Out and About (Sort of): Reunions and Losses by Howard Freedlander

I took a week off in writing this weekly column immersed as I was in my 50th reunion at my university in Philadelphia. My perspective about this milestone event was skewed a bit due to my leadership roles. Nonetheless, I joined classmates in celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime experience with gusto and good health.

When I first encountered my classmates at the beginning of a weekend filled with social and educational activities, I perceived a certain shyness, or maybe a human reluctance to accept the fact that attendance at our 50th reunion required you to be 71-72-years-old. A common refrain was: “Twenty-five years ago when we were on campus for an earlier milestone reunion, we looked at those celebrating their 50th and thought they looked awfully old.”

Life is a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We all walked more slowly, carried our gray or white or colored hair and undeniable wrinkles with grace, talked incessantly about grandchildren—while simply enjoying the fact that we were able to mark our 50th anniversary as graduates with abundant enthusiasm, sufficient dexterity and overwhelming desire to reconnect to each other.

Appropriately, at our last event, we paid tribute to 261 deceased classmates. The memorial service was a poignant one. I could return home thankful for a fun and festive weekend and pleased that our deceased classmates remained part of our memories and souls.

Herb Andrew

Here at home, the community suffered a terrible loss two weeks ago of Herb Andrew, a native Talbot County resident, longtime farmer, well-regarded bank board member and quietly effective community leaders. He also had served four terms on the Talbot County Council.

Though I didn’t know Herb well, I found him exceedingly and sincerely friendly. He served our community with little fanfare. Our longest conversation happened when we spoke for a few minutes in October 2015 at the Ruth Starr Rose exhibit at the old Maryland National Guard Armory in Easton. This exhibit featured wonderfully evocative paintings of African-American life in Talbot County in the early 20th century. He talked candidly about what he observed in his youth about how black residents were mistreated in Talbot County. He talked about his service in the U.S. Air Force and the bias he observed.

Herb Andrew was a terrific person killed tragically in a car crash. Our community has lost one of its truly good and service-oriented people.

A significant resource in our Mid-Shore region, Chesapeake College has severed its relationship with Barbara Viniar, its hard-working president for the past nine years. Information has been sparse concerning the reasons for Barbara’s departure. While I understand the sensitivity of personnel actions, I find it regrettable that we are losing such a capable educator with so little explanation.

Barbara Viniar

Serving Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties, Chesapeake College is an invaluable asset to residents young and old. Change in top leadership is therefore important to all of us. I can only guess that being responsive to elected officials in five counties is a difficult, often thankless task.

As readers know, I often have moaned and groaned about the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the season traffic that heads east from late May to early September. I normally focus on the Shore and the burden on local residents dealing with chronic congestion. This time around, I must talk about Annapolis.

By this time, most people probably have heard about a fatal crash that occurred early afternoon on Route 50 on Wednesday, May 17. Eastbound lanes leading to the Bay Bridge were closed to traffic as police dealt with a total mess. Annapolis became the favorite detour locale. Plans to pick up grandchildren at a day care center and elementary school became delayed.

Many of us are inextricably tied to the Western Shore for personal and professional reasons. Hence, we have to deal with agonizing delays often caused by vehicle accidents. What’s the answer?
For me, it’s patience, which I lack. It’s long-held appreciation for life on the Shore.

I started this column about a college reunion and ended it with angst over a traffic accident on Route 50 near Annapolis. In between, I bemoaned the tragic death of Herb Andrew and the unfortunate end to Barbara Viniar’s relationship with Chesapeake College.

Life moves forward, sometimes with joy at reconnecting with old friends, sadness at the loss of a community pillar, regret over the departure of an educational leader and the travail of navigating Route 50.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Sundry Comments on a Range of Subjects by Howard Freedlander

More than a week ago I read an article in The Washington Post about a reunion of Vietnam veterans trained as officers in 1967 at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. One of the men was Paul Berents, an Easton resident whom I wish I knew.

Of the 516 members of the basic officers who graduated in class 5-67, 39 were killed in combat. Like the faces of most war victims, those pictured in the Post article are young men facing deadly conditions in an unpopular war brought home as never before in images broadcast on TV.

Now 72, Paul Berents lost both legs to amputation after action in which a new Marine shot Lt. Berents after mistaking him for an enemy soldier. It was Dec. 7, 1967. Berents had been in country for 10 weeks.

The article about the upcoming 50th reunion of class 5-67, focusing on Berents and two other former Marine lieutenants, brought home for me a war that killed or maimed many in my generation, leaving lasting and painful emotional scars on survivors.

The Vietnam War divided our country. Our troops returned stateside to a nation that treated them poorly and disgracefully.

Our country learned a few things from the Vietnam War. One lesson learned was to commit maximum force to achieve combat victory, as we did in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Another was to ensure that participation in a foreign war draws its strength from the national will, without which it’s difficult, if not impossible to win. And, unquestionably, the nation wholeheartedly should support its troops; anger against the reasons for, and execution of war should be directed at our political leaders—not the men and women who fight our wars.

I would like to meet Paul Berents to thank and commend him for his service in the Vietnam War. He suffered severe wounds. He served well.

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Congratulations to Pete Lesher, my friend and neighbor who last week was re-elected as Easton Town Councilman for Ward 2. He and two others, Megan Cook (Ward 4) and John Ford (Council President), ran unopposed.

Though the results were less than dramatic, I believe that those who serve on the local town or city level deserve public kudos. They not only have to deal with potholes and neighborhood disputes, they must tackle complex policy challenges, such as land use and economic development, issues that have long-term compact.

Time will come in the next few years when the Town of Easton will have to face what to do with the property vacated by the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton when it moves to a site near the airport. As a neighbor in South Easton, I am very concerned about the “repurposing” of this property. The Easton Town Council will confront complex land use decisions, ones that will have a marked impact on the Washington Street corridor and adjoining community.

I hope and believe that the Town Council already has determined a process involving input not only from the community but experts who have dealt with vacated hospital properties in and out of Maryland to fix upon a rational and productive use of what most of us know as Memorial Hospital. Decisions will have far-reaching consequences.

A sterling example of sound land use decisions is just down Route 50 in Annapolis. The question was the same: what to do with the property vacated by Anne Arundel Medical Center. I believe the resulting residential development blends beautifully with the Murray Hill community. While the center of Annapolis lost its hospital, it gained sensible, well-planned development.

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One last comment: I was pleased that the spending bill approved a week ago in a bipartisan manner by Congress included $75 million for the continued clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay. We can only hope that the Trump Administration would consider this funding inviolate in future budget proposals.

The idea that the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed could afford to manage alone the health of this national gem would be akin to believing crabs could fly. I pray for good sense to prevail in the White House and Congress.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): After 103 days of Chaos, It’s Personal by Howard Freedlander

Though 100 days is an arbitrary standard to judge the accomplishments and competence of a new U.S. President, I think it’s fair to judge a man who claimed he would amass significant achievements in his first 100 days in office.

It’s personal to me. We have a president prone to empty hyperbole on a constant basis, uttering statements with scant connection to reality. We’re asked to tolerate these outrageous comments, which, of course, turn out to be sorely lacking in fact or even a scintilla of due diligence.

His staunch supporters—and there are many–will simply claim that I simply dislike Donald Trump and cannot stop grieving the results of the Presidential election. This assertion would be partially true; I find the President’s bombastic, bragging style repugnant, while I respect the election result.

It’s personal. I feel embarrassed and ashamed of our current White House occupant. His credibility sabotages his lame efforts to function effectively in a government built on checks and balances.

On April 18, Trump claimed that no president had accomplished more in 90 days—and then rushed around last week to achieve something momentous. Of course, he didn’t just talk; he issued a one-page tax plan that favors the rich and provides scant assistance to the people who elected him. It strikes me as silly that Trump’s plan, subject to extensive congressional review and readjustment, would represent constructive action on the part of the Trump Administration.

While Trump has signed 24 executive orders, 22 presidential memorandums, and 20 proclamations, he has scored no significant legislative victory. His attempt to torpedo the Affordable Care Act fell victim to Republican dysfunction. His executive orders to ban entry certain Muslim-majority countries have been blocked in the courts.

It’s personal. We have a president skilled in bombast and tweets. We lack someone able and willing to do his homework before commenting on domestic and foreign affairs. He’s capable of shallow observations, such as expressing support of Fox News Commentator Bill O’Reilly, who shortly afterward was fired for a pattern of sexual harassment. It must have been consoling to have Donald Trump’s blessing. Trump, again acting without thinking, called the president of Turkey to congratulate him on constitutional changes that solidified increasingly repressive autocratic behavior.

Now, let’s be fair to Mr. Trump. His appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court was a good one; even Democrats concerned about the naming of a clone of Justice Antonin Scalia had to acknowledge Gorsuch’s professional and academic credentials. Elections have their consequences; appointment to the Supreme Court is one of them, though even more so than any time in history by divisive politics.

I’m still on my fairness kick. Trump’s attack on Syrian aircraft after an unspeakable chemical attack on its own people was the right thing to do. While I applauded President Obama’s rational, drama-free decision-making, he missed a chance to use U.S. power after a Syrian chemical attack in 2013.

Perhaps because of my military background, I believe that the appointments of generals like H.R. McMaster as director of the National Security Council, Jim Mathis as Secretary of Defense and John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security were worthy ones. My experience is that general officers are often more circumspect about ordering troops into combat, having seen death first-hand in foreign battle, than are their civilian counterparts who often have not experienced the terror of war.

I’ve heard recently that the White House is operating more efficiently, less subject to internecine fights and back-stabbing brought on by a President who supposedly likes chaos as a way of centering attention on him. While pleased that adults driven more by the nobility of public service seem to be controlling White House staff deliberations, I am less sanguine about President Trump’s ability to listen, absorb and think thoroughly and rationally about critical decisions.

It’s personal. Trump lacks credibility in telling the truth and not engaging in hyperbolic baloney. He seems little interested in details, particularly when they are complicated and not easily explained on cable TV. His ethical antennae are stunted. I was amused to read a few weeks ago that his son Don Jr. was troubled by the chaos and criticism of the White House, for fear these journalistic observations would harm the Trump brand. While it’s common for family members to defend the Oval Office occupant, particularly when he is under constant siege, the connection to the family business is usually not a consideration.

Like others, I will continue to pray for the best but expect the worse on the part of a President whose abominable actions during the Republican and General elections continue to define our nation’s poorly qualified leader.

We can hope that he will choose love of country over love of himself.

It’s personal to me. In every other president in my lifetime, I would find something redemptive, even a bit likable.

I’m at a complete loss to like or respect a person whose brand bespeaks self-centeredness and scant sense of personal accountability.

As of today, we have 1,357 days left in the Trump presidency. It’s a gruesome prospect.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Curtain Closes on Circus by Howard Freedlander

A 146-year-old tradition that once defined family entertainment at its best came to a nostalgic end the past Saturday at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore. My wife and I joined thousands of others to bade farewell to the storied Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

It was sad in so many ways. Absent elephants that once symbolized the “Greatest Show on Earth” and profits that kept this famous entertainment vehicle on view throughout our nation, Ringling Bros. declared an end to its deficit-laden business model. Understandable, but emotionally painful as well.

It’s become a cliché to say that Americans experience many demands on their entertainment dollars. Ringling ticket sales have declined for years. Loss of the highly popular elephants due to complaints from animal rights activists exacerbated an already fragile business model.

Just think about it. In 1871, the high-tech entertainment world in which we now live would have seemed like science fiction. Family recreation had no electronic dimensions. A circus with its fantastic variety of acts, often thrilling and dangerous, but always colorful, compelled the attention of families undistracted by TV or radio or computers or smartphones or video apps.

We can’t go back to a simpler time. We can’t dwell on nostalgia. The past is just that, for better or for worse. Public taste changes.

The Ringling Bros. circus filled the seats on Saturday afternoon, mostly with young families and a smattering of grandparents who needed their fix on childhood memories. No one was disappointed.

What amazed me was that the circus I viewed Saturday had little resemblance to what I recalled about the Big Top of yore. Ironically, it had a modern twist, with the theme based upon space travel. I was taken aback. While Ringling Bros. has worked to add modernity to its show, including motorized cycles traveling speedily within an enclosed metal cylinder, the changes were to no avail.

My reading of several articles about the demise of Ringling Bros point to the high cost of offering two traveling editions employing about 500 people and transporting by train a mini-city. As noted, ticket sales have been falling. As I read, smaller circuses still are profitable.

Royal Farms Arena seemed sadly inadequate to me, particularly for a grand, historic show taking its last bow. It was small. Seats were small and cramped, as if on a Southwest Airlines aircraft. The ceiling is relatively low. And the circus had one ring.

Tigers and lions are always a treat, still obedient to their intrepid trainer. The clowns still provide a laugh or two, but it just seemed half-hearted. The ringmaster was mediocre, perhaps because either he enunciated poorly, or my hearing has diminished. I didn’t expect to see ice skaters nor so many stunts on ice.

Despite my critical comments, I felt drawn to the circus, perhaps due to its link to my childhood. A run of 146 years, spanning two world wars, economic downturns and untold cultural changes, is a long one. While the Feld Family, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, modernized the show, it no longer could withstand the high operating costs and diminishing ticket sales. Loss of the signature elephants, which symbolized the circus to young and old, was the final blow.

My grandchildren will see smaller circuses. So this form of family entertainment will continue on a reduced scale. The drama and romance of the renowned Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be history.

Accepting the inevitability and even desirability of change, I left Royal Farms Arena Saturday afternoon feeling a tinge of sorrow for the final act of the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Lacrosse and Easter Revive the Soul and Spirit by Howard Freedlander

On the day before Easter, as overcast conditions yielded to sunshine, I went with a friend and our two grandsons to watch a lacrosse game between Army and Navy at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The ancient rivalry between our nation’s two best-known military academies is always thrilling—featuring an equal amount of skill and emotion.

For me, the game of lacrosse fascinates and delights me. I began playing when I was 10-years-old in a Baltimore neighborhood where I’ve often said that had I played any sport other than lacrosse, I would have had no friends. Lacrosse reigned supreme in the community of Mt. Washington.

Funded by Native Americans in what is now Canada as early as the 17th century, according to Wikipedia, “traditional lacrosse games were sometimes major events that could last several days. As many as 100 to 1,000 men from opposing villages or tribes would participate.

The games were played in open plains located between the two villages, and the goals could range from 500 yards to 6 miles.”

Fortunately, the American version consumes less distance and stamina.

I played lacrosse through high school and college and even one year in Manchester, England. I loved the sport. My performance was uneven, at least from my current perspective.

Like most team sports containing a degree of controlled violence and disciplined execution, lacrosse offered me a strong sense of teamwork and camaraderie, physical conditioning and mind-numbing preparation. The desire to win was all-consuming. The sting of loss was unnerving.

Now 71-years-old, I watch modern lacrosse with great delight. I marvel at the skill level of today’s lacrosse athletes and their physical capabilities. By the latter, I must confess that 50 years ago at my university we were required only to report to practice able to run and survive a demanding game. But we spent no time in a gym training our muscles and bodies to perform better than we could have imagined. I regret that vacuum.

Back to the Army-Navy lacrosse game that past Saturday. Scoring seven goals in the second half, after being down by three at one point, the Navy midshipmen battled back to win 10-6 before a number of Army fans, including my friend, a West Point graduate. Not surprisingly, Naval Academy supporters were ecstatic.

Though I wore an Army uniform for more than 30 years as a member of U.S. Army Reserve and the Maryland Army National Guard, I am always torn when watching these two superior military academies face each other in athletic battle. The U.S. Naval Academy feels like a hometown school, generating loyalty and interest.

While pleased to watch Navy win, I had hoped to see an Army team whose record this year would have predicted a different result.

For me, the Army-Navy lacrosse contest felt like the outset of spring, a renewal of spirit at time when flowers and trees blossom and the sound of lawn mowers fill the air. On the day before Easter, it seemed appropriate to watch a game that stressed athletic excellence, self-discipline and good sportsmanship.

For me, the experience was uplifting, particularly when I could share it with my six-year-old grandson. Maybe he will continue the legacy of lacrosse played by his grandfather and mother.

As I sat in church on Sunday, buoyed by my experience as a spectator and grandfather the day before at a game that is becoming increasingly more popular throughout our country, I took solace and comfort in the resurrection of spirit represented by Easter. I think back at times that were difficult and disheartening. I feel thankful that the grace and goodness of God enabled me to face and tame personal demons and overcome health problems.

We often seek personal and spiritual renewal, sometimes more purposefully and urgently than watching a lacrosse game and remembering moments of youthful exuberance and athletic competition.

A sports stadium provides an escape from everyday worries. A church can compel honest self-examination. They both renew the soul.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Viewing Life Through a Foggy Flu Brain by Howard Freedlander

My plan was to write (again) about a wonderful trip to a guest ranch in Wickenburg, AZ, northwest of Phoenix. Then life and poor health intervened.

From Friday, March 31 through Monday, April 3, 2017, either my wife or I was bedridden with the flu. When we returned home a week ago, we found ourselves marooned in our home trying to escape a case of constant sluggishness.

This column may reflect more fogginess than usual. At least that’s my excuse, and I’m coughingly standing behind it. This flu bug is annoyingly persistent, resistant to constant bed rest and minimum exertion.

So, instead of writing about the beauty of the Sonoran Desert and its marked contrast to the low-lying Eastern Shore of Maryland and the pleasant, humidity-less temperatures, I’m delving into self-absorption. Poor health changes your perspective. Not for the better.

My thoughts range back a few weeks ago to a Friday evening when walking to town for dinner. My eye trained on a line of people waiting to enter a funeral home. Most of the folks standing on the sidewalk seemed young to me. Ominously curious, I asked a middle-aged man joining the funeral group about the deceased, specifically his age. This gentleman, instinctively understanding why I was a nosey enough to ask this question, said the deceased was 29. I then asked the cause of death. He said it was a drug overdose.

As the man walked away, he said, “There are no old heroin addicts.” Poignant remark.

Just the night before this encounter, I had attended a talk by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, a good man and longtime friend, addressing measures that Gov. Larry Hogan and the state legislature were debating concerning ways to control the opiate epidemic afflicting our county, state and country. In 2016, the state experienced nearly 1,000 deaths from overdose.

Lt. Gov. Rutherford, who headed a commission to study the opiate crisis, said he was concentrating significant attention on increasing awareness on the deadly impact of drug addiction. He understood that the battle would be a hard-fought one, with no guarantee of immediate success.

As readers may recall, some months ago I observed a particularly large crowd attending another funeral. The streets seemed filled with more cars than usual. A few weeks after the funeral, I asked a funeral home employee about the deceased. Was it an older, prominent member of the community? No was the answer. It was a 23-year-old man killed by a heroin overdose.

I promise you I am not simply a nosey, ghoulish neighbor who should have better things to do in his retirement than monitor attendance at the local funeral home. I am seriously concerned. We are losing young people who cannot overcome their addiction to dangerous, life-shortening drugs. Their families and friends feel the loss. As does the community.

Yesterday, the Maryland General Assembly adjourned after its 90-day session. I hope that the executive and legislative branches coalesced to produce legislation providing extensive, science-based treatment. From 2010 to 2015, fatal drug and alcohol-related overdoses experienced a 60 percent rise, while heroin deaths increased by 186 percent in Maryland.

My foggy flu brain is losing its juice (I couldn’t come up with a better word). I need to conclude this column. Unfortunately, the heroin epidemic is growing stronger and more insidious.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Call to Action is Urgent by Howard Freedlander

The Under Armour slogan, “Protect This House,” aptly characterizes the current campaign to fight the Trump Administration’s proposed cut of $73 million for continued cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

The Chesapeake Bay is the beating heart of Maryland. It requires constant attention. Keeping it alive despite relentless pollution warrants critical, if not acute care.

The bay, the largest estuary in the United States, provides measurable commercial and invaluable recreation opportunities for millions of residents in the Maryland-Pennsylvania-Virginia-Delaware region. Its upkeep is impossible without federal dollars.

It daily undergoes a stress test. In recent years, due largely to an expansive—and, yes, controversial cleanup based upon an oft-distasteful “pollution diet”—the bay has experienced a steady reduction in nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment that rob it of oxygen and destroy recreation and industry.

Ignoring slightly the emotional and cultural impact of a body of water that runs through the veins of those of us fortunate enough to live so closely to this generous force of nature, we residents of the Eastern Shore absolutely must fight hard to ensure that the Trump Administration’s intention to strike the $73 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget is a silly figment of a bean-counter’s mean-spirited imagination.

An argument that the state of Maryland, along with five other states and the District of Columbia in the 64,000-square-mile watershed, should shoulder the cost of improving and preserving the Bay’s fragile health ignores the federal government’s important role in forcing cooperation among independent-minded states lacking the financial means to fix a complex ecosystem.

EPA’s compulsory pollution diet, prescribed in 2010–and including the requirement of updated stormwater systems–upset local municipalities. It seemed unfair. It required local expenditures. It set deadlines. EPA understood that the Chesapeake Bay’s health could not survive on questionable and half-hearted life support. Immediate action was the cure.

While it’s true that a President’s budget document is merely a blueprint typically shunted aside by Congress, it nonetheless provides unmistakable insight into the thinking and priorities of an administration. Therefore, it cannot be ignored.
It calls for action.

I feel confident that Maryland’s congressional delegate will coalesce to oppose destruction of the embattled Chesapeake Bay. I feel confident that the argument for preservation and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay resonates in the halls of Congress, resulting in bi-partisan support of, and commitment to a future marked by abundant harvest of Blue crabs and the increasing health of long-endangered oysters. I trust my optimism is justified.

As stated in a March 22, 2017 editorial in The Washington Post, “It (Bay revival) will take a concerted political effort and public pressure to recover the funds eliminated in the administration’s proposed budget. It is critical that they succeed.”
The future of our Eastern Shore and the Chesapeake Bay are inextricably connected. As they must be.

If we care about the bay, then we must speak up. We must “Protect This House”(substitute “Bay”), to echo the assertive Under Armour slogan.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Tubman Museum Captures Relentless Determination by Howard Freedlander

For 45 minutes I felt transfixed by a museum exhibit focused entirely on a simple, driven black woman who refused to accept the scourge of slavery as an impenetrable part of American life in the mid-19th century. Through guile and gumption, in the 1850s, she helped 70 people flee the Eastern Shore for freedom in the north.

By now, many of us have learned how “Tubman ensconced herself in the anti-slavery networks in Philadelphia, New York City and Boston, where she found respect and the financial support she needed to pursue her private war against slavery on the Eastern Shore,” according to Dr. Kate Clifford Larsen, author of Bound for the Promised Land, a biography about Harriet Tubman.

In her shrewd use of Underground Railroad; this extraordinary woman used disguises; depended on reliable people who hid her; walked, rode horses and used wagons; sailed on boats and rode on trains; used certain songs to mark danger or safety; used letters written for her by others to send to trusted allies as well as personal communication; bribed people; followed rivers coursing their way north; used the stars and other natural means to lead her north and had faith in her instincts and God to support her crusade.

For me, the museum bore similarities to the much larger and more complex United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. I’ll explain.

For several minutes, I sat on a bench at the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center in Church Creek in Dorchester County. Seated with me was a bronze statue of Harriet Tubman, as I listened to people like the Civil Rights-era icon and United States Congressman, John Lewis, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin and others commend Tubman. It was funny, but I kept looking at the statue, engrossed in the moment, moved by the inanimate object on the bench.

Strange emotions can overcome you, unexpectedly.

As I sat on the bench, I remembered visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum, sitting in an unadorned room and listening to the “voices of Auschwitz.” I was equally moved by the power of the moment. I didn’t expect to be so utterly engaged.

The Holocaust Museum chronicles horrendous mental and physical slavery, unprecedented depravity and enormous, senseless death. American slaves died too, often at the hands of their merciless masters, or from malnutrition. Deaths of slaves didn’t matter, except to their families.

The voices that emanated from a small video at the Tubman Visitor Center—and the beautifully designed and somber exhibits– portrayed steel-like courage—and described a person who refused to be shackled by an inhumane system prevalent in our young country. Harriet Tubman set an example with no intention to do so.

Still fixated on the nexus between the slavery that stained our freedom-loving nation and Hitler’s systematic campaign to eradicate Jews, I believe that plantations too were work camps that forcibly and cruelly employed and repressed untold numbers of African-Americans. Life on plantations stilled spirits and deterred dreams.

While plantations may not have had prison-like barbed wire fences, the barriers for escape were invisible and insidious. Those who escaped faced death and persecution. They were considered mere chattel.

Harriet Tubman had incalculable willpower. Once her days as an invaluable conductor for the Underground Railroad ended, she served as a nurse, scout, cook and spy for the Union forces during the Civil War. She even participated with 150 black Union soldiers of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment in the Combahee River operation to destroy several estates owned by leading secessionists and free roughly 750 people. One of the more powerful exhibits captures this dangerous mission.

Living eventually in Auburn, NY, Tubman became involved in suffrage and civil rights activism.

Often an impatient visitor to museums, I found the Tubman visitors center soul-searchingly absorbing. I highly recommend it.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of): Self-Righteous? You Judge by Howard Freedlander

In recent weeks, I read about the reprimand of Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County for ethical misjudgment.

Then, I read about bribery charges brought against former Delegate Michael Vaughn of Prince George’s for actions during his stint in the Maryland General Assembly.

And, of course, I constantly read about ethics concerns raised about President Trump and his business interests.

And, as a former deputy treasurer for Maryland, I recoil with disgust. I question the behavior by some to the obligations of public service. I wonder why good people do stupid things. Just human nature? I guess those two words cover a wide range of misdeeds.

Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County

Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County

While I certainly don’t ascribe to the frequent refrain that politicians are just crooks—in fact, the comment is patently untrue—I do understand why this conclusion may seem apt in light of disturbing headlines.

I will focus my ire at Del. Morhaim, whom I knew as a serious, conscientious legislator and one of the few medical doctors in the Maryland General Assembly. I worked with him a bit on procurement matters, which typically were remarkable for their dryness and lack of attention paid them by most legislators.

So what did Morhaim do that drew a reprimand by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics? While promoting legislation and then regulations concerning the medical use of marijuana, he signed a consulting contract with one of the vendors seeking a license to sell cannabis in Maryland. He failed to disclose his consulting contract to the very commission responsible for establishing regulations for a new statewide industry.

The ethics committee’s wording, though cumbersome, stated that “his belief that he could keep his role as a legislator, advocating for the implementation of policy and regulations for the use of medical cannabis, separate from his position as a paid consultant for a company seeking to entire the medical cannabis business, reflects poor judgment to the detriment of the broader interests of the public and other government officials who work with legislators, bringing disrepute and dishonor to the General Assembly.”

Morhaim issued a three-page apology. His defense was that while he followed the letter, he failed to follow the spirit of the law He wrote, “I did not recognize the public perception that might be associated by my speaking before the Cannabis Commission on regulatory issues, even if they were detrimental to my client’s interests. For this, I apologize.”

I find his comment lame and unsettling.

What bothers me is Del. Morhaim’s belated recognition that perception is reality, particularly in politics. The appearance of an ethical transgression or poor judgment can be just as destructive as the act itself. That’s a well-known fact.

In my opinion, the responsibility to develop and retain the public’s trust in the conduct of public business supersedes all else. You lose that trust; you lose the opportunity to be an effective public servant. You operate under a cloud. Your peers know if you are ethically flawed. Your constituents eventually discover your fallibility and choose to entrust someone else with their faith.

What bothers me also is the willingness of a public official to delegate common sense to the ethics counsel. Yes, I fully understand that the ethics office exists to counsel and advise. But it shouldn’t provide a cover for questionable behavior. I believe that responsible legislators, whether on the local or state or federal level, instinctively know or sense when an action or decision bumps up against acceptable and trustworthy behavior.

My dictum as a public servant: if in doubt, don’t.

A caveat is necessary. Citizen-legislators as we have in Maryland, as opposed to their full time contemporaries in Congress, face frequent conflicts and conundrums. As a citizen-doctor, Morhaim had pushed hard for 15 years for the medical use of marijuana. He believed in its need, as do others.

Delegate Morhaim, however, crossed the line. He besmirched his excellent reputation. He damaged his credibility.

Further, he propagated an unfair but prevalent image of public officials. Democracy suffers when the public believes the worst.

Perception is a tough, unrelenting judge.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Out and About (Sort of):Three Days at the Ballpark by Howard Freedlander

My bucket list diminished by one as I spent three days last week with an Oxford friend at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, FL

It was surreal as I chose to do little else but spend several hours every day watching baseball at a spanking new ballpark shared by the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals. For years, I’ve often thought about being a spring training spectator.

And so I did, with great enjoyment and pure delight.

Screen Shot 2017-03-07 at 7.23.15 AMThis ballpark opened on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, one day before our arrival. Surrounded by 12 practice diamonds, six for each team, the 6,500-seat main stadium is the centerpiece of a $150 million venue. I could only marvel at an impressive sports complex established to do one thing: train major- and minor leaguers to perform at the highest level possible in a first-class facility.

Sports dominate our American culture. My three-day immersion in spring training confirmed that commentary. Athleticism and entertainment draw fans galore.

We watched quality baseball played by the Miami Marlins, the Houston Astros, St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals. Despite my Baltimore roots, I’ve grown to like the Nationals, perhaps because a college friend is a principal owner.

One day we had field access before a game and watched batting practice just 10-to-15 feet away. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I watched major league ball players, including stars like Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, smack a little ball around the field and sometimes beyond.

Prior to our field visit, we toured the Nationals offices and fitness center. We were allowed to look but not walk into the locker room. I’ve never seen the off-field facilities of any professional sports team.

What I didn’t see during my three-day excursion to spring training was a relaxed atmosphere, where players would mingle with the fans. That surprised me based on stories I’ve heard over the years. What I didn’t see was idle chatter among the athletes, or even a flash of lackadaisical play.

Young players seeking scarce spots on a major league team are constantly trying to impress their coaches and managers. Veterans, looking over their shoulders at up and coming ballplayers, are trying to keep their jobs. Shoddy performance is discouraged.

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Bryce Harper

Notwithstanding the smaller size of the building itself—though the size of the field is comparable to Major League parks–the level of the baseball play was highly professional. This would be no surprise; spring training is work for all involved. Opening Day is a month away.

I loved the experience. No longer will I wonder about spring training in sunny Florida. While the crowd had its share of retirees and vacationers, it also drew parents and children eager to enjoy the American pastime, an abundant share of team jerseys and shirts and a prevalence of good feelings.

I noticed something else. Baseball is far more relaxing than pro football; it’s a subtler, more nuanced sport that generates subdued appreciation. Embodying controlled violence, pro football elicits rawer emotions from its spectators than does baseball. Post-game reactions to these two sports are vastly different.

After more than 520 words, I have said little about the wonderful weather. For the most part, it was pleasantly warm, mostly sunny and sometimes cloudy. I almost felt like a long-term snowbird who hears about terrible weather in the north and takes pride in enjoying warm and inviting Florida.

I suspect my bucket list experience will not be one and done. I just may watch the Orioles play next winter in Sarasota, FL–to be true to my roots.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.