By Lou Panos
Such a letter arrived recently over the name of Tal Daley, a Parkton resident accusing me of virtually every misdeed except pushing baby carriages over cliffs and - what is worse in the eyes of some - of being a liberal.
The trigger of this disdain was a piece in which I mentioned the governor's veto of the so-called Wal-Mart bill, which would require companies with 10,000 Maryland workers to earmark a percentage of payroll for employee health benefits. Even more lamentable was that I linked this issue with the Great Depression.
The writer says I'm not old enough to remember that dark period in American history and therefore know only what I have been told about it, much of which, Daley wrote, is wrong.
On this the writer is unintentionally generous. The scenes I referred to were those I witnessed, such as defeated men begging at restaurant back doors for heel slices of bread or other scraps and glass factory workers smashing milk bottles on the pavement in the pathetic notion that this might somehow guarantee them continued employment.
There was also a scene forever burned into my memory. At a waist-high garbage can outside Lexington Market, a young pregnant woman, one child at her side, sifted through the can's contents, extracting a discarded, nearly rotten head of lettuce, then explaining that, once the outer leaves were peeled away, a small, edible core would remain to help her feed her family.
No, unlike the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act that contributed heavily to the Depression of the 1930s, Wal-Mart could not be blamed for any similar economic disaster befalling this generation.
Social Security and other government protections minimize the chances of that.
But there is no doubt that the company has cannibalized thousands of small businesses in now-abandoned downtown neighborhoods across the country, changing community landscapes forever.
And if, as the company insists, it already provides health benefits just about as great as the vetoed bill would provide, why does it object to the bill?
At least until the bill comes up for an override vote in the next legislative session, debate on the issue has subsided.
But another, more basic, issue has arisen in conjunction with the governor's veto in an elaborately staged ceremony in Somerset County, the proposed location of a big Wal-Mart distribution center.
This has to do with reports that police squelched a demonstration by those protesting the veto. Witnesses tell of police prohibiting the objectors from displaying anti-Wal-Mart signs. The Sun reports that police also told several women carrying "We Love Our Gov" signs to take them down too.
If true, this stifling of freedom at home would lend an ironic twist in the Bush administration's campaign to keep "freedom on the march" in Iraq and elsewhere abroad.
In the meantime, from the bottom of a wrinkled but grateful heart, I thank Citizen Daley for the compliment, intentional or otherwise, and hereby offer - assuming he's old enough - to treat him to a beer, even one costing many times as much as it did during the Depression.