Friday, November 30, 2007

High speed Navy ship docks at Inner Harbor

The HSV-2 Swift, a 323-foot U.S. Navy high-speed vessel, docked by the Visitor’s Center at the Inner Harbor Friday.

You can visit the ship, which is in Baltimore as part of the Army-Navy game festivities, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday. It is scheduled to leave Tuesday.

-ERIC STOCKLIN, Photographer

Wisp opens for the season

Maryland's only ski resort said it will open Saturday.

The Wisp resort at Deep Creek Lake has been making snow for about three weeks and has produced enough to blanket several of its beginner and intermediate trails.

Beside skiing, Wisp has a new attraction called a "mountain coaster." Spokeswoman Lori Epps says it's a cross between a roller coaster and an alpine slide that allows people to ride on rails down Marsh Mountain.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Photograph by Eric Stocklin.

Fewer holiday parties on the calendar

Here at The Daily Record, there’s been a lot of talk lately about office holiday parties. We published a guide for throwing one in our post-Thanksgiving issue; we also compiled a Holiday Gift Guide; our own fiesta is next Friday, at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

But not every employee has a raucous party to look forward to this year. reports that fewer employers are throwing holiday parties this year due to “growing economic uncertainties.”

Only 85 of 100 leading businesses surveyed said a celebration was in the works – the third-lowest level since 1991.

Of the parties that will be held, only half will be in the evening and just two-thirds will offer holiday spirits.

Bah, humbug.

Thanks to our sister blog in Long Island for the link.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

In memory of Delegate Jane Lawton

The Town of Chevy Chase has sent out notice of a memorial service for Delegate Jane Lawton, D-Montgomery, which will take place on Sunday afternoon in Bethesda.

The town asks for contributions in memory of Delegate Lawton to be made to memorial funds in her name at The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Montgomery County Abused Persons Program.

For additional information on the service, visit

If you had any interactions with Delegate Lawton or views on her accomplishments, please share them.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Photo courtesy

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The world of sports: Billionaires vs. billionaires

When Major League Baseball’s players went on strike, the question was whether you wanted to support the millionaires or the billionaires.

Now, in the case of the NFL Network vs. Humongous Cable Companies (including Comcast, Cablevision and Time Warner), you can decide between billionaires and billionaires.

It’s really hard — at least for me — to want either side to win.

When the NFL started the NFL Network in November 2003, the big issue was on what level of service it would be carried by cable systems. Basically, the NFL wanted its network to be included on service levels that cable customers didn’t have to pay extra for. The cable operators, on the other hand, wanted to place the NFL Network on “sports tiers” that customers had to buy.

The dispute caused the NFL Network to be originally carried only on DirecTV and a handful of small cable systems.

Eventually, the NFL and the Humongous Cable Companies struck an agreement, and for a couple of years the NFL Network was available on lesser tiers. This summer, however, Humongous Cable Companies moved the network to premium services, which cost customers an extra $2 to $8 per month.

(I left out many details, but, believe me, you really don’t care about them.)

So now you’re up to date.

And, unless you’re paying extra for it, you’ll need to listen to tonight’s game between the 10-1 Dallas Cowboys and the 10-1 Green Bay Packers on WBAL radio or go to your favorite sports bar.

What’s your opinion on who’s to blame?

—ED WALDMAN, Managing Editor/Business

Survey: Even at highest levels, women lawyers earn less

A new study (PDF) says female equity partners earn a lot less than male equity partners — nearly $90,000 a year less than their male counterparts’ median of $625,000. Though to someone making a reporter’s salary, $537,000 a year is a princely (princessly?) sum, this is still really not cool.

Anyone out there have any thoughts on the disparity, its causes and possible fixes?

-CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Air the turtle!

Being a biased University of Maryland-College Park graduate, I’ve always wondered why no local TV affiliates have ever worked out an agreement with the school to broadcast Terrapin football and basketball games. It seems like it would be a good move to grab some ratings and boost the number of viewers for whichever channel chose to be so bold.

Even despite an endless line of injuries, the football program and Coach Friedgen just clinched a bowl bid in a must-win game; the men’s basketball team and red-faced Gary Williams are always entertaining; and last but definitely not least, the Lady Terps are wearing out opponents on the hardcourt on their way to an early 9-0 record and No. 3 ranking nationwide — all with Coach Brenda Frese expecting twins very soon.

There are a lot of Terp supporters who I’m sure would like to see more airtime for their fearsome turtles, especially with the Ravens season being dead in the water and the baseball team that plays across the street from them in its usual state of disarray. Just consider that there have been multiple bowl appearances in the past five years for the football team, a men’s national basketball championship in 2002, and a women’s national basketball championship in 2006.

Am I a delusional sports fan, or do local networks really “fear the turtle” enough to make them nonexistent on the airwaves?

-FRANCIS SMITH, Special Publications Assistant Editor

Just how big was Bromwell’s break?

State Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, who admitted dealing in favors, got a six-month break on the start date of his 7-year prison term. But lawyers for Bromwell and his wife, Mary Patricia (who faces her own year-and-a-day term), say it’s a matter of special circumstances, not special treatment, since the couple’s two youngest children are just 11 and 14 years old.

Even Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, who prosecuted the case, agreed that such an allowance for parents of small children who are sentenced to incarceration at the same time is not unprecedented.

“It happens,” she said after the Bromwells broached the idea in court Nov. 16.

William B. Purpura, Mrs. Bromwell’s attorney, said sentences have been staggered in cases with similar facts in other federal districts and in state courts. He said even business partners have been allowed to serve their sentences roughly consecutively.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to say people involved in white collar crimes get this break and those involved in drug crimes don’t,” said Herbert Better, a former assistant U.S. attorney and now at the Baltimore office of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP.

What do you think?

-BRENDAN KEARNEY, Legal Affairs Writer

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Ponying up for club-level care

I’m back on the job today after an illness prompted me to visit my beloved doctor for the last time. It was my last encounter with her because as of Jan. 2, she’ll have left her Columbia practice – and all insurance participation – to form her own “membership practice,” as many popular physicians have done recently.

And, boy, does it sound nice – almost like a health club membership.

For $1,800 a year (or quarterly payments of $475), I’d be one of only 400 patients under her care. I’d receive the convenience of in-office blood draws, vaccines, and personal e-mails from my doctor; all services she has cut from her current practice due to increasing costs. As she writes in her letter, “There are no copayments, no deductibles, and no insurance paperwork.” By cutting out the insurance companies, she can do more for each of her patients.

At least, the ones who can afford to keep seeing her.

The choice is mine: pony up for “old-fashioned” service, or join the masses hunting for a qualified physician who accepts my insurance.

I wonder which is the lesser of two evils?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Same-sex marriage: Good business for Maryland?

A group of researchers has concluded that if Maryland legalized same-sex marriage, the state would benefit to the tune of $3.2 million.

The researchers are affiliated with the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law, and they have done analyses on other states before, concluding that legalizing gay marriage or extending domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples would bring in money and/or cost the states little.

According to a press release on the study, some of what makes up that $3.2 million figure are these factors:

“— Extending marriage rights to same-sex couples would reduce the State’s expenditures on means-tested public benefit programs by about $1.5 million annually.

— The net impact on the State’s income tax revenue resulting from same-sex marriages would be small: the State would experience a decrease in income tax revenue of about $132,000 annually….

— The State would incur some revenue loss from transfer taxes as a result of same-sex marriage, approximately $1.4 million annually.

— With same-sex marriage, annual expenditures on state employee benefit programs would increase between $400,000 and $1.3 million….”

The researchers also postulated that if same-sex marriage were legalized, 7,800 gay couples in Maryland would wed. All those nuptials would give the wedding and tourist industries a major boost, resulting in a net gain to business of $88 million per year in the first three years, the study says.

On page 25, they’ve also got an interesting chart listing the Maryland companies that offer domestic partner benefits. Highlights include DLA Piper, Johns Hopkins, and BGE.

-CARYN TAMBER, Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer

Wildfowl art exhibit under water

In an ironic twist, a museum in Salisbury that housed wildfowl art is suffering from standing water.

The Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art is being cleaned today after an equipment malfunction required the entire collection to find a new habitat.

From the AP:

It took more than 36 hours to transfer the collection of paintings, carvings and other pieces, but museum officials say nothing was lost.

The museum will meet with an insurance company in coming days to assess the damage and see when the museum can reopen. Interim director Lora Bottinelli says it appears the water damage caused only minor damage to the collection.

Selected works include a piece entitled "Shootin' Rig" (Rick Johannsen, Port Clinton, OH), a collection of Long Island cork decoys and interpretive wood sculptures.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Toxic game consoles?

In our most recent Uncover story, Nintendo and Microsoft are put under the microscope by Greenpeace for toxic chemicals used in manufacturing their game consoles.

Eighteen leading electronics companies were ranked on a 10-point scale, with Nintendo being the first and only company to score zero.

The creators of Mario and Luigi provided no information to consumers on the substances it uses in manufacturing or on its plans to cut hazardous materials. Those aren’t the Mario Brothers I grew up with! And my folks thought playing the cutting-edge game Pitfall on Intellivision was bad for my health.

With all the recent recalls of toys with lead in them, do holiday shoppers really need any extra worries at this point when shopping for the gamers in their family?

Anyhow, the chemical culprits to be aware of are a vinyl known as PVC as well as fire retardants that can be a hazard when released into the environment.

Of course, your children could be a hazard when released into the environment this holiday season if they don’t get their Xbox or Wii from Santa.

-FRANCIS SMITH, Special Publications Assistant Editor

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Call us if health care bill will affect your business

So who here knew that a health care expansion bill snuck through at the last second of the special session? It was not one of the highest-profile issues of the marathon, three-week legislative blitz overshadowed by the slot machine debate and measures to raise $1.4 billion in new revenue.

But it could be important for small business. Legislative analysts wrote that a plan to subsidize employee health coverage for small businesses could help add 15,000 people to the rolls of the state's insured, with a price tag around $30 million.

The coverage isn't for everyone - just businesses with between 2 and 9 employees that want to offer insurance with "wellness" options like health club membership assistance. And the source of the money is not necessary solidified forever. It could change within a few years.

Will this affect your business? If it doesn't, do you think you're being unfairly left out? Or is this a good start on helping small businesses keep their workers healthy?

I'm working on a story about this for Friday. Want to get in on it? Call me at (443) 524-8175.

-ANDY ROSEN, Business Writer

Taxes? What taxes?

In its latest edition, Business Week has published a list of 50 companies that paid the least corporate taxes over a five-year period as part of an article on the impact of proposed reforms to corporate taxation. Maryland had only one company on the list — in the top 10 no less: Bethesda-based private equity firm American Capital Strategies.

The company, which has a piece, in part or in whole, of companies like Piper Cub, Rug Doctor and football helmet maker Riddell, had an effective tax rate of 1.8 percent. That put it eighth on Business Week’s list.

According to Business Week: … “because it’s a Regulated Investment Company under IRS rules, it owes no federal income taxes so long as it distributes most of its taxable income and capital gains to shareholders. The short version: the company paid very little to Uncle Sam while distributing $454 million in dividends to shareholders.”

Just because American Capital had a low tax rate, should it be a leading example of why the country needs corporate tax reform, or is it a prime example of how a free market should work?

-BEN MOOK, Assistant Business Editor

Annapolis chosen to test new Budweiser vodka

Things are really beginning to look up for Maryland’s capital city’s image. First, this week’s Mid-East peace conference has put all eyes on Annapolis, “America’s Sailing Capital.”

Now, Annapolis will again be on par with such major metro areas as New York, Boston and Washington.

According to Bloomberg News, Anheuser-Busch is looking to Annapolis to help roll out its newest creation — “Purus,” an Italian-made organic-wheat based vodka. The beer giant is looking to continue branching out from its strictly suds history and expand its offerings.

Before going full retail, Purus will be sold through bars, restaurants and package stores in Annapolis, Boston, New York and Washington.

The new vodka costs about $35 and comes in a raindrop-shaped bottle.

Do you think Budweiser’s parent company is making the right call?

-BEN MOOK, Assistant Business Editor

Monday, November 26, 2007

Firefighters: aiming to extinguish terrorism?

Firefighters tend to enjoy hero status as first responders who arrive with only one agenda: to put out the fire and help the wounded.

The government is adding another to the job description: to be lookouts for possible terrorist activity.

Unlike boys in blue, firefighters and EMTs don’t need warrants to enter homes and buildings – an enviable position that allows them to scout for blueprints or bombs.

As you might imagine, critics are concerned about an invasion of privacy:

Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now national security policy counsel to the ACLU, said the concept is dangerously close to the Bush administration's 2002 proposal to have workers with access to private homes — such as postal carriers and telephone repairmen — report suspicious behavior to the FBI. "Americans universally abhorred that idea," German said.

That hasn’t stopped Homeland Security from training NYC firefighters to spot signs of terrorist activity. If the training’s successful in New York (and a fire chief quoted in the story says it’s turned up a few “hits”), the government intends to expand it.

D.C. firefighters were recently given the same access as police to terrorism-related information. They carry the knowledge with them to the 170,000+ homes and businesses they routinely enter each year.

Are we safer now that we have more sets of eyes on alert for terrorist activity? Or is more of our privacy slipping away?

Will this hold up in court?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Image courtesy

Law blog round-up

Welcome back! To start off your week back at work, here are a few law links you might enjoy:

- Brian Higgins at the Maryland Intellectual Property Law Blog writes about a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Maryland, in which the Orthodox Union, which certifies food as kosher, alleges that Baltimore-based Wilder Foods has been using the OU symbol on its packaging even though its spices have not been certified kosher. Update: Wilder tells The Daily Record that the products are certified kosher, but by a certification agency called EarthKosher, rather than by the Orthodox Union.

- Ron Miller at the Maryland Injury Lawyer Blog thinks plaintiffs’ lawyers undervalue herniated disc cases.

- Adam Liptak of The New York Times has an interesting story on what happens to unclaimed money from class-action settlements. Thanks to the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog for the link.

- The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has indefinitely suspended a Maryland lawyer whom our Court of Appeals suspended last year. Her name is Candace Calhoun and she recommended that a client accept an $8,000 settlement, then charged him $9,500 in fees.

- And of course, there’s also more on Rod Rosenstein’s nomination to the 4th Circuit, such as blogger Hoystory ridiculing the Maryland senators’ opposition to the nomination.

-CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Sunday, November 25, 2007

President Bush on Annapolis peace conference

The White House released President Bush's statement on the Mideast peace conference to be held in Annapolis this week. Today, Syria agreed to join in the talks.

Read Bush's remarks below.

I am pleased to welcome Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert, President (Mahmoud) Abbas and representatives of more than 40 countries to the United States for the Nov. 27 Annapolis Conference. The broad attendance at this conference by regional states and other key international participants demonstrates the international resolve to seize this important opportunity to advance freedom and peace in the Middle East.

This conference will signal international support for the Israelis' and Palestinians' intention to commence negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of peace between these two peoples.

It will also provide an opportunity for the Israelis, the Palestinians and their neighbors to recommit to implementing the roadmap, with the U.S. monitoring their progress by the parties' agreement. Finally, the conference will review Palestinian plans to build the institutions of a democratic state and their preparations for next month's donors' conference in Paris.

I remain personally committed to implementing my vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

The Israelis and Palestinians have waited a long time for this vision to be realized, and I call upon all those gathering in Annapolis this week to redouble their efforts to turn dreams of peace into reality. I look forward to my discussions with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas this week, as well as to addressing the conference along with them on Tuesday.

Above: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and his wife Aliza arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. Sunday, Nov. 25.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dog owner gets $3,100 tab for bitten bark

A Pennsylvania man and his canine companion are being held accountable for the cost of three trees that fell victim to her penchant for bark.

The story, from the AP:

This summer, Tyler Port allowed his dog, Rossman, to run loose in a park. The dog apparently had a habit of chewing bark off trees, and Port was cited for failure to keep the dog under control.

John Iorio, the city's dog law officer, also is seeking $3,100 to cover the cost of replacing three honey locust trees, which a consultant said may die.

"Rossman," a pit bull, apparently also likes to hang from tree limbs by her teeth.

Do you think the dog and her 22 year-old owner should have to buy the Altoona park new trees?

Can't wait to see what area dogs will do to the artificial turf fields that are on the way in Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Friday, November 23, 2007

Who needs Black Friday when you have Cyber Monday?

Did you see reporter Louis Llovio's story today about the effect (or lack thereof) that Black Friday has on small, local retailers?

While the masses descend on area shopping malls and chain stores today, other retailers are gearing up for their day in the sun - on Monday.

They're online retailers, and they're hoping that you'll all rush to work on Monday, browse to your favorite dot com, and order massive amounts of Christmas gifts.

See, a few years ago, a marketing association began calling the Monday after Thanksgiving "Cyber Monday" - a PR campaign based on the myth that the day brought in sweeping sales numbers.

A couple years ago, BusinessWeek discovered that the day wasn't even in the top 10 of most online sales for the year (in reality, it was about No. 12). The story even attempted to trace the "Cyber Monday" myth to its roots.

It might be a moot point now: the National Retail Federation says enough online retailers are behind the idea this year to offer some can't-miss discounts.

And you don't even have to worry about parking or waking up at 4a.m.

Will you do most of your holiday shopping online or in person?

Much as I like the idea of click-click-clicking my way to a stress-free holiday, I can't seem to bring myself to give up the thrill of the hunt.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Rodriguez, Rogers go it alone

Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees third basemen and recently named American League MVP, sidelined his lawyer, super agent Scott Boras, last week and instead consulted Goldman Sachs bankers and renowned investor Warren Buffett on his way to signing another landmark contract.

Rodriguez’s former teammate with the Texas Rangers, pitcher Kenny Rogers, has also cut ties with Boras and is representing himself in his contract talks with the Detroit Tigers.

Boras has developed a reputation as a tough negotiator, to his benefit — his stable of clients could easily make up an All-Star team — and now, apparently, to his detriment.

Many fans have long held sports agents in low esteem, as interlopers who meddle in the business of players and teams.

Were last week’s decisions to consult money men in lieu of a lawyer or go completely pro se specific to Boras, or have players come to see their lawyers like the fans - as impediments rather than indispensable advisors and advocates?

-BRENDAN KEARNEY, Legal Affairs Writer

Local IT industry up in arms over new taxes

As of Monday morning, legislators agreed to levy a 6% tax rate on “computer support services, data center support, custom programming, consulting and disaster recovery services.”

I know, that’s not news to you.

What is, is this: the state’s IT industry (along with small local businesses and workers) is angrily asking, “What gives?”

After all, “The IT industry is ... helping to maintain the competitiveness of Maryland’s businesses.” So says Roger Cochetti, a director at the Computing Technology Industry Association.

Roger keeps going, telling InformationWeek:

"Just at the time that most cities, states, provinces, and countries around the world are encouraging the computer industry to locate there, the Maryland Assembly and Governor chose to discourage the computer industry from locating and providing services in the 'Free State," he said.

Cochetti said the tax could encourage Maryland IT users to outsource computer services.... He called the move one of the "least informed and most harmful actions ever undertaken by the Maryland State government."

Do you think that more companies will keep IT in-house to avoid paying these taxes to local outside vendors? Or outsource operations? Would you?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Update: New Orleans DA's office saga nears resolution

Turns out that no one wants to be without the District Attorney's office in New Orleans.

The Associated Press reports that the city and state of Louisiana will pay the majority of a $3.4 million judgment against the DA's office. The judgment was awarded to 36 employees (35 white and one Hispanic) who were fired shortly after Eddie Jordan took over in 2003.

As the AP puts it:

The district attorney's office, with a $12 million annual budget, had struggled to find a way to pay the judgment while the city and state argued over who has responsibility for the office.

[Mayor Ray]Nagin had earlier resisted bailing the district attorney's office out, saying it would set a dangerous precedent, but he said this deal avoids that. "The city is advancing the money to the district attorney's office," Nagin said. "They will pay us back."

You can read my original post on the situation here.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Doctors get hooked up for Web

If you subscribe to the notion that your Web site is like an online version of your office, then doctors should have a waiting page before visitors are allowed in.

Not so with members of the International Association of Dental and Medical Disciplines. In case you’re wondering what the mission is of such an organization, the group states its membership is “comprised of dentists and physicians who are working together to empower doctors to wrestle back control of medicine from insurance companies.”

One such treatment for the plague of insurance companies?

The group sets up its members with a Web site equipped with online bill pay and prescription refill orders (and Flash).

After all, an online parenting magazine polled parents last month and 76 percent of respondents said they would use a Web site to ask for refills if possible, and 56 percent said their physicians didn’t have a Web site.

The cost of an IADMD membership is $1,899 per year. For a full-service Web site alone, that’s not bad.

Come to think of it, I have no idea whether my doctor has a Web site. I sign up for yoga classes online, but have never bothered to Google my primary-care.

A quick search turned up empty.

Does your doc offer web services? Would you like her/him to?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

To bear or to ban?

The Supreme Court announced today that it will consider the constitutionality of Washington, D.C.’s long-time handgun ban — and in doing so, the right of individuals to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment.

The case stems from a federal security guard who, with the backing of a rich libertarian, challenged the District’s 31-year-old gun control law that prevented him from keeping a gun in his home. In a split-decision, the federal appeals court sided with the security guard in March.

The Supreme Court’s decision had been widely anticipated by the parties, each of which petitioned the Court to hear the case, along with several states who filed briefs, including Maryland, and advocates on both sides of the issue nationwide.

Does the Second Amendment give an individual the right to bear arms, or was it just created to maintain “a well-regulated Militia?”

If the Supreme Court decides next year that the ban is unconstitutional, what effect do you think that will have on Maryland’s gun laws, and on gun-related crime in places such as Baltimore City and Prince George’s County?

-BRENDAN KEARNEY, Legal Affairs Writer

National Harbor looks for buyers

In an email that our Presentation Editor received this morning, National Harbor offered him an “exciting opportunity”: an invitation to schedule a sales appointment.

Developers of the project, on the banks of the Potomac River in Oxon Hill, claim to have 9,500 people interested in “all that National Harbor has to offer.”

In today’s real estate market? Must be nice.

According to a Daily Record cover story about the construction of the mixed-use Mecca, “National Harbor will include (PDF) the Gaylord resort, five other hotels, 2,500 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, four piers and two marinas.”

That’s a lot of space, even with 9,500 people on a waiting list. No wonder they’re applauding Todd Zimmerman’s “longtime interest in National Harbor.”

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Does Rosenstein lack "Maryland perspective" for 4th Circuit post?

Orin Kerr at the Volokh Conspiracy has a post mocking The Sun for its editorial Sunday supporting Sens. Mikulski and Cardin in their efforts to block Rod Rosenstein’s path to the 4th Circuit.

The Sun said Rosenstein does not have deep roots in Maryland and lacks the “Maryland perspective” the conservative appeals court needs.

Kerr writes:

Can any one explain this “Maryland perspective” of the law? Is it genetic? Are there classes you can take to learn it? Books you can read? Can it be acquired quickly, or must it age like a fine wine during decades of residence?

Or is it supposed to be a proxy for political views, with the idea being that a true Marylander isn't particularly conservative?

Legal Affairs Writer

Monday, November 19, 2007

Notes from the (state house) floor

We journalists were packed like sardines into a legislative office Sunday, watching senators and delegates negotiate critical details of a $1.4 billion tax package (PDF). In some cases, it was almost like trading baseball cards as members of key House and Senate Committees bargained and compromised away differences between the chambers’ tax proposals.

This was not exactly quid pro quo, but the respective chambers made it clear that there were things they just could not do. Time was short, as the special session of the General Assembly drew close to the end of its third week. Legislators were determined to finish by Monday, so it was time for “consensus.”

House members, for instance, made it clear, that delegates could not support a change in the in-state residency requirement for the personal income tax. The Senate wanted to change it from six to three months. Senators would not go above 5.5 percent on the income tax rate, contrary to a House proposal to set the top bracket at 5.75 percent.

It was interesting to watch such momentous decisions take place so quickly, but special sessions are short. Do you think there was enough time for our solons to fully consider the budget changes?

-ANDY ROSEN, Business Writer

Baltimore: becoming safer by comparison?

A new list of the nation's most dangerous cities is out, and Baltimore didn't even make it into the top 10 - just a lowly 12. (In context, Washington, D.C. is No. 27, and New Orleans is No. 65).

The controversial report, issued by CQ Press and based on the FBI's crime statistics, considered 378 cities with at least 75,000 people. It took into account per-capita rates for homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and auto theft.

Here's their top 10 most dangerous:

1. Detroit, Michigan
2. St. Louis, Missouri
3. Flint, Michigan
4. Oakland, California
5. Camden, New Jersey
6. Birmingham, Alabama
7. North Charleston, South Carolina
8. Memphis, Tennessee
9. Richmond, California
10. Cleveland, Ohio.

The AP reports that critics argue the study isn't making accurate comparisons:

"You're not comparing apples and oranges; you're comparing watermelons and grapes," said Rob Casey, who heads the
FBI section that puts out ... the data for the Quitno report.

As for the safest, here's the top 5:

1. Mission Viejo, California
2. Clarkstown, New York
3. Brick Township, New Jersey
4. Amherst, New York
5. Sugar Land, Texas

It should be noted that the media blitz may be motivated, in part, by CQ Press's publication of a $49 book, City Crime Rankings.

Based on your travels, which cities would be in your top 10 list?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Law blog round-up

Your blog round-up for this Monday morning — er, afternoon:

—“There’s something hilarious about an institution as staid as the Supreme Court awkwardly sitting around trying to hash this one out,” says the DCist blog of the possibility that SCOTUS will take the Maryland buttocks case.

The Sun weighed in yesterday on the Rosenstein nomination. Unsurprisingly, they’re not pleased.

—In further 4th Circuit news, another of the President’s nominees, Duncan Getchell, has been sued for defamation. Hat tip: How Appealing.

—What a mess in South Carolina! Thanks to Feminist Law Professors for the link.

Volokh Conspiracy writes about candidates jockeying for law prof support.

-CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Taxes, taxes, taxes

When reporter Andy Rosen was preparing for the weekend ahead on Friday, no doubt he knew it would be a long one.

And it was.

From Annapolis, he filed updates from the Special Session for the web on Saturday and Sunday; an updated story, which he filed at 2:45a.m. this morning, was posted to our Web site today.

The conclusion of the marathon session? Lawmakers agreed to raise $1.4 billion in new taxes, including sales tax expansion, a rise in the corporate income tax, and increased personal income taxes for the wealthy.


-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Friday, November 16, 2007

Too busy for the holidays?

Pretty soon many of us will be opening our Christmas presents with a Bluetooth headset in our ears, barking orders at office assistants and settling lawsuits under the mistletoe.

That seems to be the way things are headed, at least if you believe a recent poll by staffing firm OfficeTeam.

It found that four out of ten of us won't take any additional days off around the holidays - only the ones our employers provide. Another one in six will only take an extra day or two off.

Is this because we've all already used our vacation time (boy, that camping trip in June was worth it), or because we're simply too busy to detach from work?

WaPo writes: "Research shows that one-third of people who don't use up their vacation think they're too busy to get away."

Are you too busy to enjoy the holidays?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Where the women judges aren’t

U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis hosted five Egyptian jurists Thursday morning at the federal courthouse in Baltimore as part of their tour of the American judicial system.

The visiting judges were among 30 women who were named to Egypt’s bench in April in an acknowledged quest for diversity by a country that saw its first female judge less than 5 years ago.

Their crash course in the workings of U.S. courts began in a conference room where Davis and his colleagues meet every Wednesday to videoconference with their peers in Greenbelt.

The contrast between the seminar participants (a black American man and five Egyptian women) and the portraits on the wall (of four white men — three federal judges and a chancellor from centuries past) was stark.

The United States has certainly come a long way since the days of all-white, all-male benches and bars — far enough to teach Egypt a thing or two.

But wait: of Davis’ peers on the U.S. District Court in Maryland, how many are women? Two, out of a total of 10 judges, or two out of 13 if you also count the senior judges.

There are also only two women on the seven-member Maryland Court of Appeals, and four on the 13-member Court of Special Appeals. And needless to say, there’s only one woman on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seems the teacher must keep learning, too.

-BRENDAN KEARNEY, Legal Affairs Writer

An unconventional Thanksgiving feast

Today’s Maryland Business cover story is about Marylanders who plan to turn to restaurants, grocery stores and catering companies to handle the cooking chores of a Thanksgiving feast.

For the first time in my life, I’m set to be one of them. Only I won’t be in Maryland. Another person in our editorial department is in the same situation. So as helpful as the story is to those who plan to stay in state, where should the rest of us look to guide our holiday plans?

The answer just might be

Want steak in Manhattan? Sushi in Fort Worth? Fusion cuisine in Boise? There’s a good chance the site can find you the restaurant and make you the reservation. I’m already searching for my Thanksgiving dinner. I’m in the mood for a good fettuccini carbonara – just like the Pilgrims would have had if they’d had more options.

So whether you’re looking for a hassle-free holiday – or you’re just a glutton with diverse tastes – check it out. Let us know what you find.

-JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Superheroes Online

It’s the increasingly classic story of old media trying to reach out to a new media world – only this time the characters have capes and spandex.

Marvel Comics – they of Spider-Man, the X-Men and Captain America – this week announced thousands of its old comics would be made available online. Just $59.88 annually will get you into the archive.

So why are you reading about this on a business blog?

Because comics are big business these days. The Marvel movie “Spider-Man 3” pulled in $885 million at the world-wide box office, according to The X-Men franchise has also pulled in a few hundred million dollars for the company. The death of Captain America earlier this year was front-page news across the country. Front page news – for the death of a fictional character.

Brad Meltzer, author of novels and assorted comic books, says the Web site is what the industry needs right now, according to a Washington Post story:

"They're building the next generation of readers; they're creating geeks as we speak," Meltzer said. "This is how you, potentially, save comics in a world where kids just want to sit in front of a glowing computer.

Personally, I think it’s just a great way to re-live some of my pre-teen geekdom. What do you think? Will online comics – or online versions of any popular print medium – ever replace paper and ink?

-JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist

Was that a strip search?

The venerable SCOTUSBlog (Can a blog be venerable? If so, this one is) has put the Maryland buttocks-search case on its list of cases that have a good chance of getting cert. It’s the fifth one down.

If you recall, back in June, the Court of Appeals voted 4-3 to reverse the conviction of John Paulino, whose upper buttocks were spread and searched at a car wash by a police officer looking for cocaine. (A tipster had told police that Paulino routinely hid his drugs between his cheeks.) The majority, led by Judge Greene, said that the police failed to protect Paulino’s privacy when they reached into his exposed undershorts. The dissenters, led by Judge Battaglia, said the search was reasonable; in a separate two-paragraph dissent, Judge Cathell said that if Paulino wanted privacy, he should not have worn his pants so low.

The state is asking the Supreme Court to clarify what constitutes a strip search and whether the Court of Appeals has now outlawed “entirely reasonable police conduct,” according to its cert petition.

Do you think SCOTUS will take this one? Did the Court of Appeals go too far here?

-CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Does the IRS owe you dough?

According to the Internal Revenue Service, there are 115,478 people out there who are due tax refund checks. The missing checks were ones returned to the IRS as undeliverable.

The IRS says the average check is $953 and a claim can be filed online or over the phone after you update your address.

Follow the link to the IRS Web site and check for yourself.

To update your address you will need to give them your Social Security number, how you filed (married filing jointly, single, etc…) and the exact refund amount from the tax return. You can also call 1-800-829-1040.

-BEN MOOK, Assistant Business Editor

Should newspapers own TV stations?

There is a new sheriff in town at the FCC - Chairman Kevin Martin - and he has a new approach to relaxing the cross-ownership rules for newspapers and television stations.

After the FCC tried and failed four years ago to eliminate the cross-ownership prohibition in all but the nation's smallest cities, Martin is offering a compromise in which newspapers in the 20 largest media markets (Baltimore is not one of them; Washington is) could buy one radio or TV station in their cities as long as the station was not one of the four most-watched or listened to in the market.

So far, according to The Washington Post, no one besides Martin seems to like the idea. Newspaper publishers (including Tribune Co., owner of The Sun) say it doesn't go far enough and anti-media consolidation folk say this is a big step in the wrong direction.

What do you think? Should newspapers own TV stations, or with the growth of the Internet and cable television, does it even matter any more?

-TOM LINTHICUM, Executive Editor

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fourth circuit settles canine couture fight

Score one for the little guy (or pooch).

A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a ruling today that kept Las Vegas-based Haute Diggity Dog and Ashburn, Va.-based Woofie’s Pet Boutique in business.

Luxury handbag maker Louis Vuitton had claimed Haute infringed on its trademark with “Chewy Vuiton” dog toys, but – as the AP puts it – the court “refused to bite.”

The AP reports:

Judge Paul V. Niemeyer found that Chewy Vuiton is "a joking and amusing parody" that "pokes fun at the elegance and expensiveness of a LOUIS VUITTON handbag."

Read the full opinion here. (PDF)

And take note of some of Haute's other parodies: Chewnel perfume and The Bark Street Journal.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Pew research highlights struggles of middle-income African Americans

For many of us, success means exceeding our parents’ accomplishments in income, class and education.

But a WaPo story that’s getting a lot of attention today highlights the struggle of African Americans to transfer the benefits of middle-class life to their children.

Nearly half of African Americans born to middle-income parents in the late 1960s plunged into poverty or near-poverty as adults, according to reports today from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Highlights from Pew:

-Two out of three Americans who were children in 1968 had higher incomes than their parents.
-Women’s incomes have contributed greatly to growth in family incomes.
-In 2004, black women earned a median income of $21,000, almost equal to that of white women.
-Black men had a median income of $25,600, less than two-thirds than that of white men.

A sociologist from Columbia University listed potential factors contributing to the findings, including the increase in the number of single-parent black households, continued educational gaps between blacks and whites, and the racial isolation that exists for many black Americans.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Time mag wants your vote for Person of the Year

Taking interactive media to heart, Time magazine is now asking for your input on who should be named Person of the Year. They're even offering the chance for your uploaded photo to be featured on a billboard in Times Square. (No word on how they're going to handle the copyright implications of that one).

With almost 100,000 votes already tallied, JK Rowling tops the user-generated list. Al Gore trailed her by 13,000 votes at "press time."

Whoever the magazine chooses - and whether or not your votes factor into the final decision - it has to be better than last year's mirror cover.

If you had to nominate someone for "Maryland Lawyer of the Year" or "Maryland Businessperson of the Year," who would it be?

What about "State government official of the year"? Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown? Comptroller Peter Franchot?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Montel takes a spin at Wheel of Fortune

Baltimore-area-native Montel Williams will appear on Wheel of Fortune this week as part of the game show's Celebrity Week.

The Andover High School graduate will take on the Food Network's Sandra Lee and HGTV's Kristan Cunningham on the show, which airs at 7pm locally.

Although the talk show host's Web site lists the air date as "Thursday, November 14th", Wheel's schedule correctly labels today - Wednesday - as the 14th.

We'll forgive Williams, who is playing - like the other celebrity contestants - for charity. In his case, his own multiple sclerosis foundation.

I'll be tuning in, if only to see Sandra Lee attempting to solve the puzzle.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Update, noon: I've been schooled on Maryland's ties to Wheel of Fortune. Turns out that host Pat Sajak owns a home in the Severna Park area and is a season ticket holder to the Washington Capitals. Oh, and Montel Williams's father, Herman, served 40 years with the Baltimore Fire Department before retiring in 2000.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Breaking news: local government finds something to agree on

The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved legislation this afternoon, with a vote of 8-0.

The unifying bill? Legislation that bans discrimination against transgender people in housing, employment, accommodations, taxi service and cable television service.

The one area the bill didn't venture into? Locker rooms.

From the release:

The Council’s Health and Human Services Committee ... had suggested adding language in an attempt to clarify how the discrimination law should apply to “distinctly private or personal” facilities. Some people interpreted this to include bathrooms and locker rooms. By not including this proposed amendment, operators of those types of facilities will continue to designate who can use them.

Montgomery County joins the ranks of the 91 other local jurisdictions that have prohibited discrimination against transgender citizens.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

DA office saga in the Big Easy

I do my best to post when a particularly intriguing business or law story turns up, and I won’t disappoint this afternoon — though the credit goes to our sister publication, New Orleans City Business.

My colleagues from the South shared a juicy-yet-frightening story with me that involves the Orleans Parish district attorney (a parish is to Louisiana what a county is to Maryland).

District Attorney Eddie Jordan (right) resigned earlier this month after a federal court ruled the assets of the DA’s office could be seized to pay a $3M+ civil rights judgment against it. The judgment was the result of a lawsuit filed by workers Jordan fired after he took office.

Now, a hearing is scheduled for Wednesday that requires the interim DA to disclose the agency’s assets. Among them? Payroll.

The latest, from the AP:

An official with the district attorney's office has said it can pay employees on Thursday, as scheduled, from funds that haven't been frozen by the plaintiffs' actions. It remains unclear how the long the office can make its full payroll.

Our sister publication polled its online visitors and found that most thought the assets should be seized to satisfy the judgment, even if it meant shutting down the office.

To complicate matters further, Louisiana has strict speedy trial rights that require a charge be brought within 150 days after a felony arrest.

Are there any words left?

What will New Orleans do without a District Attorney’s office?

Above: New Orleans District Attorney Eddie Jordan, left, announces his resignation as Mayor Ray Nagin listens at City Hall in New Orleans, Tuesday, Oct. 30. AP Photo.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Rupert makes it official

The news from Australia this morning: News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch told shareholders that he intends to remove the subscriber wall from, one of the only successful subscription news sites in the world.

His bet: the increased ad revenue that comes along with increased visitors will pay off.

"We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having one million (subscribers), having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth," Murdoch told the AP.

Think he's right?

Which site would you like to see make the move next?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Kiefer Sutherland: a teaching tool?

I admit it. I’m a bit of a TV junkie. But, as much as I enjoy the temporary escape into a fantasy world, I don’t necessarily think of these people or their problems as real.

So when I heard that Georgetown Professor Gary Sharp was creating a new counterterrorism law class based on Fox’s show, “24,” my television-flooded mind was intrigued: wait, we can learn something from TV?

Indeed, says Sharp, and so do other law professors. The University of Maryland School of Law even offers a “Law in Film” seminar that teaches students how to analyze films and the legal issues presented in them.

Scrolling back over my Tivo list of shows, I wonder what a law professor could do with FX network’s new show “Damages,” which premiered this summer.

The show’s first season was filled with murder, suspense and intrigue — all surrounding a civil law suit against a C.E.O. who cheated his employees out of millions. Like “24,” it’s not very realistic, but it does present some interesting ethical and legal dilemmas.

Do you have any favorite movies or television shows you’d like to put to a legal review?

-LIZ FARMER, Legal Affairs Writer

Monday, November 12, 2007

More time waiting than debating?

I spent a good part of Monday’s special session coverage bouncing back and forth between the State House press room and the Lowe House (of Delegates) Office Building. The reason? Things just keep getting pushed back. An appropriations meeting that was originally scheduled for 1 p.m. began at nearly 4, as delegates tried to hammer out the finer points of hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts under consideration.

Now, the General Assembly is trying to pass a package of tax changes, cuts, and new programs that could fill an ordinary 90-day session, so I don’t mind that they’re taking awhile. They have a responsibility to be deliberate, and they are moving forward every day, but do you think they’ll be done by Thanksgiving? Is that a reasonable goal?

-ANDY ROSEN, Business Writer

University presidents are doing alright

Tuition isn’t the only dollar figure climbing at universities across the country.

According to a new survey published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the salaries for college presidents are going up, with 12 university presidents earning at least $1 million for the 2005-2006 school year.

Among the 12 was Maryland’s own William Brody of the Johns Hopkins University. Brody saw $1,938,024 in total compensation for the period.

An AP story on the report notes that the continued rise in tuition is outpacing inflation. I can’t help but think of all those massive corporations that pay their CEOs tens of millions of dollars while cutting back funding in other areas. Are presidential salaries really the best place to direct all those educational funds?

To tell you the truth, I have no idea. But I’m interested in what you think.

-JOE BACCHUS, Web Specialist

Law blog round-up, 11/12

Here are some links for your Monday morning:

— Maryland is among the states asking SCOTUS to review the D.C. Circuit’s holding that a District law banning handguns violates the Second Amendment. The justices could decide whether to hear the case as soon as tomorrow. What’s your take?

— James Gross at the Maryland Divorce Legal Crier writes about what he calls the “Alice in Wonderland Law” — the law governing marital property.

— Rees Morrison at Hildebrandt’s Law Department Management blog says “Michael Clayton” makes general counsels look bad. Anybody out there see the movie? Does it do the GC community wrong?

Jim Cotterman at Altman Weil gives some numbers on associate compensation.

— Everyone’s favorite female current Supreme Court justice (pathetically, that can only mean one person at the moment) talks bathrooms, men-only job interviews at big firms, and wearing her mother-in-law’s clothes.

-CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Beyond Web 2.0


This is the first chance I've had to post since I returned from the Internet conference in Chicago last night. The three days flew by in a whirlwind of search engine optimization and unique visitors. I was disappointed to leave the Windy City so quickly; it was an exciting and beautiful place.

Back to the conference. Yesterday I learned there was Web beyond 2.0 (think social networking sites and wikis). In fact, there are plans for a Web 3.0 that puts data at front and center (instead of documents). My mind was blown.

Other highlights include debating the merits of widgets, sharing our ideas for forums, aggregation and more.

Before we get to any of that, though, we have to put The Daily Record's site through a usability test. And with this test, there'll be sharing of answers.

1. Is our text legible?

2. Are our menu categories easy-to-use?

3. Is the task flow efficient?

What do you all think? I could give you my answers, but I guarantee that your opinions reign supreme.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Friday, November 9, 2007

Speaking of travel

There’s a full-page ad in USA Today Friday that exclaims, “We don’t just TALK at businesspeople. We LISTEN to them.”

That’s Southwest’s pitch for its new seating system, which discards the generic A, B, and C designations in favor of a numbered pecking order.

That is, instead of checking in early and having to battle it out with all the other groups, you’ll now line up as A55, behind A54 and in front of A56. Once you’re on the plane, I imagine it’s still a free-for-all.

My colleagues, who flew Southwest to Chicago, claim they were on one of the first flights that adopted this system, and dismissed it as a poor choice. To me – it seems silly to take the extra step; why not just assign seats like everyone else.

What do you think, frequent fliers?

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Whatever you say, Chief…

Argue before the Supreme Court, and you can expect some tough questions — but being asked to comment on an opinion that never existed?

According to a (subscriber only) piece in our sister pub, Lawyers USA, that’s exactly what happened to lawyer Jean-Claude Andre last week.

Andre represents Abdus-Shahid M.S. Ali, a Muslim prisoner who sued the Federal Bureau of Prisons under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

After oral argument, “Andre walks down the steps out of the Court and into the open arms of friends, colleagues and family — including his wife Sarah and one-year-old son Jean-Luc — who came to watch his argument or otherwise support him,” reporter Reni Gertner writes:

But the first thing he says is a bit of a shocker.

“The Chief Justice made up a case.”

Come again?

“The Chief Justice made up a case,” he repeats. “Well, he mixed up a case. Remember when I said, ‘I'm not very familiar with that case’? It's because the case didn't exist.”

It turns out he is referring to a moment during his argument when Chief Justice John Roberts mentioned a case, S.D. Marine. After the argument, Andre confirmed that S.D. Marine isn't a case at all, but a combination of two separate cases that Roberts mistakenly combined, S.D. Warren and Southwest Marine.

Sure enough, the reference is there in the transcript — check out page 17 of the pdf here — along with the proof that Andre first agreed with Roberts on the holding in the fictional case.

But then, wouldn’t you?

-BARBARA GRZINCIC, Managing Editor/Law

Welcome to Chi-town

CHICAGO – I just can't resist using a dateline.

Good morning from Chicago, home of Daniel Burnham, Oprah Winfrey, and – for the next couple of days – me. I'm here for an online journalism conference that will hopefully benefit you, too.

I'll be attending seminars on generating traffic, video and webcasts, and citizen journalism (that's where you guys do the leg work for us). I'm particularly fond of that last one.

I intend to learn a few things to make this blog and our main site more user-friendly and interactive. If you have any suggestions, let me know and I'll do my best.

In the meantime, I'm going to scrounge up some breakfast. So far, my impressions of the Windy City: surprisingly clean; friendly people; not as cold as I expected.

I'll check back in later on today.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Yellow means ‘go faster’

Leave it to Chief Judge Joseph F. Murphy Jr. to keep it real at the Court of Special Appeals, even when the court goes on a road trip to one of the state’s law schools, as it did on Thursday.

Murphy livened up the argument about whether a driver who was rear ended was partially responsible for the damage because he stopped short at a yellow light.

A jury had found both drivers negligent, which of course meant the plaintiff couldn’t recover. The attorney defending that verdict seemed to be hemming and hawing his way around the proper way to say that many drivers tend to speed up for yellow lights.

Murphy was less subtle:

“Let’s just all take judicial notice of the way human beings drive through a yellow light,” he interrupted, which sent the moot courtroom at University of Maryland School of Law into waves of laughter.

Funny because it’s true — most people I know get a lead foot around yellow lights, but it can lead to an accident when the person in front of you does the opposite.

Is contributory negligence the answer?

-LIZ FARMER, Legal Writer

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bad work habits?

I always thought nothing was as delicious as a little office gossip, but apparently two-thirds of my co-workers would disagree.

An article in attempts to rank office distractions, from teeth-grinding transgressions to two-weeks-notice-worthy wrongdoings.

The top prize went to office gossip, with "poor time management" trailing close behind.

Now, I can't speak for all of corporate America, but my co-workers' poor time management skills seem like small potatoes in comparison to a stinky, dirty microwave or constant cell phone communication with the S.O.

Nevertheless, the time management skills were mostly likely to get the polled to trek into their boss's office.

Not to sound sanctimonious, but in our newsroom, we have a Thanksgiving gift chain making the rounds that leaves each recipient with a holiday treat, courtesy of a colleague.

What gets your goat? Potent scents (42 percent)? Loud noises (41 percent)? Misuse of email (22 percent)?

(Thanks to LI Biz Blog for the tip.)

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Here’s the pitch from Delaware

Southern Delaware sent a crew of tourism sales people into Howard and Montgomery counties this week. Their purpose was to lure corporations planning retreats or off-site meetings to their beaches, hotels and golf courses.

To do this, they rented an RV, loaded it up with swag and went calling.

BACVA does something similar with a 45-foot tour bus that would make Garth Brooks blush.

Both groups say it’s a great way to get the word out, and you’ve got to admit, the sight of a giant tour bus — or modest RV — parked outside your office bearing gifts will surely get your attention.

It beats a marketing letter, a cold call at the busiest time of the day or yet another generic email.

I, for one, like to be pitched in new and different ways — if you don’t think reporters get solicited all day long, you are sorely mistaken.

This got me to thinking: What is the most creative way someone has ever pitched me a story idea.

It just so happens that it occurred a few days ago when I got a bottle of vodka in the mail. The company wanted me to write about them and their product. Creative, mind you, but what if I was a guy hanging precariously onto the wheels of the wagon? Or, what if I was an intern looking for quick and cheap buzz? Or, God forbid, what if I was out driving an RV trying to get subscribers for the paper?

(Plus — and this is for the lawyers out there — isn’t illegal to send booze in the mail?Oh well. Let us know the most creative way you ever been pitched.

-LOUIS LLOVIO, Business Writer

Microsoft: "Google not ahead of us"

From Japan today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that Google wasn't ahead of Microsoft in any way - oh, except online searches.

The AP reports that Ballmer said "Google is not ahead of us. In the area of search specifically, Google would lead."

Ballmer's in Japan to tout the Windows Live package (no longer in beta as of Tuesday), which combines e-mail, instant messaging, blogging and photo-sharing. Sound familiar, Blogger readers?

In fact, on Monday Google announced Android, a software package for mobile devices - bypassing the PC (or Mac).

Ballmer's response, to the AP?

Ballmer said it was difficult to comment on Google's mobile plans because they were still "just words on paper" that had yet to begin.

-JACKIE SAUTER, Multimedia Editor

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Arcades, computer services, landscapers: what do they have in common?

They're all the new targets of the sales tax increase.

Reporter Andy Rosen writes today:

The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee tossed aside the governor’s proposed extension of the sales tax to cover massage, health club and property management services. In the face of stiff opposition from those interests, the panel instead voted to tax computer services, landscaping and arcades.

Looks like those gym petitions added up.

But why choose these three?

And how much money can there be in arcades these days?

*Update 4:40p.m.* It's come to my attention that the Comptroller's office will decide which businesses are classified as "arcades." Does this make Peter Franchot the Arcade Czar?

Multimedia Editor

Behemoth of the sea

Photographer Eric Stocklin shared his image, taken this morning, of the largest container ship to ever pull into Baltimore's port, the 997-foot Mediterranean Shipping Company’s Michaela. More photos -- and info -- to follow in the print edition.

U.S. lawyers decry Pakistan’s actions

The Maryland State Bar Association has joined the American Bar Association in condemning Pakistan’s suspension of its national constitution and rule of law, the arrest of more than 1,500 Pakistan lawyers and the detention of eight members of that country’s Supreme Court.

"This is a profound breach of the rule of law, the cornerstone of a lawful society,” the MSBA said in a statement today urging Pakistan President Musharraf to rescind these actions.

The bar association’s numbers were based on accounts as of Nov. 5. CNN yesterday put the figure at 3,000, out of a total bar of 12,000 — in other words, one in four Pakistan lawyers.

“President Musharraf is justifying his actions by citing the threat of terrorism,” the MSBA statement said, tracking the language used by ABA President William H. Neukom on Monday.

“But shutting down a nation’s lawful institutions of justice will hurt, not help, the fight against terrorism. Courts are society’s referees. A judiciary that can impartially apply fair rules, without outside interference, is the foundation of lawful government. … The organized Bar supports the use of peaceful, legal means to persuade President Musharraf to restore justice to the people of Pakistan.”

Above: Two lawyers are arrested after a protest of over 200 lawyers against President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the the city court district of Islamabad, Pakistan, Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007. AP Photo.

-BARBARA GRZINCIC, Managing Editor, Law