Out and About (Sort of): Loss and Resurrection by Howard Freedlander

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In a seven-day period ending the past Sunday, two people whom I liked and respected died and, then, another person came back from domestic strife and serious injury to reclaim the spotlight as one of the world’s currently superior golfers.

Funny how life brings sorrow and redemption in a never-ending cycle.

Though perhaps unknown to many who pay little or no attention to state politics, Delegate Mike Busch, longtime speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, died on Sunday, April 7 of pneumonia after struggling the past few years with serious health problems. He was a good and decent person. He ennobled public service.

Once an excellent football player in college and high school, he played the game of politics to win as the Democratic leader in the House. Based on comments by Republican legislators, he also played fairly. He always knew there was another day; alliances often shift in political combat.

A friend in the legislature wrote in response to my expression of sadness, “Without question, he was one of a kind, masterful and the finest of the finest. Personally, he has been a friend for many, many years, and it pained me to see him diminish during the Session, but I also understand he was in it for the long haul.”

I recall when I was serving as a deputy treasurer for the State of Maryland, he appeared in my office while hoping to see Treasurer Nancy Kopp. He sat down and started talking about sports, one of his favorite subjects. My sport was lacrosse; his was football. We played at schools in Philadelphia, he at Temple and I at the University of Pennsylvania. Our chat was easy and effortless.

I suspect that I experienced Mike Busch’s style; friendly and down-to-earth. He was immensely likable and very effective. Delegates referred to him as “coach” for his ability to bring consensus to a sometimes disruptive Democratic caucus.

Another quality person and longtime friend, Dr. Bob Blatchley, an Easton psychologist, died last week of Parkinson’s disease. With his wife, Virginia, he developed a practice devoted to families. I hazard to say that Bob and Virginia provided professional counseling support to many who remain appreciative.

As it turned out, Bob was raised not very far from me in northwest Baltimore. We attended rival high schools. We developed a friendship in Easton and belonged to the same club. I sadly watched as he dealt with a debilitating disease.

And just this past Sunday, I joined millions of viewers to watch as Tiger Woods battled from behind to win his fifth Masters at the renowned Augusta National Golf Club. He hadn’t won a major tournament in six years and the Masters in 11.

A fan with no expertise, I love to watch golf. I remain wondrous of how professional golfers can control their emotions as putts roll out of holes (cups), and powerfully hit shots land in water and sand traps (bunkers). I’m screaming from my easy chair. Yet they overcome their disappointment as another shot or challenging hole awaits.

The crowd at the luxurious golf club clearly were pulling for what had once been a common occurrence: another dramatic victory by a gifted, tough-minded athlete whose nickname is an immediate identifier worldwide. Tiger overcame a publicized split with his former wife and serious knee, neck and back problems.

Sports provide lessons for life. What I saw at this Masters was a man committed to regain his once magical touch as one of golf’s greatest. His legend of fans stuck with him over the years, hoping that Tiger would overcome difficult professional and personal setbacks. He did just that.

Death is inevitable, leaving in its wake grief over an emotional loss and gratitude for having shared time with the deceased. Resurrection of a career and reputation, through grit and determination, too begs admiration.

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): Session Ends; Results Don’t by Howard Freedlander

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Maryland’s 2019 General Assembly session ended last night at midnight. It was an eventful one, including the overrides of four vetoes by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Throw in the mix the ethics upheaval at the University of Maryland Medical System’s (UMMS) board of directors, and a racist remark by a Harford County delegate, and it’s easy to characterize the 90-day legislature as one pulsating with political action and lapse in human judgment.

Three of the veto overrides have particular importance to the Eastern Shore.  At the constant risk of being redundant, I state again the need for Shore residents to pay attention to the work of their state senators and delegates. The impact becomes quickly noticeable.

As I wrote in January in anticipation of the session, lifting the minimum wage to $15/hour, in phases, by 2025 (2026 for companies with fewer than 15 employees) was a major, much debated issue. Proponents won the day.  They argued that a higher minimum wage—now $10.10 an hour—was necessary to provide a livable salary to those on the edge of poverty. Opponents predicted potential job cuts by small businesses and possible movement of businesses to adjoining states with a lower minimum wage.

I had argued for caution and open-minded stance by proponents toward arguments made by business interests. I suspect I was whistling in the wind.

The second veto override concerned a decision made a few years ago by Gov. Hogan to move back the beginning of the school to after Labor Day to enhance Ocean City tourism dollars. Local school systems vigorously objected, compelled to adjust the school year to ensure the mandate for 180 school days. The majority of legislators agreed with local boards and returned the power of controlling the school year to Maryland’s 23 counties and the City of Baltimore.

I agree that local school boards should retain the authority to determine when schools should open and close.

The third override happened yesterday when the State Senate joined the House of Delegates in supporting legislation establishing five oyster sanctuaries, including two in Talbot County, Harris Creek and Tred Avon River, and one in Dorchester County, the Little Choptank River. Gov. Hogan listened to local watermen who rightfully want to protect their livelihoods but wrongfully oppose science-based methods to protect the oyster harvest. The oyster population has dropped precipitously during recent decades.

I believe that the sanctuaries must be protected. Not only do oysters satisfy the palate, but they also, nearly as importantly, serve as filters in deterring pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Nine members of the UMMS board were found in mid-March to have received hospital contracts, some sole source, that wreaked of unethical self-dealing.  Consequently, the legislature quickly approved a bill to require all board members to resign in phases and then re-apply and to mandate an audit of the UMMS contract process. Shore Medical Center is part of the UMMS system.

I applaud the legislature for moving quickly to address an unconscionable abuse of fiscal responsibility by several board members.

Finally, Del. Mary Ann Lisanti used an infamously shameful derogatory term to describe an African-American community in Maryland. Consequently, she lost most of her legislative assignments.

Some may be pleased whenever a legislative session ends. I for one believe that the Maryland General Assembly is an effective political body able to take action that doesn’t stall in partisan gridlock, as is the case in our disabled, dysfunctional Congress.

Citizen-legislators who return to their private and professional lives after 90 days of bill-making are effective representatives of the public body.

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): No Longer Surprised by Howard Freedlander

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New Zealand shooting
Academic scam
Jack Evans in DC

Mass murder, academic bribery and self-dealing by a District of Columbia city councilman– where does it stop? Who, or what is responsible?

We seem to have become inured to senseless human tragedy and severe ethical lapses. Cynicism has taken root.

We no longer seem surprised. That’s worrisome.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, in a rambling, theatrical sermon a few weeks ago at the 150th anniversary of the Diocese of Easton, preached that love of your neighbor and yourself would make God’s world free of bigotry, hatred and violence. His message is universal. It speaks to our “better angels.”

Sadly, it is unrealistic.

He was preaching to the choir. His 40-minute oration offered hope in a world filled with heinous intolerance. He offered humor and pathos. He revved up the troops to go out into the world as witnesses of goodness and grace.

The New Zealand shooter was driven by hatred against Muslims. He cared nothing about others who were different than he. He expressed his inner loathing through a deadly weapon.

At the other end of the spectrum is the troubling academic scam in which wealthy parents spent exorbitant amounts of money to gain entry for their children into elite universities. For them, everything had a price. Ethics be damned. Since they were devoted to their children and the power of money, the admissions process was fair game. Go for it.

“Love your neighbor” is meaningless to the NZ murderer and the ruthless parents of some college applicants. Bishop Curry’s words are worthless to those transfixed on mischief and mayhem. In the case of the parents offering bribes, fairness is the victim. In the case of the hate-filled shooter, love of, and respect for your fellow man are empty concepts.

So, it’s easy to rail about moral decay. In recent weeks, longtime friends have bemoaned our cultural degradation. They are concerned, as I am.

Rick Singer, accused in academic scam.

What do we do to reverse the moral rot?

I did some research. I’m not sure I came up with any profound answers or insights.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking last May at the Rice University graduation, focused on the school’s honor code and called for honesty and accountability.  In striving to be honest, one would be honorable and refuse to accept political dishonesty and partisan spin. Simply, Bloomberg sought a higher standard of behavior than exists in the polluted public arena.

Bloomberg said, “When elected officials speak as though they are above the truth, they will act as though they are above the law. And when we tolerate dishonesty, we will get criminality. Sometimes, it’s in the form of corruption. Sometimes, it’s abuse of power. And sometimes, it’s both. If left unchecked, these abuses can erode the institutions that preserve and protect our rights and freedoms and open the door to tyranny and fascism.”

Pointing to the danger of partisanship and tribalism, Bloomberg said, “The more people segregate themselves by party, the harder it becomes to understand the other side and the more extreme each party grows. Studies show that people become more extreme in their views when they are grouped together with like-minded people.”

I’ve written before about the self-imposed restraints we place ourselves when we fail to listen to people with opposite views. We often demonize those who think differently than we. We remain cloistered. Our minds become closed.

We might shutter our hearts and push friends and family away.

Speaking in November 2005 on NPR about his newly published book, “Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis,” former President Jimmy Carter, a devout Baptist, condemned religious fundamentalists who believe they are right and chide those who don’t agree. He also pointed to the disillusionment with, and distrust of Washington politics. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Carter said,” In religious circles, fundamentalists are always powerful men who consider themselves superior to all others, superior to women with the subservience or subjugation of women. They consider themselves—a fundamentalist does—to be inherently directly related to God. Therefore, their beliefs are God’s beliefs, and anyone who disagrees with them at all have to be wrong or even inferior.”

The theme espoused by Carter underscores our society’s chronic lack of listening and dearth of compassion for those who think and act differently. Violence can result. So can corruption: our “better angels” have no audience in our souls.

Some speak about the widening gap in social and economic differences between the uber-wealthy, the shrinking middle class and the low-income people in our country. The opportunities for folks to gather in churches, civic groups and community activities seem to have diminished; people with similar political or cultural affinities associate only with themselves.

A sense of community diminishes.

When I think about the hate-filled shooter in New Zealand and his killing of 50 Muslim worshipers, the disgusting academic bribery and the unethical, self-enriching conduct of Washington, DC Councilman Jack Evans— I am appalled.

How do we become surprised again at outrageous behavior?

If I were to wage verbal war against cynicism, I would be tilting at windmills, overshadowed by naïveté. But just suppose that normal behavior meant being honest, expecting honorable conduct from our religious, political and corporate leaders and determining that college admission is not for sale, I wonder if moral decay, at the very least, might not spread and infect our culture.

This subject is fraught. What I consider rotten, someone else may view as normal. What I bemoan, others may commend and characterize as the human condition.

I am stumped. Unsurprisingly so.

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): Ferryland? By Howard Freedlander

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Already on the Spy record for favoring a third Chesapeake Bay Bridge span configured for rapid transit—despite the astronomical cost—I was fascinated recently by a Baltimore Sun column written by Dan Rodricks. He proposed consideration of ferries.

Some might recall when ferries provided the only means of transportation for passengers and vehicles between the Eastern and Western shores. Before completion of the first 4.3-mile span in 1952. The second opened in 1973.

Now, Rodricks, who typically focuses only on the City of Baltimore and its woes and charms, went further afloat in this instance. He likely understood that the use of ferries to cross the Chesapeake Bay might prompt some chortling. Nonetheless, his premise deserves sunlight and discussion.

Frankly, I thought that ferries had limited utility. That is, this type of transit caters to a small, though constant group of passengers, such as Oxford to Bellevue in Talbot County, Lewis, DE to Cape May, NJ, Ocracoke to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, Seattle to Bainbridge Island in Washington State and Long Island, NY to New London, CT.

But we (this writer and readers) must be open-minded. The crossing of the Chesapeake Bay requires creativity. A third span, perhaps inevitable, is not carved in stone. At least $10 billion, if not more, would be necessary; that’s enormous at a time when major public works projects are scarce without an infusion of private investment, or federal money.

Okay, allow me to cite Rodricks’ words of advocacy. Be circumspect in appraising his argument:

“The governor should take a serious look at ferries. And not noisy, diesel-powered carbon-emitting ferries, but quiet, clean, battery-powered ferries. We could have a whole fleet of them deployed up and down the bay over the next decade, taking people, cars, trucks and dogs between any of many feasible points—from Baltimore to Rock Hall, from Sparrows Point to Tolchester, from Edgewater to Romancoke from Edgewood to Betterton, from Chesapeake Beach to Cambridge.”

Rodricks wrote, “Before the bridges, ferries took Marylanders across the bay. They could again. As we move away from fossil fuel and develop new sources of electricity, a 21st century ferry system would leave a light mark on the environment, provide more (and pleasant) route options for travelers, and relieve some of the congestion on the Route 50 bridges.”

Rodricks pointed to the world’s first battery-powered, zero emissions ferry launched in Norway in early 2015. It can transport up to 120 cars and 300 passengers on a 262-foot long vessel. It travels the 3.5-mile route across Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, between the villages of Lavik and Opperdel, up to 38 times a day.

This ferry takes 20 minutes to cross and then spends 10 minutes at the dock unloading, loading and recharging its batteries.

Since August, a 600-passenger excursion ship, powered by a lithium-ion battery, with a diesel backup engine, has been operating in San Francisco Bay. It is owned by the Red and White Fleet.

Putting cost and logistics aside, I believe that use of environmentally clean and efficient ferries warrants open-eyed consideration by Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Transportation Authority. Maybe ferries would negate the need for a third span. They would reduce harmful carbon emissions. Passengers would enjoy the Bay views.

Norway may provide an innovative approach for relieving awful congestion on our two Bay Bridge spans. Discussion of a third span could become moot.

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): Academic Scam and Shame by Howard Freedlander

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A week ago at a pleasant lunch in Washington, DC with a college friend, I learned from him about the breaking news regarding admissions bribery at some of our nation’s top universities. Included in this revelation was rampant cheating in college entrance exams and professional help in essay-writing.

My initial reaction was denial, followed by disgust.

Then, last Thursday, a participant at a meeting expressed a decided lack of surprise about the allegations concerning admissions and counseling misbehavior. I was flabbergasted at this response, characterizing it as blatantly cynical.

Another friend ascribed the bribery and manipulation of the admission process to cultural decay pervading our country. Discussion of this analysis warrants another column. It’s worth mentioning, however.

I suspect my two reactions wreaked of naivety. I’ve been living under a rock, I guess. Perhaps I’ve ignored the power of money and influence. That’s not entirely true, however, as I’ve chided and defended myself in the same paragraph.

Here’s what I’ve learned about this shameful episode now besmirching elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Georgetown and University of Southern California. An unscrupulous college adviser in Boston, capitalizing on the incessant ambition of parents and their children to gain admission to prestigious universities and the perpetual fundraising by nearly all institutions of higher learning, gamed the system to his economic advantage. Now he faces a possible jail sentence.

What I’ve learned over the years as a volunteer fundraiser and friend-raiser for my university is the transactional attitude of many, but certainly not all well-heeled alumni and parents.

The faulty, unsavory logic goes like this: if colleges and universities are constantly seeking incredibly large amounts of money to preserve their fiscal stability, then it only seems reasonable to engage in a quid pro quo. So this errant thinking then prompts parents and alumni to offer huge sums of money for a child’s admission, as we learned the past week.

I despise this mindset. My alma mater will not accept a contribution from a parent whose child is amidst the application process; if this parent is an alumnus and large donor, the school will not accept a donation until the admissions process is completed.

Stories are legendary about longtime givers ceasing their generosity when their child is rejected. I can provide chapter and verse about this common response. I have listened to my share of anger. While I understand that rejection of a child (for anything) is searingly painful for a loving parent, I sympathize only to a small degree.

In the current controversy, the unethical college counselor arranged for someone to take exams for his clients’ children. I’m not sure how that’s done, but I won’t quibble, He arranged for young people to be placed on an athletic coach’s preferred list of applicants—even when the young person didn’t play that sport. The former tennis coach at Georgetown University allegedly engaged in this sordid behavior; his compensation was exceedingly ample.

This mess is abhorrent. No one wins.

Parents able to afford bribes, a college guidance counselor and athletic coaches willing to accept huge sums of money and the young person accepted on false premises—they all have lost their moral compass. I wonder, however, if the participants would agree. They might just bemoan the fact they got caught and say to themselves that they were simply playing the game affordable to them.

While my ire and revulsion are evident, I must admit some reluctance to accept the prevalent condemnation of wealthy people who have provided extraordinary educational and travel opportunities to their children– therefore giving them a distinct advantage over low-income applicants having had exposure to subjects embedded in entrance exams questions and in being fortunate to have impressive resumes.

I have yet to meet parents, regardless of their socioeconomic status, who haven’t extended themselves to a reasonable degree to pay for enrichment opportunities for their children. It’s human nature.

At the university that I attended, 13 percent of recent freshman classes have comprised first-generation, low-income individuals whose parents, I presume, pushed them to apply to this highly regarded school. I would hazard to say that parents of legacy applicants (children of alumni) are screaming at this new reality and possibly withdrawing their financial support.

I wanted to write another column this week. But I couldn’t ignore the crisis of conscience enveloping several major universities. It’s repugnant. It’s an example of money-driven misbehavior that engenders distrust of long-admired schools of higher learning.

Meanwhile, cynicism continues to grow. A transactional approach to college admissions seems distastefully pervasive. Integrity appears elusive.

Maybe it’s beneficial that the college guidance and admission process undergoes examination. My guess is that admission offices and standards of behavior—along with stricter oversight of college guidance advisers—will face intense scrutiny.

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.

 

Governor Hughes by Howard Freedlander

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Governor Harry Hughes

The death of former Gov. Harry R. Hughes on Wednesday at 92 leaves a void in Maryland’s political landscape. He represented honor and humility. He was a gentleman who treasured his Eastern Shore roots.

I last saw Gov. Hughes on November 13 when I was invited to join his former staffers to celebrate his 92d birthday at a lunch at his home outside Denton overlooking the Choptank River. Though perhaps he didn’t hear all the chatter, he seemed to enjoy the good cheer and stories about past political battles. I was impressed by how loyal his former staffers remained to a person whom they clearly liked and greatly admired.

This Denton native served as governor from 1978 to 1986. He beat all odds and some derision to win the Democratic primary and then the gubernatorial election by 400,000 votes. He determined at the outset to restore integrity to the State House after his two predecessors, Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel, had faced legal charges for their behavior in office.

In recent years, I had seen more of Harry (as he was wont to be called) at lunches in Easton with former staffers and, not so happily, at Shore Medical Center in Easton. He grappled with pneumonia as he aged and found himself frequently sitting in a hospital bed awaiting friends bringing him unhealthy but welcomed food.

Whenever I visited Harry in the hospital, he was typically low-key and reserved. He expected no special treatment from the nursing staff. He was always friendly and down-to-earth.

As a member of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy’s board of directors, I learned how beloved the former governor was in the land preservation community. He was a longtime friend and former chair of ESLC.

A few years ago, the organization named its conference room in honor of Gov. Hughes. He was pleased and honored. He harbored no sense of entitlement.

During his two terms as governor, Harry Hughes became particularly known for his environmental record. He brought together the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia and the District of Columbia, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, to establish a regional program focused on the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. This compact still exists.

In a controversial but beneficial decision, he placed a moratorium in 1985 on the harvesting of rockfish. Commercial fishermen were furious. Science proved Harry right. The moratorium remained in place until 1990 when the species bounced back enough to allow a limited harvest.

Harry Hughes practiced politics with class and civility. He inspired a return of integrity to the Maryland State House.He extolled a workmanlike approach to governing our small but complicated state. He forswore showmanship.

You will be missed, Harry. You made a difference. You sought to build a legacy based on results and ethics.

And you did.

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): Depression Follow-Up by Howard Freedlander

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Amid the music presented during For All Seasons’ ninth annual Heart & Music performed the past weekend at the Oxford Community Center. I harked back to my column last week about medical depression and its debilitating impact on self-worth and mental stability. The show’s message, as intended, struck one particularly powerful note: you are not alone.

As I wrote last week, newspaper and television pundit Michael Gerson, suffering since his 20s from serious depression, made the same point in his guest sermon at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Feb. 17 and again during a PBS interview two days later. Help is readily available.

Gerson pointed to family, friends, medical professionals and God as vital sources of support as one copes painfully with the depths of despair, oppressive feelings and destructive thoughts of “no one loves me” and “no one cares.”

It doesn’t matter if you have gained fame and fortune; depression is an affliction that overrides all barriers. Suicides stun us.

Addiction to drugs, alcohol and work do not block the effects of medical depression. They are mere substitutes for beneficial mental health. The afflicted still feel alone, unable to climb that mountain of consistent health and well-being.

Local organizations like For All Seasons and Channel Marker provide professional assistance that enables people to achieve a level of mental health that may have seemed unattainable. They help those suffering from mental disease and emotional distance from family and friends to create lives free of personal destruction and full of healthy productivity.

Perhaps most of all, local mental health organizations provide an invaluable prescription: hope. Without it, depression may seem inescapable, except through addiction and suicide. Michael Gerson recommended another cure: love, both from within and without.

Like others sitting in Oxford Community Center on a rainy Friday night, I found that music, as is often the case, inspires heartfelt and joyous reactions. Of course, that was the legitimate purpose of the “Songs from the Stage, Broadway and Beyond.” Periodic renditions of particular cases handled successfully by For All Seasons and calls for financial support were appropriate.

Local nonprofits, so very important to the health and sustenance of our community, must have financial support if they are to continue serving those in need. As I’ve stated previously in Spy space, a community flourishes or flounders based upon participation in activities requiring generosity of time and money.

__________________________________________________________

Allow me, readers, to veer sharply from depression and local efforts to help those afflicted with this disease to another issue that has proved harmful to the financial health of the Maryland crab industry. And that is the dearth this past summer of H-2B visas to enable foreign workers, mostly Mexicans, to work in the crab processing business in Dorchester County. The loss amounted to 40 percent; three out of four Dorchester County crab processors received no visas

I read in The Star Democrat that U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and First District Congressman Andy Harris are prodding the Department of Homeland Security’s Secretary Kirstjen Nielson to issue enough visas to help American businesses, including the crab houses in Dorchester County. I urge these three Maryland lawmakers to be relentless in their efforts to support local seafood businesses.

I suspect the issue is political and related to the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. That’s a shame. Dorchester County crab processors have sought and failed to recruit American workers. They want to stay in business in an industry important to the Eastern Shore and tasteful to the rest of the country.

As I end this column and acknowledge its disjointed subjects, I join readers in hoping that spring weather is quickly approaching. I well realize that the month of March is an annual tease, offering the prospect of warmth and then bombarding us sometimes with cold temperatures and snow.

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): Despair and Hope by Howard Freedlander

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At the end of a PBS NewsHour a few weeks ago, I listened intently to what seemed to be a startling non-news story. It seemed out of place, though riveting.

And it was entirely newsworthy.

The subject was depression, a medical and mental disease that not only is common but no longer remains hidden behind the doors of the rich and poor. It’s an equal-opportunity malady. It often leads to suicide.

Michael Gerson, a political columnist for the Washington Post, a sometime commentator for the NewsHour and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, proclaimed he suffered from depression. His revelation came when he delivered a guest sermon Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. Two days later, he answered questions from PBS’ Judy Woodruff.

Gerson held nothing back. He recently had been hospitalized, reaching the depths of despair and self-loathing.

“Like nearly one in 10 Americans, and like many of you, I live with this insidious chronic disease. Depression is a malfunction of the instrument we use to determine reality,” he said.

Asked how long he had suffered from depression, Gerson said, “Really since my 20s. But, like a lot of people, I thought I was coping. I was on antidepressants. I was able to finish my work. And that’s how a lot of men and women determine whether they’re succeeding or not.

“But I was very much in a downward spiral of depression, that my psychiatrist said, you’re on a dangerous course. And she was exactly right.”

What I learned from listening to Gerson was that his success was deceptive; he hid his severe mental distress behind his work ethic and journalistic achievements. He needed and wanted more from life.

As he said during his guest sermon, his most effective antidepressant, while living in his “right mind,” was devotion to a loving God. He said, “Love is the heart of all things. God promises strength; when it fails, there’s perseverance; when it fails, there’s hope; when it fails, there’s love, which never fails.”

Gerson explained, clearly and concisely, that the depression-ridden brain produces thoughts of self-loathing: no one likes or cares about me. It’s untrue. However, the brain, affected by chemical reactions, particularly during a “depressive episode,” betrays a destructive reality that “really takes other people to break into that and say, this is wrong. This is not true. What you’re thinking is not correct.”

In his sermon, Gerson said, “Despair grows like a tumor.”

Speaking in the spiritual confines of the National Cathedral instead of a television studio, Gerson called for the power of God’s grace and promise of hope to cope with depression and its debilitating effects. Gerson made a strong case for divine intervention. His confession within the majestic cathedral spoke powerfully to the role of God amid personal distress.

During his PBS interview, Gerson acknowledged the crying need for professional help and compassion from family and friends.

“People should get professional help. You can’t will yourself out of this disease, any more than you can will yourself out of tuberculosis. This is a physical disease that—where you need help… but isolation can be deadly. And that has to be broken by family and also broken by the people themselves that are involved with this,” Gerson said.

Over the years I’ve known people suffering from depression. I’ve read about suicide, particularly among young people who feel unable to cope and battle the life-threatening despair. I’ve tried to understand the pain.

Somehow, when a public figure decides to remove the cloak of secrecy about this pervasive disease, depression becomes more understandable. Maybe, Michael Gerson opened the minds and hearts of those suffering from a common brain disease, giving them permission to claim their own pulpits to disclose their pain and seek professional assistance.

They need not feel stigmatized.

For those of us in the realm of family and friends, Gerson offered us a pathway to provide compassion and caring.

We can donate grace. We can express friendship and love.

If this Washington Post columnist were concluding this column, he might write that despair is not a person’s destiny, that hope is a healthy choice and that God’s love, when combined with medical intervention, can be a strong antidepressant.

Gerson might add this admonition: don’t give up the fight. Life is too precious—even if perilous at times.

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

Out and About (Sort of): Too Harshly Judged? By Howard Freedlander

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As the number of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination grows every week, I think about the four women who have stepped into the race and immediately confronted criticism of their styles. I wonder if voters judge women more harshly and unforgivingly than they do men.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s persistently populist message of addressing income inequality often paints her as shrill and combative. Were she a man voicing these opinions, I wonder if she would be viewed as passionate and driven.

Shortly after Sen. Amy Klobuchar declared her intentions, news reports surfaced that she was a demanding, sometimes angry boss. Again, I wondered that if she were a man, would the stories of her behavior been considered newsworthy, or simply an example of someone who drives herself and her staff relentlessly—and, perhaps, abusively at times?  Mind you, I am not excusing unacceptable, power-driven behavior by bosses.

I recall reading some years ago that former Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski was considered one of the meanest members of Congress in her treatment of her staff. Yet, this diminutive U.S. Senator was an effective and unrelenting advocate for her constituents. And she didn’t have to face the merciless glare of the national media because she harbored no ambition for higher office.

During the Presidential contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I often encountered friends, mostly Republican who disliked their party’s standard-bearer, but who adamantly said they could not vote for Clinton, but never explained why. They just said they hated her.

Was she considered shrill? Was her laugh considered fake? Was her association with her husband simply too much to endure? Was she just a poor campaigner who seemed stiff and uncomfortable on the political stage?

Last week, my former boss, Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, was re-elected by the General Assembly to her fifth term. She sits on the powerful Board of Public Works with the governor and the comptroller. She is reasoned, steady, low-key and policy-driven.

Kopp neither seeks nor relishes public drama. Prior to her re-election, she was criticized by members of her Democrat party for failing to be more strident and outspoken when dealing with the governor and comptroller on matters of great import.

So, Kopp’s critics want a fighter, a person who willingly and happily will engage in battle as the cameras roll and the print media scribbles away. My reaction is hogwash! Do voters want drama and dispute, or do they want good, sound governing?

Women in politics constantly face a conundrum: seek a solution and compromise—seemingly out of fashion these fractious days—or claim the stage with histrionics and hysteria.

In our sadly polarized country, a key question is whether a woman is electable as the President of the United States. The United Kingdom has a female prime minister, as does Germany. Yet, our nation seems culturally disinclined to elect a woman to lead our country. The Democrat party seems to be awaiting a decision by former Vice President Joe Biden to enter the presidential sweepstakes and then anoint him as the person best able to defeat President Trump.

At this point, I have made no choice. But gender is not a factor. It would be foolhardy to choose my favorite candidate on how they were born. The consequences are too significant for our nation.

I simply want to vote for someone who, in my opinion, can change the trajectory of our country and serve as a responsible, sensible and moral leader of our nation. We have no such person now in the White House.

Electability is becoming the current catchphrase. I have no qualms about that criterion. My concern is irrational criticism of women running for office, barbs that would not be aimed at men as they seek higher office.

Adjectives such as “shrill,” “strident” and “ambitious” seem reserved for criticizing women. On the other hand, men are described as “passionate,” “forthright” and “outspoken.” The adjective war seems imbalanced.

Women face more difficult barriers in garnering favorable public perception.

When I earlier mentioned Nancy Kopp, I could feel the irony as I tapped my keyboard. She’s effective because of her mild but determined manner. Yet some—mainly men–wish her to be more combative, though the results may be minimal.

My plea is for fairness. Gender is meaningless. Judgments colored by bias poison public discourse.

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.

 

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