Op-Ed: Hogan Rolls back Septic Laws; Paves the Way for Dumb Growth by Tom Horton


Critics claiming Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s rollback of modern septic tank requirements will modestly increase Bay pollution are misguided.
It’ll be a lot worse than they think.

Hogan’s administration is opening the gate not only for more-polluting septic systems, but for a lot more of them — for a return to the sprawl development that Maryland has spent most of the last 20 years trying to channel into smarter, cleaner growth.

A little background: Most of the 465,000 septic tanks that serve Maryland homes not hooked to sewage treatment plants are one step up from outhouses and cesspools. They remove bacteria, but not the nitrogen, from wastes flowing to groundwater, streams and rivers, and ultimately to the Bay, where it degrades aquatic life.

The newest septics remove twice as much nitrogen, but not nearly as much as do Maryland’s rapidly upgrading sewage treatment plants. Last month, Hogan’s Department of the Environment said the state will no longer require nitrogen-removing septics, except on lots close to the water. This will make it cheaper for developers to build in rural landscapes.

The ties between septic tanks and the countryside are widely underappreciated. State health laws have long served as a crude substitute for more protective rural zoning, which bar development on significant acreages where soils were too soggy, too sloped, too rocky to pass “percolation” tests required to site septic tanks.

“Without septic, you don’t have sprawl,” says Richard Hall, who was Maryland’s secretary of state planning for eight years under Gov. Martin O’Malley, Hogan’s predecessor.

Historically, in the absence of protective rural zoning, septic perc tests steered development toward prime farm soils and bigger lots — toward the suburban sprawl that’s well-documented to increase air pollution through more driving; raise taxes as counties extend services; and gobble up an average eight times as much land per household than do homes connected to sewers.

So with Maryland looking at a projected increase of 1 million people and 500,000 households by 2040, one of the biggest questions for the environment and for quality of life is this: How many will be on sewers, how many on septic?

Minimizing septic tanks seemed the logical answer to Hall and his boss, O’Malley. In 2012, they crafted a widely accepted law that dramatically limited development on septic tanks wherever the landscape was “predominantly agriculture and forest.” About the same time, O’Malley required all new septics to remove nitrogen, making sprawl development more expensive, but also less polluting.

Some rural counties chafed, most notably Cecil in northern Maryland. They submitted for state planning’s review a zoning map that essentially said “in your face” to restrictions on septic-based development on farms and forestland. A county planning official compared then-Secretary Hall to Adolf Hitler.

The septic “tier mapping law” as it is known, left ultimate land use power with the counties; but it gave Hall’s Department of State Planning, and the MDE broad latitude to pressure counties into compliance, even to hold up development if it was contrary to the law’s anti-sprawl intent.

Hogan has quietly reversed all of this. Letters sent to Cecil County from both his environment and planning departments say, in effect, the county can go its own way.
The signals from the state are clear, not just to Cecil, but to Calvert, Queen Anne’s and other rural counties under growth pressure. They need no longer fear state intervention against sprawl. Smart growth is out; dumb growth is back.

The majority of Maryland counties have largely complied with the new law’s requirement that “Tier Four” lands, those where farms and forests predominate, allow only minor development on septic, which is to say only limited development.
But there’s little now to keep them from backsliding, and you can bet that’s not going to be lost on the development community, a powerful political force at the county level everywhere.

State planners these days “pay more attention to the casual Fridays dress code” than they do to Smart Growth laws, says longtime land use advocate Dru Schmidt-Perkins, head of 1000 Friends of Maryland.

“The message to the counties is, ‘Do what you want’,” Hall says of his old department.

Fifty thousand new septic systems would be prevented from being installed in rural landscapes, the O’Malley administration calculated when its 2012 law went into effect. No one should expect that now. We can’t know yet how many will be built, but we know most won’t have to control nitrogen.

Hogan might have helped developers without harming the environment if he had looked at why less polluting septic tanks cost so much — $10,000 to $15,000 apiece.

I’ve seen them done well for half that, by Rich Piluk, a sanitarian in Anne Arundel county. I had one installed myself. But apparently only a few big companies met the state’s requirements for certification and accountability. It’s been suggested counties could set up their own septic management districts to lower costs.

But it’s easier to tout Maryland as “open for business,” with talk of “getting the state off your backs.” With policies that reach well beyond gutting septic restrictions — such as shifting transportation money from mass transit to more roads — Hogan seems determined to defeat the “war on rural Maryland” that his supporters claim O’Malley waged. “Victory” for them means a return to sprawl development.

Tom Horton has written about Chesapeake Bay for more than 40 years, including eight books. He lives in Salisbury, where he is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Salisbury University.

Op-Ed: Aleppo – The Reality Show and Its Next Season by Tom Timberman


Contemplating the Middle East writ large or even its component countries tends to be a short-lived experience for most Americans. We inwardly shudder at the inexplicability of these places and the “rationality” of their populations’ suicidal urges. We remember our 8 years in Iraq and the heavy US human and financial costs paid (4500 KIA, 33,000 WIA, $1.1 trillion), and the absence of “success”. And since 2011, the Syrian Civil War complicated by the presence of various vicious groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda etc who kill and destroy ostensibly for religious and ethnic reason, defies our minds. Some authorities say easy sex, power and lots of money are also involved and that is understandable.

In Syria, it’s a case of a dictator desperate to remain in power who is willing to kill some 500,000 of his own people and destroy their economy and much of their cultural and historic heritage, to do so. After Ukraine, Russia saw an opportunity to expand its influence in the Middle East, demonstrate its intimidating military prowess and restore the glory of the Soviet Empire. Assad and Putin’s motivations are not difficult to grasp.

When confronted with a jumble of impenetrable puzzles or a problem with multiple moving parts, it’s easier to break them apart and focus on a single element and learn enough to proceed.

In terms of the Middle East, Aleppo, Syria’s former largest city is an excellent starting point.

Aleppo: The Reality Show

The death, destruction and human experience in Aleppo have become the narrative and image for the entire Middle East. Daily we see and hear grieving fathers holding their dead children and screaming at the pain of a lost son or daughter; we see brave men digging through the rubble to rescue or remove the survivors or more often, the dead. We learn how many cluster bombs were dropped, hospitals and schools in ruins and always the mounting daily toll. We are exposed to the doctors, nurses and support staff who chose to remain at great risk, but in declining numbers, to care for the victims. And always, we’re told there is little food or potable water or safe shelter.
This in microcosm, is the reality of lives across the Middle East, albeit to different degrees with idiosyncratic back stories and different adjectives and adverbs describing the people involved. However, the human emotions, suffering and lost history, memories and faded futures are all much the same.

If you think Chicago instead of Aleppo and imagine its residents – Americans – subjected to this same level of misery amid the ruins of the city’s landmarks, we come closer to understanding what is happening to people like us, except people who unfortunately live in Aleppo, not Chestertown or Easton.

Aleppo’s Next Season

Aleppo, as was Berlin, is now divided between East (regime controlled) and West (insurgents). The current devastation from the air, will likely soon add another more dangerous dimension: ground and tank attack. Large Syrian army forces and armor with their Russian advisors surround the city (10/16). How this situation will unfold is unknown, though it promises more civilian suffering and distress. It took 45 years after the final assault, for Berlin to emerge united and whole. And, for Aleppo?

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 South East Asia as Senior Advisor for South Asia in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism.


Op-Ed: Spoils System Back on Md.’s Marijuana Licensing by Barry Rascovar


Maybe Donald Trump is right: The system is rigged. For proof, look at how interest groups are feverishly trying to “rig” Maryland’s choice of authorized marijuana growers and processorsThe Black Legislative Caucus wants to “rig” the selection procedure so that people of color get their share (and more) of the lucrative payoff from legalized pot-growing, despite their lack of high rankings in the objective selection process.

Others recently got the system “rigged” in a way that denies licenses to a few top-ranked growers who were chosen on merit. Instead, lesser-rated groups in politically sensitive geographic areas were awarded this rich financial prize.

Picking the best, most qualified growers gave way to political “rigging” of the system.

So much for the commission’s carefully planned “double-blind” selection procedure designed to remove political favoritism and eliminate any hint of subjective bias.

Guarding against tainted results

This well-established, scientific method works beautifully in drug-testing and picking the most skilled musicians for the Baltimore Symphony. So why not use this proven way to guard against tainted results in the state’s effort to find the best and most capable cannabis growers and processors?

Silly idea. An honest evaluation of the applicants proved too much for state politicians and lobbyists. Their favored applicants failed to make the cut.

Suddenly, criticism rained down on the medical marijuana commission. The cry went out: Bring back Maryland’s spoils system.

“This is a good modern-day civil rights fight,” said Del. Cheryl Glenn, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus.

Well. . . that’s a stretch.

It’s an effort to ensure that already financially well-off minorities get a slice of the action – regardless of their capabilities for handling the growing, processing and distribution of medical marijuana.

After all, this is expected to be a national multi-billion-dollar business.

To heck with selecting the most qualified cannabis growers. What Maryland needs is some good old favoritism!

Merit selection process

The commission tried its best to keep politics out of its decision-making. It came up with a way of choosing winning applicants that was devoid of political pressure and influence-peddling – a double-blind ranking system conducted by an outside group.

Applicants’ names, and their investors’ names, were removed from proposals so the rankings would be based entirely on merit.

It turned out, though, that none of the applications submitted by minority-controlled companies ranked high enough to gain a cultivation license. That’s when impartiality and merit-selection went out the window.

Attorney General Brian Frosh, in an incredibly two-faced action, contradicted his own assistant attorney general and other higher-ups in his agency, who had concluded the commission could not legally tilt the playing field.

Frosh rallied to the side of the Black Caucus. Gov. Larry Hogan expressed concern, too. Word came down from on high: Work something out.

Oh, well, so much for a color-blind government that allows only the best-qualified cannabis cultivators and processors to ply their trade in Maryland.

Gift-wrapped permits

The commission quickly buckled under the pressure.

In August, the panel stripped two winning companies of their licenses not because they had done something wrong but because one commissioner argued there wasn’t enough “geographic diversity” among authorized growers.

Lower-scoring applicants with more politically acceptable locations were gift-wrapped these valuable permits.

Not surprisingly, the disqualified applicants are threatening to sue. More litigation is inevitable.

If the Black Caucus succeeds in pulling the licenses of other applicants for the sake of diversity – or gets the entire process re-started – we’ll have enough legal action to set back the cause of medicinal marijuana for a long time.

Yet while minority groups fight for a bigger slice of the cannabis windfall, sick and terminally ill patients in excruciating pain are denied the relief cannabis might provide.

No one seems agitated about that. Mammon rules the day.

It’s a royal mess.

Politicians get involved

Years ago, attempts in Maryland to “rig” the system sent a vice president into shameful exile and a governor and several county executives to prison. The quest for money can be a corrupting influence.

So it is with legalizing medical marijuana – at least in Maryland.

Choosing the people who will grow marijuana plants and turn them into safe medicinal products is serious business. It seemed to make sense to pick them based purely on expertise and merit.

But not to the b’hoys in Annapolis.

So now politicians have their hands in the action. The result could be lengthy delays and a more expansive and pliable process that allows Maryland’s spoils system to work its magic.

Is an impartial, unbiased selection system about to be manipulated for the benefit of lesser-qualified applicants who have friends in high places?

You don’t need to be Donald Trump to answer that question.

The Remains of Our Days by George Merrill


As a young assistant priest in a New York City church, I visited many of our parish’s elderly and shut-ins. I liked visiting. Many of my contemporary clergy didn’t. They were impatient with the inclinations of the elderly to balk at change, ruminate about health, talk about who died while fussing about changes in the churches décor or services.

I can say honestly I didn’t feel impatient. I had developed a knack for nudging the conversation in the direction of the “old days,” and how life was for these elderly in the days before my time. It was like history coming alive before me, as if I was back there. Elderly parishioners welcomed my enquiries and many of the tales I heard were spellbinding. It was a win-win.

The wheel of Karma turns. As those folks were then, so I am now. I balk at some changes and am regularly saddened by the people I’ve known who have died. I am, however, as curious about my own past as I had been about those of my parishioners in the city sixty years ago.

The experience of exploring one’s life is exciting in the way rummaging through attics can be, where over the years, all kinds of things were put away to gather dust until circumstances conspired to encourage our return to the attic. There, we rediscover what we’d long forgotten but see it with fresh eyes.

I found an old family photograph, recently. It shows the front parlor and the adjoining room in my grandparents’ home where, during my boyhood, we’d celebrate Thanksgiving. The rooms were small.

The photograph was taken long before I was born, maybe near the turn of the century. It was a grand old house located on Richmond Terrace on Staten Island, a once fashionable residential area along the Kill Van Kull, the water boundary between Staten Island and New Jersey.

I remember the house as always filled with smoke – from my grandfather’s and my uncles’ pipes and cigars – along with the lingering smell of Yardley lavender perfume that my grandmothers and great aunts wore with their holiday finery. The collective aroma became for me a kind of tribal scent by which I knew I was home among my own native kin.

In the room, bric-a-brac, knickknacks, gewgaws, photographs, odds and ends of every description covered the surfaces of mantels, tables, a china cabinet, and even the floor. There, two cuspidors sat prominently on either side of a table in the middle of one room.

The fireplace was black wrought iron. On its mantelpiece, among various vases and statuettes, sat a clock with two horses on top bearing the triumphal figures of what I guessed were conquistadores. The table in the middle of the room was also filled with photographs and I saw the black ivory elephant that had been there when I was a boy. The figurine had an elegantly smooth sheen and I could never pass it by without touching it.

Walls were papered in various floral designs, crown moldings edged the upper walls and on the ceiling in the middle of the sitting room, a chandelier hung from a round plaster floret adorned with sculpted flower buds. The chandelier had three fogged glass shades in which gas flames once burned. I saw the Morris chair I eventually inherited. In this photograph, a lace doily had been draped over the back.

Seeing the picture now, I realize that in my lifetime I witnessed the remains of the Victorian era. I was enchanted with its extravagant décor, its insatiable appetite for collectibles and the intimate spaces in which people, despite limited room, maintained careful distances from each other.

The Victorian code of conduct served to manage family secrets. My widowed great aunt had the “handyman” living with her in her Victorian home next door to my grandmothers. It never occurred to me until I was in my fifties just how in those days certain personal “arrangements,” while considered abhorrent, were nevertheless quietly accommodated, and never discussed.

I adored my Great Uncle John. He was a retired New York City policeman and a bachelor. He was considered “course.” My mother liked him, too, although she occasionally complained how he liked putting his hand on her rump. That Uncle John dated Margaret – an Irish Catholic – with whom he went to bars, shocked his Methodist sisters. It was scandalous enough that Margaret was Catholic, but to add insult to injury she was also Irish. The Methodists of the family were staunchly abstemious, terminally Protestant and defiantly waspish. I never saw Margaret at family affairs, but only occasionally with Uncle John. I liked her. She was salty.

My mother resented Grandma Merrill. Years ago, when having my father’s family for Thanksgiving, Grandma Merrill spent half of Thanksgiving day instructing my mother just how the turkey should be prepared. My mother remained civil, but the invisible walls of distance were erected.

Today, at holiday gatherings, families take a minimalist view of dress codes. Come as you are is in vogue. Flip-flops and tank tops will do. Back then, I recall with fondness that when my relatives arrived for the day, everyone was dressed to the nines. Men donned suits, vests, ties, topcoats, and wore fedoras and the women came in hats, white gloves and flowered dresses. There was an implied respect in the way that even relatives, who were certainly familiar with each other, still chose to meet looking their best. Keeping up appearances is not a bad thing. It lends dignity to an occasion.

Photographs remind us of the people and places that formed our identity. They are formed partly by our sense of place and more particularly by the personalities of the people who occupied those places. In one sense we are formed like onions, less organized by a center than consisting of layers of memories that remain with us until the remains of our days.

Seeing an old yellowed photograph brings them back.

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

Op-Ed: The Promises They Keep by Carl Widell


A surprising fact – U.S. presidents keep most of their campaign promises. People don’t believe this; when promises are made, many feel “it’s just a politician talking.”

But it’s a mistake to disregard campaign promises. From President Wilson through President Bush over 75% of the promises made on the campaign trail were kept. (see Ezra Klein, ”Presidents keep their campaign promises.“ The Washington Post, January 20, 2012.) PolitiFact has tracked all of President Obama’s campaign promises and found he has delivered on 70% of them.

The press, the candidate’s committed supporters, and major donors all pressure presidents to keep their promises. Clinton, with her many published briefings, leaves little doubt of her plans, and will no doubt be held to them. Trump is more elusive, but he cannot expect his supporters to forget what he has said in his speeches. Just look at the trouble he has had trying to ‘soften’ his immigration policy. He promised over and over again he would “ship the illegal Mexicans out.” When he later proposed a way to re-register illegal immigrants, his supporters cried “Amnesty,” and he has had to backtrack.

John McCain and Mitch McConnell have argued that the separation of powers in the Constitution will prevent Trump from doing many of the things he has promised. This may not be true. Eric Posner, a Chicago Law School professor, has examined whether Trump could actually carry out his policies and concluded that he could. With Congress’ assent, George Bush and Barak Obama have expanded presidential powers over the past fifteen years. Posner concludes that Trump could use these expanded powers to push through the majority of his policies.

It follows that we should pay close attention to promises made on the campaign trail. For example, both candidates promise large projects to create jobs. Trump talks of a trillion dollar program to repair highways, bridges and public transportation, something the American Society of Civil Engineers feels we sorely need. Economists agree that Trump’s program will create jobs, but worry that he has no plans to pay for it. Instead he proposes the largest tax cut the U.S. has ever seen with the largest cuts going to the wealthy. Together these programs could put us in $10 trillion of debt (according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget). Clinton also proposes a large infrastructure plan and she also plans a large tax cut, but only on the middle class. Both of these measures will create jobs. She pays for these plans by increasing taxes on the wealthy to levels seen in the 1990s. Clinton maintains that because all of her programs are paid for they stand a good chance of getting through Congress (the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget says her programs will cost $250 billion over 10 years).

Trump promises to cut back our commitments to our European allies (NATO), to our Asian allies (ASEAN) and encourage them to create their own nuclear arsenals. Clinton has worked to decrease the number of nuclear bombs both the U.S. and with other nuclear powers, such as Russia and Pakistan. As a voter, think whether you want to live in a world with more nuclear weapons or fewer.

Trump promises to renegotiate our trade deals with most of our partners. To get better deals he will threaten to raise tariffs which will almost certainly result in tariffs raised against the U.S. Many economists predict these types of trade wares will lead to a world wide depression. As a voter, do you want to live in a world of trade wars or with stable, growing trade relationships?

In short, the press, the voters and the desire to get re-elected will put tremendous pressure on the next president to live up to what he or she promised. Take a close look before you vote. What you see might be exactly what you get.

Carl Widell ll is a Princeton graduate, a former Marine Corps aviator, and an active Democrat. He is the former chair of the Democratic Central Committee in Talbot County.

Letter to Editor: Thinking Big Does Not Necessarily Include Another Bay Bridge, by Rob Etgen


While it is admirable to hear the Governor’s concerns about traffic at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, an announcement focusing on a shiny new bridge lacks any real discussion about cost, impact on communities, and the understanding that a sprawling flood of people, traffic, and pavement can detract from rural Maryland.

There is a large and growing body of evidence and near consensus that our conventional approach of solving traffic congestion by increasing roadway capacity is ineffective over the long term. The most immediate example that comes to my mind is Route 1 in Delaware – an expensive, new north south highway in Delaware that was over capacity starting with the day it opened. Concurrent with the highway construction was massive amounts of sprawl housing in southern New Castle County, which immediately overwhelmed the new infrastructure.

We are long overdue for a more modern approach to transportation planning – one that emphasizes mass transit and other forward thinking measures that make the most out of the infrastructure we have, and emphasizes land use decisions that decrease auto dependence and increase transportation choices. What about expanded bus services with a stronger backbone service from Baltimore and Washington to Ocean City, stopping in key population centers and complementary service from rural areas to the backbone stops? Or public-private partnerships such as a high-speed ferry option? And should an eventual new Bridge be built, what about revisiting passenger rail (which used to exist on the Shore)?

With declining gas tax revenues, changing living preferences for millennials, and a warming planet caused in part by our poor transportation habits, the time is now for fresh thinking.

Fresh thinking on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge situation could also include ideas such as setting up telecommuting centers in our Eastern Shore small towns, and work policies such that State and Federal employees could work from the Shore on peak traffic days or even more often, in turn saving fuel, pollution, and traffic while also stimulating the vibrancy of our towns. Implementing new tolling technologies and policies which do away with the toll booths, increasing rates during peak use periods and decreasing rates for high occupancy vehicles is yet another direction that could be explored for considerably less money.

These ideas and many others can be done now and for very little cost relative to a new Bay Bridge.

Spending $5 million to study the environmental impacts of a new Bay Bridge feels like fiddling while Rome burns. Let’s talk about the things we can do today to relieve congestion immediately, then think about what might be needed to manage cross Bay travel demand over the long term, and only thereafter consider whether a new bridge is worth its considerable financial and environmental cost.

Rob Etgen
Executive Director
Eastern Shore Land Conservancy

Eastern Shore Land Conservancy is a regional nonprofit organization that has worked to advance strategic land conservation and sound land use planning on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Op-Ed Cartoon: Walled World by G.O. and Valerie D’Orazio


Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.29.23 AM Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.29.29 AMScreen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.29.36 AM  Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 8.29.43 AM



Artist J. Longo, http://www.jlongoart.com/

Op-Ed: A Positive Antidote for the 2016 Presidential Election by Tom Timberman


Many Americans repeat the same prayer multiple times per day: “Please Lord let this election end now!” Many of these same people, those over 50 years old, also comment that this presidential poll reflects for them, the loss of an intangible quality of their America. However, short of divine intervention, there over 80 days of non-stop assaults on what was once called civility, political seriousness and substance, remaining before November 8.

For those attempting to avoid the entire affair and thus depression, there are few options in our 24/7 info-tsunami world: (1) remove all electronic means of communication from your personal environment; (2) practice a heroic level of self-discipline and refuse to listen/watch/discuss anything election-related and (3) find an all-consuming distraction that occupies the brain and deflects all else.

Friends have found that #3 can be effective and calming and suggest this approach: ignore the candidates and analyze only the 2016 election process, step by step. Once finished, make a list of the improvements that should be made before the next presidential election. The strategic goal is to help the new political leadership design a presidential election approach that is tolerable to average American sensibilities.

After Inauguration Day, they plan to review their lists and if pleased by their efforts, combine them and forward to an important politician whom they respect and believe might read and act upon their recommendations. If they are unable to identify such a person, they will shred the lists in the sure knowledge they survived the trauma of the 2016 Presidential Election without psychiatric pharmacology.

If this method is of interest, you may find the following paragraphs helpful in jump-starting your own Distraction Option.

Existing Presidential Election System:

Let’s begin with the elements of the current, distressing system.

Duration – Two plus years.
Schedule – Determined by states and territories and political parties.
Purpose – Enable voters to believe they are participating in democracy’s greatest right, i.e. to vote.
Cost – Current estimate for both campaigns is $2 – 3.5 Billion.
Prerequisites –There are few beyond age (35) and US Citizenship.
Elimination Phase – Either primary elections or caucuses in each of the 50 states and territories. Lasts about 12 months.
Final Phase – The General Election occurs on the same day in November in every state and territory of the United States. Occurs about 3 months after the conventions.

Events:  The partisan cattle call, i.e. any Americans who want to run for  the presidency, must register with the Federal Election Commission by a certain date and provide their affiliation: (Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian or independent/3rd Party).

The Elimination Phase, all registered candidates or their surrogates cris- cross the Country to raise money and attack opponents. Dates for primaries or caucuses are idiosyncratic by state. Traditional first two: New Hampshire and Utah. A negotiated (parties and FEC) number of debates take place among all registered candidates for each party. In 2016 there were 17 Republicans and 4 Democrats who participated in the first two debates.

Winning the Elimination Phase; The popular vote is an interesting, useful  campaign statistic. However, it is the number of party convention delegates awarded to candidates at the party’s primary/caucus. The 2 major political parties set different total numbers of state delegates a candidate must accumulate before s/he becomes the Presumptive Candidate. Democrats added an additional category, Super Delegates, made up of Party leaders.

Party Conventions, usually only Democrats and Republicans; historically they  were where the presumptive candidate was either blessed or someone else was chosen. In late 20th and early 21st Century, conventions became huge entertainments and opportunities for substantial self-indulgence and networking by attendees. Today, the Presumptive Candidates, and vice presidential selectees are confirmed pro forma on the last evening of the convention.

The Final Phase aka the General Election- about 3 months after the conventions.

Each Party’s candidates, now enter theoretically the “serious”
segment of the election, during which policy positions are explained, efforts made to broaden voter appeal and candidates can try to appear more “presidential”. Experts believe, most American voters will only begin paying attention post-conventions; with most focusing only after Labor Day in September.

A negotiated number of debates occur between the Republican
and Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidates, before Election Day. The debates are not mandatory and a candidate can decide not to participate.

The Last Event aka the Electoral College Vote

Election night is over and we learn which of the two presidential candidates and their vice president, won the popular vote.

However, one final step must be taken on the first Monday,  following the 2nd Wednesday after Election Day, when the members of the Electoral College cast their ballot for the presidential candidates.

There are 538 Electors (total of Senate and House members)selected by  each state and the District of Columbia. The candidate who receives 270 or more votes is the new President of the United States of America.

Hints for Beginning your Distraction Option

My friends came to the following conclusions: (1) Presidential Election are too long and suggested a much shorter period; (2) process is far more complicated than necessary and suggested, inter alia, standardizing the national dates for state caucuses and primaries, (3) the current approach allows for no independent vetting of the candidates and suggested an alternative , i.e. each candidate must qualify for a top secret national security clearance first, (4) the current system is corrupted by unlimited money from anonymous donors, and suggested ways to strictly regulate the amounts spent by presidential candidates and (5) determined the selection of the US president is not democratic and suggested some repairs to the system.

They found they were much less irritated, depressed and confused after following this Distraction Option for 7 weeks and sleep sounder as a result. We hope others will benefit as well.

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 South East Asia as Senior Advisor for South Asia in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

Op-Ed: To Vote or Not to Vote by Fletcher Hall


To vote or not to vote will be on the minds of many Americans this November. The nominees of both major political parties are a bit shocking and not what has been the “normal” for decades. For someone who has voted in presidential elections for over 50 years, the decision to cast a vote this year will be both a quandary and a challenge. One candidate is very rich and one was “dead broke” when she and her husband left the White House. And now she is apparently involved in a “pay and play” scheme as Secretary of State. The last Secretary of State who was elected was James Buchannan. Not the greatest of presidents in the American pantheon of presidents.
Hillary Clinton has finagled her way through the morass of the Democratic Party. From Arkansas to the White House to the United States Senate, she has built a political machine and throng of liberal supporters. From purchasing a mansion in upstate New York—just to qualify for a Senate seat—to making a deal with her arch political rival, her sole objective has been get to the White House. No matter that she has been subsidized by the American public while engaging in several nefarious scandals that extend into her presidential campaign.
The most prominent scandals are the email saga and the Clinton Foundation’s international misdeeds. There one really has to pay to play. This is the background and record of the Democratic nominee whose coronation took place in Philadelphia.

Then there is the Republican Party nominee. Donald Trump is in no way the typical presidential candidate of a major political party.

Never a politician, Trump has tapped into the swath of angst and frustration found in the American electorate. The width and depth of this component may well decide the result of this election.
Trump is brash, bombastic, and highly opinioned. Perhaps more opinioned than informed. His views scare some Americans and inspire others. Generally, those who feel inspired, have in the past felt overlooked, let down, and not capable of finding a job in the 21st-century economy. And they totally abhor the federal government, the bureaucracy, and the gridlock we have all witnessed in our nation’s Capitol.

Many Americans of both parties feel that gridlock has harmed the United States for years now. Trump is seizing this emotion and hoping to make his way to the White House. Upon entering the political fray, Trump has been tough, and perhaps has evolved into an even tougher brawler who is always striving to win. He and his opponent are very much alike in this way.

Trump may not have the ground game and, at this point, Clinton has spent a projected $70 million on paid TV advertising for September and October. Trump may be the most controversial and intriguing candidate in modern American history. Clinton may be the most dishonest and conniving candidate for the highest position in the land. The election this year will be a real duel to the end.

Each day seems to produce new revelation that may prove damning to one of the candidates.

Voting for the best candidate for president this year may well be a leap of faith. Recent revelations have caused more dilemmas for Clinton. Clinton hopes these too shall pass. There will probably be no special prosecutors before the election. Americans will have to make their own decisions as to the lesser of two dubious candidates. As for me, I am confused and undecided.

Perhaps for the first time, the vast majority of American voters are waiting and watching. The three presidential debates may be a decisive factor in making our national collective decision.

To quote the late, great Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”