Out and About (Sort of): Crab and Gabfest Could Come to an End by Howard Freedlander

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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.

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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.

Out and About (Sort of): Bemused Brits Unfazed by July 4th by Howard Freedlander

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Ever wonder what our British friends think about our celebration of July 4th as we gather for cookouts with family and friends, watch fireworks with great delight and wear patriotic clothes?

What I don’t wonder about is whether current residents of the Mother Country feel embarrassed about the defeat of British forces during the Revolutionary War. I suspect they don’t care a whit. What happened more than 240 years ago when our rebellious young nation rose up in angry protest against what it considered repressive treatment by its British rulers is all in the past.

My not very extensive search for insight to the British viewpoint on American frivolity on the fourth day of July led me to a reservoir of good humor (or should I say “humour?”).

Vigilant about injecting politics into this week’s column, I will only say that the Brits must be having a field day in applying their wry, sometimes biting commentary about the ridiculous behavior of our cartoonish president. Okay, readers, I will move on; I vented, moderately.

As I combed through a maze of internet writings, I happened upon Redux / Suffolk Scribblings and found a mother lode of humor entitled “5 Reasons why the British should celebrate 4th July.” I will summarize them:

  • “It was our idea.” The thinking goes like this: Thomas Paine, born in Thetford, England, wrote “Common Sense” only two years after arriving in the United States, it was an early book promoting colonial America’s independence. John Adams, one of our founders, heaped great praise on the book.
  • “We got to keep Canada.” Though I said I would not delve into our nation’s messy, dysfunctional politics, I must say that Great Britain is far better off at this time in history with our civilized neighbor to the north than our divisive, poorly functioning states.
  • By paying attention to other colonies after granting independence to its bumptious American cousins, Britain could focus on India—and enjoy its culinary delights such as curry.
  • July 4th is the only day in the calendar year that Americans pronounce correctly. “For 364 days in the year, our American cousins say April Sixth or February Eleventh. It is only on this special day that the date is pronounced correctly: the fourth of July. “
  • Perhaps the most important and substantive reason (my sarcasm) is the retention of cricket as a singular possession of the British, regardless of the popularity of baseball in the United States. Bemoaning the domination by Australia, India, the West Indies and South Africa in cricket, the writer muses: “Can you imagine how dominant the US would be if all 400 plus million people loved the game?”

To turn serious, I find that the most significant expression of British acknowledgement of our July 4th celebration occurred on July 4, 1940. In an incredibly effective and eloquent speech before the British parliament, Prime Minister Winston Churchill goaded President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to leave the sidelines of war waged by Nazi Germany and join Great Britain in fighting this menace. Specifically, Churchill succeeded in persuading Roosevelt to approve the Lend Lease program involving vitally needed warships.

What Churchill said was masterful. He told the world, including the reluctant United States, that England would stand resolutely committed to defending democracy against a rapidly spreading despotism.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I don’t for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s name, the new world, with all power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the old.”

So, ironically and strategically, Churchill rallied his countrymen on America’s Independence Day—but, most importantly, pushed the United States into a conflict it no longer could ignore. Churchill understood that the Free World was in desperate jeopardy. This crusade required dependence by allied countries on each other to preserve freedom.

Surrounded by good cheer, good food, and glorious fireworks, the Fourth of July has a moral underpinning to it. Winston Churchill understood that link and persuaded President Roosevelt to give renewed attention to American responsibility.

Happy Fourth, USA and Great Britain!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately, the American version consumes less distance and stamina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out and About (Sort of): The Third Bay Bridge—No More Waiting by Howard Freedlander

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After years and years of studies and discussion, the 2017 General Assembly finally said: enough’s enough.

Working mainly out of sight—meaning away from the sneaky, ever-watchful media—a joint legislative committee, meeting for months in a back room at Harry Browne’s on State Circle, decided that the third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span will be an underwater rapid transit system. It will go from near the eastbound span to Claiborne in Talbot County.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, Talbot County will no longer evade the masses of people traveling from the Western to the Eastern Shore. And, to add insult to injury, Talbot County taxpayers will be on the hook for accommodating the beach-anxious visitors. In other words, the county will provide rapid transit to Dorchester County, also under the Choptank River.

But that system is covered in another Spy article.

Staging the final, momentous summit at Harry Browne’s, a convenient venue for hungry and thirsty power-brokers, was a shrewdly counter-intuitive choice. As the select group of senators and delegates performed their legislative magic on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, their peers, lobbyists, media representatives and assorted political junkies were reveling during the festive day of the Green. No frivolity for these clever transit-masters.

So, you may ask, what will this underwater transit system cost? A conservative estimate is $2-3 billion. And, to top it all, this figure will be in a supplementary budget proposed in the waning days of the 2017 legislature by Gov. Larry Hogan. There will be little or no time for public input. The normal give-an-take of the democratic process will be short-circuited.

Just the way it is sometimes.

The die is cast. Endless talk about a third span will cease. Kent Islanders are saved; these hearty folks will simply have to tolerate existing motorists furiously eager to Reach the Beach (as former Governor William Donald Schaefer termed his ambitious effort to expand the lanes to Kent Island).

You might wonder how this Spy columnist learned about this impressively massive transportation project. How did he insert himself among unnamed state legislators as they spelled out an incredibly bold public works project? I can’t disclose why I received this unusual invitation to enter a secretive and powerful sanctum.

Suffice it to say that I know people in high places. They trust me for reasons completely unclear to me. They knew I would appreciate a preposterous scheme such as this one. They knew only I could communicate clearly and credibly to my many friends in Talbot County.

How does this innovative project benefit Talbot County? Now that’s a very good question. Simply, it enables the county to be part of a grand solution to deal with the increasing traffic over the existing Bay Bridge, the prestige factor is undeniable. No longer aloof and seemingly uncaring about the problems plaguing our state, including significant transportation logjams, Talbot County is becoming a major player in the resolution of a long-simmering dilemma.

It feels so satisfying to be part of the state team.

I learned something else in the inner sanctum, dominated by good cheer and a distinct sense of destiny: the underwater transit system may have a rest stop for visitors, a place for dining as the Bay’s bounteous creatures circle about. Approximate cost of this radical creation: probably another $100 million.

If readers can discern my excitement about this incredibly innovative (and, yes, expensive) solution to increasingly overwhelming traffic congestion, it’s because I can see an exciting future for fast transit across the Chesapeake Bay.

And, of course, I could take pride that Talbot County would be an integral part of this cutting-edge transportation technology.

I know my fellow county residents would feel equally joyful.

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.

Editor’s Note: For our less observant readers, it is important to note that this is an example of what fake news looks like. Happy April Fools Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange emotions can overcome you, unexpectedly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County

Delegate Dan Morhaim of Baltimore County

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

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

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

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

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

I find his comment lame and unsettling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perception is a tough, unrelenting judge.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Togetherness amid Tragedy by Howard Freedlander

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On Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, I escaped the pre-game hoopla for a memorial service at American Legion Post #70 in Easton to pay homage to the “Four Chaplains” who died as the U.S.A.T. Dorchester sunk in the frigid North Atlantic waters off the coast of Greenland.

The story about the Four Chaplains, though well known, poignantly underscores cherished values of faith, unity, courage and selflessness. Little wonder that this touching tale continues to resonate.

Carrying 902 servicemen, merchant seamen and civilian workers, the 5,649-ton vessel, once a luxury coast liner converted into an Army transport ship, the Dorchester was steaming from Newfoundland to an American base in Greenland. Officers knew that German U-boats were a constant threat; several ships had already been struck and sunk by German torpedoes.

And so that too was the Dorchester’s unfortunate fate.

Hit about 1 a.m. on the starboard side, amid ship, far below the waterline, this packed transport ship took on water, rapidly sinking in less than 20 minutes. The icy seas became a grave for 672 men in the wee hours of Feb. 3, 1943.

Panic consumed the ship as men jumped from the ship into rafts, some capsizing due to overcrowding. Death was a stark reality.

Lt. George L, Fox (Methodist), Lt. Alexander D. Goode (Jewish), Lt. John P. Washington (Roman Catholic) and Lt. Clark V. Poling (Dutch Reformed) became heroes by offering prayers, a sense of calm and help for those seeking the safety of lifeboats. They distributed life jackets to men trying to escape a doomed ship.

At this point, the chaplains did something remarkable: they removed their own life jackets and gave them to the men. Then, as the ship went down, the four chaplains linked arms, according to survivors, and offered prayers

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 7.52.56 AMA prayer read in the stillness of the American Legion spoke beautifully about the “unity that transcends all our differences and makes us one in loyalty to our country and our fellow men and to you, our God…may we remain faithful to the spirit of our Four Chaplains who, having learned to live and serve together, in death were not divided.”

This story has many overriding themes, all tied to the best in us. Crises have a way of doing that. Tragedy begets goodness, in most instances.

The four chaplains cared nothing about the religious preferences of the men whom they helped. Differences in liturgy and faith were irrelevant. What did matter to them were their faith in God; their lives belonged to a higher power, one that superseded the calamities and tragedies imposed by war.

Their arms linked in unity on a rapidly sinking ship, Reverend Fox, Rabbi Goode, Father Washington and Reverend Poling exemplified ultimate selflessness and uncommon courage amid chaos and certain death. They remained loyal to each other—and their devotion to the desperate men fighting for their lives on a dark, freezing night.

As the U.S.A.T. Dorchester sank, these four young clergymen raised themselves in the eyes and hearts of the survivors who watched in disbelief and admiration from their lifeboats.

Were this a thankfully short sermon, instead of a weekly column, I would tie the overarching themes of sacrifice, faith, unity and courage to our everyday lives. I would stand on my imaginary soapbox and plead for the application of these enduring values to our body politic.

But I won’t. It’s not necessary. It would seem preachy, maybe even a bit pompous.

The “Four Chaplains” story stands on its own human and spiritual foundation. Its lessons are clear to any of us who believe that goodness and grace mark our lives. In a communal tragedy—such as 9/11—we pull together and amass our collective strength and empathy, at least briefly.

As organized mayhem and tasty nachos awaited me, during our national paean to sports and physical dominance called the Super Bowl, I took a welcome, early afternoon respite to pay tribute to four men who died 74 years ago in the icy North
Atlantic waters during World War II. They were heroes of the highest order.

Their story is a powerful one. Their story touches your 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.