Archive for May, 2009

Memorial Day does make us think

May 25, 2009

The big world news on this Memorial Day is the powerful underground nuclear bomb test in North Korea. Couple that capability with their increasingly sophisticated delivery rockets and, voila, another nation with the ability to wipe out millions of people with the flick of a switch.

Just how resilient is our planet? How much can it take? Are we beyond the tipping point? Not as long, I guess, as we are able to find seeds thousands of years old in pyramids – seeds that once placed in soil and moisture kick back into action and bring forth life. Nature, of course, ultimately doesn’t care. It just keeps doing its thing. But, in the most pessimistic of moments, do we think it’s possible to extinguish the last spark of life needed to start the ball rolling?

The answer of course is no. So far our reach doesn’t extend that far into the universe. And we didn’t provide the first spark of life in the first place. So, on this Memorial Day, and on the ones behind us and those before us, we get a chance once again to thank those who gave their lives in fights for freedom and to pledge ourselves to supporting efforts and wise decision-making to help prevent sending lives into battle.

dennis20090529It all comes down to love and passion for the right things. That’s why Grace Tindle and her friends at the American Legion post in Lewes for years rimmed the front edge of Bethel cemetery on Savannah Road with small American flags for Memorial Day. “Let’s not forget,” say the flags. That’s what they really stand for. Let’s preserve our ideals so that those who died won’t have done so in vain. Let’s use our freedom to really work to make this world a better place for us and those who come after us. Praise the Lord who makes the apples and enlightened thinking and those amazing little seeds that germinate after thousands of years. Praise Grace Tindle and her veteran husband Alfred and all of them who said we will not forget. Praise the Lord, halleluiah, amen!

Praise Memorial Day and the First Amendment that they have fought for that let’s us say what we want and publish what we want – responsibly – and worship as we want and gives us the freedom to try do dig through it all and make sense of it all so we can set a course through all the storms and come out into a better world on the other side.


Have Delaware’s parties flipped?

May 22, 2009

Democrats often get labeled as the tax and spend party. This week, Delaware’s Republicans, responding to the state’s increasingly large budget deficit, looked more like the Democrats than the Democrats themselves. Rather than cutting the wages of the state’s workers by 8 percent as Gov. Markell has proposed, the Republicans instead proposed an increase in state income taxes and corporate franchise taxes.

The move is politically understandable. State workers, at 30,000 plus, represent the largest voting block in Delaware. They’ve been upping their public displays of disapproval and the phone lines of legislators have been lighting up.

No big surprise. Who wants to see their pay cut? But from the party of less government, the Republicans, where’s the recognition that with a budget reduced by $800 million, there’s less work to do and the government needs to shrink? In the private sector, companies – to survive – have already made hard choices through layoffs and wage reductions. Now, on top of that, the Republicans propose raising their taxes as well.

Last November, Republican Sussex County lawmaker Gerald Hocker said there was no way to tax ourselves out of this problem. And a few weeks ago, fellow Sussex County Republican lawmaker Joe Booth wrote in a column in the Cape Gazette that he would oppose any increases in taxes until he saw the size of Delaware’s government decreased. Now, with the ticking of the June 30 budget deadline growing louder and louder, Republicans appear to be abandoning the hard choices and are settling instead on the old tried and true tax increase. Obviously, compromise is in the air.

Best bet at this point is that the proposed wage cut will be reduced and to offset that we will see some increase in our personal income taxes.

If Markell was using the eight percent wage decrease as a way to smoke the Republicans away from their resistance to any kind of tax increases, the strategy is working. But, Markell says the long-term solution to our problem is neither taxes nor cuts, but growing our economy. Most of the time, increasing taxes is seen as increasing economic drag, not a boost.

Even if the compromise strategy works to balance this year’s budget, the fact remains that Delaware’s government is too large for its level of revenues and will remain a drag on efforts to grow our economy until it is brought into line.

Man pulls and nature pushes: a business fundamental

May 20, 2009


A long white Pontiac Catalina convertible sat in front of Café Azafran in downtown Lewes one recent spring evening. Just about suppertime, its occupants were off in one of the local eateries, leaving their transportation for passersby to ponder. Its shiny red interior sparked imaginative cruises on Sussex County’s winding and lightning bug-lit country roads on hazy summer nights.

General Motors, in an effort to find a business model that will work without billions of more dollars worth of U.S. taxpayers’ life support, recently announced that Pontiac is one of the models it will be eliminating.

There truly is nothing constant but change. That and the inexorable pull of gravity and nature on all things stretched across this planet. The Catalina’s current owners remember when cars like the white convertible drew all the stares when they promenaded up and down Rehoboth Avenue in the thick of the season. This one has been lovingly restored, its metal dashboard and chrome accents shining and bright, surprisingly hard against the hands of young ones more familiar with the safety-conscious padded dashboards of newer models. In field-rimming woods and behind barns in the countryside of Delmarva, more cars like this – but nowhere near as pretty – sit on their rims, windows shattered and tires long ago flattened by time’s insistent forces. Honeysuckle and briars climb through gaps created by rusting metal, occasionally given a head start by some youngster out target shooting with a .22 rifle. But even without the youngster, nature and all her soldiers – rain and sun and corrosive bird droppings – make short work of abandoned vehicles.

Businesses, large like General Motors, and small, like the hundreds we see around us in Sussex, need constant care and attention, cultivation and nurturing, to avoid the sure fate of cars abandoned to nature.

But, adjusting to changing times, with liberal application of brain power, common sense and elbow grease, businesses can thrive for long times and take on the patina and grace of the Catalina convertible, so obviously cared for, so obviously appreciated.

Going to war, balancing a budget: similarities

May 14, 2009

In the winter of 1991, Joe Biden celebrated his swearing in for a fourth term in the U.S. Senate at a reception in one of Washington’s Senate buildings. A few weeks later, federal employees cleared the same 20-foot-ceilinged room of its celebratory trappings to make room for a Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Biden. President George H.W. Bush had recently declared war on Iraq, following its invasion of Kuwait, and an age-old debate resumed over whether the President can take such action without Congress’s prior approval.

A professor of history from a university in North Carolina appeared before the senators. He told them that while Congress could argue constitutionally that a President can’t declare war without its approval, history has shown that Congress is a timid lot when it comes to making such decisions. He said Congress has typically ceded that opening authority to Presidents, choosing to weigh in afterwards rather than taking on the political liability from the start. In other words, when it comes to tough decisions, Congress would rather the President stick his or her nose out into the storm first.

An analogous situation is underway in Delaware. With the state facing an unprecedented budget shortfall in the $780 million neighborhood, the General Assembly appears just as happy to lay low while Gov. Markell spends the opening months of his first term making the tough decisions necessary to balance the state’s budget.

The General Assembly must eventually approve the budget, but as long as it hangs back, its members can keep options open to point the finger of blame at the chief executive if the voters get up on their hind legs when the salary cuts and tax and fee increases go into effect July 1.

Markell: no layoffs to trim budget

May 13, 2009

Jack Markell

Jack Markell

Cape Gazette reporter Kevin Spence and I interviewed Gov. Jack Markell for about half an hour Monday morning at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover. The impromptu interview, wedged by the governor and communications director Joe Rogalsky into a busy schedule, reinforces campaign commitments to accessibility and open government.

Facing an unprecedented budget deficit of an estimated $780 million, Markell nonetheless appeared rested and confident. He said he is making no plans to use layoffs of state employees to trim Delaware’s expenses and reiterated his budget package of cuts, and tax and fee increases, to address the shortfall dilemma.

Markell said he doesn’t see any of the budget votes ahead as fights: “We have to balance the budget. We have no choice. If we don’t pass a balanced budget then the government will be forced to shut down. We can’t write checks on July 1 if we don’t have a balanced budget by the end of June. If the General Assembly restores any of the cuts that I have proposed, or rejects any of the tax or fee increases I have proposed, they have to come up with cuts or increases in other areas.”

Markell said his administration also reviewed the possibility of an early retirement option to trim the state’s payroll. “It just would have cost too much money,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

The governor said he doesn’t expect much good news when Delaware’s Economic and Financial Advisory Committee (DEFAC) meets soon for its final prediction of revenues available for state operations in fiscal year 2010. “The forecast could very easily worsen,” he said. “We could be looking at the shortfall growing beyond the $780 million figure we’re using now.” He said while he appreciates $155 million in federal stimulus money to help close this year’s gap, that’s only good for one year.

A crabbing conundrum on Maryland’s Eastern Shore

May 6, 2009

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, a narrow neck of land separates Eastern Bay and the Miles River from the Broad Creek and Choptank River systems. By foot the distance between the two watery mid-regions of the Chesapeake is only a matter of several hundred yards, right through the heart of downtown St. Michael’s. By boat though, the distance is many miles, including a trip through Knapp’s Narrows at Tilghman.

Crabbing on the south side of that narrow neck of land costs local crabbers about $20 per bushel of crabs. In a visit there last weekend I spoke with a waterman named Mike Kilmon Friday afternoon as he baited his trotline for Saturday’s work. “I’m getting $80 a bushel for my crabs. On the other side, they’re getting $100. It’s just a little ways away but I guess people think the crabs are better over there.”

Mike Kilmon  prepares bags of soft clams to bait his trotline.

Mike Kilmon prepares bags of soft clams to bait his trotline.

It’s early in the crabbing season but the blue claws have started to run. Kilmon, like other crabbers in the area, use whole soft clams wrapped in small, plastic, orange mesh bags as their bait in the spring. Later in the summer, when the water warms, they will turn to bull lips, salted eels or chicken for their trotlines. Bull lips and eels hold up the best. The crabbers get more miles out of their effort.

Loading the little bags with clams and attaching them to their trotlines is hard and tedious work. “It’s not easy,” said Kilmon. “No one ever said this was easy work.”

As for the quality of the crabs, it’s well known among crab aficionados that the finest blue crabs in the word come from the waters of the Chester, Wye and Miles rivers, just above and just below Kent Island. The crabs from those waters tend to be fatter and sweeter.

The neck of land on which St. Michaels is built demarcates different crabbing regions. The Choptank system where the crabbers on the south side of St. Michaels set their lines is a little saltier, a little further down the Chesapeake from the big freshwater infusion from the Susquehanna River. It makes for a subtle but real difference in the size and flavor of the crabs.

But that’s mostly just for crab snobs. With the right amount of cayenne pepper, rock salt and ice cold National Bohemian, those subtleties get washed away quickly. Still, it doesn’t soothe the sting that watermen like Kilmon feel when their bushels fetch $20 less than those of their brethren just a little further up the bay.