Politics & Business

Vote… or Don’t. Who Cares?

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“Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens aim to make Baltimore’s general election matter.” That was the subtitle to to last week’s City Paper cover story.

If you were excited (as I was) by the headline’s implication that the city’s minority parties had gained enough grassroots support (or were perhaps collaborating — as strange as that would be) to mount a formidable challenge to the Democratic juggernaut, you would have been disappointed by Van Smith’s article, which told a familiar story: though they may have compelling platforms, the Republicans, Libertarians, and Greens account for a pathetically small portion of Baltimore’s voting public and therefore have very little chance of wrestling any power away from Dems.

Of course, Smith’s larger point — that the Democratic party’s long-standing dominance over local politics disenfranchises voters and breeds corruption — is well taken. When you live in a city that refers to the Democratic primary as “election day,” and a state that can effortlessly pass overtly gerrymandered congressional districts despite the protests of Republicans, minorities, and even some fellow Dems, how long does it take before you start demanding an alternative, even if (as is probably the case) you’re a registered Democrat?

O’Malley Declares War on Sprawl

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You know how parts of Columbia (or Owings Mills, or Pikesville) just feel like vast swaths of strip malls with rivers of traffic in between? That’s what the urban planners like to call “low-density development,” aka sprawl. And it was all the rage back in the day… Until now, when Maryland has wound up with an average commute time (32 minutes) that’s longer than those in New Jersey or New York, and an immanent shortage of land.

These days  people are much more aware of the high, hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) costs of development that maximizes drive-time, land-gobbling, and paving everything in sight:  it’s bad for our farmland, for the Chesapeake Bay, and (if you’ve got to commute, or drive to the grocery store for more milk) our moods. So kudos to O’Malley and the whole Department of Planning for creating PlanMaryland, “a statewide smart growth plan that encourages the development of high-density residential pockets along established lines of infrastructure.” In a nutshell, the plan hopes to create a sustainable, smartly planned Baltimore-Washington mega-region.

High density sounds kind of… crowded, though, right? Well, that’s part of the problem; the state is running out of land at a rapid clip. (In the past four decades, Maryland’s population grew by 30 percent — but its land consumption increased by 100 percent, O Malley points out) To manage all the people we have now (and all the new ones who are coming in the next decades), we’ll need transportation, housing, sanitation, education, and public safety plans. Hence PlanMaryland.

On a quick read, the plan seems to be city-centric, and call for investments in already-existing urban areas. Will the counties feel left out? Some are already protesting the plan (and throwing around words like “communism”). Others say O’Malley’s vision is too timid and conciliatory to make any real change happen. Your take? Tell us, and tell the governor — the public comment period for PlanMaryland ends this week!

Maryland is the Nation’s Best State for Working Women

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According to the Atlantic, Maryland’s female wage-earners have a lot to be grateful for. In the magazine’s ranking of the best states for working women, Maryland comes out on top (if you don’t count D.C., which we don’t).

Maryland’s working women have the highest average earnings ($42,164) of any state in the U.S. Okay, so D.C. women outearn their Maryland counterparts, but D.C.’s not a state and we refuse to compete with them. That’s more than $10,000 more than the national average, and nearly $20,000 more (!) than in the state with the lowest national average — North Dakota. Women’s earnings make up 40 percent of all the wages earned in the state — not parity, to be sure, but higher than nearly every other state.

The wily statisticians even came up with a “location premium” figure, which means the extra earnings that come from working in a particular state, with all other variables (education, skill, hours worked) averaged out. The average Maryland woman can thank our fair state for the extra $6,728 she’s making this year — a much nicer deal than the negative location premium ranking for states like Montana (-$7,871) and Virginia (-$6,948).

Clearly, a lot of Maryland (and D.C.)’s dominance in these rankings can be attributed to government jobs. Any other ideas why Maryland might have come out on top?

Traffic D

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Taking the scenic drive up Charles Street–with serious bottlenecking between Northern Parkway and Bellona–can make you feel like you’re living in the movie Groundhog Day, repeating the same Men-at-Work scene every single day lately. You’ve probably noticed that construction on this portion of the pretty road seems to be set on not-so-instant replay. We’ve been so frustrated, and flat out confused, by the current re-repaving of this road that we could have sworn got similarly repaved last June that we decided to call up Adrienne Barnes, spokesperson for the Baltimore City Department of Transportation. Barnes confirmed that this repave redo is not a product of our imaginations, but in fact fact: City engineers deemed the contractor M. Luis’ initial asphalt attempt “substandard” and unacceptable and required him to undertake the same repair operation again 100 percent free of charge.

M. Luis was legally obligated to fix the work without charging Baltimore or Maryland a penny, of course. Barnes explained further that funding for the company’s first botched job came from federal and local funds–while Sarbanes’ office clarified that no part of that spending is attached to a federal stimulus package. Said Ruxton road work (the sequel) began during the second week of October and will end the second week of November. 

How often does it happen that a road undergoes two copycat construction processes, due to unsatisfactory outcome? “Very rarely,” Barnes said. Though it certainly does happen. On an action-movie scale, too. Case in point: In late October, crews began essential repairs to the supports of three bridges over the Intercounty Connector or ICC (which carries a price tag of $2.6 billion, incidentally). The parts designer agreed to accept full financial responsibility, but the public must accept déjà vuinspiring delays due to lane closings. Consider it more time to think.

It’s an Honor Just to Be Nominated

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Have you heard of the Mobbies? Neither had we until a friend emailed to congratulate us on being nominated in the Best City Blog and Best New Blog categories. Mobbies = the “best blog” awards given by The Baltimore Sun. Here’s the weird thing though: You can vote for yourself, and often! The rules allow one vote per person every 24 hours, but voters have to be registered at The Sun.

We’re so happy to be nominated we won’t even feel embarrassed to vote for ourselves 100 times — or ask our dear readers to do so — even if it is just a ploy to drive traffic to The Sun’s website.

Vote for us? Save us some clicks. Here’s the link:

http://data.baltimoresun.com/mobbies/2011/voting/?vote_for=859#859

Here are the rules:

  1. To be eligible, a voter must be a registered user of baltimoresun.com.
  2. Vote for your favorites daily. Registered users get one vote per category per 24-hour period. You can also vote once each day for the best overall blog.
  3. Rankings are updated daily. The nominee who receives the highest number of votes in each category at the end of the voting period wins. 
  4. Voting on the Mobbies finalists will started Oct. 31st at 8 a.m. and will end Nov. 10th at 5 p.m. Winners, prizes and partying commence at Illusions Magic Bar on Nov. 15th at 5:30 p.m. Details here

Please excuse our shameless self-promotion and thanks.

 

Mt. Washington Tavern Fire Extinguished, Owners Leave Message of Thanks on Facebook

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The fire that started at the popular bar and restaurant at about 5 a.m. this morning has been put out by the Baltimore City Fire Department. Relieved that no one was hurt and moved by the outpouring of support from the community, the owners posted this message on the tavern’s Facebook page:

To our valued customers, friends, 

What a morning. We may be down but we are certainly not out. The fire has taken the Tavern for now but we look very forward to rebuilding and being better than ever. 

We are so thankful for the outpouring of support already and even more so that our customers and employees were unharmed. The cause of the fire is still under investigation. We will keep you posted as news develops and look forward to celebrating with you at our grand re-opening. 

Rob and Dave and the whole MWT team

Pinkwashing: How Long Until Awareness Turns Into a Cure?

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As October winds down, pumpkin-infused treats abound, trees in vibrant fall shades stand at every corner, and the pink ribbons in support of cancer research adorn virtually every conceivable product. 

Every October, companies team up with breast cancer charities across the country to raise money for breast cancer research as part of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. An October 15 article in The New York Times reported the Susan G. Komen foundation, the most prominent name in breast cancer research, boasts 216 corporate partnerships.

The message behind breast cancer awareness? “Early detection [through mammograms and breast self-exams] saves lives.” Unfortunately, few Americans know more about breast cancer beyond the message, and many breast cancer patients and advocates are concerned that Americans have been lulled into complacency, thinking that shopping and wearing pink are the best ways to contribute to the fight against breast cancer.

A September Marie Claire article points out: “In 1991, 119 women in the U.S. died from breast cancer every day. Today, that figure is 110 — a victory no one is bragging about.” With all the money poured into research, thanks to the pink ribbon movement, why has the daily death rate dropped by less than one percent over the past 20 years? It’s time Americans turn awareness into action and ask questions about where all that pink ribbon fundraising is really going.  

The marketing involved in breast cancer is often referred to as “big pink.” “Pinkwashing”, a term associated with big pink, is defined as using a product to promote breast cancer awareness that contains toxins and other harmful additives linked to cancer development. Pinkwashing is also used to describe the generic pinking of products that are breast cancer themed but do not give any money to the cause.

“Think Before You Pink,” a campaign of San Francisco-based nonprofit Breast Cancer Action, recommends asking some important questions such as how much money will the benefiting corporation give to breast cancer research?  Precisely which organization will receive the money? How will the organization use the money to fight breast cancer?

Could the product itself actually increase the risk of cancer?

One of Komen’s corporate partnerships is food-industry giant General Mills, which has promised $2.5 million to the Komen foundation from sales of pink-packaged foods in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. General Mills is the parent company of Pillsbury, whose cake mixes and cookie dough reportedly still contain small amounts of trans fat.

A 2007 French study for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition found that a higher level of trans fats, “presumably reflecting a high intake of industrially processed foods, is probably one factor contributing to increased risk of invasive breast cancer in women.” The website www.breastcancer.org explains the study here in accessible terms.

Another major charity with several corporate partnerships is the National Breast Cancer Foundation. The foundation’s website says that its mission is to “save lives by increasing awareness of breast cancer through education and by providing mammograms for those in need.”

One of NBCF’s former corporate partners was CKE Restaurants, the parent company of fast food chain Hardee’s and western chain Carl’s Jr. From 2006-2010, Carl’s Jr. sponsored the Pink Star Campaign, a three-week fundraiser in which customers donated $1 to the NBCF and wrote their name on a star that hung in the lobby. They received $10 in food coupons in return for their generosity. What better way to fight cancer than to chow down on chili cheese fries or a steakhouse burger with more than 50 grams of fat, right? Especially at a discount!

While that partnership appears to have dissolved, the foundation is still partnered with Coldstone Creamery and Hungry Howie’s Pizzas, the latter of which promises a “donation” to the NBCF for every pizza purchased during the month of October. As we all know, ice cream and pizza are equally as effective as burgers in the fight against breast cancer, not to mention the obesity epidemic.

Some breast cancer marketing schemes are a bit more obvious. One local Safeway store featured this month an ambiguous display labeled “Pink Stuff” offering customers their choice of shirts, socks and hats adorned with pink. The vague display reads, “A portion of your purchase will benefit breast cancer research and care.” But how much is the portion, and which organization will benefit? Harris Teeter also had a display of breast-cancer-awareness month shirts in shades of pink, black, white and gray. All of the shirts were adorned with pink ribbons and mantras such as “fight for a girl” or “I wear pink” (the latter printed on a white shirt). The display case said nothing about any proceeds from the shirts going toward any organization involved with breast cancer. If you find similar examples of useless pinkwashing, note the company producing the product and call them to task. Research the company online and track down its marketing department and find out if the proceeds are going to anyone outside the company. If they are not, kindly suggest that they align with a proactive breast cancer charity that will receive the proceeds, or that they find another way to make a profit without exploiting such a serious issue.  

Lenore Koors, the operations director for the Komen Foundation in Maryland, says the company has stringent guidelines for anyone planning to do a fundraiser to benefit Komen. “Locally, we have a process where fundraisers must sign a letter of agreement, agreeing that they will disclose the full benefit for Komen to the consumers rather than saying that a portion of the proceeds will benefit Komen.  Clarity and transparency are paramount to our organization’s fundraising,” she says.

What do the Komen and the NBCF do with the money they receive? The Komen’s 2010 audit reports that $140 million dollars, a little more than one third of the foundation’s $389 million dollars in assets, went to public education programs (approximately $42 million of which went to “marketing and communications” for education). A little more than $75 million, approximately half of what was allotted to education, went to research. Nearly $66 million, approximately 16 percent of the total assets, went to treatment and patient services.  

The 2010 financial statement for the NBCF lists the organization’s assets for the year at $6.5 million. Nearly $3 million, almost half the total assets, went to breast cancer “awareness” programs, while $1.5 million went to detection programs. A little more than half a million dollars went to research, but the total salary payments totaled up to over $900,000, nearly twice the research allotment.

It’s difficult and impractical to try to eliminate all items remotely linked to cancer. But when two of the primary organizations responsible for shaping the national dialogue about breast cancer receive money from corporations that create foods that could contribute to a rise in breast cancer, it’s time to replace the mantra of hope with a mantra of transparency.

One of the major organizations working to overhaul the national breast cancer dialogue is the National Breast Cancer Coalition. Its campaign “Breast Cancer Deadline 2020,” aims to eradicate breast cancer by 2020.  The “Think Before You Pink” campaign has drawn attention to several corporate pinkwashing schemes over the past decade. 

On a local level, the Baltimore-based Red Devils help breast cancer patients meet their daily needs outside of treatment. This includes housekeeping, meal preparation, transport to and from appointments, help with prescription co-pays, and most importantly, fun. While the Red Devils are not outspoken critics of pinkwashing, their devotion to the present day needs of patients and the realities of breast cancer sets them apart.

Read about these organizations and what they stand for. If what they say makes sense to you, share the news with the women you love to get the new dialogue about breast cancer rolling. Hopefully, 20 years from now we can talk about how Americans joined informed forces to reduce the impediments to true breast cancer awareness and research progress on their way to defeating the disease.

 

Sarah Smith is a local freelance writer who lives in Columbia.

Mayo Shattuck Discusses Exelon Merger in Earnings Call

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Courtesy Citybizlist – During Constellation Energy’s (NYSE:CEG) earnings call, chairman, president and CEO Mayo Shattuck III discussed the status of the pending merger with Exelon and the impact of hurricane Irene.

Portions of the transcript are below.

On the Merger with Exelon:

The FEC completed its review of the merger proxy which has been mailed to our shareholders in advance of the November 17 shareholder vote. Elsewhere on the regulatory front, we have received merger clearance from the Public Utility Commission of Texas and the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. We expect to hear from the New York State Public Service Commission this quarter. And in Maryland, the intervenor’s testimonies were filed with the Maryland PSC in mid-September. We carefully reviewed the testimonies and proposals and filed additional testimony in October. Today’s status conference will provide additional insight into the process. We’ve already reached the settlement with the PGM market monitor on market power issues.  

Read more at citybizlist.

Fire at the Mt. Washington Tavern

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Baltimore institution the Mt. Washington Tavern on Newbury Street in North Baltimore suffered a two-alarm fire this morning. Firefighters have put out the blaze at the popular eatery and bar. 

Fox 45 reports that the fire broke out at around 5 a.m. No injuries have been reported and there is no word on what caused the fire.  Firefighters say that the restaurant was engulfed in flames and smoke when they arrived.  The Baltimore City Fire Department tweeted this morning that the structural integrity of the building is most likely compromised.

 
The tavern has been a local meeting place for generations of Baltimoreans, especially in the lacrosse and private school alumni communities.

Schaefer Versus Schaefer

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When William Donald Schaefer passed away at the age of 89 in April, local media coverage recounted all that the late governor gave in his years of public service. But for one Michael Schaefer (no relation), it wasn’t quite enough. In fact, it was about $28,000 short.

Michael Schaefer filed the sizable claim against the William Donald Schaefer estate as a reimbursement for meals he had paid for, and errands and favors he performed for the late governor over the course of their friendship.

Schaefer claimed that he was promised a place in the governor’s will, which he did not get. He failed to produce evidence that their relationship had been closer than a simple friendship or that their was a legally binding monetary agreement between the two, and so his claim was dismissed.

I’m not sure what the lesson is here, but it’s either that one shouldn’t expect to be “reimbursed” for a friendship or that when someone owes you $28,000 it’s best to collect before they pass on.

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