Friday, December 23, 2011

Best Book of 2011

It's nearly the end of 2011, a year that for me meant a new job, a record year for hits here at Kline Online, and lots of exciting writing projects that have appeared on the pages of publications from the New York Times to the Delmarva Farmer. The other day at a meeting, the topic of 'what good books have you read lately' came up, which, as an avid reader, is always one of my favorite discussions. I read a lot of good books in 2011, a few great ones, and a few that I likely won't be reading again any time soon. But one book in particular takes home the prize 'Best Book of 2011.'

Now, just to be clear, my 'Best Book of 2011' was not published in 2011. Indeed, it was published in 1972, before I was even born. But it was far and away the best book I read in 2011, and makes the short list for best books I've ever read. Written by the incredible David Halberstam, Steve Kline's best book of 2011 is The Best and the Brightest.

Halberstam cut his journalistic teeth covering the war in Vietnam for the New York Times, but quit the paper in order to focus on telling the compelling story of just how the United States fell headlong into a deadly quagmire that was jeopardizing so much American blood and treasure, not to mention nothing of the impact on the Vietnamese. That project became the The Best and the Brightest, which approaching forty years old is still timely and relevant.

McCarthyism scared the pants off this country in the 1950s in ways that most people, then and now, utterly failed to realize. Not just a time of overzealous red-baiting, Halberstam postulates that American political leaders of all stripes, as a result of McCarthyism, became so obsessed with loyalty and defeating Communists (real and imagined) that as a group they were completely unwilling to put the brakes on what was clearly a fools errand on the shores of the South China Sea.

Developed initially by George Kennan, and so-named by Dwight Eisenhower, the domino theory is an oft-cited justification for US involvement in Vietnam. Halberstam credibly makes the case that the real domino theory was a series of bad decisions, each becoming increasingly inevitable making the opportunity for a fundamental change of course virtually impossible. The weight of those decisions began to create their own deadly momentum. At some point, the choices became less choices and more responses, until ulimtately, saving face became a critical justification for continued American commitment in Southeast Asia.

The book's title comes from the manufactured aura of the Kennedy Administration, the idea held by many (to this day) that Kennedy brought to the White House a team of young dynamos, full of new ideas, the so-called best and brightest. But Halberstam makes clear that to a man, these intellectuals were anything but anti-establishment. They were convinced of their own brilliance, however, even while they rephrased old arguments for losing a new war. Many like to think that Kennedy was preparing a statement on Vietnam that would have ended a US military build-up in that country at the time of his death, but the fact remains that all of Kennedy's advisors managed the war for Lyndon Johnson.

Upwards of 60,000 American men lost their lives in the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia between 1960 and 1972. The leadership in Washington during this time spanned four presidents and countless aides and advisors at DOD, State, and in the White House. They were no doubt all smart men, but in the final assessment, they were terribly wedded to old assumptions, and the cost couldn't have been dearer. And while The Best and The Brightest is approaching 40 years old, it remains strongly relevant today.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Not You, It's Me.

It is unfortunate that John Morony, a member of the Queen Anne's County Republican Central Committee, and Sharon Carrick, a former chairperson of that same committee, found it appropriate recently to personally attack a sitting Republican County Commissioner in the pages of the local newspapers.

Ms. Carrick and Mr. Morony clearly illustrated what so many think is wrong with politics in America today; namely, an obsession with partisanship that mandates jack-booted adherence to the party line, no matter how hypocritical that party line might be. When it suits them, Ms. Carrick and Mr. Morony profess their love for limited government and low taxes, but on the other hand (and often in the same breath) support policies that lead directly and clearly to bigger government and more taxes.

For Ms. Carrick and Mr. Morony, Martin O'Malley is a villain with malicious motivations. Not content to thoughtfully disagree, Carrick and Morony seek to denigrate all of his positions, and anyone who might find some good in his ideas. Instead of debating the merits of an issue, they reflexively resort to personal attack, caring little about the message, aiming only for the messenger. This obsession with partisan purity is the reason why leadership in the United States has been replaced with ambition and brinkmanship.

Continuing to scatter development across the landscape is an unwise use of resources. As a member of the Task Force on Government Sustainability, I saw first hand what our quickly increasing population (Queen Anne's County was the fastest growing county in Maryland from 2000-2010) did to the county's budget. More people demand more government services, which means more government. If you count yourself a small government, low taxes conservative, and you support wanton and unfettered development across the countryside, you are sowing the very seeds with which government and taxes will inevitably and unarguably grow, an untenable dichotomy that doesn't bother party officials like Carrick and Morony.

Commissioner David Dunmyer has put more earnest time, effort and energy into his job as county commissioner than any of his colleagues, without exception. His positions are not arrived at through a partisan filter, but rather by an idealism that seeks to do what is best for our county today and in the future. Like most people that I meet, I do not agree with anyone all of the time, and certainly not a politician. The best we can hope for are elected leaders that keep an open mind and spend time actually thinking about the implications of the policies they champion. On this rubric alone, we in Queen Anne's County would do well to have five David Dunmyers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Posted: No Funding.

(This piece was first published in The Hill newspaper on November 29, 2011)

Before breaking for Thanksgiving, Congress voted to de-fund the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) as part of the FY2012 agriculture appropriations bill. It is ironic that funding for a program that encourages landowners to make their property accessible to hunters and anglers would be eliminated just as millions of hunters nationwide prepared to hit the woods over the holiday weekend. And whether or not they hunt themselves, all Americans benefit from sportsmen’s dollars and the conservation investments provided by license sales and excise taxes, and therefore, the elimination of VPA-HIP deserves some attention.

The number one reason cited by hunters and anglers for forgoing the sports they love? Access – or rather lack of access – to quality fish and game habitat. Increasingly, sportsmen encounter “hunting prohibited” or “no trespassing” signs as they venture across the countryside.

In response to this very real challenge, the sportsmen’s community developed VPA-HIP, a federal program intended to address the problem of diminished access by sportsmen and others by providing small incentives to landowners to provide public access to their lands for wildlife-dependent activities such as hunting and fishing.

The Voluntary Public Access program was included in the 2008 Farm Bill for the first time. Federal monies were released to implement the program beginning in 2010. In just these first two years, VPA-HIP has succeeded in opening millions of acres of fish and wildlife habitat to hunters and anglers.

The economic impact of programs such as VPA-HIP that facilitate sportsmen’s access is substantial. A decline in license sales – both hunting and fishing – has severe implications for state fish and wildlife agency budgets and the continued funding of fish and wildlife habitat conservation projects that depend on sportsmen’s dollars.

In addition, sportsmen open their wallets at a range of businesses – many located in rural communities and locally owned – including motels, restaurants, sporting good stores, gas stations and guide and outfitting operations. Hunting and angling in this country, each and every year, generate more than $95 billion in economic activity.

In this era of budgetary austerity, a good-faith effort clearly must be made to reduce our nation’s debt and deficit. Sportsmen and women do not presume that they are exempt from shouldering their fair share of this burden. Yet funding for vital conservation programs should be maintained at reasonable levels, and not eliminated entirely.

Hunting and fishing have long been equal-opportunity American traditions enjoyed by anyone with a love of the outdoors. Yet Congress’s decision to eliminate the Voluntary Public Access program will effectively bar sportsmen from accessing many of our increasingly rare and precious open lands and waters. This hunting season, millions of hunters may find themselves on the wrong side of a barbed-wire fence.

In the future, Congress should restore funding to VPA-HIP and ensure the program is reauthorized as part of the next Farm Bill.

Steve Kline is the Director, Center for Agricultural Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Closing Windows. Opening Doors.

I was born on Thanksgiving morning thirty years ago. I often say that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and some assume that is because of the proximity of my birthday. But I like Thanksgiving because it is a celebration of family, of togetherness and of warm spirits. It also happens to fall during my favorite time of year, autumn, and at the confluence of a variety of hunting seasons that give me good excuse to be outside enjoying brisk weather and good company.

This year was my third year cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and I enjoy it thoroughly. After a morning goose hunting with my dad and my good friend Neal Jackson, it just felt right to be in the kitchen, with some good music and great conversation. I remember yesterday, and every other Thanksgiving with a smile.

Tomorrow I turn 30. I am not the kind of person to wax nostalgic or seek to say something especially profound. I tend not to get overly sentimental about these types of things, and that will remain the case with this blog post, or so I hope.

But Kim's grandfather, who I have come to adore as my own in the six years we've been together is not well. He puts on a brave face, smiles and laughs heartily, and in his company you do not always remember that cancer is eating him alive. But from time to time, just for a second or so, the reality sinks in that life is fleeting, for some of us -known in some cases, unknown in others- more quickly than we might like. We have so much to be thankful for, and we are not always so great about letting others know how we feel. Perhaps if we all made a better effort to carry forth the spirit of Thanksgiving throughout the year, we could improve the quality of our lives. Not end wars or solve the worlds problems mind you, but maybe find the antidote to the comparatively minor things that often stand in the way of meaningful happiness.

I am of course thankful for my wife Kim, who frankly makes life worth living, good days and bad. In a world full of people perfectly willing to let you down and disappoint, Kim is the exception that proves the rule. For her love and company, I count myself among the very luckiest of God's creation. My dad Bill and sister Jenn have long been the solid foundation on which a successful and happy life have been built, in their own separate ways they offer a unique structure of support that is light on sap but heavy on strength, my victories are as much their victories. I hope my dad retires soon, and enjoys good health as he embarks upon filling his days with the things he really likes doing. I hope that I get to spend more time with the both of them over the coming years. Over the coming year, I must also make things right with my own mother, my separation from whom has grown to proportions that I neither expected nor desired; she can expect a phone call from me one soon evening.

Over the past few years, Kim and I have made a concerted effort to reduce the materialism in our lives. We have given up gifts at Christmas and birthdays, and lead the type of life heavy on content, light on fluff. Home is the place we prefer to Black Friday shopping, and books and board games beat out television most nights of the week. We have come to discover that, for us at least, togetherness is what life is all about, not stock markets or elections. It is a simple life, really, a quiet life spent among the few people who I can count on not to let me down; we don't preach about it, we don't encourage others to live the life we live, it is simply what we have found works for us. Good luck to all similar families searching for the right recipe.

It is possible that this is a defense mechanism on my part, against a world that has gone, in my view, incredibly awry. I do not want to close my eyes to the goings on of the world, but I have increasingly found that what is most important is what happens within the four walls of my own home. I don't imagine that the state of things will much improve in my lifetime, at least not without a Renaissance of the human spirit and a collective dulling of the razor-sharp blades of partisanship, so I will seek to make a difference where I can, starting with my own friends and family.

But especially important this Thanksgiving to Bill Fales, 'Poppy' as he is affectionately called around our place, thanks for sharing some very special moments with me over the past six years. Never before have I been welcomed into a family with such open arms as yours, and I fully anticipate returning the favor in your own hours of need, whenever they arrive.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. God bless you all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Danner Boots and Iowa Pheasants

This past weekend I had the chance to hunt wild Iowa pheasants with some good friends in the conservation field, including Howard Vincent, CEO and Dave Nomsen, VP of Government Affairs, both with Pheasants Forever. Also joining us on the trip was Ron Regan, Executive Director of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Steve Williams, CEO of the Wildlife Management Institute, and a former chief of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It was a great chance to talk fish and wildlife habitat conservation with some of the leaders in conservation policy. It was also a fantastic opportunity to walk literally hundreds of acres of unbroken prairie with great dogs in search of crafty ring-necked roosters.

I got advance knowledge of the rigorous terrain from a colleague, who said the miles long walks through head-high cover was tough on gear and tough on bodies. Knowing full well that my hunting experience, which consists mostly of short walks through harvested corn fields to goose blinds or deer stands, had sorely prepared me for long dusty days in the tall grass prairie. So a few weeks before I left, I started going to the gym in the evenings; and I ordered a pair of Danner Sierra boots. I thought at least this half-hearted attempt to prepare would pay off somehow.

The boots weren't cheap. At more than $300, they were purchased from www.danner.com after a lot of research. The customer reviews for the Danner Sierras is almost unbelievably good. Customers boast about owning these boots for a decade or more, wearing them for every sort of outdoor activity, from hunting and fishing to farm work. The impression one gets from reading the reviews is that these boots aren't so much expensive, but are rather an investment in your feet. I figured that if the boots lasted for ten years, I would come out ahead: like just about every hunter I know, I spend way more than $300 on boots over a ten year period.

The Sierras are made in the USA, are waterproof, and are the Thinsulated cousin of the uninsulated Danner Grouse boots. Since I do most of my hunting in weather that one wouldn't call balmy, I decided to opt for the warmer shoe. Available in regular, wide, and extra wide, as well as in half sizes, it is easy to find a Danner boot that fits, and the 9.5 wides fit my feet very well.

I wore the boots as much as possible in the two weeks prior to the hunt in order to break them in a bit. The first day I wore them they were understandably stiff, and there was some slight discomfort. Day two, the boots were sufficiently broken in that any discomfort disappeared, and from there on out they were a pleasure to wear.

Fast forward to Veterans Day morning, when I laced up my Danners for their first trip into pheasant country at the Hole N The Wall Lodge in Akron, Iowa. Early morning conditions were chilly and in the 20 degree range, but the day warmed up to the high 50s by lunch. Despite this nearly forty degree variation in temperature, my feet were never cold or hot, but those temperatures probably aren't extreme enough to measure the boots' performance, a January day in the goose pit might be a better judge than a day spent walking.

The real test of these boots was walking for two full days through tall grasses and uneven terrain dotted with badger and gopher holes. They performed very well. After hunting each day, my feet weren't in any pain, I had no 'hot spots' or blisters, and there was no pinching at all. My ankles felt great despite hitting a few of those aforementioned badger holes with precision accuracy. I also inadvertendly put my right foot up to the mid-calf into a small creek while chasing some roosters, and my foot never got wet, a real victory when the boot has essentially been submersed. A wet foot with much walking left to do would be a losing proposition.

Generally speaking, when I spend a day in boots I can't wait to get out of them at the end of the day, eager to trade them in for lighter, more casual shoes (or if it has been a particularly tough day, bedroom slippers). But there was no such feeling at the end of the day with the Danners. Now to be sure, at the end of the hunting days in Iowa I was dog tired, perhaps more tired than I have been in a long time. I was dusty (it was so dry that despite 20 degree temps at night, there wasn't a lick of frost on the ground, and you couldn't even see your breath in the morning because of the lack of moisture), my legs were sore and my feet felt as heavy as lead weights, but that wasn't the fault of my Danners, it was more the result of a tough but memorable day of Pheasant hunting with great dogs, good company, and the nicest pair of boots I've ever owned.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chesapeake Bay and the Farm Bill

About every five years, Congress passes comprehensive agricultural legislation, popularly referred to as “the farm bill.” The last farm bill was passed in 2008 and at more than 1700 pages, included policies related to crop insurance and crop subsidies, food stamps, school lunches, renewable energy, and the conservation of our natural resources. The policy initiatives passed as part of the 2008 farm bill are set to expire in 2012, and Congress is now faced with passing a new farm bill, while at the same time dealing with one of the worst budget climates in history.

Farmers are often criticized for getting too much in the way of government payments, and as such, federal farm programs of all kinds have been cast as easy targets for deep spending reductions. As policymakers work to determine funding priorities, it is important to remember the essential role farmers play producing the food and fiber on which our very way of life depends. Helping to ensure that American farmers can remain on the land and make a living has long been a priority in the United States, and while there is certainly room for reform, it must remain a priority in the future.

Farmland conservation must also remain a priority for the next farm bill, because crops and livestock are not the only important things that a farmer produces for the benefit of the broader public. For along with corn and chickens, farmers are producing cleaner air, cleaner water and quality fish and wildlife habitat that improve the well-being of all Americans. And while as of yet there is no market for the environmental benefits farmers produce, federal farm conservation programs prevent farmers from having to bear the cost of conservation alone. While farmers have long been good stewards of the land and water, voluntary farm bill conservation programs add critical capacity to their desire to do what’s right.

As we struggle to make progress on cleaning up the Chesapeake, it can sometimes be easy to place the burden on the region’s farmers. While farmers share some of the responsibility for the plight of the Bay, it bears remembering that perhaps no other group has done more, more effectively, for the cleanup of the Bay than the watershed’s farmers.

Since 2003, utilizing farm bill conservation programs, farmers in the region have reduced sediment loss by 55 percent and phosphorous loss by 40 percent. One of the major drivers of toxic algae blooms in the Bay, nitrogen, has been reduced in subsurface flows by 31 percent and in surface flows by 42 percent. Conservation programs have also led to a reduction in pesticide loss from fields by 24 percent. What do all this numbers mean? Put simply, they mean that nutrients and soil are staying where they belong and not becoming the fuel on which the next Chesapeake catastrophe will feed.

There is not a one-size-fits-all formula for achieving the types of results outlined above. On a farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, stabilizing a stream bank and implementing delayed grazing practices for dairy cattle could help to form the basis of a runoff reduction plan. On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, a successful strategy might combine a permanent wetland restoration with the establishment of a forested buffer and the adoption of a conservation crop rotation. With assistance provided by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) farmers get the financial and technical support they need to develop and implement the right plan for their farm.

Yet while agriculture has already done much, it is likely that with the ongoing development of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plans, the so-called Chesapeake pollution diet, farmers will be looked upon to do even more to ensure a healthy future for the Bay. Provided that the farm bill once again contains a robust suite of conservation programs, including the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), then the tools are there for farmers to meet the pollution diet head on; a win for farmers and a win for the Chesapeake.

On 3.4 million farmland acres across the Bay region, there is still much work to be done. According to a report released by the NRCS in early 2011, the potential upside for treatment of these acres of “high to moderate treatment need” is extraordinary. A subset of those 3.4 million acres, 810,000 acres which have been identified as eroding more quickly and subject to more nutrient runoff than average are in the most critical need of treatment. If targeted with conservation practices successfully, NRCS estimates that sediment loss due to water could be reduced by 2.3 tons per acre each and every year, keeping nearly 2 million tons of silt out of the Chesapeake Bay annually.

Perhaps even more astounding are the potential reductions in nitrogen pollution, which could be reduced by 53 pounds per acre annually on the most sensitive lands. Through good nitrogen management practices, including proper rate and timing of fertilizer application, farmers could keep 21,000 tons of nitrogen in the fields feeding crops, not in the Bay feeding algae; all the while saving farmers significant money in input costs.

With a full complement of conservation programs in the next farm bill, those numbers may very well become reality: the second half of an already successful story of voluntary conservation on the cropland of the Chesapeake. And while the Chesapeake pollution diet is subject to further development, review and, unfortunately, litigation, farm bill conservation programs will continue to quietly make big progress on reducing pollution in the Bay.

However, despite demonstrable results and the promise of an even brighter future, these programs are at risk of drastic reductions as the 2012 farm bill moves through Congress on a vastly accelerated timeline. Gaining control of our nation’s deficit is important; but an ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of the cure. Chesapeake farmers and conservationists alike couldn’t pick a better time to sing the praises of farm bill conservation programs than right this minute.

Steve Kline is the Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Agricultural Lands. He lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The following commentary is scheduled to be published in the October 25 issue of The Delmarva Farmer.

Pollution is expensive, and that’s not just the obvious costs associated with clean-up. Before nitrogen or phosphorous ever jump start an algae bloom in the Chesapeake Bay, much of it starts as a purchase a farmer makes at his local agriculture supply store. Fertilizer comprises a significant portion of a farmer’s overhead, so when it runs off of a corn field and begins its journey to the Bay, it’s like a stream of dollar bills disappearing into the creeks and streams of the Chesapeake watershed.

Same goes for topsoil, which can be blown away with the wind or carried away by the rain. Topsoil comprises the foundation of any farmer’s business plan; without it a farm operation is doomed to fail. And unlike fertilizer, topsoil cannot be easily replaced next growing season. When topsoil enters the water it chokes out sunlight from submerged grasses essential for the health of the Bay. Oysters are also wiped out by the silt, unable to escape being buried by mud.

Losing fertilizer and soil is a costly proposition for farmers and the Chesapeake; as such, making investments in programs that help farmers to apply only the fertilizers their crops require and that reduce runoff and erosion is a compelling way to make progress on long-standing problems. Thankfully, such programs already exist and are achieving results. Since 2003, federal farm conservation programs have reduced sediment loss on Chesapeake cropland by 55 percent, surface runoff of nitrogen by 42 percent, and loss of phosphorous by 41 percent; a few bright spots on an otherwise dim track record of Bay restoration.

Farmers have done more than any other sector to clean up their act on behalf of the Chesapeake. But as the newly created Chesapeake pollution diet is implemented, it is likely that farmers will have to do even more or possibly face the specter of increased regulation. Regulation is a four letter word in agriculture, strongly opposed by most industry groups as something just as threatening to farmers as floods or droughts. But unlike the weather, farmers have the ability to control how they meet new requirements.

Yet, troublingly, some of those same industry groups have recommended cutting voluntary farm conservation programs in favor of propping up crop insurance and farm subsidy budgets, which are often referred to as the farm safety net. The programs they suggest cutting are the same programs that will help farmers comply with new and existing regulations. Conservation has now become part of the farm safety net and the alternative to these incentive-based programs is likely a shift to a penalty-based paradigm that few farmers would support.

Conservation programs have proven incredibly popular with farmers over the years; helping them to do the right thing for the environment while making a living producing food and fiber for the world. With additional regulations potentially on the horizon, it may be time for agriculture industry groups to consider what a future without voluntary conservation program might look like for farmers.

Steve Kline is the Director of the Center for Agricultural Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. He lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Case Against Question 5

You may have noticed over on Facebook or in comment forums across the interwebs that a select few of the most partisan operators around are baying like cur dogs about the inequity! the unfairness! of Governor Martin O' Malley's recently released redistricting plan for Maryland's 8 Congressional districts. According to the Governor's commission on redistricting, 70% of Marylanders remain in their current district under the proposed plan, but that hasn't stopped the most rabidly partisan amongst us (and mostly Republicans at that) from screaming about the sheer partisanship reflected in the new redistricting plan.

It's been a long time since I've agreed with Republicans in Maryland about much of anything, but I agree with them about the purely partisan motivation of the redistricting plan. In an attempt to win seven of eight Congressional seats in 2012, the Democrats running the state have brought Roscoe Bartlett's Western Maryland district far down into that hotbed of liberal thinking, Montgomery County. The new 6th now includes Gaithersburg, Germantown, and portions of Rockville and its environs. The Washington suburbs are full of new immigrants of varying levels of legality, but are also chock full of well compensated and well educated DC commuters who, by and large, tend to vote for Democrats. These same voters have sent Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen to the House for the past five terms.

But truth be told, the changes in the 6th also create a much more competitive 8th district in which Van Hollen will likely have to compete against a credible challenger, and will actually have to campaign. More personally dismaying from my standpoint is that the new 1st district now extends further west than ever before, and some of the newly encompassed ground includes portions of Carroll County, northern Baltimore County, and a majority of Harford County. Carroll County citizens don't have a ton in common with Somerset County citizens, but that was not foremost on the minds of the Governor's Redistricting Task Force. They were willing to sacrifice ten years of inevitable Republican representation in the 1st for the sake of knocking off Roscoe out west.

Much as I don't support anything Andy Harris says or does, I don't necessarily want him to be summarily kicked from office because of a redistricting effort led largely by the other party. What I want are fair election districts, where a diverse array of candidates and ideas can be heard and where the election results are not preordained. This is where I differ from the GOP.

Maryland GOP leaders, which is something of an oxymoron given their permanent minority status, are calling the governor's plan unfair. Which implies that if they were in office, they would not be attempting the same type of shenanigans, which put the interests of partisan politics ahead of the interests of the people of Maryland. Of course, this is not the case. All over the country, Republican led states are doing precisely the same things, trying to finagle Congressional boundary lines for the sake of GOP advantage at the ballot box. There is no question that if the Republicans were in charge in Maryland, they would be doing exactly what they decry the Democrats for doing. No wonder 89% of Americans think that Congress is dysfunctional, we are represented by politicians who think first of personal ambition, then Party, and then the people, and always in that order.

Gerrymandering, the practice of altering Congressional district boundary lines in creative ways for partisan ends got its start by Elbridge Gerry (and as a side note, he pronoounced his last name similar to Gary not Jerry, so I am always sure to pronounce the word properly as garymandering, and not jerrymandering)who started this tradition as Governor of Massachusetts in 1812.

However, the lack of competition in our House seats is eroding the quality of our elected officials, and as such, is eroding the quality of our political debate. The vast majority of Congressional seats are now held firmly by one Party or the other, with incumbents virtually assured a safe seat as long as they care to serve. This only serves to create a House of Representatives full of the most partisan champions imaginable, whose commitment to ensuring gridlock is generally applauded at home, at the expense of progress and problem solving.

Some states have started to dabble with fair election rules, but only when the electorate clamors for genuine good government. As long as partisans rewrite the election rules every ten years, we will only ever have partisan driven redistricting. It is time to implement a truly fair system for holding elections, one where boundary lines are computer generated, with only population and regional equity as part of the determining formula. No more legislative districts that are only the width of a road in order to get to some select conservative or liberal neighborhood. The people should demand that their representation not be selected for them, if elections no longer matter, what else does?

I hope you will consider joining me in voting AGAINST Question 5 on the statewide ballot.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

The Old Switcharoo

Much, much more on this issue in a later blog post, but I wanted to post to this Des Moines Register article before I added my own commentary.

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20110902/OPINION03/309020049/Farm-subsidy-switch-disheartening

Iowa Farm Bureau members cast a historic vote in Des Moines Tuesday urging Congress to tie federal farm subsidies to compliance with land conservation programs.

Alas, the members brought the resolution back for another vote the next day and killed it. For a brief moment, though, it looked like the Iowa Farm Bureau was serious about countering its reputation as an organization that cares more about making money with the taxpayers’ assistance than the environmental consequences of unsustainable farming practices.

We can only hope Congress does not listen to the Iowa Farm Bureau on this issue: If American taxpayers are going to subsidize farmers, the least they should expect in return is that farmers will be required to practice sensible land use so waters are not fouled and soil is preserved for future generations.

That expectation is met now. Farmers who accept direct support payments from the government are required to comply with federal conservation rules that prevent soil erosion and protect water quality. But Congress’ budget-cutters are poised to end direct payments, which set a floor under commodity prices. Iowa farmers aren’t likely to fight the cut because, with corn prices nearing historic record highs, they don’t need the direct payments.

There is another way to enforce conservation, however: The federal government subsidizes about 60 percent of the cost of crop insurance, which protects commodity growers from weather-related losses. But there is no link between federal crop insurance and conservation programs. The historic – though brief – proposal by the Iowa Farm Bureau delegates would have put the group on record as supporting such a link.

Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Lang deserves enormous credit for pushing the idea of enforcing conservation rules. In a meeting with the Register earlier this summer, Lang said two key elements of the farm bill should be preserved: Crop insurance and conservation programs, which he likened to vital national infrastructure, such as locks on the Mississippi River and dams on the Missouri River. He and others urged the Iowa delegates to take a stand for conservation by tying it to insurance subsidies.

It’s not clear why the Farm Bureau members reversed themselves. The notion was expressed by some members that while direct payments are expendable, crop insurance is not. Marion County farmer Corwin Fee said he was all for improving the organization’s public relations, but he said “this is my livelihood. Crop insurance is a necessity to farming.” Which can be read only one way: Conservation is not a necessity to farming.

The carefully cultivated image of farmers as noble men and women who feed the world is tarnished by the fact that, unlike other business owners, farmers have a direct pipeline into the federal treasury that helps protect them from risk and market gyrations. Especially galling is the attitude of farmers who expect those subsidies without interference from the government. “We’re for conservation,” David Wrage of Benton County told the Farm Bureau delegates Wednesday. “But my membership back home just doesn’t want the government coming onto their land and telling them what to do.”

Iowa Farm Bureau members this week were close to taking a principled stand against that attitude. It is a shame they changed their minds.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Lessons of Irene

This past weekend, my wife and I survived our first hurricane on the Delmarva Peninsula. Hurricane Irene brought tropical storm force winds and a drenching 20 hours of rain to Centreville and most other Eastern Shore environs. Thankfully our communities were mostly spared from the catastrophe that some had predicted; but as the sun dawns bright, and the skies a clear blue, maybe its time to reflect on the past week of weather.

-While I suppose an earthquake isn't technically weather, last Tuesday I felt my first earthquake while on the phone at my Washington office. It was over by the time I figured out just what was happening, and thinking that the novelty had quickly come and gone, kept on with my conversation with a colleague from Montana. After the phone call ended, however, I went into the street to find a Diet Coke, and what met me in the building lobby was pandamonium. Crowds milled around the streets with no purpose and certainly no direction. I wouldn't go so far as to call it chaos; but if this truly had been an emergency of any magnitude, well, lets just say that the ingredients for chaos were all there in the right quanitities. Federal and state governments spend a ton of taxpayer dollars on "homeland security," but incidences like this one prove that after all those billions, there is no workable plan to get people information.

-Which brings me to my next point, communications. There were none in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. Both cell phones and land lines were essentially useless in the couple hours after the event. Again, if this were a real emergency, those of us in downtown DC would be shutoff from the rest of the world in a way that would almost certainly be dangerous. It is somewhat frightening to know that the best method for staying informed during a low-level emergency were social media sites like Facebook.

-Fast forward a few days to Hurricane Irene. Both national and local news outlets were sold on the idea that Irene was going to be a catastrophe of the highest order; they then sought to sell that same idea to a general public all too willing to buy. Even the generally staid Weather Channel wasn't immune from the hyperbole, no longer simply forecasting weather but evoking a sort of doomsday expectation, a morbid and perverse attempt at higher ratings. Generally, the sensationalism of the news is something we can switch off and disregard, perhaps even chuckle at. But in this instance, when real information was needed, it was difficult to find the helpful amidst the high-pitched.

-As a result of this obsession with catastrophe (indeed seemingly encouraging it), my neck of the woods was ignored almost entirely. The Weather Channel, CNN, and every other national news outlet seemed to forget that a 500 mile wide hurricane cannot get to New York City from the Outer Banks without passing through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I suppose that the potential for catastrophe just wasn't high enough on the Delmarva Peninsula for any meaningful coverage. But come to think of it, if the coverage is nothing more than vapid doomsaying, best to leave us out.

-We shouldn't cut every tree in every neighborhood down because occasionally a branch falls and breaks a window. Trees add to the quality of our lives, add to the livability of neighborhoods (if you don't believe that, go take a drive through treeless Northbrook). Sometimes they are dangerous (what isn't?) but let's not let a momentary passion possess us to do something we will regret for a long time.

-People can't drive. Generally speaking, we don't need bad weather to bear this out, but it becomes especially obvious in bad weather. If a red light is out at an intersection, it becomes a four way stop. It is not a license to barrel through as if you've never laid eyes on a drivers ed manual.

-The best lesson of Irene is that the Eastern Shore, and our small town of Centreville is a great place to call home. On Sunday, people came out to gossip and help each other clean up. I hear a lot about what is wrong with Queen Anne's County, but Irene helped us see a few things that are just right.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thinking Outside the Big Box

My wife Kim and I sent the following email to our County Commissioners prior to the vote on Text Amendment 11-06, to permit 'big box' retail in suburban commerical zoned properties. Thanks to Commissioners David Dunmyer and Bob Simmons for their courageous vote against this damaging amendment.

Gentlemen,
Good morning. As citizens of Centreville, my wife and I would like to write in strong opposition to Text Amendment 11-06, which would eliminate the square footage cap for retail establishments in Suburban Commercial areas. It is our belief that the reasons for opposing this ordinance far outweigh any possible reasons for supporting the measure, and we would urge you to vote against the 11-06 on Tuesday morning.

1. The main property in question, near the corner of 544/213, is in a part of the county that, unlike Kent Island, maintains a strong rural character. However, if a big box retail store were to be located in this area, it would set off a chain of events that would be difficult to avoid: namely, the large-scale development of the 213 corridor in northern Queen Anne’s County, quickly altering the landscape from one of working farmland and centrally located small businesses, to one of vast parking lots and diffuse, unorganized large retail businesses that will undermine the viability of existing Kingstown, Centreville, Sudlersville and Chestertown businesses. It is also highly probable that this would kick-start many attempts by landowners to get their land rezoned, and if the commissioners have established a strict rationale that “any growth is good growth,” at what point will you be politically able to stop granting landowner requests for rezoning? It will get very tricky; best to take a reasoned approach to growth by voting down 11-06.

2. It is false to say that “big box” retailers will keep money in Queen Anne’s County. In fact, the opposite is true, since the vast majority of big box retail profits will be sent to corporate headquarters in far off locations (in the case of Wal-Mart, Bentonville, Arkansas; in the case of Home Depot, Atlanta Georgia). This as opposed to buying products from locally owned vendors, who keep all profits local, and generally employ local people at higher wages. Since altering the APFO is also reportedly on your agenda, it is likely that any positive property tax revenue (since ALL sales tax receipts are sent to Annapolis, and not kept in the County) created by a large retailer will be spent upgrading associated infrastructure such as roadways, storm and wastewater capacity, and the added cost of increased police and fire service requirements in a part of the county where police and fire costs are currently quite low.

3. While the population center of Queen Anne’s County is Kent Island, the 544/213 intersection is 38 miles from Kent Island. It is unlikely that any Kent Island citizen will choose Kingstown (38 miles) over Easton (30 miles) or Annapolis (20 miles) for its large retail needs. Indeed, I would like to see the County Commissioners focus on increasing Kent Island visitation to existing Centreville businesses and our plethora of existing retail and commercial space. Since it is true that so many people in the county cross the bridge to get to work, what reason would they have for driving nearly forty miles from Kent Island to Kingstown, when they likely work or drive in very close proximity to a large retail location four to five days a week?

4. For a variety of reasons, downtown Centreville is dying. From high rents to low foot traffic, the solution is likely complicated and will require the cooperation of both town and county officials, but as of right now, nothing is being done to ameliorate the problems of downtown Centreville. I can assure you that a large retailer located in Kingstown will be the final blow for Centreville; the county seat will continue its downward spiral into a ghost town. If Centreville continues on its current path, I believe that you will see a further loss in property values, and a decrease in tax revenue that will largely offset any gains a large retailer may bring to the County. I urge you to drop the idea of big box in suburban commercial, and instead focus on breathing life into our towns and communities. If you take this approach, you will have the complete support of all of your constituents. Comparisons to downtown Easton are simply na├»ve. Easton’s historic downtown was already a viable economic location prior to big box retail coming to greater Easton, which meant that there was some insulation against the pressures of big box retail, (although someone should tell that to the now defunct Legal Spirits, Thai food restaurant, and others that have since gone under). Easton also has place-appropriate anchors (Avalon Theatre, Tidewater Inn) that fit the identity of the town. Centreville lacks these anchors, but with the commitment of the commissioners to work on this problem, I believe new life could be breathed into Centreville, I will support your efforts to do this. But it cannot be done with a big box retail location ten miles up 213/301.

5. A big box retail location dropped in to 544/213 is the definition of sprawl. You absolutely cannot say that you are anti-sprawl if you vote for this measure. It may be true that Queen Anne’s County and Kent County are the only counties left in Maryland that do not have a Wal-Mart. I don’t think the people of Queen Anne’s County want, nor do I think the commissioners should be trying, to turn our county into a homogenous extension of the rest of Maryland. The fact that we do not have large retail blight sets us apart from the rest of the state in a good way, not in a bad way! Many other counties have Wal-Marts, Targets, Home Depots, and Lowes, but those counties are currently in precisely the same state of budget deficits that Queen Anne’s County is in; in fact, some counties with big box retail have it much, much worse. There is not one single example of a big box retail location solving a local (short term) budget crunch. Big box retail solves no problems, and creates many. Talbot County, which has a Wal-Mart, Target, Lowes and soon to have a Kohl’s currently has an unemployment rate fully one percentage point higher than Queen Anne’s County, and just went through a similar cut to their school budget as our County was forced to go through; the costs simply are not worth the benefits.

6. It deserves mentioning that the predatory nature of big box retail, which is a fundamental part of their very business model, is damaging to nearly all it touches. For every low-paying retail job that Walmart or Target creates, they likely kill two high-paying US manufacturing jobs, by forcing manufacturers to produce at rock bottom prices and shoestring profit margins, they essentially force through volume purchases the migration of US manufacturing overseas. So while cheaper back to school gear sounds great, cheap retail jumpstarts an endless race to the bottom that leaves middle class America holding a very large bill.

Please oppose 11-06.

Steven and Kimberly Kline
Centreville

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Race to Rock Bottom

Frank owns a factory that makes winter hats. He is the fourth generation of his family to run the factory, located in a small town in Middle America. Forty percent of the town has a steady, well-paying job in the factory. For years, the company's hats have been in local sporting goods stores, hardward stores and general stores across the country. They had a reputation for being made of the finest quality wool and leather, assembled in America, long-lasting, and good at keeping hard working Americans warm all winter long.

A large retail corporation with plans for global price and sales domination comes along, let's call this company Sprawl-Mart. The executives of Sprawl-Mart like Frank's hats, and while they find his company's family history, local roots, and quality product touching, they think his prices are too high. Too high by half, in fact. But they really want to sell Frank's hats, so the product development director of Sprawl-Mart calls Frank one crisp autumn morning, and offers to buy one million of Frank's hats. Frank's jaw drops! That is more hats than Frank's company has made in the last ten years. Frank will be able to expand his shop, hire more local people, and offer everyone a bonus come Christmas time. But Sprawl-Mart has one condition...the price of his hats needs to be cut by 75%.

Frank is speechless. He sputters into the phone: "But! I can't increase my production by 500% AND reduce my costs by 75%! It cannot be done!" Sprawl-Mart disagrees. They tell Frank that they will be ordering one million hats from someone, whether it be him, or his biggest competitor. Sprawl-Mart tells Frank that once they start selling his competitor's hats in large quanities across the globe, at rock bottom prices, it will put Frank's fourth generation company right out of business. "Find a way to make these hats 75% cheaper," Sprawl-Mart hisses into the phone.

Frank has no choice but to meet Sprawl-Mart's demands, because if he doesn't, it will likely mean the end of his family's business. So Frank calls a factory meeting, and tells the workers, some of whom he grew up with, that the company will be moving it's operations to Vietnam, and that the factory where four generations of locals have worked will be closing down. They already have a buyer for the factory, in fact. A Sprawl-Mart subsidiary, Concrete Jungle Developers will be bulldozing the place to put up high-dollar condos.

One day, Frank walks into a new Sprawl-Mart location just outside of town. He sees Helen, who used to be a foreman at the factory, now she is working for minimum wages and no benefits; she doesn't say hello. Frank see's Marty, who was a talented shop mechanic, fixing a light fixture high up in the Sprawl-Mart ceiling. He shouts a "hello" up to Frank; Marty shouts back down, "No time to talk, gotta wrap up here so I can head to my second job." Then he gets to the aisle where Sprawl-Mart stocks their hats. And there he sees it, the new version of his family's legacy, made out of foreign cotton, foreign imitation leather, and all put together in Vietnam.

This story is fictional in the strictest sense of the word, but many of the products hanging on the shelves at big box retailers across the country have a similar story to tell, stories that are all too real. For every one low-paying retail job that big box retailers create, there is no telling how many good paying American manufacturing jobs they put out of business forever; the kind of jobs that America was built on. This is the cost of the American obsession with low-priced goods. Your cheap back to school supplies and snacks for the big game have a low price, but an incredibly high cost.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Does this photo make my eyes look crazy?



This image of Michele Bachmann on the cover of Newsweek has caused a lot of heartburn lately. While markets tumble, and confidence in the American political system is deeply shaken both at home and across the globe, some people have decided that what's important is an "unflattering" picture of Bachmann on the cover of a magazine.

I'll be honest, the picture shows pretty clearly that Bachmann has crazy in her eyes. But it is obviously a picture that Bachmann willingly posed for, as opposed to some sort of candid, frozen in the moment snarl or expressive frown.

I guess the point I am trying to make is that this picture doesn't make Michele Bachman look any crazier than she actually is. She is a proud member of what Theodore Roosevelt one hundred years ago called 'the Lunatic Fringe.' The fact that Newsweek has a picture on their cover that makes Michele Bachmann look crazy doesn't bother me. Now the fact that she IS crazy is a whole other story.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Western Native Trout Adventures

I hope you all will check out this cool video put together by the Director of TRCP's Center for Western Lands, my friend Joel Webster. All across the nation, indicator species are serving as the proverbial canaries in the coalmine for our conservation efforts. Here in Maryland, species like the eastern brook trout and native oyster are telling us we have to do more. Check out the video!


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Izaak Walton League * National Wildlife Federation
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership * Trout Unlimited



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 12, 2011


House of Representatives Strikes Double Blow Against Clean Water Protections

Washington, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives today struck a double blow against efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams that supply drinking water to 117 million Americans and wetlands that provide flood protection and critical fish and wildlife habitat. The full House rejected an amendment to allow the Army Corps to proceed with Clean Water Act guidance and rulemaking, while the Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal year (FY) 2012 Interior Appropriations bill that bars EPA from taking similar action.


The House rejected an amendment by Representative Jim Moran (D-VA) to the FY 2012 Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have allowed the Army Corps of Engineers to revise guidance and proceed with a rulemaking to clarify the waters protected by the Clean Water Act. The bill includes a provision (Section 109) barring the Corps from taking any steps next year or in future years to revise the proposed guidance or regulations. By voting against this amendment, the House would maintain the status quo of wetlands loss, stream impairment, and regulatory confusion.


“The vote today represented a clear choice between restoring Clean Water Act protections to important streams and wetlands and postponing those protections indefinitely,” said Scott Kovarovics, Conservation Programs Director for the Izaak Walton League of America. “Congressman Moran’s amendment provided a balanced path forward for clean water. Unfortunately, opponents of the amendment chose not to take that path.”


“Clean water must be a bipartisan national priority,” said Steve Kline, Director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Agricultural and Private Lands. “Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has made significant progress in restoring our nation’s rivers, lakes, and wetlands. The job is not done, but votes like today’s are an ill-advised step in exactly the wrong direction.”


The Interior Appropriations bill includes a nearly identical provision (Section 435) blocking EPA action on Clean Water Act guidance or future rulemaking. It blocks such actions not only in FY 2012 but in future years as well.


“These provisions leave us with an intolerable status quo that threatens wetlands and tributaries that provide clean water for iconic systems like the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes, recharge aquifers, help retain floodwaters, and provide important fish and wildlife habitat,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation Wetlands and Water Resources Counsel.


Loss of Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands could affect more than our drinking water supplies and wildlife habitat – it could hurt the nation’s economy. Hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation contribute billions to the economy, but these activities could be sharply curtailed by water pollution and loss of wetland habitat critical for ducks, trout, and other wildlife.


“American sportsmen greatly appreciate the efforts of Representative Moran and others as they reminded the House what it seems to have forgotten: You can’t have fishable and swimable waters if substantial amounts of wetlands and headwater streams go unprotected by the Clean Water Act,” said Steve Moyer, Vice President for Government Affairs for Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen will not forget these votes and will continue to do all in our power to defeat similar provisions that threaten clean water.”

For more information please contact:
Scott Kovarovics, Izaak Walton League, 301-548-0150 x 223, skovarovics@iwla.org
Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation, 202-797-6894, goldmancarterj@nwf.org
Steve Kline, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, 202-639-8727, skline@trcp.org
Steve Moyer, Trout Unlimited, 703-284-9406, smoyer@tu.org

BACKGROUND
The damaging House provisions would prevent the Corps of Engineers and EPA from finalizing administrative guidance that has been developed with an unprecedented level of public input. The Corps and EPA are collecting public comments on the proposed guidance for 90 days, through July 31. As written, the guidance increases clarity and efficiency for agencies, farmers, and businesses without expanding the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Exemptions already in the Clean Water Act for common farming, ranching, forestry, and other land use activities would not be affected by the proposed guidance. As an administrative document, the guidance cannot – and does not – limit provisions of the Clean Water Act that specifically exempt these activities from the law’s wetland and pollution discharge permit requirements. It is ironic that these provisions also prohibit a formal rulemaking process. Stakeholders on all sides seem to agree on the need for a formal rulemaking as part of a long-term solution, yet the bills prohibit rulemaking not only in fiscal year 2012, but indefinitely.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Queen Anne's Cronies

Last week, the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners appointed Jim Moran to the county's Planning Commission. The vote was 3-2. Commissioners Arentz, Dumenil and Olds voted to appoint Mr. Moran. Commissioners Dunmyer and Simmons opposed the appointment.

Jim Moran is the owner of Increte of Maryland (you can check them out here: http://www.increteofmaryland.com/index.html). Increte is a decorative concrete company out of Crofton. Jim and I served together on the Task Force on Government Sustainability this Winter and early Spring; he was always professional, thorough and well-prepared. He also had a clear agenda: the promotion of growth as the solution to the county's problems. It was by no means a secret that Jim Moran saw more roads, more houses, and more business parks as the solution to what ails Queen Anne's County. But we'll come back to that.

The County Commissioners had received several applications for appointment to the Planning Commission. This is where the problems start. Included in the packet of applications, was a professional architect with experience working in Queen Anne's County. Another application for appointment was from a professional planner, that's right, a professional planner, with an impeccable resume.

But neither of those two candidates, qualified as they might have been, were going to do much good for the likes of Arentz, Dumenil and Olds. No, they needed a known quantity, someone they could count on to be a solid vote for growth on the Planning Commission. So they turned down a certified planner, for Jim Moran.

This is a fairly predictable state of affairs; Arentz and his followers on the Board vote blindly for their friends without considering what's best for Queen Anne's County. They make no attempt to get Jim Moran's opinions on the Comprehensive Plan (which as a member of the Planning Commission he will be expected to implement) nor did they ask any questions of Jim about his vision for the county. At least not that the public knows of. In fact, the public doesn't know what the county commissioners asked any of the applicants, because over the objection of Commissioners Dunmyer and Simmons, the board's deliberation over the Planning Commission appointment was done in closed session.

Public appointments to public commissions should be made in public. But Arentz, Dumenil and Olds wanted to be able to discuss the applicants "candidly," without the glare of the public. It seems likely that Arentz knew the public would never stand for such an obvious and odious case of cronyism, so he made the anointment, err, appointment, behind closed doors. As far as I am concerned, this is a blatant abuse of powers, I prefer that a real estate agent, an insurance salesman and a retired firefighter not have the right to determine which discussions the public can be a part of, and which they should be excluded from. This is an outrage. Who are Steve Arentz, Phil Dumenil and Dave Olds to decide what the public needs to know?

Of course, Arentz and his cohorts are well aware of Moran's vision for the County, he couldn't have been any more clear about that during the Task Force. They also likely know that Moran shares their dim view of the comprehensive plan. This is the whole purpose for his appointment, he will be a rubber stamp for growth in any form.

If this keeps up, this appointing cronies to various commissions, it won't be long before these commissions cease to function properly. The Planning Commission serves an important role in Queen Anne's County, namely to make sure that proposed development meets the needs of all of our citizens, both now and in the future. The Planning Commission must serve as a backstop for landowner and developer desires, can Jim Moran be expected to fill this role?

All through the campaign of last summer, I had to sit through candidate forums and listen to Steve Arentz, Phil Dumenil, and Dave Olds say that they didn't want to pave the county. When a website called Pave Our County cropped up, Arentz, Dumenil and Olds were indignant that anyone would claim that was indeed their intention. Yet what better way to pave the county, than to appoint a paver to the Planning Commission?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Board of One

This statement was prepared and delivered today (June 14, 2011) by Commissioner David Dunmyer during a round table meeting of the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners. It is re-posted below without edit or commentary:

"Almost two weeks ago a meeting took place between Commissioners Arentz, Dumenil, County Administrator Todd and members of the governor's staff. The purpose of this meeting was to find areas of common ground, where we could work together. This meeting was requested by the governor's staff through contact with Administrator Todd. "

"Sounds great, right? I would have thought so too, had I known about it."

"Commissioner Arentz chose to hijack the process for his own political agenda by instructing Administrator Todd to withhold this meeting request from the other commissioners, namely Commissioners Simmons, myself, and maybe Commissioner Olds. I'm not certain if he knew of this, or played a part."

"I consider this action serious misconduct on the part of Commissioner Arentz and Administrator Todd. Are these actions of a commission working together to come up with solutions to move the county forward or are they sneaky, backhanded ways of push a developer-driven agenda?"

"When the state government contacts the County Administrator and requests a meeting with the commission, the commissioners who attend the meeting are now bound to represent the commission as a whole. Commissioner Simmons and I, and maybe Commissioner Olds, were deliberately left out of this process. Two commissioner representing the entire board illegally."

"I request that we have our county attorney come in at a future meeting and instruct the commission, in public, on the do's and don'ts of commissioner conduct and also to address the duties of the president of the commission versus the rest of the commissioners. I will not stand for being marginalized as a commissioner."

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Why Wye? Part II: The Biotech Bust

Biotechnology. Anyone who has doubts about the development of Wye Mills is meant to be placated by that little-understood, but much-used word. Like a sweet lullaby, the mere mention of biotechnology is supposed to make Wye Mills skeptics sleep easy.

You see, the commercial development in Wye Mills is going to look different from the development every place else; it is going to be innocuous, barely noticeable, one might even say it will be additive to the rural landscape. Where the growth on Kent Island is offensive to the eye (and much else besides), development around Wye Mills is going to be bucolic.

Like a slick advertising campaign, the Wye Mills development plan comes across just a little too good to be true. But the sales pitch isn't being given by slick advertisers, but rather the same old 'any growth is good growth' crowd that now seems to have the ear of a majority of the Queen Anne's County Board of Commissioners. It's the folks that stand to make a buck or two when the bulldozers throttle up, and who tend not to concern themselves much beyond their own bottom lines.

They know their growth for growth's sake vision for the county won't sell to the general public, so they wrap it in buzzwords like "sustainable," "campus-setting," "the right kind of growth," even biotechnology has become a buzzword, offered up as a sort of fail proof economic savior for the county. There is a sporting chance that these advocates for growth at any cost don't even know what biotechnology means, they just know it sounds better, sounds higher-paying, sounds more fundamentally agreeable than just plain old growth.

The only problem is, the biotechnology idea requires an uncomfortably high level of faith. Queen Anne's County is not a biotechnology hot spot; in fact, there are several biotech centers on the Western Shore and in Delaware that Queen Anne's County's nascent biotech industry will have to compete with as it gets started. It is unlikely that Queen Anne's County currently has the human resources that such a facility would require, making the county something less than attractive to prospective biotech start-ups, who will not be interested in paying for employee relocation.

There is also the little matter that the biotech bubble, to which Queen Anne's County is not the first to hook it's Pollyannish economic dreams , has largely burst. An article from just a few months ago (link at the end of the blog) details the investment that the state of Florida put into a biotech center in a rural part of the state, to the tune of a billion and a half dollars. The biotech facility created 1100 jobs, or more than a million bucks per employee. Hardly the economic engine anyone predicted, rather a wasteful taxpayer funded jobs program. $1.5 billion is more than a decade of Queen Anne's County's total spending, and no one from the state government seems inclined to invest in this biotech pipe dream.

As good intentioned as the County Commissioners might be, and that is perhaps a debate for another blog post, they will not be the ones developing the Wye Mills parcels. All that the commissioners can realistically do is rezone the acres from agriculture to a more commercial designation; once that is done, the commissioners role in the development is largely over. And despite all the flowery language and "sustainable" growth talking points, it will quickly become apparent that biotechnology was the spoonful of sugar meant to help get the Castor oil of growth down the public throat.

The result of all this is that the development of still-rural Wye Mills will look just like the development of once-rural Kent Island. Fast food, gas stations, and other quick stop retail establishments for the reach-the-beach traffic will dominate; the kind of growth whose benefits to the citizens of Queen Anne's County never seem to catch up to the costs. By the time we realize we've had the wool pulled over our eyes, it will be decidedly too late, and Wye Mills will be nothing more than a congested intersection of redundant commercialism.


Link to the Florida biotech article:
http://palmbeachscripps.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/scripps-cant-justify-states-investment-in-its-biotech-research/

Friday, June 03, 2011

Why Wye?

In 1998, President Bill Clinton hosted leaders from the Middle East in Wye Mills, Maryland, a small and historic village that takes its name from the river that flows not far away, south and west to the Chesapeake Bay. It was a summit meant like so many before it, and indeed after it, to broker peace in a region of the world where that word was little more than an abstraction.


In Wye Mills, peace is anything but an abstraction. A community that straddles the border of Queen Anne's and Talbot counties, it is not a difficult place to miss. Like so many Eastern Shore towns, it appears at first glance to be little more than a place where the speed limit abruptly slows, and then gradually rises again to accomodate the pace of life of those just passing through.


Wye Mills has been a quaint hub of rural industry little changed in three centuries. When Washington took his troops across the Delaware, the mill turned. When 600,000 Americans lay dead or dying on homegrown battlefields north and south, the mill turned. When American boys stormed the beaches of Normandy, thousands of miles away the mill quietly turned. As Richard Nixon prepared to give his resignation speech in front of an unforgiving camera in the Oval Office, just across Chesapeake Bay from Washington the mill, as always, turned. When terrorists brought our world to a halt in 2001, Wye Mills turned still. For more than three hundred years, the mill has turned, marking the passage of time; serving as a symbol to the world at large that the river of life runs on. Perhaps the reason it has remained virtually unchanged is because change is not always necessary.


Nothing is sacred.


Drastic change may be headed for sleepy Wye Mills. Predictably, the effort comes from nearby landowners; they'd like to disregard the county comprehensive plan and take advantage of a generally pro-growth board of county commissioners by having their agricultural land rezoned for commerical use. What are now fields of crops would assuredly become seas of concrete; towers of brick and mortar would rise to meet the sun and the rain, in a place where, for as long as anyone can or cares to remember, only corn, wheat and beans greeted the weather. The character of Wye Mills, unashamedly rural for time immemorial, would be forever altered.


Little makes sense in this plan, except possibly the thinly veiled personal greed. It is contemptable to listen to land speculators carry on about the county's need for jobs and commerical revenue as they attempt to justify their own real estate conniving. Let's not pretend anyone is offering their land for sacrifice to the great consumptive commercial machine for the sake of Queen Anne's County and her citizens; that demeans everyone. No, the landowners are simply in the money making business, and there is nothing wrong with that, so long as we call it what it truly is.


The trouble with this plan is that its tough to see how it does anything but cost Queen Anne's County in both the short run, and the long. There is no sewer capacity in Wye Mills for extensive new development, which means that a wastewater treatment facility would have to be built and sewer lines run to the properities in question, costing the county millions. The development would take place on diagonal corners of Routes 50 and 213, further tying up an already jammed stop light that forces drivers to slow and stop quickly from high cruising speeds, often on their way to the beaches. The traffic situation would surely devolve further, eventually requiring an expensive overpass that would mean years of construction and further millions of state and county road dollars, dollars that neither the state nor the county currently have.


But the more serious problem for the people of Queen Anne's County is a little more difficult to see. It was, however, explicitly stated in the June 2nd Record Observer, by the attorney for one of the landowners in question. His logic made the rezoning seem as natural and inevitable as the Wye River tide itself. You see, the reason we need to rezone and develop these two agricultural parcels is simple in his estimation: the other two corners of 50/213 are already developed. This is obviously true, one corner boasts a gas station, the other the campus of Chesapeake College. Following this logic a little further however, one finds doom for the rural Eastern Shore. For it is the very definition of sprawl, a growth begets growth recipe for lining the Route 50 corridor with endless commercial development, from Wye Mills west to the Bay Bridge, and eventually north up Route 213 to Centreville. In the article the attorney says that his client is not trying to develop the rural hinterlands, but this is a damnable step in that very direction.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

From the pages of the NY Times

Friedman hits the nail on the head:

"In America, President George W. Bush used the post-9/11 economic dip to push through a second tax cut we could not afford. He followed that with a Medicare prescription drug entitlement we cannot afford and started two wars in the wake of 9/11 without raising taxes to pay for them — all at a time when we should have been saving money in anticipation of the baby boomers’ imminent retirement. As such, our nation’s fiscal hole is deeper than ever and Republicans and Democrats — rather than coming together and generating the political authority needed for us to take our castor oil to compensate for our binge — are just demonizing one another."

Find the full article here: http://http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/opinion/01friedman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Memorial Blight



I snapped this picture early this morning at the Kent Narrows commuter bus stop under the Route 50 bridge. This should be a picturesque location, or I suppose about as pictureseque as a parking lot under a bridge can possibly be. But with litter strewn for fifty yards in any direction from those overflowing trashcans, the place resembles a dump more than a waterfront park. It is a visual symbol of our throw-away society.

A few things come to mind when you look at that picture, which is essentially the same scene after any reasonably fair weather weekend: Two trash cans are not enough for the location, and more likely need to be added; people need to consider taking their trash home with them; or what might be even better: try making less trash altogether.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Guess who is the co-chair of the newly minted Chesapeake Bay Watershed Congressional Caucus? That's right! Our very own member of Congress, the honorable Andy Harris! Andy seems to think this is a great opportunity to come together with his "colleagues on both sides of the aisle on finding common-sense solutions to protect our Bay." Brings to mind a quote from George Carlin: "kinda makes you want to puke in your suit, doesn't it?"

You'll remember in my last blog that Andy voted to defund the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) during the FY2011 budget process. These were the plans that would have set real benchmarks for pollution reduction in each of the watershed states, and would have fostered meaningful cooperation between the states and the feds. It was exactly what Andy proposed on his campaign website, yet he still voted, lemming-like, with his Party. He sold out the Chesapeake Bay in the name of Republican solidarity. Rob Wittman, a Virginia Republican who, like Andy is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Congressional Caucus, took a principled stand against his Party and for the Bay by voting against the funding limitation.

Not long after that vote, Andy signed a letter along with many Congressional colleagues that asked the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers to cease and desist from issuing Clean Water Act administrative guidance, a perfectly legal and appropriate Executive action. The guidance will restore federal protection to important waters and wetlands that are crucial to water quality in places like the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes. From 1972 to 2001, these waters had been protected by the Clean Water Act; Congress knew that you can't protect iconic systems like the Bay without safeguarding the upstream wetlands and tributaries that feed them. But a series of judicial decisions, and Bush-era guidance eroded the act in the name of polluting streams and filling wetlands. The Obama Administration moved forward with guidance (released for public comment on April 27) over the objection of clean water opponents like Andy Harris.

Then, Andy again voted against the Chesapeake Bay by voting to not only allow, but to mandate, drilling for oil off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Barely a year after Deepwater Horizon crippled the Gulf seafood and tourism industry, and cost billions to clean up (a process that will be ongoing for a decade), Andy Harris decided that the chimera of cheaper gas was more valuable than the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's coastal bays which would be hammered by any kind of spill. The Bush administration's own Energy Information Agency stated unequivocally in 2008 that no amount of drilling that the United States could possibly engage in would ever succeed in lowering gas prices in a meaningful way. Andy Harris sold out the Bay for a talking point.

And after all this, Andy Harris has the audacity, the gall, to join the the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Congressional Caucus. I would be frustrated, if I weren't so damn angry. We should all be so angry.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Andy's Follies

The Chesapeake Bay is a shadow of its former self. Oyster and menhaden stocks are depleted, nutrients from front lawns and farm fields choke the life from the bay in the summer, and wetlands have been degraded across the watershed. The Chesapeake once supported local economies; but these days a new cottage industry has cropped up, one that threatens the future of the Chesapeake Bay as surely as pollution and overfishing: the business of blame shifting and finger pointing.

Developers blame farmers, farmers blame developers. Maryland blames Virginia's lax crabbing restrictions and runoff from the Susquehanna. Septic owners blame wastewater treatment plants, and recreational fishermen blame commercial fishermen. Everyone spends a lot of energy blaming someone else. Truth be known, no one in the Chesapeake watershed, stretching across six states and 64,000 square miles escapes blame for the current state of the bay.

A problem to which everyone contributes requires a solution to which everyone contributes. But given the pervasive culture of buck passing, this type of shared resolution eludes us. Various states, having all mostly failed in their individual efforts to clean up the bay, formed multistate alliances to achieve cleanup goals; those goals have gone unmet. There have been regional consortiums of federal, state, and local governments, stakeholder groups and non-profits working in concert to restore the Chesapeake, but again the results failed to materialize. What is clear is that no single state or any loose affiliation of states and stakeholders can achieve meaningful restoration of the bay.

What is needed now more than ever is forceful leadership. Leadership that does not incessantly redefine success, that does not sit back idly and watch deadlines come and go, and that understands the importance of accountability.

On May 12, 2009, President Obama decided that only the federal government could provide that leadership. With the signing of the Chesapeake Bay executive order a process was put into motion that had never been attempted before: an entire-watershed approach to cleaning up the Chesapeake. Each state in the watershed would be mandated to draft a Watershed Implementation Plan, requiring the establishment of clean water benchmarks, and a systematic review of the actions necessary to achieve those goals.

The federal government pledged to make a sensible financial investment in the cleanup effort, and to ensure that an independent evaluator was reviewing the progress made to make certain that dollars were being spent wisely, in ways that furthered overall restoration goals. Those evaluations were to be made at regular intervals and the data upon which they were based was to be made public.

Final phase 1 implementation plans were submitted by each of the states to the Environmental Protection Agency beginning in November of 2010. Maryland's plan, at 234 pages, is impressive in its scope and comprehensiveness; boasting aggressive reduction goals for nutrient runoff and sedimentation. But identifying problems is the easy part; solving them is the true challenge.

As so often has happened on the Chesapeake, however, politics got in the way. At about 10pm on a Friday night in February, the US House of Representatives voted on an amendment to a 2012 omnibus appropriations bill that sought to restrict the federal government from using any funds to “develop, evaluate, or implement watershed implementation plans for the Chesapeake Bay.” Eastern Shore Congressman, Andy Harris voted to cut off funding.

Harris’ campaign website states that protecting the Chesapeake is a priority which requires a “multi-faceted approach, dealing with urban runoff, sewage treatment plants, and agriculture runoff.” He goes on to say that since the watershed is made up of multiple states, there is an “important federal role in bay restoration.”

The watershed implementation plans are exactly what Mr. Harris said was needed to achieve restoration goals on the Chesapeake, and still he voted to cut the plans off at the knees. There are countless communities in Maryland’s First Congressional District that are counting on bay’s improvement for their very existence. Thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic impact, not to mention a centuries-old way of life, are at stake. Cleaning up the bay will require shared sacrifice and inspired political leadership. Regrettably, Mr. Harris’ does not appear poised to provide that leadership.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I've taken the liberty...

Recently, the Maryland General Assembly was debating a few new legal provisions that have nothing to do with one another. One bans the reading of text messages while driving. The other would legalize gay marriage. Completely unrelated, right? One has to do with the safety of our streets and highways. The other ensures that the state will recognize the right of two taxpaying and consenting adults to enter into a contract with one another.

Far too many accidents, fatal and otherwise, are the product of distracted driving: putting on makeup, eating, trying to find your favorite CD on the floor behind you, yelling at misbehaved children in the backseat, trying to hide narcotics from the cops. Your eyes leave the road for a second or two, and suddenly you find yourself rather uncomfortably positioned underneath a tractor trailer. Or maybe you veer over the double yellow line momentarily. When it comes right down to it, there isn't much difference between driving impaired and driving distracted, especially when one considers the often grisly end result.

There is no text message worth my life. I'll let you decide about yours. This new law will no doubt save lives and make our roads safer; opposition to the bill would seem counterintuitive and perhaps downright irresponsible. Be that as it may, my senator, EJ Pipkin, and a lot of other GOP state senators have decided to oppose the text message ban as an unmitigated attack on civil liberties. A sweeping intrusion of the nanny state government brought to you personally by that notable bete noire, Martin O'Malley. The audacity! I do know this: checking a text message while you are driving is many things, it is not a liberty.

Which brings us to gay marriage. One might reasonably expect good ol' EJ to support gay marriage, you know, as a reaffirmation of civil liberty, freedom, and personal responsibility. The ability of two consenting adults to do what they like, provided it causes no harm to anyone else. Heck, it's practically what George Washington fought for at Yorktown, right?! Who needs more laws telling people what they can't do, right?

No?

It appears that liberty has its limits, which happen to extend to just this side of the GOP's collective comfort level. EJ and the vast majority of the GOP state senate caucus are opposed to gay marriage. They, along with their religious right accomplices, cite scripture, "God's law," and the ability to procreate as foundational principles in the definition of marriage.

First of all, God's law has no place in the laws of the United States, or the several states. Perhaps that is sacrilege to some, but your God might not be my God, and if a few Qur'an toting fundamentalist came to Annapolis and started firebreathing a lot of rhetoric about God's law, you bet that EJ would be apoplectic; spewing Jefferson quotes about the separation of church and state. It's a slippery slope.

Secondly, 'marriage' as defined by the state has nothing to do with God, love, sex, kids, bridal veils, garter belts, plastic cake toppers or apron dances. A marriage is simply a state-recognized contractual bond between two people. Pretty easy to get into, a little tougher to get out of.

Legalizing gay marriage will have virtually zero impact on anyone who isn't gay. But lots of politicians tell us that gay marriage undermines traditional marriage, or that a gay couple raising a child means that child will be prone to interior decorating and tend to use overly expressive hand motions. It's all hogwash, undeserving of a response. And do Republicans really have a problem undermining anything, anyway? The tax policies they advocate undermine the state's fiscal health, and the natural resources policies they espouse undermine the state's environmental health.

So let's throw the theory that Republicans are truly concerned about the future of traditional marriage out the window. The real issue is that gays give Republicans the heebie jeebies. The idea that two people who have the same anatomy get together and have fun with one another behind several sets of closed doors makes people like EJ Pipkin supremely uncomfortable.

The two positions that Pipkin has taken are woefully untenable. They are irreconcilable. They represent the starkest of contradictions. But no one seems to notice; the Republicans can keep on pretending to be the party of personal freedom while they deny personal freedoms to a significant portion of the American population.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Go West Young Man!

Tomorrow morning I am leaving for Emigrant, Montana about 90 miles outside of Bozeman for a week of team building and communications workshops at the B-Bar Ranch. Politically it's a tough time to leave Capitol Hill, as the GOP brings an appropriations package (some are wrongly calling it a 'continuing resolution') for the rest of 2011 to the House floor this week. There are bound to be lots of environmental shenanigans, but I will miss them as I will be mired in the technology void that is the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. To be sure, there are fewer places I'd rather be than in the Rocky Mountains, but perfect timing, this ain't.

While I'm gone, keep an eye out for my letter to the editor on Ordinance 11-02 in this week's Queen Anne's Record Observer and Kent Island Bay Times.

Keep it Rural.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Can We Afford Democracy?

The following was submitted as a Letter to the Editor to the Queen Anne's Record-Observer.

At their meeting on February 22, the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners will be considering ordnance 11-02, which changes the way commissioners who have vacated their office prior to the completion of their term will be replaced. Current law requires a special election, providing registered voters in Queen Anne’s County the opportunity to properly elect their representation in Centreville.

In the name of ‘fiscal responsibility,’ ordnance 11-02 turns good democracy on its head. It usurps the power of the people, and places that power with a small group of partisans whose names most voters wouldn’t recognize. Under ordnance 11-02, special elections would be eliminated, and instead the respective Central Committee would have the power to replace a vacant commissioners’ seat. In the 2010 elections, a scant 10% of the registered voters in Queen Anne’s County voted to elect members of the Central Committees; these should not be the people tasked with choosing our representation in Centreville.

What’s more, as of this writing, the Queen Anne’s County Board of Elections has no available estimate of what a special election might cost the county; which means that the commissioners are not aware of what it might save the county.

There are many programs and projects that our county could reduce or eliminate to save taxpayer dollars. But cutting elections to save money is an untenable and undemocratic idea that must be rejected.

Steven Kline lives in Centreville and serves on the Queen Anne’s County Task Force on Government Sustainability.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Everyone Loves a List!

1. Favorite childhood book?
Does childhood include my time in high school? If so, the book I found most enjoyable back then was Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. If I have to go back further than that, I would probably say those "choose your own ending" books, I can't remember specific titles.

2. What are you reading right now?
The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate by James Rosen.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?
I haven't been into a library (aside from Election Day) since I was in college. I buy most of my books on Amazon, or at local bookstores. I am trying to build a library; and I want my kids to grow up surrounded by books and, more importantly, to have the curiousity to find out what is in them.

4. Bad book habit?
I am obnoxious about taking care of my books, which might be considered a bad habit.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
As stated above, not a thing.


6. Do you have an e-reader?
I'm sorry, a what? There is something timeless and essential about holding a book in your hands, feeling it's weight, the finality of turning each page. I am anti-gadget, and anti e-reader, for sure.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
I am constitutionally unable to read more than one book at a time.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
I cannot say that they have.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
It is early yet, so I will go back to last year. The least favorite book I read last year was probably Nixonland by Rick Perlstein. I can't stand when so-called historians tackle a subject with an academic air, and yet bring their unadulterated bias to the party. Perlstein blamed Nixon for every problem of the last 60 or so years, and I find that kind of hubris silly and amatuerish. (You can read more about my thoughts on The Nixon Dilemma in the post by that name below).

10. Favorite book you've read this year?
Again going back to 2010 one more time, I will give those honors to Conrad Black's Richard Nixon: A Life. It is everything Perlstein's book isn't, although at a thousand pages it is a bit of a bear. Honorable mentions go to Douglas Brinkley's The Wilderness Warrior, and On the Run: An Angler's Journey Down the Striper Coast by David Dibenedetto.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?
Essentially never, my backlog of books inside my comfort zone is so extensive that I will probably never get out.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
US political history with a particular focus on the nation's founding and the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Richard Nixon; please don't mistake this for thinking I read partisan drivel, which these days seems to be a dime a dozen. I won't touch it, I don't have time for someone else's invective.

13. Can you read on the bus?
I ride a bus from the Eastern Shore to Washington most days of the week. If I couldn't read on the bus, I am not sure I could get much reading done.

14. Favorite place to read?
In our living room, with a fire blazing in the woodstove.

15. What is your policy on book lending?
It is a strict no-lending policy. And in turn, I don't borrow books from others. Two of my favorite books of all time, The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (in first edition hardback, mind you) have not been seen in years since they were "borrowed."

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
When I was writing my masters thesis I did, but I don't make a habit of it. And if I do dog-ear the pages, it is a small fold, not half the page.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
No.

18. Not even with text books?
That would require reading the text books in the first place, now wouldn't it?

19. What is your favorite language to read in?
The only language I know how to read in, Engrish.

20. What makes you love a book?
A unique perspective on a familiar topic that uncovers new information and presents the story in a refreshing way. I also like when a book covers something thoroughly, and comes across as well-researched and detail-oriented. In history often times the smallest things can make the largest impact. A good book will do the research on the small things, not just on the big things that have already been covered a million ways.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
I don't often run up to someone, even someone I know, and tell them what I think they ought to be reading. Mainly because I don't want them to do that to me, and also because I I realize that most of what I read does not have broad general appeal. But if I know something about you, and think something might appeal to you based on your interests, I'll recommend something I thought was good.

22. Favorite genre?
Strictly non-fiction US history

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
This is a diffcult question, becasue generally if I like something, I'll read it. I wish I had more time to read classic American literature, guys like Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut.

24. Favorite biography?
Oh boy. I read, and have read, a lot of biographies, including some great ones like Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton and Edmund Morris' The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Those two rise to the top of a long list.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?
To parahrase a master, George Carlin: Why do I need to read a book on self-help, written by someone else? That's not self-help, that's just help. What the hell is self help, anyway? If you did it yourself, you didn't need help.

26. Favorite cookbook?
I usually get my recipies from the food network website; can't say I make a point of buying cookbooks.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Probably Brinkley's The Wilderness Warrior. A lot of those folks who were conservation leaders in the early 20th century were inventing the movement by themselves, and they laid a great foundation for future conservation successes.

28. Favorite reading snack?
Coffee.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I am trying to think of the last time I read a book that was hyped in any way, and am drawing a blank.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
I will look at the most recent reader reviews on Amazon before I make a purchase, but that is about the extent of my effort to see what others think. Some of those readers have halfway intelligent things to say, most of them don't...it's kind of like life like that.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
Generally speaking I don't write reviews, because I just assume that most people don't (and shouldn't) care much what I think; but yet here I am writing this blog post.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you choose?
French, I suppose.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader, a thousand page tome about Korea during the Kim Dynasty (Kim Il-Sung, and his son, Kim Jong-Il). It was long, the font was small, the names were tough, and like Communist logic, it was hard to follow. But I got through it.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
I have two massive biographies on my bookshelf, one about Winston Churchill and the other FDR. "Intimidated" probably isn't the right word, but procastination might be.

35. Favorite Poet?
Thomas Lynch. Check out Still Life in Milford. You don't hear much about good American poets these days, but Lynch is one of them.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
Zero. Not a fan of libraries.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?
I believe we've worn the library line of questioning out.

38. Favorite fictional character?
I read very little fiction, but I do like the Connecticut Yankee of Mark Twain.

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Again, not much fiction in my repertoire, but Captain Ahab has to be up there, right?

40. Books you're most likely to bring on vacation?
Vacation is where I will do my lightest reading, because the book has to travel well (i.e. be light enough to throw in a small bag or backpack. I will generally read books about travel, social histories (think Mark Kurlansky's Salt) and other things of that nature. This is when most of my Bill Bryson gets read. Bryson is just a fanastic writer, with a great sense of humor.

41. The longest you’ve gone without reading.
A few hours is usually about as long as I go without at least reading a page or two.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
A book would have to be pretty awful for me not to finish it, because that would leave me with a gnawing feeling forever, every time I saw it on my shelf I would get pissed. Although I once got a manuscript from an aspriring writer, and it was dreadful. This might be why I don't read fiction. Pulling off good fiction is tough, and so much of it is bad.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
I start to think about what I just read, and I wander off in to space...

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
Not a novel, but without question, not even close...All the President's Men. By Woodward and Bernstein, of course.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?
Not sure I have one, we don't see many movies.

46. The most money you’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I will frequently spend $50 at Amazon.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
Skimming seems pointless. I have no expectation of flipping to a random page, and finding some passage so profound that I must buy the book. I read the publisher's summary on Amazon, and go from there.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
Death? I don't know, if I don't think I can finish a book, I don't start it.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?
Not really.

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
You can't build a library to be proud of if you go giving your books away, can you?

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
The aforementioned Churchill and FDR biographies.

52. Name a book that made you angry.
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
What on earth? If I don't think I will like a book, why would I start it?

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
Hmm, David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. Those fellas make me laugh.