Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 2013 Kline Online Book of the Year

For years, what would eventually become the 2013 Kline Online Book of the Year has sat on a bookshelf, half-read, in my home office. I had started to read it about a decade ago, when I thought I was going to write an academic history of US agricultural policy for my Master's thesis at Johns Hopkins University. Both the book, and the idea for the thesis, were disregarded in time. While I would move on to another topic for Johns Hopkins, I would come back to the book in question; somewhat ironically, it was the first book I read for pleasure after finishing the writing of my Masters thesis.

David M. Kennedy is not a writer of history for the masses. An emeritus history professor from Stanford University, he is the principle author of the seminal Advanced Placement American history textbook, The American Pageant. Perhaps you've read it? Perhaps not. But his tome Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War 1929-1945 is a book that is worth the investment of time and intellectual energy to read.

In the book's 900+ pages, Kennedy deftly handles perhaps the most profound 15 years of America's history, the time period covering The Great Depression and World War II. Freedom brings home the idea to a modern audience with no memory of the event that the Great Depression wasn't simply an economic downturn, deeper but similar to what occurred in this country in 2008, but instead was an all-encompassing catastrophe that required a fundamental shift in the way the average American thought about money, employment, democracy, capitalism, and their very lives.

For perhaps only the second time in American history, large segments of the U.S. population began to wonder if America could even survive as a republic. Americans worried that the growth in material consumption that had driven the Roaring Twenties had reached its terminus and that there was nothing but long-term decline in store for the American economy. Reading Freedom, the modern reader smiles to think that many thought at the time that the human race had reached an economic and technological summit, that all great things had already been achieved  and that as a result there was nowhere to go but down. The economic orderliness of European dictatorships like Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy began to look promising to some Americans, and never had communism looked so good to so many Americans.

Any book about the Depression and World War II must by necessity also be a biography of Franklin Roosevelt, for his leadership is the one constant throughout this era of complete upheaval. Kennedy's book takes us in great detail through Roosevelt's various attempts at tackling the Depression, all of which failed for one reason or another. Despite Roosevelt's many bureaucratic creations, the Depression's utter persistence frustrated Roosevelt to no end, and the book compels the modern reader to understand the depth of the Depression.

Roosevelt's legacy lies not with programs like the National Recovery Administration, whose Blue Eagle proudly adorned Main Street shop windows across the country, but with the notion that the federal government should, and would, play an increasingly hands-on role in managing the national economy, which up to that point had been at the whim of Adam Smith's invisible hand, and the laissez faire doctrines of oligarchs like J.P. Morgan. Roosevelt introduced the idea that the stock market should be regulated, that investors should know the financial facts of publicly traded companies. Roosevelt's Agricultural Adjustment Act, although largely nullified by the Supreme Court, also laid the groundwork for a heavy federal hand in American agriculture that lasts to this day. None of these programs ended the Depression, but they, along with social security, are its most durable legacy.   

Much like the country at large in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Kennedy's book comes to life as he writes the story of the nation's awakening to the idea of another war in Europe. Roosevelt was artful in balancing the needs of European democracy (the United States would become the so-called "arsenal of democracy" before entering the fray) with domestic political considerations; Roosevelt took the country no farther than it was willing, for he acutely understood that alienating the nation would curb his war powers when he truly needed them.

Kennedy's descriptions of the invasion of Pearl Harbor, which take the reader into the cockpits of the Japanese Zeroes and the early morning beds of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, warm the reader's blood in a way that few books of 900 pages can. The Freedom narrative also excels as the U.S. Navy takes to war on the seas of the Pacific, luring the pride of the Japanese Imperial Navy into a series of engagements that roundly favored American firepower; and to the island jungles of the Pacific, where adolescent Japanese boys shrieked their way towards face-to-face encounters with American Marines. For the modern reader, who might think World War II was a war of unmitigated and breezy American success, Kennedy's Freedom from Fear confirms in narrative color the real facts, that the American slog across the Pacific to reach the Japanese home islands and across Europe to strike at the heart of Naziism was brutal, and thoroughly worthy of modern study.

Roughly the first half of the book is focused entirely on the Depression, certainly a tough topic to cover in a way that does not bog down, but Kennedy manages it, and I frankly think Kennedy does a far superior job at the task than does Amity Shlaes in the much-heralded The Forgotten Man, which I also read this year. That is a fine piece of work, but I enjoyed Kennedy's book more. The second half, the war half as it were, is just incredible, benefiting as it does from the previous half establishing the national mood as we headed to war. As an obsessive reader of American history I enjoy all the books I read, but if I am to be honest, I can say that there aren't many 900 page books that are page-turners, the second half of Freedom from Fear is one of those books.

There is no doubt that the 2013 Kline Online Book of the Year is David Kennedy's Freedom from Fear. 

 2013 Honorable mentions:
Whose Names are Unknown Sanora Babb
Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of FDR  H.W. Brands
Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon Theodore H. White

Past winners:
2011: The Best and the Brightest David Halberstam
2012: The Fifties David Halberstam
2013: Freedom from Fear David M. Kennedy

Monday, December 23, 2013

'Twas the night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, and Maryland is solid blue,
Our party longs for the days of Spiro Agnew
On Martin, on Gansler, on Brown and Franchot
Like Santa the GOP belts, No! No! No!
Republicans wish to be competitive,
but their message is too damn repetitive.
No taxes, No spending, this budget is expensive!
But our solutions so many find offensive!
Then suddenly there rose such a ruckus,
"Is there no one electable among us?"
Like ill tempered elves,
we fight with ourselves,
and the GOP bank account is all decked in red.
As O'Malley sets off in his holiday sled;
bringing gifts of November victory
to all those registered same as he.
And now the stockings are full,
with one-party rule
and as the Governor flies out of sight,
he exclaims Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Some of the Hardest Lessons

I sit here tonight glaring at my computer screen with a heavy feeling on my chest. Today, early this morning, I trudged afield at 5:30 to my deer stand for the opening day of modern firearm season here in Maryland. By 9:00 I was following a blood trail that ultimately led to a dead end, a 200 acre bean field where there were no deer in sight. It was obvious that my shot had not been immediately fatal, and that I had lost an animal. 

I am not a deer hunter in the purest sense. I spend at most four days a year in the woods going after the whitetail deer, all with a firearm. I do not own a bow. I am not a trophy hunter. I deer hunt for no other reason than to put wholesome, truly free-range, and sustainable meat on my family's dinner table. But regardless, I like to think of myself as an extremely ethical hunter, one with a respect for the animals I pursue that verges on reverence.  Killing an animal has always been a very emotional experience for me, which may sound weird to the non-hunter.

But a last-second jolt by a deer whose shoulder was in my cross-hairs likely sent my shot further aft than I intended. Today I was, for at most a minute, an impatient hunter. I returned to the farm where I hunt this afternoon for a complete scouring of the woods. I left no stone unturned until the blood trail ran cold. For someone who takes responsible hunting as seriously as I do, and for someone who insists on a clean and quick kill above all else, I find myself ashamed tonight. A powerful emotion.

Perhaps I am being too hard on myself. But it is through this reflection, and self-flagellation, that I ensure this never happens again. But in hunting, the lessons learned for next time, can be incredibly difficult this time. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kline Online's Annual Thanksgiving Post 2013

Man what a year. I was promoted at work, sold my first ever speech for real money, shot ducks in Arkansas, caught speckled trout in Louisiana, had another record year for blog hits (despite being about half as productive, blog-wise, as 2012), got my Masters Degree from Johns Hopkins University and most fantastically, I became a dad. Its pretty incredible when you stop and think about it that, in the space of a year, you go from thinking kids are a possibility some time in the future, to two of them being a a very real and very loud reality. For all of these reasons, and a bunch of others, 2013 has been a very cool year.

There is obviously lots to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, close family, good friends, a warm home in a beautiful place, but I would be remiss if I didn't thank the one person who makes my life as good as it is, my wife Kim. She is an amazing human being, with reserves of patience that are just astounding. When the kids are screaming, often in unison, and often at 3 in the morning, it is enough to drive even the most centered person around the bend; but Kim hangs in, rocking and soothing Alex and Emily understandingly. She lives a life these days that is never more than a minute away from complete meltdown, times two, of course, and she does it with an aplomb that causes a more mortal person, like myself, to pause in wonderment.

This summer, when we were talking about ways of cutting back on the family budget to prepare for the arrival of Alex and Emily, I mentioned giving up my hunting leases, not insignificant (nor wholly necessary) expenditures. Kim wouldn't hear of the idea, and in the process of telling me to keep my leases, uttered the words that every hunter in all of the world hopes to hear from their significant other, "I want you to hunt." Maybe this was her way of having me out of the house on Saturday mornings from November through the end of January, but I suspect it was her completely selfless desire to let me continue doing something that made me happy. What it has succeeded in doing, is making me think of her every time I look out over a decoy spread.

As I sit here writing this, a superfluous undertaking if there ever was one, my wife has managed to bake several batches of cookies; the children are generally content; the house is almost done being decorated for the holidays. I have only managed to sneak a dollop of cookie dough from the bowl. I can't help but think this is what Martha Stewart would be like if she were a real person. Meanwhile, it takes all the energy I can muster to get up and load the woodstove. I am not entirely sure that I have ever done anything to deserve having this kind of woman in my life, but I am sure glad that I do have her. If our kids turn out to be functioning and contributing members of society, that society will have their mother to thank. If they know the ins and outs of Richard Nixon's environmental policies, well, then you can thank me. Or blame me, whichever you prefer.    

I am also thankful for my sister, Jenn, who has always been a huge part of my life, and has become a huge part of the life of my kids. She decided not to have her own, but she has fallen in love with Alex and Emily in a way that is extraordinarily special to watch. I could not believe any more strongly that ties to family are essential in life, and it is so important to me to have family involved in the lives of Alex and Emily. Aside from Kim, Aunt Jenny is my best friend, and she's the most genuine person you could know. Like her younger brother, you don't have to wonder what she's thinking...she'll let you know.

Waiting for my commuter bus one morning, outside, and not far away from the boat launch at Kent Narrows (yes, I pick up my bus in a rather scenic locale), blustery winds and a sharp chill were in the air. I looked around at my fellow commuters, grimacing and bundled up tight, and thought, these poor, timid, souls, have never watched as a group of diver ducks skirt the decoys, wings cupped. They've never watched a group of ten Canada Geese circle over a field decoy spread, twice, three times, four times, growing ever-lower, until they finally commit, feet down, wings locked, right into the hole. They've never watched the woods come to life sitting in a tree stand. I was the only idiot in the group who, full face exposed to the cold, took a deep breath and smiled. This will get those birds moving, I thought, perhaps out loud. "You like this weather??" came from a scarfed legal secretary. "No, I don't like it, I love it, it will get the birds moving." She looked at me like I was a bird. 

I am thankful that I get to live in this special place, where the seasons are marked by outdoor pursuits, the folks in my neighborhood know my name, and wave to me when they walk or drive by. I did not grow up on the Eastern Shore, but I am thankful that I will have the opportunity to raise my kids in this place, that they can learn the ways of the world at a slower pace than they might in other places, maybe take a little longer to grow up. 

The fire is aglow in the woodstove, my glass is full of bourbon, my wife is in the rocking chair beside me reading, and the kids are upstairs snoring. In these few moments of peace and quiet, it is nice to reflect on the immense blessings that life has given me this year, and many years past. In a world of serial complainers, I can sit in these moments and think that the best we can ever hope to do, is find contentment in that which is most common, the warm and joyous blessings of the everyday. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Pheasant Hunting Exploits of Senator Ted Cruz

A piece I wrote that was published in The Hill newspaper.


Sen. Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, lately key architect and strategist of the federal government shutdown, and champion of slashing spending of all kinds, had the good fortune to spend the opening day of Iowa’s 2013 pheasant hunting season at a premier western Iowa hunting lodge, whose best acres are conserved with a big assist from federal Farm Bill conservation programs.

Photos indicate that the senator’s hunt was successful. Good for him. Amidst the smiles and photographs, Cruz might have left the lodge thinking 2013 is a great time to be an American sportsman. But across the rest of the state, pheasant hunters are dealing with a far different reality – and much less shooting.    

During the Iowa pheasant openers of years past, tens of thousands of resident hunters across the state kenneled countless varieties of birddogs – German shorthaired pointers, English setters and Labrador retrievers – placed guns behind their seats and set out for prime pheasant country. They didn’t have to drive far. This was the way things were in autumn in Iowa back then. It was as sure a sign of the season as the harvest.

When birds and hunters were plentiful, permission to hunt was often as simple as knocking on a landowner’s door. On the best of the good old days, hunters could limit out on pheasant roosters faster than they might want to, jumping eight to 10 coveys of bobwhite quail in the process, a good harbinger of upland wildlife habitat health.

These days, you’d be lucky to move one covey.

The decline in pheasants and in pheasant hunting in Iowa has been alarmingly precipitous. Every August, in the humid Iowa summer, Department of Natural Resource biologists set out on what they call “roadside population surveys,” salt-of-the-earth wildlife professionals driving around in 30-mile segments counting the pheasants they see along the side of the road. The state has been using this method to collect population estimates for pheasants for half a century, and these windshield counts are amazingly accurate. Across the state, biologists log 6,000 miles in search of birds.

In 1995, the roadside count averaged about 45 bird sightings per 30 miles of driving. That year hunters harvested 1.4 million pheasant roosters. It would have been one of those years, like so many before it, when blaze orange filled the fields, the hotels, and the restaurants of the region, supporting a powerful rural economic engine.

But the same roadside surveys conducted in 2010 produced an average of 11 birds per 30 miles, and the harvest was just 238,000 that year, a record low at the time. The most recent surveys, conducted in August of 2013, turned up an alarming 6.5 birds per 30 miles; this year’s harvest might not even top 100,000 birds.
Of course, as the birds go, so go the hunters. In 1997, 200,000 hunters chased pheasants in Iowa. By 2010, that number fell to about 60,000 hunters. As pheasants have become rarer, landowners have become less likely to grant hunters access to their land; to counter this, some hunters have begun to offer money for hunting rights, something that could fundamentally alter the hunting landscape.

The Conservation Reserve Program in the Farm Bill serves as the bulwark for upland bird habitat. CRP is a voluntary program that’s been in place since 1985.  Farmers once enrolled in CRP in droves as a way to ensure that that their agriculturally unproductive acres would generate some annual income. But in the last decade or so, as crop prices have skyrocketed, no acre is deemed unworthy for planting. Farmers have understandably responded to the commodity market, taking acres out of CRP as quickly as they once enrolled them. In some cases, the CRP payment a landowner might expect is only half what that same landowner could receive for renting the land for farming; as a result, between 2003 and 2012, Iowa has lost 1200 square miles of pheasant habitat. Nationally, CRP enrollment has fallen to levels unseen since the 1980s, when the program was just ramping up; we are seeing the steep downward trend of a 25-year enrollment bell curve.

As the federal investment in these essential private lands has evaporated, bird populations have dwindled. In Iowa, the loss of CRP acreage has pushed pheasants onto shrinking parcels of quality habitat. To access that habitat, hunters should pack their wallets. Hunters still can experience the good old days of traditional pheasant hunting success by visiting one of the state’s many hunting lodges, but these hunts are expensive. For the hunter who can afford the experience, the ease of filling the game vest may be deceptive. 
Enter Sen. Cruz, who would do well to remember that those acres he hunted last weekend, while privately owned, have been conserved with the support of federal taxpayer dollars – exactly the same dollars he seeks to cut. Cruz should join sportsmen-conservationists to make sure that the opportunity to enjoy productive hunts isn’t just the purview of the fortunate few but remains broadly accessible to all sportsmen and women. He can help ensure this by joining lodge owners, guides and countless American hunters in supporting CRP in the Farm Bill.   

The hotels and restaurants in many rural communities are empty these days come pheasant season. But if history is any indication, if the birds come back, the hunters will, too.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Of twins and time and blogs.

Well, they are here. Soon-to-be-six-weeks-old Alexander Benson and Emily Grace Kline. We have them solidly on the Harvard track, reading them articles from the journal Science at bed time, and soothing them with Bach's various cello concertos at low volumes throughout the day. Their eyes no longer cross when we whisper the coefficient of kinetic friction into their ears, which we think is fine progress indeed. We are going to sit down with Ivy League admissions counselors over the holiday break to "plot a course to admissions success." They say you can tell a person's net annual income prospects when they are just a month old simply by the way they grunt when they poop, we feel they will both be solidly in the upper tax bracket.

It would be goofy for me to sit here and say I don't have time to blog. This blog is not titled "Exploring the Obvious with your host, Steve Kline" for a reason. I had off for a month, during which time, I had lost the concept of time. I had no idea what day it was, no sense of the hour. When you exist in three hour shifts (roughly the time between feedings), the notion of time becomes suspended in a cloud of Gerber Good Start formula dust.

This experience has not been emotionally revolutionary for me or for my wife; at least not yet. When I first saw the babies, I did not fall head over heels in love, nor did I feel the tectonic plates of my life shift profoundly and immediately. I am sure they will over time, as I learn more about my babies and they learn more about me, and our bond strengthens. I look forward to that with warm anticipation. I am pumped to be a dad. But right now, being a dad means feeding, burping, changing, and soothing. And trying to keep my wife, who is a wonderful stay at home mom with a mountain of patience, reasonably sane. Predictably, the babies have been a mix of frustrating and awesome, I suspect this will continue for, oh, about the rest of my life.

The road to Hell is littered with good intentions. That is my one line reflection on my wife's pregnancy and child birth and the six weeks since. And I don't mean that about the kids, but about advice and the commentary that people feel compelled to share. Everyone has an opinion about literally everything, and they want to share it with you, really, really badly. Of course, like most other opinions, opinions about childcare can be ill-informed gut feelings delivered emotionally and usually by people who haven't raised kids in decades.  Some of that stuff is valuable, and based on real life trial and error, but so much of it is also judgmental and self-righteous. You grin and bear it, mostly because you have to, but sometimes you have to live on the knife-edge of your own patience.

And there are of course those people who feel the need to tell you that your life is about to change in ways that you can't even begin to comprehend! Really? Huh. I didn't think adding two infant lives to my household would be more than a slight speed bump in the story of my life, so thanks for the  heads-up, sport.

This is not going to become a daddy blog, a phrase and an idea that I find patently ridiculous. I didn't know what a daddy blog even was until a few weeks ago, when I was forwarded a link to one. It was almost impossible to read because the sanctimony was turned way up, but I find the idea that me writing about raising kids may be interesting to anyone else but me and three other people to be absurd.  I started to get a little twitchy when I discovered that an entire genre of daddy blogs actually exist. Being a parent is not profound, billions of people have done it throughout history. It is important to you, and to those kids, but the fact that you are doing it now, in the age of easily accessible online blog hosting, doesn't make it something worth sharing with the rest of the world. Do that world a favor, and stop trying to attach universal importance to your personal experiences as a father and attempting to draw attention to yourself and pay more attention to your kids.

Speaking of which...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A System of Belief

It amazes me, as I read political forums, social media, and comment sections across the Internet just how easily many people purport to navigate the issues of the day. Some experts spend their whole lives studying one subject area: one country perhaps, or a single era of history, but anyone with a halfway reliable WiFi connection and a keyboard can now comment on an astoundingly wide array of topics at any given time, regardless of their qualifications or even the depth of their basic knowledge. Maybe last week it was amateur commentary on immigration reform, and this week a quick intellectual pivot to provide your opinion on the merits of a US incursion in Syria. Never before have there been so many readily available outlets for unfiltered and in some cases meritless opinions than in the year 2013.  

Why is this the case? Why do we so rarely hear that refreshingly candid phrase, "I don't know enough about that to form an opinion?" Because belief has now largely replaced knowledge as the leading edge of debate in this country.

No longer do we expect people to operate from the same basis of core facts, no longer do we expect people to exert the intellectual energy necessary to have an informed opinion. This became clear to me recently when, after talking to someone about healthcare policy and climate change, it was obvious that while they had opinions about those two things, they were not in any way based on anything beyond "belief." And what I mean when I say that is, they believed that their health insurance premiums would go up as a result of Obamacare, but their argument was not factual and evidence-based, but rather something they simply believed would happen. Asked "why do you think that would happen?," their answer was little more than, "I don't know, it is what I believe." Whether the belief turns out to be right or wrong, it is no way for a vast populace to debate important policy decisions.

And when someone argues from a standpoint of uninformed belief, they tend to argue from defensive emotion, presumably afraid to have their lack of depth exposed and that is how we wind up with the types of highly personal, highly offensive, close-minded policy debates so evident on social media, comment sections, and in Congress. We are now largely governed, personally and politically, by gut-feeling.  

As a serious student of history, I am astounded at the time that many of our political leaders from days gone by put into intellectual discovery. In a world devoid of television, telephones, and the Internet, books and newspapers were a legitimate way of keeping oneself entertained; imagine that for a moment, entertaining oneself with intellectual exercise.

It would be wrong to suggest that becoming an informed member of society doesn't take time and commitment, it most certainly does. It is also true that arguing based on little more than what you "believe" reflects a dangerous intellectual laziness that, writ large, produces a pronounced societal stasis; even with compelling, evidence-based arguments, people can simply reject even the most sound rationale because it isn't what they believe to be true. And as a society, it appears as though we have legitimized that concept, made it okay to simply react.

In the 19th century, many people believed that blacks and American Indians were an inferior species, in the 15th century, nearly everyone believed the world was flat, in the early 20th century, many people believed that eugenics was a good idea. Believing something, no matter how strongly, doesn't make it so.   


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

First Glance: The Race to Replace EJ Pipkin

More on what may become the race to replace EJ Pipkin.

Further research on the Maryland State Board of Elections shows that EJ Pipkin's 2010 primary campaign spent around $20,000 against what should be considered nominal competition in the form of little-known opponent Donald Alcorn. It's likely that if a variety of credible contenders jump in to the race to succeed EJ in 2014, the cost of winning the primary will increase. 

Delegate Steve Hershey
Considering the most obvious contenders, the House members from the 36th, Mike Smigiel, Jay Jacobs, and Steve Hershey, Hershey appears most ready for a Senate campaign, with about $20,000 in his campaign war chest. Mike Smigiel, with approximately $16,000 cash on hand is a close second to Hershey, and with nearly $11,000 in the bank, Jay Jacobs would need to start fundraising soon to overcome Hershey's early money lead.
Delegate Mike Smigiel

Some in the know here in Queen Anne's County have suggested that County Commissioner Steve Arentz may have a nose for higher office, and if that is indeed the case, Mr. Arentz has about $16,000 and would certainly be competitive from a money standpoint.    

Senator Pipkin's account has about $17,000, which he certainly could disperse to a favored candidate or two across the state. He can also liquidate the account via a donation to a non-profit organization. 

Delegate Jay Jacobs
But first, the Republican Central Committees from the various counties of the 36th legislative district, which includes all of Queen Anne's and Kent, and some portions of Caroline and Cecil, will have to recommend to Governor O'Malley an interim appointment to fill EJ's seat in the 2014 General Assembly. 
Commissioner Steve Arentz

Personalities and politics will most surely play a role in that decision (and if the central committees don't recommend an unanimous appointment, the choice will be made by GOP favorite-son Martin O'Malley), but a candidate's ability to defend their seat in the next general election (meaning cash in the bank) will factor prominently.  

More as it unfolds.

Monday, August 05, 2013

EJ Pipkin resigns, Dave Olds wants to be reelected

State Senator EJ Pipkin, Republican of the 36th district here on the Eastern Shore announced his resignation effective August 12, 2013 today, appears that he is moving to Texas to pursue a degree in Sports Management. Good luck to the Senator and cue up the race to replace him. Jay Jacobs? Steve Hershey? Mike Smiegel? Steve Arentz? David Dunmyer? Who knows? Look forward a year of scuttlebutt. 

On another, related front, perusing the Maryland State Board of Elections site today to see who might be making a go at running for Queen Anne's County Commissioner in 2014 and the only declared candidate so far is incumbent Queen Anne's County Commissioner Dave Olds from the Kent Island district.

In what may be the most impressive case of self-delusion ever, Dave Olds must think that he is doing a good job representing the people of Kent Island and Queen Anne's County. He supported the Big Box effort that was roundly defeated by the voters of the county, and he also supported major revisions to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, also rejected by the voters. Oh, and Olds also supports the building of the Four Seasons development on Kent Island, which would be the largest development in history in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area, a few people on Kent Island having been talking about that lately. 

The deadline for filing as a candidate is Tuesday, February 25, 2014.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Town of Convenience

Another Royal Farms, another quick-stop place to buy Marlboro Lights and Funyuns and a Diet Dr. Pepper. A pavilion with bright white lights and 24 hour gas pumps, dingy buckets of window wash, overflowing trashcans and a place where the shine of newness will wear off quickly.

In the name of "trust us, we know what's best for the town," this is what your Centreville town government is considering adding to the south side of town, a Royal Farms. It would become the fifth gas station (Hillside, Shamrock, Acme, and Citgo being the other four), meaning there would be one gas station in Centreville for every 313 households (numbers based on 2010 census). If you don't think that sounds like a ridiculous ratio, think about the last time you had to wait in line to buy gas in Centreville. When you look at the Royal Farms issue from a strictly need-based evaluation, it is difficult to justify giving the Royal Farms the green light, Centreville simply doesn't need another gas station. 

There is also an assumption that Royal Farms will pull people in to Centreville off of 301. This is patently ridiculous. From the town of Centreville to the Bay Bridge, I last counted 14 gas stations visible from highways 213, 301, and 50. Fourteen gas stations! That is roughly a station for every mile. The idea that a new gas station in Centreville will be some kind of petrol oasis in a vast fuel desert is insane, considering that Centreville already has those aforementioned gas stations, and that any drivers on Route 301 would have had ample (and arguably more convenient) opportunities to fill up before getting to our town.

Of course, we hear also about how many jobs Royal Farms will bring to town, although I am curious how many of the people who use that as a justification would actually want to work there. It bears asking, are these the kinds of jobs (low-paying, low-benefits, high turnover) that Centreville lacks? Or do we really lack precisely the kind of jobs that Royal Farms doesn't offer, the kind of jobs that allow one to raise a family and contribute to the fabric of the town in a meaningful way? For many people in Centreville, having a quality job means leaving town. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that (in fact, it goes with the territory of being a rural town with a high quality of life), but let's not pretend Royal Farms will permit people who are now commuting out of Centreville to high-paying, intellectually stimulating jobs elsewhere will now be able to work closer to home.

It should also be noted that in a December 2012 article in the Huffington Post, Royal Farms was cited as aggressively cutting hours to avoid paying for healthcare benefits for their employees. As a result, the vast majority of the Royal Farms employee base is part time. The notion that Royal Farms would be an employment boon to Centreville is pretty far fetched. What's more, the chain is completely corporate owned, so there will be no opportunity for a local franchise owner to benefit, and spend some of those profits in the town. The positive impact to Centreville of a Royal Farms would be incredibly limited, if it exists at all.

But what is more concerning to me is the lack of a sensible vision for the future of the town. Putting a Royal Farms way south of downtown would only serve to further pull people out of the historic area of town, placing even more stress on what should be the focal point of Centreville: its historic downtown. By investing in sprawl, the town is making the decision to utilize limited resources outside of the downtown area, this is unwise. We already provide gas stations to our own residents and those just passing through, let's focus instead on creative public/private partnerships to revitalize the areas between the two bridges, and commit to making Centreville a destination, and not just a pit stop.    

And in conclusion, let's also think about what Centreville is, a place where we are proud that life slows down; even though some of us might have stressful jobs in Easton, Annapolis or Washington, we can come home to a place where much of that stress falls away; but the whole business model of Royal Farms, and other stores like it, is the notion that life needs speeding up, that everything, and everyone, needs to always be in a hurry. Perhaps it's naive, but I don't think the Royal Farms business model is right for the future of Centreville.



Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Twins? Twins!

It was just a fortune cookie. She's probably eaten dozens; after every paper box full of beef and broccoli or sweet and sour chicken, each plastic tub of carryout wonton, a fortune cookie stood as closure, as final as the amen at the end of a mealtime prayer. But how much thought have you ever given a fortune cookie? What does a fortune cookie even taste like, is its mediocre blandness even describable? And are the paper slips tucked away even really fortunes anymore? They appear these days to be more Chinese proverbs, pasteurized words of wisdom. No longer does a fortune cookie say you will find love this week, or a job. Now they are more apt to say things like "Happiness is in the journey, not the destination." And leave you mumbling in between the crunching about how that's not even a fortune.

One of our favorite Chinese food joints, which is in a converted fast food restaurant in Baltimore, includes a single dip of ice cream for dessert in their ubiquitous combination platters. They plop a cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie on the dish along with your check. On this night, we dispersed them without thought, a strictly random exercise. I opened mine, and now struggle to remember what unmemorable phrase was adorned on the sliver of white paper, nor what Chinese word I could learn on the flip side. But boy do I remember my wife's fortune cookie.

As she cracked open the vaguely lemon, vaguely vanilla cookie, there were two distinct slivers of white paper. Two fortunes! What a serendipitous occasion! The moon and stars had aligned, and good fortune (cookie) had shined upon us this night! Until she read them. "Job well done." Twice. Two fortunes, in the same cookie, each of which said "Job well done."

We had not told her mom and dad, who sat just across the table from us, that we were expecting. We had decided to wait on letting them in on the secret as long as we could, and now found ourselves playing footsies over what these fortunes must mean; surely there was no way around it, we were having twins.

On the Thursday morning ride across the Bay Bridge to the Anne Arundel Medical Center, veteran Baltimore sportscaster Keith Mills came across the 98 Rock airwaves. My wife and I are faithful Baltimore sports fans, and are definitely part of the Keith Mills bandwagon. That morning, he told his listeners some fairly blase sports news, the Baltimore Orioles had won their exhibition game the following evening in Florida, against the Minnesota Twins.

At that point, I knew twins were a foregone conclusion; all I needed was the doctor to let us know formally for me to confirm what was at this point much more than simply a suspicion, but rather an adamant belief.

There is something about seeing the flutter of a heartbeat on an ultrasound, to know for sure that in your wife's belly there grows your child, someone who will change the course of your entire life.

There is something else entirely to hearing your doctor, while peering at the ultrasound, say the words "and we aren't done yet!"

Job well done. Twice. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Mortgage Shenanigans.

Back in February, we refinanced our house. We were able to shave 2.25 percentage points from our APR, and went from a 30 year fixed to a 15 year fixed, all while saving somewhere north of $100,000 in interest payments in the bargain, while paying off our house (if we stay there, of course) by the time we are in our mid-forties. Pretty sweet! But a funny anecdote, and some kind of commentary about the state of the modern mortgage market follows.

Our old mortgage was with Acme Mortgage Company (note, not the real name of the mortgage company), and we had been with them since we bought our house. Through a friend, it was recommended that we check out Mega-Lo Mortgage Company, they had great rates and low costs! So we did. Mega-Lo was pleasant to work with, responsive, and saved us a bunch of money. So we signed the paperwork with Mega-Lo Mortgage Company on February 15th.

But before we could even pay the first payment to Mega-Lo Mortgage Company, we get a letter in the mail. Thinking it was our first statement, we opened it as soon as we got it, only to find out that, in much less than a month, and before we could write a check for the first payment to Mega-Lo, they had sold our mortgage to another mortgage company.

And who did they sell our mortgage to? Back to Acme Mortgage, of course!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Deafening Silence

I have been working on a very big project, and have not been able to focus at all on new content for Kline Online. This is something I wrote this summer for work, new content for Kline Online readers.

I was driving down a back road on Maryland’s Eastern Shore when I pulled my truck over to let a tractor pass. The farmer tipped his hat in appreciation and was on his way to the next field. Before heading down the road myself, I took a look around; fields of crops gave way to the Chester River in the distance and a place I am proud to call home.

With tall corn and soy hiding goose pits and the vivid summer woods obscuring tree stands, it is tough to see the importance of hunting during a hot and humid Chesapeake summer. But just a few months from now, the days will get shorter and crisper, and homes across the Eastern Shore will come to life earlier than normal as decoy bags and gun cases are tossed into trucks and Labs wag their tails with the kind of anticipation only a gun dog can muster.

Waterfowl hunting means a lot to this part of the world. On the highway into town, geese adorn the welcome sign, and we have waterfowl festivals to celebrate the autumnal return of the birds. You may find yourself raking leaves in the backyard or picking out the perfect carving pumpkin at the local patch when you hear your first flight of Canada geese returning. It is a sound that compels your eyes skyward and makes many of us reflexively reach for our goose calls.

But the memory of the 2011-12 season remains stark in the minds of many hunters. Winter’s cold weather never came; nor did the birds. Some estimated that less than one quarter of the typical population actually made it as far south as the Chesapeake. The lack of snow and ice gave the birds no reason to venture to their normal southern grounds. The warmest winter anyone can remember gave way to the warmest summer, and hunters can’t be blamed for asking, “Will the birds return?”

More than a few hunters I’ve talked to are considering letting their blind leases lapse.

“I’m gonna give it one more year,” is a familiar refrain from waterfowlers pinched by a slow economy and slow days afield. Visit Higgy’s Diner on any Saturday morning during duck and goose season and you will see just what hunting means to the local economy. It’s not just about license and ammo sales; hunters open their wallets at motels, gas stations, watering holes and sub shops, as well as for guides and gear. As the birds go, so go the hunters.

Conservation is an essential part of hunting’s past – and future. Whether addressing global issues like climate change or local issues such as land use, hunters have a responsibility to become knowledgeable and participate in finding workable solutions. If the voices of hunters fall silent, it won’t be long before the voice of the waterfowl we cherish goes quiet as well.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Chrysler's Military Profiteering.

As anyone who knows me knows, I am a huge fan of the Baltimore Ravens. Have been since they moved to Baltimore in 1996. I remember vividly the first Super Bowl we won, in 2001. And I will remember the one we won last night. Another great night for my native city, where I had the good fortune to watch the game with family.

As anyone who knows me can also attest, I am not one for commercials, don't watch much TV besides. I don't get as geared up for the Super Bowl commercials as some others might, and certainly not in a year when my team is playing in the game. I need the commercial breaks to settle myself down emotionally.

But one advertisement, from a car company, caught my eye. It was from Jeep, a company owned by Chrysler. As you may know, Jeeps were originally created for military use in World War II, but it is important to note that Chrysler has never made a Jeep for military use, and only bought the Jeep name in 1987. For some time now, the Jeep has been strictly a civilian automobile, limited mostly to steep driveways and puddle-strewn back roads, with no use in the modern American armed forces.

It is nothing new to use emotion, and good old fashioned national pride, to sell everything from baseball gloves to pickup trucks. I understand this as a fundamental tenant of advertising. But I found Chrysler's "America Will Be Whole Again" advertisement for Jeep to be supremely objectionable, crossing an ethical line that blurred Chrysler's commercial interests with the very real sacrifice made by those who serve in the American military. Selling Jeeps requires no sacrifice, we should not allow Chrysler to co-opt the real sacrifice made by fighting men and women.

Taking advantage of this country's pride in our men and women in uniform, to wantonly commercialize the emotion of waiting for a loved one to come home, to wantonly commercialize the sacrifice made by millions of veterans and active duty soilders and their families, all in what I hope is a vain attempt to sell more cars, is proof of the further erosion of corporate common sense in this nation. This is the modern day equivalent of war profiteering.

The thought that some marketing pinhead thought it would be okay to imply that somehow we, as Americans, could better honor the troops by buying a Jeep, and that some (and likely several) bigwigs at Chrysler gave this project the green light, should be enough to turn every single veteran, past and future, against the Chrysler Corporation.

If our military is indeed something to be cherished, to be honored, as Chrysler/Jeep and Oprah implied for two minutes of million dollar airtime, then it begs the question, why was a car company, who not five years ago received the generous support of the American public, allowed to sully that institution with base commercialism?  

You can see the commercial here

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Confirm Chuck Hagel.

I am sitting here this morning, watching the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the confirmation of Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. I am not a defense guy; never spent any time in the military, don't work for a government contractor, don't live and breathe defense policy. I do however have a special interest in the intersection between politics (and especially elected political leaders) and defense.

The possibility exists that Chuck Hagel might be a reasonable Pentagon chief. The Senators in the committee room this morning, want to encourage a view of the world that is strictly black and white, and they want to see which side Hagel falls on. The Senators' lines of question can make a reasonable man seem as though he is wavering, inconsistent, flip-flopping. But as a nation, what we have learned over the past sixty years or so, is that nothing in global affairs is black and white; there are very few cases when the sides of good and evil are as clear as they were in Europe in 1941.

Military policy is complex stuff, with a long horizon for impact. The seeds of the Vietnam War were sown at least a decade and a half before the United States committed declared combat troops to the Southeast Asian nation. One of our allies from World War II became a sworn enemy for 45 years immediately after the war's conclusion, and our relationship with that country today remains murky, at best. Our backing of the Afghan forces against the USSR throughout the 1980s helped to give rise to Osama bin Laden. Eleven years ago, we went to war in Afghanistan, and we remain there today. We extricated ourselves from Korea in the 1950s and Iraq in the 2000s, without clearly defining what it is we had accomplished in those two very different countries. 

It is easy for Senators to disparage Hagel, to insist that he make black and white declarations about things that are many shades of gray. It is easy for members of Congress to be reflexively pro-war, because if and when war is indeed made a reality, few will remember the individual members of Congress who rattled their swords, and wars almost always lay at the feet of the presidents who wage them. But clamoring for war, whether in Iran, or Syria, or anywhere else, from the safety of the Dirksen building is not a particularly courageous act.

What Chuck Hagel did during his time in the United States Senate WAS courageous.  Hagel voted his conscience, not the party line. He took the time to consider how his votes would impact America's interests abroad, and importantly how his votes would impact the lives of those who would be sent in to harm's way as a result of Congressional action. Whether those votes were "wrong" or "right," a judgement that is abstract and largely in the eye of the beholder, Hagel is the kind of deliberative official that the United State government would benefit from. I am confident that Hagel will provide the most honest advice he can to the President, without the rose colored glasses that have gotten Defense secretaries in a lot of trouble in the past. 

A long time ago on this blog, I wrote about how the Department of Defense was akin to a sacred cow in Congress. It is viewed by many of our elected leaders, far too many in my opinion, as untouchable. This notion was reiterated today as Senator Jeff Sessions appeared to question Mr. Hagel's potential willingness to reduce the number of nuclear submarines in the Navy's fleet. It was reiterated again when several senators characterized the impending sequester (an across the board cut to most federal government accounts of about 10% that this same Congress itself passed to avoid a fiscal and economic catastrophe that it created in the first place) as meaning disaster for DOD.

The idea that the Pentagon should not be included in the budgetary belt tightening this nation so badly needs is wrong-headed, and should be rejected. Without cuts to Defense, this nation will never be more than half-committed to real fiscal reform. I believe Hagel has the ability and the desire to take a tough look at his department, and make sure the cuts that need to be made are made in such a way that is appropriate and wise. 

I think Hagel will be confirmed, but the fact that someone like John McCain, who once was so proud of his reputation as a maverick that it was the basis for two presidential campaigns, is willing to vote against Hagel for being his own brand of independent, well, that just typifies the insanity of current day Washington DC, and how little these people are actually doing to move this country in the right direction.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Conversation with Queen Anne's County Commissioner David Dunmyer

Recently, I sat down with Queen Anne's County Commissioner David Dunmyer, for a look back at his last two years serving on the Board of Commissioners, as well as a look ahead at the next two years. 

What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect of being a county commissioner?

In my two years as a county commissioner, I have had the great opportunity to learn a lot about the place I call home, and that has been, and continues to be, extremely rewarding. Learning about the county naturally started during my campaign in 2010, meeting people and learning what folks cared about the most in the different parts of the county.

A close second to that is the feeling that I am giving back in a way that is meaningful to the community. My whole life, I existed like everyone else: job, family, worry about paying the bills; and it can be easy to not pay attention to anything happening in the community around you. But, and I guess this is obvious, stepping out as a public servant requires you to get and stay engaged, and to give back as a leader in your community. So from a personal standpoint, being elected a county commissioner has been incredibly rewarding. 

Third, is having greater access to higher levels of government. Not everyone can pick up the phone and get a meeting with the senator or the governor, but that new found access has been very helpful in getting Queen Anne’s County priorities on the radar of decision makers at the state and federal levels. 

How has that increased access to higher levels of government helped the people of QAC?

The state and the federal government are taking an increasing interest in many issues that Queen Anne’s County is grappling with. Whether it is cleaning up the Bay or attempting to make smarter decisions about growth, the state and federal levels of government are trying to coordinate a response to important issues that cross county and even state boundaries. Being able to have the access to state and federal officials, means I can communicate with them directly about these issues, and ensure that the concerns of Queen Anne’s County and her citizens are always being considered. 

Of course, there is a lot of dysfunction perceived between local government and the state and federal governments, a lot of talking past one another and failure to really communicate. Those that can cross party lines and cross lines of government, can get things done for the county and I think that is what I have been able to do. 

Do you think there is ignorance at the state and federal level about how counties work? 

Actually, I think it is the other way around. Many in state government started at the county level; but local officials don’t know how state government works, and assume that there is a hostility towards county interests. But it is up to county officials to work with state and federal folks to make sure our interests are always considered when these broader decisions get made.  

What has been the most frustrating aspect of being a commissioner?

That one is easy, always being on the two end of a 3-2 vote is frustrating. It can be tough, when you know it’s going to be that way for four years, to get excited about going to the commissioner’s meetings. We’ve been able to have some small wins on noncontroversial things, but not everything should have to be a battle. But it is very frustrating that the majority of the board thinks in a polar opposite way than I think, despite the fact that we were all elected by essentially the same people.   The biggest factor in the Republican sweep of 2010 that brought me into office wasn’t so much a statement about local values, but rather was a message about national politics, and yet our five commissioners cannot come together around common goals. It is my hope that the election results of 2012, when the people of Queen Anne’s County roundly opposed major changes to county code that would have made rapid, large-scale development easier, that the priorities of our county’s citizens will become clearer to the Board of Commissioners.  

What single issue do your constituents contact you about the most?

Not about what I would call the “big” issues, certainly. What I hear about most from my constituents, and this is understandable, are the minor issues, the things people confront every day.  Maybe it is trash blowing around their neighborhood or the shoulders of the road aren’t getting mowed. Those are the types of things that fill up my inbox. The major land use issues, budgets, taxes, don’t seem to get as much attention as the minor things, like when are you going to fix the pothole in my road?  

What one issue do you wish your constituents paid more attention to?
I would have to say growth. People come out and provide their input on the comprehensive plan, and on issues like the federal facility in Ruthsburg, and the ballot questions about growth. But the fact of the matter is a million smaller decisions about growth are made all across this county, in planning commission meetings, zoning board of appeals meetings, town council meetings, and of course, county commissioner meetings, and those decisions are made largely without input from all but those most directly impacted.  If citizens care about growth, and I believe strongly that they do, they need to let their elected officials know about what they think. I’m a firm believer in the smart growth policies that the state is trying to implement, and they apply to QAC perhaps more than any other county, where the vast majority of our citizens moved here for the quality of life. But just trusting five people to protect that quality of life, without checking in to make sure they are actually doing the job with their votes, will prove dangerous. 

Explain to the readers why you are still a Republican?
I am a Republican because I still consider myself a conservative. Government should be more effective, efficient, and accountable. As local officials we have a different type of responsibility, a boots on the ground type relationship with our citizens, and we have to represent all of them Republican, Democrat, or Independent. We have to get things done, and cannot afford to dream up crazy proposals only aimed at solidifying the base. Managing the county on a day to day basis is not a partisan task. And what I think is wrong with national politics is that those who don’t follow the party line are called RINOS [Republicans in Name Only], or DINOS, and they are cast aside, eaten by their own. The fact that you have to ask me that question is indicative of how politics is now. I don’t tow the GOP line on every issue, therefore I am considered by some a “bad” Republican. That’s a shame because there are lots of good Republicans that aren’t around anymore because of their independence. 

What do you think about the Republican Party in QAC?  

As Queen Anne’s County Republicans, we still want good schools and good roads, and generally a high level of service from county government, but we want it done as efficiently as possible.  I think people understand that growth in the county means growth in the county government, and growth in the county budget, both of which can likely lead to growth in their tax bill. 

Now the local leadership, central committee members, I think they spend too much time on national issues and not enough time on local issues. Most of their activities are focused on national politics. And I will say that, despite being an overwhelmingly Republican county, I do not think that the average Queen Anne’s Republican voter agrees with the GOP Central Committee on issues pertaining to growth. Several members of the QAC Republican Central Committee are real estate agents, or have a vested interest in development. I think they should set aside those personal interests and get in line with the average county Republican, who voted against the Central Committee line on growth issues back in November. Simply put, there are many Republicans that do not believe what the GOP central committee is selling on growth in this county, even as they vote the Party line on many other issues. 

What about QAC have you learned over your time that has been most interesting?

QAC has quite an array of business that people know very little about. Even businesses that are industrial and manufacturing in nature that might be tucked off the beaten path; people say we’ve got no manufacturing but I’ve learned that we have a lot going on. The statement is often made that businesses don’t want to be here, but that is just not true. 

There are these pockets of employment here that not enough people are aware of, like Chesapeake Burial Vaults with 30 or so employees in Barclay to Groco with 45 employees in Stevensville. These are the kinds of economic development projects that make sense for the future of Queen Anne’s County, and they are fascinating.

What personally makes you care so much about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay? 

When I was elected, there was a ton going on in terms of the Chesapeake Bay, starting with the President’s Executive Order on the Chesapeake, to the beginnings of the Watershed Implementation Plans. I jumped right into that when I became a commissioner, because I saw that people all across the watershed were thinking of creative ways to do their part in cleaning up the Bay, and that was a discussion I wanted to be a part of, and something I really thought I could lead on.  As county officials, we can either fight this kind of stuff, or we can help to make it work better for the people we represent. I chose to do the latter. 

My passion for the Bay comes from the fact that I grew up here in Maryland, a really unique place. The Bay is a part of our everyday life, the seafood that we eat, the great times we have on the water. Most states don’t have what we have, and I fear that we won’t realize what great benefits the Bay provides until they disappear. It’s up to today’s leaders to make sure future generations have the same and hopefully even better opportunities to enjoy the Bay as we do. 

What keeps you motivated?
I don’t want to lose what we have. I moved here 18 years ago, to get away from overrun, overdeveloped sprawl, and clearly I wasn’t the only one. But driving my truck to work and seeing how much the county has changed, you don’t have to look far to see the massive changes that have come to our county just in the last decade or so, and how much it is starting to look like what we moved away from. I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way. That daily visual reminder is all I need to stay motivated to make sure the next twenty years don’t look like the last twenty years.