Out and About (Sort of): Look to Annapolis… please by Howard Freedlander

Share

For many of us, the drama and dysfunction in our nation’s Capital are often captivating, comparable to a soap opera that grows increasingly more alarming in each daily episode. That won’t change, at least for another three years.

To glimpse a smidgeon of sanity and periodic good governance, I recommend that readers pay close attention to the 2018 General Assembly, now in its seventh of 90 days. Allow me to explain why I offer this antidote to the utter craziness and absurdity in Washington, DC.

First, the Maryland legislature must address the windfall, possibly millions of dollars, that will come the state’s way due to the recently enacted federal tax reform. This is a bad-news-good-news scenario: Marylanders will lose the ability to deduct local and state taxes up to $10,000—for example, state and local income, sales, real estate or property taxes. Hence, the state is expecting a windfall from the collection of dollars that previously had been deductible.

If for only this reason, all Marylanders should pay attention to this year’s legislative session. It’s your money and mine that will be the subject of lengthy discussion. And this will occur in an election year. Politics is always the backdrop in Annapolis. For this session, it will dominate the deliberations.

From what I’ve read, Gov. Larry Hogan is designing a proposal that may recommend returning the money to taxpayers. Democrats are leery. They are concerned about potential federal cuts to social programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers low-income youth and may run out of money in April.

So, the windfall will be double-edged. While a bipartisan solution would be ideal, such an expectation may seem fanciful in an election year. The popular Gov. Hogan is seeking re-election; Democrats are loath to provide the governor bragging rights for a proposal that seems simple and equitable—returning money to taxpayers who will have to spend more due to federal tax reform—without examining the downside of distributing money that may be needed to plug holes created by spending cuts in Washington.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the legislature plans to gather a group of tax experts to analyze the new federal tax law. He also predicted this year’s 436th session will be particularly “contentious…this tax plan to going to cause us a fit,,,I ask for God’s help.”

Another reason that Marylanders should pay attention this year to the state legislature provides entertaining political theater. Gov., Hogan has proved to be a skillful politician appealing not only to Republicans but Democrats and Independents alike. Senator Mike Miller, who has served more than 30 years as president of the State Senate, is a canny, shrewd politician who has been a thorn in the side of Democrat and Republican governors. His House of Delegates counterpart, Speaker Mike Busch, too is a fervent Democrat who leads a body of legislators more liberal than those in the State Senate.

Will election-year politics rear its head in the 2018 General Assembly? You betcha. It won’t take long. With the infusion of a windfall of money due to federal tax reform opposed and derided by Democrats, discussion will be lively and hyper-partisan. I hope, amid the inevitable uproar, that taxpayers will benefit from sound and wise decisions.

Gov. Hogan will need to get personally involved in finding an equitable solution to the tax bite to be felt by Maryland citizens. While partisanship will be a major undercurrent, pocketbook politics should drive both parties. Miller and Busch need to protect their flank too.

Before the session ends in April, the legislature must address what many women legislators, staffers and lobbyists consider so abhorrent, and that is engrained sexual harassment in Annapolis. As is true in Congress, no longer can sexual misconduct be tolerated, viewed as permissible in a culture that has not taken allegations of sexual harassment as seriously as it should. More credible reporting, oversight and punishment are undeniably necessary.

I mentioned at the outside that a focus on the current legislative session might be a relief from the circus-like environment in Washington. More correctly, the Maryland General Assembly, though hyper-partisan, typically offers solutions easier to enact than down the road in Washington with more immediate and apparent impact.

Follow the money. Millions of dollars in new money can be a curse.

Sen. Miller solicited God’s help. I hope that common sense, flavored by omnipresent politics, will play a role.

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): Tribal Behavior Beckons Healthier Conditions by Howard Freedlander

Share

A few months ago, a friend recommended I read Tribe, a 136-page book written by Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, among other works. This friend, Richard Marks, suggested that Tribe might explain the need for shared sacrifice as our country and community grapple with the treatment of returning war veterans.

As its underlying premise, the book makes the case that our American society lacks cohesiveness. It opines that the accumulation of wealth and material possessions promote a sense of individualism, a selfishness that prevents us from understanding the meaning of a shared mission and genuine concern for others.

Judgements such as Junger ‘s prompt caution and a wariness of over-generalization. Tribes come in all forms, be they families, religious and fraternal groups, sports teams, paramilitary and military units, emergency medical and response teams and close-knit communities, such as the Amish. Often when a professional football player talks, he or she quickly refers to teammates and the importance of a communal spirit that drives people to seek excellence and achieve victory.

Tribal organizations call for cohesiveness, mission focus, concern and caring for others, achievement by all participants—and an overriding one-for-all attitude.
Military units that have fought and endured hardship and death are tribal in the best sense; they operative effectively only if they pull for, and protect each other while striving for the subjugation of the enemy, sometimes requiring the ruthless dismissal of weak and unproductive members.

Tribal groups exclude others, maybe rightfully so, but also perhaps detrimentally so by failing to allow people unfamiliar with the culture of, say, military combat units to understand and empathize. Criticism of those not in the tribe only perpetuates isolation.

On the other hand, families and communities must treat returning veterans (substitute cancer victims or those struck by mental or physical trauma) with respect, support, and compassion. Jobs are one type of outreach. Listening is another.

Junger’s main point is just that: returning war veterans require more than gratitude (though that’s important too), but sincere recognition of them as people who seek to reenter the civilian world and want to be regarded as human beings with strengths and talents. They are not to be pitied and perceived as victims.

Bemoaning the lack of accountability on the part of Wall Street executives whose actions contributed to the Great Recession in 2008-9 and the condemnation of

Bowe Bergdahl for deserting his military unit in Afghanistan and placing others in mortal danger as they searched for him, Junger wrote: “Bergdahl put a large number of people at risk and may have caused the deaths of up to six soldiers. But in purely objective terms, he caused his country far less harm than the financial collapse of 2008, when bankers gambled trillions of dollars of taxpayer money on blatantly fraudulent mortgages. These crimes were committed while hundreds of thousands of Americans were fighting and dying overseas. Almost 9 million people lost their jobs during the financial crisis, 5 million families lost their money, and the unemployment rate doubled to around 10 percent.”

Junger’s point is a valid one. Tribal instincts in the financial industry may have centered on greed—without any legal consequence. Bergdahl violated the tenets of military cohesion by abandoning his unit, consequently placing soldiers at risk and possibly death. Bergdahl was court-martialed, as he should have been. Walls Street executives were not. Unjust resolution in Junger’s opinion.

I’m not prepared to promote the notion that a culture of selfishness and brazen behavior permeates the financial industry. Nor did Junger go that far, at least not explicitly. An argument for a culture of compassion, morality, and fairness can be made, however.

Junger arrives at a conclusion that makes sense. “Acing in a tribal way simply means being willing to make a substantive sacrifice for your community—be that your neighborhood, your workplace, or your entire country. Obviously, you don’t need to be a Navy SEAL in order to do that.”

Junger’s Tribe promotes human decency, moral behavior, a sense of solidarity and shared sacrifice. His thesis resonates in a society he portrays as disjointed and individualistic.

We can do more for our returning veterans. We can do more for our neighbors. We can escape our self-imposed enclaves, at least temporarily, to support those in need.

Tribes are expandable.

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): Economic Fallout from Climate Change by Howard Freedlander

Share

Until I recently read a white paper concerning local climate adaptation, I simply didn’t focus on the financial cost of ignoring the effects of climate change on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It’s downright eye-opening—unless you choose to look the other way and believe that the current cycle is just an inconvenient phase.

My source is a clearly written and well-researched document entitled Prioritizing Local Climate Adaptation through Regional Collaboration on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, prepared for the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation Partnership by the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC). Though I am a board member, the white paper is readily available on the ESLC website.

The facts are alarming. Scientists project sea level rise in the Chesapeake region of 2.1 feet by 2050 and 3.7 to 5.7 feet later in the 21st century. “Nuisance flooding” created by chronic tides affects large portions of Dorchester County, the causeway in Oxford and waterfront in Chestertown. The two feet of sea level rise forecast for 2050 will flood more than 33,000 acres or 2.9% of land across the mid-and-upper Eastern Shore. Tropical storms and hurricanes will become increasingly more “destructive when their storm surge is augmented by sea level rise,” according to the white paper.

More facts are startling. From the 1980s to the 2000s, as compared to the 1960s and 1970s, the number of “extreme heat events” doubled during this period. Scientists project a rise of 4-6 degrees Fahrenheit later in the 21st century. Why does this matter? Days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit will range from 60-90, up from an average of 30 days during the late 20th century. Annual days over 100 degrees Fahrenheit will increase from just a handful to 10-25 days per year.

An economic perspective of these climatic changes further substantiates cause for concern and the crying need to adapt.

Excessive heat is particularly dangerous for low-income persons unable to escape the heat for several days. Emergencies and consequent health crises will exact higher costs for residents, emergency services, hospitals and health departments. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in older buildings will be inadequate, requiring maintenance and upgrades to roadways, buildings, and infrastructure; local governments thus will face serious financial costs.

Having experienced a 5-10 percent increase in annual rainfall over the past 60 years, with precipitation expected to increase 10-20 percent above the average amounts experienced at the end of the 20th century, the Eastern Shore will confront “intense downpours that deliver more rain in a shorter time period.” It’s reasonable to project that stormwater systems, roads, infrastructure, and property will become inundated. Currently, inadequate stormwater systems will have to be replaced. Sooner, rather than later.

Another flash point are droughts. “As rainfall becomes concentrated in more intense downpours, the region will also see longer dry periods between precipitation.” Longer droughts will become likelier. The agricultural economy will experience lower crop yields, probable crop failures and costs associated to switching to drought-resistant crops.

According to the white paper cited at the outset, “In the long term, choosing not to prepare for climate change will impose rising financial costs on communities…the report (produced in 2008 by the University of Maryland) cites tourism, agriculture, and health—all critical to the Eastern Shore’s prosperity—as sectors that are expected to suffer if attention is not given to climate adaptation and resilience.”

Adaptation and resilience are the words of choice for professionals intent on forestalling calamity.

For example, local governments can spend money now to upgrade infrastructure, such as stormwater systems, to handle the inevitable onslaught of water created by a sudden surge of rainfall.

From a planning standpoint, local governments can impose higher “freeboard” requirements—that is, requiring an increase in the height of the first floor to generate greater safety for homes and buildings and preclude flood-water damage to a structure, its occupants, and contents. Caroline, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties all have requirements in their floodplain ordinances of two feet of freeboard. Cambridge, Oxford and St. Michaels also have the two-foot requirement. Chestertown has a one-foot requirement.

Finally, the white paper calls for policy changes that would “encourage more resilient building codes and practices for siting and construction…greater risk reduction can be realized by directing the new private development and public investment of less flood-prone areas of the community.”
The white paper represents a collaborative effort by seven counties, two cities (Oxford and Cambridge), state agencies, academic institutions and non-profit organizations. I applaud this regional approach to share data and develop processes and recommendations to ensure that the Eastern Shore can respond effectively to climate change.

I mentioned viewing the need for climatic adaptation from an economic perspective. I am not ignoring the significant impact on humans of sea level rise, more frequent and intense rainfall occurrences and increasingly extreme heat days. The cost in dollars and lives is inestimable.

Inaction is not a thoughtful option.

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): Scattered Thoughts by Howard Freedlander

Share

About 10 days ago I had the pleasure of driving former Governor Harry Hughes from an Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (I am a board member) gathering outside Chestertown to his home in Denton. Time spent with Harry is always a lesson in Maryland politics as related concisely by one of the prime actors in the second half of the 20th century.

Nearing 91, Gov. Hughes is feeling the ravages of old age. He moves more slowly. His balance is unsteady. All expected in a person’s ninth decade. But when this reserved, gentlemanly political luminary talks, it’s best to keep quiet and learn.

A Caroline County native, Hughes served as a state delegate, state senator, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and then governor from 1978 to 1986.

I first met Hughes nearly 40 years ago when he ran for governor; he was given little chance to win. He did, with significant help from Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun endorsements two weeks prior to the election. That was a time when an endorsement from a major statewide newspaper meant something—when people paid attention to “mainstream media.” Perhaps they still do. Showing my age, I still assign credibility to the printed word.

As my wife and I rode for about an hour in the car, we learned he loved being Secretary of MDOT because he could get things done, he liked President Bill Clinton, his political career just seemed to take off in a positive direction –and he fondly recalled having his mother as his homeroom teacher for three years at Caroline High School.

What was evident, as it always is when you spend time with Harry Hughes, is his innate modesty and mild manner. He is eminently likable.

In an op-ed piece published Dec. 1, 2016 in The Baltimore Sun by John Frece, a former Maryland State House bureau chief for the Sun and co-author of Gov. Hughes’ autobiography, “My Unexpected Journey,” about Hughes’ 90th birthday party, Frece wrote:

“The most important words that were uttered throughout the evening by a half-dozen speakers were the ones that described the values that this native of the Eastern Shore brought to Maryland’s political life: honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, humility and restraint. In a word, civility.”

In recent years, a close adviser and friend of Hughes twice has invited me to join him for lunch with the former governor. Once, other former staffers joined the group. I was an interested bystander, noting the affection that these staffers still bore for their former boss. There was good-natured kidding aimed at Harry Hughes, who in turn kindly jabbed back. Meanwhile, people in the restaurant would stop by the table to say hello to the unassuming man from Denton.

While Gov. Hughes and his loyal lieutenants would tell stories about achievements, Harry Hughes would delight in the memories, but never dominated the conversation with anything resembling boastfulness. His willingness during his two terms to focus on Chesapeake Bay pollution–as well as management of the declining rockfish, instituting a controversial moratorium—was one of his shining accomplishments.

Though the tall, handsome former governor shows the ravages of aging, he continues to impress me with his calm, civil demeanor and dedication to environmental issues that still challenge and vex public officials and concerned non-profits.

*************************************
In seeking reactions to “The Vietnam War” documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and the two columns that I recently wrote about the remarkable 10-episode series, I spoke with a few Vietnam veterans in the area. I learned that two in particular thought that the documentary failed to portray accurately the North Vietnamese (NVA), specifically their fervent communism that they viciously imposed on villagers in the South to gain their fear-driven loyalty.

A friend and veteran forwarded an article written by a veteran in Georgia that was unyielding in its criticism of the soft way that he believed that the documentary treated the NVA, while acknowledging the duplicity of our political leaders and their unwillingness to unleash full American firepower on our enemy.

With this reaction in mind, I ask readers to submit their unvarnished opinion of the documentary. Did you consider it fair and balanced? Did you consider it skewed and too favorable to the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong?

As I wrote, the Vietnam War still lives on in the minds and hearts of civilians and veterans who lived through the 10-year war and the consequent chaos and divisiveness that gripped our country.

Please give me feedback.

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): Time to Move On by Howard Freedlander

Share

When I think about the 10-part “The Vietnam War” documentary completed last week on the Public Broadcasting System, I feel overwhelmed with emotion. It preoccupied me.

I wrote last week about my reaction to the first five episodes. I won’t rehash my comments. I was transfixed by the history of a war that proved so divisive and disruptive to our roiling country. Ken Burns and Lynn Novick produced a superbly written, studiously well-balanced and beautifully filmed documentary. The experience watching this often unpleasant history lesson was unlike any other in my life.

So, I will describe my emotions, felt, I suspect, by many others:

I felt admiration and empathy for our American soldiers (all-inclusive usage for the sake of this column). They fought bravely. They fought well. They fought amid often ill-advised strategy developed sometimes by politicians. Roughly 58,000 died against a relentless, highly motivated enemy.

As I listened to the voices of John Musgrave, Roger Harris, Tim O’Brien, Matt Harrison, Bill Erhardt, Hal Kushner, Vincent Okamoto, Ron Ferrizzi and many other veterans, I marveled at their candor, their passion and their sorrow. Their comments reflected the violence, the ambivalence and the pain of the ill-fated Vietnam War.

In response to the equally honest and passionate North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers interviewed for this remarkable documentary, I felt a human understanding of their courage, their longing for family and their mixed feelings about a war that divided and damaged their own country. These men and women fought to win and destroy the South Vietnamese and American troops.

Yet soldiers on both sides wondered: was it worth it? Was the end result a proud one?

Through the lens of this documentary, I viewed again the protests. I viewed again the riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and mourned the disorder sowed by the protesters and abetted by the ill-prepared police. In 1968, I despised the objectionable, obnoxious and sometimes destructive behavior of the protesters. Now, I commend their courage, their willingness to rail against a corrupt war. I was disgusted then. I’m more sanguine now–though I still condemn riots that visit destruction upon small businesses and place the police in unenviable positions.

When I learned again, after 50 years, about seasoned veterans taking to the streets to proclaim peace, I walked back my criticism of those who opposed the Vietnam War. These men had felt the sting of buddies killed in action. They had followed stupid orders to rack up body counts. They understood the savagery of war. When some tossed away their medals during a protest at the White House, as portrayed during the documentary, I felt moved by their resistance to the continuation of a war whose purpose they questioned.

As I did when it was reported in the media, I felt repulsed by the My Lai Massacre, which occurred in March 1968. Between 350 and 500 unarmed civilians died in an outburst of inhumanity and moral depravity. Again, as so often happens, I also feel torn. While killing is legal in war, almost second nature, the murder of civilians–who may or may not have harbored the Viet Cong–is wanton human destruction. Anger and frustration over the loss of fellow soldiers can be tough to control; yet indiscriminate killing of noncombatants is intolerable.

I found bothersome but not surprising the continuous lying and deceit by Presidents Lyndon Barnes Johnson and Richard Nixon. Their preoccupation with winning their next elections and avoiding political embarrassment seemingly drove their decision-making. Their concerns about lives lost by their decisions not to unleash strategic bombing or delay peace negotiations were unconscionable.

Lest I seem too forgiving of the North Vietnamese, I learned about the increasingly influential impact of communism on leadership in Hanoi. The more palatable nationalistic actions and philosophy of Ho Ching Minh fell
victims to darker forces. Le Duan, the powerful leader who surpassed Uncle Ho in planning military operations, sent thousands and thousands of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers to their deaths during Tet and a post-Tet offensive.

Unlike Ho Ching Minh, Le Duan harbored no warm feelings about America. He was hell-bent on conquering the South and sending the Americans home to a country also divided by social, political and cultural conflict. I bemoaned too the immorality of our fervent and violent enemy.

The American evacuation of Saigon was ugly and messy, as was the war. We turned our backs on people who trusted us. It was tough to watch our abandonment of former friends. Due to Watergate and his resignation, Nixon could not fulfill his promise to help South Vietnam from being overrun. Then, Congress decided, maybe understandably so, to authorize no more money to South Vietnam. It was heart-wrenching to watch the results of our inaction.

“The Vietnam War” documentary ended on a redemptive note, showing some veterans returning to Vietnam and connecting with former adversaries. The history the 10 episodes so exquisitely purveyed filled me with dread and distress; at the same time, I felt enormous pride in our troops, who persevered on unfamiliar terrain littered with bad decisions: take that hill, give up that hill and then retake it.

The 10th and final episode devoted a segment to the Vietnam Memorial built in 1982 in Washington, DC. It too was racked by controversy over its stark, black granite design. Nothing was easy about this war. Some of the splendid veterans who spoke frequently during the documentary testified to the healing effect of this powerful monument containing the names of 58,000 dead American soldiers.

“The Vietnam War” documentary portrayed a troubled 10-year war fought by our country, gradually riven by socioeconomic and cultural conflict. I feel and believe that some of these rending fissures still remain and haunt our fragile nation, caused ironically by engagement in a civil war in Southwest Asia.

Time to move on–armed with memories of a difficult decade.

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): A War That Still Resonates and Sears by Howard Freedlander

Share

For five nights last week, I found myself transfixed by the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary about the Vietnam War. I am still watching the second five episodes. When I ask others about this superb series, I discover they too view “The Vietnam War” as searingly powerful.

This was my generation’s war. It informed my life as a young adult. It continues to haunt me. It was a conflict disastrous to the emotional health of this country, not to speak of the shocking loss of 58,000 American lives.

This documentary is stunningly impressive in its portrayal of the disastrous combat–analyzed intermittently by American, South Vietnamese, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese fighters, enlisted and officer–and the wrong-headed policy-makers in our nation’s capital.

For full disclosure, I served in the Army Reserve, 1968-1974. I faced little chance of being called up to serve in Southeast Asia. I was lucky. I knew it then. I know it now. While I served my country, I didn’t test my mettle in deadly combat.

In 1968, I fully understood and observed the fierce opposition to the war, as expressed in widespread protests on the streets and campuses of our embattled nation. I too decried our political leadership and tactical moves made by General William Westmoreland, the wartime commander. I decried the body bags arriving sadly and solemnly at Dover Air Force Base.

While I deeply loved my country then and now, I despised decisions that resulted in the overwhelming personal destruction of our troops. I felt shaken by the urban riots, tied to the significant number of African-American deaths in Vietnam–and the still racist country to which our black troops returned. I sensed an alarming dishonesty on the part of Westmoreland and his political bosses, including President Lyndon Johnson.

Amid our increasing build-up in South Vietnam, we were saddled with an incompetent, corrupt government in Saigon. This instability added to the difficulty of winning the hearts and minds of everyday citizens in the cities and countryside.

Due to this ill-advised war and the Watergate scandal that followed in the early 1970s, a wave of cynicism toward, and distrust of government and educational and corporate institutions engulfed our country. This cloud still overhangs us. It underlies our attitudes and beliefs.

Trust with wariness, verify with doubt. In my opinion, trust became an implicit casualty of the Southeast Asian combat in rice paddies, jungles, and military miscues.

Incidentally, I recall a time in the mid-1980s when the retired Westmoreland visited Easton to participate in the dedication of the Vietnam Monument in front of the Talbot County Courthouse. He appeared in similar circumstances throughout the country. When I asked a retired Army brigadier general and Vietnam veteran if he would join me at the dedication, this mind-mannered man bluntly told me in expletive-laced words that he would stay put. He despised Westmoreland. I suspect he wasn’t alone.

The Burns-Novick documentary, so thoroughly and even-handedly written and produced, has unleashed a torrent of memories and uncomfortable thoughts. Vietnam veterans with whom I’ve spoken in recent days feel equally moved by the wide scope of this spell-binding production. Unlike me, they remember the painful loss of buddies and faith in their military and political superiors.

I watched one episode last week with a friend, a former Marine who served more than eight months in ‘Nam. He remarked about the hard-nosed North Vietnamese soldiers, fervent, violent Communists who had pushed aside the “nationalists” inspired by Ho Ching Minh. This particular episode pointed to this division in North Vietnam.

This country, so riven by discord and disagreement, treated our returning veterans with unjustified disrespect and scorn. Our fellow citizens forgot, shamelessly so, that our troops fought a miserable war planned and organized by civilian and military leaders.

Our troops deserved better treatment; they had fought for the right of their fellow citizens to disagree. They didn’t fight for inhumane treatment as they returned in uniform from a war they didn’t start or envision.

The Vietnam War bore little or no resemblance to World War II, the anti-fascist war fought by my generation’s fathers. It was far more complex. It resulted from the Cold War, not the evil, poisonous machinations of a European dictator. It had geo-political implications misunderstood by our political leaders. It required interference in a civil war between South and North Vietnam.

It compelled us to grasp an inconvenient truth: we didn’t belong in Vietnam.

Friends fought in Viet Nam. They returned, fortunately. I’ve met many veterans on the Eastern Shore. I deeply admire them. They fought in an unpopular war. They endured senseless abuse when they came home. They moved on.

I think about Kent County resident Wayne Gilchrest, a former First District congressman who served in Vietnam as an enlisted man in the Marines. He quietly wears his combat service as a badge of honor. His experience in war and keen intelligence informed his decision to oppose President George W. Bush’s decision to initiate war against Iraq. For taking this position, as well as other independent stands, this moderate Republican lost a primary election to current Congressman Andy Harris. We lost a really good person and military veteran in our fractious Congress.

At this writing, I’ve watched two more episodes. I continue to be immersed in a documentary about an explosive and contentious time in American history. Burns and Novick have produced a documentary not only about a war but about a country that suffered loss of precious American lives and a world shaken by this remote conflict.

This superb 10-episode documentary represents television at its best. The drama inherent in the starkly realistic history of the Vietnam War, as presented by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, pierced my soul.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Storms Offer Wake-Up Call by Howard Freedlander

Share

It was nearly impossible during the past few weeks to avoid paying rapt attention to the destruction and disruption of lives caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Many of us knew people in the paths of these two shattering and stunning storms.

I know people whose primary home is in Houston. Fortunately, they were here in Talbot County, in constant touch with loved ones. They patiently responded to expressions of concern from their Eastern Shore friends.

No sooner did Harvey ceased its fury that Irma followed in its path, visiting its devastation upon the Caribbean and Florida. Again, we had friends and family dealing with flooding and power lost to high winds and broken trees.

It would have been too easy, if not foolish, to disregard the possibility of storm surge on our low-lying piece of Planet Earth. It would be equally silly to ignore the impact of global warming in enhancing the intensity of Harvey and Irma. Media reports rightly focused on the dire plight of residents of Houston and other Texan towns and cities, as well as Key West, Miami and other cities in Florida. I suspect that scientists will contribute their analyses at some point.

All of us should pay attention to the human dimension of the recent storms, specifically on the correlation between global warming as caused or aggravated by all of us on earth and the frequency and powerfulness of storms in recent years.

I will refrain from my typical exhortations about global warming and climate change. Instead, I will spend a few paragraphs addressing preemptive steps, long-discussed, to minimize the impact of storms. My source is Brian Ambrette, coastal resilience manager at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC). For full disclosure, I sit on the ESLC board of directors.

In his frequent electronic newsletter, Ambrette wrote the following, with which I totally agree:

“Why do we wait for tragedy to occur before planning for it? The answer is probably as psychological as it is political and best left to the pundits to debate. To break the disaster-then-prepare cycle, sea level rise is the next clear scenario to consider. A prudent course is to model hurricane flooding with educated assumptions about how much higher the sea will be in future years. Those results can inform zoning and building codes so that the housing stock built today is prepared for the storms of tomorrow. On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the country’s third most vulnerable region to sea level rise, communities are collaborating via the Eastern Shore Climate Adaptation partnership on proactive responsible planning to reduce the cost in lives and dollars of future storms. Likewise, federal leadership must prioritize and fund planning for the next storm, not the last one.”

As I’ve learned about Brian Ambrette and his patient work to encourage communities to adapt before a calamity, he offers a common sense approach to the devastating and destructive impact of storm surge. His words and thoughts are devoid of political recriminations or unproductive denial. This ‘pundit” does not feel so restrained.

If denial of global warming is steeped in politics—however much I question such errant thinking—then I believe that “adaptation” in the form of stronger, realistic building codes might provide a common ground for constructive action and unified agreement.

As Ambrette wrote, “Now Harvey has introduced a new challenge for disaster planners: formerly incomprehensive quantities of rain. With luck, communities will become better prepared for city-swallowing rainstorms thanks to the suffering heaped on millions of Texans (and Floridians).

Media coverage continues to illustrate the resilience of our fellow citizens in Texas and Florida as they seek to recover and reestablish the normalcy of their lives. Tales of neighbors helping neighbors and disaster relief agencies working feverishly to restore power and clear streets and highways of trees, cars and debris are heartwarming and reassuring.

Still, we must confront the ill effects of global warming. And we must prepare now for the next storm, the next disaster, the next life-shattering weather event.

We must adapt today. Tomorrow may be too late. Lives are at stake.

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): Too Many Generals? By Howard Freedlander

Share

In recent weeks I’ve read articles and op-ed pieces about the prominence in the Trump White House of three generals. Gen. John Kelly, chief of staff; Gen. Jim Mattis, secretary of defense and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, national security advisor. The question raised is whether the presence of these gentleman undermines the long-held and well-respected tradition in our country of civilian rule over the military.

In other words, is our nation threatened by a potential military coup due to the high-level positions held by these generals (two of whom, Kelly and Mattis, are retired)?

Do these military officers exercise too much influence over policy development and execution?

Before I offer my opinion, I should state that my favorite room in the Maryland State House in Annapolis is the Old Senate Chamber, where General George Washington resigned his commission, thus illustrating and exemplifying the primacy of civilian rule over the military establishment. It was not a mere gesture. It was purposeful on the part of a man blessed with abundant common sense and love of country. He understood that democracy demanded civilian jurisdiction over the armed services—though this civilian governance could and would often over nearly 240 years rankle wartime commanders bothered by interference considered ill-informed by uniformed individuals.

Now reading a book describing President Harry Truman’s firing of General Douglas McArthur during the Korean War, I feel even more strongly about the civilian-military relationship in our nation. It was a messy but necessary divorce.

Back to our current state of affairs and the supposedly influential generals mentioned in the lead paragraph. I see no danger of the militarization of the top rungs of Trump Administration. I see no threat or degradation of our long-established tradition of civilian control. My reasons follow.

These three gentlemen are exceedingly competent and intelligent people who have long occupied positions of responsibility.

In today’s foreign policy environment, involving numerous conflicts and flare-ups across our earth, military leaders like Kelly, Mattis and McMaster have become fluent not only in warfare but diplomatic maneuvers. They have not sat in a metaphorical foxhole sheltered from complex international issues and debate.

Anybody who has served in combat and experienced death and destruction on the battlefield is typically reluctant to enter another fray. Simply, concern by some that generals situated in high-level civilian positions are trigger-happy warriors is plainly mistaken. Gen. Kelly lost a son in Iraqi combat.

Since World War II, retired generals have played significant roles in national security roles, to the benefit of American citizens. General George Marshall served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense during the Cold War. He was widely respected, if not revered in some quarters, for his competence, steadiness, and integrity. More recently,

More recently, General Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor under President George H.W. Bush and then as Secretary of State under President George Bush. He too was exceptional.

While I realize that Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster have gained media attention because three is a larger number than one, and they are serving an erratic, undisciplined president, they are gifted individuals who view public service as a noble, sometimes treacherous undertaking. They provide much-needed stability and orderly thinking at a time when both are in short supply in the current White House.

One final reason: Generals Kelly and Mattis are retired, fully deserving of being full-fledged citizens able and willing to serve their country in suits and ties, bringing a wealth of experience and wisdom. Lt. Gen. McMaster is still on active duty; he’s been willing to serve in a civilian capacity while putting his military career on hold.

I feel totally comfortable with both the number and quality of generals in the Trump Administration. They are qualified and capable. They are learning that political and bureaucratic combat is difficult and demanding. They realize that recommendations they make (or don’t) have far-reaching consequences.

As I pray in church for peace and political wisdom, I express thanks for the likes of Generals Kelly, Mattis, and McMaster. Their fellow Americans are fortunate they are still serving and serving well.

George Washington might cringe a bit at the prominence of the three generals. Upon reflection, he would understand their invaluable contributions to a nation in need.

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): Crab and Gabfest Could Come to an End by Howard Freedlander

Share

For 41 years the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake has been a must-attend event in Crisfield for state politicians and people who like to be around them. The seafood, of course, is a draw, as long as you don’t mind eating crabs and clams under tents on black asphalt that radiates heat.

This iconic event attracts public officials and wannabees from throughout the state of Maryland; it’s become a rite of passage every summer. Temperatures invariably are hot, humid and horrid. Still, politicians and their backers flock to this most distant point on the Lower Eastern Shore.

Why I am writing about the Tawes crab and clam picnic when it receives more than ample media coverage?

My answer is simple, if not alarming. The town of Crisfield may cease to exist as we know it. The annual gathering may have to move upland.

A study produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists identified 167 communities in 13 coastal states that by 2025 will confront chronic rain surges, defined as when high tides flood 10 percent or more of a community’s usable, non-wetland area at least 26 times a year. Twenty-two of these communities are in our state, mostly on the Eastern Shore.

According to this study, Crisfield will face continual flooding of more than half its land area within about 20 years.

In a recent story on Channel 7 in Washington, DC, the reporter interviewed two women, one of whom runs the passenger ferries from Crisfield to Smith Island. She sounded downright pessimistic about the future of her business. Her dialect revealed that she was a Crisfield native who was envisioning not only the possible demise of her business but the severe disruption of her quality of life.

With this sort of rain-inundated future looming over Crisfield and other similar communities, real estate values could plummet. Residents could scatter to higher ground—and new lives.

As inevitable as coastal flooding appears to scientists and many others concerned about climate change and global warming, adaptation remains a viable, if not imperative response. With financial support state and federal agencies, communities have begun mapping flood plains, directing new development to less vulnerable areas and building buffers to minimize the imminent destruction and force of a surging ocean.

Armed with government funding, communities are taking an open-eyed approach to the impending danger of destructive flooding. They understand the impact on business development and real estate.

As I’ve written before, denial is not an option.

The Eastern Shore of Maryland is a special place. Opportunities exist now to adapt and prepare for a future that can and will change the character of a place like Crisfield. For example, as shown on the Channel 7 broadcast, a waterfront condominium building in Crisfield sits on concrete pilings—that’s just plain smart, while long-existing crab processing buildings face the water with no protection.

Though politicians and their supporters can go elsewhere for food, chatter and visibility, a 41-year-old tradition is worth retaining in Crisfield in mid-July every year. I hope that local civic and political leadership is plotting a future that somehow mitigates the impact of disabling flooding.

***************************

Like many throughout our nation, I pray for U.S. Senator John McCain as he battles a pernicious brain cancer. He’s a tough guy who withstood five years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese during the Viet Nam War. He’s engaged in many political battles in our nation’s contentious Capitol.

I met Senator McCain once just prior to his speaking several years ago at my alma mater’s graduation ceremony. We exchanged very few words—though I was willing to talk more. Perhaps he was preoccupied. Perhaps I should have left him alone.

John McCain is a fervent patriot and outstanding public servant. He will continue to fight to survive.

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.