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Facebookin' on the Hill

Down with Hillary rallyI have covered several Congressional hearings on Capitol Hill for the Montgomery County Sentinel. That is what I do. However the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on social media influence in the 2016 U.S. election held on November 1st was like no other.
The usual Congressional hearings I have attended are like the hearing during which former CIA Director John Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Russian influence in our 2016 presidential election. During that hearing it was difficult to tell if the Republican members and the Democrat members were there for the same purpose. While the Democrat questions dealt with Russian interaction with the Trump campaign, the Republican questions dealt primarily with Hillary Clinton's emails.
No such variation in questioning during the social media hearing on November 1st. During this hearing, to my surprise, both Republicans and Democrats were for the most part on the same page. Quite simply, their questions focused on the extent of the Russian use of social media to attempt to influence the outcome of the election, what is being done to prevent any recurrence of that improper use of social media AND why was nothing done earlier!

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Hybrid van saves gas while Miata adds hardtop

 

2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid cropped for webThe 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan can travel 33 miles per electric charge and then operates as an efficient gas-electric hybrid. COURTESY PHOTO  Imagine a vehicle that can carry you and six other adults from Rockville to downtown Washington and back without using a drop of gasoline — or do the trip solo in I-270's HOV lanes.
There are two vehicles that can pull off this achievement, both using electric motors and Maryland's perks to drivers of electric cars. One is the Tesla Model X, an all-electric luxury crossover with a base price of around $80,000. The other is the all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid version of Chrysler's popular minivan.
The EPA estimates that the Pacifica Hybrid can go 33 miles on an all-electric charge and then switch over to its gas-electric operation, which manages 32 mpg. Both figures are impressive.

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Reasons for activism

GovernorBillSigning 1bLife is very much like a box; you can keep taking from it but there comes a time when you have to start putting things back into it or else be faced with an empty box or, to extend the analogy, a possibly less-fulfilled life.
That is where activism and advocacy come into play. Advocacy is a means of putting something back into that box of life by doing something that benefits the many and not just the individual, contrary to the Ayn Rand teachings.
My road to becoming an activist came rather late in life. During my rather lengthy federal career I focused on the many challenging issues I was involved in. These included such issues as addressing the security threat created by moving cargo under bond across the nation, especially in the post 9/11 environment, during my time at U.S. Customs.
It included implementing programs designed to more fully unify the more than 22 disparate entities comprising the newly-created umbrella known as the Department of Homeland Security while serving in that department. It included, while at FEMA post Katrina, estimating the needs and identifying the capabilities and resources at the local, state and federal levels prior to the advent of the next great disaster to, thereby, ensure a more effective response and recovery to avoid what is currently happening in Puerto Rico.
It wasn't until I left federal service that I became much more interested in public policy and community service leading to my becoming much more active in raising my voice to influence that public policy. This, to me, is the very definition of the word activism.

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Enough with the prayers already

MC DC Trump on Gun Violence in America 1bSomewhere in the United States right now, as you read this, the next victims of a mass murder are going about their business of life and have no idea what’s in store for them.
They don’t know they’ll soon be victims – perhaps before the ink dries on our newspaper.
They have no way of knowing how they’ll die, or when; whether they’ll die next to their loved ones or die running for safety.
They will just be dead and the dead can’t do anything about it.

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Kia returns to its roots, while Toyota offers options

2018 Kia Rio EX hatchback cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Kia Rio doesn't have exciting looks or sporty driving dynamics. COURTESY PHOTO  When gas was expensive, most automakers rushed to make their smallest, cheapest cars more appealing. From extra-roomy interiors to sporty handling to more elegant styling, these subcompacts were a way of saying that small cars don't have to be basic.
One model that followed this path was the 2012 Kia Rio. Its impressive interior build quality, surprisingly hushed cabin, European-inspired design and long list of available features made it clear that this little sedan or hatchback could be selected for its merits — not just its price.

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A look back at history through clear glasses

17972 miscellaneous nuclear explosion explosionI am a child of the 1950's and 1960's and have also witnessed the challenges of the 1970's, 1980's, 1990's and where we are now in the 21st century. I experienced the Cold War first-hand and remember quite vividly practicing shelter drills in P.S. 213 by taking cover under my desk in case we were attacked with an atomic bomb. Even at that age I questioned the effectiveness of that particular strategy.
As a student in J.H.S. 166, I remember the anxiety of the nation during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the leadership provided by our young president in addressing the threat to our nation. I remember quite vividly, while in Brooklyn College, the feeling of panic when the student deferment was pulled during the height of the Vietnam War as well as the relief I felt when my lottery number was 272.

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Trump and the "Peculiar Institution"

IMG 0271There were many contributing factors to the Civil War, but Slavery was the root cause.
The “Peculiar Institution,” was defended by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens in his March 1861 “Cornerstone Speech” after secession swept the South and just weeks before the Civil War began. He went so far as to say Thomas Jefferson words in the Declaration of Independence, declaring that “All men are created equal” were wrong.

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Japan’s big pickups challenge the domestic brands

2017 Nissan Titan cropped for webThe redesigned 2017 Nissan Titan is spacious and relatively affordable for a full-size truck, but it's heavy and lacks some modern tech features. COURTESY PHOTO  Although Japanese vehicles are among the bestsellers in almost every market segment, there's one that the nation's automakers have utterly failed to crack: the full-size pickup truck. There, Ford's F Series, General Motors' Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, and Chrysler's Ram remain dominant on the sales charts.
Toyota, Nissan and Honda all have pickup trucks — they just haven't resonated with buyers the same way. Toyota has had the most luck, which is ironic given that its Tundra hasn't received a major redesign in more than a decade. The newly-overhauled Nissan Titan and Honda Ridgeline sell at a fraction of the Tundra's pace, and the Tundra itself significantly trails pickups from the American “Big Three” automakers.
Are the current sales figures of big pickups the result of buyers' reluctance to stray from familiar brands? Or are the Japanese trucks just not as good as their American counterparts?

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Bitcoin will change future real estate deals

for sale sign outside houseIs a Bitcoin mortgage in your future? Probably not. Mortgages will not be in Bitcoin in the near future.

But that doesn’t mean that the technology that underlies cryptocurrencies won’t be making the real estate transaction cheaper and more efficient.

Brad Finkelstein reported on the difficulties of a Bitcoin mortgage (Virtually No Chance Soon for Any Bitcoin Denominated Mortgages; National Mortgage News, 2014).

Cryptocurrencies have a history of volatility, Bitcoin most recently lost about a third of its value (see: Bitcoin at crossroads after shedding more than $27 billion in value; marketwatch.com; September 14, 2017). Instability of the currency is a major issue for a thirty-year mortgage.

Finkelstein stated that such short-term losses could cause the mortgage holder to “lose their shorts,” and cause the borrower to default. He also pointed out that regulatory hurdles will be difficult to transcend, stating that mortgage rules and closing disclosures are calculated in dollars. Not to mention the difficulty of appraising a home’s value in Bitcoin. Additionally, all parties that are part of the transaction (such as appraisers) need to accept payment in Bitcoin.

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Disclosing the identifying witnesses you say

gavel2It is a common to see in movies or television a dramatic scene where the prosecution suddenly calls to the stand the surprise witness who identifies the defendant as the killer. The Maryland Rules of Criminal Procedure require that prior to trial the prosecution must disclose “all relevant material or information regarding…pretrial identification of the defendant by a State’s witness.” How this rule works in practice was discussed by a divided Maryland Court of Appeals in a case called John W. Green III v. State.

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