Op-Ed: A Chesapeake Bay Commentary by Philip Hoon

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I am an avid reader of the Washington Post but with all due respect take exception to the fatalistic sub-headline of its March 22 editorial that “The last, best hope to revive the estuary is now imperiled by the Trump administration.”

It is, of course, most unfortunate that the Trump administration has proposed a termination of Chesapeake Bay restoration funding.

But while there is good reason to contest that proposal as it makes its way through the Congressional budget process, the reality is that there are likely to be some, perhaps very significant, cuts to that funding. So now is the time to rise to the occasion. . . and begin to prepare for the stark reality ahead.

To that end, it seems appropriate to me that perhaps now is the time for private sector organizations and initiatives in the primary states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed – Maryland & Virginia – to collaborate in a common mission, and free of a organizational ego, with those in the secondary states – Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia & Delaware– in trying to work with state governments to accomplish the shared regional goal of a clean and healthy Bay.

In other words, let’s not cry in our beer. After all, remember the challenges of The Greatest Generation and how it responded to the challenges of the times. . .

I am not a scientist, but from all that has been published, it does not seem that more study of the problems of the Bay is needed. It is clear that excess nitrogen, phosphorous and siltation are the primary culprits. So let’s get to work.

I believe that I read that annual Federal funding for the Chesapeake Bay is currently $105 million. While that is not an insignificant amount, perhaps it should be put in perspective.

The US Geological Survey estimates that 18 million people live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Therefore, the per capita cost of replacing that $105 million Federal Government funding is $5.83 per person per year . . . that is less than 2¢/day.

And while we are at it, there is a view of many that the millions of Federal dollars spent over the past several decades have been ineffectively applied to accomplish the Bay restoration goal. After all, many of its tributaries are impaired so it is a bit disingenuous to assert that the Bay is really improving as it should be.

Another interesting idea might be to request Washington to designate the Chesapeake Bay as a national park so that it would receive the protections and assistance that such a special status would afford. I am not sure of all the implications of that, and do not know whether the Trump administration has proposed budget cuts to our great national parks. But all in all, I would think that the Chesapeake Bay might qualify to be one of the first new national parks in the 21st Century.

At times like this, I think that “out of the box thinking” is needed. So while these ideas might not be viable, the reality may be that something like them needs to be pursued if our cherished Chesapeake Bay is to be preserved.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and do what the Washington bureaucrats have not been able to do. After all, we who live in its watershed are the ones who have the greatest opportunity to enjoy the mighty Chesapeake Bay.

We are that “last best hope” for the Chesapeake Bay, and there is work to be done.

Philip Hoon is a private attorney in Chestertown, Maryland.

Op-ed: Marijuana legalization Shouldn’t be Held Hostage to Drugged Driving Concerns by Paul Armentano

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Maryland lawmakers are once again considering legislation to regulate the adult use and sale of marijuana to those age 21 or older. Nearly six in 10 residents support this reform, according to a February Goucher poll. But opponents charge that doing so could pose a risk to traffic safety.

Such concerns are not all together unfounded, but deserve to be placed in proper context.

First, it should be stressed that driving under the influence of marijuana is already a criminal offense in Maryland. Nothing in the language of Maryland’s proposed adult use laws changes this reality.

Second, scientific studies consistently find that marijuana-positive drivers possess a comparatively nominal accident risk, particularly when compared with alcohol-positive drivers. In fact, the largest ever controlled trial assessing marijuana use and motor vehicle accidents, published in 2015 by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reports that marijuana positive drivers possess virtually no statistically significant crash risk compared to drug-free drivers after controlling for age and gender.

By contrast, drivers with detectable levels of alcohol in their blood at legal limits possess nearly a four-fold risk of accident, even after adjusting for age and gender.

This finding is consistent with prior meta-analyses of crash risk data. For example, a review of 66 separate crash culpability studies published in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention reported that THC-positive drivers possessed a crash risk on par with drivers testing positive for penicillin (Odds Ratio: 1.10 for cannabis versus Odds Ratio: 1.12 for penicillin) This risk is far below that associated with driving with two or more passengers (OR=2.2) and is comparable to the difference between driving during the day versus driving at night.

Further, data from states that have liberalized marijuana’s legal status show no uptick in motor vehicle crashes. Writing in December in the American Journal of Public Health, investigators at Columbia University reported, “[O]n average, medical marijuana law states had lower traffic fatality rates than non-MML states. …. Medical marijuana laws are associated with reductions in traffic fatalities, particularly pronounced among those aged 25 to 44 years. … It is possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior in MML-states.”

A review of federal FARS data (Fatal Analysis Reporting Systems) further finds that trends in motor vehicle accidents in Colorado and Washington post-legalization are no different than crash trends in non-legalization states over this same period of time.

Nevertheless, the use of marijuana prior to driving ought to be discouraged and better efforts ought to be made to identify drivers who may be under the its influence. These include greater funding for the training of Drug Recognition Evaluators, the use of modified roadside field sobriety tests, and potentially the provisional use of roadside marijuana-sensitive detection technology, such as saliva test or breath test technology.

These efforts should not include the imposition of per se thresholds for THC or its metabolites, as such limits are not scientifically correlated with driver impairment.

Efforts should also be made to better educate the public with regard to the existing traffic safety laws, as well as to the evidence surrounding marijuana’s potential influence on driving. In particular, this messaging should stress that combining marijuana and alcohol greatly impacts driving behavior and is associated with far greater risk of accident than the use of either substance alone.

Such an educational campaign was implemented nationwide in Canada by the Canadian Public Health Association and could readily be replicated in the United States and promoted by groups like the American Automobile Association.

In addition to increasing public safety, implementing these steps would help assuage concerns that regulating the adult use of marijuana could potentially lead to an increase in incidences of drugged driving or limit the state’s ability to successfully identify and prosecute such behavior.

Adults’ consumption of and demand for marijuana is here to stay. It is time for Maryland lawmakers to acknowledge this reality. It is time to stop ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises and to regulate its adult use and sale accordingly.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and is the co-author of the book “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink.”

Op-Ed: The Case for a Fracking Ban by Paul Roberts and Mike Tidwell

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Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale-gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic, and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas-drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Two bills are pending. one bans fracking altogether, while the other extends the moratorium for two years—though it departs from the current moratorium by permitting fracking in counties that approve it by referendum. On the ban bill, 23 of the Senate’s 33 Democrats are co-sponsors; the moratorium bill has 24 co-sponsors, including several Republicans.

In the House of Delegates, leadership declared long ago that a frack-free Maryland was its preference. A ban bill is advancing, and there is no moratorium bill. After committee hearings, legislation may go to the floor of each chamber for further debate. If the House and Senate don’t pass the same bill, some sort of compromise is required before any legislation can be approved and sent to the governor for his consideration.

About three-fourths of Marylanders already live in a place where local elected officials have created anti-fracking laws or resolutions. But fracking is regulated by the state. So, for those who’ve worked for six legislative sessions on the issue, the “heavy lift” is in the Maryland Senate.

Unlike neighboring Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Maryland did not rush into fracking. Successive administrations studied the technology, then overhauled outdated regulations. Meanwhile, energy prices continued to fall. The industry allowed nearly all of its original sub-surface mineral leases purchased last decade to lapse.

Furthermore, Maryland lacks large-scale deposits, the pipeline and processing infrastructure, or interest from industry (in the form of leased mineral rights) to make large-scale fracking financially feasible today. Yet we can’t rule out a change of circumstances that drives up fossil fuel prices—setting set off a new round of leasing that leads to fracking in years ahead.

Meanwhile, mounting problems elsewhere show the technology cannot be effectively regulated. In Pennsylvania recently, investigators from Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit, dug up previously undisclosed citizen complaints about water contamination from fracking. Their work took years. Far from regulators’ 280-odd citations against industry, Public Herald found some 4,100 complaint filings—all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled. There’s more. It appears that the vast majority were never investigated. Then unresolved original complaints were shredded. Hundreds of state law violations were documented, and Flint, Mich.-style government criminality is a possibility.

In recent weeks in Western Maryland, many residents were infuriated by the Senate president’s public remarks that “there are no jobs whatsoever” in that part of the state. In fact, the unemployment rate in Western Maryland in 2016 was almost identical to the state average, and lower than some counties. Long gone are the days that Mountain Maryland depended overly on extractive energy and assembly line work.

Tourism and vacation real estate provide about half of all jobs and two-thirds of Garrett County’s tax base. Some of the highest-value rural real estate in the eastern United States lines the shores of Deep Creek Lake—second only to Ocean City as a vacation destination for Marylanders. Generations have visited and created the magical memories that many families cherish forever.

To state the obvious, nowhere in the world do fracking and world-class tourism mix. That’s why in Florida right now, with Republicans in charge, the legislature is considering a fracking ban. Florida’s economy is Deep Creek’s, writ large.

Additionally, fracking is “anti-business”: While a few short-term jobs may be created, most Western Marylanders—like others in a state where the solar industry grew 40 percent in 2015—prefer small-business ownership, with sustainable economic investments in tourism, agriculture, and green energy.

Mountainside solar installations are burgeoning. Indeed, Western Marylanders want the same future as the rest of the state. Most polls show that a strong majority of Garrett and Allegany county residents want the fracking ban that Marylanders as a whole support.

Is this another “jobs versus environment” debate? Not at all. Nationally, less than 10 percent of jobs on a well-pad are unionized. Along with embalmers and theater projectionists, zero petroleum engineers belong to unions.

The Laborers International Union recently came out in support of fracking and staged a rally in Annapolis. In a union with a proud tradition of training workers in emerging industries, wouldn’t organizing solar-industry installers sustain and grow its membership?

Finally, there’s the matter of fracking’s effect on global climate change. Farmers statewide are already feeling the effects of erratic precipitation, unpredictable freezes and bigger storms. This year, the annual “Winterfest” festival in Oakland, Md. (the state’s “snowiest” town) was postponed due to spring-like weather.

Scientists agree that fossil fuel combustion is driving planetary warming. And new scientific analysis confirms that fracked gas is nearly as bad as coal for the atmosphere. That’s because, before it is burned at distant power plants or on your stovetop, natural gas (mostly methane) is constantly leaking from wellheads, pipelines and compressor stations. Estimates of leakage vary from about 2 percent of production to more than 10 percent. Overall, carbon dioxide is a more potent greenhouse gas, but in the short-term—measured in 20-year periods—methane is orders of magnitude more detrimental. So the life-cycle warming impact of gas rivals coal. To save our climate, we have to steadily move off of gas, not increase its use through reckless fracking.

For Maryland’s economy, health and environment, we need to ban fracking once and for all. This drilling method will never be safe. We have all of the data we need on that. Now we just need the political will of our leaders in Annapolis to finally do the right thing.

Paul Roberts served as a state commissioner on a special fracking study panel under former Gov. O’Malley, and is the board president of Citizen Shale in Western Maryland. Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Op-Ed: Apprehension Abroad about US Foreign National Security Policy by Tom Timberman

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Americans in 2017 are distracted or fearful, or euphoric or just plain puzzled by the Trump Administration. Foreigners see no firm guideposts emerging from the White House or the Congressional majority to indicate how the US intends to interact with the rest of the world.

The President’s public communications on international matters as well as those of his senior advisors, to include the Executive Orders, have caused consternation and unease in many foreign capitals.

All observers are attempting to read the tea leaves to extract hints as to where the richest, most powerful nation on Earth may be heading. The Executive Orders issued to date, are somewhat opaque because no one knows how many of them were meant to lay down longer-term policy markers or were intended to demonstrate fidelity to the election campaign agenda. Perhaps clearest to date is the White House preference for keeping the foreign and national security policy decision process within a small number of family members and absolutely trustworthy advisors. Other countries see this approach as obscuring the familiar, traditional roles of the National Security Council, the Departments of State, Defense, Treasury and the Intelligence Community.

The Vice President and the Secretaries of State and Defense are actively attempting to reassure allies and others alike, that the United States will not abruptly change any fundamental, long-standing policies. Most governments from Beijing-Teheran-Moscow to Mexico City-Baghdad-New Delhi, welcome such statements but have adopted a wait & see posture.

No major crisis, demanding more from the USG than diplomatic communications and media messaging, has erupted. Had it, the Trump Administration’s characteristics and priorities might have become more visible to everyone. It is entirely possible that the current relative calm may reflect extra caution on the part of some governments (minus Pyongyang) in the face of Washington’s current unpredictability. However, everyone understands challenges will come.

Domestic America

The Election took place over three months ago, and our Chief Executive has been in office slightly more than thirty days. However, many Americans after more than a year and a half of the 24/7 media displays of Mr. Trump may feel their brains were long since captured by his larger-than-life persona and atmospherics

His statements, Tweets, lifestyle and glamorous family are accessible to anyone at any time. Without question, they provide seductive diversions from most people’s more humdrum daily existence. They also serve to distract millions from the Administration’s somewhat frenetic, first four weeks in charge. But, perhaps most interesting is the emotional nutrition all-things-Trump serves up to very different segments of the body-politic.

The President’s strongest supporters are excited by the Administration’s defiance of the Washington “establishment”, its norms and expectations and invigorated by the dramatic change in tone and treatment of the media, foreign governments, Muslims/immigrants and the general business of being president. At the same time, those who voted for other candidates in the primary and general elections, draw some satisfaction from what they see as the Administration’s rough debut complete with judicial slap downs.

Those who strongly favored Hillary Clinton are excited and encouraged by the huge 1/21/17 Washington Women’s Demonstration and its sister events across the nation and the globe. Trump allies dismiss them as the actions of sore losers who should get over it and move on.

The World

When the subjects addressed in Washington involve national security and foreign policy, attention shifts to a global audience. America’s Allies, friends, and foes have become accustomed since WWII, to the United States providing stability, contributing to world order and following fairly predictable policy themes. This historic background conditions their present reactions and concerns.

Foreign governments are following everything the Trump Administration does, says and hints very carefully. Many admit, after only one month, they are having difficulty deciphering its intentions. What apparently disturbs them most are: (1) the White House and its own Government, fighting with each other and (2) the uncertainty of who speaks for America.

The following represents a sampling of specific issues foreign leaders are waiting for Washington to clarify. What is the Trump Administration’s policy on or position towards…:

The Russian Government?

The existing US, UN, EU sanctions regime imposed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the conquest of Crimea and support of the insurgency in Eastern Ukraine?

Partnering with Russia to combat global terrorism?

Russia’s military support of the Assad Regime in Syria?

The multi-lateral Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Nuclear Agreement) with Iran?

Will the Administration authorize the Boeing Corporation’s $17 Billion aircraft sale to Teheran?

Will it oppose the expansion of European commercial relations with Iran?

The essentiality of the NATO Treaty/Organization to Trans-Atlantic security and on the EU as an important economic element of that relationship?

The One-China Policy as the foundation of its relationship to the PRC?

A military response to China’s efforts to dominate the South China
Sea?

Implementation of the 2016 Paris Environmental Accord?

Global warming as an established fact?

Accepting refugees and asylum seekers from Muslim countries?

The deployment of additional US ground forces in the Middle East?
Multilateral versus bi-lateral trade agreements?

The importance of the United Nations Organization?

Conclusion

The Trump Administration has been in power for only one month. It is very early days for anyone, American or foreign, to be reaching any conclusions tentative or otherwise about its trajectory. Some European commentators have noted similarities between today’s US Government and those more nationalistic and conservative political parties vying in 2017 and 2018 elections, particularly in Germany and France.

However, the questions being raised and doubts expressed overseas today about the coherence of the US political leadership and its capacity to develop a reasonable basis for its foreign and national security policies is not healthy. For better or worse, the US has been for many decades, the only country with sufficient wealth and power, disposed to intervene and restore order, help the helpless and introduce human hope for the future where it has disappeared. Everyone at home and abroad understands mistakes have been made, but that fact has not weakened America’s role as the final fall back for many and the “sleeping tiger” for others.

Some countries will welcome a much reduced American global presence, while many others are fearful such a retreat is imminent. Confusion can be dangerous.

Tom Timberman is an expert on military policy and now lives on the Eastern Shore. Among his many assignments with the US Department of State, he has headed a provincial reconstruction team, embedded within a combat brigade in Iraq. He has also helped implement a new counterterrorism strategy in Southeast Asia as Senior Advisor for South Asia in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

Op-Ed: Death with Dignity Debate by Robert Bjork

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In a recent Spy op-ed, Michael Collins suggested that we need to debate this issue because the proponents of the bill provide personal stories (he calls them tales) that rely on raw emotion to promote these acts and should make us pause before enacting them. In his article he then goes on an emotional journey of his own by using loaded words suicide, killing, and euthanasia to describe this bill and with his own tales of abuse in the Netherlands.

His first sentence in an attempt to explain this act contains the following “….to obtain lethal doses of drugs with which to kill themselves”. A person in this position is not killing themselves they are already going to die very soon. They are choosing to end their lives when, where, and with whom they love. Throughout his article he continuously refers to death with dignity as suicide and even euthanasia.

Medical aid in dying is fundamentally different from suicide:

A person seeking medical aid in dying wants to live but not with the physical or emotional pain that living would require. The person considering suicide has no terminal illness buts want to die.

A person seeking medical aid in dying, is suffering life-ending illness and understand that further treatment is inappropriate and there is no hope for a better outcome. Those considering suicide see no hope but do not recognize their problems are treatable.

People seeking medical aid in dying are deliberate in their request and will often include family in their discussions with their physicians. The act of suicide is secretive and often impulsive without involvement of family, friends, and healthcare professionals.

Equating medical aid in dying with euthanasia is hypocritical. Euthanasia is commonly a lethal injection given by a third party. It is frequently done without the consent or approval of the patient. The bill in the Maryland General Assembly does not allow euthanasia.

Mr. Collins also talks about Doctors violating the Hippocratic Oath. I assume he means the often quoted “do no harm”. Are Doctors doing no harm when they make decisions about treatment based on their expertise alone followed by pushing patients into dangerous treatments that have no hope of improving a person’s life or even prolonging their life? I believe doctors need to obtain a sense of the patients own priorities before discussing treatment options.

Doctors should not be the final arbitrator in this decision it should be up to the person to make that choice.

One of the major components of this bill is that before a Doctor can prescribe a lethal dose of medicine the Doctor must provide the patient with a complete picture of all their end of life options including pain and symptom management, hospice, Voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, declining or stopping life-sustaining treatment, palliative sedation, as well as medical aid in dying.

I don’t disagree with Mr. Collins in that the end of life medical treatment provided in this country needs to be fully debated and thought about. This includes reexamining what medical professionals are taught in medical school.

Mr. Collins should look at Oregon and not the Netherlands for understanding how this law works. This law has been in effect in Oregon since 1997 and in that time End-Of-Life care has improved due in large due to the dialogue encouraged by the law between people and their doctors. Hospice use is high as is other use of palliative care. Some hospice programs reported a 20% increase in referrals since the law went into effect. The in-hospital death rates are the lowest in the nation, in-home death rates are the highest, and violent suicide among hospice patients has virtually disappeared.

Op-Ed: The View of an Oyster Sanctuary from CBF’s Perspective by Tom Zolper

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The fate of Maryland’s oyster population is being worked out in a church basement in Annapolis.

That’s where the state Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) meets the second Monday of each month. This is the group appointed by Governor Hogan to review the state’s oyster management system, and to recommend changes, if necessary.  

This past Monday night was perhaps the most important OAC meet so far. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented a proposal to open up about 970 acres of ‘sanctuary’ oyster reefs to harvest.

As I have on several occasions, I sat in on the OAC meeting. But it was difficult to sit still.

The makeup of the OAC is controversial, filled mostly with watermen and those who sympathize with their views. The direction the OAC is taking also is controversial.  

The controversy brings out the crowds. The OAC meetings used to take place in a meeting room at the DNR headquarters right next door. So many people began showing up, DNR had to move the meeting to the fellowship hall of the Calvary United Methodist Church on Rowe Blvd. Now even that room is often jammed.

Watermen feel the state has cheated them. Under prior governor Martin O’Malley the state increased the acres of productive oyster reefs set aside as sanctuaries—those areas that can’t be harvested. O’Malley himself was guided by scientists’ warnings that so few oysters remained in the Chesapeake that the status quo was no longer viable.

With input from everyone involved with oysters, the harvest industry included, O’Malley increased from nine percent to 24 percent the portion of oyster bars protected as sanctuaries. Three-quarters of reefs were to remain open to harvest. He also relaxed decades-old regulations to give watermen more opportunities to farm oysters rather than harvest them in the wild. In Virginia oyster aquaculture is a booming business, but at the time of O’Malley’s new plan it was negligible in Maryland. The idea was to boost watermen’s earnings, and simultaneously to take out an insurance plan for the future of oysters in the Bay.

There’s no doubt short term watermen took a hit. They had fewer places to harvest, although fortunately for them Mother Nature provided strong oyster reproduction for several years, resulting in strong harvests.  

Scientists and groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) where I work sympathized with the watermen. But we believed someone had to take the long view before oysters were wiped out completely.

CBF, along with a host of western and Eastern Shore groups such as the Midshore River Conservancy, St. Mary’s River Watershed Association, and others, believe the OAC proposal to shrink the sanctuaries is ill-advised. At a minimum, the state must wait till DNR finishes a stock assessment of the oyster population. You wouldn’t start spending more money without knowing what’s in your bank account. That’s exactly what the proposal would do.

It would open up 1277 acres of sanctuaries for harvest in the following rivers and Bay segments: Upper Chester, Miles, Wye, Upper Choptank, Hooper Strait, Upper Patuxent and Tangier Sound. It would expand sanctuaries by 300 acres in: Mill Hill/Prospect Bay, Eastern Bay, Lower Choptank and Nanticoke River. The net result would be 977 fewer acres in sanctuaries, an 11 percent reduction in those sanctuary acres.

It’s only 11 percent, you might say. But it’s 11 percent of the most productive, healthy sanctuary bars in the Bay. And it is giving away these protected areas before we have any idea the true size of the oyster population. That’s not scientific. That’s not sound judgment. Harvesting oysters on those 977 previously protected acres could do irreversible damage to the fragile population.

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly, HB 924, would freeze any alterations in the sanctuaries till after the stock assessment. Oyster harvesting is the only major fishery in Maryland that isn’t managed with a science-based plan. It pays us to wait till we have the science before we implement a major change such as OAC is considering.

The bill will be heard this Friday, Feb. 24, at 1 pm in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. We urge people concerned about the proposal to shrink sanctuaries to make their voice heard.

Tom Zolper is Assistant Director of Media Relations at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. For more information about CBF please go here.

 

  

Machiavelli, Trump, and Washington By Fletcher Hall

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In order to build a new order in Washington, It is first important to identify the leaks in the old order. It was Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, who wrote, “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

Trump is attempting to establish a new order in Washington. Perhaps the first real new order since the end of World War II. In the years since the end of that war and the fall of communism, America has experienced many significant and diverse changes. The expansiveness of the federal government, the civil rights movement, the disappearance of the middle class, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the effectiveness of the education system, and the catastrophe in the medical system are all staggering changes that have occurred in this country.

All of these developments have created cultural and political differences of major proportion. The nation is now divided, there will be a tremendous change in the order of things. The election of Donald Trump ensured these changes. Gone are the Clintons and their 30-year dominance of the Democratic Party. Gone are Barack Obama and his left-of-center political views and policies. Gone is the control of the House and Senate by the Democrats.

Trump, his administration, and the Republican Congress will have a relatively short period of time to change the order of things and to enact the major the legislation they have promised the American people. The next congressional election, which will determine the control of Congress, is less than two years away. Enacting a legislative agenda is not the fastest process known to man, especially in Washington D.C. where gridlock and political procrastination are plentiful.

If Trump desires to fulfill many of his campaign promises, he must find ways to work with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate. The withdrawal of his nominee for Labor Secretary does not bode well. Trump did not have enough Republican Senate votes to ensure his confirmation. Trump must get his Capitol Hill team in place and functioning soon. Investigation after investigation takes time, taxpayer money, and often yields dubious results. Capitol Hill politics are vicious; however, the ability of the White House to work successfully with the legislative body is essential. President Trump must understand and embrace this fact of life. He will have to engage in the job training, and he appears to not like training wheels.

Written in 1513, The Prince is still very pertinent to the understanding of politics today. Machiavelli, the observer of princes and potentates, explains how to govern and use the tools of power to acquire political victories. So far, the ability to preserve the power of the leader is yet to be proven by President Trump. It is not surprising to see the entire Trump administration having a difficult time getting organized. Trump is an insurgent president, and insurgent presidents usually do not have a built-in cadre of loyalists in Washington. The ability to establish a new order will be a significant challenge for President Trump. The long knives are out for him. Since day one in the White House, he has faced the reality that his detractors and opponents wish to bring down his presidency. These knives are both in and out of government.

Politics is a blood sport and it “ain’t bean-bag” to quote Finley Peter Dunne. Trump must learn the nuances of governing in Washington. There are so many moving parts. So many players and so much media. So many talking heads and pundits. Trump needs to get the wagon headed in the right direction before all the wheels come off.
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Op-Ed: Legislating Death with Dignity needs Debate with Dignity by Michael Collins

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The introduction again of legislation that would allow people with terminal illnesses to obtain lethal doses of drugs with which to kill themselves has reignited the debate about assisted suicide in Maryland.

The attraction of the “Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death End-of-Life Option Act,” HB370 and SB354, is understandable. Who has seen people in the last stages of a terminal illness and not thought, “What can we do to ease their suffering?” Whose heart has not gone out to families whose loved ones endure often intense pain as they die?

I’m sure many people have thought, “If I am ever in that condition, I don’t know how long I’d want to hang on.”

These laws’ advocates often use intensely personal tales, such as that of former Annapolis Alderman Dick Israel, who succumbed to Parkinson’s disease, and, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old California woman with terminal brain cancer, who moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s assisted-suicide law.

Yet, that the passage of these laws relies so heavily on their raw emotional appeal should make us pause. We need to ask some hard questions about these issues and think just as hard about their potentially ugly answers.

Have we exhausted all options related to palliative care? If there are laws and regulations that onerously restrict physicians from prescribing the painkillers that can alleviate a terminal patient’s suffering, shouldn’t we change them first?

If enacted, this law will establish the principle that people in Maryland have a right to “death with dignity,” as the legislation was called when first introduced two years ago. With that accomplished, what is there to prevent the law from expanding to allow physician-administered suicide?

Slippery slope

In the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002, physicians are helping people with treatable mental illnesses—like depression—commit suicide. And, numerous doctors have become “angels of death,” euthanizing terminally ill patients without their consent.

A 2012 paper by J. Pereira in Current Oncology, found that despite safeguards built into so-called “death with dignity” laws, most safeguards are ignored.

For example, in 2005, more than 540 people in Holland were euthanized without providing explicit consent. In the Flemish part of Belgium, 208 people were euthanized without consent because they were in a coma.

Pereira’s study concluded that in 30 years, the Netherlands has slowly moved from euthanasia for terminal illnesses to euthanasia for psychological distress. That point was driven home last year in a widely reported case where a woman in her 20s—who did not have a terminal illness—was euthanized in Holland. She had been a victim of sexual trauma and her psychiatrist determined that she had untreatable Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Lawsuits

Proponents of so-called “death with dignity” argue a patient should have the right to self-administer a lethal dose of prescription drugs. But what about people with disabilities? Such a law is one lawsuit from being an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) violation for those who cannot self-administer.

Opponents of capital punishment point to the Hippocratic Oath to keep doctors from assisting in legal executions. They have also attacked drug companies for providing the lethal cocktails for executions. And they have pointed to botched executions as reason to end all executions.

Would doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs be violating their Hippocratic Oath? Could they be subject to professional sanctions?
Will drug companies have an incentive to create more powerful poisons so a patient does not have to swallow 100 capsules?
If even medically supervised executions can be botched, what can we assume about patient suicide? If not supervised, what happens? Could a patient be in a permanent vegetative state requiring life support? If supervised, would more active measures be required?
Proponents of such abortion-inducing drugs as Plan-B have sued pharmacists who refuse to dispense abortificients because it violates their conscience. Will pharmacists be liable to lawsuits if they refuse to prescribe life-ending drugs?

Conscience

The introduction of euthanasia will place Maryland’s health-care professionals on a collision course with numerous ethical and moral dilemmas. Anti-capital punishment activists argue that the Hippocratic Oath prohibits doctors from assisting with legal executions. Can it be made to square with euthanasia?

What about those with religious objections? Will a Muslim doctor be able to refuse to write a prescription for lethal drugs based on his religious beliefs? Will a pharmacist who is an evangelical Protestant be able to refuse to fill such a prescription on the same grounds?

Grim efficiency?

In 2008, Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroop were denied further cancer treatments by Oregon’s state-run Medicaid program because their cancers were in advanced stages. They were informed, however, that it would pay for their assisted suicide drugs.

Opponents of Oregon’s assisted suicide have noted potential conflicts of interest between doctors who approve assisted suicide and their employment with health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

Will Maryland’s Medicaid provide suicide drugs? What about insurance policies purchased through Maryland’s health exchange? Will we create a two-tier system where the wealthy with private insurance get their expensive cancer treatment while the poor on Medicaid get offered suicide drugs?

I fear that many of the people now holding out the promise of “death with dignity” are exploiting our compassion, anxieties, and fears in order to move us—incrementally, at first—toward a truly nightmarish future in which human life will be easily and callously disposed of in service to some amorphous “greater good.” Will we soon have ambulatory “dignity” clinics, like the dystopian future presented in the 1970s film “Soylent Green?” Recall how the Edward G. Robinson character “went home,” a euphemism for assisted suicide.

Before we pass the “End-of-Life Option Act” law, we need a debate with dignity, that strips away the euphemisms, asks the hard questions and gets the unvarnished answers.

Michael Collins can be reached at michael.collins.capital@gmail.com.

Charity and Prudence on Immigration by David Montgomery

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How to deal with the threat of enemies infiltrating the United States under the guise of refugees is a question without easy answers. It is a classic case of reconciling the virtues of charity and prudence. No one would give a stranger a key to their house and let them live in their spare bedroom without checking them out, nor is there any Christian doctrine that demands that naïveté. Of saints and martyrs, perhaps, but not of ordinary men and women. Yet we are also instructed: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb 13:2) A satisfactory resolution is to ask questions first and to keep the guests in a safe place while they dine.

The state has a primary duty to assure the wellbeing of its people, and has authority to do things that individuals may not. That does not mean ignoring the needs of others, but it gives prudence and practical judgment an even higher priority. In a fallen world, no good deed necessarily results in good outcomes, and this is particularly true when nations fail to exercise prudence in their relations with the rest of the world. For my part, I could not devise a materially better way to reconcile prudence and charity in light of the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Depicting the Executive Order on immigration as closing the borders of the United States is preposterous. It is selective, time-limited, based on facts and an assessment of a clear and present threat, includes waiver authority, and is directed at potential enemies who could exploit our good intentions to do us harm. It even sets out what would make entry from any country possible in the future.

Nor is it true, as some critics seem to imply, that the United States left its doors wide open until January 27, 2017. Exactly 100 years ago, Congress passed the first broadly restrictive immigration act, and entry into the US has been limited and based on criteria ever since. FDR failed miserably by every test of morality and statesmanship when he and Churchill refused to bring in Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. The Immigration Act of 1965 replaced national quotas with preference for family reunification. It shifted origins from Europe to Asia and Latin America and reduced quotas for a large number of countries to near zero. President Obama himself suspended entry from the same list of countries for six months and then limited the number of refugees after re-vetting applicants.

The text of the order matters. Here are some actual statements in the order that have been misrepresented or ignored in most press reports and editorials:

The order states that:

… the United States should not admit those who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred (including “honor” killings, other forms of violence against women, or the persecution of those who practice religions different from their own) or those who would oppress Americans of any race, gender, or sexual orientation.

How could anyone fail to applaud this policy statement? Indeed, it explicitly protects the LGBT and feminist factions that are constantly accusing the President of discrimination. It is about time we labeled bigotry, hatred and persecution practiced in other countries and by religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition as what they are.

The order also provides that individuals will be allowed to enter only if it is possible to obtain sufficient information to determine whether or not they would be a threat. This seems to me to be a fully justified act of prudence. Thus there will be

… a review to determine the information needed from any country … to determine that the individual … is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat.

The order then proceeds to discuss how “… countries that do not provide adequate information” will be identified. Nowhere does the order announce a ban on Moslem immigrants nor does it name any country except Syria. Instead it makes reference to a list compiled under President Obama of countries that represent exceptional security risks. A list to which no one objected before President Trump acted on it.

The much-maligned temporary ban on entry from hotbeds of Islamic radicalism is intended to give time to determine which countries provide adequate information, and in the confident conclusion that those seven do not. Moreover, it provides that visas may be issued “on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest” to individuals from those countries seeking entry.

And in the case of refugees, it remedies the inexplicable discrimination against Christian refugees carried out under President Obama. The welcome words of the order are

“…admit individuals to the United States as refugees on a case-by-case basis, … but only so long as they determine that the admission of such individuals as refugees is in the national interest — including when the person is a religious minority in his country of nationality facing religious persecution.”

Facts also matter. First, no word in the order instructs anyone to ignore or violate any law. Instead, it instructs all officials to enforce immigration laws vigorously, thus reversing the order of President Obama that the law be ignored. Second, Europe has faced increased crime, antisocial behavior, and terrorist attacks from immigrants from the same countries subject to the order. A high proportion of refugees now moving into and through Europe are military age males, especially in the cohort from Syria, and both ISIS and Iran have announced that they are infiltrating soldiers and terrorists with the refugees. And we need to worry about the numbers of immigrants from the breeding grounds for Islamic fundamentalism and how they can be assimilated. This we must do to avoid creating zones like those in France where police cannot go and Sharia law is enforced, remembering that Sharia law itself justifies violence against women, gays, and Moslems who convert to another religion.

There are some issues that could have been handled better. I believe that if someone is in danger because of aiding our military overseas, we owe them refuge. But even there prudence demands we make sure about their loyalties. From reports of returning soldiers, this kind of justice for people who helped them was slow and inconsistent under President Obama. President Trump could make it better, by giving the Secretary of Defense full authority over such cases.

There are good reasons why an order like this one needs to go into effect immediately, to avoid a rush of those who will no longer qualify to enter, but it could have been less disruptive if the procedures for waivers had been set out in advance and delegated as far as possible. That would have eliminated the flap about visitors in transit and green card holders that has led to so many false tears. The urgency might not have been as great had President Obama not expunged the existing list of suspected terrorists as a parting gift to the nation.

So I would challenge those who are demonstrating and otherwise expressing outrage at this order. If you are advocating open borders so that anyone can enter and live in the United States without review or hindrance, then say so. If you are opposed to the President, then state why and don’t use this Order as an excuse to condemn him. If you believe it arises from some ill-will toward Muslims, check out the similar order issued by President Obama in 2015. If you have a different solution to the dilemma of generosity versus security, then state it and defend it with facts and logic. I look forward to a discussion with you.

David Montgomery was formerly Senior Vice President of NERA Economic Consulting. He also served as assistant director of the US Congressional Budget Office and deputy assistant secretary for policy in the US Department of Energy. He taught economics at the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University and was a senior fellow at Resources for the Future.