All Bets Off on Beto by J.E. Dean

What’s not to like about the next John F. Kennedy? After admittedly not following Beto’s every move in his unsuccessful but widely acclaimed race for Senate against Ted Cruz, I was interested in learning more about the “the most charismatic” candidate in the Democratic presidential race.  The more I learned, the more I see that interest in Beto reflects much of what is wrong with US electoral politics.

First, it is legitimate to wonder if anyone would take Beto seriously if he looked like, say, Mitch McConnell or Hillary Clinton.  Second, I found that the more I learned about him, the more skeptical I became.

Here’s why. While some, especially those much younger than I, may be intrigued by a “world-class hacker” running for President, I wonder what those actions say about Beto’s respect for law, or his true character.  Is it O.K. that he routinely hacked his way to free long-distance phone calls and expropriated “cracked” video games to avoid paying for them? Or that he did both those actions while having the wherewithal to pay his own way. Doesn’t such behavior suggest that Beto as President might be equally as comfortable in breaking rules (read laws) to further his own agenda?

And what exactly is his agenda?   When I reflect on Beto, I immediately think of his arms flapping up and down (and am ashamed because this innocent characteristic is how Trump chose to shame him), but then I realized I wasn’t aware of any of his own positions other than opening the borders, “Medicare for All” (minus any details about how to pay for it), and a general endorsement of “the Green Deal.”  Then I remembered his authorship of “violent fantasies” during his youth—the opus written under the pen name Psychedelic Warlord.  I wonder where reality starts and ends with this guy.

We now read about the “magic” of a Biden-Beto ticket (what happened to the far more qualified women candidates?) and that Beto is the key to the Generation X vote. Maybe the party would be just as well served with Justin Bieber (if he weren’t a Canadian) or a recent winner of American Idol. Seriously haven’t we learned anything from our previous mistakes?

Running the US as President should be seen as something other than the ultimate prize.  Sound and sane candidates are humbled by the responsibilities entailed. Is it possible that the right candidate will see running for President as a call to duty rather than an opportunity for a fabulous adventure?

Until I see signs of substance and maturity, Beto is not my man.  

J.E. Dean is a retired Washington, D.C. attorney and a current resident of Oxford, Maryland

 

 

Report from Annapolis – Part 5 by Laura Price

Another week of legislative committee brought fewer bills to consider, as just about everything has already been introduced.  We are winding down taking positions on various pieces of legislation.  But this week brought a biggie!  The Kirwan “Blueprint” Bill – SB1030/HB1413.

By now you have probably already heard of the “Kirwan Commission” (Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Maryland) and the 2+ year study on completely overhauling education in the State of Maryland.  There were 25 members appointed to the commission and five main areas were studied in separate workgroups:

Early childhood education (Universal Pre-K), High-quality teachers and leaders (Raising teacher pay), College and career readiness pathways (CTE), More resources for at-risk students and Governance/Accountability.

While there has been much debate on the policies and what this may or may not do for the outcomes on the education of our children, what we do need to recognize and also discuss is the cost of implementing these policies.  The price tag is estimated to be nearly $4 billion dollars over 10 years, but most of it coming in the first 3 years.

As I mentioned in my first report last month, “we are talking about massive tax increases, whether on the state side or mandating it on the county side.”  There is currently no revenue source to pay for all of these initiatives, either at the State or Local level.  Originally, when formed, the commission was supposed to look at the funding formulas and what was never addressed during the two-year study, was the “split” between the counties and the state.

Each county has a different “wealth formula” for how much state aid goes to education.  The formula basically puts 2/3 of the weight on a county’s assessable property base and 1/3 on the household income.  In Talbot county’s case, we lose out on state money and pay 75% of the total Board of Education budget.  We have a skewed assessable base, because of some high value property.  Meanwhile, our average household income is 20% below the state average.  I have been trying to get that message out, especially to the state, that it unfairly penalizes Talbot (and some other counties with similar circumstances) because our people who are actually out earning an income, have less of an ability to pay.  Many of our people, with a higher property value, either live elsewhere more than 6 months and a day, or are retired and don’t pay income tax.  We also have a homestead tax credit that keeps our property tax revenues low, based on the original selling price of your home and not it’s current value, which is the number the state uses in the formula.  Not to mention our revenue cap which severely hampers our county.

This week, a “Kirwan” bill was introduced and there wasn’t even supposed to be one this year, other than about $3 million in funding towards Pre-K.  This one has a price tag of about $1 billion over the next two years.  The hearing was scheduled with only 2 days notice.  MACo had to analyze the 29-page bill in a day and bring a recommendation to the legislative committee.  It was a tricky position to be in and here’s why.

This bill does not “require” any county funds in order to be able to receive state money.  It creates a grant of $23 million for areas with at-risk students and another grant of $137.5 million for students with disabilities.  The third area is a grant of $75 million for teacher salary increases.  This grant does not require a county to participate, but if they want to receive the funds, they must raise teacher salaries by at least 3% in our 2020 budget.

The other good thing is this bill, is that the counties will receive “credit” for anything we do above Maintenance of Effort (MOE).  That was a big concern and many counties were apprehensive about funding above MOE this year, wondering whether new Kirwan funding would be on top of a new base.  So, we can in essence, make a “down payment” this year and not be penalized next year.

On this bill, MACo did come out with a position of support because there is no requirement from the county.  I joined the MACo panel in delivering testimony to the joint Senate committees of Budget & Tax and Education, Health & Environment and stated:

My county has been willing to invest in education.  Over the last several years, we have increased our property tax rates by 30%, all of it for education.  We exceeded our citizen-imposed tax cap to do so and that was not an easy decision.  We also put a ballot initiative, which I wrote, in front of our voters this past election to raise our revenue cap to help with increased funding for all of county government.

The Commission, and the legislature, already has more work to do – the formulas that distribute state funding really need a reality check. We have counties where the tax base does not reflect people’s ability to pay taxes today. We know that’s still on the “to do” list… that’s an important part of the path ahead. Several counties have an average household income far below the state average, yet they are considered wealthy because of a skewed assessable base.”

The reality is, this is the “carrot” before the “stick.”  We know the massiveness of what is to come next year.  Counties have huge concerns about the price tag and how much will be “mandated” to be the county share, with no alternative but immense tax increases to pay for it.  MACo has been saying for two years that the “formula” needs to be sorted out before we can take a position on the main bill that will come next year.  This is a different bill and it is all state funded. However, we know that will change next year and we need to stay actively engaged.

Laura Price is on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, the legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.

 

Congressman Harris to Host Town Hall Meeting in Queen Anne’s County March 20

Congressman Andy Harris, M.D. (MD-01) will host brick-and-mortar town hall meeting in Queen Anne’s County on Wednesday, March 20th. All residents of Maryland’s First District are welcome to attend the town halls to ask questions and voice their concerns about issues under consideration in Congress.

Queen Anne’s County Town Hall
Date: Wednesday, March 20th
Time: 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Location: Grasonville VFW
203 VFW Ave., Grasonville, MD 21638

Letter to Editor: Sanctuaries are not Working, Why Make Them Permanent?

I am writing this letter in response to Matt Pluta’s Letter to the Editor. First, I want to thank the Talbot County Council for their support. It is a comfort to know that in our time of need they take action. When 50% of Talbot & Dorchester County’s productive oyster bars were taken to create 3 tributary size sanctuaries our counties experienced a great loss economically, socially, and, yes, environmentally. As president of Talbot Watermen’s Association, member of Oyster Advisory Commission, member of Oyster Futures, Chairperson of the Talbot County Oyster Shell Committee, and past member of Choptank Trib Team (now known as ShoreRivers). I would like to share some of the scientific data that shows that Harris Creek Sanctuary is not performing as well as Public Oyster Harvest Areas and why sanctuaries success is still unproven.

Since I live on Tilghman, I have watched every phase of the reef construction in Harris Creek including many years of the planting of Spat on Shell (SOS) until its supposed completion in 2016. I say supposed because, in 2017, I started to see more plantings of SOS, and a total of 31 of the 64 reefs were replanted. See attached Harris Creek Reseeded in 2017.

At an Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meeting, I brought up the question of why a project that was announced to be completed the year before would need such extensive reseeding. The response was that the sanctuary restoration plan allowed for additional plantings if bars did not meet certain metrics. In other words, as the oysters die from disease or old age, new oysters are planted at taxpayer’s expense. How convenient that the plan was written with safeguards so that it would not fail! I thought that, once completed, the reefs would sustain themselves through natural reproduction and, according to the disproven computer model created by UMCES, this spat would spread outside of Harris Creek to harvest areas.

Low spatfall is another factor. Spatfall is clearly not occurring as evidence from the current 2017 Fall Survey (a survey of oyster bars done around the state for the past 60 years by the DNR). See Table 2 – Spat pg. 32. In Harris Creek, the number of spat per bushel is 55, slightly above the 33 year average 40.3 (see notation #1), but just outside of Harris creek the number per bushel is only 13 which is a lot lower than that bars 33 year average of 67.2 (see notation #2). Also noted is that both spat counts are well below that of Broad Creek which is 205 per bushel, almost double the 33 year average of 118.1 (notation #3), and let’s remember this is a creek that we harvest and have not planted over 2 billion SOS and spent 32 million dollar in taxpayer’s money.

As for the next computer model created by VIMS and UMCES mentioned by Mr. Pluta that shows the filtering capacity of Harris Creek and the removal of nitrogen of 100,000 pounds of nitrogen is a theory not real data. Lisa Kellogg of VIMS clearly states, “Through the model she and her colleagues hope to provide a tool that natural resource agencies could use to gauge the ecological benefits of this and other reef restoration projects”. Where can you find water testing data? I know ShoreRivers does water testing in Harris Creek. On ShoreRivers website, I found data showing nitrogen levels; the data shows Harris Creek was actually going backwards with nitrogen levels rising from .47 in 2013 to .958 in 2014  (see attached HC05), with overall numbers increasing.

Broad Creek, a public harvest area, during those same years was declining in nitrogen levels to .114 (see attached BC04).

Also of importance are high disease levels in restoration sanctuaries. Harris Creek, Tred Avon and Little Choptank River have 97% prevalence of Dermo and the intensity ranges from 3.3 to 4.1 resulting in death of the oyster when this range reaches 5. When oysters die, they re-release nitrogen back into the water. See Table A. Disease Levels at Three Restoration Sanctuaries and Adjacent Open-Harvest Areas from the 2017 Fall Survey.

On Tilghman Wharf, a public oyster bar outside of Harris Creek Sanctuary, had a 10% prevalence of Dermo and the intensity range was 0.2 in 2013 but by 2017 (when the sanctuary was well established), the prevalence rose to 70 with an intensity of 2.2 as the disease spreads to public oyster bar just outside the sanctuary area. See Table 3 – Dermo.

And finally, the Morgan State study (I actually participated in this study as a member of the Oyster Futures project) about increase in crab harvest to offset the economic loss of the oyster harvest. The theory is crabs will feed on the barnacles of the reef.  However, what about when the crab defecates (feces are high in nitrogen) after feeding? When I asked the scientist this question, he seemed perplexed and had not considered the impact. Second, our trotlines get snagged on the stone piles of the reef, so, not many watermen will crab on them. This combined with the loss of crab lays due to aquaculture water column leasing allowed in sanctuaries (i.e., Phillips Wharf Environmental Center and Green Pearl, LLC. leases on Lomax oyster bar in Harris Creek Sanctuary) creates a significant decrease in crab harvest.  And, lastly, what Mr. Pluta and others have failed to report is this study concluded the overall increase to the oyster population would not be significant at all.

So, my question to the citizens of Maryland, after reviewing all this data which proves that sanctuaries are not working, why would we make them permanent?

Jeff Harrison, President
Talbot Watermen Association

 

Letter to Editor: Andy Harris the Cowardly Congressman

When I first heard that our Congressman Andy Harris was bringing a young protester up on charges for recently video streaming an interview from his Salisbury office, I was shocked that Harris would go that far to prosecute. But I was not in the least surprised that Harris approved this approach. It is unapologetically cowardly.

Just as a quick primer background history about Harris and Marijuana laws, Harris tried to derail a recent DC Referendum where voters approved a ballot initiative to allow for the legal sale of Marijuana in the District. Harris has sorely angered many in DC, ( not even his jurisdiction) , and to say the least, he his not loved by either the MD Marijuana justice group,  and the DC Marijuana justice group that attended the rally.

To be clear, I also have no love or affiliation with DCMJ or MDMJ, but I feel their civil rights as demonstrating citizens in a free country have been violated by our congressman ( pathetically) seeking “ sanctuary”’ from his own constituents. What could be more absurd or perverse! You can’t legally eliminate your political enemies by restricting access to government. As a public servant you must represent all sides.

When Harris’s office filed the current complaint that his office privacy had been violated , he employed an ancient ( an barely applicable) state statute that has regulated privacy in the State of Maryland to defend himself. This “wiretapping” statute is a term held over from the McCarthy Era. The use of this statute seems completely out of context to the event. The term , in an if itself, tends to incriminate the public nature of the event, as if covert evil was intended , which was not the case. Maryland’s “wiretapping” statute requires both parties must agree to be “tapped” to allow the covert information to go public. The protesters had no such agreement with the Harris office , thus the charges.

So we get to the big question, why wouldn’t an elected public official within his office expect to be in the public realm at all times? Isn’t personal privacy in a public state office an unreasonable expectation? Wasn’t this state business, and isn’t there a deliberate confusion attempting to confuse the differences between personal world and government business here? I think so.

In Maryland , the Open Meetings Act brought forth the idea that people deserve the right to see their government function. It blew open the “smoke filled “ lobbyist infested corridors of government and let the sunshine in. In many cities and towns there’s a requirement to videotape the town meetings and broadcast them publicly on a public channel to encourage open and transparent governance.

In the same way the MDMJ group felt they had a right to show others what was happening in the meeting with the Harris office. An attempt at making the meeting public is no crime. In this way , the Open Meetings act was more relevant a precedent to guide this public event than any questionable right to privacy our elected officials have conducting business in office.

What bothers me most about this is the lack of traditional protocol, 1) why didn’t Harris meet with the crowd as part of his responsibility to his constituents, 2) why didn’t Harris recognize that the MDMJ was only trying to bring others into the room with modern technology, and 3) why would Harris want to avenge a group perfectly within their rights to demonstrate, 4) Why did Harris used a completely outdated ( inapplicable) law to seek revenge on these perfectly peaceful protesters and claim personal sanctuary.

Most of all, this is a sets dangerous precedent that leaders are no longer bound to represent their constituents , can hide behind the wall of secrecy ( privacy) and continue to pretend to do public business in their own shuttered world of dark folly. A hearing for the MDMJ indictment is scheduled in Salisbury in March 22.

Jay Corvan
Trappe

Holocaust Survivor Eva Kor to Commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1

Eventful Giving and Mid Shore Community Fund are proud to present Holocaust survivor and forgiveness advocate Eva Kor to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. Eva will be speaking Wednesday evening, May 1, at 6:30 p.m. at the Avalon Theater. Admission is free, and doors open at 6:00 p.m. She will be selling signed copies of her books, Echoes of Auschwitz and Surviving the Angel of Death, after the presentation. The lead sponsors of this event are Paul and Joanne Prager.

For the past 40 years, Holocaust survivor Eva Kor has shared her story with students, teachers, medical professionals, senators, administrators, historians, university groups, graduating classes, and civic groups, both nationally and internationally. Eva is one of the few surviving twins sharing her personal account of the medical experiments supervised by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Eva’s account of her survival of the Holocaust offers many relevant lessons on the dangers of hate and prejudice, and the consequences of allowing prejudice to persist, unchecked, in others.

In addition to the importance of her account from a historical perspective, Eva’s life lessons and message of forgiveness have touched the lives of millions of people. In 1995, Eva chose to forgive the Nazis, after deciding that they should no longer have power over her life. She describes forgiving the Nazis as an act of self-healing, self-liberation, and self-empowerment; forgiveness is not about the perpetrator, not about forgetting. It is one step toward repairing the world by helping victims free themselves from perpetrators and remove anger and hatred. Eva shares her own discovery of the power to forgive so that others may see the possibility to heal themselves through forgiveness. Forgiveness provides a way for people to free themselves from hurt, anger, and hatred, from the pain of victimhood. If people find peace with themselves, the world may also find peace.

Recipient of the 2017 Sachem award, Eva’s message of healing reaches around the globe and across social, economic, cultural boundaries.

The Eventful Giving Fund is a component fund of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, a public foundation designated as a 501(c)(3) charity. Donations to the Fund are tax-deductible as allowed by law. A copy of the Mid-Shore Community Foundation’s financial statement is available at www.mscf.org or by calling 410-820-8175. Information about Mid-Shore submitted under the Maryland Charitable Solicitations Act can be obtained from the Office of the Secretary of State, State House, Annapolis, MD 21401.

Letter to the Editor: Oysters and Talbot County Council

An important piece of legislation is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly that would protect our oyster sanctuaries “in perpetuity,” giving actual meaning to the word “sanctuary,” and allowing oyster aquaculture to occur within and as a complement to protected wild oysters inside these sanctuaries. The bill is labeled House Bill 298 and Senate Bill 448 “OYSTERS-TRIBUTARY-SCALE SANCTUARIES-PROTECTION AND RESTORATION.

ShoreRivers has been working for years to advance measures to restore and protect our oyster populations. On behalf of our several thousand members, we strongly support this bill. Numerous other organizations dedicated to Chesapeake Bay restoration support this bill. ShoreRivers’ staff professionals, in fact, have been testifying in Annapolis in support of this bill. It came as quite a surprise to learn, not from our county council, but from others while testifying in Annapolis, that the Talbot County Council is trying to undermine these efforts and has written a letter to state legislators formally opposing this bill.

In the letter, the council made statements such as, “we are very concerned that the state’s focus on aquaculture in sanctuaries is being done at the expense of maintaining a viable public oyster fishery.” And, “sanctuaries have not yet proven themselves as a better restoration option than a well-managed oyster fishery.” Going further, the council wrote, “A properly maintained fishery can keep the oyster stock healthier and more vital than an unattended and unmanaged sanctuary.”

At ShoreRivers, we have been studying this issue for years. We are science-based. We find these quoted statements surprisingly uninformed, and, in our view, contrary to the science, to the welfare of our rivers, and to the views of many county residents. Moreover, to our knowledge, there was no opportunity for public input in the council’s decision to attack this bill, no public advance notice that the council was considering this issue, and no public vote by the council.

Regarding the council’s letter, first, there is no scientific basis to call our oyster fishery “well-managed, properly maintained, or viable.” It is well known that our current oyster population is less than 1% of historic levels. Since 1999, our population of adult oysters has diminished by half. Whether our state should allow the harvest of wild oysters at all is a reasonable question. No other fishery in the world that has been so decimated even permits a wild harvest. In the late 1980s, Maryland imposed a five-year moratorium on striped bass fishing, and in the 1990s, goose hunting was suspended to protect populations that were nowhere near as decimated as our oyster population.

Second, these sanctuaries are, in fact, working. Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent by state and federal agencies, and countless efforts have been made by numerous private nonprofit organizations and concerned citizens to create and populate these sanctuaries. Two of these key sanctuaries benefit Talbot County directly, one in Harris Creek and one in the Tred Avon River. Data from Harris Creek, the first of these to be seeded, show that oyster reefs within the sanctuaries are meeting the success metrics for oyster density and biomass. A recent study by The Nature Conservancy found that restored reefs in Harris Creek are able to filter all the volume of water in the creek in less than 10 days during the summer months, and they have the potential to remove one million pounds of nitrogen over a decade. The sanctuaries have exceeded all expectations. The benefits of similar type sanctuaries to restore decimated fishery populations has been proven to be effective countless times around country and the world.

Third, to say that large tributary-scale oyster restoration will “seriously or fatally injure the industry, causing loses in both jobs and revenue” is shortsighted. A study released earlier this month by Morgan State University found that “fully mature oyster reefs in the Chesapeake would yield a 150 percent increase to blue crab harvest and an estimated $10-million increase in annual fishing revenues in the region.” Hotels, marinas, bait shops, and other marine industries in the county would surely support the added benefits from a boost in recreational fishing and tourism brought by having restored oyster reefs.

The Talbot County Council represents more than one constituent group. ShoreRivers has thousands of members, and we were never given the opportunity to have our views considered by our council. To our knowledge, other constituent groups, such as our growing aquaculture industry, were not given such an opportunity. The public at large was not given this opportunity. We find it objectionable that our council would seek to undermine this important State bill without providing its entire constituent base with the opportunity to be heard. And that it would seek to undermine it based on uninformed and misleading statements.

Robust oyster populations are essential in restoring and protecting our rivers and bay. We hope the members of our community who support real “sanctuaries” will let their views be known both to our state representatives and to the Talbot County Council.

Matt Pluta
Choptank Riverkeeper
ShoreRivers

Reflections on 24 Hours in the Life of a Presidency by Stephen Parks

When do we start the clock on this momentous day on separate fronts at opposite ends of the globe? About 6:30 p.m., Vietnam time, President Trump shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to a cacophony of clicking digital cameras before their long-shot denuclearization summit meeting. That’s 6:30 a.m. Washington time. Hours earlier, Michael Cohen and his attorneys put final touches on the opening statement he’d make to the House Oversight Committee. Cohen’s remarks characterizing his former boss as “a racist, conman and a cheat” were delivered about 10:30 a.m. in Washington, 10:30 p.m. in Hanoi as Trump wrapped up his first day of the summit. Trump tweeted in response: “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). . . . He was just disbarred . . . for lying & fraud. . . . He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!” (“Crooked” refers to Hillary Clinton and her lawyer, now one of Cohen’s, Lanny Davis.)

It’s useless to argue about Cohen’s credibility. Trump supporters and detractors occupy different planets. I can tell, and so could you, by watching commentary on cable news networks of opposing political views. In Fox world, Cohen, once convicted of lying, is ineligible as a witness. (Tell that to any cop investigating a crime or prosecutor trying a defendant. May as well abandon jurisprudence.) On MSNBC, Trump is all but impeached or indicted—though a Justice Department memo says presidents are non indictable. The live feed of the hearings was more illuminative. Only one Republican bothered to ask a substantive question. Rep. Justin Amash asked Cohen if Trump ordered him to lie about contacts with Russia. Cohen responded that Trump never directed him to lie. But he got the message “in code.”

Other Republicans, notably Jim Jordan, ranking committee Republican—he’d be chairman if Democrats hadn’t won control of the House in the midterms—and Mark Meadows, concentrated on theatrical stunts such as “proving” Trump couldn’t be racist because he hired Lynne Patton to a Department of Housing and Urban Development post. With no chance to speak for herself—the majority would block her as a witness—Patton was trotted out as a “prop,” as newly elected Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib protested in her turn at questioning. Meadows cried foul as he presumed being labeled a racist. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings intervened, avoiding a crisis that might have crashed the hearing. Both sides made nice. Jordan’s contribution was to post an optic declaiming Cohen as “Liar Liar Pants on Fire” hereafter disqualified from human discourse. Very mature.

Democrats also were guilty of speechifying political points in their “questions,” although rookie Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez kept on investigative point by asking if Trump had committed bank and insurance frauds and where the committee could find supporting evidence and witnesses.

Baltimorean Cummings, reminding me of a passionate disciple of the affable Sen. Sam Ervin of Watergate fame, closed the hearing with an emotional appeal on behalf of democracy: “We are better than this!”

Hopefully, we are.

On the other side of the world, the president walked away from negotiations with Kim, who reportedly demanded a full pullback on sanctions while offering to decommission one nuclear site. Listening to his intelligence experts for a change, Trump confronted Kim with evidence of more North Korean nuke sites. Bad deal rightly rejected.

In a weird twist, North Koreans called a press conference (they have no domestic press) 24 hours into Trump’s long strange day, claiming they only sought partial relief from sanctions. But Trump stepped on his rare display of presidential behavior. He, not Kim, banned American reporters from the summit dinner because an AP reporter asked a question about Cohen. Then, in his closing press conference, Trump gave murderous dictator Kim dispensation on the death of American student Otto Warmbier. Arrested for pilfering a poster, Warmbier was imprisoned and much later released, comatose and near inevitable death.

Trump claims he believes Kim’s assurance that he knew nothing of this atrocity. Just like he accepted Vladimir Putin’s word on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman’s claim of innocence in the savage murder of a Washington Post journalist.

One step forward, two steps back, Mr. President. For Trump, that’s 24-hour “progress.”

Stephen Parks, now living in Easton, is a retired journalist who worked for Newsday on Long Island and The Sun in Baltimore among other newspapers.

Letter to Editor: I Respect Bill Boos but We Differ on St. Michaels Town Hall Plans by Michael Bibb

As a co-equal member of the St. Michaels governing body, I respect Commissioner Bill Boos, but he and I have very different views of the town’s efforts to build a new town office.

For the record, Mr. Boos was speaking for himself as a private citizen, not on behalf of the Commissioners of St. Michaels in his recent guest opinion (Star Democrat 2/19/2019) and in the Talbot Spy. To paraphrase a respected U.S Senator; he is entitled to his own opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts. What follows is my personal opinion.

I believe the taxpayers of St. Michaels deserve an informed decision on where to build a new town office and police station. And I believe the most fiscally responsible choice is to build a joint one-story facility on the 1.2 acre lot the town owns across from the current town office on Mill Street. Mr. Boos believes the best choice is to build a two-story town office on a much smaller lot on Fremont Street, while renovating the current police station. We will never definitively know which is the most economical choice without an independent architectural and engineering assessment of both sites.

On at least three occasions, I have introduced resolutions at town commission meetings to conduct a feasibility study comparing both lots. And on every occasion, except one, Mr. Boos and Commissioner Jaime Windon have succeeded in blocking the motion. More on that one exception in a moment.

Mr. Boos asserts that the issue has been studied thoroughly and that we did spreadsheets comparing the sites. In fact, there has not once been a comprehensive study of all of the town’s options. I served with Mr. Boos on the ad hoc committee that was empaneled to study the issues with the existing town office and police station. Throughout that process, the Mill Street lot was never on the table. We were told by Mr. Boos and Town Manager Jean Weisman that it was not available because the town had signed a letter of intent to sell it to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. A letter of intent is not a contract and is non-binding. We were also told the lot was unbuildable because of a network of underground sewer lines. We now know that’s not true.

In his guest opinion, Mr. Boos asserts that the final decision to build a town office on Fremont Street and renovate the police station was based, in part, on the opinions of two architectural firms hired by the town. Those two firms, in fact, did not recommend building a new town office on Fremont Street. The initial firm, Crosby & Associates, recommended building a new town office on another lot the town owns on Boundary Lane, and building a new police station on the Fremont Street lot. The second firm was brought on to look at only the Fremont Street site for a new town office. Neither firm was directed to also take a look at the Mill Street lot.

In March of 2018, the town solicited proposals for design work on a new town office to be located either on the Fremont Street lot or the Boundary Lane lot. The Mill Street lot wasn’t even in the running. The town received bids from nine architectural firms. The bids were opened on April 13th, and the wheels were in motion.

The decision to build on Fremont Street came together rapidly over a three month period last summer, and Mr. Boos was the driving force.

Here is how it unfolded: On June 28th, at a meeting of the ad hoc committee, I raised the possibility of using the Mill Street lot. But, that notion was dismissed because, according to a memo the committee sent to the Commissioners, “the sewer plant parcel had been looked at earlier in our meetings and had been disregarded because of the letter of intent with the museum and the sewer lines that run through the property.”

At the Commissioners meeting on July 11th, Mr. Boos introduced a resolution to build a new town office on the Fremont Street lot. No one seconded the motion. I suggested the Mill Street lot would be a better choice. Commissioner Harrod agreed. Commissioner Gorman said he favored Fremont Street but could be persuaded that Mill Street might be a better choice if the numbers supported it. Commissioner Windon said she’d like to see financial comparisons. Mr. Boos then agreed, according to the minutes, that “a more in depth look at the costs associated with the Mill Street lot was appropriate.” Minutes later, he voted against doing just that. I moved that we ask the county to take a look at the sewer line issue before eliminating the Mill Street lot from consideration. The motion passed 3-1 with Commissioner Gorman recusing himself and Commissioner Boos casting the only nay vote. Mr. Gorman recused himself because he is an employee of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum which had been seeking to acquire the Mill Street lot for parking.

On July 19th, the county engineer and the town’s consulting engineer took a look at the Mill Street lot at our request. The county engineer suggested the sewer lines could easily be moved at minimal expense, and that the move could be paid for with grant money at no cost to the town. Town Manager Jean Weisman shared that information with the Commissioners in a memo, and added that she would receive final word on the county’s investigation by the second week of August.

But Mr. Boos apparently decided there was no need to wait for that report before voting. In his guest opinion Mr. Boos claimed that the commissioners were “completely aware” that the Mill Street lot could be built on before the vote for Fremont Street. How could we be completely aware before we received a professional report from the county, or anyone else?

At the commission meeting on August 8th, before the county completed its investigation, Mr. Boos again introduced a resolution to build a new town office on the Fremont Street lot. The meeting was packed with supporters of the museum, who had been encouraged to be there, urging us to choose the Fremont Street lot. Museum President Kristen Greenaway, who is not a town resident, was among those who addressed the Commission. According to the minutes, she “encouraged the Commissioners to choose the Fremont Street location for the new Town Office as the best and most logical location.”

I felt pressured at the time, and now regret that I failed to buck the momentum, and voted for the motion to build on Fremont Street. I did so with the conviction that the lot was too small to accommodate the required parking, and that it would have a prohibitive problem with storm water drainage. In my mind, those were insurmountable obstacles and I was sure the Fremont Street lot would have to be abandoned. I clearly underestimated Mr. Boos’ determination.

The town Planning Commission is currently in a year-long process of rewriting the town code to bring it up to modern standards. Instead of waiting for their final recommendations, Mr. Boos went to the Planning Commission and urged them to change the code’s parking regulations now. He was able to convince them to reduce the required number of parking spaces for municipal buildings, thereby clearing the decks for the small Fremont Street lot. At our January meeting, I and Commissioner Harrod voted against the the parking code change. The final vote was 3-2 in favor. This time Commissioner Gorman did not recuse himself.

The drainage issue at the Fremont Street site remains under investigation.

I am convinced that the course we are on now may be a costly mistake. I believe that building a joint town office/police station on the Mill Street lot could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the years ahead. And it’s certainly more economical than renovating the current police station, against the advice of the experts we’ve hired, only to be faced with replacing the building a few years down the road. Two years ago, Crosby & Associates concluded that it was not possible to expand the current police station and that renovating it would be a waste of money. Yet, here we are, planning to renovate and add on to the police station at considerable cost. Mr. Boos, in his guest opinion, stated that 90-percent of the deficiencies at the police station have been corrected. That is simply not true. As a qualified builder, I pitched in to erect new walls at the police station, but the full list of remedies has barely been scratched.

Mr. Boos claims, without offering any evidence whatsoever, that what I propose would cost upwards of $5-million. I believe that’s a grossly overinflated number. And it doesn’t take into account the economies of combining the town office and police station under a one-story roof. He states that the difference between the costs of a one-story and a two-story building are minimal. When Crosby & Associates looked at it, they concluded a two story building would cost almost $200,000 more.

There’s only one way to determine which of us is right. Let’s do what we voted to do back on July 11th; study the viability of the Mill Street lot. And this time, let’s wait until the facts are in before acting. Let’s have an independent study of the costs involved with both options. The taxpayers of St. Michaels need to know, without a doubt, that we are spending their money responsibly.

Michael Bibb
Commissioner, StMichaels

The Scientific Case for Eliminating the Electoral College by Angela Rieck

There have been five United States presidential elections where the “elected” President did not win the popular vote but was chosen by our electoral college system.

In my lifetime, this has occurred twice: the 2000 election of George W Bush and the recent 2016 election.  The former resulted in an expensive and ill-advised war that cost trillions of dollars, destabilized a significant part of the world and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries on both sides.  The 2016 election has resulted in our current contentious environment.

The other instances have not been much better. The very first presidential election was “awarded” to John Quincy Adams by the House of Representatives, despite only winning 32% of the popular vote. (Andrew Jackson won 42% of the vote, but not enough for a majority and he lacked the connections of John Quincy Adams.)

The 1876 election had disastrous consequences.  Although the Democrat candidate, Tilden, won 52% of the vote, there were 4 states where the winner was contested.  Congress worked out a compromise that awarded the election to the Republican, Hayes, under the condition that he not run for re-election and remove the federal troops from the South.  The removal of these troops resulted in African-American voter suppression and the commencement of systematic repression of the Southern black population.

In 1988 the electoral college prevented Grover Cleveland from being reelected to a second term.  Aided by Tammany Hall in NYC, Harrison was able to win the electoral college despite having 92,000 votes fewer than Cleveland.

The election of 2000 was decided by a Supreme Court which ruled that while the constitution guarantees us the right to vote, it does not guarantee the right to have our vote counted. In 2016, despite winning by 3 million votes, Clinton did not win the electoral college.

Unfortunately, this quirk in our election process results in, at best, a contentious term of office.

But more importantly, there are two statistical axioms that show that the electoral college system flies against scientific knowledge. The first statistical property is the law of large numbers.  This law means that the larger the number of (in this case) votes, the more accurate the data. By not allowing all Americans’ votes to be counted, it becomes a poor assessment of the “will of the people.”

But even more important is the statistical phenomenon known as the “wisdom of the crowd.”  Sir Francis Galton, one of the early pioneers of statistics, identified this phenomenon after gathering estimates of an ox’s weight at a county fair.  While the guesses varied widely and few were accurate, he found that the average of all guesses was within 1% of the actual weight. The larger the sample, the more likely that the average answer is correct. He called this the “wisdom of the crowd.”  We have found that this phenomenon is pretty rigorous in large samples. For example, if you have a bowl of marbles and ask a large number of people to estimate how many marbles are in the bowl, the average estimate will be within 1-2% of the actual number.

So let’s apply these statistical principles to our popular election.  In the electoral college system, we reduce the number of actual votes from 137.5 million (in 2016) to 538 (called restriction in range).  With these 538 votes, we have effectively eliminated the votes for the losing candidate in that state (and in some cases electors are allowed to vote their conscience).  This small sample (538) ignores the importance of the law of large numbers and eliminates “the wisdom of the crowd” by significantly reducing the sample size.

Winston Churchill’s famous quote: “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” individually may be true, but our statistical laws demonstrate that he is wrong when it is applied to the entire population. If we leave the election up to an unbiased crowd, its wisdom will prevail.

Angela Rieck was born and raised on a farm in Caroline County. After receiving her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland, she worked as a scientist at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Throughout her career, she held management jobs at AT&T, HP and Medco, finally retiring as a corporate executive for a large financial services company. Angela is also a wife, mother and an active volunteer serving on the Morris County School Board for 13 years and fostering and rehabilitating over 200 dogs. After the death of her husband, Dr. Rieck returned to the Eastern Shore to be with her siblings. With a daughter living and working in New York City, she and her dogs now split their time between Talbot County and Key West, FL.  

 

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