney Watson (D-9B) recently filed a bill that would change how Howard County Board of Education members are selected.  In short, we would move from:

Five members of the BoE elected by the voters based on county-council district, two members elected by Howard County voters county-wide (the at-large seats), and the student member to:

The County Executive, from a list provided by the Howard County state legislative delegation, appointing two members of the BoE, two members elected from the state senate districts that are at least "partially contained within Howard County," (at present, Districts 9 and 12), one member elected from the state senate district that is "wholly contained within Howard County" (at present, District 13), two members elected on an at-large basis, and the student member.  This, according to the proposed legislation, would take effect beginning in 2024.

Here are some reasons why this bill is a bad idea and is a "solution" that will only create more problems.

1. Democrats are supposed to favor expanding the franchise, not contracting it.  This proposal removes the direct electoral connection between two BoE members and the voting public. It puts decisions in the hands of the few, not the many.

2. It deepens partisan entanglements.  For those who despair over political party engagements in Board of Education affairs, this makes matters considerably worse.  Whose names do you think will appear on such lists? And, once appointed to the office, will they serve the greater public interest or the narrower agendas of those who put them on said lists/appointed them?  Will they be partners of, or servants to, other officials?

3. It doesn't resolve the issue of parochialism, which is a concern that some have expressed based on the move to county-council based districts.  It just adds a twist on top of it. At least the county council districts are, at the present time, roughly equal in population.  The same is not true with the state senate districts. What happens if, following the 2030 Census and reapportionment/redistricting process, Howard County has a sliver of one senatorial district consisting of only a few hundred voters?  Well, congratulations because they would have their very own Board of Education member.  This could lead to some wild disparities in the number of votes received by Board of Education candidates (among those actually appearing on ballots), not to mention unequal representation.

4.  Improved collaboration, which this bill purports to accomplish, is a very questionable rationale.  Does the manner of election need to be changed to improve collaboration or is a really of question of, I don't know, people doing the jobs they were elected to perform?  And in terms of "maintaining the independence of the Board," this measure would make the BoE - at least a couple members - less independent than they are now. 

5. Side note: if this was such a great idea, why was it not rolled out to the public prior to Election Day?  

While the current method of electing the Board of Education members is not perfect, I believe it is a significant improvement over the previous system...and it hasn't been in effect for that long.  Why the rush to change it, yet again, so quickly?

Even though it tries not to talk like a power grab, it sure as heck walks like one.

Please contact your state legislative delegation and let them know that Howard County Bill 10-23 is a bad idea.

In solidarity.


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Horror in Uvalde

Following the murder of 19 children in Uvalde yesterday, I can’t help but wonder how many tragedies could have been avoided since Columbine by taking stronger actions against those who oppose reasonable restrictions on firearms. 

Specifically, I am thinking about politicians who toe the NRA line and gun manufacturer executives, those who establish the regulatory frameworks and those who produce the weapons, respectively. 

It has been my experience that such people are largely driven by greed (campaign contributions, revenues) and fear (of losing an election, of declining sales).

They are afraid of their “base,” but what if they started to fear those who want an end to such violence even more? What if, after such shootings, politicians who do the bidding of the radical gun lobby, and thus are culpable for letting such events happen face arrest (citizen’s or otherwise)? The same applies for weapons manufacturers. Would detention lead to reflection? Do they possess consciences? These are salient questions but let’s see what happens. 

To quote the Constitution so hypocritically cited by them, how is protecting the gun lobby and the murderers who use those weapons doing anything to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?” No more empty “thoughts and prayers.” It is time for action. 

In solidarity.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Last Dance (Tonight)

Welcome one and all to the final installation of the old blog. My team has been working tirelessly on Spartan Considerations 2.0 for weeks. It will have a new look, a new web address, new content (of course!), and a rather new/renewed focus.

My plan was to address some of this with Post One, but I would rather use that first essay to look entirely outward as opposed to this more introspective piece.

We find ourselves in perilous times. Not so long ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, some political scientists (and politicians for that matter) were heralding the “end of history.”  Despite the many pressing societal and economic challenges facing what was described as “the West,” the debates centered far too often on how best to manage liberal democracies – with two predominant schools of thought.  On one hand, you had corporate-friendly slightly-left-of-center parties (Bill Clinton and the New Democrats, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and New Labour) who often accepted the fundamental premises of the right-of-center parties but positioned themselves as being more inclusive on social issues.  On the other hand, there stood conservative parties such as the Republicans and Tories…also corporate-friendly but less forward-thinking on matters pertaining to race, gender, sexuality, etc..  But even the latter groupings tried to communicate a spirit of progressivism, to a certain extent…with pre-9/11 GW Bush running as a “compassionate conservative” and David Cameron attempting to reshape the image of the Conservatives as a more “modern” vehicle for change as opposed to offering a full-throated embrace of back-to-Thatcherism.

But with the endless wars, the Great Recession, and now a combination global pandemic/deep economic crisis, people began- and are - looking for answers outside of the old Consensus.  Unfortunately, people’s movements have only enjoyed limited success…as evidenced by the rise (and sad fall) of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and the impressive-yet-going-only-so-far accomplishments of the Bernie Sanders campaigns in 2016 and 2020.     

So here we stand, with egregiously horrifying examples of ethno-nationalism, government lawlessness, police riots, fascism, racist acts that are hurting and taking the lives of Black, Brown and indigenous people, a likely demented president with decidedly authoritarian leanings and ambitions served by his toadies, a Congress unable and/or unwilling to exercise its Constitutional authority in service of the rule of law, and a major political party that is hell-bent on holding power through both legal and illegal methods including, but not limited to, voter intimidation and vote suppression.  And all of these are occurring on a daily basis within the United States.

Neo-liberalism is not demonstrating that it is up to the task of providing a meaningful, coherent alternative. Keir Starmer is not showing that he will stand up to the Tory governing paradigm and Joe Biden, well, he is no “man of the future” but, importantly, he is not Donald Trump. 

Where I am going with this?  Right here.  In short, I have been distracted, sometimes by legitimate issues but other times by nonsense.

I believe that a better world is possible.  And I need to spend more time discussing issues and proposing ideas and solutions that will serve that cause.

Do I sometimes utilize a Manichean approach to political debate?  Yes, I do.  I only regret it when I might alienate potential allies or when I think to myself, “you know, I can do better than this.”  This occurred quite recently, on both fronts.

The closer I get to 50, the more I think about lost time and squandered opportunity.  Too often, I put out first drafts.  Do they make my point?  For the most part, yes. Will I still denounce the fascists and their supporters?  Absolutely, but I will be more thoughtful about it.  I know with more reflection and less of a willingness to engage in depressingly boring knife-fights, I can help further the cause that former British MP Aneurin "Nye" Bevan described as: “the only hope for mankind – and that is democratic socialism.”  

Being human, I cannot guarantee that my words and deeds will always align with such lofty ambitions.  That said, I have a lodestar and I need to focus my attention in that direction. The “break” afforded by shifting from the old platform to the new will hopefully help in the fulfillment of this goal.

Finally, it is my hope that you, the reader, will enjoy the content. In addition to the blog, I am in the early planning stages of developing other avenues for engagement…such as fora where those on the left, of all stripes, can discuss public policy matters and electoral strategies in a constructive, non-schism-inducing manner.  Perhaps now more than ever, we need a popular front.  

That is all for now.  107 days until Election Day 2020.  One throwback for old times’ sake:  

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

In solidarity.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Disingenuous, Dysfunctional, Demeaning, and Disturbing

Why Howard County?  Why do you compel me to write these articles?  I am, as we speak, developing the rules for a game I call Quar-Ball. It’s the ideal game for these times.  A combination of dodgeball, kickball, volleyball, badminton, squamish, and (at the advanced level) snooker – it is going to be the sport everyone will be playing in the autumn.

So why can’t I focus on this soon-to-be-beloved-by-millions-and-highly-profitable-for-me past-time? Because of the Howard County Council Legislative Work Session (Web-based Virtual Meeting) of July 8, 2020.

Upon watching the first 28 minutes and final 10 minutes of the session, I heard comments and saw behaviors that included all of the words mentioned in the title of this post.  Check it out for yourself here:

Allow me one digression.  Of course these attitudes and actions are not limited to the Howard County Council…I see plenty of this on social media too.  From the squishy center sanctimoniousness from one FB group administrator to the “logical fallacy” FB group administrator. To the former: learn how to deal with public criticism.  To the latter: hey, what’s the logical fallacy for being a hypocritical gasbag? Ad homi-this, pal. 

Back to the main point, to expand upon a metaphor used recently in this context, the Howard County Council appears to be trapped in a five-way bad marriage. What I saw from this particular session, among other things, is the need for a strong commitment to antiracism.  I understand there are “reasons” why Howard County can’t move on this issue as Montgomery County did, with Councilperson Will Jawando pushing for a resolution declaring racism a “public health crisis” (which passed unanimously).  However, I think we can all agree that silencing a Black member of the Howard County Council, duly elected as the voice of the people of the district he represents, was reprehensible.  We need “unconscious bias and racial equity training for Councilmembers and County Council staff” now.  And we need the racial equity task force to launch ASAP, report their findings shortly after ASAP, and actually put into practice their recommendations (assuming, of course, they are quality anti-racist measures), ASAP after ASAP.

Some may decry the task force as mockery, or even a sham, but I disagree.  If the task force can change hearts, minds, and behaviors in such a way that more people, including elected officials, embrace antiracist beliefs and practices, then it will be a worthwhile endeavor.

Beyond (while still including) race, this County Council needs to get it together.  Otherwise, 2021 and 2022 are going to be very ugly years in terms of both local governance as well as electioneering. I guarantee it.

In solidarity.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

¡No pasarĂ¡n!

Bearing in mind the enhanced interest in anti-fascism while also noting the seemingly increased tolerance for fascistic speech and behaviors in the United States and other countries, what follows is my book review of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, by Mark Bray.

Published in 2017, Professor Bray crafted a highly readable, well-structured work on the philosophical underpinning of the antifa movement.  He readily admits that a compressed time schedule (driven by global events) compelled him to focus on the areas which he knew best – specifically American and European anti-fascist organizations.  He acknowledges that that is a shortcoming.  He does make an effort to explore intersectional themes: most notably pertaining to race and racism but also on gender and patriarchy.

The first 60% of the book takes us on a history of anti-fascism.  The history is broken out into three parts:  anti-fascism through 1945 (with a focus on the inter-war period), from the end of World War Two to roughly the outbreak of the Iraq War, and the modern era of 2003 to the present.

There are a number of sub-themes which, in and of themselves, could each make for a book of their own:  the propensity of police forces to support fascist actors and regimes, the divisions on the Left which inhibited their ability to fight back against fascism, the weakness of liberals who advocate for “neutral” values that (in effect) provide opportunities for fascists to exploit, and the leitmotif of people believing that fascist parties were “jokes”…until they actually came into power (usually via constitutional/parliamentary means).

The other 40% of the book offers some key “lessons learned” and practical organizing counsel as well as communications suggestions, such as on how to handle questions about “no platforming” and the “what about free speech for all?” whinging articulated by not only fascists but neoliberals of many stripes, including liberals.

Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook seeks to remind people about the dangers of false equivalences.  We see them all of the time, on television as well as on social media (If you do X, you are just the same as Y).  The reality is far different, both in principle and on the ground.  Fascists want to dehumanize, hurt, and/or kill people who are different from them…racial or ethnic minorities, those who practice different faiths, women, members of LGBTQIA+ communities.  Anti-fascists want to stop them, using a range of strategies and tactics.  There is no ethical “middle ground” here.

I strongly recommend this timely and accessible work, especially when one considers the potential for even more widespread fascistic violence occurring between now and January 2021.  It is important to understand how best to defend against fascism and help protect those most vulnerable to its depredations.

In solidarity.