Politics & Business

Newt Gingrich to Visit Baltimore Today


Maryland, which boasts twice as many registered Democrats as registered Republicans, has been playing host to much more GOP primary campaigning than in years past, with Newt Gingrich scheduled to visit Baltimore for a campaign fundraiser on Thursday.

According to Maryland’s GOP party chair Alex Mooney, even a state as blue as ours (and with a later primary than some) can’t be overlooked by Republican candidates this campaign season because the primary race is “so wide open.” Though Mitt Romney is currently ahead in the polls, he may be leading by default as almost 50 percent of Republican primary voters are unsatisfied with the slate of candidates, according to an NBC News poll. And with the popular and polarizing Sarah Palin and Rudolph Giuliani possibly considering a run, Romney can’t get too comfortable yet.

What will Maryland Republicans do with this rare chance to raise their voices and be heard by their party’s presidential hopefuls? Will the GOP platforms this election season  have a decidedly mid-Atlantic flair? Stay tuned.

Obama’s Opinion on Gay Marriage "Evolving"

“Evolving,” that’s how President Obama recently described his views on same-sex marriage, which could imply that the president is considering coming out in favor of gay marriage.

It would certainly give greater unity to his previously nuanced stance on gay issues. On the campaign trail in 2008, Obama struggled to convey a stance supportive of pro-gay rights while he officially opposed same-sex marriage, citing religious reservations.

According to The Baltimore Sun, the majority of Americans are in favor of homosexual matrimony, while in the staunchly “blue” state of Maryland gay marriage faces a fair amount of opposition, largely from Christian congregations.

For those Marylanders who view marriage as God’s sacred institution, here is some food for thought. The early Christian church held marriage in no high regard; Paul considered it an acceptable alternative to fornication, but favored a single, celibate lifestyle. Marriage wasn’t even a sacrament in the Christian church until the 12th century. 

I would also like to point out that, in this country, marriage is and has been primarily a civil contract. It’s no uncommon thing to be married outside of the church, by a justice of the peace. Certainly these same churches that oppose gay marriage are not up in arms about secular marriages in general. The legalization of gay marriage would not impinge on the rights of churches. No church would be forced to sanction a same-sex union. 

Here’s hoping that recent worries about the economy don’t put an important civil rights issue like marriage equality on the political back burner in 2012, the way it has the issue of unlawful detention and torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Robocalls: The Sequel


Friday, I posted about the recent indictment of two of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s political aides for ordering unlawful robocalls aimed at voter suppression last election day. When dealing with the indictment of persons who have not yet been tried, let alone convicted of anything, extra care is required not to misrepresent the situation. I forewent analysis in favor of facts. But this robocall scandal begs the discussion of a larger problem with our political process.

While state Republicans were fairly quiet about the charges, Maryland Democratic party chair Yvette Lewis went on record to condemn the robocalls, calling them “reprehensible” and stating further that she is “outraged by any action intended to disenfranchise voters and subvert our democratic process.” However sincere Lewis’ outrage may be, her statement mischaracterizes the nature of political campaigning by implying that the subversion of the democratic process is the aim only of a particular candidate or a particular party. She might acknowledge that a campaign is, at its core, a matter of political gamesmanship. When political campaigns routinely attempt to manipulate voter opinion with emotionally charged buzz words, or run unflattering black-and-white pictures of the opponents with out-of-context sound bites, or draw attention to embarrassing but irrelevant scandals, the goal is no less than the subversion of the democratic process.

In an election, there are many people actively involved who are deeply invested in one outcome or the other, and relatively few people who are deeply invested the integrity of the process. Politicians do not pay six-figure fees to political consultants to ensure that the will of the people is obeyed. Neither do individuals and corporations donate large sums to political campaigns to guarantee the integrity of the democracy.

What we get is a political reality in which candidates, speechwriters, and consultants concern themselves not with honesty and fairness, but results. Every so often a politician perpetrates an immoral and dishonest tactic that also happens to be criminal, and he’s startled awake from his dreamy status quo to find he is facing actual charges attached to actual jail time.

I am not suggesting if the two aides are found guilty that they should be excused because they somehow didn’t know better. The point is that restoring legitimacy to the democratic process involves more than the occasional ferreting out of particularly outrageous examples of foul-play (and certainly some are more outrageous than others); it requires fundamental changes to the way that political campaigns are run in this country.

Today Joe College is a Cop


News of Baltimore cop Adam Braskich’s acceptance to Harvard Law for fall 2011 made me pause and daydream. I thought to myself, “If more police officers pursued college and grad degrees, imagine how much safer we’d all feel. Your average cop would be more self-aware, more meditative/rational, less trigger-happy/hot-headed, no?” College gave me the time I needed to slow down and understand myself better, to read loads of great books, and (cue meaningful music) to realize how interdependent the human race truly is.

Yes, I’m a big fan of education, clearly. So, anyway, as I scanned The Sun story about Braskich, I was pleased to understand that far more officers now than ever before pursue higher learning, and that the force encourages it. Of the 2,947 men in blue in Baltimore, 466 hold college diplomas, 32 hold master’s degrees, and two, full-blown PhDs. Those with college degrees automatically command more pay, which seems broadminded of the city. In 2009, a tuition reimbursement program for police went by the wayside, due to budget cuts, but the fact that said reimbursement existed at all lifts my morale.

I’m not saying ever officer ought to aim for the PhD during his off hours, writing a long criminal justice thesis about the frequency of “gray Taurus” car theft in quiet residential Baltimore neighborhoods. But I’m happy to expect that the next time my crappy car gets taken from my curb in broad daylight, I might be met by a couple of quick-thinking cops, currently enrolled in night school philosophy seminars, who know better how to converse with a worried citizen–who know better how to give a care, even momentarily.

Do you think cops might be more effective after earning college degrees?

Roboscandal Round-up


Two political strategists could face up to five years in jail and 50 million dollars in fines for telling Maryland voters to “relax.” Julius Henson and Paul Schurick worked on Republican Robert L. Ehrlich’s failed 2010 bid for governor, Schurick as Ehrlich’s campaign manager and Henson as a political consultant. They have been charged with conspiracy to violate Maryland election laws, among other charges, for ordering deceptive robocalls to be sent to over 112,000 households on election day, targeting African-American Democrat populations with an automated message encouraging voters to “relax” because Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley had already won election. But of course these calls were made while the polls were still open.

Both Henson and Schurick claim they have violated no laws. Henson freely admits ordering the calls, but claims that they were not intended to suppress Democratic voters, but rather to encourage Ehrlich’s supporters to get out to the polls. Henson called the strategy “counterintuitive.” That’s certainly one word for it. It’s especially counterintuitive when you consider that, according to court papers, the phone numbers were culled from call lists for two recent Democratic campaigns Henson’s firms had worked for, and were unlikely to be the numbers of Ehrlich supporters. On top of that, according to the state prosecutor, an Ehrlich campaign document called “The Schurick Doctrine” declares its aim to be the promotion of “confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats.”

With a 2005 Maryland law expressly making it illegal to “willfully and knowingly influence or attempt to influence a voter’s decision whether to go to the polls to cast a vote through the use of force, fraud, threat, menace, intimidation, bribery, reward, or offer of reward,” these charges could carry up to a five-year sentence. Henson and an associate are also facing a civil suit related to the calls. If found in violation, they could be fined 500 dollars per call, and remember: there were over 112,000 calls.

Q & A with Community Activist Sally Michel


Sally Michel believed in Baltimore long before such behavior was mandated by municipal bumper sticker. As one of the city’s pre-eminent cultural and educational activists, Michel has consistently channeled that belief into tangible results for a smorgasbord of worthy beneficiaries – the Abell Foundation, Fund for Educational Excellence, School for the Arts, Junior League, and Walters Art Museum, among countless others – that have significantly enhanced the quality of life in Baltimore. 

Michel also has played a quietly influential role in civic affairs, both publicly – she served for 10 years on the city’s Planning Commission, including a stretch as chair – and privately, as a staunch donor to the campaigns of local, state, and national Democratic candidates (William Donald Schaefer, Ben Cardin, Elijah Cummings, Maggie McIntosh, Barack Obama, et al.).

However, Michel is probably best known as the co-founder – and relentless shepherdess — of the Parks & People Foundation, the public/private organization, launched in 1984 with Schaefer’s benediction, dedicated to developing programs that seamlessly mesh environmental and educational initiatives. Accordingly, she created the group’s SuperKids Camp, which since 1997 has provided more than 17,000 city schoolchildren with innovative learning experiences via a fun-but-functional summer camp.

Michel, now 73, grew up in Virginia, attended Goucher College, and lives in Roland Park.    

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.  

Help us to remember that what we keep we lose, and only what we give remains our own.
When did you define your most important goals, and what are they? 

Goals are an ongoing process, but mine have always focused on children and the city environment. 
What is the best advice you ever got that you followed? 

My husband use to give my three daughters the following advice: be a lady, do things to make me proud, and, above all, think. We have all followed that advice. 
The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

Vote Republican. I never have.
What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime? 

Friends and family are the key to everything. Eight grandkids are sheer joy. There are not enough hours in the day.    
What is the best moment of the day?

Two a.m. It’s quiet, the phone doesn’t ring, and I can get a lot of work done.
What is on your bedside table? 

Three alarm clocks.
What is your favorite local charity? 

The Parks & People Foundation, because it helps city children and parks.
What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing? 

Marry someone who will support you in all your ventures.
Why are you successful? 

What is your favorite Baltimore City vista? 

The view from my porch. I can see the Roland Park water tower and all the way down to the harbor.
What is the most difficult plant that you have successfully grown in your home garden? 

Does not apply – I have never grown a plant successfully. 
What attribute surprised you the most about William Donald Schaefer?

Despite his gruff exterior, he was a lovely, sweet man.

Catherine Pugh’s Twitter Account Hacked? Sounds Familiar…


Add Baltimore mayoral candidate Catherine Pugh’s name to the list of politicians whose social networking gaffes (or hacks, depending on whom you believe) have become news stories. While Pugh was attending a gala for the Associated Black Charities Saturday night her Twitter account published a tweet that read: “Mmm mmm good looking men here,” which is fairly tame as regrettable tweets go. It’s unbecoming of a state senator and mayoral hopeful, maybe, but it would be a stretch to call it scandalous. Pugh denies sending the tweet.

Certainly it’s nothing compared with the over-reported (and over-photo-illustrated) “sexting” scandal of the unfortunately named Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose confusing half-denials gave way to defiant confessions as photo after half-dressed photo of the New York congressman surfaced on the Internet as evidence of his inappropriate cyber-behavior. The two stories are similar only in medium, but the medium is the message to the larger story here.

Social media scandals could be the wave of the future. Digital information is particularly leaky, and once out is quickly copied and distributed. A single private message intended for the eyes of a friend or family member can become a media event in a matter of minutes.

It’s possible that these scandals could become less common as the current politicians are succeeded by a more tech-savvy generation, but I have my doubts. So often I’ve seen younger people post information to their Facebook pages that I would never dream of posting. I wonder if these immature and inappropriately personal messages will cause problems for them in the future with relationships, employment, or running for public office.

It’s unclear how culpable the news media are in the reporting of these scandals. Certainly Rep. Weiner’s social networking “affairs” are some kind of news story, but how relevant are they really? Are the media working in the name of greater transparency or simple voyeurism? Perhaps blaming news outlets is itself outdated. Even without coverage of  Weiner’s Twitter scandal by legitimate news sources, surely the story would have spread far and wide through retweets and Facebook posts. Have we come to a time when the people determine what’s newsworthy? And is this the kind of thing we’re into?


Contest: Summer Job Horror Stories


All over Baltimore kids are looking for summer work. The jobs, if you can get them, are typically hellish: babysitting bratty kids, hanging over a fryer in a fast food kitchen, digging graves in the hot sun, assisting a verbally abusive power tripper, to name a foul few. It’s a character building rite of passage, sure, and most of us get through it, with stories that seems funny in retrospect, but it seems pretty insufferable at the time.

Do you remember one summer job that was particularly brutal? Tell us your story! Winner receives a $50 gift certificate to a local restaurant, where the lucky scribe may spy a beleaguered Baltimore teen busing loaded tables for peanuts. 

To get your creative juices flowing, we share with you a classic missive from a Baltimorean who worked as an assistant in the entertainment industry one summer. Makes grave digging sound cushy, no?

“Worst day of work ever. I had to be at Lydia’s house at 8 this morning with coffee, which meant I had to get up at 6:30 and leave by seven. I get there, and she’s still asleep so I have to wake her up, give her her coffee and then change her cat’s kitty litter and clean her room while she gets her hair blown out. After all this is done, she starts freaking out because she can’t find her coat and she has to be on the lot at 10:30. We finally get in the car and she calls (her first assistant) Rachel about how I have no idea what I’m doing and how I hadn’t been prepped properly. She insists to me that she’s not mad at me, but lets me know that I need to be briefed better on the things that need to go in her purse and make sure that there are coffee and cigarettes waiting in the car for her. If not, it puts her in “a really crappy mood.” She repeats that this can never happen again. At this point its 9:55 and we have to be on set at 10:30, which is 45 minutes away. I speed all the way and get her there on time, but when we get to the stage, she tells me to call Sue, one of the women she is meeting. I don’t have Sue’s number, but what’s worse is my phone is broken and spazzes out sometimes, and of course, it picks then to spazz. It won’t turn on and it’s freezing. “This is really shitty, this can never happen again,” she repeats over and over as if I were deaf and mentally challenged. I apologize profusely, and, because on some level she likes me, she tries to be positive but it is clear that she is pissed. She gets out of the car and slams the door. So, naturally, I drive away. I get back to the office, after crying the whole way, and apparently she’s angry because I drove away and the rest of the crew was running late so she was there alone when we “could have gone to get cigarettes and coffee.” I want to scream at her, “You’re 60 years old, can’t you make sure you have cigarettes?!! Can’t you make sure everything is in your purse that’s supposed to be there?!! Are you a moron?” But of course, I can’t. So I have to run out and get her coffee for before she gets here. Now she won’t look at me and I’m pretty much positive that she’s not going to want me to work here anymore, which sucks because I sacrificed my whole summer for this…opportunity.”

Execs to Hop in the Harbor!


We double-dog dare you to dive off the pier at Fells Point, and not in a drunken stupor either, in the name of clean water and good faith. But, wait, don’t do it yet. Wait till 2020, when it’s safe.

Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore aims to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by ’20, if not sooner. Mike Hankin, president/CEO of Brown Advisory, has even promised to take a swim himself, as part of the first harbor-held triathlon.

“Some people think I’ve gone out on a limb here, but this is very doable,” Hankin says. “This harbor deserves to be cleaned up! Come now, this is our city–let’s act like it!”

Hankin serves as chairman of the organization’s board–exec director Laurie Schwartz, also an avid swimmer, provides key leadership.

She, too, looks forward to a clean, competitive swim by nontoxic deadline.

“I’m in! I’m a regular swimmer–at Meadowbrook and Harbor East MAC–and would much prefer to swim in the open waters of the Harbor. I dream about swimming from the foot of Broadway to Tidepoint!” Schwartz says.

Participating harbor-area businesses include H&S Bakeries, Cordish Company, General Growth, Merritt Properties, and Brown Advisory, plus nonprofits the Maryland Science Center and the Aquarium.

Since raising two million dollars to gather momentum, industrious WPB collective has organized to pick up trash on the south side of the harbor, maintained over twenty green urban spaces, and much more. City council fully backs their optimistic efforts.

Are there doubters among you, readers? We’ve all seen tons of nasty trash floating in the harbor, every time we visit the place. The trouble feels chronic, okay. So, how will the organization actually achieve their dreamy fish-and-human-friendly goals?

Well, practical plans (not the least bit watery) underway to ensure clean, swimmable water include a regular “State of the Harbor” report card, a detailed action plan produced by the Center for Watershed Protection and Biohabitats, addressing each major source of harbor pollution, and active neighborhood participation, with grants provided to neighborhood leaders who can spearhead health plan creation, cleanup and awareness efforts. (Problems like litter, sediment run-off and clogged streams will be addressed.)

Sponsors include: Constellation Energy, Legg Mason, Rauch Foundation, Abell Foundation, Cleaner Greener Baltimore and Duane Morris.

Will you support efforts to clean up our harbor? Whether or not you pitch in, will you ultimately take a dip? Go on, we dare you, and we’ll see you in there!

New B.A. Lands You Fast Telemarketing Gig


Not that I’m regretting dropping four years’ tuition into a bachelor’s degree from a top art college, but why did I choose to major in illustration rather than….creative ways to sell stuff? For the past four years I’ve been telling myself, “Don’t worry, you’ll have a job waiting when you graduate.”

Seems the only places hiring are marketing and sales firms. As soon as I put my resume on Monster and Career Builder, my email and phone lines were flooded with recruiters looking for new grads aspiring to be telemarketers. I guess you should take what you can get, but for someone who’s not a “people person,” calling strangers during dinnertime and pestering them to buy something they don’t need not only seems like a poor use of my degree, it’s not physically doable.

I’ve zoned out for hours surfing the web for design jobs, since I have a couple of great graphic design classes under my belt. The catch is that 99 percent of the graphic design jobs posted require knowledge of web design. I guess the average Corporate Joe wouldn’t realize it, but graphic design and web design are two different things. Just the other day I went to an interview for a “part time graphic design with maybe some writing” job. Immediately they told me they wanted someone to build their website and edit video footage. Where did that come from? It says nowhere on my resume that I build websites or have video experience.

Surely, the jobs are out there. It’s just a matter of finding one to which you can apply your hundred thousand dollar degree. For artists, it’s ten times the battle. I can dedicate myself to being a freelance illustrator, without the security of a steady income or reliable clients, but I’m looking for something permanent. I wish my school officials had told me freshman year, if you want to make money with a Bachelors of Fine Arts, you need to learn web design. Or figure out how to cold call people and talk them into magazine subscriptions.