A Thorny Question for Annapolis

July 13th, 2015

As an Annapolis newbie – I moved here last September – I have a question:

Why do certain things seem to take so painfully long in Annapolis?

I’m talking about important things that influence the look and feel and character of this beautiful city, especially around City Dock.

Things like the city-owned Marketplace, that long-running soap opera that dragged on for years; like the city’s Rec Center, shuttered since 2010; like the former Fawcett Boat Supply location that has sat vacant and neglected for five years; like the former Stevens Hardware store, empty since 2012.

Things like City Dock itself, which cries out for a serious makeover that would convert it from a scenic parking lot to what it should be: Annapolis’s face to the world.

Things like Ego Alley and the historic downtown, which urgently need protection from the looming threat of sea level rise.

Why the long stalemate over these issues? What is it about Annapolis that generates gridlock? Explain it to me, please. If Baltimore can remake its inner harbor, if Charleston can revive its battery, if Miami can transform its waterfront, why can’t Annapolis?

I realize all these things cost money, and that the city has budget problems and zoning issues and, most important, that different people have different ideas about what should be done, but none of that is unique to Annapolis.

Seeking an answer, I asked around. Since I live in Eastport, I started with my local Alderman, Ross Arnett. I caught him on his cell phone while he waited to extricate his car from the clutches of Jiffy Lube, and, did he vent!

“There is no shared vision in this city, and no leadership,” he said, his voice rising. “There is no reward for getting things done!”

“Tell me what you really think, Ross,” I said, but I don’t think he heard me over the Jiffy Lube roar.

“The city is in paralysis and the Mayor’s motto is ‘don’t make waves,’” he went on. “What is his vision for City Dock? Don’t lose a single parking space?“

“Forgive my rant,” he said, ranting. “But the city is in decline, we’re headed for bankruptcy, people have given up.”

When I interrupted long enough to say that he sounded like a candidate for Mayor in 2017, Mr. Arnett raised it a notch. “I AM running for Mayor!” he said, “I’m fit to be tied, and so are the other council members!”

After that outburst, it seemed only fair to call Mayor Mike Pantelides and let him respond. We met at the long table in his conference room in City Hall.

“Ross hasn’t been here that long and doesn’t really know what it takes to get things done,” the Mayor said coolly, leaning back in his high-backed chair. “The truth is that there is a strong sense of ownership among the people of Annapolis and everybody has to have their say. It is hard to build a consensus.”

The Mayor conceded that he doesn’t want to lose a single parking space when the City Dock is re-designed, but, he said, “those spaces don’t have to be on City Dock itself, they can be nearby.”

Finally, the Mayor said that his biggest lesson in office so far was — wait for it — “how long it takes to get things done.”

This past Tuesday, there was a hint of movement when developers presented a new plan to renovate and finally reopen the old Fawcett’s site. The artist’s rendering depicting rooftop and dockside dining was well received at a meeting of the Ward One Resident’s Association, but wait, don’t make your dinner reservations just yet. They will need an exception to the zoning regulations, and in Annapolis, that takes time.

Seeking another explanation why things move at a glacial pace around here, I called Kitty Higgins, former chair of the Annapolis Democratic Central Committee and a member of the commission that was charged with re-imagining the City Dock area. Keep it simple for me, Kitty, I said, why so slow?

“Entrenched interests, a lack of leadership and a reluctance to change anything,” she said.

Succinctly put, Kitty. Thanks.


Debate: What Next in Iraq:

June 14th, 2015

The Washington Post

By Greg Jaffe and Missy Ryan June 13 at 2:18 PM
As President Obama was weighing how to halt Islamic State advances in Iraq, some of the strongest resistance to boosting U.S. involvement came from a surprising place: a war-weary military that has grown increasingly skeptical that force can prevail in a conflict fueled by political and religious grievances.

Top military officials, who have typically argued for more combat power to overcome battlefield setbacks over the past decade, emerged in recent White House debates as consistent voices of caution in Iraq. Their shift reflects the paucity of good options and a reluctance to suffer more combat deaths in a war in which America’s political leaders are far from committed and Iraqis have shown limited will to fight.

“After the past 12 years in the Middle East, there is a real focus by senior military leaders on understanding what the endgame is,” said a military official, “and asking the question, ‘To what end are we doing this?’ ”

The military’s reluctance belies a prevalent narrative in Washington of a cautious president holding back his aggressive generals. The Pentagon’s position was most evident in the White House debates after the surprising retreat of Iraqi army and police in Ramadi last month.

In the days that followed, Obama assembled his national security team to fix a strategy that appeared to be foundering.

Obama’s top generals presented a range of options, including one dubbed “higher risk” that would have embedded U.S. advisers in Iraqi combat units to direct airstrikes from U.S. fighter jets. The plan also would have employed Apache attack helicopters, which are lethal in urban combat but vulnerable to enemy ground fire.

The higher-risk option represented a major change in the White House’s strategy, which puts a heavy burden on the Iraqis to take the lead in the fight against Islamic State militants and keeps Americans away from the front lines.

Some senior State Department officials argued that the front-line American spotters and attack helicopters would provide critical help to Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, whom the administration strongly backs. Without some quick battlefield victories, these officials argued, Abadi would be under heavy pressure to rely more on Shiite Iran, which has cast itself as Iraq’s only effective partner in a largely sectarian war with the Sunni-
dominated Islamic State.

But the president’s top military commanders argued against a change in strategy that would reduce the onus on Iraqi forces and pull U.S. troops deeper into the war. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, like other military officials doubted that the gains from using embedded advisers and attack helicopters were worth the possible cost in American blood, said several U.S. officials familiar with his position.

Instead, he counseled patience, maintaining that the U.S.-led air campaign was weakening the Islamic State and that a force of Sunni tribal fighters would need to be trained and armed to hold the battlefield gains.

[A long war in Iraq]

Gen. Lloyd Austin III, who oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East and developed the higher-risk option, conceded that the ground spotters and helicopters could make U.S. military operations more lethal, but he also said they weren’t needed in Iraq right now, U.S. officials said.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter similarly argued that ground spotters weren’t essential to bolster an air campaign that was “going well,” said a senior defense official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The president ultimately decided to send about 450 American advisers to a secure military base outside the Islamic State-
controlled city of Ramadi. The advisers will meet with Sunni sheiks in the area in an effort to mobilize and potentially train thousands of tribal fighters. They will also provide advice and intelligence to the Iraqi headquarters overseeing the fight for Ramadi. But they will not accompany Iraqi troops on combat missions, as some State Department officials argued was essential if the Iraqis were going to retake Ramadi in the coming weeks.

The State Department has “a more optimistic view of the opportunities there than the military does,” a U.S. official said.

A senior Pentagon official described the military’s objections to the higher-risk options in starker terms: “We have become very sensitized to the idea that we don’t want to risk lives and limbs if there isn’t a high probability of a payoff,” said the official. “Our calculus is different.”

Obama didn’t foreclose riskier options that would push U.S. advisers closer to the front lines and into combat, senior U.S. officials said. If conditions worsened, the president indicated, he would be open to using ground spotters or attack helicopters. The president also said that he would revisit the riskier courses if they were needed to help Iraqi forces achieve a major breakthrough, such as a victory in the fight to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, from the Islamic State, U.S. officials said.

One big challenge with embedding combat advisers is finding front-line Iraqi units that U.S. military commanders trust enough to keep the Americans relatively safe, a senior military official in Iraq said.

The military’s unwillingness to press for more resources could undercut calls from some Republican presidential candidates, such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.), who have pressed for sending more U.S. troops to fight Islamic State militants.

The military’s reluctance also represents a shift in mind-set for a force that, while not monolithic in opinion, has in recent years pressed for a more aggressive military response in the wake of battlefield setbacks.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, for instance, in 2009 said he needed as many as 40,000 new troops to push back the Taliban and train Afghan forces. After weeks of contentious debate, Obama agreed to send 30,000 troops, but in a sign of his unease with the military’s ambitious plans, the president put a firm time limit on how long they could stay.

“In the Afghan surge, the military believed the mission could be accomplished and wanted more forces to buy down risk,” said Michele Flournoy, a former top official in the Pentagon and chief executive officer at the Center for a New American Security.

Today in Iraq, expectations are far lower and political support for the mission among lawmakers, the White House and the American people is far more tenuous. The goal in Iraq, Flournoy said, “is to retake lost territory.”

The military’s 12 years of experience in Iraq, meanwhile, have imbued it with an abiding wariness of being drawn too deeply into the country’s internal ethnic and sectarian wars. That instinct is shared by the team of senior military advisers Obama has assembled. “Every single one of these guys has signed too many letters to too many parents,” said Maren Leed, a former senior adviser to the Army chief of staff in the Pentagon who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’ve had their hearts broken and watched a lot of others get their hearts broken.”

Austin, who oversaw all U.S. troops in Iraq prior to the U.S. withdrawal in December 2011, pressed for keeping as many as 17,000 American troops in the country to train and advise Iraqi forces. The Obama administration whittled that number down to fewer than 5,000 troops, but it couldn’t reach an agreement with the Iraqi government that would allow the troops to stay.

What followed was a slow deterioration and collapse of the Iraqi and Army and police forces that U.S. commanders had built at tremendous cost.

Dempsey lost 133 troops when he commanded U.S. troops in Baghdad in 2003-2004. He returned to the country one year later to command the Iraqi army and police training effort from 2005 to 2007. Like many U.S. commanders, he hoped that the Iraqi forces, though far from perfect, could survive on their own after U.S. troops left in 2011.

“What did the U.S. military learn from the last decade of support to the Iraqi army?” asked Emma Sky, author of “The Unraveling,” who spent four years in Iraq as a senior adviser to the U.S. military. “We can give the Iraqi army lots of equipment and training, but we cannot address the psychology and morale of the force and its willingness to fight.”

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

Greg Jaffe covers the White House for The Washington Post, where he has been since March 2009.
Missy Ryan writes about the Pentagon, military issues, and national security for The


How Do You Spell Quagmire?

June 13th, 2015

“Obama Looks at Adding Bases and Troops in Iraq,” read the headline in The New York Times. “Outposts would put U.S. Trainers Closer to Front Lines in Fight Against ISIS”

The irony in that headline fairly jumped off the page.

Is this the same Barack Obama that campaigned in 2008 on a promise to end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home?

Is this the same President who fulfilled that promise in 2011, taking considerable heat as he did so?

Is this the same man who has resisted (mostly) calls from Senator John McCain and others that he dispatch 10,000 or more U.S. troops to Iraq to fight ISIS?

A day earlier, the Obama Administration had announced the opening of a new training base in Anbar Province to be staffed by 450 American advisers, bringing the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 3,550, the equivalent of a full Army brigade. (By comparison, the U.S. began its adventure in Vietnam with 1,600 “advisers” in 1965.)

Is this the same U.S. that has been training Iraqi Army troops in one fashion or another for more than a decade, only to see them flee in the face of ISIS assaults in Anbar and elsewhere?

Stepping back a bit, is this the same U.S. that supported Saddam Hussein against Iran in the 1980’s, went to war against him in 1991, dethroned him in 2003 and disbanded the 400,000-man Iraqi army in the name of de-Baathization?

The President is certainly credible when he concedes in public that the U.S. does not have a fully-developed strategy for dealing with the challenge posed by ISIS. In lieu of a coherent plan, the U.S. is confronting ISIS with thousands of air strikes that everyone acknowledges can impede the advances of the Islamic State, but not defeat it.

Now add to that a string of advance training bases designed to accomplish what tens of thousands of U.S. forces and billions of dollars in equipment failed to achieve over a dozen years, namely, a competent, committed Iraqi Army that is prepared to stand and fight.

No one denies that ISIS poses a brutal threat to the people and regimes in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere throughout the region that would be the new Caliphate. But its reach and capacity and ambitions beyond that are open to question. Containment may be the answer rather than all-out warfare.

In any event, the history of the United States’ adventures in the region over the last three decades should give any President pause.

How many ways can you spell quagmire?


Holding Back the Tide

April 27th, 2015

On September 18, 2003, hurricane Isabel famously inundated not only the city dock and Main Street area of Annapolis, but much of the United States Naval Academy. The storm surge flooded 40 per cent of the lower Academy grounds and 22 of 40 buildings and caused some $80 million in damage.

Cleaning up after the waters receded, Sara G. Phillips, the Architect of the Naval Academy, could foresee the massive restoration project that would occupy the next couple of decades of her life.

“Isabel rang our bell,” she recalled recently, sitting in an Academy office as a gentle spring rain caused ponding in the parking lots outside. “It got our attention, and that of Congress.” Believe it or not, Congress actually acted, approving $80 million in three installments to clean up the mess.

In the years since, the Naval Academy has embarked on an ambitious flood mitigation scheme that will continue for decades and consume tens of millions of your federal tax dollars and mine. It is designed to protect the lower portion of “the Yard,” as the campus is called, against a 10.8-foot storm surge (Isabel’s reached 7.8-foot at its height) and preserve the buildings against gradual but unstoppable sea level rise.

The Academy will use a creative combination of sea walls, levees, berms and closures. Where necessary, entire buildings will be moved to dryer ground. An innovative system will capture storm water below ground and use it to irrigate athletic fields.

“We know there will be another Isabel,” Phillips said. “We want the Naval Academy to be here for the next generation.”

If only the city of Annapolis had heard Isabel’s ringing warning as clearly, it might have taken steps by now to protect downtown and the historic district against the next storm and the continuing threat of sea level rise. In contrast, in the 12 years since, commissions have been appointed, studies conducted, reports written, but no barriers built, no sea walls erected, no innovative schemes devised to hold mother nature at bay.

Most importantly, the public has not been engaged to the point of demanding meaningful action, despite scientific projections of anywhere between two-to-four feet of sea level rise in the coming decades.

So, where is the city now, a dozen years after Isabel?

The City Council has held hearings on the threat of sea level rise and Lisa Craig, the estimable chief of historic preservation for the city, has been beating the drum to arouse public interest.

And now, it seems, the ocean liner that is the city administration finally is beginning to turn. Ross Arnett, the Eastport Alderman, reports that funds are being appropriated for tidal flooding mitigation: $100,000 for matching grant money and studies in the upcoming budget, $1million in FY 2018 for sea wall and stormwater drain construction, $2million in FY 2019 and annually thereafter.

“It’s a start,” Arnett says, adding that he expects it will cost upwards of $10million to protect the most vulnerable downtown areas and even more to preserve Eastport against rising waters. “After years of lollygagging on this, we have a cordial and cooperative relationship with the Naval Academy and we’re making progress.”

“Weather It Together,” is the new city branding phrase, emphasizing, Lisa Craig says, “that residents, businesses, government, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Naval Academy have got to work together” to confront a shared, existential challenge. To this end, the Academy is taking the lead in forming a Sea Level Advisory Council to coordinate efforts.

“We’ve got to look at the problem holistically, the Academy and city and state have a shared problem and need a shared solution,” Sara Phillips says. Clearly, rising water has to go somewhere and it won’t do to have the Academy protected, say, and the city vulnerable.

The harsh alternative to joint and coordinated action is the inevitable destruction of the city’s historic core, perhaps the greatest collection of 18th century homes and structures in the United States. Two weeks ago in this space, Will Marshall argued persuasively that Annapolis’s economic survival depends upon protecting it against the rising tides. I would add that its culture and identity depend on it as well.


An Antidote to an Annapolis Winter: The Sea of Cortez

March 22nd, 2015

The vernal equinox, aka spring, arrived reluctantly in Annapolis Friday, accompanied by another wintry mix. The sloppy snow on the first day of official spring seemed a perfect metaphor for the winter that won’t quit.

Even the capital’s hardy-if-demented frostbite sailors were iced indoors for five weeks of their 2015 schedule, according to Bobby Frey, the frostbite chairman at the Annapolis Yacht Club. “We lost half the season,” he told me, “first time in 20 years.” Somehow, Annapolis is not Annapolis without these crazies charging around the harbor on Sunday afternoons in bitter conditions.

Two Annapolis sailors, Bob Gallagher, the former West/Rhode Riverkeeper, and I, found an offbeat solution to the cabin fever that has afflicted so many of our watery brethren this year. Oblivious to the hardship, we drove through snow and ice to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and escaped to Baja California.

In a selfless spirit of sacrifice and diligent research, thinking constantly of our friends shivering back in Annapolis, we joined four others aboard a chartered 44-foot catamaran to test the deep-blue waters of the Sea of Cortez. We braved abundant sunshine, temperatures in the 70s and 80s and fine breezes that came up in the late morning and eased off in the evening. The risk of sunburn was high. The tequila was strong.

My wife, Susy, made the contrast all the more vivid by texting a photo of Spa Creek shimmering in bright sun under shoreline-to-shoreline ice and a few inches of fresh snow. The wintry State House never looked prettier than viewed with a margarita in hand at a beachside restaurant in La Paz, Mexico, our jumping-off point.

Our crew included Ian, a hand surgeon from London, and three Californians: Tobe, a financial adviser from Santa Barbara; Wayne, a yacht broker from Newport Beach; and another Bob, a videographer from Orange County. They all clucked sympathetically when we described the Annapolis winter we had just escaped. “I didn’t think you Marylanders had much snow or ice,” said Ian, adding wickedly that London has enjoyed its mildest winter in years.

Now, I recognize that generations of Annapolis sailors have escaped our winter in the Caribbean, favoring the British Virgins, the Leeward and Windward islands. Our group has enjoyed most of them all over the past 15-plus years.

But consider the merits of the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California: It is 775 miles long, from the U.S.-Mexican border down to the chic resort of Cabo San Lucas on the southern tip of Baja, or lower, California.

It is stark and remote, essentially a sea surrounded by desert, but brimming with marine life. It is home to 31 species of whales and dolphins, one-third of the world’s total, and is a vast breeding ground for sea lions and marine turtles. It is a migratory corridor for 210 bird species and the playground for 500 varieties of fish. We sailed past sea lions and through schools of dolphins beyond number.

The Sea of Cortez is way, way off the grid; with the exception of a handful of coastal towns, there is no cell service, no Internet, no cable TV, and yet it exerts its own special lure, as the author John Steinbeck noted in his “Log of The Sea of Cortez,” written after he cruised these waters in 1940.

“If it were lush and rich,” he wrote, “one could understand the pull, but it is fierce and hostile and sullen. The stone mountains pile up to the sky and there is little fresh water. But we know we must go back.”

The sea didn’t seem sullen or hostile or fierce to us as we sailed from one breathtaking anchorage to another, smiled at spectacular sunsets, grilled fresh fish bought for pennies from local fishermen, strolled white sand beaches and swam in translucent water. But the pull was unmistakable.

Wintry Annapolis seemed a long way off, and the Chesapeake sailing season that much closer thanks to our escape to paradise. Hard duty, this research.


A Rising Tide…

February 19th, 2015

By Terence Smith
February 15, 2015
“High Water” reads the yellow, diamond-shaped sign frequently posted outside the Annapolis Harbormaster’s office at City Dock. It’s a temporary sign, bolstered by sandbags, but given the frequency of “nuisance flooding” around City Dock, the harbormaster might well leave it up all the time.
Interesting phrase, “nuisance flooding.” I guess it means you get your feet wet, but don’t actually drown or get washed away. Anyway, Annapolis had 39 of these watery events in 2014. According to a study conducted by The Union of Concerned Scientists, which lists Annapolis as a prime target for sea-level rise, we can expect up to 150 of these fun floods a year. If that happens, Compromise Street will be awash every few days.
These same concerned scientists say we should anticipate several feet of sea-level rise in our not-so-rosy future as well as more “named storms,” like Isabel in 2003. (I have my own name for Isabel, which destroyed my dock on the West River and cost me an uninsured bundle, but I can’t print it in the paper.)
That sounds like a serious problem, so I checked with my friend Don Boesch, the president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, who also chairs the Maryland Climate Change Commission. And guess what? He said we have a serious problem.
His commission forecasts a sea-level rise in Annapolis of 3.7 feet, and possibly more, by 2100. Sitting at a window table in the City Dock café, which would be among the first to be submerged, Don gestured at the harbor and said that every time scientists review sea-level rise forecasts, they revise them upward.
To find out what the city is doing to cope with this problem, I attended a public meeting on sea-level rise held by the City Council on Jan. 15. It was “public” only because I was there. No one else from the public made it, suggesting that flooding is not topic No. 1 among Annapolitans.
Two of the eight aldermen, Joe Budge from Ward 1 and Ross Arnett from Ward 8, who represent the two most vulnerable areas of the city, were there, along with a dozen representatives from city and state departments and the Naval Academy. The other six aldermen didn’t make it. Mayor Mike Pantelides apparently didn’t consider sea-level rise enough of a threat to attend.
If he had, he would have heard Carla Quinn of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers describe a new survey conducted for the city that surveyed 147 residential and commercial structures of historical significance in the heart of Annapolis that are vulnerable to devastating flooding.
If the mayor had been there, he would have listened as Quinn described some of the steps that could be taken to protect at least some of the buildings. He would have heard speaker after speaker stress the city has to galvanize its people and marshal its resources to deal with impending, inevitable sea-level rise that threatens the cultural and commercial heart of Annapolis. He would have heard talk of costly sea walls and sea gates and other devices that might hold high water at bay.
But the mayor wasn’t there, so he didn’t hear the representatives of the Naval Academy say that they are moving ahead with their own flood mitigation plans because they have no choice. Everyone agreed that the city and the academy have to work together, but the mayor didn’t hear that because he wasn’t there.
To his credit, the mayor did appear that evening before the Eastport Civic Association and listed flood mitigation as one of his top priorities. He said it would cost $8 million to $ 10 million to protect Annapolis against rising waters and that he hoped to get $3 million to $4 million from the state toward that goal this year.
The key, the mayor said, would be to reconstitute the Capital City Commission and assemble all the major players — the governor, the county executive, the mayor, the House speaker, the Senate president and the superintendent of the Naval Academy — to discuss the threat posed by sea-level rise and flooding.
“Once you get the leadership to sit down together,” he said, “the pieces will fall into place.”
Let’s hope he is right. Because, in our case, a rising tide not only floats all boats, it will flood all of us.
Terence Smith is a journalist who moved recently to Eastport. His website is terencefsmith.com and he can be reached at terencefsmith@verizon.net
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Defining the Line

January 14th, 2015

Where is the line between satire and hate speech?

Who gets to define it? What should be the consequences of crossing it?

One is legal, one is not. The first is often brilliant commentary, the other is just hate.

The massacre – there is no other word for it – at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris has forced editors all around the world to confront the question as they covered the story and chose to either publish the cartoons that were so incendiary to Muslims or not. That choice arose again today as the new issue of Charlie Hebdo hit the stands in France with another apparent depiction of the Prophet Muhammed on the cover.

“Je suis Charlie,” or “I am Charlie,” the Prophet says on the cover, beneath the headline “All is forgiven.” The cover was certainly gentler than many of the previously published Charlie Hebdo cartoons satirizing Muslim extremism, but it will doubtless provoke many fundamentalist Muslims nevertheless.

The New York Times, which had declined to publish most of the earlier cartoons, did not print the cover. The Washington Post withheld the inflammatory cartoons from its pages but ran the cover image to illustrate a Paul Farhi story examining the editorial decisions of The Post and others.

The Post’s reasoning, said the newspaper’s executive editor, Martin Baron, was not to publish images that are “deliberately, pointedly, needlessly” offensive.
The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, told the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, that he wrestled with the question of whether to publish the most offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons, worrying that to do so could expose its foreign correspondents to danger. He ultimately decided against running the cartoons and the cover with the explanation: “We do not normally publish images or other material deliberately intended to offend religious sensibilities.”

Meanwhile, several online publications, including The Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Gawker and Vox, reproduced a sampling of Charlie Hebdo cartoons, while the television networks and CNN declined to do so.

Different organizations, different decisions.

Among the editors and producers who declined to run the cartoons, the red line seemed to be images that gratuitously, unnecessarily offend. On the other hand, many cartoonists argue that their satire is toothless and even pointless if it does not offend somebody’s sensibilities. The late, great Herb Block argued that his job was to draw blood with his pen, and he often did. Can today’s reader really understand the Charlie Hebdo controversy without seeing the most offensive cartoons?

So, again, where is the line between acceptable satire and unacceptable hate speech? Is it in the eye of the viewer or reader? Was the infamous picture, “Piss Christ,” depicting a plastic crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist Andres Serrano’s urine that caused such a controversy in 1987, over the line? Was it hate when a Danish publication ignited an international furor in 2005 by publishing satirical images of the Prophet?

What is free speech and what is needless provocation? Should religious sensibilities be more protected than racial, ethnic or national feelings?

These are thorny, difficult questions that today’s editors are grappling with this week and will again in the future.


Don Edwards at 100

January 6th, 2015

We should all celebrate today with Don Edwards, the gifted, passionate liberal beacon in Congress for three-plus decades, who is celebrating his 100th birthday at his home in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, surrounded by family and friends. He’ll be fielding phone calls from all over the country and enjoying cake with several generations of children and grand and great grand children. If he looks out the french doors at the end of his living room, he’ll see the blue Pacific rolling onto Carmel Beach.

His has been a remarkable life of accomplishment, commitment, adventure, romance, travel, friendship and love. Born on January 6, 1915 to a solidly Republican family in San Jose, California, he became one of the leading Democrats in Congress and American life. At various times, he was a champion golfer, Naval officer, FBI agent, successful businessman, distinguished member of Congress for 34 years, husband, father, mentor and friend. He was a much-married man, but the great love of his life, Edie Wilkie, preceded him in death, despite being 30 years his junior. They were great together.

Don appreciated the irony in life. When, fresh out of Stanford, he won the California Amateur golf title, he went to his father and told him he wanted to turn pro and play golf for a living. His father said: ”Don’t be ridiculous, there will never be any money in golf. Go to law school.”

And Don did.

That, and more.

Happy Birthday, Don.


Annapolis: The Sailing Capital?

November 26th, 2014

I moved recently to Annapolis, settling into a house on the Left Bank of Spa Creek, in the heart of the Maritime Republic of Eastport, on the seditious side of the self-declared “Sailing Capital of the U.S.”

I couldn’t be happier: I took the water taxi to the U.S. Boatshows, walked to the victorious end of the annual Slaughter-across-the-Water Tug of War (final score MRE: 5, Old-Line Annapolis, 2,) and look forward to enjoying the annual Eastport Yacht Club Christmas Lights Parade outside my window. I even lucked into a window table at Joss on a Saturday night after a Navy home game.

But with winter approaching, when only the certifiably lunatic frostbiters will be out on the water, I began to think about whether Annapolis deserves its self-annointed “Sailing Capital” status. After all, Newport, R.I. makes the same claim, as do other, larger eastern seaports.

Annapolis clearly has a lot going for it beyond its rich history and beauty: a robust sailing and boating community, an active racing and cruising calendar, The U.S. Naval Academy, fine yacht clubs, a busy maritime industry, some world-famous sailors and yacht designers, the selected site of the National Sailing Hall of Fame and all the egos cruising up and down Ego Alley. No surprise that sailors are drawn here.

But having sailed my boat up and down the east coast for years, I have found many more welcoming harbors. Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard greets the visiting yachtsman with a sprawling anchorage and a floating water barge where, at no cost, you can replenish your tanks and wash your decks after a long sail.

Drop a hook in Cuttyhunk in the Elizabeth Islands and a floating raw bar will come alongside to tempt you with local oysters, clams and lobster. In Great Salt Pond on Block Island, an operatic gentleman with a fine baritone voice has been known to sing Italian arias as he passes through the anchorage in a launch named Andiamo selling fresh baked goods, orange juice and on Sundays, The New York Times.

Annapolis, on the other hand, charges visitors up to $35 per night for a mooring, more for a slip, and prohibits any dingy above 12 feet from tying up at the public landings at the foot of city streets. No seafood vendors, with or without operatic accompaniment, are permitted without a specific agreement with the city. There are limited transient slips in the commercial marinas and a handful more at the yacht clubs for members of reciprocal clubs. But if you are hoping to get a slip during the boat shows, forgetaboutit.

The restaurants are excellent, but precious few offer any dock space. Fortunately, the water taxi is prompt and cheerful, but with Fawcetts moved away and Stevens Hardware gone, there are no chandleries within walking distance of Ego Alley.

A true sailing capital ought to open its arms more to visiting sailors and boaters, to say nothing of hungry locals who might want to cruise to dinner in a runabout over 12 feet.

“There’s no real welcome mat for visiting yachtsmen,” says former Delegate Dick D’Amato, a board member of Historic Annapolis. “You pick up a mooring, get in your dingy and it is catch-as-catch-can.” The closest grocery, he pointed out, is a taxi ride away.

Space is clearly at a premium in Annapolis harbor, so this is not an easy problem to solve. But perhaps the city planners can come up with something creative to attract and accommodate more sailors – and their dollars — as they redesign the city dock and the heart of the nation’s “sailing capital” for the 21st century.


“Democalypse” or “Ass-Whuppin’?”

November 6th, 2014

Jon Stewart and W. Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, respectively, were both right. The biggest debate in the wake of Tuesday’s Republican victory was what to call it: a wave, a sweep, a tsunami, whatever.

Call it what you will, it was impressive: seven, possibly eight Senate seats, (twice the post-WorldWar II average for a President’s party in the sixth year of a second term,) up to 15 House seats, a working majority in both houses for the first time sine 2,006. Divided government, here we come!

Throw in gubernatorial victories in certifiably blue states like Maryland, and there is a whole lot of shakin’ going on.

What was behind it? Republicans, shrewdly, spent tens of millions on ads demonizing President Obama and tying Democratic candidates to him. News organizations bought into the depiction of Obama’s unpopularity, repeated it again and again, and presto! His poll numbers plummeted and Democratic candidates ran for the exits.

Inexplicably, Democrats failed to fight back, failed to embrace Obama’s accomplishments in the economy and healthcare, failed to stress the things that have gone right in contrast to those that have not. There are two sides to every story but only one was featured on the airwaves.

Instead, many Democratic candidates distanced themselves from the President, floating in a neutral ether that was self-defeating on election day.

What now? In dueling news conferences yesterday, the soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the President laid out their priorities for the next two years. McConnell’s list included energy legislation, trade agreements and corporate tax reform. Obama: jobs, raising the minimum wage, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and early childhood education.

Not identical lists to be sure, but there is significant overlap and real possibilities of progress if House Speaker John Boehner can use his enhanced majority to keep his own caucus in line. Stay tuned on that one.

The President even offered to drink a little Kentucky bourbon with McConnell and lose, again, to Beohner in golf, if that is what it takes to “get stuff done.”

Looking further ahead to 2016: the only real message to presumed candidates like Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush or Rand Paul was a cautionary one. The political waters are roiled and dangerous. You’d best get an early start, probably earlier than you would choose, raise vast sums of money and pay attention to a public mood that is grumpy at best. As Tuesday showed, it is not going to be a cakewalk for anyone