Quiet, Please! by J.E. Dean

At 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning my wife brewed coffee and suggested we enjoy it on our porch looking onto Island Creek.  It was a beautiful morning. The birds were chirping and the gentle breeze could be heard from the trees. Then, across the creek, a leaf blower was fired up.  For the next half hour—until we finally gave up trying to enjoy the morning—some sort of yard clean-up was executed.

Unfortunately, our disrupted Saturday coffee was not a rare occurrence.  In season, from late March until early November, the sound of lawn tractors, chain saws, hedge trimmers, and, worst of all, leaf blowers can be heard, usually from the crack of dawn until shortly after sunset. The noise produced is, some tell me, unavoidable. The alternative, some claim, is foot-high grass, uncontrollable weeds, and “jungle.”  

Are these claims right?  I don’t think so. Lawn and garden maintenance doesn’t have to mean deafening and/or irritating noise. Could there be alternatives that might make our community more pleasant, more livable, and more attractive?  The answer is yes.

Did you know that Washington, D.C. has banned gas-powered leaf blowers, effective January 1, 2022?  There are more than 100 communities that have already banned leaf blowers, including cities in Florida, California, Texas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and others.  Some entire countries in Europe have also banned them. Why shouldn’t we join this movement?

In addition to the simple pleasure of quiet, there are other more compelling, economic and health reasons for banning  leaf blowers and exploring alternatives to the whole array of hyper-polluting, noisy lawn tools. First, is the impact of the devices on our hearing. The Center for Disease Control estimates that leaf blowers produce at least 90 decibels of noise. This can cause permanent hearing loss with only two hours of exposure. Second, is pollution.   A two-stroke commercial leaf blower produces more pollution than a Ford F-150 pick-up truck driven more 3,800 miles. Third is cancer. The EPA has suggested that the emissions from gas-powered lawn tools are carcinogenic.

The time is now for governments at all levels to start crafting relief from the racket and poison produced by these devices. The following are a few starting points:

Local governments should purchase and use battery-powered, quiet lawn tools.

Dates should be set for a blanket ban on offending machines—the date can be set far enough in the future to permit the existing equipment used by contractors and homeowners to wear out.

Restrictions should be placed on the hours noise and pollution producing machines can be used.  Any mowing and leaf blowing before, say, 8:00 a.m. and after 7 p.m. should be banned. And why not consider freeing up one day altogether from noise—Sunday?

Access to information about “approved devices” should be posted widely as a means of encouraging all of us to convert to cleaner, quieter and healthier machines as soon as possible.

The eastern shore is already a great place to live. Why not make it better?    

I welcome readers’ reactions to these proposals—both agreement and disagreement. I hope you will leave a comment and share your views.  Thanks and here’s to a quiet and peaceful morning.

J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.


Save the Preakness by Steve Parks

It’s been 35 years since the Colts were stolen from Baltimore in the dark of night. Now, a new interloper seeks to steal another franchise from Baltimore.

The Preakness Stakes, middle jewel of horse racing’s fabled Triple Crown, has run at Pimlico Race Course in northwest Baltimore since 1873. That’s 146 years of Preakness tradition, nestled between the Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s Churchill Downs and Belmont Park on Long Island. A feuding Canadian family—father and daughter are suing each other—controls the Stronach Group, racetrack owners who have systematically starved Pimlico of basic infrastructure upkeep, never mind improvements, in 15 years of lame stewardship. The facilities at Pimlico are so dilapidated that 6,700 grandstand seats were deemed unsafe for the biggest day in horse-racing this Saturday. Meanwhile, both Country House, the Kentucky Derby winner, and Maximum Security, the disqualified first horse across the finish line, are skipping the Preakness.

Stronach has scrimped on Pimlico from the outset of its 2004 acquisition of Old Hilltop. There are now just 12 days of Pimlico racing. In the last five years, Stronach spent nearly 90 percent of the state’s Racetrack Facilities Program funds—$22.5 million—which the company is required by law to match. Of that $45 million, only $6 million went to Pimlico (Wi-Fi, air-conditioning). The rest—$39 million—benefitted Laurel Park and nearby Bowie stables. The Stronachs’ goal is to create a “super track.”

That goal apparently includes moving the Preakness to Laurel, making it the new home of this premier international event. Stronach is attempting an end run around state law mandating that the Preakness stay in Baltimore except in emergencies. Stronach created said emergency by forcing Pimlico into disrepair to the point of condemnation. It happened on the Stronach watch. Their excuse? Who knew that wind, rain, snow, ice and sun can cause structures to require, say, a coat of paint or repairs over a decade and a half.

The Preakness predates the most celebrated of Triple Crown races. Two years before the Kentucky Derby hosted its first run for the roses, Pimlico debuted the Preakness Stakes for 3-year-olds. It was named for the colt Preakness, winner of the first Dinner Party Stakes, long since discontinued. The Belmont, final leg of the Triple Crown, was the first to launch—1867.

Baltimore’s legislative delegation and its former mayor, Catherine Pugh, turned up the heat on the Stronach Group. But their efforts may be way too little, far too late.

“Allowing a wealthy family from another country to use Maryland tax money for a racetrack to anchor the development of their 300-acre property in Laurel would be a travesty,” Pugh wrote in a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, Senate Majority President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch.

Beyond a travesty, if the Stronachs get away with destroying Pimlico through neglect, losing the Preakness would be still another Baltimore tragedy. It took 13 years before the city landed an NFL franchise to replace the Colts. There are no more Triple Crown gems to be had if Stronach “jewel” thieves succeed in stealing the Preakness.

The Maryland Stadium Authority, along with Baltimore lawmakers, recommend a multifaceted Pimlico renewal—a rebuilt racetrack (Oriole Park at Camden Yards for inspiration?), plus entertainment, shopping and residential add-ons—at an estimated cost of $400 million. Since 2010, Maryland’s horse-racing industry—breeders, harness racing as well as track owners—has received $415 million in state gambling proceeds. Investment in a Baltimore treasure is a bargain compared with the cost of disinvestment. Think of cultivating a tax base, non-existent in distressed neighborhoods. Think of slashing murder rates.

While Pugh stood up for Baltimore and its iconic racetrack, she’s now mayor emerit-less, having trashed her credibility. More tragically, Speaker Busch died just before the end of the 2019 legislative session, while Miller is undergoing cancer treatment. Notwithstanding those misfortunes, the city may gain some clout in the 2020 General Assembly through the unanimous election of Adrienne Jones of the 10th District, which borders Baltimore to its southwest. Dereck Davis, an early speakership frontrunner, is from Prince George’s, which would have given the suburban D.C. county a Maryland leadership trifecta. Both Miller and Hogan have political roots there. Laurel is in northeast Prince George’s.

Hogan spurned Baltimore in his first term. He nixed the Red Line light-rail project connecting job opportunities downtown and points east to West Baltimore, where 2015 riots followed the death of Freddie Gray. He also blocked renewal of the State Center hub in West Baltimore.

The governor could atone for snubbing Maryland’s urban core—its financial, cultural, medical and, yes, sports hub—by saving the Preakness for Baltimore with a visionary redevelopment of Pimlico.

(BTW: I’ve boycotted Mayflower ever since they moved the Colts.)

Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.


Democrats: Are Any of You Not Running for President? By J.E. Dean

There are now 21 Democrats running for President, not counting more than 220 other people you never heard of.   The 21 “major candidates,” and no doubt dozens of the rest, presumably believe they are the most qualified to do so.  Why else run? And it is their right to run, but to what end? Have each of the 21 asked themselves if they are better qualified than their competitors to run for the highest office in the land? Have they asked themselves if they have the best chance of defeating Trump?  Given that each of the 21 has decided to run, and ignoring the possibility that they may be seeking some other benefit, such as national name recognition or a future job in someone else’s administration, we must assume that each of them believes that he or she is “the one.”

The word delusional comes to mind with this assumption when we look at some of the candidates. Think Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, Tim Ryan, Jay Inslee, Eric Swalwell, or John Hickenlooper.  There’s nothing wrong with these candidates, but really! Do they see themselves as offering something better and substantially different than Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Kristen Gillibrand?

Actually, you can answer the question, “Yes.” These candidates, and others, have various credentials justifying their reasons for running, some more cogent than others. Common themes include promoting the under-represented, restoring ethics and civility to Washington (good luck!), and breaking through various glass ceilings or doors. Several see their candidacies as “historic” and hope to repeat the excitement surrounding the election of Barack Obama in 2008.  Some also see their special qualification in the form of being able to stand up to Donald Trump in what is likely to be a very nasty general election. Joe Biden, for example, seems unflappable and likely to give Trump more of a fight than did Hillary or the dozen plus Republicans who ran against him in 2016.

So, what should the 21 Democrats and a few others believed to be still waiting in the wings do? And what should a few others, such as former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, do?  For the first group, each should do a serious self-examination and decide whether their candidacy helps or hurts the goal of changing current policies or replacing Trump. If the answer is hurts, they should drop out, perhaps throwing their support immediately towards the candidate who is most qualified and electable.  For the second group, they shouldn’t run. Unless these unannounced candidates can honestly say that none of the announced 21 is better qualified, they should stay home.

The benefits of the field narrowing sooner rather than later are obvious—democratic fundraising could be more focused.   Primary spending could be minimized, providing more resources to address the contrasts with the Republicans. And, most importantly, the “battle royale,” consisting of Democrats shooting at each other, could be avoided.   Witness, for example, Senator Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ recent attacks on Joe Biden for his close ties to corporate lobbyists. At the end of the day, these attacks will serve only to give Republicans fodder and ammunition to promote their candidate.  

Importantly, some are suggesting that the plethora of candidates could actually be a plus for Democrats and harden the eventual winner in a way that did not happen for Hillary. Because Hillary and her allies effectively discouraged anyone from challenging her, she arguably was less strategic around swing-state issues and was unprepared for Trump’s unorthodox campaign.  

Pundits, some of them Republicans (or Fox commentators), also suggest that once the primary is over, all Democrats will unite behind the common goal of winning the election.  This is not likely to be the case. First, in this crowded field, candidates are forced to outbid one another’s political promises. If Elizabeth Warren promises free college and student loan forgiveness, another candidate may feel obligated to offer reimbursement to people who paid for college and dutifully repaid their loans. A bidding war may also break out on reparations for slavery, single-payer health care, and fighting climate change. The proposals produced are likely, such as AOC’s Green Deal, to offer Republicans fodder to suggest that every Democrat is a Democratic-Socialist with plans to spend the country into bankruptcy.

All the above is another way of saying that Democrats must tread carefully despite President Trump’s legal problems. We know what we have with Trump and, for some that might be better than what we would get with some of the more starry-eyed Democrats.  As one friend of mine put it, Trump with a Democratic Congress to control him may be better than a Leftist Democrat with a Congress to rubber stamp “the worst of the proposals we’ve seen so far.”

Time will tell whether Democrats will self-destruct or prosper as the current political circus continues. Democrats are unlikely to show more self-discipline than that reflected in the 15 Republicans that chose to run in 2016.  It’s the way things are but you don’t have to like it. And it isn’t too much to ask anyone, Democrat or Republican, not to run for President unless they can honestly look the country in the eye and tell us that they offer something extraordinary.

J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.


Impeachment is Imperative by Maria Wood

Now that Congress is back in session, it is imperative that Members find within themselves the moral clarity to act on the release of the Mueller report and begin in earnest impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Not to do so is insulting to voters, destructive to our democratic institutions, and political self-sabotage of the most breathtaking kind. Most importantly, it is a gross abdication of responsibility and a moral failure.

Every day that the Congress does not begin such proceedings, Members fail to uphold their oaths of office and neglect their obligations to do the job they were sent to Washington to do. The Congressional Oath of Office, taken by all Members of the House of Representatives, includes the words “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and “I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Members of Congress are elected by their districts to do the business of the government, to act in good faith and according to the law in the best interests of their constituents, and to adhere to the democratic institutions and norms of our democracy. The President of the United States has violated United States laws, institutional norms, democratic principles, and basic values of human decency since the moment he took office, and his misbehavior and mobster-style criminality is increasing by the day.

Let’s break down the reasons impeachment proceedings must begin immediately. First, anything less is an insult to voters. The American voting public deserve to make up their minds based on a full picture of the facts, with as much truth available as possible against the wall of lies erected by the Trump administration. To simply put the matter of blatant violations of American democratic values and norms on hold in order to wait for the next election is both supremely cynical and supremely disrespectful to the American people. It is also insulting and crass for Members of Congress to refuse to fulfill their duty in this matter and then ask to be re-elected.

Which leads us to the damage to democracy. Two elements of this damage are even now corroding the electorate’s faith in democratic processes. The more straightforward is the proven interference in the 2016 and 2018 elections by hostile foreign powers—interference that the Mueller report shows was welcomed and encouraged by the Trump campaign. For a candidate or his campaign to accept and participate in the undermining of American elections is patently anti-democratic and anti-American, and should be immediately disqualifying for holding elected office. Once these actions are revealed, the Congress has a duty to impeach to protect the integrity of future elections and assure the voting public that American elections are free of interference—otherwise, the logical conclusion is that voting is useless and futile.

The second element has to do with the trust and faith of the public in their Congressional representatives. Please recall the line in the oath of office: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Duly elected representatives who abstain from this process abdicate a solemn promise made to their constituents. The least of the negative consequences of breaking this promise is the risk to individual Members’ re-election prospects. Far worse is the loss of faith in the institution itself and in democratic processes writ large. If elected officials are not going to do the job they’ve been chosen to do—why vote?

Finally, there is an important political argument for impeachment. Many discussions about whether to impeach or not impeach in recent weeks have centered on the political argument against the process. Looked at from another angle, though, the political calculus can be figured differently. The “blue wave” of the 2018 elections demonstrated the hunger among voters for elected officials willing to stand up and call out corruption and lies in government. Voters are more engaged than ever—although the danger that they will abandon the political process if they perceive that it is irrevocably broken is all too real. People of all political persuasions are calling for an end to the lies, bullying, self-dealing, nepotism, and performative provocation that characterize this White House and the party leadership that supports it. House leadership should consider that these voters will welcome and reward good-faith efforts to restore the rule of law and accountability to the highest office in the land. Should the Republican-led Senate refuse to uphold its duty by responding to the charges, House members should trust that the electorate will recognize where the process broke down, and who is to blame for the continued undermining of American democracy.

Call it moral clarity, call it leadership. But be assured, if there is a shred of our constitution still functioning when this tumultuous time in American history is over, we will owe our thanks to those who had the wisdom to recognize the existential threat of rampant corruption and manipulation at the highest levels of our government, and the courage and patriotism to take bold, decisive action on behalf of the best ideals of the American experiment.

Maria Wood returned to academic life in 2014, after a two-decade career in the music business, earning a BA in American Studies and a Certificate in Ethnomusicology from Smith College in 2018. Most recently, she served as Deputy Campaign Manager for Jesse Colvin for Congress.

Vision by Jimmie Galbreath

We all have visions of our country. One is a vision of what we see and the other a vision of what we want to see. I believe the vast majority of us want to see a Democracy, or to put it another way a government that is responsive to the majority will of the citizens. So for those who believe we have an unresponsive government read on.

Borrowing from The Gettysburg Address a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” sounds like a desirable vision for our government. I believe that something along this line was the original intent. Sadly, it isn’t what we have today. People from every part of the political spectrum, both voters and nonvoters seem to share a common view that politicians don’t listen to us.

Looking solely at the financial wealth of our politicians and senior judges we should all feel a lack of representation. These people are not from our neighborhoods and towns. You won’t see them in the stores where you shop. Their children don’t go to our schools. They don’t live with us in our neighborhoods. Well fed, well heeled and pampered for years they left us behind a long time ago. I can’t speak for you but I know that I have no sense of connection with my politicians. When I happen to see one, he/she is only talking at me, never with me. Was this the original plan?

What happened?

The Founders didn’t plan for political parties. Many of them were opposed to having political parties but shortly after Congress got going political parties were quickly formed anyway. This shouldn’t be surprising as we are social creatures and the best way to get things done is via collective action, thus political parties. On a somewhat comical note Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all” yet he and James Madison founded and led the Democratic-Republican Party in 1792. Our majority to win elections pretty well ensures that only 2 political parties can survive and no more.

This 2 party business is at the root of much of the growing indifference of the general population. With such a narrow choice the existing parties have ossified into essentially corporations which are funded by wealth and organized to ensure only members of the wealthy class or those friendly to the wealthy class get on the ballots. Since both corporate parties are chasing the same funding they have migrated to the same end of the political spectrum. Both wealthy people and corporate organizations are at heart authoritarian. They give orders and expect compliance.

Our citizens, however, are an ornery lot and not overly prone to obedience when it doesn’t suit or help them. Now that the country has a two party system made up of an ultra-right religious militaristic party and a watered down liberal militaristic party a significant number of citizens are refusing to support either one. The largest portion of the population is unaffiliated and I suspect many who are either Democrat or Republican are largely indifferent to their party leadership. This state of affairs did not arise overnight but developed as the two existing parties chased the money and filled our government with Millionaires working for the Billionaires. It is a rare politician that rises from our part of the population and when one does appear the media (owned by Billionaires) wastes no opportunity to smear and sneer at them no matter which party they belong to.

So, where do we go from here? The pressures for change are building in the general population as the standard of living of many people continues to decline. Those with wealth fill their media with the good news of ever rising profits and cooked data on unemployment to show that life for us is good. The stock markets profit only the upper 10% while employment continues to include far too many reduced hour or reduced wage jobs. The drumbeat of ‘good’ economic news flies in the face of our day to day struggles as well as the struggles of our children. The inequalities of wealth and income favor the wealthy. Since the wealthy fund and populate the political parties supporting those parties won’t change anything in our favor.

There have been efforts at reforming the two parties by the disgruntled. In the ultra-right party it was the Tea Party movement that shook things up. In the center-right make-believe liberal party the growing Progressive and Democratic Socialist movements continue to cause turmoil. These efforts to gain a voice for the general population are encouraging but will have little long term impact as neither corporate party can exist without the support of the wealthy and the wealthy will not support any party that sides with greater financial equality.

I would hope that in time enough people will realize that the only path out of this wealthy party trap is to move to a new party. While I agree that our political structure will not support more than 2 parties I see no reason why people turning to a new party couldn’t replace one of the two current wealth driven parties. There are more than enough disaffected voters to pull this off once people are willing to reach through the despair for the courage strike out in new directions. We are all kindling awaiting the match.

A retired Engineer, Jimmie Galbreath grew up on a small family owned dairy in Jefferson County, MS. He earned a B.S in Petroleum Engineering from MS State University, accumulated over 20 years experience at Grand Gulf Nuclear Power Station and Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Station. Along the way, he worked as a roustabout on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, served three years active service as a Quartermaster Officer in the US Army, Supervised brick kilns first in MS than in Atlanta GA and whatever else it took to skin the cat along the way. He now lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Op-Ed: Another Term for our Fake President might be Fatal by Steve Parks

  “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” –Presidential oath of office

Never mind the Mueller report and whether or not the President of the United States can be indicted for anything, including murder on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, as President Trump once proclaimed that he theoretically could get away with.

Evidently, he can get away with plenty—maybe even thumbing his nose at House of Representative subpoenas following up on the still-redacted Mueller report. Is that faithfully upholding and abiding by the Constitution, Mr. President? It’s clear from his impetuous, imperial behavior that Donald Trump possesses little knowledge of and even less regard for the Constitution, especially when its application thwarts his reckless agenda.

Consider, for instance, Trump’s various “border-crisis” remedies: abolish asylum, get rid of judges, reinstate separation of immigrant children from their parents, keep immigrants on the Mexican side of the border or detain them indefinitely in cages on the U.S. side. These policies apply only to brown immigrants. Crossing the border with Canada? No problem—unless you’re a Muslim from anywhere in the world.

Defiance of constitutional restraints on presidential power, handy tools in Trump’s playbook, are rife in Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Did he or his bumbling minions conspire with Russia to influence the election on his behalf. Is ignorance, incompetence and/or stupidity an excuse? Trump exhorted Russians on national TV to hack their way into Hillary Clinton’s email server. (They failed.) Trump subordinates, including his campaign chairman, attorney general, national security adviser, personal lawyer and assorted subordinates all lied about myriad contacts with Russian operatives.

On the second count of what would be a multi-count indictment under normal circumstances, the report cites 10 examples of apparent obstruction of justice. Most are familiar to us due to Trump’s overt acts, such as firing FBI director James Comey, or through stellar news reporting. “Fake news,” it turns out, emanates instead from the White House and Fox propaganda agents.

The lying and cover up continues in high places. The president says Congress has no right to subpoena his financial documents or the testimony of White House witnesses, when in fact it is the legislative branch’s constitutional duty. This presidential stonewalling is itself obstruction of justice.  

Attorney General William Barr, previewing the release of Mueller’s redacted report, stated that it was evidence, not the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel policy, which led the special counsel to punt on recommending indictment of the president on obstruction of justice. Yet on page one of the obstruction volume, Mueller writes:

“The Office of Legal Counsel has issued an opinion finding that ‘the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. . . .’ This office accepted OLC’s conclusion. . . .”

In other words, Mueller would have recommended prosecuting the president except for DOJ’s policy that no president can be indicted while in office.

The attorney general outright lied. Further, he repeatedly and incredibly stated there is no evidence—zero—of “collusion” with Russia, then offered the president an excuse on obstruction of justice. Trump, he said, was “frustrated and angry” when he committed acts that are classic definitions of obstruction. (Try that if you’re accused of, say, murder.) Suborning perjury, asking attorneys to place false statements in their files and firing a law-enforcement investigator, then trying to fire another are among Trump’s evident transgressions.

House Democrats rightfully demand the unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence. But maybe they should consider impeaching Barr before he shuts down investigations Mueller spun off to New York and elsewhere. Impeaching Trump might elevate him as a political martyr after the Republican Senate predictably refuses to convict and remove him from office. By Tweet, Trump will proclaim “TOTAL EXONERATION!!!” all over again.

Meanwhile, besides the Trump presidency itself, what if we face a true national emergency? Trump owns the border crisis because he created it. Radio ads in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador cite the president’s rhetoric, warning prospective immigrants that it’s now or never to join a caravan. With the resources of the Department of Homeland Security wholly diverted to the southern border, who’s in charge of diverting a major terrorist attack, a la Sri Lanka, New Zealand or, God forbid, 9/11? How about the collapse of a denuclearization deal with North Korea that led Kim Jong-un to renew missile testing? And what if Vladimir Putin messes with the 2020 election? Have we learned nothing? Another term for our fake president might be fatal to democracy as we know it.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.


Bringing Life to Oxford’s Conservation Park by J.E. Dean

Change comes slowly in Oxford, which is one of many reasons to live there.   In the past few years, new operators for the restaurants once known as The Masthead and Schooner’s were among the “big” changes. Reasonable people can differ on whether this change was good or bad, but most would agree it had little impact, one way or another, in the quality of life in Oxford.

One change, the creation of Conservation Park in  2016, represented the type of change that can make lasting improvement to a community. The lovely park, complete with a paved walkway, native fauna, and lots of birds, offered a new way to experience Oxford.  Even better, it was designed to be ecologically sound at the same time.

As is known by many and well-documented elsewhere, the creation of the park culminated a remarkable effort of visionaries in our community.  What might have been questionable new development likely to undermine the quality of life in Oxford was transformed into a “passive park” that contributes to the clean-up of the Chesapeake, better air quality, and maintenance of our fragile ecology.

Although these benefits are enough by themselves to celebrate Conservation Park, the Park could do more for our community, without betraying the principles on which it was established.  This would be done by getting more of us to visit the park, learn its lessons, and do more to protect the ecology that is central to what Oxford is.

To my surprise, when I visited the park last year, frequently with one of Oxford’s best Golden Doodles, Lucca, we were alone.   My neighbors appear to either not know exactly what the park is or is for, or find it uninteresting. While this loss may be my gain, I fear if visits to the park don’t increase, the town might place a lower priority on its upkeep. Or, in my view something worse—not explore ways to make it even better.

One reason for solitude the park currently offers is that the county seems to be doing little to promote it.   The Talbot County website, for example, limits its description of the park to this: “This natural park features walking trails, wetland viewing areas, native bird species, and open landscapes.”  That’s it. This is accurate but, for most of us, less than compelling.

Already, without anyone having to do anything, Conservation Park is likely to be nicer this year than last.  That’s because the trees and other plantings are now established and growing. In a few years there may even be shade on the walkway, which would be wonderful. This is all good, but more can be done. I won’t say should be done because changes to Conservation Park should be well-thought out, economically responsible, and consistent with the park’s theme—conservation.

Here are a few ideas:

First, a small section of the park near the existing parking lot could be opened for the planting of memorial trees.  For a fee intended to pay for the tree itself, a plaque identifying the dedication for each tree, and a pool of funds to maintain the tree, an individual could memorialize a loved one or a cause. I would envision the tree would be planted by a professional nursery and selections would be limited to native Maryland trees. Additional maintenance, such as fertilizing and otherwise caring for the trees, and replacement of trees that die, might be included.

Second, a few more benches could be added around the park trail, providing welcome opportunities for walkers to take a break or to better observe or reflect on the beauty of the plants. These benches, preferably made from recycled materials, could be paid for by offering community members the opportunity to memorialize a loved one.

Third, enhance plantings and habitat to attract even more birds.  Then formally encourage chapters and members of the Maryland Ornithological Society to sponsor collaborate on these efforts. The Society, and the Talbot Bird Club, could perhaps develop richer online resources about what birds live in the park and on when best to view them for the appropriate websites.  

Fourth, working with local nurseries or colleges, perhaps schedule occasional nature talks where the ecology involved might be explained and promoted. Because the park is subject to the Program Open Spaces rules, which prohibit scheduled events, the talks would be scheduled for the Oxford Community Center with the attendees encouraged to walk to the park immediately afterwards.  (The Community is an easy walk to park access trail next to the fire station).

The bottom line on these and other, probably better, activities, would be to get people to visit the park, learn what it is, use it, and love it.

J.E. Dean writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with nonprofits and others interested in domestic policy.  Dean is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government. He resides in Oxford.


Good Friday by George Merrill

Good Friday is Christianity’s most solemn observance.

It’s the account of religious authorities condemning Jesus as a false prophet with pretensions to power. They turn him over to the Roman authorities. The Romans fear an insurrection unless they convict Jesus and crucify him. Even Pontius Pilate was skeptical of the accusations, but mob rule prevailed.

Christians today contend fiercely with each other. The toxic kinds of “conservative” vs. “liberal” dualities play out in religion as they do in politics often with similar vitriol.

Commandments such as “Give all you have to the poor.”  “How many times I must forgive my brother.” “Seventy times seven,” Jesus claims. These teachings are unambiguous. But they don’t excite the same kind of energy or even advocacy, as say, love our enemies does.

Among the many commandments of Jesus, there is one called, ‘the last commandment.’ It’s the final direction Jesus issues to his disciples before he is crucified. It defines the kind of community Jesus lived and died to cultivate.

In the Gospel of John, the commandment is simple and unambiguous:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

In this regard, Christians haven’t done well. I have an idea why this might be. Considering loving one another, particularly one’s enemies, feels counter-intuitive; how can I love someone I viscerally despise or love someone who has deliberately wronged me?

Our daughter once brought up a similar matter to my wife and me years ago. She knew we had conducted marriage counseling. One day out of the blue she asked, “When you counsel a couple, you can’t take sides, can you,” she asked?  We assured her that was so.

“What do you do then if one of them is a real jerk?”

Thereby hangs a tale.

If love is defined as a feeling, loving a bona fide jerk is not promising for anyone. On the other hand, if love is the measure of how we behave toward others, the mindset, if you will – not how we feel – it’s a whole different matter. If love is practiced as principle although while not always felt as fondness, it might look something like this: we’d conduct our dealings with others justly, compassionately, and humbly.

Consider the recent congressional hearings involving Justice Kavanaugh. Imagine that they were conducted with self-discipline; with a level of humility by the interrogators? The hearings would have been dramatically different. Outcomes may have been the same, but without the demeaning grandstanding and the thinly veiled hypocrisy which made so many of us cringe.

The Good Friday drama was an epic exercise in religious and political hypocrisy.

With all the brutality and hypocrisy portrayed on Good Friday, from the first of Jesus’

last seven words – “Forgive them father for they know not what they do” –  to the final ones “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit”- there is not a hint of retribution for the injustices he bore. Jesus held to a greater vision of what love means.

The kind of love inspiring forgiveness doesn’t necessarily feel-good. It’s about dealing justly. In short, love and moral courage are about compassionately informed discipline, not driven by feelings which are notoriously unpredictable and unruly.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.




Op-Ed: Buttigieg’s Challenge by J.E. Dean

It’s not easy to praise a candidate when you can’t pronounce his name. This is a problem. As the Democratic nominating process moves forward, “Mayor Pete” has to figure out what to do. Simply run as “Pete?” Try to make light of the multitude of mispronunciations out there? Turn the problem around by watching opponents stumble over your name? Remember watching 2016 candidates trying to pronounce the name of Russian President Demitri Medvedev or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Despite his name-handicap, Buttigieg seems to be doing pretty well, so far. His poll numbers are rising—he’s already ahead of better-known candidates like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Julian Castro. He’s raising money–more than $7 million in the first quarter, for example. Most pundits predict Buttigieg is in it for the long run.

Voter interest in Buttigieg is, well, interesting. For some it’s his status as the first openly gay candidate. For others its his status as a medium size city mayor—typically disqualifying. For “Mayor Pete,” it’s prompted curiosity. Who is this guy? Where, exactly, is South Bend? Then there is his background as a veteran and the fact he’s from Indiana. Both are likely to attract Republican voters. If the Democrats can be guaranteed to win Indiana, they are likely to win nationally.

Among the Democratic base, Buttigieg should be solid. His policy positions are those of a mainstream 2020 Democrat. Healthcare for all through a single-payer system, the Green Deal, addressing income inequality, and promoting LGBT rights. So far, he has also come across as intelligent—as the Rhodes Scholar graduate of Harvard and Oxford that he is. Detractors focusing on his negatives will suggest he can’t deliver Indiana or that his demographics will not generate the enthusiasm necessary to win.

Buttigieg’s chances are likely to rise or fall based on how he does when directly matched up with his opponents. He will either disappear quickly, perhaps being awarded with the consolation price of being a “rising star” in the party, or the party faithful, hungry to regain the White House, will adopt him as an effective counterpoint to Donald Trump—someone tested not only in battle (Afghanistan) but also as a gay man in a conservative State.are

Watch Buttigieg with interest. But if you want him to win, figure out how to pronounce his name.

J.E. Dean of Oxford, writes on policy and politics based on more than 30 years working with non-profits and others interested in domestic policy. He is an advocate for the environment, civil public debate, and good government.

Op-Ed: Local Hospital Board And Administration: Are They Our Advocates? By Dr. Eva Smorzaniuk

The Editors Opinion in the April 11 issue of the Star Democrat rightfully concludes that public trust in the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) and UMMS Shore Regional Health (UMMS SRH) has been damaged, and that a full and independent investigation of both of these boards and hospital administrations is essential. Taxpayers deserve to know the extent of self-dealing on the boards, as well as the level of administrative complicity in the self-dealing.

A brief perusal of SRH Board members reveals occupations including health care consultants, healthcare providers, insurance brokers and underwriters, lawyer, lobbyist, wealth manager, and banker.  In addition to Mr. Dillon, there is another local member with a contractual relationship with the hospital. It would be nice to know if the contract between Wayne L. Gardner, Sr., previous owner of BestCare ambulance services, is legal and ethical, and that no other financial ties exist among Board members.

There is a larger and more critical issue that faces our community – have our local hospital Board and hospital administration been our advocates?  The promise of a new hospital that was dangled in front of our Board in 2006 has yet to materialize. Despite the fact that our local hospital is part of UMMS, which has been increasingly profitable over the last few years, it has faced almost annual budget cuts, constriction of services, and a frustrating work environment.  Meanwhile, we see UMMS, with a profit of nearly $5 billion in FY 2018, that can afford to pay its CEO in excess of $4.2 million, and gave out $2.7 million in bonuses to seven top executives in 2017.

Many of the myriad medical facilities under the UMMS umbrella have had construction/renovation plans either completed or in the planning stages.  To name just a few:

  1. An addition to UMMC in Baltimore for over $85 million completed in 2013.
  2. Plans for a $543 million 205 bed hospital for UM Capital Region (acquired in 2017).
  3. Plans for a $100 million renovation of UM St. Joseph’s Medical Center (acquired 2012).
  4. Plans for a new UM Upper Chesapeake (acquired in 2013) for $54 million.
  5. And then there’s us (acquired 2006) – $350 million for a new hospital.

My bet is that we will continue to be the neglected stepchildren across the bridge.

Our community needs a local hospital Board and administration with courage, commitment, and perseverance, that can function independently and stand up for quality care on the Eastern Shore. Their priority must be the patients, and not the profitability of UMMS.

I urge readers to talk to the doctors, nurses, and other staff,  at UMMS SRH facilities and hear their frustrations, as well as their ideas for how it could be better. I urge you to contact officials at UMMS, as well as your elected officials, and tell them you want a robust, state-of-the-art health care delivery system, one that is responsive to the needs of the patients and engages its workforce in its mission.

I also urge local elected officials, including the Easton Town Council, the Talbot County Council, as well as our state legislators, to put pressure on UMMS for a full and independent investigation, and to demand more local control of our hospital board and administration.

Dr. Eva Smorzaniuk is a radiologist in Easton, Maryland and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown and University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Dorchester. 

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