Laslo Boyd: Sweeping Out the Sands of Summer

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By: Laslo Boyd 

This coming Monday, Labor Day,  traditionally marks the end of summer. Just don’t try convincing anyone whose kid already went back to school this week of that. Comptroller Peter Franchot has been promoting a plan to honor this tradition by having school start after Labor Day, but that’s a topic for another column.

Summer used to be a slow news time.  August is when Parisians head for the south of France, Washingtonians abandon the City for Cape Cod or some nearby island, and Marylanders head “down the shore.”

On the international front, it’s hasn’t been at all slow. The soundtrack for these past few months would have to be Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” The fires don’t look at all contained in the Middle East, Africa, and the Ukraine. Americans, many of whom pay no attention to anything outside our borders, are wondering whether we will at some point be directly impacted by ISIS, Ebola, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And speaking of borders, the influx of children from Central America is being played out more as a political conflict than a humanitarian crisis. After a vigorous round of posturing, Congress left town without doing anything. At least that august body is being consistent.

The United States is having our own international crisis with the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The police department there couldn’t have handled the whole episode after his death in a less competent manner.

We still don’t know many details, but that hasn’t prevented a lot of rushing to judgment. Some Anne Arundel County police contributed to a legal defense fund for the shooter without any idea what actually happened. Fragments of information have been dribbled out to try to influence public opinion, but the picture is still incomplete.

We have been told that Brown was suspected of stealing cigars from a convenience store, a charge that Office Darren Wilson was not aware of when he confronted Brown. We have also been told the autopsy showed that Brown had marijuana in his blood. Neither of those two claims, even if confirmed, should have led to his death.

The state of racial relations in Ferguson and in its police department has also gotten increased attention. Was the encounter between Brown and Wilson an isolated event or part of standard operating procedure? A Grand Jury is looking into the whole affair.

What we also do know is that many local police forces are better equipped than some of the troops in Iraq were. Heavily armored police next to assault vehicles responding to what started as peaceful protests – a right still protected under the Constitution – are the images being broadcast around the world.

A short newspaper article last week mentioned that several Maryland college campuses have also received surplus military equipment. I can remember when the debate was about whether the campus police should be allowed to carry guns.

I’m also looking forward to the reporting on what military equipment local governments in Maryland now possess.

Just as the Ferguson debate broke along predictable political lines, so did the aftermath of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams. He was rightly called a comic genius. Many of us can recall the hours of laughter he gave us over the years. His death also reminded us that depression can strike even the rich and famous. Astonishingly, a few commentators — although I wonder if Rush Limbaugh really warrants that label — asserted that his death was really about his politics and his lifestyle.

Politics, as you might have expected, did take something of a break after the June 24 Primary. A Republican candidate for County Council in Anne Arundel, who seems to delight in being a racist, provoked a few other Republicans to disassociate from him. This guy is such a jerk that the predictable Democratic outrage is beside the point.

A few trial balloons and early ads have come out, but nothing that is going to get the attention of an electorate who showed up in record low numbers for the primary. Before the era of constant campaigning, Labor Day was thought of as the start of the election season. In terms of any impact, that’s still the case.

Don’t worry though. You’ll see more of Anthony Brown and Larry Hogan than you care to this fall. Okay, perhaps not as much of Hogan since he doesn’t have a lot of money. That leaves him with the strategy, which the media is likely to swallow, of pandering outrageously to different groups — see his proposal to exempt pensions from taxation without specifying where he’ll make cuts — and launching attacks on Brown that he hopes fall just short of counter-productive.

When times get tough, the reaction of some people is to skip past the front page and go directly to the sports section. This summer has seen both good news and bad news. Incredibly, both the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals are in first place in their respective divisions.  Some are already dreaming of a Parkway World Series, but there’s still a month to go until the endless round of televised play-off games.

The bad sports news could easily have been posted in other sections of the paper. The uproar over the NFL’s grazing of Ray Rice’s wrist with a two-game suspension for knocking out his fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator has not yet abated. What should have been treated as a serious case of domestic abuse was brushed aside in the most casual way by all directly involved. The Ravens could have easily suspended Rice for a longer time, but instead choose to listen to the fans cheering his return.

In financial news, the University of Maryland ended up paying $33 million to the ACC as an exit fee for joining the Big Ten. In that big money world, the amount may not be all that significant in the long run, but it leaves a number of people who all but guaranteed that the settlement would be much smaller with very expensive egg on their face.

Fall generally brings a new cycle of news and the pace picks up from the summer. It’s clear, however, that we will continue to hear about and talk about many of the events that first got our attention while we were trying to not pay attention.

Enjoy the last weekend of summer.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.