Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An Equal Number of Luftballons [of Ends and Odds]

SAD, 2016, and Thanks:

1) January is fast approaching, which can be a challenging month for those with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  For more information about this form of depression, including symptoms and management, interested readers should visit: 

2) Turning to Campaign 2016: The Saunter to the White House, there is more than a grain of truth in the hackneyed phrase, “You can’t beat something with nothing.”  At least one strategy exists that could allow a candidate not named Clinton to obtain the Democratic presidential nomination.  It is written on my home whiteboard. That said, a strategy alone is bupkis in the absence of a candidate capable of executing it.  As of this writing, Elizabeth Warren comes closest to the Ideal Protagonist for the scenario…but she hasn’t entered the contest.  At least not yet.  A good site for information and updates on the Draft Warren movement can be found here: http://runwarrenrun.org/.  Check it out, perhaps pass it along to some friends.

3) I would like to thank all of my readers for taking time out of your lives to peruse my reflections, idiosyncratic meanderings, and critical analyses.  Our Friend in Ellicott City posted just this morning: “The most important realization I've had about my own writing is that I don't write for other people to read.  I write to know what I think.”  I will readily admit that there is a tension that bubbles up, not infrequently, between what I want to write and what I think folks would actually read.  Most of the time, the former wins out but the “if no one hears the tree falling in the forest, etc…” concern is always there.  In any event, I am looking forward to the possibilities of 2015.  As long as there is news, plentiful grist for the mill as it were, there will be Content.  Precious, precious content.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Progress in Wilde Lake

Thus far, the Wilde Lake Village Board (WLVB) has had a productive term.

Allow me to step back for a moment for my non-Columbia-based readers.  According to my site statistics, there are many of you…most notably in Ukraine although the Taiwan numbers have been soaring of late. 

So, returning to Square One: It is important to remember that those who serve on village boards are volunteers.  Moreover, village boards – in my estimation – are quasi-private committees that serve quasi-public functions (except, of course, when they are acting like quasi-public bodies that contend with quasi-private obligations and responsibilities).  

The key element is that Columbia village boards need to advocate for their community interests.  The first paragraph of our Wilde Lake Community Association Mission Statement captures this philosophy rather succinctly:

“Wilde Lake Community Association was organized and is operated exclusively for the promotion of the health, safety, common good, and social welfare of the owners of property in, and the residents of, that area of the community of Columbia known as the Village of Wilde Lake.”

With that as a guiding animating principle, the current Board (elected in April of 2014), has had a good year.  Two accomplishments of note include:

1) Advocating for the development of a pathway that connects Howard Community College and the Wilde Lake Village Center. 

This was something that was discussed when I served on the WLVB and I am delighted that the current Board is moving ahead on this.  Although our Village Center is close to HCC, it doesn’t necessary feel that close to the College…a direct path (along with some clear signage) would help promote a more walkable Columbia, with benefits for HCC students and staff as well as our Village Center merchants.

I strongly encourage the WLVB to continue working with all relevant parties to help bring this proposed pathway into existence. 

2) It is now possible to attend the Wilde Lake Village Board meetings via video call.  This embrace of newer technology should help provide additional opportunities for information sharing and citizen engagement in our community. 

I support placing digital recordings of the WLVB meetings online so our property owners and residents can listen to the sessions when it is most convenient for them.  Thus far, the Columbia Association meetings podcasts have registered 2,284 plays over the course of 76 episodes.  In the interest of sharing “news you can use” and promoting transparency, Wilde Lake should follow suit.     

Hopefully, progress can be made on both fronts, as well as on other pressing community needs, over the course of the next few months. 

And don’t forget, village elections are in April.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Under the weather and through the woods…

Wassailing, as a general rule, has not played a prominent role in Booms Family Holiday Celebrations of years past.  That said, I am not ideologically opposed to the concept. 

Frankly, I would attend a Wassail-Fest (Wassail-Stock?)…as long as it occurred in Columbia.  The obligatory cider could be sourced from area apple orchards. There could be wassail-bowl decorating, for the kids.  Local school bands could play.  In the words of a respected Howard County activist, “It would bring the community together!”

I, for one, am tired of the anti-wassailing lobby holding back progress.   Is someone being paid off by Big Figgy Pudding? Rest assured I will be launching a full investigation into this matter.

So come on Columbia Association, let’s get on this.  Think of the critical Good Cheer diagnostic measure.  Money (the magazine) pays attention to such things in their rankings.  They will deny it, of course, unless you make the modified Know-Nothing gesture.  Even then, they might remain tight-lipped.

But seriously, why not?  And it would be perfect for Wilde Lake. 

The “Are You Ready to Wassail?!” t-shirts alone would move like hotcakes.

Back to the Game and my lozenges.  Happy Holidays to one and all!

Stay tuned, as more will follow.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

These Three Things

Support: the efforts of the Horizon Foundation and their coalition partners (known collectively as Sugar Free Kids Maryland) to terminate, with extreme prejudice, the state’s sales tax on bottled water.  Tax relief combined with promoting healthier beverage options? Seems like sound public policy.

Support: the decision by the Obama Administration to move in the direction of normalizing relations with Cuba.  Up until recently, our policy toward our neighbor has been caught up in a Cold War vortex, with some modifications over the past couple of decades.  I am well aware of the regime’s human rights record, which doesn't exactly differentiate Cuba from at least 30 other nations I could rattle off.  This presents an opportunity for the U.S. to expand our influence, and promote our ideals, during what promises to be a transitional period in Cuba’s history. It is better that the diplomatic shift occurs now before any potential post-Castro chaos ensues.  The differing perspectives I have heard today tend to be backward looking, politically motivated, and neglectful of the present-day needs of the Cuban people.  President Obama is dealing with the world as it is, and a reality-based foreign policy is a very good thing.

Support: an open exchange of ideas among Democrats as the Party constructs a new path forward.  A rigorous discussion among multiple presidential candidates would help facilitate a much-needed national conversation as to what constitutes a Democratic governing vision and which principles and policies we should emphasize as we seek to regain our electoral footing. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

“We are connected, we foster opportunities to connect with others”

The title of this post, of course, reflects one of the five stated Values of the Columbia Association.  These words were very much top of mind as I strolled toward the CA building, where, at the stroke of three o’clock Saturday (12/13/14), the inaugural meeting of the Haiti Sister City Planning Committee Meeting was gaveled to order.

Columbia, as you may be aware, has three Sister Cities – two in Europe and one in Africa.  Today, the discussion of forming a similar relationship with a city in the Western Hemisphere, specifically with the city of Cap-Haitien, Haiti, took a step forward.

Intuitively, this potential arrangement makes a great deal of sense.  Haiti’s geographic proximity to our corner of the States (relative to the other three locales) should help facilitate exchanges and other interactions between residents of our two communities.  We even share the same time zone.  Moreover, there are many Haitians and those with family in Haiti who reside and/or work in Columbia.  Cap-Haitien is known for being a center of artistic activity; Columbia celebrates the arts.        

We are both going through times of transition.  Our unique community is evolving while Cap-Haitien is undergoing significant changes as well.  The University of Haiti – Campus Roi Henri Christophe in Limonade (which is part of the Cap-Haitien Arrondissement) was just completed in 2012.  Tourism is growing in the city that has been called “the Paris of the Antilles.” 

But I am not yet on expert on Cap-Haitien, and I may never be.  Moreover, j’ai oublie la plus part de la langue francaise depuis l’ecole secondaire (I hope I am in the ballpark there).    I also don’t speak a word of Haitian Creole but I have always been interested in the history of the Republic of Haiti.  So I am elated to be part of a group that is working to formalize a relationship, via citizen diplomacy, with Cap-Haitien.

I am encouraged based on the intellectual firepower of those who attended today’s meeting.  There were some smart discussions on next steps as well as key challenges and considerations, and some on-the-nose questions were raised.  Overall, we are off to a promising start.

There are many steps remaining in order to move this process forward.  To that end, I encourage my readers – particularly those who reside in Columbia – to attend the next meeting of the Haiti Sister City Planning Committee, which I believe is scheduled to occur on January 13, 2015 at 7 pm at the CA Building (in the Board Room).  I will re-confirm that day/time/location in the days ahead.

And while international relations may not be a centerpiece of CA programming, there is a deep and abiding commitment to diversity, to building bridges, to learning from one another.  To those vital ends, among others, this author believes that the uniqueness of Cap-Haitien, combined with the special nature of Columbia, would make for a long and mutually beneficial association….hopefully, a Sister City relationship.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Taking Out the Trash

Today’s spotlight is on Trash Free Maryland.

This organization is engaged in the important work of keeping garbage out of our ecosystem.  They are focused on advocating for public policy solutions that encourage environmentally responsible behaviors – such as bag bills that promote the use of reusable shopping bags and bottle bills that boost beverage container recycling efforts.

Regarding the latter, Michigan has a redemption rate of over 95% of the items covered in the Michigan Beverage Container Act (enacted in 1976, implemented in 1978).  The 10-cent deposit rate, of course, provides a significant incentive to recycle those items.  

Our new Attorney General-Elect, Senator Brian Frosh, has been an ardent proponent of similar legislation for Maryland, arguing that it would improve our environment, among other benefits.  Funds generated by such a program could be directed toward specific purposes, such as cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

On the Bag Bill front, only three jurisdictions have the legal authority to impose fees on stores that give out disposable bags: Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and Montgomery County.  The Howard County Council does not possess that authority.  The most direct path to bring about such a fee in HoCo would be if a statewide bill passed in Annapolis.  Another option would be an outright statewide ban of disposable bags.  Of course, fee or ban, the question remains: Would the Governor-elect sign such legislation?    If he doesn’t, could Hogan be considered “pro-trash?”  How would that play out in 2018?

But let us put aside electoral considerations for the moment.  Given the general human aversion to unclean air and water, there are opportunities for bipartisan collaboration when it comes to the environment.   Litter is neither a Republican nor a Democratic problem, it impacts us all and incurs significant societal costs.  Hopefully, progress can be made in 2015 to reduce the blight of trash in our waterways, by our roads, and in our communities.  To that end, I am glad that Trash Free Maryland is forming alliances with community organizations and working to find practical solutions to combat litter.

For more information about Trash Free Maryland, check out their website at:

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Continental Engagement, Local Interest

Increasingly, I will spend time writing about community groups that are doing good work in Howard County.  With that in mind, today I am highlighting the Continental Societies, Incorporated.  There is a personal connection here, as the Mrs. was inducted into that organization (specifically the Southeastern Howard/Laurel Chapter) this afternoon in a gathering that occurred at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center.

Many luminaries were present at the induction; as the new members joined an international public service organization that focuses on five key programmatic areas: health, education, employment, recreation and arts/humanities.  This distinguished Continental Societies, Inc. chapter entered into a partnership with the Howard County Public School System shortly after being founded and has instituted a number of initiatives and activities “for many children and youth in our service area.” [Source: “Brief Chapter History”]

I look forward to covering the programs and service efforts they will implement in the coming months.  Congratulations to the new members of the sisterhood and thank you to all of the Continentals for all of the work you do to help the youth of Howard County.  More information about the organization can be found here:

On another note, I am evaluating my volunteer/service possibilities for 2015.  I have a meeting next week with one potential organization.  If I join, I will tell you all about it.  There are some other intriguing options, but I will talk about those if and when it becomes appropriate to do so.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

"The Full Moon is Calling"

The 1970s were a special decade.

Slats, of course, would tell you that some of his best years were spent working alongside Jean-Claude Killy as the famed alpine ski champion attempted to reboot his ski-racing career.   Then again, he would also say that his brief tenure as an assistant road manager for the Eagles during their Hotel California Tour also constituted his “best years.”  He is not the most reliable narrator of his own life story, but that is a defining characteristic of those who were young adults during the “Me Decade.”

Slats did not practice many of the celebrated excesses of those of his generation, but he sympathized with those who possessed more relaxed attitudes regarding consciousness-altering.  While not a toker himself, he embraced the mellow lifestyle. 

And while he supports full-on legalization, he related to me his considerable amusement that even some modern-era Republicans support common-sense decriminalization of the plant. 

“The GOP base must be fuming.  Guess they lost another battle in the culture wars,” he laughed.  “Hey, did I tell you about my work in the Jamaican elections? Let me tell you, Peter Tosh would be Prime Minister today if it wasn’t for that madness in ’87.”

He launched into a history of the People's National Party and their unfortunate electoral setbacks in the face of a global conservative shift in the late 70s/early 80s.  Reagan, Thatcher, Seaga- it was all related. 

But, over time, some societal values changed.  The sphere of individual liberty expanded and the liberals of the ‘70s eventually found greater acceptance of, and legal protection for, certain rights they were denied during the decade of Watergate and Malaise.   

Progress is not assured, it is neither consistently nor fairly applied, it often comes with fits and starts, and occasional retreats…but it is the American Promise that a road toward a more perfect Union should always be open.  It is our choice as to whether or not we take that path.

And now, from the aforementioned Tour: 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Nanny State Bull$#!&

From a political perspective, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman  - that still sounds weird - did the right thing when he “officially overturned a ban on the sale of sugary drinks and high-caloric snacks on county property and at events sponsored by the county,” (as originally reported by the illustrious Amanda Yeager of the Howard County Times).

The title refers to my reaction when I first heard about the proposed ban on such sales.   Now, I am not an expert on public health policy and Lord knows that all of my friends are Clean Living adherents, ingesting only the purest, quadruple-filtered H2O and the healthiest, organic, locally sourced free-range flaxseed.  

But I do know something about human behavior and how voters perceive, and react to, actual or potential laws and regulations.  The so-called “soda ban” was a classic example of Democratic over-reach.  It so easily fed into the infuriating but persistent narrative of Democrats imposing restrictions on what people can or cannot do with their hard-earned money because “we know best” (i.e., you can't be trusted to do the right thing, so we will deny you the opportunity to make such a decision).

Now, I sympathize with those who want to promote the consumption of healthier foods and beverages.  There are several avenues to bring about this end. 

First is by embracing a culture of healthier living.  When I got serious about getting into shape, I switched from pop to water and greatly curtailed eating “junk” snacks.  Real food with nutritional value tastes better and I have saved money in the process. I know this may be more of a challenge for families with children and/or those with tighter budgets or less time to explore different food and beverage options, but I believe greater mindfulness regarding wellness practices combined with smart grocery shopping can help combat obesity and related diseases - and far more effectively than the now defunct ban. 

Another way is by purchasing healthier options from vendors who are peddling their wares on county property and/or at county-sponsored events.  The market will react to changes in buying patterns. If Frescas don’t sell, they are less likely to be carried. Space is everything for such merchants.  If water or fruit juices move, they will stock those items instead of sodas.

And the soda ban was so memorable too.  Such an easy thing to run against.  Subtext: "Can you believe those arrogant, know-it-all, pointy-headed jerks?  They don’t even want you to quench your thirst on a hot August day with a good old American Coca-Cola because they know best.  How out-of-touch are these folks?" 

I know I have some friends who think differently on this subject.  Was his decision good public policy?  That can be debated.  But this article is on the politics of the matter, and on that point, given where the electorate is, Kittleman made the best move available.

On another note, and perhaps the topic for another post, I think Kittleman’s emphasis on “trust” as a key factor in his hiring decisions is being applied in a way that will cause short and long term problems for the County and its residents.  There are some smart, talented people who are being pushed out.  Is it because of their well-known service with Ken Ulman? Affiliation with the Democratic Party?  I was not present when these personnel decisions were being made, so I have no idea what is in the hearts and minds of the “deciders” beyond their public pronouncements.  That said, the new Administration is asking several individuals with a great deal of valuable knowledge and institutional memory - and exemplary records as public servants - to move along and that isn’t sitting well with this writer.  The Kittleman folks need to have some outsiders at the table.  We see that in the U.S. Cabinet and the County Government should be no different. 

Stay tuned, as more will follow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Episode 90: The GOP Awakens (2016)

Well I promised a brief look at the potential contours of, and possible candidates within, the 2016 GOP field, so here it goes:

First, my long-list contains 64 names.  Beyond the Heavyweights and several Contenders, it includes some complete non-starters, a few has-beens, and a couple of never-was types.  The most shocking element here is that the road to the Republican presidential nomination is so open that many of the lesser names could gaze into a mirror and say, without an excessive amount of self-delusion, “You know, I could pull 15,000 votes in Iowa and win a ticket to New Hampshire.”  And the mirror wouldn’t even laugh back.

Charlie Cook, the celebrated political analyst and prognosticator of the highest order (who, by the way, nailed the closeness of the MD gubernatorial race while some folks Who Shall Remain Nameless were saying that LG Anthony Brown had a 93% chance of victory), was recently quoted in The Kansas City Star as expecting the eventual GOP nominee to be a “tea party Senator or Governor from the Midwest.”

Actually that call isn’t as bold as it might seem.  If you winnow the list of names down to the 20 candidates most likely to run, and further assume that only around 12 of those will go as far as establishing an exploratory committee, there are multiple tea party-aligned Senators and heartland Governors in the mix [in boldface below].  Let’s assume the following field going into August of next year:

Senator Rand Paul (KY)
Senator Ted Cruz (TX)
Governor Bobby Jindal (LA)
Dr. Ben Carson (MD)
Governor Rick Perry (TX)
Former US Senator Rick Santorum (PA) or former Governor Mike Huckabee (AR)
Business Executive Carly Fiorina (CA)
Governor Chris Christie (NJ)
Former Governor Jeb Bush (FL) or (unlikely) former Governor Mitt Romney (MA)
Governor Scott Walker (WI)
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton (MD)
Possibly either Governor Mike Pence (IN) or Governor John Kasich (OH)
And a couple of others, such as a Congressman Peter King (NY) or Senator Bob Corker (TN)

Carson falls somewhere between Morry “The Grizz” Taylor and former Senator Fred Thompson on the Serious Candidate Spectrum.  Is he really running for a statewide office in Maryland?  For an appointment as Surgeon General? Stay tuned, as…

Wait. I am not done.  Bolton is one-note on defense and is no more than a Cabinet possibility at best.  If you assume the “others” will end up being “also-rans” then at least a third and possibly close to half of the Serious Candidates [in terms of likelihood of obtaining the nomination, not necessarily ability to govern] will be tea party Senators or Rust Belt Govs.

Oh did I forget Senator Marco Rubio (FL)?  No.   I think he will choose to take a pass and look for another opportunity down the road. I think he understands that the electorate likes to “fix” the perceived shortcomings of the current Administration.   Carter too soft, too bogged down in details?  Let’s get a tough talking, CEO-type in Reagan.  George HW Bush too out-of-touch with the problems of working families?  Let’s elect the populist from Arkansas who eats at McDonald’s. George W. Bush doesn’t have the intellectual heft? Let’s vote for the Brainiac Senator from Illinois.  Obama too cerebral/aloof, lacking a long history of building relationships with Congress?  Perhaps it’s time for someone who comes across as warmer, or someone who has been around the Establishment longer, a “Known Entity.”    Hmmm…

Of course this is all incredibly reductionist.  If I had to bet, I would say the Republican field will consist of six Serious possibilities after the Iowa caucuses (slightly more than the historical norm as I believe multiple campaigns will be prepping for a long, drawn-out process).  There will be two social conservatives, two more establishment types, Rand Paul and someone else, perhaps Fiorina.  In the end, I expect it will come down to a slog for delegates with perhaps as many as three Serious candidates competing until the end of the primary season.  The Establishment choice (Bush although I would keep an eye on Pence), Rand Paul and maybe someone who was accruing just enough Delegates along the way to prevent anyone else from obtaining a majority, someone who might use that clout at the Convention to get a spot on the ticket or at least be a king (or queen) maker.  Senator Cruz may be that third person in this scenario.  Oh for the joys of a Brokered Convention.  Let the political scientists dream!

Anyway, I am certain I will talk about the individual attributes and policy stances of all of these people, and others, over the course of the next 14 months or so.  Everyone is in their decision-making mode now.  Go/No Go.  Internal/family deliberations will conclude over the next few weeks.  I expect a couple candidates will announce early, in the first quarter of 2015, while most will state their intentions in April, May and early June of next year.

Just a bit of Hot Stove League speculation as we hurtle toward 1/1/15.   

Looking forward to focusing a bit more on state and local public policy issues in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned, as more will follow.