Friday, November 5, 2010

Coming Late to the Tea Party

Coming Late to the Tea Party

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is ostensibly the titular head of the so-called “Tea Party” movement. DeMint seems to be well-suited to lead the charge to “take back the country” from all those Muslim-loving socialist homosexuals who voted for Barack Hussein Obama (don’t forget to really push the middle name; it proves he’s not really an American). Senator DeMint, like all Tea Party types, is dedicated to working for smaller government, lower taxes, and a return to the days when the Constitution guaranteed that any white American who wanted a slave could have one.

By the time this article hits the streets it’s likely that DeMint and dozens of his ilk will be in control of at least one house of the United States Congress. Once in power they, like any political movement, will seek to implement their agenda with the aim of keeping their policies in place for good long while.

But there is trouble in paradise for Mr. DeMint. The Senator comes from, historically speaking, one of the screwiest states in the union. Several times old South Carolina has tried to jump ship and leave the United States. Andrew Jackson stopped them the first time. On the second occasion, Abraham Lincoln and the Union Army spent several years putting them and the other slave states back in their box. Up until 2000, the Confederate flag of rebellion flew over the state house. With these facts in mind, it is no wonder that people like Senator DeMint and his fellow reactionaries would want to eliminate congressional “earmarks.” After all, to many tea party types, there is no better symbol of wasteful government than the distribution of federal funds (i.e., tax dollars).

However, it is fun sometimes to watch politicians being hoisted on their own petards. Charleston harbor, one of the key economic assets of the state, is in trouble. In 2014 due to the expansion of the Panama Canal, “mega” cargo ships will, for the first time, be able to travel through the famous inland waterway and up the east coast. However, unless the money can be found to dredge the harbor, the new mega ships, and the cargo they carry, will be forced to by-pass the port of Charleston. As the New York Times noted, “If the project does not go forward, …the region could lose billions of dollars in commerce and thousands of jobs.”
Senator DeMint is all in favor of deepening the harbor; he just has no idea where the money is going to come from. He is sure of one thing; it should not come from taxpayers. However, others feel differently, Senator Lindsey Graham, his Republican colleague is on record as being in support of a $400,000 earmark to fund a study of the project. The Senator is not happy about using federal funds but he summed it up pretty well when he told the New York Times, “This is where the reality of governing rears its ugly head.”

DeMint is not the only political leader with his head in the sand. Recently New Jersey Governor Chris Christie canceled plans to build a badly needed rail tunnel to New York City. He claims the state can’t afford it. However, he could easily raise the funds by adding a few pennies to the gasoline tax (New Jersey has one of the lowest gas taxes in the country). But the Governor, like so many misguided political leaders these days, would prefer to “run over his mother with a truck” than think about raising taxes.
The fact is that a modern society cannot be sustained on tax cuts and rugged individualism. Historically, projects that benefit one region of the country often end up benefiting everyone. As a 1972 Time Magazine article noted, “between 1935 and 1943, FDR’s Workers Progress Administration built …enough roads to circle the globe 24 times, enough bridges to connect New Orleans with Havana, plus 125,110 public buildings, 8,192 parks and 853 airports, Chicago’s sewer system, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Enterprise.”

During the 1930s antediluvian types like DeMint dismissed all the aforementioned projects as “socialist boondoggles.” But try finding someone today who believes that the Golden Gate Bridge was a bad idea. The fact is unless you are Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, you don’t have the means to dredge harbors and build bridges. That can only be done by a civilized society that lives up to its responsibilities. Enjoy your tea party while it lasts Senator, but remember that good roads, an effective military and a social safety net are all financed by taxes. The less money our nation takes in the less it will have to solve the very real problems of the 21st century.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Time to Grow Up

I teach US history at Anne Arundel Community College. Currently we are covering the subject of the 18th century concept of “republicanism,” the idea that “unchecked power is a threat to liberty and that the body politic should forever be wary of attempts by monarchs and aristocrats to quash freedom and reinstitute tyranny.” Long admired American patriots such as Sam Adams and Patrick Henry were confirmed proponents of the aforementioned philosophy. With this in mind, during class, I made the point that at first glance it would seem that many, if not all of those responsible for the American Revolution held similar views to those who currently embrace the current day Tea Party movement.

But, the truth is that the America of Sam Adams and Patrick Henry is a distant memory. We no longer live in a world where the government’s only role is to make sure the Indians don’t overrun the homestead. When someone breaks into our house at night, or our residence catches on fire, or when grandma gets sick, we, appropriately look to the government to help us to do the things that we cannot do for ourselves. Tea Party types don’t want to hear this. To them we are still back on the prairie living at our own peril.

This would not be so shocking if those who made up the movement were a bunch of slack jawed yokels who didn’t know any better, but as a recent New York Times/ CBS poll recently revealed, Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public. One of the most disturbing (and revealing) aspects of the aforementioned survey is that most people who identify themselves as members of the movement are convinced that “the policies of the Obama administration are disproportionately directed at helping the poor rather than the middle class or the rich.” Guess what, on this point they are 100 percent correct!

President Obama has indeed worked to implement policies that favor those who are struggling to make ends meet rather than fat cat bankers and millionaires. I’m not quite sure why they don’t like the idea of our nation helping the poor, but I have some idea. For one, those that worship at the altar of the “Protestant Work Ethic,” are forever making the claim that if you are poor it is no one’s fault but your own. This is of course, nonsense. Most members of the middle class are one maybe two checks away from the poor house. In most cases, people become poor not because they are lazy but due to factors beyond their control. However, by making the false assumption that poor people are shiftless, those who have an interest in increasing their own bank accounts can easily rationalize away their responsibility to help ALL members of our society reach their God given potential.

And speaking of God, one of most laughable things about a great many Tea Party members is their propensity to call themselves “Christian.” Many of them are silly enough to assume that if Christ were here today that he could not wait to join a militia group and scurry down to Texas to conduct target practice on illegal aliens trying to cross the border. If you look at the gospels its pretty clear that JC had a strong affinity for the poor and dispossessed. So if you believe the United States should abandon poor people, deport hard working immigrants and de-fund the social safety net that keeps orphans and widows from falling through the cracks you might be a member in good standing with your Tea Party minions, but you sure as hell can’t call yourself a Christian.

Sadly, most Tea Party aficionados don’t realize that their day is long past. The future of our nation like it or not is not white, but brown and black. As Newsweek Magazine recently noted:

“In 2004, Texas became the fourth state in the union (after Hawaii, New Mexico, and California) to be "majority minority"—to have a population that is less than 50 percent white. The less dominant whites become in Texas, the more some of them cling to a mythical past of the cowboy and oilman. "A lot of these conservatives don't want to change. The ground is moving underneath them, and they don't want to recognize that and don't know what to do about it. So they join a tea-party group and strap on a six-gun and strut around.”

Well my fellow Americans it is time to stop playing cowboy and attend to the serious matters of finding a way to both raise taxes and reduce entitlements with the ultimate aim of saving our nation; its time to grow up.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Last month at a town hall meeting in his state, United States Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont made the important point that” health care is the civil rights issue of the moment.” He was so right! Just as in the 50s and early 60s, conservatives everywhere are working overtime to ensure that the rights they enjoy will continue to be denied to millions of their fellow citizens.

It is shameful but true that in 1950 most Americans were satisfied with the status quo vis-a- vis civil rights. A majority of whites in the south believed that African Americans should be kept in their places because, to their minds, they were ignorant, lazy and bent on ravishing white southern womanhood. Those in the north who opposed integration and full rights for blacks were a bit more refined. William F. Buckley’s influential right wing magazine, National Review (NR) referred to whites as “the advanced race,” and defended the efforts of states like Mississippi in their efforts to disenfranchise blacks, noting that “…the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.”

Well it certainly is interesting to see history repeating itself. It appears that not much has changed since those times. Just like the segregationists of days past, many on the right side of the aisle are currently railing against any kind of substantive reform in the realm of health care because they are more than satisfied with the status quo. Then as now, their reasoning is thus, “it is too messy and unsettling to do the right thing so let’s just keep things just as they are and insist that everything is fine.”

In 1950, most Americans could use whatever hotel, restaurant, swimming pool or playground that suited them. Most Americans in 1950 could marry whomever they wanted, and if they were smart enough, go to the state university or law school that their tax dollars supported. But the sad fact is that in the 1950s there were millions of hard working (and tax paying) Americans who could not. Even worse, most of those in the white majority did not have the guts, inclination or integrity to do anything about the situation.

It is worth noting that not everyone who was against integration at the time was a racist. A great many of those in the white majority would have likely agreed with the idea that we are all equal in the eyes of God. However, while their inaction on the issue of civil rights for ALL Americans was not necessarily based on hatred of blacks, it was based perhaps on something even more detestable, the idea that “I’m just fine, so leave me alone and the hell with everyone else.” Most whites at the time were not comfortable being around African Americans. Rather then put up with some personal discomfort they chose to ignore the obvious, namely that millions of their fellow citizens were being denied the same rights they enjoyed.

Just as on the issue of civil rights, in the months to come you will hear a wide range of conservative politicians give you a host of reasons why health care reform is not needed at this time. When you hear this, remember that somewhere in this great nation there are hard working Americans who are unable to get the care they need and deserve. Many have diabetes, cancer, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy. . If they lived in England or Canada this would not be the case. However, in the richest country in the world, they must suffer because, similar to the issue of civil rights, far too many of our nation’s citizens are too selfish and greedy to do the right thing.

Back in 1950, the average American could have given you a million good reasons why giving civil rights to black Americans would create more problems than it would solve. Today these same kinds of people will tell you that the best thing to do in the area of health care is “nothing.” What they fail to realize is that their thinking and reasoning was morally bankrupt in the 1950’s and is even more so today.” In the past, the right has voted against Social Security, Medicare, the GI Bill and health care for children. It seems that anytime our nation tries to do anything for the whole of our society the right stands ready to give a bevy of reasons why nothing should change. The simple fact is that we need to take care of all of our nation’s citizens. Giving adequate care to some while others go without is quite simply shameful and truly un-American. Unlike 1950, we should have the guts to do the right thing, rather than the “right” thing.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Recently the Washington Post featured an interesting article on Hylton High, a public high school in not too far off Woodbridge, Virginia. Apparently, the boy’s baseball field at Hylton has “a $50,000 press box, a posh locker room and a modern concession stand.” Big deal, you say, we have a very nice baseball facility at our very own Severna Park High and having nice facilities for scholar athletes is not a crime. The problem is that Hylton’s girl’s softball field is currently not quite up to the standards of the boy’s baseball facility. In fact, the field is in horrible shape and its facilities consist of nothing more than a faded wooden shed and a port-a-potty.

Thankfully, Hylton along with 47 other school systems throughout our nation is under investigation by federal officials for violation of Title IX, the groundbreaking 1972 federal law that requires any institution that receives federal funding to provide equal athletic opportunities and facilities for both sexes.

This is a good thing. I believe that Title IX, like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, has been critical to ensuring equal opportunity for millions of our nation’s citizens. I am old enough to remember when area high schools either did not offer women’s sports or treated the female athletes like second-class citizens. Looking back it is shameful that so many young women were unable to achieve their potential due to the sexist and archaic thinking of the time regarding women’s roles in society and on the athletic field

Today, any principal at an Anne Arundel County high school who would try to make the case that the male high school athletes of the school deserve better facilities than the females would be run out of town on a rail. Imagine Patrick Bathras, the currently principal of Severna Park informing Lil Shelton or Carin Peterson that due to the sex of the players on their championship teams they would be receiving far less in facilities and resources for their programs.

Title IX is proof that since the 1960’s most Americans have developed a strong antipathy to prejudice and injustice, particularly in the area of education. Our schools are symbols of our society’s faith in the future and the embodiment of the idea that every child be they male, female, Black, Red, Brown, Yellow or White should be treated fairly. We as a nation have come to believe that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

This brings me to the subject of health care. Over the last few months, hordes of lobbyists have descended on Congress to “help” pass a comprehensive health care bill. The effort has stalled due to the usual scare tactics of the right. In addition, senior Democratic leaders seem hell bent on seeking the cooperation of the very people, namely the leaders of our nation’s health insurance industry, who got us into this mess in the first place.

In general, Americans are not big fans of what the right calls “class warfare.” Most of us do not care that our neighbor or brother in law has a nicer car or bigger house. The reason is that a Honda Civic will get you from here to there just as well as a Maserati and the roof of a tiny cottage will keep the rain off you just as well as that of a million dollar mansion. However, at the same time, for services that are vital to everyone like schools, roads and public safety institutions, we insist that everyone be treated equitably. The classrooms at Severna Park High are the same for both rich kids and poor ones. The fire truck that comes to the millionaire’s house is the same one that comes to an apartment building. The problem is that we as a people seem to insist on fairness when it comes to old age pensions, fire trucks and softball fields but many suddenly abandon this critical concept when it comes to health care.

With this in mind one wonders why the current administration has been so anxious to avoid promoting a single payer system. Every other modern industrialized nation in the world save for Turkey and Mexico has a plan where EVERYONE pays in and EVERYONE is covered. In most of the aforementioned nations, those who can afford higher levels of care can purchase it if they wish, but at the same time, they know that even if they should lose all of their money they would still be able to get quality care. In short, access to health care in most modern nations of the world is based not on where you work or how wealthy you are but on the fact that you are a citizen.

What then is the solution, I believe that Bernard F. Erlanger of New York, NY has the right idea. In a letter to the New York Times on 23 July, he brilliantly pointed out that:

We already have a successful federal health care program: Medicare. Even many physicians prefer it over the various programs sold by insurance companies. Why don’t we just gradually lower the age of eligibility until all Americans are covered? Or is that too easy?

I could not agree more.

Today Ontario turns out more automobiles than the state of Michigan; the reason is that they spend 2000 dollars less a vehicle because the Canadian government rather than the automobile companies in Canada provide for their workers health care. Ergo, universal care is not just a social justice issue, but an economic one as well. Common decency and fairness demand that we extend a Medicare like health care system to every American. Those who oppose such a plan are either too selfish or too clueless to understand what is at stake. Title IX is wonderful initiative because it ensures a level of fairness and equal treatment. We would do well as a nation to apply the same kind of thinking in solving our health care crisis.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


During the Bush years I regularly excoriated the President for his failure to raise the revenues required to fund entitlements and pay for the incursion into Iraq. Like many Presidents before him (particularly Ronald Reagan) Bush made up the difference between what the government collected and spent by selling bonds to the outside world (particularly the Chinese). By the end of his administration, the national debt had ballooned to a point where our nation’s financial future was in grave jeopardy.

I had hoped that the current administration would lead us in a new direction. Sadly, the Obama administration has made Bush look like an amateur in running up deficits. Even if everything goes according to plan, our current outlays will leave us trillions of dollars in debt. This is unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, I am in support of the many initiatives employed over the past few months to bolster our nation’s economy and maintain our manufacturing base. The problem is that, like Bush, President Obama has demonstrated that he is very good at spending money we don’t have but reluctant to raise taxes to change the situation. Like most politicians, he is afraid to make our nation’s citizens pay the real price for the programs that most Americans desire.

So the question is how do we raise revenues to fund the government without killing the economy? First off, all of us, not just those who make over 200,000 dollars a year will have to pay more in taxes. The rich should pay their fair share, but so should everyone else. However, even a liberal like me understands that you can only get so much money from personal income levies; at some point people of all political stripes and income levels rebel and find ways to evade the taxman.So if income taxes are not enough to close the gap what else can we as a society do to obtain the additional revenues we need to keep the country going? I believe several initiatives would be a good start.

1) Legalize and tax marijuana sales: Some say marijuana is a gateway drug, but the reality is it is no more a gateway drug than scotch or beer. Some people who have two martinis to mellow out after a hellish day at the office recoil at the thought that someone would use a joint to achieve the same effect. I have not been around the stuff since college, but reliable sources inform me that it is easier to get a dime bag of marijuana in good old Severna Park than it is to get a six-pack. Countless dollars pass hands and Uncle Sam gets not a farthing of this burgeoning business. Don’t tell me that this will turn our nation into a bunch of dope fiends. Marijuana is not crack cocaine or heroin. Millions of our nation citizen’s use the drug every day without paying taxes. Taxing grass will reap millions, perhaps billions in revenue.

2) Legalize and tax gambling on professional sporting events: Since the early 1930s, betting on professional sports of all kinds has been legal in the United Kingdom. Since that time, our British cousins have collected massive revenues from the gambling enterprises that run that nation’s sports books. Again, the nervous Nellies of the world will cringe at the thought of a New York Giant fan placing a bet on his team to beat the Jets. This is ridiculous. Citizens of the UK routinely bet on the games of Barkley’s Premier League (Soccer’s version of the NFL) without the world crumbling to pieces. Why not allow our citizens to do the same and reap the financial benefits.

3) Create a single payer government run health care system in the United States: Canada as a nation spends less money than the US on health care yet its citizens live longer, healthier lives. Canada also has far lower infant mortality rates. The idea that socialized medicine is a failure is a myth. True health care reform would save billions of dollars and allow all of our nation’s citizens to have access to safe affordable care for themselves and their families.

However, you cannot balance a budget on sin taxes and health care reform alone. In the end, economic growth cures budget deficits. With this in mind, our nation needs to lead the way in getting the world off petroleum. We have the brains and talent to develop the new technologies of the future to solve this problem. What we do not have is the leadership. Think for a moment of how personal computers and recent innovations such as the Ipod have changed our world. No one uses IBM Selectrics or Sony Walkmans anymore. Innovation made them obsolete. We need to come up with new ways to power our cars and heat our homes that do not need or use petroleum. Furthermore, we need to build these new technologies IN AMERICA.

The potential for our nation to lead the world into this new era is immense but we will never get there if we give in to the antediluvian types whose only solution to the problem is to “drill, baby drill.” Most importantly, innovation and new technologies not only make life easier they also generate untold tax dollars, dollars that along with the aforementioned sin taxes have the potential to make our nation fiscally solvent. The revolution produced massive economic growth. A revolution in the way we use energy has the potential to do the same.

Finally, in a recent encyclical Pope Benedict made the important point that the world needs to ““rethink the economic and financial paradigms that have been dominant in the last years.” He is so right. It will not be easy, but if we are willing to sacrifice and work through this demanding time, we can begin to finally put our financial house in order and ensure a better future for ourselves and our children’s children.

Friday, June 5, 2009


On the evening of May 18th, after reading the latest copy of the Annapolis Capital, I learned that once again, the effort to “fix” our crumbling high school had been put on the shelf. Angered by this latest betrayal I wrote a column taking the county executive to task for not living up to his obligation to educate our children in safe and modern facilities. However, that column will never see the light the day because, days later, due to the hard work of Councilwoman Vitale and a host of others, on May 22nd, Mr. Leopold (at the suggestion of Ms. Vitale), finally saw the light of day and in a supplemental request to the budget, added the money to finally fix Severna Park High.

On 26 May I received an e-mail from the Cypress Creek Improvement Association celebrating the restoration of the funding and urging me to let my elected representatives know how grateful I was for their sudden budgetary epiphany. Well, I am indeed grateful to Cathy Vitale, but my thanks end there. Yes, the county executive is finally doing the right thing, but to my mind it is too little and far too late.

The fact remains that for an embarrassingly long period of time, Severna Park High, as well as many other schools in our county have literally been falling apart at the seams. We should not forget that the last time Anne Arundel County built a new high school Ronald Wilson Reagan was in the White House. Have the tightfisted misers who hold the educational purse strings in this county succeeded in reducing our expectations to the point where we now celebrate the restoration of funds that should have been provided years ago?

My point is that those who are celebrating the recent largess from Truman Parkway have way too short memories. Let us go back to 2006. Ryan Bagwell reporting for the Annapolis Capital at the time noted that the Middle States Accreditation Board in their requisite review of Severna Park High concluded that , “the building needs considerable attention and should be repaired immediately.” The MSA also noted “…the Severna Park High School facility requires attention in order to meet the description for the facilities standard established by the association.”

Three long years have passed and we have heard one excuse after another as to why the money could not be found to give the children of Severna Park the educational facilities they deserve. No one wants to face the fact that the real reason for the years of neglect is not budgetary shortfalls or the weakened economy but the misguided tax cap that for years has prevented us from keeping pace with other area school systems. The Annapolis Capital in a 7 May 2009 editorial noted that “…with revenue drying up, the county's property tax rate is actually coming down 1.2 cents, as mandated by the inflexible, inflation-based county property tax revenue cap. Those who support this cap might ask themselves what sort of sense this makes.” I can answer that question; it makes no sense at all.

I know that many of our elected officials in this county are afraid to even begin to utter the words “tax increase” for fear of prompting hordes of their supporters to throw themselves like lemmings off the cliffs above the Severn River. However, the fact is that you cannot get blood out of a stone. The fact is we cannot continue to adequately fund our schools and keep taxes at the current rate. Something has got to give. We must be adult enough to understand that when we shortchange our schools we are crippling not only our children’s future but also the future of our nation and the world.

Want proof; take a trip some time to the National Cryptologic Museum at Ft. Meade. In one of the galleries sits an old retired super computer dubbed “Frostburg.” In its heyday, the device could perform 65 BILLION calculations per second. And yet, for all of its power, it is antiquated. My point is that we live in a world where 65 billion calculations per second is old hat. We are truly in the throes of a massive information revolution that has the capacity to solve the challenges of the future.

However, technology does not spring “"deus ex machina"” from the sky. The building blocks of such stupendous devices are chemistry, physics, engineering, and mathematics, disciplines that cannot be taught in a day, month or year. In addition, in today’s world schools need state of the art computer and science labs to accomplish their goals and to nurture and develop the new ideas of the future. In short, education is and will continue to be the key to everything.

Memo to the country executive: Spend more time thinking of creative ways to save our schools and less trying to win the prize for “The Anne Arundel County politician most like Bill Clinton.” Everyone understands that money is short, but there is a solution. Stop throwing up your hands and telling the world that Anne Arundel County is “tax adverse.” Find the political courage to lead an effort to help your constituents understand that our schools cannot be fixed without adjusting the tax cap. Let them know that you don’t intend to go hog wild but, that you want to tweak it just high enough to raise the money to help our teachers and schools to keep pace. Understand that while people of all political stripes may cringe at having to pay taxes to stop global warming or to fund abortions they are willing to pay for a good education for their children. To be fair, the recent supplemental is a good start, but until you provide the leadership to adjust the cap, you will continue to give the impression that you are far more interested in keeping taxes low than in keeping the children of Anne Arundel County’s test scores high!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


With your kind permission, I would like to start this month’s column with a cautionary tale that has become all too familiar to many of us living in the United States of America in the year of our lord, 2009. Just for a moment I want you to imagine that you and your wife are retired and living in Ocean City. You have worked hard, and take pride in the fact that your children, all of whom have left the nest, appear to be able to stand on their own two feet. Life is good and the future is bright.

That is until January of 2009 when your broker calls to inform you, that due to some “unwise investments” on your part your 100,000-dollar reserve fund has now shrunk to 20,000 dollars. The good news is it looks like you can survive. You paid cash for your condominium and have social security, but all of a sudden, the future is not so bright. The financial lifeboats on your monetary ship are not yet being lowered, but as captain, you advise the crew to have them ready.

Two weeks later your youngest son calls. He tells you that he has lost his accounting job with Constellation Energy and that he is having trouble finding work. He further notes that the only thing keeping the wolf away from the door is his wife’s waitressing job at Appleby’s and there are rumors that she could be laid off as well.

Your son is dispirited and scared. He notes that they may not have enough money for the mortgage, that the bills for your twin grandson’s braces are due, and that the brakes on their Honda Odyssey are shot. Finally, they also owe some money on a home equity loan. After a long pause, your son swallows his pride and asks you for 10,000 dollars to get them through this rough patch. He is confident that he can find work, but he needs the money to “tide them over.” Finally, he promises to pay you back every penny as soon as he can. You tell him that you have to think it over, but the next day, you send him the money. In parting with half of what you have left, you are putting your own future and security at risk, but you make the sacrifice, because, you believe that families need to pull together in tough times.

Three weeks later, you call your son to see how things are going and get his voicemail on his home phone. You are puzzled because it is the middle of the week. You then try his cell number and he answers. In the background you hear a great deal of crowd noise and happy children screaming. You also hear the voices of your grandsons, one of whom appears to be urging your son to get off the phone so they can “go on another next ride.”

Slightly puzzled, you ask your son where he is. He answers, “Disney World!” You ask him where he got the money for the trip and he tells you that everyone has been under a lot of stress and needed a break, so he decided to take 3000 dollars of the money you sent to take the family on a nice vacation.

After verbally issuing a series of what are politely referred to as “expletives” you angrily, advise your misguided offspring that the money you provided was at great sacrifice and was for ESSENTIAL things, not vacations.

The aforementioned tale is one reason why so many Americans were outraged by the obscene bonuses given to the AIG Insurance fat cats. US taxpayer dollars were used to bail out the company. With this in mind, any outlays by the leaders of AIG should have been used to keep the corporation afloat, not to make rich people richer. In short, like the fictional couple, taxpayers provided funds to help AIG survive, not to reward their executives.

However, the AIG bonuses were a national affront. We here in Maryland however, were directly affected by the same kind of twisted thinking on the part of that paragon of plutocracy, Constellation Energy. After willingly participating in the financial rape of its ratepayers this winter, BGE’s parent company made the decision to provide “retention bonuses’ of $100,000 for its senior managers. As usual, the company mouthpiece, Rob Gould, tried to make the morally bankrupt argument that any comparison to the AIG raises was "flat out wrong and unwarranted.” He also, in a further fit of delusion, noted, "Not one dime of taxpayer money or BGE ratepayer dollars was involved.” Thankfully, in the end, Constellation came to its senses and cancelled the payouts.

Which brings me to my final point, capitalism, at times, serves us well because it gives us choices. But there are some commodities, like heat in the winter, that all of us need to survive. With this in mind, is there any doubt that we need to re-regulate our electric utilities? This effort will not be cheap or easy and we will initially have to pay more to repurchase our plants. In addition, we should realize there is no system or formula that would allow us to escape paying market rates for electricity.

But, while it is a fact that energy costs more we should insist that the entities that provide us our power charge only what they need to keep the enterprises going, no more, no less. In short, shareholders and executives of Constellation Energy should not be getting rich off your electric bill. People like Mayo Shattuck, the head of Constellation, may feign concern about the increase in electric bills. What they really care about is profits. We need them to focus on the ESSENTIALS and to stop going off to financial Disney Worlds on our nickel. In short, it is more important for the people of central Maryland to stay warm, than for Constellation executives to get rich.


I am a huge supporter of labor unions. Most people don’t realize it but the reason that most of us only have to work eight hours a day and get the weekend off is due to the hard work of the American labor movement in the first half of the 20th century. However over the last year the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations have been pushing to implement a process that eliminates the secret ballot in union elections and allows employees to simply sign a card to make their choice known. This strikes me as wrong and horribly misguided. The secret ballot is one of our precious fundamental common law rights that cannot and should not be abandoned in favor of some alleged greater good.

The sad fact is that in their zeal to bring back the good old days when huge portions of the US workforce were union members, the labor movement has gone too far. My larger point is that sometimes in politics, people get so frustrated by the work required to accomplish a difficult goal that they go beyond the pale in an effort to get what they want. One of the great things about democracy is that when people and movements go too far the giant hand of public opinion often times reaches out and swats them down like a bug.

This brings me to the so called Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who last month made the bizarre statement that if the Obama administration did not change its tune, Texas might consider seceding from the United States. Perry may not have realized it at the time, but his threat not only established that there are a great many more stupid people in the Lone Star State than George W. Bush, but, also that he was, a traitor to his country and the Constitution.

Now, I know Governor Perry went to Texas A&M, but the last time I checked the rube history professors at College Station still talked about this little incident that occurred in our nation’s history during the early 1860’s called THE CIVIL WAR! To be fair to the governor, it is true that at one time it was an open question as to whether a “sovereign” state could secede from the union. In 1832, South Carolina tried to leave. President Andrew Jackson promptly told them that they, like Perry, stood on "the brink of insurrection and treason," and he appealed to the people of the state to “reassert their allegiance to that Union for which their ancestors had fought.” Jackson also denied the right of secession: "The Constitution... forms a government not a league... To say that any State may secede from the Union is to say that the United States is not a nation.

Of course it would be decades before the question would finally be settled in a horrible conflict in which over 600,000 would die (these casualties exceeded the nation's loss in all its other wars). After the Civil War, it became clear through a series of important laws passed by Congress that the Union could never be dissolved and that the states, save for some rights expressed in the 10th amendment, were ultimately subservient to federal authority. So today, when you see someone wearing or displaying the Confederate flag, remind them that no matter what they say or think, their beloved banner is, and always will be, a symbol of treason and disloyalty to America.

Some, like Tom Delay, the now disgraced former Republican majority leader, tried to defend Perry by claiming that he was simply expressing his frustration with the current administration. Perry is entitled to be frustrated and angry that those currently in power in DC are not in line with his political beliefs. But the solution is not to threaten to take Texas out of the union, but rather to work to convince his fellow Americans that Obama’s policies are wrong, and that they should VOTE (gee, what a concept) in the next election to put other similar half-wit morons like Perry into office.

A final word on Perry’s rant, those on the right are fond of saying that “Real Americans” think the way they do regarding the issues of day. What bunk!, in the eight years that George W. Bush was in office, he led our nation into a needles war, violated the Geneva Convention, wrecked our economy, and destroyed whatever good will the United States may have worked to achieve overseas. I know that during that time many governors of places like Vermont, Massachusetts and, dare I say it, Maryland, were frustrated by the actions of Midland’s village idiot during his time in the White House.

But it is worth noting, that despite their anger at the policies of the opposition at no time none of the aforementioned gubernatorial leaders ever threatened to take their state out of our noble union. Unlike Perry, they understood that in time the rest of the country would come to understand what they already knew, namely that George Bush was incompetent. In short, they allowed the process to work. This is the magic or our system. When a politician goes too far in one direction, the electorate reins them in and if necessary sends them back to private life. Nixon went too far and resigned. The country turned to Carter. Carter proved on too many occasions to not be equal to the job of President. The country then turned to Reagan, and so it goes.

No my friends, real Americans and governors who are loyal to the United States, do not threaten to take their states and go home when the political winds shift against them. Real Americans work within the system and do not have to resort to secession to achieve their goals. Since 1865, we as a nation have learned that you cannot save the union by destroying it, anyone who believes otherwise is quite simply, a traitor to his country.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Recently the airwaves and editorial pages have been full of conservative pundits and academics intent on making the case that “The New Deal didn’t really work.” These economic “revisionists” are motivated in part by a seemingly never –ending hatred of Franklin Roosevelt. In addition, although they won’t say it, they are fearful that the extreme measures currently being taken by the new administration will actually work, thus bringing about another half-century of progressive and to their minds “socialist” policies

In many respects these current day naysayers are the descendents of the greedy plutocrats of the 1930s and 40s who found themselves unable to cope with the fact that desperate times call for desperate measures. The right wing naysayers are not all wrong. Even the most vehement FDR proponent will admit that WWII and not the New Deal was the key to restoring the economy to full health. The critical point that the aforementioned misguided critics gloss over is that the many progressive programs brought about by the Roosevelt administration were critical to sustaining hope and to maintaining the fundamental underpinnings of society until the economy could recover.

The bottom line is that anyone who tells you that New Deal actually prolonged the depression is either stupid or misinformed. The country was headed for revolution. Food riots were common. Half of our nation’s citizens were suffering immense hardship. What the New Deal gave the common man was hope for the future. Prior to FDR, the US government went out of its way to drive home the point that if you and your family found itself headed for the gutter it was no one’s fault but your own. During the Hoover administration, when previous hardworking men and women applied for government assistance, it was official policy to humiliate them and make them feel as if they had failed. The truth was of course that it was America’s leaders who had failed. Rich people always like to make the poor believe that they are the cause of their own misfortunes. They did in 1930 and they do today.

Which brings me to Mr. Rick Santelli, the CNBC beat reporter for the Chicago Board of Trade. For 2-3 days last month Mr. Santelli’s rant against the administration’s newly released housing bailout plan, dominated the 24 hour news cycle. During his tirade he made several glaringly inaccurate statements. One in particular noted that “Cuba used to have mansions and a relatively decent economy. They moved from the individual to the collective. Now they’re driving ‘54 Chevys” Yes, it is true, before Castro, Cuba did have mansions, mansions owned by a tiny minority of wealthy Cubans who were lucky enough to be connected to the US backed Batista regime. During Batista’s reign the majority of the people on the island lived in poverty or near poverty. Before Castro took power if one walked the streets of Havana, one would see plenty of beggars and prostitutes but very little of what we in America refer today as a middle-class. Granted, the lifestyle of the average Cuban today is far from “moonlight and canoes” but the people of that nation enjoy the highest literacy rates in Central and South America, adequate health care, and guaranteed food and shelter. All of the aforementioned would have been unthinkable under Batista.

Santelli’s lack of knowledge on the causes of the Cuban revolution was troubling but he really went beyond the pale when he called the many people who stand to benefit from the proposed mortgage plan, “losers.” He also noted that to his mind, helping mortgage holders whose houses were going ‘underwater” was tantamount to rewarding bad behavior. This kind of thinking is typical among conservatives. Rather than try to find ways to help people they are always ready to punish anyone who does not meet their self-serving standards. Like the heartless cretins who ran relief programs during the Hoover administration, Santelli cannot wait to blame the victims.

The fact is that the plan, despite the disinformation being spread, is not going to pay the mortgages of those whose loans are in default. Rather the imitative is designed to keep people in their homes by refinancing the loans to a point where homeowners will decide to stay and make a go of it. I will grant you that many of the people who will be helped by this program did indeed make bad decisions, however the critical point is that, for good or for bad, they have the potential to keep paying their loans. Which brings me to the central question, which is better, calling someone a loser and making them feel like a failure or giving them a chance to save their home? Or for all you born again Christians out there, What would Jesus do?

The answer is he would do all he could to help keep a family in their home. When homes are foreclosed on, neighborhoods and eventually families die. No one should get a free ride, but when someone makes a mistake, but still has the wherewithal to holds things together, society should do everything it can to help ameliorate the situation. David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times said it best, The nation’s economy is not just the sum of its individuals. It is an interwoven context that we all share. To stabilize that communal landscape, sometimes you have to shower money upon those who have been foolish or self-indulgent. The greedy idiots may be greedy idiots, but they are our countrymen. And at some level, we’re all in this together. If their lives don’t stabilize, then our lives don’t stabilize. I could not agree more. Brooks makes it clear, as was the case in 1932, the real losers are those rich and powerful individuals who would rather punish and condemn than help people who need it.

Friday, February 6, 2009


No One Wins Unless Everyone Wins

Some people believe Karl Marx had an altogether dim view of capitalism. In fact, Marx, in his writings repeatedly noted the productive capabilities of free market systems. However, he also made it clear that due to its very nature, capitalism must also go through periodic moments of depression and unemployment. Thus, like cocaine, capitalism can and does produce a kind of temporary economic euphoria that is at some point, followed by periods of hopelessness and despair. I have heard so-called financial experts (one wonders if there are any left) preach that “downturns” in the economy are good for society, because like brush fires in heavily wooded forests, they get rid of the unproductive underbrush that can stifle future growth.

However, human beings are not trees. Our species needs to routinely eat, drink and find shelter to survive. In 1931, the United States was a country of 130 million people. During that year it is estimated that close to 60 million of its citizens were without food, shelter or any kind of work to provide them the essentials needed to live a decent life. During the Great Depression people did not keep rabbits as pets, they ate them to survive. But despite its massive failures during the 1930’s, capitalism in the United States survived due largely to Franklin Roosevelt talent for tempering the harsh aspects of the system with a wide range of reforms, most of which, thank God, are still with us today.

In doing so FDR proved that Marx was right about the problems posed by capitalism but not so right about the solutions. To Marx, the end game of capitalism was revolution. To FDR, the goal was to redistribute wealth to those who needed it until the system could recover. For this, Franklin D. was labeled by the delusional reactionary nut jobs of the time as a “socialist.” Since that time the right wing elements of both political parties have consistently applied the label to any proposal that helps the majority of our nation’s citizens. Since, 1932 the right has been against the following proposals, Social Security, Medicare, the GI Bill, college loans, and most recently healthcare for sick children. Their reasoning was that implementing the aforementioned would change the United States into a, God forbid, SOCIALIST NATION!

Even with the incredible success of the aforementioned programs many of our nation’s citizens still believe that they live in an America where proud rugged individualists live at their own peril and scoff at the notion that “markets need to serve the interests of the economy and society and not the other way around.” But the fact is that the events of last month provide clear and compelling evidence that the America of Ronald Reagan and the right is but a long gone figment of their collective conservative imaginations.

In an all too short span of time, the US government has had to take control of the financial markets, the mortgage markets, the real estate markets, and the banking system. All of the previously mentioned entities were broke or headed that way. Now, we could have done what Herbert Hoover did in 1931 and try to make the case that helping people to deal with the effects of the downturn would only make things worse. Like Hoover, George Bush wants desperately to pretend that nothing has changed. With this in mind he was silly enough to tell people that “the government's role in this crisis will be limited and temporary.” In the end even he was smart enough to understand that Uncle Sam was the only one with deep enough pockets to ride to the rescue.

But let’s get back to the limited and temporary part, 700 billion for bad mortgages, 80 billion for AIG, 250 billion for the banking system etc, etc. That comes to over a trillion bucks. That hardly seems limited and temporary to me. In a capitalist society the aforementioned companies would have been allowed to fail. Instead we used tax payer money to save them, and anyway you cut it my friends bailing out failed businesses to prevent bad things from happening is pure 100 percent unadulterated socialism.

Many of the readers of this column will be insulted by its premise. They will exclaim, “I don’t want to be a socialist, I want the system to survive just the way it is so that I too can someday make a killing by cheating someone out of their life savings.” But the fact is that it is too late. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, Government is no longer the solution or the problem it is, quite frankly, all that we have left.

But take heart, I can tell you that socialism is not all that bad. France, Germany, Switzerland, Finland Ireland, Italy et al, are all socialist nations. The citizens of those countries live longer, have healthier lives, get longer vacations and if the surveys are to be believed are far happier than the average American. They also get to ride to work on modern transportation systems, and have excellent healthcare systems. In addition they realize much better than we do that markets are not self-correcting and that often times collective action is required to put them back into working order. The aforementioned nations are far from utopian. Life is tough everywhere. The question is where should people turn when the economy bottoms out? We now know that the answer is definitely not Wall Street.

So it is time to dispense with the pretense that pure capitalism works. It clearly does not. In fact as we have seen all too well, the unbridled pursuit of profit at the cost of everything else is a recipe for disaster. We need to begin to understand that, as Bruce Springsteen likes to say at his concerts, “No one wins unless everyone wins.” Welcome my friends to the Socialist States of America. I am glad to be here, I hope you are as well.


Many of us this time of year are inclined to focus on the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The people who walk in darkness will see a bright light.” But for too many of our fellow citizens during this holiday season, the all too dark shadow of economic catastrophe looms. Things are so bad that even the Supreme Being (assuming you are a Christian) is apparently running out of cash. The 19 November edition of the Washington Post reported that the venerable National Cathedral in Washington DC “plans to slash its budget dramatically and lay off 30 percent of its staff. The century old institution plans to shut down a historic building on its grounds, cut back on choir performances and rely more on volunteers. The Rev. Samuel Lloyd III, dean of the Episcopal cathedral, noted that "This is a difficult time and it breaks my heart what we're doing with our staff.”

Indeed, these are difficult times, however if the good reverend thinks its bad in the theological realm he should check out the conditions on Wall Street and most importantly on Main street. It is one thing to curtail choir practice due to lack of funds and quite another to tell people who have worked for decades for firms such as Citibank that their services will no longer be required.

I will not depress you with the latest unemployment figures. Suffice it to say that millions of hard working men and women will soon find themselves with no way to pay their mortgages and put food on the table for themselves and their families. Capitalism is great when you are working. When you are out of a job however you suffer not only financially but physically and mentally as well. In time it becomes easy to lose hope and when hope is gone everything else goes with it. This is not a problem when only small numbers of our fellow citizens are out of work, but when unemployment starts to become the rule rather than the exception society itself begins to crumble.

This is why it is so imperative for the incoming administration to move expeditiously to create an employment program that will put people back to work. If they are smart, they will follow the Workers Progress Administration model created by President Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins during a similar crisis during the 1930s. Many people today who are old enough to remember that time still make fun of the WPA (critics said the initials stood for “We’re Poking Along”). But the fact is that the jobs it provided gave hope to millions of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, accountants and writers who had myriad skills but nowhere to use them. In the end the program helped people to once again realize their self worth and feed their families.

The WPA built the Golden Gate Bridge; it built and repaired countless roads, bridges, sewer lines and other important parts of the nation’s infrastructure. The program was not brain surgery. The federal government provided grants to the states and the money eventually flowed down to the county level. Which brings me to my next subject, namely the billion-dollar backlog of repairs to our country school system? Unfortunately, it is likely that in the near future Anne Arundel County will have hundreds, perhaps thousands of unemployed artisans who have the skill and knowledge to make these repairs. Some of my previous columns have talked about the leaky roofs and crumbling walls that are far too common in places as close as our beloved local high school.

The magic of the WPA was that it took people who had something to contribute and put them to work doing things important things that needed to be done. We as a nation in this day and time should do the same, and our county and state leaders, rather than wringing their hands and telling us there is nothing that they can do should take action and kill two birds with one stone. Namely, solve the unemployment problem by putting people to work rebuilding the country school system and infrastructure.

Now the obvious question is, who is going to pay for all this? Harry Hopkins was asked the same thing while giving a speech to a group at Ames Iowa in 1935. His answer was an obvious one, “you are”! But Hopkins went further.
Who can better afford to pay for it? Look at this great university; look at these fields, these forests and rivers. This is America, the richest country in the world. We can afford to pay for anything we want and we want a decent life for all the people in this country. And we are going to pay for it.

As we enter the season of light we do so knowing that many of fellow Americans are frightened and scared of what the future holds. With this in mind, we should not only expect help from Washington but be willing to help on the local level as well. Make your holiday one to remember by volunteering to help out at one of the local food banks or deliver meals to the elderly. Most charitable organization are suffering economically as well, if you don’t have time to pitch in (and are lucky enough to have a secure job) make sure you find the will to write a fat check to at least one worthy charitable organization of your choice. People need to know that they are not alone.

All right, enough doom and gloom. How about a holiday gift for you that will give you a lift in these difficult times, go to the following URL ( and watch 70 year old Chuck Berry rocking out as never before. No matter how bad things may get, to my mind, any country that can produce such a marvelous talent will never fade away! Happy Holidays to one and all!


Every office has an indispensable employee. In our office, it is a wonderful woman named Val. Val is not in charge, nor does she make the major decisions, however the fact is, I cannot imagine the office functioning without her. She is everything I am not, namely, organized, level-headed and full of common sense and wisdom.

Back in October, a few days before November 4th, I made the mistake of reminding Val to be sure to vote in the upcoming election. She did not take kindly to my suggestion. To say she reacted viscerally would be an understatement. Quite bluntly, Val made it known that under no circumstances was she going to be involved in any way in the political process. Her reasoning was simple but direct. To her mind, all politicians were crooks who were only out for themselves, and anyone who believed otherwise was not only stupid but also naïve. To her mind, being involved in the electoral process made her party to a pernicious process that was responsible for far too much graft and dishonesty.

I tried valiantly to counter her assertions. I reminded her that I had known countless politicians that had made life better for millions of people (including me). Donald Robertson came to mind. Don was Ben Cardin’s majority leader during the governorship of Harry Hughes. I grew up down the street from his home in Chevy Chase and was lucky enough to get to know him both as a father and as a politician. Don was, and is, honest to a fault and during his time serving the people of Maryland he always put the needs of the state first. Much of his career was spent convincing the well-heeled taxpayers of Montgomery County that they had an obligation not only to the area some refer to as “greater Washington,” but to all of the citizens of Maryland, particularly those who lived in the great port city of Baltimore. When I hear the word politician I think of people like Don Robertson.

That said, I have to admit that after hearing the allegations regarding the current governor ( hopefully by the time this column hits the streets he will be the ex-governor) of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, there was a part of me that understood why a sharp person like Val would have so little confidence in our political system. Yes, I know, the charges at this point are only allegations and that everyone, even Blagojevich, is entitled to due process. However, as Sister Helen Patrice of the good sisters of the Holy Cross once taught me, one should not only refrain from doing bad things but also work assiduously to “avoid the near occasion of sin.” The aforementioned phrase is a fancy Catholic way of saying that you need to avoid situations that have the potential to get you into trouble.

Blagojevich was obviously asleep in his CCD class the day the aforementioned metaphysical guidance was proffered. If one considers the audio recordings as evidence, it is clear that the good governor was doing everything in his power to fatten his bank account by selling the vacant Illinois US Senate seat to the highest bidder. Many people (like Val) consider these kinds of illegal practices par for the course in the world of politics. Call me naïve, but reading the transcripts turned my stomach. Here’s why, when people are given a public trust they have an immutable obligation to respect it. The judge who takes a bribe, the cop on the take, the health inspector who overlooks a serious violation in exchange for a favor from the restaurant owner are not only guilty of committing crimes, their actions also do grave damage to the very thing that holds society together, namely trust. In my opinion those who are caught using their power and authority to enrich their own lives rather than those of their constituents should be dealt with more harshly than common criminals and should, perhaps, (depending on the circumstances) be required to pay for their crimes with their lives.

In addition to waxing poetic about the need to avoid trouble Sister Helen Patrice used to also talk extensively about the fable of the “Boy who cried wolf.” She would remind us that the true moral of the story was not that telling lies can get you in trouble (Although that certainly is true). Rather, to her, the real point of the story was that those who are incapable of telling the truth should not only be punished but also ostracized and exiled. Why? For the simple reason that society cannot function when trust is gone.

In the month of November 500, 000 of our fellow citizens lost their jobs. Our nation is about to undergo a difficult and unfathomable economic crucible that only two years ago would have seemed unthinkable. In order to get through this difficult time we will have to entrust unprecedented amounts of tax dollars and resources to a wide range of elected officials on the federal, state and local level. We cannot expect that all of the decisions they make will be wise ones. They will make mistakes. We cannot expect them to be perfect. What we can expect is that those entrusted with ensuring the public good will be honest in their efforts and that they will base their actions on not what is best for them but what is best for the people they serve.

Val is wrong. Not all politicians are crooks. At the same time, however, those who hold public office should understand that they have an obligation to not only avoid going to jail, but to ensure that their actions are beyond reproach. They need to understand that it is not enough to say, “I did nothing illegal.” Rather, elected officials have a duty to ensure that their decisions and actions inspire trust (rather than suspicion and skepticism) in our democratic systems. When trust is gone, nothing else is possible.


George Orwell’s seminal work Animal Farm, an allegory of the Russian Revolution, has always been one of my favorite books. Legend has it the motivation for the story came from an incident where Orwell witnessed a heartless farmer whipping a giant dray horse. Watching the scene Orwell surmised that if the horse ever developed the capacity to understand how much bigger and stronger he was than his owner he, rather than the farmer, would one day be able to gain the upper hand. With this in mind, he composed the story of Animal Farm. In the book the farm’s animals, led by the pigs (the Bolshevik Revolutionaries) take matters into their own hands and overthrow the farm’s owner, Mr. Jones (The Czar). In addition to the aforementioned characters, Orwell created others to depict the many different elements of Russian society at the time of the 1917 revolution.

Among the other book’s central characters are the plow horse Boxer (the workers), the sheep (Soviet propagandists), who as one would expect, are blindly obedient to every edict and theory that the pigs come up with and Mr. Jones’ pet raven Moses (the Russian Orthodox Church). Moses consistently reminds the animals that no matter how bad things might be on the farm, they should take heart, because one fine day they will all be magically taken to Sugar Candy Mountain, where they will live out their days in happiness and bliss.

But while all of the characters in the book are intriguing, two of my favorites are Benjamin the donkey and Mollie the mare. Although they have minor roles in the book, their views on life have a great deal to teach us about the problems we face in this day and time. Mollie is the carriage horse for Jones’ personal rig. Due to her status, Jones puts ribbons in her hair and regularly feeds her sugar cubes. Unlike most of the animals on the farm, Mollie craves human approval and attention. Before the take-over, her life is one of comfort and security. When the animals revolt she becomes disheartened, not because the leadership of the farm has changed, but because there is no longer anyone to keep her in the lifestyle she has become accustomed to. Ultimately, she decides to leave the farm forever.

In contrast to Mollie, Benjamin the donkey is someone who consistently sees life for what it is. Having been around longer than the other animals he is aware that fads, political and otherwise, come and go with the wind. He does his work the same way every day never becoming too excited or too disappointed about anything that has passed. Benjamin understands that Jones is a flawed owner, but at the same time, due to his wisdom and longevity he understands that the pig’s revolution is rife with hypocrisy and is ultimately doomed to fail. The point Orwell makes is that Benjamin will endure because his expectations, unlike Mollie’s, are based on reality.

Why are these characters so important? Largely because their perspectives on life speak volumes about how the United States got into this current economic mess and, more importantly, how we can get out of it. First off, over the last 8 years, the leaders of our political and financial worlds were far too much like Mollie the mare. Those in charge were more concerned with ensuring that we had our ribbons and sugar cubes rather than encouraging us to face up to our responsibilities. Perhaps one of the dumbest things George Bush ever did was to, like Mollie, tell Americans after 9/11 not to make any sacrifices but to “go shopping.” When Bush told the American people we could pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without raising taxes, he was acting like Mollie the mare. When he told them that Social Security and Medicare could be kept solvent by cutting taxes, he was acting like Mollie. Moreover, when Wall Street “financial experts” thought they could take huge numbers of bad mortgage loans, bundle them together and sell them as AAA rated financial securities they were acting like Mollie.

Thankfully, the mindless Mollies of the world that once ruled the roost are gone, hopefully, forever. Our new President on Inauguration day urged us, as Jimmy Carter did decades ago, to put away childish things and to understand that all of us have collectively failed to make the hard choices required to preserve the American dream. Recent events should help us to understand that we cannot have a social safety net unless we are willing to stop whining and pay the taxes required to sustain it. We must realize that we cannot maintain the world finest military on the cheap. We must understand that we cannot have good roads and schools without being willing to provide the resources required for their upkeep.

In the days to come many of us will have to learn to be happy with a Honda Civic rather than a Lexus. In addition, many of us will be taking more trips to the dollar store than Trader Joe’s. Many professional athletes may have to learn to get by on 800, 000 dollars a year rather than 10 million. And finally, those in the market for a home in our community may have to settle for the kind of lovely ranchers you see on Evergreen Road rather than building garish McMansions that reach to sky and the nearest property line.

But take heart, in the end life may be indeed be simpler but ultimately more meaningful because, we as a society, like Benjamin, may begin to realize that ribbons and sugar cubes are no match for the things in life that really matter. Benjamin knew the unalterable law of life, there is no free lunch. Debts have to be paid. Like Mollie, our nation needs to grow up. The sooner we do the better off we all will be.


We wept, Brooklyn was a lovely place to hit. If you got a ball in the air, you had a chance to get it out. When they tore down Ebbets Field, they tore down a little piece of me.

Duke Snider

When I was nine years old I watched a Wide World of Sports segment that highlighted a Stanley Cup Match that featured the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Detroit Red Wings.Shortly after I begged my mother to let me play hockey. At the time there were two clubs in the DC area that had programs, Chevy Chase Country Club, which was closed to non-members and the Capital Boys Hockey Club. So it was that on dark Sunday morning my mom took me to Washington Colliseum, the home rink of the CBHC to start my career.

Upon our arrival my mother informed the coaching staff that I had never skated before but that I was really interested in playing. They replied, well all we have for kids like him is house league. I went on the ice to try out and my mother took a seat in one of the dark cavernous sections of arena and watched. No one greeted her or made her feel welcome.

I can still see her sitting in the dark by herself. No one was openly hostile, but it was clear that we were regarded as interlopers. Fast forward to Benfield Ice Arena in the year 2002. Cathy Stamper, the daughter of Morgan Wooten, one of the greatest basketball coaches to ever lace on a pair of sneakers brought her son Nick to Benfield for the expressed purpose of getting him into the hockey program. Like hundreds of other parents who brought their kids to Benfield to learn the game of hockey, she was lucky to meet up with one Ken Milliken, or as my son calls him, the famous “ Coach Ken. I saw history repeat itself but this time in a positive way. Like my mother Ms. Stamper was concerned that her son had never played before.“ Don’t worry he will be fine, Ken advised. Nick was brought on to the ice that day, and after some great coaching from Ken and the rest of the Benfield staff, (and some hard work on his part), he is a now vital member of the Viper Pee Wee Squad.

I tell you story because as most of you know by know Benfield Ice Arena has gone the way of Ebbets Field and the Boston Garden. But buildings in the end are only brick and mortar, in the end it is the people that matter. For those of us who skated at Benfield Coach Ken was a superlative teacher, counselor and friend. He had a unique ability to lend encouragement and advice to kids just at the right time. Unlike far too many youth coaches in this day and age, Ken didn’t pay lip service to the idea of learning the game and having fun, rather he lived it every time he took a group of kids on the ice. His methods at Benfield were the antithesis of the all too common attitude of “ oh, you never played before? Well you’ll have to play house league, Next!

But while Ken was the Winston Churchill of ice hockey aficionados in Anne Arundel County he was only one of the many people that made Benfield special. For those who have never played hockey it is hard to relate just how much the facility will be missed.

"Even someone who has played the game only a short time can relate to the word of the former Chicago Black Hawk Eric Nesterenko, who once told the author Studs Terkel." I love it when I'm in full flight. I'm leaning into a turn. You pick up the centrifugal forces and you lay in it. For a few seconds, like a gyroscope, they support you. I'm in full flight and my head is turned. I'm concentrating on something and I'm grinning. That's the way I like to picture myself. I'm something else there. I'm on another level of existence, just being in pure motion."

One can sense the joy in his words. This was the kind of thing that Benfield and Ken were able to bring to so man people.

So as tribute to Ken and the thousands of figure skaters hockey players who no longer have a home I have propostion. Just for a moment, could we as a state and as a country stop trying so hard to build slot parlors that will raise lots of tax dollars but also ruin millions of lives in the process. Mr. McConkey, Ms. Vitale, Speaker Bush, we need a new ice arena . Laying a down a new sheet of ice for the youth of our county will not solve all our problems but a new rink will help our kids far more than a slew of despicable unfeeling one armed bandits. After all we should never forget that building children is better than mending adults. Ken Milliken has never forgotten this and neither should we. The Ice Man Goeth, but for the sake of our kids, we should be sure that his legacy endures.


Shortly after the attacks of 9/11 my Naval Reserve unit was called to active duty. It was a challenging time but I was lucky, I served for less than 12 months and ended up being assigned at the Defense Intelligence Agency near D.C. On one level my call to service proved to be a bit disruptive, my pay was cut in half and I did not get to see much of my family. But on another level I was proud to be a part of the team that was carrying the fight to the enemy in Afghanistan. At the time, like most Americans, I fully supported our President in his efforts to destroy the terrorist elements in that country. Looking back I remember it as a period of impressive national unity.

I had hoped that Mr. Bush would take advantage of that rare moment of unanimity to better fight the War on Terror. Instead he ignored the advice of General Brent Scowcroft who cautioned “any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism.” This has proven to be a major mistake.

Unlike Desert Storm the current Iraq campaign, save for Great Britain, has garnered meager support from the international community, particularly from the Arab world. In Gulf War I America marshaled 540,000 troops, joining us were 118,000 troops from Saudi Arabia; 40,000 from Egypt; 11,000 from Kuwait; 25,500 from Oman; 7,000 from Pakistan; 40,000 from the U.A.E; and 17,000 from Syria! In addition Daddy Bush got Japan and the House of Saud to foot much of the bill.

Today's effort in Iraq dims in comparison. Some delusional types will point to the 30-nation "coalition." But even a casual observer of our efforts there understands that most of the countries that really matter have stayed away. Perhaps, like the Vietnam era, they once again sense that Uncle Sam has stumbled into a dangerous patch of hegemonic quick sand.

As the book, Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq makes all too clear; Iraq has never really been a "nation.” Rather it is and has been an odd collection of Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, all of whom have their own agendas. The reality is that even if we are able to train large numbers of Iraqis, in the end they will likely opt to fight for their tribe or sect rather than their "country." I am an admirer of Winston Churchill but every day it becomes more apparent that his effort to create a Middle East state out of thin air has produced a situation that can only end in disaster.

Recently Dexter Filkins of the New York Times appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press to report on his recent trip to Iraq. He commented on what one has to go through simply to drive to the airport.

MR. RUSSERT: There is a road, a highway from the airport to downtown Baghdad that's called the Road of Death by many. I understand there's a taxi service on that road from downtown to the airport.
MR. FILKINS: Yeah. There's actually a company they've got an armored car and some guards. And they charge $35,000 for...
MR. RUSSERT: Thirty-five thousand dollars?
MR. FILKINS: ...for a ride to the airport. ...
MR. RUSSERT: How long--is it six miles?
. MR. RUSSERT: Why have we been unable--or the Iraqis unable to protect that road, that stretch?
MR. FILKINS: That's a real mystery. It's a really bad neighborhood that it goes through, you know, they'd have to occupy six miles of road 24 hours of day, and I think in the dead of night, people come out to stage attacks.

We need to be honest with ourselves, if we can't restore order on the six miles of road from downtown Baghdad to the airport how can we seriously think that we have the ability to secure the rest of the country. It is time for a calculated but precise withdrawal.

Some misguided patriots will protest claiming that America cannot cut and run from Iraq and hope to win the War on Terror. Nonsense, in the past our nation has lost many tough battles only to prevail in the end. I remember all too well the date of April 29 1975. I was 20 years old. I had been raised in an world where the United States had never lost a war and where American values were viewed as not only appropriate for our nation but for people everywhere. But on that day I had to watch the humiliating spectacle of thousands of frightened people scurrying to the top of our Embassy in Saigon to catch the last helicopters out of Vietnam. At the time I considered the possibility that this was the beginning of the end of the " American Century." But I was wrong; our nation would recover from the humiliation of that day and go on to win The Cold War. At the end of the millennium it would be American freedom and democracy that would be in ascendance.

In the same vein, pulling out of Iraq will have any number of negative consequences none of which will be easy to deal with. But the larger point is that it will not stop us from defeating terror in our time and in the end may actually free up dollars (380 billion dollars have already been spent) and resources that could be devoted to more important objectives.

The other day I heard a pundit on CNN asked what in his opinion was the difference between Iraq and Vietnam, he replied " less trees." Let’s not wait until we have another 50,000 dead before we understand that there are better ways to defeat terrorism than bleeding our Army and our country dry on the banks of the Euphrates River. Remember, Uses est Optimum Magister, experience is indeed the best teacher.


Monkeying Around with Science

Not content with having tried to convince the world that deficits don’t matter, that global warming is a scam, and that Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks of 9/11, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party is now claiming that the precepts of science and logic should be subordinate to religious dogma. Recently in Kansas, the “outrageous” idea that one should use hard evidence and the scientific method to understand the mysteries of the universe has once again been put on trial.

The state motto of Kansas is Ad Astra per Astera or “To the Stars with Difficulty.” However that state's recent attacks on logic and science might prompt one to suggest that they change it to “ Why Bother Thinking at All.” Students of history have long assumed that the argument over the credibility of creationism (or as the current flat earth society types call it “ intelligent design“) had long been settled.

Guess again, despite all evidence to the contrary, Kansas is making a concerted effort to force the teachers of its state schools to abandon reason for the deeply held views of a misguided collection of religious zealots masquerading as “ scientists.” Before you decide which side has more credibility it might be instructive to look at a brief portion of the transcript from the now famous 1925 Scopes "Monkey" proceedings in which a grade school teacher was put on trial for teaching scientific concepts on the origin of life. If you recall, Clarence Darrow, a well-known attorney and iconoclast was pitted against William Jennings Bryant, the Boy Orator of the Plains, and a man who had run for President almost as many times as Harold Stassen. Bryant should have known better but like the current day Senator Frist, he decided to put his brain on hold and pander to the ignorance and intolerance of the inhabitants of the Bible Belt.

...MR. DARROW--Do you claim that everything in the Bible should be literally interpreted?
MR. BRYAN--I believe everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there.
MR. DARROW--The Bible says Joshua commanded the sun to stand still for the purpose of lengthening the day, doesn't it, and you believe it?
MR. BRYAN--I do.
MR. DARROW--Do you believe at that time the entire sun went around the earth?
Mr. BRYAN: I do
MR. DARROW--I see. Have you ever pondered what would naturally happen to the earth if it stood still suddenly?
MR. DARROW--Don't you know it would have been converted into a molten mass of matter?
MR. BRYAN--I have been too busy on things that I thought were of more importance than that...

As you can see from the exchange, Darrow and Bryan are speaking from two different worlds, perhaps maybe that is the point. As a recent letter to the New York Times eloquently states:

“ Faith and Science live by different rules. Faith requires belief; science requires evidence. In faith, certainty is necessary; in science, it is impossible. Because faith and science live by different rules, one cannot be judged by the criteria of the other... All people are entitled to practice their faith; they are not entitled to distort science in the name of faith."

In short, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola may be inspirational and help one to achieve their spiritual potential, but one would be foolish to use them as a guide to build a suspension bridge or to do open heart surgery.
I know many of you reading this are convinced that it can’t happen here. After all, Maryland, even with Bob Ehrlich in the state house, is still thought of by most as a progressive place where education is a top priority. But don’t be so sure, recently several equally misguided groups have moved to make the teaching of creationism mandatory in the public schools of the District of Columbia and Charles County.

We should never forget that our community has one of the finest educational systems in the state, over the years the schools of the Severna Park district have produced countless doctors, lawyers, engineers and in general, responsible citizens who have gone to excel in the real world. Just for a moment, imagine a situation where instructors in the science and chemistry classes at Jones Elementary or Severna Park Middle are no longer concerned about the periodic table of elements but rather how many animals Noah took aboard the ark. Let us then brace ourselves to the task of ensuring that this day never comes. If and when the leaders of our state educational community should ever decide to surrender to ignorance and superstition, then we as Marylanders will not only have lost control of our children’s future, we will most certainly have, both figuratively and literally, also lost our minds.


The first time I ever heard of Severna Park Maryland was in the summer of 1975. I was 15 years old and my mother who knew little or nothing about the sport of lacrosse had agreed to drive me the 10 miles from Chevy Chase to College Park to attend Buddy Beardmore’s University of Maryland Lacrosse Camp.

When we checked in one of the assistants noticed that I was from Montgomery County and called Buddy over to the table. Coach Beardmore looked at the address on my registration and laughed. “ Montgomery County!” " What the heck are you doing here, they don’t have any lacrosse there”. He then went on to kindly explain that his dream was to one-day see lacrosse being played in the area some refer to as “Greater Washington.”

During that week Coach Beardmore referred frequently to the many wonderful things javascript:void(0)about his hometown of Severna Park. Having never been there, at the end of camp, I left envisioning a quiet bucolic village on the banks of the Severn where everyone spent their days playing lacrosse and attending crab feasts (in the spring and summer this is not far from the truth.) But I also left with an understanding that although I had been raised in what H.L. Menken called the “Great Free State of Maryland” I was really only familiar with the part that looked toward D.C. and not Baltimore. In short even at the age of 15 I realized that there were really “Two Marylands” each with its own culture and priorities.

In 2005 this situation has been altered a bit. Over time the two regions have slowly started to develop common interests. Even so, with all of the changes that have taken place, I still find myself constantly re-explaining to my childhood friends where I live.

To a man they are Redskin fans. Baltimore to them is place to watch Oriole games. And when they tell you they are going into the city, they mean they will soon be driving down Connecticut Avenue and not Russell Street.

I tell you this because I believe that the next occupant of the State House must make a more concerted effort to bring these two disparate worlds together. To paraphrase Lincoln, our state cannot remain, half-Baltimore, half Washington if it is to ever reach its potential.

Growing up in Montgomery country I often had the pleasure of talking frequently with the now retired Delegate Donald Robertson, the former majority leader of the Maryland House under then speaker Ben Cardin. Don would often make the point that it was important for Montgomery County to take an active interest in helping Baltimore City to thrive and prosper. His unique ability to see the state as an entity in which each region was interdependent on the others was an inspiration to me.

Today. Robertson's views are even more important to the future of our state. As Paul Krugman of the New York Times points out " America is a much richer country than it was 30 years ago, but since the early 70s the hourly wage of the typical worker has barely kept up with inflation.” Translated, this means that those states that have the ability to generate well paying jobs will do far better economically than those that stake their future on wage slave operations like Wal-Mart.

The key to this equation is Baltimore. Our next governor must resist the impulse to blame all of Maryland's ills on our state’s largest and most important city. Instead he (or she) would do well to focus instead on the city’s potential and work to meld the robust economic forces of the Washington suburbs with world-class facilities like the Port of Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

The goal in the end would be the creation of an unbeatable symbiotic relationship that would have the potential to fuel and sustain the economies of both regions. Montgomery County offers high-tech and advanced bio-medical industries. Baltimore offers a state of the art airport and seaport. Together these two regions can lead the way in answering many future questions of concern to us all. Questions such as where is the next generation going to live? Where are they going to work?

Baltimore City at present is undergoing a renaissance, but due to crime and urban blight it has a long way to go. We have two choices. We can let the region devolve in an east coast version of Detroit where people only travel into the city during day light hours or to attend sporting events. Or, we can give the city the support it needs to reduce crime and promote conditions that can create affordable housing and well-paying jobs for nurses, policemen, teachers, fireman and millions of other middle class Marylanders who seek the American dream. Maryland has often been referred to as America in miniature. Like our nation our goal should be to construct an environment where the industrial and intellectual areas of our state compliment one another.

These challenges call for someone who has experience in both of these worlds and an understanding of the uniqueness of each region. With this knowledge the new governor will have the required insights to motivate the leaders of Baltimore and Montgomery County to work together for the common good.

Playing one region off against the other will only play into the hands of our friends across the Potomac who are always ready to undercut our efforts to secure our state’s economic future. In short, like Greece in the 5th Century, we should refrain from fighting over whether Athens or Sparta is the better city-state and keep our eye on the Persians.

November is a year off but I am betting that the winner of the next gubernatorial election will be someone who is less inclined to badmouth Charm City, and more adept at, as Richard Nixon used to say, “ bringing us together.”


The Sharecropper Society

In the late 80s, the demise of the USSR and the defeat of Communism prompted an array of pundits, scholars and economists to conclude that the philosophy of Karl Marx had been totally and utterly discredited. These conclusions were not without justification. Communism had caused the death of millions, thwarted innovation, and most importantly, denied millions the opportunity to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But recent headlines in the Baltimore Sun make it clear that Marx, the man who sat for days on the British Museum pondering man’s relationship to his work was not wrong about everything. He understood even in 1852 that due to advances in technology and what we call today the “globalization of the economy, the day would come when too many unemployed workers would have to compete for far too few low wage jobs. Long before 2005 Marx realized that John Kenneth Galbreath’s Affluent Society could easily turn into Warren Buffet’s “Sharecropper Society” if the economic forces of the social order were not handled properly.

Nonsense some say, the U.S. economy has never been better and those who can’t make it are just lazy. Well, tell that to the hard working fork lift driver who was recently laid-off from the Giant Food distribution center in Jessup, where he worked for over 18 years. When interviewed by the Sun he noted that "I couldn't say anything - I was numb. "Some of my closest friends I've seen going through some bad times, but I've never seen faces as long as I've seen…I'll miss working around guys I've been around for 18 years…They become your brothers.” Another 28-year veteran of the same Giant facility that had also been cashiered noted "The morale is extremely low," "Ever since Ahold has taken over, we have gone from the pinnacle of grocery chains to a downward spiral of mediocrity."

But an increase in layoffs from once proud companies is only one of many recent signs that the middle class is in jeopardy. As the 11 May edition of the Sun points out “ In Ocean City, a popular seaside resort that has drawn generations to its wide beaches, honky-tonk amusements and Boardwalk food stalls, the seemingly insatiable demand for upscale condos is prompting a rush of redevelopment. With vacant land in short supply, older structures and commercial buildings are being razed in favor of mid-rise condo buildings offering …decidedly un-beach-like amenities such as high-end appliances, gas fireplaces, entertainment centers, soaking tubs, granite countertops and Italian stone floors. The extensive redevelopment is putting a new face on Maryland's premier summertime destination, which has long billed itself as an affordable, family resort.

The lurch towards upscale units in the formerly unpretentious OC makes it clear that the rich are getting richer at the expense of working families. If this trend continues the “East Coast’s Number One Family Resort” will soon morph into a Delmarva’ version of the Hampton’s that will price all but the richest vacationers out of the market.

These developments are stark reminders that the United States should do all it can to continue to provide living wages, health care (even Newt Gingrich has come around on this topic) and education to all classes of people. If we fail in this endeavor we run the risk of turning into a society that resembles the current situation in Argentina, a nation that the Financial Times noted, “ can no longer afford its middle class.

Up until recent times that country enjoyed the highest standard of living in Latin America. “Today thousands of its inhabitants are desperately trying to leave. Applications to claim Italian citizenship and passports have tripled and thousands of its citizens stand in long lines outside Spanish consular office in Buenos Aires number ;over 100 children die every hour from starvation and disease.” Unlike this country, the Walmartizaion of Argentina has been going on for years. Once proud professionals now find themselves jobless, homeless and hungry. Shantytowns have appeared on the outskirts of Buenos Aires many sprouting banners at their entrances proclaiming, "Bienvenido a la clase media" - welcome to the middle class.

Argentina is proof positive that Marx was half-right. As a prophet of future economic events he was an abject failure, His prediction that “ the state would wither away” to be replaced by world where individuals live “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs, has been shown to be so much nonsense. However, on the subject of what causes people to lose hope and opt for revolution rather than working to improve the status quo he was right on target.

The late Ronald Reagan once wondered why anyone cared that “ some fellow out in South Succotash had just been laid off.” He was wrong. We all need to care when hardworking people lose the ability to support themselves and their families. If we wake up one day and our nation resembles the current day Argentina we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.