Thursday, October 29, 2015

Death with Dignity

Somebody passed this message on to me and I thought about how to write about it but instead decided I should just let it speak for itself with a small preamble from me.  Councilman Jon Weinstein’s father died last week, just two days after Councilman Weinstein had posted the message below on his facebook page.  I am reposting it for a couple of reasons.  One is that it seems like a small but important token of sympathy for an elected official who I do not know except for in passing but have respect for.  Secondly though, this is actually, to me, politics, at it’s greatest.  Councilman Weinstein is taking his very personal experience and translating it into his professional life as a politician in search of how we as a society can make policies that support and strengthen our humanity.  My thoughts go out to the entire Weinstein family.

I thought long and hard about posting the following. I talked with my mother about whether she was comfortable with this post and whether she thought my dad would be ok with it too. She encouraged me to go forward and share the following...

My dad is dying. He would say he's been dying since he was born in 1931 ... that's his sense of humor. Now, his death is on the horizon. Dad survived a triple bypass and heart valve replacement 16 months ago, but was diagnosed with "small cell" cancer earlier this year. Along with his doctors, the decision was made to stop his treatments in August... and now we wait.

For the past month or so he had good days and bad; now we’re measuring “good” differently - moment by moment and we’re thankful for any signs of my “old” dad. For the past few weeks, as his condition has worsened I have seen this once proud and stubborn (in a good way) man lose his identity to the disease. His corny jokes and sharp wit have faded. Weeks ago he lost the ability to take care of himself and my mother ... something they both have relied on for most of their 60 years of marriage. Now he struggles to speak, stay awake, and comprehend his surroundings.

We have attended to the practical things ... living wills, powers of attorney, disposing of his car, and other mundane, yet important actions. However, as his body fails and his mind slips away he is denied the power to exercise control over his own life as it reaches the end.

For the past couple of years my parents have been educating themselves about, and advocating for, death with dignity. We have engaged in academic, ethical, and practical discussions on the topic. Now the topic is personal and my father should have the right to a death with dignity. With an appropriate diagnosis, the guidance of physicians, and consultation with his family and his faith, he should have one more tool available to address his terminal condition. The Maryland House of Delegates started down this path in 2015 with HB1021 - the Death with Dignity Act; following the lead of states like Washington, Oregon, and Vermont. As a legislator myself, I know that every issue has many valid arguments for and against. This issue and this bill is a matter of basic human rights. I urge the Maryland House and Senate to take up this bill, put their full support behind it, and pass it in 2016 for people like my dad. I ask you consider contacting members of the Maryland House and Senate to add your voice too.

My dad's name is Jack and while he doesn’t resemble the man I love, he will be my dad forever. He has been the best dad and grandfather one could ever hope for and he deserves the right to die with the same level of dignity that he has lived his 84+ years.

[My father passed away, just two days after this post on October 24. I was at his side when the pain and distress of his condition ceased.]

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Ah Watson! The Needle!

The title is a quote from Sherlock Holmes (who was a cocaine addict not a heroin addict) in the Hound of the Baskervilles.

As is generally my process I waited a little bit before I wrote about this editorial in last week’s Flier.  As the ideas bounced around in my head though I got angrier, not calmer.  The editorial is discussing the $50,000 grant given to Howard County Department of Corrections by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to combat heroin addiction.  If you want more you can read about it in this article.

Before I start, I want to say off the bat that my beef is with the editorial and not the grant.  I will cover that later but I want to say that loud and clear.  So let me start with the silly/stupid stuff that irritates me about the editorial.

“Where do you get heroin? Go to a big city ghetto, find a dark alley, do the special knock on a steel door and ask for Omar. Slide your money under the door and packets of heroin slide back.”

“Howard, one of the most prosperous counties in the nation, might seem to be immune to a scourge that is associated with blight and urban poverty, as seen in the TV mini-series ‘The Wire.’”

Any self respecting Baltimore area resident knows that Omar wasn’t a dealer but a stick up man (the ole rip and run) and that The Wire was not a mini series.  Of course, that’s not the heart of my problem with the editorial but damn it’s kind of annoying.  One last block quote before I get into the heart of my problem with this editorial.

“The cynical might draw conclusions about smack being an old plague in the minority ghettos, but alarm bells are now going off after it has begun to vex white suburbia. With that, at least, comes new approaches based on prevention, education and treatment instead of incarceration.”

It really is hard to put into words how horrible and racist this is, feeding on old and wildly outdated stereotype about heroin use.  More to the point though, the fact that the editorial actually said “alarm bells are now going off after it has begun to vex white suburbia. With that, at least, comes new approaches based on prevention, education and treatment instead of incarceration.”  In other words now that rich white people use heroin maybe we shouldn’t throw addicts in jail.  I don’t disagree with the statement just that the authors felt comfortable writing it without acknowledging how monumentally fucked [1] up it is that it’s true.

Finally, although it doesn’t jibe with the rest of my points, the author’s understanding of basic math is suspect.  “But a growing trend here is clear. Last year, the county recorded 18 non-fatal overdoses. So far this year, the number is 14.”  18 in a year is 1.5 a month and 14 on October 14 is roughly 1.47 a month.  That’s not exactly a clear trend.

Let me be clear, I think this grant is good news.  I think the work done before the grant and now with the grant is fantastic and likely a model.  Personally, I am also happy that drug education in Howard County can look to the real issues and use real science backed solutions as opposed to the HC Drug Free “Say no to drugs” abstinence-only style waste of resources that have been front and center in the very recent past.

[1] I certainly debated the use of this word, however in the end decided that there is simply no other word in the English language that successfully illustrated the point.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Hurst So Good

In many ways, at the Council session last week, what we saw at the very end of the session was a relatively calm look into what democratic checks and balances look like.  Nobody got hurt in the process and the end result is one that I’m actually pretty happy about.  The issue at hand was the selling of the “Hurst property” near the corner of Rt. 1 and Whiskey Bottom Rd.

I talked about this and the other property sales in this post.  I am not going to re-hash all that I talked about in that post but for this post’s purpose the relevant piece of information is that, under the Ulman Administration, this particular property was purchased with the intent of having a project developed that would assist in revitalizing Rt. 1.  The current administration appears to have determined that the potential a project on this site has for revitalizing Rt. 1 is not out weighed by the County’s need to supplement our budget in every way possible (specifically in these somewhat difficult times). 

As I said in that last post, I honestly believe that the justification for buying it and the justification for selling it are valid and simply indicative of two different governing styles.  So, County Executive Kittleman, following his style, proposes in his now approved budget that this property be sold to generate revenue.  Procedurally, disposing of any real property requires Council approval and so a resolution allowing for the sale of the Hurst property is what was up for vote Monday night.

That’s where the democratic checks and balances piece comes onto the scene.  The Council, led in this instance by Councilwoman Terrasa, wanted to follow through on the potential for that site to spur Rt. 1 revitalization and so passed an amendment that puts together a specific process for reviewing and determining who purchases the property.  Without getting into too many details, the core concept is that, with the assistance of a community input, each proposal will be considered primarily for the project it proposes and its potential for positive impact on Rt. 1 rather than simply offer price.

Councilman Fox did discuss his concern that this might take away too much of the County’s potential revenue from the sale and then introduced and got passed an amendment to limit the time the process can take.  He also introduced but failed to get passed a somewhat convoluted amendment that pushed offer price to a more prevalent position in the consideration.  The amendment to change the process to include the community and to prioritize revitalization potential in the sale as well as the whole resolution passed 5-0.

There are numerous examples of how a single piece of property became a cornerstone for the revitalization of a surrounding neighborhood.  Certainly Harbor Place in Baltimore, the Verizon Center in DC and AFI Theater in Silver Spring jump to mind.  While those are big examples and I doubt anyone wants a sports arena here, they do show that it is possible.  I also want to be clear that I see this as a beautiful example of creative and successful government intervention.  The County purchased a distressed piece of property and is now selling it in a way that maximizes its revitalization potential.  THIS is what democracy looks like.

I have no concept as to where the administration stands on including this process in the sale of the property but I do want to be clear in that, I am not establishing the administration as the antagonist in this story.  This story, at least as it stands now, shows that true and effective check and balance government can create winners all the way around.  Everyone, including the politicians and the community and the county as a whole, will be getting the lion’s share of what we/they could ask for and so . . . it was a good day.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Islamaphobia, Coming to a HoCo Near You

I said in September I would get back to 2-3 times a week but here’s my problem:  Nominations and budgets and hyper-local things have been flowing onto the page, but I want, desperately sometimes, to talk about the bigger and harder issues.  Every time I do, though, it feels somewhat incomplete, choppy, and stunted.  I’ve contemplated shelving these issues, but they are too important to wait for better writing. 

So shortly after I posted about Ahmed Mohammed, the kid who was arrested for making a clock, I read about this. A “far-right patriot group” is hosting a protest outside Howard County’s very own Dar Al-Taqwa because, as they put it, “WE ARE INVOKING OUR 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHT ABOUT OUR FEELING OF ISLAM IN AMERICA”.

The first thing I thought about when I saw this was all of the (mostly national) Republicans who demanded moderate Muslim leaders vociferously denounce radical Muslims and Muslim terrorists.  This argument is bunk for too many reasons to count, but I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with a healthy dose of quid pro quo.   I want to demand that more mainstream conservatives actively and publicly denounce this radical arm of their ideology lest they be accused of being complicit.  In Howard County Dar Al-Taqwa is in the districts of Greg Fox, Trent Kittleman, Warren Miller, and Gail Bates.

The argument is bunk when applied to “moderate Muslim leaders” and so it’s not fair to apply it to those elected officials mentioned above, unless they themselves have called on moderate Muslim leaders to denounce radical Muslims.  Additionally, I’m not fond of over politicizing this, this should be an opportunity to stand up against hate across party lines.  I also have little doubt that the abhorrent reception Dar-us-Salaam received from our community when they proposed moving into Woodmont Academy spread across the political spectrum.[1] 

It is also worth contemplating, although important to admit that it is just speculative contemplation, whether or not this is another example of the community at large reaping what we sow.  Of all the mosques in America or even in the DC area, why did this group pick Dar Al-Taqwa?  Is it possible that they believed, based on the opposition to Dar-Us-Salaam, that they might receive support from the community?

On how we should respond as a community, I am truthfully torn.  On the one hand I feel like this group should just be completely ignored.  Their viewpoints and their little rally are so far out of mainstream society that doing something in response gives them a level of validation they do not deserve.  Additionally, it’s likely what they are hoping for because then they will get attention, which is clearly a primary goal for the group.

On the other hand, does ignoring them send a message to their targets that we do not care or even do not disagree with their hate?  Should we instead organize a counter rally in support of Dar Al-Taqwa with political leaders, civic leaders, and religious leaders gathering as one to surround Dar Al-Taqwa with love instead of hate?

The answer must lie with the leaders of Dar Al-Taqwa.  My hope is that all of the above mentioned leaders would reach out to them in the next week and show them love and support and ask them how they want us to proceed.  Simply put, this is their call and any well-intentioned move done without their leadership nearly defeats the point.

[1] Two things worth noting about this article.  The first is that the lawyers for the group fighting Dar-Us-Salaam were Joan Becker and Paul Skalny and the quoted member of the group is David Yungmann.  All of them are noted Howard County Republican activists.  The second thing is that everyone in this article (and others) stay pretty much on message that the issue is traffic and such and to be sure this was a legitimate concern.  However, if you attended any of the meetings or hearings the Islamaphobia was, at best, thinly veiled.