The Democrats’ biggest fear (for now)

It’s a concept I first heard from Rush Limbaugh, but it makes common sense: your opponents will show you what they are most afraid of by what they speak about and the terms by which they do so. In this case, perhaps their biggest fear going into 2016 is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who was the subject of a DNC e-mail I received featuring this quote:

The DNC characterized this as an unsavory comparison, which some called a “gaffe.”

Obviously Walker was trying to portray himself as one who actually has a spine, unlike a lot of those who are in federal office at this time.  As a governor he has little foreign policy experience, but he has faced down more than his share of policy-based adversaries given his stance against the public-sector unions in Wisconsin. (It’s interesting to note that the Democrats in that Wisconsin case turned tail and ran rather than stand and fight for their beliefs. Par for the course.)

But Scott Walker has surged to the top of the polls because he’s maintained a relatively conservative line through the four-plus years he’s served as Wisconsin governor, winning not just two but three elections where Democrats have thrown the kitchen sink at him, including a trumped-up ethics investigation. A state that was considered to be safe for Democrats is now up for grabs because a conservative has led it for an extended period of time and performed successfully. That turnaround and the fact he actually stared down a key liberal constituent group and prevailed explains much of Walker’s appeal at this stage of the game. It’s a record none of the Democrats currently eyeing the nomination can match.

You may also recall that Walker was the subject of liberal wailing and gnashing of teeth a week or so earlier when he didn’t bite on questions about Rudy Giuliani’s remark questioning Barack Obama’s love of America. Add this to the CPAC speech and more and more on the Right are convinced Scott Walker is the Left’s biggest fear going into 2016 – so, to the liberals, he must be destroyed at all costs. Walker is hardly an elite or establishment GOP fellow, and it’s that relationship with the common man that Democrats fear, unlike Mitt Romney who they could (and successfully did) portray as a Wall Street patrician.

At this point, though, what difference does it make? To Americans who want a clear choice for President it makes all the difference in the world.

The DHS funding disaster

By Cathy Keim

This week in DC was the disaster that we all saw coming last December with the passing of the CROmnibus bill. The GOP promised that if only they passed the massive budget that gave Obama everything he wanted, they would hold the line on the illegal immigrant executive overreach when funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). So they gave up the momentum of the huge election win to allow the lame duck congress to vote for CROmnibus. In the outrage that followed this betrayal, conservatives begged for Boehner to not be returned as House Speaker. Despite 25 brave Congressmen voting against Boehner, the rest voted for him and the status quo.

Now the final betrayal that was set in place last December is coming to fruition. The proposition that the GOP would stand firm in a budget battle where the main leverage was a government shutdown of the DHS was already unlikely at best – then the Charlie Hebdo massacre happened in Paris and unlikely became impossible. The GOP is terrified that if the DHS were shut down, they would be blamed if a terrorist attack occurred. Never mind that of the 230,000 DHS employees, 200,000 are deemed essential and would be required to show up to work during the shutdown. (As in many of these instances, the so-called “shutdown” is more like a slowdown, and it’s almost certain they’ll be paid in the end.)

The House Republicans passed a DHS bill with a full year of funding but with amendments that addressed the illegal immigrant amnesty dictated by President Obama. The Senate has had the bill for several weeks but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was unable to get the bill passed, so he stripped the House amendments out and sent it back to them on Friday. This is where it got somewhat confusing, because When the two bodies pass different bills they have to be reconciled.

The House voted at 2:43 pm on Friday to go to reconciliation with the Senate. All the Democrats voted against reconciliation. The Senate will vote on this on Monday and it is expected that all Democrats in the Senate will vote against it. The Democrats only want a clean bill passed, so they are not willing to try and reconcile the House bill with the Senate bill.

As the deadline drew near, there was a flurry of votes, which I found difficult to follow from the press coverage. However, Congressman Thomas Massie (KY – 4th Congressional District) posted an explanation on his Facebook page.

The entire post is worth reading to understand exactly what happened on Friday, but the bottom line is:

In summary, using the power of the purse to keep the executive branch in check is a legitimate and constitutional strategy, but our republican leadership chose poorly last December when selecting security funding as a point of leverage. Having backed themselves into a corner, last night House republican leadership abandoned their own plan and struck a deal with minority leader Pelosi that gave the President what he wanted for at least another week. In my estimation, the long-term prospect of using the power of the purse to stop the President’s unilateral action is bleak now that House leadership has signaled a temporary retreat without gaining a single concession from the Senate.

Our current Republican leadership is unable and/or unwilling to stop the tide of the President’s executive overreach. The citizens that voted last November for the opposition party to use the power of the purse to stop the President are left with nothing to show for their votes. It would appear that we are in for a painful two years as an uncontrollable President is left to execute his whims on a defenseless populace.

MCAC and CBF to Hogan: drop dead

As I suspected, the slight bend toward agricultural interests that Governor Hogan made with the revised Phosphorus Management Tool regulations – now re-dubbed the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative – was met with hostility from the environmental community. On Friday the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation released this joint statement:

We commend the Hogan Administration for taking the problem of phosphorus pollution seriously and are pleased that the Administration embraces the scientific evidence showing we must implement the Phosphorus Management Tool to better manage manure on oversaturated farm fields.

The environmental community was not involved in the drafting of Governor Hogan’s proposed regulations that were released on Tuesday, and we have gone over them carefully since. Unfortunately, the regulations do not provide the adequate protection or assurance we need, and as such, we must oppose them. Our concerns are detailed in the attached analysis.

The regulations include a significant loophole, referred to by the agricultural industry as a “safety net,” that makes it unclear if they would ever result in full implementation of this much-needed tool. We adamantly oppose this lack of a clear, enforceable end date for putting the Phosphorus Management Tool into place.

It is also unclear whether the proposed ban on phosphorus on fields with FIV over 500 would actually reduce the amount of manure being applied to farm fields or protect Maryland water quality. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has been unable to clarify this.

Additionally, the regulations add one more year of delay, and they include troublesome secrecy provisions.

We continue to whole-heartedly support legislation sponsored by Senator Pinsky and Delegate Lafferty (SB 257 / HB 381) to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool with a six-year phase-in. Given the difficulties we’ve had with the regulatory process over the past three years, we prefer having a strong statute in place.

Their statement is an expanded version of a statement I posted on Wednesday from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. The MCAC is an interesting group in that none of the 21 groups involved has a thing to do with farming; instead many of these are “riverkeeper” groups from around the state. These groups blame farmers for a disproportionate share of the problems with Chesapeake Bay, imagining they are just wantonly dumping manure into streams and creeks.

While the groups have done a comparison sheet (or “detailed analysis”) between the O’Malley and Hogan proposals, their chief complaint can be summed up in this paragraph:

The Hogan PMT provisions for an “evaluation” for assessing manure markets and transportation programs, available land acreage, etc., allow for this “evaluation” to stall movement of PMT implementation for a year while MDA conducts a re-evaluation. The result is the possibility of an endless year by year postponement and re-evaluation possibility. (Emphasis in original.)

The way I read this is that, whether the infrastructure is in place or not - and, to be honest, I’m dubious of whether it can be in place – the CBF wants to move ahead on the PMT issue. Even the large-scale concession of immediately stopping the application of manure to certain fields, which is a provision allegedly affecting 1 of every 5 farmers on the Lower Shore, isn’t satisfying to the environmental coalition. They demand the data on how this would affect farmers, but pooh-pooh the need for data on how these regulations might affect the rural Maryland economy through the actual on-site studies sought by the Hogan administration.

In short, the contempt for the agricultural community by these groups is palpable.

So Larry Hogan tried to walk the middle ground. In backing off his original dead-set opposition to the PMT as “mandating how (farmers) use their property” to implementing a slightly less onerous version he still alienated the environmental community as well as discouraging some of the farmers who will be most adversely affected.

This whole episode will hopefully be a lesson to the new administration: you won’t get the friendship or the votes of those who would just as soon see the Eastern Shore collapse economically thanks to the demise of the agricultural industry regardless of what you do. So stick to those issues you ran on: improving Maryland’s economy and lowering the tax and regulatory burden on its citizens. Remember, no amount of regulation is enough for liberals, so why cater to them in the first place?

ESPC sets another fundraising benefit

February 28, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items · Comment 

I’m hoping this will work as a sidebar ad and be legible (as a public service) but in case that doesn’t work out:

I was alerted to this by my cohort Cathy Keim, who has been active in the pro-life community for some time. You may recall I was her guest at an ESPC benefit last fall. While the fundraiser did quite well, the need is always there so the Eastern Shore Pregnancy Center is back at it again with a lower-key event they call the Celebrate Life Benefit Concert that seems like it will be a good time with coffee, dessert, music, and fellowship.

In terms of fundraising strategy, this seems like a good time to look for funding as it’s been awhile since their annual dinner and two events a year is optimal. And you know it’s for a worthy cause. I hope to see you all there.

When three should be one

Last month I wrote about the controversy some Central Committees around the state faced when it came to filling vacancies for Senator and Delegate positions. It boiled down to the preference of Governor Hogan to have a selection of names to choose from when it came to these positions clashing with both the desire of local Central Committees to make the choice and the language of Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution.

If you look at those who have been appointed so far to the various positions, there is a level of familiarity involved: Barrie Ciliberti is a former Delegate returning to the House of Delegates, while Andrew Serafini and Justin Ready have moved up from the House to the Senate to fill vacancies there. The seats formerly held by Ready and Serafini are among the three current vacancies in the House of Delegates, with the other being the seat formerly belonging to Delegate Cathy Vitale, who was tapped by the outgoing O’Malley administration to fill an Anne Arundel County judgeship.

In the cases of Ciliberti, Ready, and now Vitale, there has been no shortage of controversy in filling the seats. Supporters of Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the District 4 primary for Delegate, fumed that a member of the slate also consisting of Delegates Kathy Afzali and David Vogt and Senator Michael Hough leapfrogged Peters in the selection process – Barrie Ciliberti was fifth in that primary, but a Frederick County Republican Central Committee consisting of Hough supporters made the decision with Carroll County’s body tabbing Ciliberti as one of their three finalists as well.

Carroll County’s Republican Central Committee has its own stain, replacing its original choice of Robin Bartlett Frazier for District 5 Senate at the behest of the Hogan Administration, which insisted that they amend the process to permit the elevation of then-Delegate Justin Ready to the Senate.

With Anne Arundel County now under the gun to replace Vitale, the three vs. one controversy is back. According to an article in the Capital Gazette by Chase Cook and Sarah Haynesworth, Anne Arundel County’s Central Committee is planning to send just one name to Governor Hogan – at least until there’s a formal request to do otherwise. Apparently such a request is on its way.

If it were my Central Committee, though, that formal request would be crumpled up and thrown into the circular file. The Gazette piece quotes current Delegate Tony McConkey at length, noting that he’s advising the AARCC to send just one name.

As I stated in January, the selection of a state officer should be done closest to the district involved, meaning it would be the Central Committee’s task to select the recipient and not the Governor’s. It’s a similar argument to the one we as a Central Committee have made regarding the wisdom of an elected Board of Education for Wicomico County as opposed to the current system of appointees from the governor’s office in Annapolis. Assuming we get the school board as currently envisioned, even the appointees for the hybrid portion of the board and for any vacancies would be done locally.

Yet there’s now another element being thrown into the mix. On her way out the door Delegate Vitale introduced HB1070, which would change the Maryland Constitution to allow for a special election in Presidential years once a vacancy is created. As an example, if the law were in effect today those who were recently appointed would face re-election in 2016 to a two-year term rather than serving all the way until 2018. In its description of the proposal the Gazette is incorrect because the earliest we could see such an election would be 2020 – even if passed this year it would be on the 2016 statewide ballot as a question (most likely Question 1.)

In some respects this is a good idea, but I think this would be very confusing to voters. In certain time frames, it could also be difficult to get a person to serve unless it was understood they would be a caretaker member until the election was over – sort of like the situation we faced in replacing Page Elmore in 2010 during the midst of a primary campaign for his successor. The consensus we reached with Somerset County was to put his widow in the seat until the new Delegate was elected (which turned out to be Charles Otto.)

Nor should we forget that, when the shoe was on the other foot and a Democrat was appointing for a Democratic seat, only one name was turned in by the local party organizations.

If appointments are going to be done in Annapolis from a list of three names, it begs the question: just what function do Central Committees have, anyway? At that point the Appointments Secretary just might as well handle the whole thing. I hope that’s not the overall intent of the Hogan administration, but right now they seem to want to cut the locals out of the process where they can and it’s disappointing.

Citizens’ Mandate a sign of the times

By Cathy Keim

A few days ago Michael posted the question: How will people respond if Jeb Bush is the GOP nominee this time around? He gave quite a few options to choose from. So far only one comment has popped up on the blog comment section and it was not positive towards Jeb.

Personally, I am not in favor of another Bush running for president, even if he was the one that was supposed to be president according to GOP folklore. We are not a kingdom, but a republic. We do not have royalty and do not need another Kennedy, Clinton or Bush for our survival. In fact, a Clinton or Bush as our next president might be more detrimental than other choices. I know that Bush is considered the lesser of two evils in a Clinton-Bush match up, but he still has terrible positions on Common Core and immigration, which are two huge issues.

Rather than waiting for the elites in the GOP and the donor class to tell us whom we may vote for, we should be actively working towards vetting and then getting behind a conservative candidate early. Marylanders do not have much of a part to play in the early primaries, but we can still do our homework and then support our candidate early so that they have a better chance of making it through the primary process without being picked off one by one as we have seen in the past.

The GOP leadership has already shown itself to be arrogant and disinclined to actually listen to their base. They are willing to campaign to the base, but not to actually govern for them once elected. Jeb Bush has made it clear that he will win the nomination his way or just go home. He is not going to “pander” to the base.

In an effort to talk some sense into the GOP elites, a group of conservative leaders got together and wrote a Citizens’ Mandate after the November 2014 landslide elections. The hope was to motivate the GOP majorities in the House and Senate to actually stop the unconstitutional overreaches that the Obama administration has made a daily occurrence.

Despite the November landslide election, the first things the Republicans did was pass the CRomnibus bill in the lame duck session and then re-elect Boehner as the Speaker of the House. The current DHS funding fight was supposed to be where the GOP finally stood their ground against the executive overreach. So far, this has been less than an awe inspiring fight as Mitch McConnell frantically tries to pass the hot potato back to the House rather than pressuring eight vulnerable Democrat Senators to vote for cloture. The House loudly proclaims that they have done their duty, but that the awful Senate won’t do their part.

Finally, you begin to figure out that it is all showmanship to make the rubes out there think that they really, really did try hard to beat back the out-of-control executive branch, but it just wasn’t possible. Next stop, immigration “reform” as the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders wanted all along.

This means that many people will not see the point in voting Republican again. If we give them a landslide victory and this is what we get, then if Jeb Bush is the nominee, I predict that many people will just stay home.

The GOP is quite sure this will not happen as the Democrats are so much worse. But are they?

It is time for the GOP leadership to read the Citizens’ Mandate carefully and think about their choices. Andy McCarthy in National Review wrote about the Mandate. Please read the whole article, but McCarthy concludes:

Conservatives fear that Republicans, with their eyes on 2016 and their ears on professional political consultants, have drawn the wrong lesson from last November’s good fortune. Voters are not suddenly infatuated with Republicans. Voters are alarmed at the direction in which President Obama is taking the country, and they elected the only available alternative.

The fate of 2016’s race for the White House will be decided by how well Republicans heed the mandate of 2014’s referendum on Obama’s policies. Will Republicans use the next two years to stop the president? If, instead, they use the next two years to further enable the president’s fundamental transformation of the United States, they will not have convinced the country that they can govern. They will have convinced their base that they are not worthy of support.

Then Ann Coulter piles on:

Why don’t Republicans spend all their airtime attacking the media for lying about what Obama’s amnesty does and what the Democrats are doing? It’s hard to avoid concluding that Republicans aren’t trying to make the right arguments. In fact, it kind of looks like they’re intentionally throwing the fight on amnesty.

If a Republican majority in both houses of Congress can’t stop Obama from issuing illegal immigrants Social Security cards and years of back welfare payments, there is no reason to vote Republican ever again.

In January, Diana Waterman, the head of the Maryland GOP, sent out a letter saying:

If we want to be successful next year and beyond, we must continue to work together!! Please work with me to foster this unity – we have shown we can do it. We must not lose sight of our goals – victory in 2016 and 2018!!!

No, my goals are not victory for the GOP in 2016 and 2018. My goals are to stop the fundamental changes that the Obama administration is ramming down our throats each and every day. The Republican Party is currently the only vehicle available to me to try and stop the disaster. If the Republican Party continues to show that it cannot or will not make the effort, then no, I will not support them in 2016.

There are many others that feel the same way. We may not be a majority, but I suspect there are enough of us to keep the GOP nominees from winning. I will not stay at home. I will vote, but it will not be for Republican candidates if they continue this farce.

The fallback position?

In the day since Governor Hogan announced his Phosphorus Management Tool regulations and I wrote my original take on them, I’ve had a chance to see what some of the involved players have to say.

I should preface this by noting I’m not a farmer; however, I have a rural background to the extent that I lived on acreage partially surrounded by woods and cornfields and went to school with kids who were honest-to-goodness members of the Future Farmers of America, complete with the blue corduroy jackets. And seeing that this is a predominantly rural area which depends on agriculture and my interest is in its economic success, I tend to favor the views of farmers over those who think that chicken comes from Whole Foods.

Anyway, the reaction I saw from the major agricultural players was somewhat disappointing, considering the dramatic effect those around here will feel from the PMT regulations. I begin with Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Statewide, the Maryland Farm Bureau echoed the inclusive approach.

To me, these farm groups are exhibiting the same attitude that’s expressed by the saying, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Perhaps I’m just wondering what happened to the Larry Hogan who promised the Maryland Farm Bureau back in December:

The first fight [when I take office] will be against these politically motivated, midnight-hour phosphorus management tool regulations that the outgoing administration is trying to force upon you in these closing days. We won’t allow them to put you out of business, destroy your way of life or decimate your entire industry.

The regulations are essentially unchanged in this rendition with the exception of promises of more resources for affected farmers and an extra year to deal with the mandates. But over 1 in 5 local farmers will have to stop their fertilizing practices immediately when the regulations take effect.

And the step toward environmentalists has apparently been met with defiance. Both the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation are skeptical. CBF’s Alison Prost notes:

We are pleased the governor recognizes that excess manure application on farm fields in Maryland is a serious issue, just as scientists have been noting for years.

(snip)

We learned general information about the proposal Monday afternoon, and are hoping to obtain a copy of the actual proposed regulation as soon as possible. Without such details, we are withholding judgment.  Once we are able to review the full proposal we hope that the Hogan Administration will allow the environmental community a chance to help shape this policy.  In the meantime, we fully support SB 257 and HB 381 which are intended to solve the manure crisis through legislation. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words: nice try, but we are still after the whole enchilada.

Honestly, I don’t know if this measure is an attempt to placate the center by throwing farmers under the bus or if it’s part of a grand gambit where concessions on this issue will be traded for relief from the “rain tax.” I don’t trust the Democrats to follow through on any such deal because they come with the attitude that their time out of power is a fleeting, temporary one. It worked in ousting Bob Ehrlich after one term.

Perhaps Larry Hogan doesn’t have it in him to be Maryland’s answer to Scott Walker. But this relatively rapid concession on an issue important to the rural voters who supported him by margins of 70-30 or better in many counties is troubling. Had he waited until we knew the fate of the General Assembly bills – which he could have chosen to veto and perhaps not have to deal with until next session – he could have positioned himself as more of the fighter we were looking for when we dispatched Martin O’Malley’s heir apparent and selected Larry to lead the state.

By their words today, the environmental lobby proved they have no intention of working with Larry Hogan – none whatsoever. There was enough of a broad outline presented yesterday that these groups could have embraced the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative, but they did not.

Of course, I sort of figured it would be this way all along but people keep reaching across the aisle and keep getting their arms bitten off. The only solution is to make the statist side concede by having superior numbers, and we can’t finish that job until 2018.

PMT: not eliminated, just pushed back

Yesterday, Governor Hogan announced that some local farmers will have tough new phosphorus regulations placed on them this year. While it wasn’t his overall intent, the news could be devastating to any local farmers who have existing high phosphorus content in their fields as it will necessitate their relocation of any manure present and prevent them from utilizing that fertilizing technique until 2022.

For the rest of the agricultural community, the change is a simple one-year reprieve from the regulations taking effect. Overall, the regulations aren’t a whole lot different from previous proposals. Granted, the new regulations Hogan proposes set up an on-farm economic analysis, but that should have been the first step well before the regulations were published and affecting many Maryland farmers.

So while the state is putting together a pretty picture of the new regulations’ effects, it may simply be a capitulation by the Hogan Administration as they try and put their best face on a fait accompliSB257/HB381, which codify the PMT regulations slated for adoption before Hogan pulled them hours after taking office January 21, have hearings this week and both have a substantial number of co-sponsors.

For his part, Hogan bills it as a ”fair and balanced” proposal:

We have listened to the agricultural and environmental communities to find a fair and balanced plan for limiting phosphorus, and I am pleased to announce the details of that solution today. The enhanced phosphorus management tool regulations and the broader Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative will protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay while still supporting a vibrant agriculture industry in Maryland. We are providing immediate action to limit pollution, investing in new technology, seeking alternative uses for manure, and improving on-farm management of animal manures – none of which were included in the previous proposals.

It seems to me the time to do the enhancements would have been before most farmers were affected. The excuse for an economic study produced by the previous administration noted the plan would cost farmers (and taxpayers) millions of dollars for comparatively little benefit to Chesapeake Bay. The impetus for the “Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative” should have been to study the effects on real farms first – which is part of this effort, but done simultaneously with the restrictions rather than in advance of them.

Moreover, we don’t know how quickly some of these waste conversion initiatives will get online despite the $2 million the state recently granted three such operations, including one in Worcester County and one in Dorchester County. How scalable these operations are is yet to be determined, but the need for their assistance in waste disposal will arise rather soon.

In short, there was a reason the Eastern Shore agricultural community was pleased about the demise of the PMT regulations – not that they want a clean Chesapeake Bay any less than anyone else, but because they can make a case that they have done their part yet still seem to be the target of more and more regulations. That month of triumph appears to be coming to a close, though, and while Hogan calls it a enhancement the end result will still likely be economic damage to Eastern Shore farmers.

The economic viability of producing poultry in Maryland may be a casualty of these new regulations as growers may find the market for their by-product suddenly diminished. Without the ready availability of chicken waste through the departure of the industry, the environmentalists may succeed in driving the soil phosphorus levels down, but there will be much less economic activity to speak of as well.

WCRC meeting – February 2015

While we didn’t have a featured speaker, there was plenty said at this month’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting – even as it ran a brisk 45 minutes in a chilly Chamber of Commerce building. But perhaps just as important was that which wasn’t said.

Once we got through our usual opening of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, we found out our Christmas Party was slightly more profitable than first believed. That’s always good news.

Mark McIver spoke on behalf of the Central Committee, noting that three appointments to the Board of Elections had been forwarded to the Maryland Senate for approval. In addition, we would be interviewing candidates for the open Wicomico County Board of Education seat at Monday’s Central Committee meeting. He also announced we would be holding a quad-county Lincoln Day Dinner this year.

Since we had talked about the school board, I interjected that our elected school board bills were now introduced and had hearings scheduled.

Next up were the officer elections, which were by acclamation when no one was nominated from the floor. Beginning next month Shawn Jester moves up from First Vice-President to President, with Muir Boda and Joe Collins moving into officer slots as First and Second Vice-Presidents, respectively. Deb Okerblom stays on as Treasurer and yours truly will remain as Secretary.

Marc Kilmer updated us on what Delegate Carl Anderton, Jr. was doing. Anderton was a co-sponsor of a number of good, conservative bills including the elected school board bill. But perhaps most interesting was HB1039, which is being called the “Evo Bill” after the local craft brewer Evolution Brewing. They wish to increase the barrel limit a particular type of license holder can brew as they are approaching the existing limit.

We also heard from Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver, who was in attendance and only half-jokingly solicited “letters of support.” He was asked about the status of take-home cars, for which he replied ”all but one (were) pulled in.” That particular employee had a legitimate need for it due to federal regulations, he added. Culver also pledged that there would be “no tax raise” this year in his budget.

I also got to announce that the WCRC Crab Feast is slated for September 12, with ticket prices slated to stay the same from last year.

But the talk of the meeting was what did not happen. Late this afternoon, we got word that the Wicomico County Council of PTAs was encouraging its members to attend and speak out.

Apparently that appeal fell on deaf ears because it was our usual group. Perhaps they originally believed our group was the Central Committee and would be discussing this issue, but it really wasn’t on our WCRC agenda.

We would have welcomed the company but either they decided the issue wasn’t that important to them or it simply wasn’t enough time to mobilize. In either case, the WCRC is fairly solid in its support for an elected school board, as is the Central Committee.

Next month’s meeting will also be held on the 23rd, at which time the new officers will be sworn in.

On ‘Death with Dignity’

February 22, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Maryland Politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

By Cathy Keim

“The solution to suffering never is to eliminate the sufferer.” – Dr. William Toffler

I was writing a piece on the Death with Dignity Act but Michael beat me to it by posting on it last Wednesday, so I will address some of the issues that Michael touched on briefly.

I agree with Michael that this bill has a good chance at passing. My reason for thinking this is due to the emotional appeal that is being made by the proponents. None of us like to think about death in general and our own death in particular. Even less appealing is to consider oneself in extremely poor health with no chance of recovery; indeed, only a continued progression downward.

Many people jump from that grim thought to friends or loved ones that they have seen suffer and are ready to declare that they will not submit to such a fate. This is really a very American “I am captain of my ship” type of thinking. We are a free people. Why should we have to suffer a lingering illness and the indignities that accompany such a loss of mobility or mental capacity?

The more libertarian among us declare that the government has no right to keep us from our choice. Perhaps they should stop for a minute and realize that the more present fear is that the government will all too willingly let you have your wish and maybe help you along before you quite decide that is where you want to go.

Now that our healthcare has been taken over by the government and our Republican leaders show no progress in their faint attempts to stop it, people should realize that things are quickly moving to the government being able to refuse care. After all, it costs a lot of money to treat sick or handicapped people and we could save a lot if we helped some of them choose to leave a little sooner.

Insurance companies are already questioning charges on patients that have difficult prognoses and are refusing to cover futile care. I think you can see that this could get pretty scary pretty fast. Or let’s consider that now Maryland hospitals are given a set amount of money at the beginning of each year and they are not to go over budget. The safest way to not go over budget is to reduce the number of patients you see, particularly the really sick ones.

Now some of these measures may be good, but when you change your basic outlook from “we are here to help sick people” to “we are here to not bust our budget” then you can quickly see how this might not be to the patient’s benefit. This is why we must consider the principles involved before we go to the emotional appeal. Sadly, the emotional appeal is more attractive, which is why it is used over and over again to gain voter support for a myriad of causes.

But on to the less attractive principled approach. This comes down to do we want a culture of life or a culture of death? When you start addressing the big issues, then you have to come clean on your worldview. There are really only two worldviews: we are either created by God (you may choose which one, but America was founded on a Judeo-Christian construct) or we sprang from somewhere with no purpose and no place to go.

If you believe that the world and all that is in it, including men, were created with a purpose, then you will lean towards a culture of life. Since you cannot create life, then you should respect it and care for all men, even those that are not perfect no matter how they came to be that way, whether through accident, age, birth, or war.

You will show compassion to those that need help, starting with your own family and then spreading outward to your community and beyond.

This culture of life says that each life is of value whether they can contribute economically or not.

If, on the other hand, you do not believe that you owe allegiance to any Creator, then you will be quite right to think that you can decide whatever you wish. However, you must realize that Nietzsche dealt with all this and you are heading down a path to a very dark place.

In a very short time, you will go from being captain of your own ship to “might makes right.”

One small aside is that weakness and compassion may have lessons for us all that we will never learn unless we are exposed to situations where we must care for or be cared for by someone. This is not a particularly happy thought, especially to our can-do American spirit, but it is true. Suffering is not something that we seek, but it does bring strength that nothing else can.

Dr. William Toffler, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University, is also the National Director of Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation. Since Oregon passed an assisted suicide law in 1997, Dr. Toffler has had plenty of time to observe the law in action. In a USA Today op-ed he wrote with Dr. Frank S. Rosenbloom, Toffler noted:

At the most fundamental level, the fatal flaw of assisted suicide is that it subverts the trust in the patient-physician relationship. Once a physician agrees to assist a patient with suicide, their relationship is altered.

(snip)

Clearly, the disconnection from the patient under the guise of compassion is contradictory to the long tradition of medical practice: ‘First, do no harm.’

In short, this legislation has not granted, but has actually stripped vulnerable individuals of their worth and dignity. In fact, it has diminished the dignity of us all.

Dr. Toffler’s last quote points us to another danger of the emotional appeal. Vulnerable individuals are not immune to the subtle push of the culture of death which whispers to them: you have no value, you are a burden to your family, you are costing everybody a lot of money and time, you should just take these pills as it would be better for everybody. Mothers carrying babies with handicaps are already told that it is for the best to abort the imperfect baby.

I told you that the principled approach would not be the easy way. Perhaps I have not convinced many to change their mind with such a short essay, but to those who understand I appeal to you to call your Delegate and State Senator and tell them that you do not support HB1021 or SB676.

monoblogue music: “What’s Keeping Me Going” by Arthur Fowler

February 21, 2015 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

Art Fowler CD CoverIf life had gone according to plan, this review would have coincided with the February 14 release date of Arthur Fowler’s latest album. But it didn’t, so as I was being snowed in earlier this week I finally took an initial listen to the Tokyo-based and Milwaukee-born singer and songwriter whose style is described as “acid folk.”

Admittedly, his album’s been out over a year now, but like another CD I recently reviewed by Dave Plaehn, Fowler’s “What’s Keeping Me Going” has been a long time in the making as Fowler has a career outside music. As I said in reviewing Plaehn’s work, though, artistry delayed is not artistry denied and Fowler plays regularly around the Tokyo area with occasional gigs back in his home region in the States.

Yet rather than folk music, I detected more of a jazz influence on this release; in fact it’s one of the more variable collections I’ve heard in awhile. After all, how many artists these days place two full-length instrumentals on their playlists? Fowler takes the middle and final tracks of his 11-song release and puts up the well-played and improvisational jazzy instrumentals Twilight Breeze and On The Verge.

The album starts out, though, with a mellow acoustic title track which invokes a natural setting before breaking out the harmonica and harmonies on the most accessible track, Please Try. Its lyrical stylings should make this a live favorite, as should the next song called Love The Music. I was impressed with its simplicity and the idea of the enjoyment of playing all night is well-expressed in the song.

These three opening songs have already exhibited a good range of influences, but Fowler’s not done yet. He puts his stamp on the psychedelic Jimi Hendrix song Room Full Of Mirrors by adding accordion to the repertoire. Obviously Fowler fits the song to his own style, but the touch of accordion makes it a unique version. On the other hand, the version of Neil Young’s For The Turnstiles that comes later is a little more true to the original.

Yet the selection of these more or less forgotten covers (as opposed to the hits by both men) tells me that Fowler likes a good song regardless of the public perception and acceptance of it upon original release.

Once we get through the solid classical-style guitar-based ballad of HU and the aforementioned Twilight Breeze, you come to a track called The New York Song that almost sounds like a continuation of Twilight Breeze until it livens up and adds in the element of call-and-response. But I had to look in the first few seconds of The New York Song to make sure I didn’t inadvertently repeat the previous song.

Perhaps the best song on the album is one buried toward the back end. I enjoyed the more upbeat Here I Am, which led into the Neil Young cover. It also brings me to the unique and slow-developing penultimate song called Splash, which at times seemed to me like it belonged in a spaghetti western. There was just something about it that evoked that thought in me.

I generally close my reviews by encouraging readers to listen for themselves; after all, each one has different tastes and what I like may not tickle your fancy. In this case, though, I was given access to a private playlist – but you can listen to five of the tracks on Fowler’s public Soundcloud page. These hit a lot of the highlights so if you think the quintet is worthy you’ll probably like the whole enchilada.

Speeding in the right direction

In one piece of good news from the Maryland Senate they approved SB44, a bill allowing the maximum speed limit in the state to be raised to 70 miles per hour. The 39-7 vote in the Senate isolated a handful of Senators from urban areas who thought 65 was good enough, but common sense prevailed given most highways were designed for 70 MPH speeds decades ago when cars weren’t built with all the safety features they now have. If the law is passed through the House, it would take effect in October and most likely one of the roads affected would be the U.S. 50/13 bypass around Salisbury where the current speed limit is 65.

To me, it’s a start. While we’re not as open as Texas or other states west of the Mississippi, I could see interstate-grade highways in this area supporting an 80 MPH limit and perhaps even “autobahn” rules (no speed limit in the left lane.) Obviously with the amount of computing and communication around the state (think about those large billboard-style signs on U.S. 50, for example) we could even progress to variable speed limits with 60 MPH as a floor but ranging upward based on traffic and conditions. (I use 60 MPH as a basis because U.S. 50 on the Eastern Shore reminds me of U.S. 27 in central Florida where my parents live – a mainly rural highway with crossroads connecting a few small-to-medium sized towns, and it’s a 60 MPH highway.)

Now we all know that people use the speed limit as a suggestion and drive 7 to 10 MPH over, so 55 becomes 62 to 65 MPH in practice. This Washington Post story on the Maryland Senate vote quoted opponent Jim Brochin making that point. But no one says a municipality or county has to change its limit, although I would encourage them to do so.

When I moved here from Ohio a decade ago, I noticed that Maryland had quite a few nanny state driving laws. So while we are looking at changing the speed limits, can we also dump the full-time headlight requirement on certain two-lane highways like U.S. 113 and Maryland Route 90? Long stretches of both highways affected are now divided.

North of the border, I would love to see Delaware get with the program and raise a lot of its 50 MPH roads at least to 55 MPH.

I’m sure the insurance industry is already screaming bloody murder about the speed limit change, so I doubt that my pet projects will go anywhere because they have a lot more lobbying cash than I have. Yet this is the state that can’t even bring itself to discuss the possibility of self-driving vehicles with a task force (although they’re trying again in 2015 with HB172/SB778.)

We talk about making the state more business-friendly, but it’s not just financial – getting goods to market and being able to provide rapid service through improved utilization of transportation infrastructure is quite important, too. Adding 5 MPH to the interstate speed limits is a nice tiny step, but only one of many needed.

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