Out and About (Sort of): Thriving Assets to the Community by Howard Freedlander

So important to the fabric of Talbot County—whether environmental, cultural, human services, caring of dogs, therapeutic horse riding, helping the impoverished, aiding the dying, day care, aiding the mentally ill, assisting wounded warriors, domestic abuse counseling, providing legal assistance—-are the roughly 220 non-profits that serve the county’s 37,500 residents.

The number of nonprofits often is inflated. I’ve heard a number ranging from 250 to 500. It matters not. The services are the key.

The nonprofits survive and flourish because of volunteers–thousands and thousands of them, contributing time, talent and resources. These unsung heroes are invaluable to any community, particularly one as small as Talbot County. Over the years, I’ve worked closely, happily so, with men and women whose contributions of native ability and financial assistance are indeed impressive.

The combination of competent and committed full-time staff and equally capable and passionate volunteers yields dividends for non-profits.

My hobby in retirement has been non-profits. I can’t do woodwork or gardening or painting, or anything that resembles creative output.

I like to read but not half a day. I like to work with other people. I like to upgrade our community in a small way.

And, of course, I write this weekly column. Readers have to judge its quality. I must admit that every once in awhile this weekly contribution to community dialogue does give me a form of satisfaction akin to producing something tangible and useful.

Like maybe a piece of furniture. A literary night stand, as it were.

When I think about philanthropy—both in treasure and talent—I marvel at the accomplishments of Bob Perkins, a friend and St. Michaels resident who recently died. After a successful 35-year career as a Chrysler executive, including 11 years in Australia, Bob retired to Talbot County in the early 1990s. He duplicated his corporate success in the nonprofit world.

Bob served as a member and then chairman of the board of governors at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM). He then devoted his energy to the YMCA of the Chesapeake. where he was a board member and chair. Watching him as a fellow board member at CBMM, I admired his enthusiasm, people skills and management acuity.

He exuded a positive attitude. He did this amid serious organizational challenges, as is true in any enterprise.

Talbot County is blessed with many people like Bob Perkins. Retirement is just the beginning of a new phase of life devoted to giving back and bettering your community. The pool of talent is rich with selfless, energetic and skilled individuals. They have progressed beyond the need for accolades and promotions.

They want to leave the world a better place.

As I thought about this column, I remembered reading in college Democracy in America, written so adroitly by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French civil servant from an aristocratic family, after a nine-month visit to the United States in 1831-1832. I recalled that he focused upon the slew of associations in our thriving country devoted to a plethora of causes.                  

According to John Huebler, senior major gift officer at the Illinois Institute of Technology, “Tocqueville viewed the proliferation of associations as a unique response that was not only critical to the success of the experiment of democratic government, but also to provide for the well-being of all of its citizens in accordance with a sense of equality that was previously unknown.”

Though this uncannily perceptive observer of our country did not refer specifically to philanthropy, he described the structure that undergirds the burst of volunteerism in the United States and the subsequent financial support generated by associations.

Huebler wrote that Tocqueville “found that Americans had embraced the idea of associations with a zeal unknown to the aristocracies of France and England…associations extended democracy beyond the scope of elected offices, to the level of people who share a common interest around which they effect action for large groups of people.”

When I arrived in Talbot County in October 1976, I was amazed at the size and breadth of the YMCA on Idlewild Avenue in Easton. I saw a vibrant organization that served the needs of young and old regardless of social class. It was brimming with activity. I was impressed.

Particularly since my retirement, I have observed with pride and wonder the value brought to our community by the Talbot Hospice Foundation, Channel Marker, Habitat for Humanity, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (I’m a board member), Shore Riverkeepers, the Frederick Douglass Honor Society, Waterfowl Chesapeake, the Mid-Shore Multicultural Center, Phillips Wharf—and so many other worthy “associations.”

My apologies for the short list.

It may sound trite to say that the more than 200 non-profits in Talbot County provide the glue that keeps our community together and allows it to serve numerous interests and people. But it’s true. Abundantly so.

Were Alexis de Tocqueville to visit our community for at least a week, he would see that democracy has prospered in this special place.

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): Lying – Vice and Virtue by Howard Freedlander

In 558 days as president, as of August 1, 2018, Donald Trump has lied 4,229 times, according to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” database. The lies amount to an average of 7.6 a day.

Now, if I were being charitable, an attitude difficult to sustain during the tumultuous Trump presidency, I would use the phrase “false and misleading claims,” as the Post did. I prefer the simpler and more accurate word—lying.

Why do I feel so emboldened to call President Trump a chronic liar? Because I think he would agree. He believes in and practices on a daily basis the art of creating an alternative reality.

And he’s good at it. If you continue to repeat a falsehood over and over, as he does so very adroitly, some—as in his loyal base—will consider his bombast as the truth. That’s downright scary.

The media is the “enemy of the people.” There were two sides to the racist riots in Charlottesville, VA about a year ago in which an innocent person was killed. President Obama secretly taped conversations during Trump’s post-election transition. Russian President Vladimir Putin is a decent fellow and well worth pursuing as a chum.

His statements not only are false, they are dangerous. He doesn’t care. He’s an expert in firing up his base.

He measures his success by the intensity of his followers.

Eighty-eight times he said he engineered the biggest tax cut in U.S. history. Untrue.

His beloved, still unbuilt wall with Mexico is under construction despite lack of congressional funding. He has uttered this assertion 30 times. Untrue.

He has said more than 60 times that the United States pays as much as 90 percent of NATO costs, and that other countries have failed to live up to their obligations. He dishonestly couples our nation’s overall defense spending with our specific NATO support.

To deal with the daily onslaught of lies and instances of boorish behavior, I sought the refuge of humor to provide a perspective on lying. I certainly wouldn’t want to seem self-righteous about my disdain for falsehood as a vital ingredient in President Trump’s governing style.

So, I turned to the great humorist and philosopher, Mark Twain, and his essay entitled, “On The Decay Of The Art of Lying.” I learned, not surprisingly, that Donald Trump, our liar-in-chief, is not a very good or refined liar, according to Twain’s satirical standards.

Twain wrote, “No fact is more firmly established than that lying is a necessity of our circumstances—the deduction that it is then a Virtue goes without saying. No virtue can reach its highest usefulness without careful and diligent cultivation—therefore it goes without saying that this one ought to be taught in the public schools—even the newspapers.”

After noting his inability as an “ignorant uncultivated liar against the cultivated expert,” such as a lawyer, Twain opined, “I sometimes think it were even better and safer not to lie at all than to lie injudiciously. An awkward, unscientific lie is often as ineffectual as the truth.”

As he dwelled on the glorious art of lying, Mark Twain, ever so skillful in his use of words and humor to scour the human condition, said, “I think that all this courteous lying (as in falsely and politely saying that you are glad to see someone), is a sweet and loving art, and should be cultivated. The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying.”

As I move my attention, leavened by humor, back to our lying-infested, morally bankrupt president, I must quote once more from Twain, “The man who speaks an injurious truth lest his soul be not saved if he do otherwise, should reflect that that sort of a soul is not worth saving. The man who tells a lie to help a poor devil out of trouble is one of whom the angels doubtless say, ‘Lo, here is an heroic soul who casts his own welfare in jeopardy to succor his neighbor’s; let us exalt this magnanimous liar.’

Mr. Trump is not a very good liar, despite his years of experience. His lies are based upon a poor, uninformed command of information. He lies simply for his benefit, not for the sake of others.

We Americans must accept that our president is a congenital liar, or should I say a purveyor of “false or misleading claims?”

After 18 months imprisoned in the purgatory of a Trump presidency, we should be inured to the daily storm of incredulous comments. Perhaps we should pity a person who cannot meet Mark Twain’s standards of useful, selfless lying.

Maybe we should laugh a little more. Maybe we should realize that truth is not part of the Trump brand.

Mark Twain should have the last word in my commentary about lying:

“Joking aside, I think there is much need of wise examination into what sorts of lies are best and wholesomest to be indulged, seeming we must all lie, and what sorts it may best avoid—and this is a thing which I feel I can confidently put into the hands of this experienced Club—a ripe body, who may be termed, in this regard, and without undue flattery, Old Masters.”

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): Tribute; Ridiculous Meddling by Howard Freedlander

The death of Sylvia Gannon, a tremendously capable community leader, on Tuesday, July 24, 2018 leaves a real void in Talbot County.

I first met Sylvia in October 1976 when I began working as a reporter at “The Star Democrat.” She was the advertising director. She became a fast friend.

Sylvia, a county native and wife of a successful farmer, was always friendly, gracious, forthright, genuine and savvy. She seemed to have an innate sense of human nature.

She was dedicated to the betterment of Talbot County, particularly its business community. She was at heart an entrepreneur. She was a doer who knew what connections to make to produce results.

My lasting memory of Sylvia was the time when she was the main speaker at the Queen Anne’s County Farm Bureau dinner. She told a joke that probably lasted 10 minutes, (maybe it was five) with more twists, turns and tangled wording—all the while, she held the audience’s rapt attention and left it laughing. She seemed awfully comfortable among her kindred farm families.

Like many others, I will miss seeing her around Easton and engaging in brief but sincere conversation. She never shunned offering a warm greeting and inquiry about your family.

Sylvia Gannon was a shining light in Talbot County. She has left a wonderfully humane legacy.

Trump’s Tariff Mess

As I followed last week the effect of the president’s ill-advised tariff war, specifically its impact on the country’s farmers, I became concerned about the consequences on the Mid-Shore. Trump’s politically shrewd decision to offer $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by China’s reciprocal tariffs on soybeans, pork, sugar, orange juice, cherries and other products did not ally my fears about economic injury to farmers.

Trump created a crisis, as he normally does. Then, in response to Republican congressmen representing red states and fearing backlash from agricultural voters in the upcoming mid-term elections, he rode to his own rescue, so he thought, by announcing the $12 billion package.

Republican legislators immediately labelled the program as welfare.

As I read in the Washington Post, “It is unusual for the government to extend financial bailouts to U.S. farmers on the basis of trade-related circumstances precipitated by the White House.”

I spoke to a longtime farm businessman on the Shore. He used words like “crazy,’ insane” and “frivolous” to describe the impact of China’s tit-for-tat tariffs in response to Trump’s initiation of a trade war with China, the European Union and other countries.

This businessman explained that local farmers, as well as those across the nation, have developed long-term relationships with countries in the Far East. For years, farmers have participated in “check-offs,” whereby funds are used to market Eastern Shore products throughout the world.

He characterized the tariffs as “insulting,” oblivious to the reality of deals made one or two years out for the sale of soybeans, for example. He further criticized Trump’s actions as “not sophisticated, condescending and unhelpful.”

Soybean prices have dropped 18 percent since the silly trade war began.

Like many in the farm community, this businessman decried the $12 billion bailout as something that would alienate farmers from fellow citizens who see the aid as a corporate handout, though unwanted.

During my immersion last week into the plight of the farmers, I listened on NPR to a Wisconsin dairy and soybean farmer react to questions on July 26 about the tariffs on farm products and Trump’s election-year gift to constituents who generally supported him in 2016.
Brad Kremer, of Pittsville, Wis., said, “And, you know, with the tariffs that have just hit, we’ve lost $2 a bushel in the last 30 days. So our farm, we generally produce about 30,000 bushels of beans a year, somewhere in that neighborhood. So that’s a legitimate hit on our bottom line of about $60,000 on our personal farm (roughly 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat).

“And that’s a significant blow to a mid-sized farm. And you know, these are real numbers that are affecting family farms.”

Asked his opinion of the $12 billion in aid to farmers, Kremer said, while acknowledging China’s abuse of the World Trade Organization, “We’d still like to see, in my personal opinion and I think most farmers I’ve talked to, at least here in Wisconsin, we want trade, not aid.”

Uncertainty is the bane of a businessperson’s existence. Trump’s governing by constant chaos, as epitomized by the tariffs, affects multiple sectors of the American economy.

A $12 billion gift, though politically adroit, is insulting, as the Mid-Shore agricultural businessman said.

Butt out, not bail out, Mr. President.

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): Rep. Harris Disbelieves the Obvious by Howard Freedlander

Our 1st District Congressman, Andy Harris, speaking last week at an event called “Conversations with Conservatives,” questioned why the American people and the media were focusing on the Trump-Putin news conference and ignoring a ‘successful summit.’

He further criticized the “mainstream media” for its unfriendly attitude toward President Donald Trump. He also was the last member of the Maryland congressional delegation to sign a letter seeking Trump’s approval of awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the late Capital Gazette reporter, Wendi Winters, for sacrificing her life to save her co-workers during a newsroom shooting on June 28, 2018. She rushed the crazed gunman with a trash can and recycling bin before she was gunned down, according to eyewitnesses.

Harris watched the news conference, as did conservatives and liberals alike. He was among few thinking people who chose to ignore the president’s capitulation to the Russian president’s criticism of U.S. intelligence findings about Russian manipulation of the 2016 election.

He said it was important to examine only the summit. That’s difficult to do since Trump hasn’t revealed any details of the one-on-one with Putin. Instead, the Russians are controlling the spin. And that’s downright frightening.

It wasn’t the “mainstream media” that organized the disastrous news conference. It wasn’t the media which placed words in Trump’s misguided mouth that only an observer who was deaf and dumb could interpret as anything other than they were: an attack on the nation’s intelligence community.

As written in a July 18 Baltimore Sun editorial, “But that news conference wasn’t some contrivance of the press. No one caught President Trump in an off-guard moment. It was an orchestrated event designed to place Messrs. Trump and Putin together on the world stage.”

“And it wasn’t filtered through the viewpoint of a reporter or misleadingly spliced together by a video editor. It was broadcast live internationally, and the entire world could see and hear exactly what President Trump said.”

Rep. Harris said, ‘I disregard and discount anything that involves the mainstream media press.’

Mr. Harris chose to ignore reality.

While I am unsurprised that Harris and his conservative compatriots condemn the media, I am dismayed that he was the last member of the congressional delegation to urge the president to honor posthumously a hero. He apparently wanted to study the facts and the letter signed by the nine other delegation members.

What was there to review? Why was it necessary to hesitate in the face of constant coverage of the horrible killing of five Capital Gazette employees?

Was Wendi Winters less heroic by being part of the hated mainstream media?

Harris’ support is vital to the success of the award request. Trump views him as a loyal soldier. The other nine members of the delegation are Democrats.

Rep. Harris has always been an enigma to me. Perhaps that’s because I compare him to a predecessor, former Congressman Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate Republican well respected for his integrity, commitment to the 1st District and his political independence. I always felt confident that Gilchrest fought for the Eastern Shore regardless of consequences.

Harris seems driven more by his political leanings than his support of Shore matters. I have not gleaned, for example, a passionate commitment to resolution of the economic travail being experienced by crab-picking operations.in Dorchester County. Lack of visas for foreign workers has hit businesses hard. Yet, last week, when Gov. Larry Hogan met with seafood entrepreneurs about the lack of workers and consequent economic distress, he pledged to do something.

It’s much easier to have faith in Gov. Hogan than Rep. Harris.

I hope that Andy Harris will come to share distrust of the motives of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as do some of his fellow Republicans. I hope he understands the difference between live and edited coverage of the world’s two primary leaders. I hope he fully appreciates Wendi Winters’ actions in the face of a relentless shooter.

I am proud to be a member of the “downstream media.”

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): Alice in Wonderland by Howard Freedlander

Suppose, just suppose, that a political strategy focused solely on civility. If you’re not mean to me, I won’t be mean to me. If you don’t throw darts, I won’t throw them. We’ll simply stress policy differences grounded in fact and record, not distortion and innuendo.

No sooner did the gubernatorial primary elections conclude on June 26, 2018, than Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic challenger Ben Jealous went for the jugular. Of course, they did. They needed to appeal immediately to their base supporters and raise money and interest.

They needed to set their marks: I will attack and set the agenda; I will define you.  That’s how the game is played. No time for niceties.

So, back to fantasyland.

Through some unexpected and unworldly stroke of reconciliation, Hogan and Jealous would tell us their top priorities, and how they would accomplish them. No mud-slinging. Just wonkish details and rationale.

Sounds boring, doesn’t it? Are you (this optimistic writer) crazy, living in a world inhabited by goody two-shoes people who don’t understand that politics is a contact sport fought by people who understand that magnanimity belongs in church or a book group, not in electoral combat?

More and more I hear people say they no longer read the paper or watch the TV news regularly. They say they are tired of strife and dissidence. They want a break from unsettling, upsetting news. They prefer reading a book.

Or doing anything to ignore the onslaught of infuriating information.

Allow me to admit a tinge of hypocrisy. I sometimes have found myself subconsciously urging a politician to take off the gloves and verbally pummel his or her opponent. That usually unspoken advice has nothing to do with civility, a concept I constantly espouse. It has no connection to the better angels I applauded in a past column. It’s just a guttural feeling. I don’t feel proud of this periodic outbreak of antagonistic thoughts.

My tack this time is different. I’m suggesting that a candidate “out-nice” an opponent. I suggest engaging in no personal attack. I suggest occupying the proverbial high ground and avoid sinking into the depths of dishing dirt and damnation.

It’s possible the heat has affected my thinking. It’s possible the murder of five journalists at the Annapolis Capital Gazette has softened my soul; another mass shooting and pervasive community grief have caused me to think about the emptiness of political combat. It’s possible that a visit to the Talbot County Fair, briefly watching the goat judging, prompted me to value simplicity.

Reality sets in quickly. Discord and condemnation underscore the political process. It’s always been true. Competition breeds contempt.

The public, while fatigued by non-stop partisanship and bickering, subliminally enjoy the rancor and recrimination. Gladiators thrill the masses.

Civility is tough to achieve. Tougher to sustain. It’s easier to choose our camp, our corner in the ring, and then continue to swing away. Our side will be victorious. Concession and conciliation are for the weak. The fight goes on.

I’ll keep hoping for compromise and civil discourse. I’ll try to control my contradictory impulse to win at any cost. It’s not worth it.

I welcome your comments. I suspect a pervasive response will be: “You must be deranged, driven by fantasy and foolishness.”

That reaction would be understandable.

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): Journalism Jolted by Howard Freedlander

I can’t stop thinking about the murder of five journalists nearly two weeks ago at The Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis. I’ve read numerous articles about the shooting spree in the newsroom and the deranged and angry suspect. I’ve read each of the obituaries.

The mass shooting, almost commonplace in our violent country, touched me not merely because of its geographical proximity but because of its closeness to my life as a former journalist.

I was a community editor in Caroline and Queen Anne’s County. I never enjoyed a profession more. Unfortunately, the pay was terrible. The business model propagated the stepping-stone culture, implicitly accepting the premise that the product could only be so good. Content would be secondary to profit—when the latter might increase with consistently high-quality journalism.

I moved on for the sake of my family.

The journalists at The Capital, Gazette, along with other small-town and small-city newspapers, are underpaid and overworked. They accept that reality. They love their work and their communities. They believe they are performing a public service by aiding and abetting democracy.

Uh-oh. How does democracy insert itself in a discourse about journalism? Without pesky, incurably curious and sometimes cranky journalists, print or electronic, our government, for example, might function in a sloppy or corrupt manner without any oversight or accountability.

Our media keeps us honest. We can be our better selves. We can allow ethics, not greed, to guide us. We can avoid damaging headlines and investigative stories.

More than 35 years ago, I heard the famed CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite speak at a conference in Nassau organized by the owners of then Chesapeake Publishing. An owner of a small New England newspaper, he opined that community papers provided the glue that kept counties like Talbot, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Dorchester and their towns and villages together and compassionate.

He told the story about a pharmacist in Manhattan who died. No one knew, because the New York Times certainly wouldn’t cover the death of a small merchant. A community paper didn’t exist. What was Cronkite’s point? If people know about the good and bad things that affect their neighbors, then they naturally can offer human support and empathy.

Community cohesion results.

Large media outlets cannot cover local stories—or the pharmacist’s death—while focusing on larger matters. Too bad—bigger stories lie in waiting.

The Capital Gazette tragedy has afflicted the Annapolis community with grief and unleashed a reservoir of support. The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County, working with a family and the Baltimore Sun Media Group, immediately responded by raising money for the Capital Gazette Memorial Scholarship Fund for select journalism students at the University of Maryland, College Park.

My youngest daughter knew and liked one of the five, the community correspondent, a woman, Wendi Winters, who loved covering and supporting local news, like her Teen of the Week column. An eyewitness to the rampage watched as Winters tried to distract the gunman by rushing him with a trash can and recycling bin. Before she was shot.

So, a lone assailant, bitterly outraged by an article written in 2011 about his conviction for harassment of a woman, attacked the newspaper, which simply performed its mission to inform. For me, he assaulted an invaluable instrument of democracy. He silenced the voices of five innocent victims.

However, he missed the mark; the newspaper published that day and every day since.

As it should. As it must.

When I read The Star Democrat, as I do daily, I might grumble about its thin content. But I appreciate its value as a community resource. Like everyone, I read the government news, reports of fires and accidents, births and deaths, academic and athletic achievements and, of course, I look at all the pictures of civic participants. I think about Walter Cronkite’s sage comments and feel thankful to be served by a community newspaper long devoted to local coverage.

Our local journalists deserve our gratitude. They serve all of us despite poor pay and long hours. Though they likely will move on to better-paying jobs, I believe they give as much as they get in experience.

Mass shootings have an impact that diminishes but doesn’t kill the spirit. Nor should our commitment to journalism as a critical tent of American democracy weaken or atrophy.

We’re protected by freedom of the press. Every day.

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) Fractious Fourth Howard Freedlander

Tomorrow is viewed as our nation’s official birthday, its 232nd. Not very old in a world filled with thousands-old countries.

For some reason, I always think fondly about Ben Franklin at this time. Friends wouldn’t be surprised. After all, this renowned and respected founder and Declaration of Independence signer founded my alma mater. I’m clearly biased about his stature in our short history.

Ben Franklin

 

I just finished reading a book, The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin’s House, about Ben’s tortuous relationship with his son, William. The latter, the British governor of New Jersey, decided to retain his allegiance to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. This decision ruined his relationship with his father, naturally enough. The elder father could not persuade his son to side with the patriots.

Due to his resolute devotion to King George III, William was removed from the governor’s house and imprisoned in a Connecticut prison. He suffered dearly in solitary confinement. When released, he continued to sabotage the patriots’ cause by directing guerilla raids against the Continental Army.

This horrible rift between a father and a son interested me. While I knew our American Civil War in the mid-19th century irreparably split families and friends, I never thought about equally damaging fissures during the war between the Colonies and its British overlords. The Franklin imbroglio illustrated the divided loyalties as the patriots sought control of their own destiny. Those loyal to the Mother Country felt passionate too about their emotional, political and commercial ties to the United Kingdom.

William Franklin

Ben Franklin was a great man. His achievements in the civic, academic, scientific and political worlds are legendary. His brain was first-class. His writing was shrewd and coy. His diplomatic skills in the last part of his life were critical to our nation before and during the Revolutionary War. He had many friends and admirers in England and France—and his share of enemies in the former.

When William sought reconciliation with his father after the war, the elder rebuffed him. He could not accept what he perceived as his son’s disloyalty to him.

Many families split over money and perceived slights. Gentle Ben could not forgive his son for what he considered misplaced fealty.

When this giant of a statesman died, he left nothing to William, except his wrath. While understanding that political passions run deep, particularly when the Colonies so strongly resented British repression, I thought that Ben Franklin could have opted for compassion for his son.

It was not to be. The familial ties had frayed beyond repair.

As we well know, our national leaders are flawed human beings. Sometimes their families suffer from their overriding ambition and vanity. They bear grudges that they are hard-pressed to toss away.

July Fourth still thrills me. Due in no part to the fireworks, I cherish our time to celebrate the birth of a young, vibrant and resilient nation whose current leadership is abysmal but changeable, hopefully, in two years. Though I’m not sure we’ve endured a more amoral White House occupant, our founders created a country that can withstand seriously defective leaders.

Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington set a standard for excellence and selfless service.

The contrast is never greater than today.

I love this country. We will celebrate a glorious occasion tomorrow. We are a better, more humane country than represented so poorly by Mr. Trump.

I continue to be an optimist. Our fractious country, led by a divider, not a unifier, is better and more decent than what emanates from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We respect human dignity.

As a sad postscript to this column, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the families of the five journalists killed last Thursday at the office of the Annapolis Capital newspaper. My youngest daughter knew one of the five. The crazed gunman continues to live. He caused irreparable personal damage and community hurt.

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): The Patient is Recovering by Howard Freedlander

News continues to be encouraging about the Chesapeake Bay, with one minor blip recently. Yes, the patient is recovering, its arteries are less clogged, and its breathing has improved through increased submerged aquatic vegetation.

As a sign of better health, dolphins are returning in notable numbers. Sightings are running in the 400-500s. According to a Baltimore Sun article written by Scott Dance in mid-May, “Now researchers are exploring whether more dolphins are swimming up the bay, possibly invited by clearer water, abundant submerged greases and rebounding fisheries.”

This same article stated that bottlenose dolphins, “popular for their perceived humanlike intelligence and personalities, are common throughout the world’s oceans and in many estuaries.” Apparently, about 11,000 of these personable dolphins travel along the Atlantic coast from the Carolinas to Long Island.

As I wrote the previous few sentences, I was smiling. I never would have thought that evidence of more dolphins in the Chesapeake Bay would indicate a healthier Bay. They follow the food, which is now more abundant in our favorite estuary. I trust they are not eating blue crabs.

Another good sign that I wrote about in recent months is that human users and observers of the Bay, such as watermen and scientists, have established a consensus-driven process to get along and improve the oyster population by agreeing on the management of the iconic oysters. These bivalves represent the health and soul of the Chesapeake Bay and seem to rule the public perception of the health of the country’s largest estuary.

One might say that the health of human dialogue about oysters and its economic value has improved markedly. We have to be pleased that the future of oysters is not a subject of discussion in the halls of Congress.

The prognosis for this still ailing patient is favorable. Continued improvement and scrutiny of the resilient but fragile patient remain a chronic priority.

I am not ignoring the news of the increased growth of dead zones. Not good news—how encouraging could it be with the word “dead?” However, it appears as if Mother Nature, ever so unpredictable, is responsible for washing increased nitrogen into the Bay from the Susquehanna River. Blame it on Pennsylvania?

Not to put a damper on the good news emanating from the increased health of the Bay, I remain angry that the uncertain visa program has doomed the crab-picking business of three Hoppers Island crab processing plants. I wrote about this issue in May, disappointed that Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Andy Harris have failed to follow in Sen. Mikukski’s feisty footsteps in ensuring that sufficient visas were available to draw a number of Mexican crab-pickers necessary to keep all the crab-picking operations in business.

Rep.Harris got involved, so I’ve read, but the result was piecemeal. A visa lottery aimed to help landscapers and other businesses throughout the country, assisted one of four struggling plants in Dorchester County. This is shameful.

If this is a workforce development dilemma, I wonder about the dearth of creative solutions. For example, crab processing owners have said repeatedly that Americans do not want to pick crabmeat, a tedious undertaking. While I don’t question this assertion, I wonder why bright minds have not developed incentives to draw local workers.

The summer is upon us. Our bay continues to get better; there seems to be no retrogression, except for the weather-caused “dead zones.” The emergency seems to be less urgent. Life support is no longer necessary. But laser-like attention is still necessary.

Complacency would be injurious to the health of the Bay and the happiness of the region’s residents.

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): Coming Together by Howard Freedlander

Some building dedications are better than others. Some political speeches resonate more than others. Sometimes, self-congratulation can seem endless.

None of these happened when Temple B’Nai Israel celebrated the public opening of its new home on Easton Parkway on Sunday, June 10. Temple and community members gathered for an occasion that marked a milestone in the 67-year history of this synagogue, the only one on the Mid-Shore area.

Walking the Torah’s into the new building. Photo by Alan Mickelson

No longer would this growing congregation of more than 200 have to endure cramped space at its former location hidden behind the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center on Washington Street in Easton. At its new location at 7199 Tristan Drive, facing Easton Parkway, Temple B’Nai Israel is visible to all passersby—so is the Jewish experience, as represented by a place and its congregants.

On a Sunday afternoon threatened by an onslaught of rain, my wife and I attended a ceremony that was immensely joyous and meaningful. The constant theme voiced by Maryland’s two United States senators was one that stressed the importance of coming together.

Behavior reflecting a willingness to listen to others with polar-opposite viewpoints is a rarity in our current state of affairs, as the senators said.

Senator Cardin (Photo by Alan Mickelson)

After humorously alluding to the not-so-uncommon difficulty encountered by churches and synagogues in agreeing on a course of action, Sen. Ben Cardin commended the Temple B’Nai Israel leaders, including its rabbi, Peter Hyman, for uniting in its goal to build a new synagogue. Its membership raised $6 million to build an airy and comfortable building comprising 9,500 square feet.

As Sen. Cardin said, undertaking a major capital project can entail political maneuvering fiercer than political combat in Annapolis and Washington, Judging from the laugher that greeted Cardin when he related his own personal experience at a synagogue in Baltimore, I gathered that temple members did not disagree.

After providing humor and congratulations, Cardin apologized for imposing a “damper” on the festive event, proceeding to discuss troubling events in our country and the world regarding anti-Semitism, profiling of African-Americans and bias toward immigrants and Muslims.

I’ve rarely seen Ben Cardin so passionate. As chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission on Racism and Intolerance, he spoke from intimate knowledge and personal revulsion.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (photo by Alan Mickelson)

As Sen. Chris Van Hollen spoke too of divisiveness and polarization in our America, he pointed to the construction and dedication of the synagogue as a worthy example of coming together and overcoming differences. He spoke about the overwhelming need for unity and mission focus.

Following the two U.S. senators, Talbot County Councilman Corey Pack eloquently and powerfully called for unity of action, not just words spoken from a pulpit. Pack further stressed the underlying theme of social justice. He understood the importance of Temple B’Nai Israel in Talbot County and the surrounding area.

As I’ve learned over the years, a building dedication implicitly solicits community acceptance, a recognition that bricks and mortar offer a space for good work and outreach to the community.

Talbot County Council Member Corey Pack (photo by Alan Mickelson )

A new building, particularly a house of worship, is not a cocoon. It’s not meant to separate but congregate. It gives a like group of people place to gather; it also, ideally, offers space for disparate members of the community to feel welcome and prized.

Of course, I could feel a pervasive pride at the dedication of Temple B’Nai Israel. As Rabbi Hyman profusely and carefully thanked numerous people for their contributions to the synagogue before, during and after its construction, I had the distinct feeling that he was determined to recognize every member of the temple for his or her work, energy and dollars—because he understood that a family requires constant cultivation. He also paid homage to the builder, architect and, yes, the caterer.

Aware of the trials and tribulations that have bedeviled Jews over its difficult history, I marvel at the resilience of a people who endured the horror of the Holocaust 80 years. The Torah scrolls enshrined at Temple B’Nai Israel chronicle the tortured history and thriving culture of the Jews thousands of years ago. They project continuity, even amid distress.

Founded in 1951, with a foothold in the 21st century, this temple faces a future filled with promise and opportunity. The public dedication on June 10 provided a kick-off witnessed and applauded by the congregation and community.

The Jewish tradition continues. Inclusiveness marked the dedication.

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): What’s Behind The Wall? By Howard Freedlander

As I viewed the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall a week ago on the grounds of VFW Post 5118 in Easton, I looked at the 58,000 names of men and women killed in Southeast Asia and starkly envisioned in the black background of the haunting tribute the turbulent 1960s.

I spent the rest of the week trying to make sense of a violent decade marked by war abroad and civil upheaval at home.

Allow me to share my thoughts. They might echo yours. They might rankle.

Like others born at the end of World War II, I spent my adolescence and young adulthood in the 1960s. While coping with my own growing pains and angst, I felt buffeted by catastrophic events. The decade was historic for its tragedies, its divisiveness caused by the Vietnam War, fractious race relations, the impact of feminism and a revulsion by some toward academic institutions and the government.

To this day, I cannot understand what begat the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. I wondered then if there were some unconscionable and undetected strain in American culture that led to the extermination of excellence.

I understand that many may disagree with my imposition of “excellence” on these three gentlemen. I stand by my opinion. They were remarkable.

As I traveled through life, I’ve certainly perceived an underlying resentment toward high-achievers, people whose skills and intelligence supersede the attributes of the rest of us. But this is fueled by jealousy. It doesn’t normally engender violence, just disdain.

Back to the wall, so dramatic in its somberness.

My first reaction was one that engulfed me despite my best effort to avoid it: was the Vietnam War worth the loss of 58,000 lives and thousands who were maimed physically and mentally? This nagging question is not intended to besmirch the bravery and patriotism of our troops.

The war, like the decade, was complex. It was meant to contain the spread of communism in Asia. That was a noble objective that placed us in the middle of a civil war between North and South Vietnam. As documented, our political and military leaders lied to American citizens about the inability of the world’s greatest power to change the political equation in Vietnam. As time went on, despite hard-fought victories, we lost mightily on the field of public opinion.

As our troops fought courageously in the jungles and rice paddies of a divided South East Asian nation, back home the nation was engaged in protests staged against the war in cities and major universities. We were a nation at war with itself. While conversation and actions were harsh and disruptive, women, for one, made strides in the business, political and academic worlds.

As I strolled along the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall, I saw what is commonplace at the actual memorial in Washington, DC: flowers and a note left by a veteran in memory of the loss of five fellow soldiers. That’s symbolic of the compassion and healing power of this unusual and poignant tribute to the dead.

Whatever passions were stirred by an immensely unpopular war, the Memorial Wall offers a quiet, contemplative place to pay homage to our nation’s fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guard members. It even summons forgiveness on the part of those who mistreated our returning veterans.

Our country’s history comprises many historic decades. Our own lives pass through phases, variously pleasant and unsettling. Last week’s 50th anniversary of the death by gunfire of Robert F. Kennedy at a hotel in Los Angeles, following a campaign victory speech during his quest for the Democratic nomination for president, drew me back to my adolescence and young adulthood in the sizzling 60s.

I recall I was just beginning to like Bobby Kennedy. In contrast to his brother, the president, he seemed so strident and pugnacious. I learned that in many ways he was more passionate and sensitive than his charmingly smooth older brother.

I thought maybe another Kennedy could have become president. It was not to be.

Just two months prior to the killing of Bobby Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a giant among civil rights leaders, was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee. He led the rocky and risky crusade for racial equality, fighting forces of discrimination that still exist.

Dr. King’s “I have dream speech” was an unforgettable call for national unity. He strove ceaselessly for racial equality. He awakened the national consciousness. Yet, equality remained elusive. He died pursuing his dream.

When Robert Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968, dying the following day, I was a young reporter at a community newspaper in Ellicott City in Howard County. Still shaken by the murder of the Rev. King, I was dumbfounded and shocked by the assassination, only two months later, of Sen. Kennedy. I immediately wrote an editorial and submitted it to the editor. He rejected it for reasons I cannot recall. He likely considered it too emotional.

So, here I am 50 years later, writing that editorial. This one is probably more reasoned and mature. After all, what does a new reporter just out of college know about depth?

Viewing the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall transported me back to a difficult and disruptive decade.

The journey was well worth 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.