Opinion – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Sun, 23 Jul 2017 16:33:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8 Bill Nemitz: Chesterville couple get new home built on community action http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/bill-nemitz-the-st-pierres-will-feel-right-at-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/bill-nemitz-the-st-pierres-will-feel-right-at-home/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229853 Pam and Joe St. Pierre could be forgiven, as they sit in their drafty, leaky, moldy home on Dutch Gap Road in the small central Maine town of Chesterville, if they occasionally looked out their window and daydreamed of a brand-new house right there in their front yard, beckoning for them to come on in and take a load off.

Except it isn’t a dream.

The airtight, 800-square-foot structure is actually there.

They move in this week.

“I never thought in our lifetime that we’d live in a new house,” said Pam, 64, as the final finishing touches went on Friday.

“Show him the light,” Joe, 62, urged his wife of 43 years. Pam flipped a switch and, presto, an illuminated double-door closet inside what will soon be their new bedroom.

“Look at that,” said Joe, beaming.

Drive through rural Maine towns like this one, just south of Farmington, and you’ll have no trouble finding older couples like the St. Pierres.

Their twilight years have come knocking.

Their housing is, to be kind, substandard.

Day after day, season after season, they fight the good fight against those merciless forces of nature – from the black mold in the crawl space to the ice dams on the leaky roof to the squirrels who gnaw through the soffit boards and steal the damp insulation.

And then one day, a miracle happens.

“I call it a senior reboot,” said Bill Crandall, who manages the Housing and Energy Program for Western Maine Community Action. “Because these guys will start fresh with a new budget, new debt, and a new home. And they can age in place and be very comfortable doing so.”

Nearby, at the end of the dirt driveway, a banner extolled the many and varied entities that, in addition to Crandall’s agency, made it happen: Foster Career and Technical Education Center, John T. Gorman Foundation, Hammond Lumber, Mottram Architecture, Skowhegan Savings, Matthews Brothers Windows and Doors, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chretien’s Construction, Franklin County Government, Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, Maine Made, Sandy River Charitable Foundation and Maine Community Foundation (where, full disclosure, my wife works).

Put more simply, the community did it.

Joe and Pam St. Pierre sit on the steps of their old home in Chesterville. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

It all started two years ago when Pam and Joe, weary of putting out pans to catch the drips from the leaky roof and patching in new flooring where the soggy, particle-board underlayment had finally given way, showed up at Western Maine Community Action to ask about a low-interest loan to replace the roof.

Seeking help did not come easily for these two onetime millworkers – Pam spent more than 20 years stitching shoes at G.H. Bass & Co. in Wilton and then Franklin Shoe Co. in Farmington; Joe worked for three decades making toothpicks at Forster Manufacturing in Wilton.

The mills are long gone. As Crandall put it, “They didn’t leave their jobs. Their jobs left them.”

“We’ve worked very hard all our lives for everything we have,” said Pam, who now works part time at a medical call center in Farmington. Joe worked at various odd jobs until he was sidelined by cataracts, for which he recently underwent corrective surgery.

Yet they couldn’t get the loan. Their house since 1978 – half circa-1972 mobile home, half an addition Joe put on when their third child was born – fell short of federal standards for subsidized home-improvement financing. Way short.

In addition to the myriad structural problems, it took 10 cords of wood and a barrel of oil to heat the place.

And when the pipes froze, as they were fond of doing, Joe would unstack the cordwood piled up around the home, crawl under with a hair dryer, and then restack the wood so it wouldn’t get wet in the snow.

Then there were the constant leaks.

“You can stick a tarp up there and it works for a little while, but it don’t keep it all out,” said Joe, looking up at his soon-to-be-demolished roof.

As part of their assessment of the home, Crandall’s team conducted a “blower-door” test to see how airtight it was – or wasn’t.

“We found there were 21 air exchanges per hour,” Crandall said. “Meaning they heated the home 21 times in an hour.”

It all quickly shaped up as a “walk-away,” a worst-case scenario Crandall has encountered all too often in his eight years with Western Maine Community Action: People come looking for help, but their dwellings are so far gone they don’t qualify for further investment. So the agency has no choice but to walk away.

“We can’t help them with anything,” Crandall said. “And that doesn’t make any sense. We have to go on to someone who has a little better house structure than they do. Meanwhile, we’re leaving these folks stranded.”

Not so for the St. Pierres. Crandall had pretty much run out of options when a light bulb went on.

Working with Peter Thayer, his home repair technician, Crandall contacted George Chimenti, who teaches building construction for the Foster Career and Technical Education Center at nearby Mt. Blue High School.

Typically, the kids in the yearlong building class might build an off-campus garage for someone or construct something at the school – only to have the next year’s class dismantle it so they could reuse the wood and other materials.

Crandall’s proposal: How about having the kids built a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient house? A real home. For real people.

At the same time, he sat the St. Pierres down with a financial planner at the community action agency and hammered out a low-interest mortgage that would allow them to consolidate other debts, roll in taxes and insurance through an escrow account and, most important, have a real financial stake in the project.

“I said, ‘I don’t have a problem with that. We’ve paid for everything our entire lives. It ain’t going to kill us to pay for this, too,’ ” recalled Pam, who along with Joe, now receives Social Security retirement benefits.

Finally, Crandall applied his powers of persuasion to drive down the costs through foundation grants, donated and discounted materials and professionals willing to do work the kids couldn’t at generous rates or, in a couple of cases, for no money at all.

And so it began.

They poured the foundation on Nov. 29 – beyond late for starting a building in a place where they measure the snow in feet.

Then in January, the students showed up – two teams of 11 kids working three-hour shifts on alternating days.

They worked through a harsh winter, shoveling the heavy snow and chipping away at the ice as they raced to get the roof on.

They slogged through a nasty spring with rains seemingly sent from on high to test their mettle.

Then, with the end in sight, they faced the biggest test of all: One of their own, 17-year-year old Daniel Emery of Highland Plantation, died in a single-car accident on June 2.

He was one of a handful of kids experienced enough to work largely on his own. With high school graduation just weeks away, he’d already accepted a job offer from a heating contractor who’d worked on the project.

“A lot of life lessons for those kids this year,” said Crandall. “I mean working outdoors in the real world in the snow, rain and ice and then losing one of their peers. It was a tough road for them – and they came still with smiles and a positive attitude on this place. They really did.”

And their work was second to none.

The new house opens to a large, open kitchen-living room, flanked on the far side by the bedroom and a bathroom-utility room. A trapdoor leads down to a large cellar sealed top to bottom with heavy plastic and tape.

Joe and Pam St. Pierre in the bedroom of their new home. The house was built right on their property next to their old home, where they lived for over 40 years. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The electrical heat pump and energy recovery ventilation system will reduce the St. Pierres’ air exchange from 21 per hour in the old house to just over three per hour – and only after much of the heat is squeezed from the outgoing air.

And no more spongy floors – every square foot of living space is covered with lustrous wood laminate.

Ten cords of wood per season? Try one – assuming the new, high-efficiency wood stove is needed at all.

There’s still clutter to toss out from the old place, but not the family photos and other mementos that stop Pam in her tracks as she sifts through almost 40 years of a life that’s left her and Joe with remarkably few complaints.

And when the wrecker arrives sometime later this week, memories will pull heavily on the heartstrings – like the time 33 years ago when the snow stopped all of Chesterville in its tracks and for three days the St. Pierres and their three now-grown kids hosted a half-dozen relatives and friends seeking shelter from the storm.

They stoked the wood stove nonstop and, with the power out, played games by the light of kerosene lamps. They cooked huge meals on the propane gas stove.

“We had everyone spread out in sleeping bags and mattresses on the floor,” Pam recalled wistfully. “But we had a good time.”

Added Joe, “And we had a 24-cubic-foot freezer.”

Added Pam, “So nobody went hungry.”

Truth be told, though, they’re more than ready to see the old place come down. They plan to start a garden in its place – their new cellar will be perfect for storing the root crops.

Sometime next month, those who had a hand in building the house will gather there to celebrate their good work.

Late the other night, one of the students pulled into the driveway to show his girlfriend what he’d been laboring on the past six months.

“His house,” mused Joe with a smile. “That’s what he called it – his house.”

After things settle down, the St. Pierres will host a housewarming party of their own with family, friends and neighbors up and down Dutch Gap Road who have cheered them on every step of the way.

“I think the whole neighborhood is as excited as we are,” said Pam.

All because a community – in the broadest sense of the word – saw fit to help this aging couple stay put. It’s a model Crandall hopes to replicate all over Maine.

“It’s not something we’re used to,” said Pam. “But it is nice. It kind of makes me feel that all our hard work all these years has paid off.”

So, when the big day arrives, will Joe carry his bride over the threshold of their sparkling new abode?

Joe laughed out loud. Pam too.

“Yeah,” Pam chortled. “He carries me in and I’ll have to help him hobble out and take him to the chiropractor.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/bill-nemitz-the-st-pierres-will-feel-right-at-home/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1229853_467357-20170720_New-Home_11.jpgJoe and Pam St. Pierre will find their new house quite a step up.Sun, 23 Jul 2017 10:57:44 +0000
Maine Observer: When the ants can’t be antagonized http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/maine-observer-when-the-ants-cant-be-antagonized/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/maine-observer-when-the-ants-cant-be-antagonized/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229435 For the past four decades I’ve lived on the southern coast of Maine. Some sort of pest has defined every one of those years. This year, the formidable foe is defined as some of the smallest creatures I’ve ever seen. Most of the time I can’t see them, but having a wife who keeps an immaculate home gives me the capacity to know when every one of them dares to attack her kitchen. I am not talking about an infestation even though, if left alone, this could happen. I am talking about a dozen of the little ant-holes that appear every day.

In the past I’ve battled multiple pests. I clearly remember the year of the voles. These appeared as multiple runways that connected tiny openings in my lawn. They must have lived beneath the 3-foot snowpack of the past winter that decided to make its own neighborhood with all of its streets and alleys in my backyard. It was bad enough to view this carnage in my lawn, but I actually watched it grow. At the peripheral of the lines of lawn that had been ground up were trails I watched pushing out into what little lawn I had left. This pest never came back because instead of fertilizing my lawn, I decided to poison it. Hopefully this did not take too many of my years of life away.

Another year was the year of the “the sons of beetles.” The first thing I could see was the damage. I couldn’t eat as much as they ate in one night and I have to tell you eating is something I am really good at.

I tried to shake my trees of them, but they wouldn’t move. The few that fell to the ground looked up at me and dared me to step on them. Turning to my vegetable garden, I noticed a brownish cloud hovering over my zucchini and green beans. It was as though they were circling for the kill.

In past years I’ve battled mosquitos that took most of my blood, pigeons that decided to cover my roof with their excrement and ticks that left viruses my physician refuses to believe in.

There is no doubt this year is the year of the ant. Attempting to purchase the best mixture of poison, I met an elderly woman at Home Depot who was in tears because she never had a pest problem before. There were few choices because most were sold out. The assistant tried to help her but saw there was little he could do for her.

For the past four decades I’ve lived on the southern coast of Maine. Some sort of pest that drives me crazy defined every one of those years. I just hope the pests from my past don’t form some sort of alliance that will be difficult, if not impossible, to defeat.

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Another View: Easing regulations on Maine schools could hurt quality of instruction http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/another-view-easing-regulations-on-maine-schools-could-hurt-quality-of-instruction/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/another-view-easing-regulations-on-maine-schools-could-hurt-quality-of-instruction/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229460 Jim Fossel’s July 16 column on Maine schools (“For better Maine schools, it’s not all about the money”) did not read like it was about them at all.

I am a retired teacher and this is the fourth state I have lived in, so although I didn’t teach here, I do take more than a passing interest in the schools Maine children attend.

I have never seen more local control over the school districts than I’ve seen here. Maine is a huge state with rural schools that do a pretty good job of getting their students ready to learn. The facilities are old, so they need money for upkeep, repair or replacement, in some cases, in order to remain safe havens for learning.

The thought of unqualified teachers being in the classroom is a travesty – if that is what Fossel meant when he implied that there’s too much regulation of education here. Good teachers make learning happen, and that is not by chance: Education, experience and dedication need to be compensated for.

Consolidation may work in some cases in Maine if the districts can remain in local hands, while using state and federal money for curriculum assistance, so education is of high quality throughout the state.

For-profit schools are not the panacea. Though some inner-city schools have done well with an infusion of money at their onset, most are not consistent in their accomplishments over time.

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Maine Voices: Student debt crisis mounting http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/maine-voices-a-debtor-our-students-should-not-be/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/maine-voices-a-debtor-our-students-should-not-be/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229469 Unless your last name happens to be Wallenda, chances are you’ve never attempted a high-wire act. But if you’ve taken out student loans to attend college you’ve probably used much the same daring and balancing skills.

College debt is a soaring national problem, and too many Americans are in free fall without a net.

Although students at the University of Southern Maine have benefited from some important steps USM has taken over the past couple of years to reduce student debt, students at most college and universities have not been as fortunate.

Today, 44 million Americans owe over $1.4 trillion in student debt. That’s more than twice our credit card debt, and the numbers continue to skyrocket.

A graduate of last year’s Class of 2016 on average owes more than $37,000 in student loans. That’s 6 percent higher than the year before.

What does this mounting student debt crisis mean? For one, monthly student loan payments in the hundreds of dollars can significantly hamper a graduate’s choice of profession, or their ability to purchase a home or start a family.

WEALTH GAP APPARENT

The student debt crisis adversely affects low-income students even more than everyone else, says a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. According to this study, they are hit hard in a couple of key ways.

First, it should come as no surprise that low-income students on average need to take out more student loans to afford college. Second, unlike their wealthier college peers, who may have strong family and friend connections in the professional arena, lower-income students generally have less access to the best-paying jobs after graduation. That makes it more difficult for them to pay off their loans, exacerbated by the fact that their families are generally not in a position to help.

Yet as bad as the student debt crisis is for low-income college graduates, here’s the population group that is absolutely hit the hardest: those who take out student loans and do not graduate. These former students assume debt and have nothing to show for it. And while it is true that college graduates make substantially more than non-college graduates, studies show that people with some college but no degree do not earn much more than those with no college at all.

As a president of a public university, I believe strongly we have a moral obligation to do all we can to help students – most especially those taking out student loans – successfully navigate the high-wire act of getting from Point A of starting college to Point B of graduating. And to do so with as little debt as possible.

With respect to that and the looming student debt crisis, USM has set two critically important goals: 1) to minimize as much as possible the need for student loans, and 2) provide the support necessary to make sure students graduate.

We still have a long way to go in both areas, but in recent months we have put our resources where our mouths are, and we are beginning to see success.

In the past two years, for example, USM has increased scholarship funding from $3.5 million to $12 million. During that same time period, USM has also increased its commitment to need-based grant funds. Because scholarships and grants do not have to be paid back by the student, that means fewer loans and less debt.

GOING THE EXTRA LAST MILE

At the same time, USM has also established new scholarships for transfer students, a Last Mile Scholarship to get students to the graduation finish line and new merit scholarships for graduate students.

Most recently, we launched a $15 million campaign to establish New Promise Scholarships, which focus on making a USM education a very affordable option for students who come from youth-development organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs, the YMCA, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and others.

Through these initiatives, USM has bucked the national trend, seeing a drop last fall in average student debt. And we fully expect to drop further over the next few years as the recipients of our more recent investments begin to graduate.

At the same time, we expect our investments in student scholarships and grant aid will keep more of our economically fragile student in school and working towards that essential college degree.

That’s what we’re doing to steady our students on the high wire, to support them as they deftly keep their balance between minimizing debt and achieving their degree, to make sure they are always looking straight ahead and keep moving forward.

Compared to the flying Wallendas, this may be less thrilling, but without question, more fulfilling.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/maine-voices-a-debtor-our-students-should-not-be/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1229469_931106-collegecosts-0301-1-.jpgMaine's economic future largely rests on how innovative its youths may be, but their potential is being hampered by the high cost of upper education that puts so many of them in debt.Sat, 22 Jul 2017 19:57:09 +0000
Our View: Maine paying high cost for poor housing http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/our-view-maine-paying-high-cost-for-poor-housing/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/our-view-maine-paying-high-cost-for-poor-housing/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229472 We simply are not spending enough on low-income housing, and, boy, are we paying for it.

Without enough vouchers to make housing more affordable, and tax credits and enforcement to make it safe, millions of Americans and thousands of Mainers are stuck in stifling living situations that perpetuate poverty.

NO GOOD OPTIONS

Two recent cases highlight the day-to-day struggles of Mainers forced into impossible and degrading situations because of the lack of affordable, safe housing.

Frustrated with the poor condition of his Augusta apartment, and in a fit of poor judgment, 74-year-old Charles Manning brought a cup of live bed bugs from his home and dumped them on a counter at the city hall. He had found another apartment, but was evicted, he said, because of his complaint, and was recently staying in a motel, facing homelessness.

Margaret Peters, too, was facing a living situation with no good options. Peters, 56, died July 7, one day after receiving a one-month stay on an eviction notice, as she was fighting to remain in a Portland apartment she felt was unsafe and dirty because she had no place else to go. She moved there after being evicted for no cause from another building, by a landlord who wanted the tenants gone so he could renovate and charge higher rents – which Peters could not have afforded.

People like Manning and Peters have no good options. Across the country, the pool of rentals for people with low incomes is small, and riddled with unhealthy buildings in areas beset by problems. Only one in four Americans eligible for housing assistance gets it, so even modestly priced apartments are either out of reach, or leave the renter with little else to spend on other essentials.

POOR HOUSING, POOR OUTCOMES

Substandard, unaffordable housing has been linked to greater emotional and behavioral problems and poorer school performance in kids, and increased anxiety and depression for children and parents. Health problems become more acute, from asthma attacks caused by mold and dust, to the myriad irreversible issues caused by lead.

Among those who qualify, people without housing assistance are more likely to have unmet medical needs than those receiving aid, and children of parents who pay more than half of their income on housing see their test scores suffer.

There are more than a few Americans facing these problems. Out of 135 million households, 30 million were found to have serious health and safety hazards, such as gas leaks, lead, damaged plumbing, poor heating or structural problems, with most in areas contending with other stultifying social problems.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in 2013 there were 7.7 million households with the “worst-case housing needs,” meaning those with very low incomes and no government housing assistance who spend more than half of their incomes on housing.

In Maine, there are more than 38,000 households that spend more than half their income on housing, an increase of 47 percent since 2007. Requests for scarce affordable housing vouchers continue to increase with long waiting lists – three years in Augusta, according to the city housing authority.

PAY NOW, OR PAY LATER

Often, then, people are stuck paying most of their income on housing that is making them sick, and making it harder for their children to grow healthy and learn. It increases the chance that an adult will have a devastating and costly health problem arise, or that a child won’t graduate from high school. It puts them far behind, and reinforces the cycle of poverty.

More housing vouchers would help more low-income Americans afford suitable housing, just as developer incentives would help shift market resources toward affordable housing. Supportive housing for seniors and people with disabilities, too, could keep people from languishing in substandard living conditions.

Instead, House Republicans are pushing for significant cuts to housing assistance, as is the Trump administration. That would be unwise. After years of insufficient attention to the problem of low-income housing, it is clear that no one is served well when so many people don’t have a safe place to call home.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/our-view-maine-paying-high-cost-for-poor-housing/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1226976_655012-House.jpgThe building at 31 East Oxford St. was deemed a "disorderly" house because of police calls to the property, including for people refusing to leave, drug possession and suspicious activity.Sat, 22 Jul 2017 22:44:20 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Students up against college loan sharks http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/cynthia-dill-college-loan-sharks/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/cynthia-dill-college-loan-sharks/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229542 When not writing a newspaper column, I work as a lawyer, and the premise of one of my more interesting cases is that the private student loan asset-backed security pushers euphemistically called the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts are committing fraud by collecting loans they do not own.

Representing student borrowers against big banks and private investors is challenging enough; proving fraud is arduous. The magnitude of resources available to defend claims is vast and hunger for profit fierce, so you can imagine my delight when a recent New York Times story about the scourge of student debt collection by these trusts revealed common ground with my clients’ nemesis: Delray Beach, Florida, billionaire Donald Uderitz, the private equity guy who essentially owns all of them.

“We don’t want National Collegiate to be the poster boy of bad practices in student loan collections,” Uderitz, founder of Vantage Capital Group (the trusts’ beneficial owner), told the Times. “It’s fraud to try to collect on loans that you don’t own,” he conceded.

Hear, hear!

And here, in Maine. Documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission show that over 3,800 such private loans were made to Maine students between 2004 and 2007. Some would argue these loans were predatory to begin with – laden with fees, high interest rates and not calculated to generate a responsible return on the investment, like when proceeds went to private colleges that lacked credentials to award degrees – but that’s a case for another lawyer.

Maybe you’re one of the 372 people in Maine who have been sued in state court by National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts and got hope Monday reading the Times story, which suggested your alleged debt might get “wiped away because critical paperwork is missing.”

Fake news alert: There was no real “paperwork” to begin with, and there’s a good chance there’s no debt, either. Many of the loan “documents” used in these collection lawsuits brought by the trusts against students and their families are just packaged screen shots of questionable data printed out from a computer by people in cubicles in Georgia. Many of the loans in question, including my clients’, were paid off by the guarantor – making the guarantor the owner of the loans, not the National Collegiate Student Loan Trusts, as they allege in their collection lawsuits.

“National Collegiate is an umbrella name for 15 trusts that hold 800,000 private student loans, totaling $12 billion. More than $5 billion of that debt is in default, according to court filings. The trusts aggressively pursue borrowers who fall behind on their bills. Across the country, they have brought at least four new collection cases each day, on average – more than 800 so far this year – and tens of thousands of lawsuits in the past five years,” the Times reported.

The litigation rampage against students is being compared to the mortgage foreclosure crisis because now, as then, the entities bringing lawsuits often can’t prove they are the rightful owners of the debt when pressed to do so at trial. A big problem for students, of course, is that most of them can’t afford a lawyer and their cases never go to trial. In debt collection cases against student borrowers representing themselves in court, they are routinely defaulted or otherwise coerced by circumstances to accept an inflated judgment or pay an exorbitant amount to “settle,” whether the trusts own the loans or not.

Billionaires Uderitz and Tom Gores – Beverly Hills, California, resident and founder of Platinum Equity – have their own troubles. Their problem is they have so much money they don’t know where to put it. Banks pay measly interest rates and stuffing wads of cash under mattresses is impractical, especially if you own a dozen homes. For people who don’t care to mingle among shareholders of publicly traded companies under the glare of public scrutiny, the answer is “private equity,” a polite way of describing super-rich guys gobbling up and spitting out companies and their multiple iterations, all in righteous pursuit of the mighty dollar.

“Equity” sounds nice, like “justice,” and privacy is a right embedded in our Constitution, so it’s hard to see private equity being problematic, but sometimes it is. Tom Gores’ problem is that one of the companies Platinum Equity gobbled up is Transworld Systems, Inc., a business hired to collect most of the National Collegiate loans, but the “paperwork” supposedly documenting these loans is apparently fake or non-existent. Whoops! Employees at Transworld sit around in cubicles printing self-serving data to make “loan documents” like kids at a Build-A-Bear shop in the mall.

Platinum Equity, founded by Gores in 1995, is a global investment firm with more than $7 billion in assets, it claims on its website, and “specializes in mergers, acquisitions and operations – a trademarked strategy the firm calls M&A&O®.”

With a strategy like M&A&O® behind student debt collection, what could possibly go wrong?

Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and a former state senator. She can be contacted at:

dillesquire@gmail.com

Twitter: @dillesquire

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Commentary: A president could pardon just about anybody, but … http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/commentary-a-president-could-pardon-just-about-anybody-but/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/commentary-a-president-could-pardon-just-about-anybody-but/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229545 OK, Mr. President. We hear you’re upset with a growing special counsel investigation and exploring how to/whether you could pardon your family members, your staff and maybe yourself.

There’s no indication you’ve got pen in hand to pardon anyone, just that you’re considering what that would look like in the event that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation leads to criminal indictments for your inner circle – or even you.

I spoke with some legal and ethical scholars, and here’s the best I can come up with: You could pardon whomever you wanted, including yourself, from any federal crimes and probably get away with it legally. But politically, you could be in a whole host of troubles and could even lose your job.

Let’s run down how this might play out, in three plausible scenarios.

Scenario 1: Mueller charges your campaign aides or family with a federal crime.

We understand he’s investigating your family’s financial ties, your campaign’s connection to Russia and even whether you tried to obstruct justice. We don’t know what he is finding, what he will find or when/if he will find anything.

How a pardon would work: If he did charge someone in your inner circle with a federal crime, you could pardon that person/people. You have the power to pardon people for crimes and the power to commute sentences. And presidents have pardoned members of their administration before: President Gerald Ford pardoned former president Richard Nixon and President George W. Bush commuted the sentence of former aide Scooter Libby.

But: There’s a reason presidents usually issue pardons on their way out the door: It’s politically unpopular to pardon almost anyone.

And it would probably be especially distasteful to the American public if you pardon your friends, said Jehns David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School: “It seems utterly corrupt for a president to escape criminal responsibly by pardoning his inner circle.”

Given that your approval rating is the lowest in modern history for a president at this point in time, is this really a good idea?

Another but: Once someone is pardoned, logic suggests that they can’t invoke the 5th Amendment to avoid testifying, said ethics expert Melanie Sloan. “You only have the right to exercise the 5th Amendment when there’s a possibility you could incriminate yourself and be charged with a crime.” So if you pardon people and Mueller’s investigation is ongoing, they could be compelled to testify against you.

Speaking of . . .

Scenario 2: Mueller charges you with a crime.

We’re not sure this is a possibility as long as you’re in office. The long-held view in the Justice Department is that a sitting president can’t be prosecuted. The only way around that is impeachment, which Congress has full discretion over. Mueller could challenge that, but it’d be remarkably aggressive on his part and require his investigation to fight two court cases: 1) whether you can be prosecuted 2) the crimes you would have been charged for.

How a pardon would work: You issue it and see what happens. There really is no case law about whether a president can pardon himself; it’s never happened before. And Ohlin thinks it’d be difficult for anyone to sue you over it, because it’s not clear who would have legal standing to argue that they were directly affected by this.

But: If pardoning your family could bomb your approval ratings, pardoning yourself could be political suicide.

“It smacks of royal authority,” Ohlin said. “If a president can pardon himself, he’s basically saying, ‘Well, I’m above the law,’ and that sounds like the type of royal authority we rejected when we created America.”

Even considering pardoning yourself crosses a red line ethically, Sloan says. If you went through with it, that might be the tripwire that would convince moderate Republicans to join Democrats and start impeachment proceedings. Already a House Democrat has filed an article of impeachment against you.

And all you need to get impeached is a majority of Congress to agree that you’ve committed “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” They can define those terms however they wish.

If you go through with pardoning anyone related to the Russia investigation, especially yourself, both Ohlin and Sloan think impeachment is the greater danger to you than any legal consequences.

Scenario 3: Mueller’s investigation leads to state or local charges for you or your inner circle.

This is a possibility, given that Mueller is reportedly investigating your financial ties, and you and your family have a lot of those.

How a pardon would work: It wouldn’t.

The Constitution gives states the right to conduct their affairs without interference from the federal government. So your pardon pen is useless in this case.

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Jim Fossel: Health care has become a bipartisan failure http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/jim-fossel-health-care-has-become-a-bipartisan-failure/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/23/jim-fossel-health-care-has-become-a-bipartisan-failure/#respond Sun, 23 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229277 Three months ago, in one of my very first columns for this paper, I wrote that Republicans were at a loss as to what to do about health care. Rival factions were tearing the party apart and it was fairly clear that leadership lacked a comprehensive strategy – or, indeed, a strategy of any kind – to fulfill their campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

In the meantime, as we’ve gone from mid-spring to mid-July, a whole host of summertime traditions have reasserted themselves: traffic jams in Wiscasset, the Red Sox being in first place, Orioles fans eagerly anticipating the start of football season.

Still, though, Republicans remain stuck on health care. The passage of the House version of “repeal and replace” hasn’t led to any progress at all in the Senate, where leadership held off on a vote last week to await the return of John McCain, who’s been in the hospital. That didn’t matter much in the end, though, as it became clear that McConnell lacked the votes to begin debate on any health care bill, whether it was repeal or repeal and replace. He faces the same dilemma that Paul Ryan faced months ago: Conservatives want more of a repeal, moderates want more of a replacement and Democrats aren’t interested in either.

You can hardly blame Democrats for being gleeful observers as Republicans spin their wheels. If Republicans do nothing, their base is angered and that benefits Democrats politically. If they succeed in repealing Obamacare but lack a viable alternative, Democrats could gain momentum from outraged independents as they prepare for the midterms. Policy-wise, liberals face a win-win too: If Obamacare is repealed, they can say it didn’t go far enough; if it stays in place and continues to fail, they can make the same claim. Either way, it strengthens their argument for a single-payer system.

The real problem isn’t just that Republicans are wrong on health care, or that Democrats are wrong on health care, but that everyone is wrong on health care. Whether they’re debating the repeal of Obamacare, the merits of single-payer or whether health care is a right, they’re all missing the point: The problem with health care is the cost, not the question of who pays for it.

This paper’s editorial board got it right a few weeks ago when it raised the cost issue. If costs were cut, the nation wouldn’t be paralyzed by a debate over health insurance, and there wouldn’t be the constant confusion over the difference between health insurance and health care. It’s long past time for both sides to ditch the partisan rhetoric and searched for common ground on the issue.

One of the fundamental problems with the health care industry is that it’s not a free market. Health care providers (including drug companies) and insurers work together to hide the costs from the consumer in a way that just doesn’t happen in any other industry. This discourages consumers from shopping around for the best deal on a product that suits their needs, as they would for anything else. After all, if you didn’t know what the price of your car was and someone else was paying for it, would you be haggling over a used car or buying a fully loaded new one?

Maine took a step toward fixing that this past legislative session by passing L.D. 445. Sponsored by Sen. Rodney Whittemore, R-Skowhegan, with the strong support of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the legislation encourages consumers to shop around for health care by requiring health insurance companies to provide more information about the cost of services. This moves health care closer toward a free market, without depriving consumers of emergency care. It’s exactly the type of legislation that free-market conservatives should advocate, and thanks to plenty of hard work it sailed through the Maine Legislature.

This is a perfect example of the type of common-sense conservative approach that found widespread support in Maine and could nationally, as well. Of course, at a federal level it would face more opposition from the insurance industry and its lobbyists, but it would find more supporters on the left and in the middle than anything Republicans have proposed thus far.

President Ronald Reagan once said that “self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly.” Right now, ideologues on both sides are engaging in the self-delusion that their approach is the only way. It’s high time for Americans of all stripes to demand they abandon that folly.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: @jimfossel

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Gina Barreca: Some things are just too awful to be forgiven http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/gina-barreca-some-things-are-just-too-awful-to-be-forgiven/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/gina-barreca-some-things-are-just-too-awful-to-be-forgiven/#respond Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229387 Krissy can’t forgive those who don’t tip. Amy can’t forgive those who text while driving. Donna can’t forgive grated cheese on clam sauce.

Forgiveness can be boundless, and yet for many of us it’s a scarce commodity. This is what I discovered when I asked about forgiveness on social media. Why are so many things, great and small, difficult to forgive?

Julie, a university administrator, instantly skips over any bother about forgiveness and heads straight into rage: “Unforgivable? The people who don’t get the concept of when ‘reply all’ is appropriate. If there are 40 people on an email that says ‘Congratulations to Mark for his new book on tiny dinosaurs in literature!’ those 40 people can and should privately write to Mark and congratulate him, invite him out to have a beer, give him a tiny dinosaur, etc. BUT, for the love of all that is holy, please do not fill up my inbox with 40 emails saying, ‘Congrats Mark!’ ‘Way to go!’ ‘Good job, man!’ ‘Nice dinosaur!’ Just. Stop. Doing. That.”

Frank can’t forgive the screenplay written by his hero, Stephen King, when King adapted “The Shining” for television (“Kubrick got it right. King didn’t”). Bette can’t forgive Virginia Woolf for committing suicide; it makes Bette furious even though (or perhaps because) she struggles with depression herself.

Dianne can’t forgive the dry cleaner who shrank her favorite pants. When she brought this to his attention, he gave her the once-over and shrugged, “Maybe you need a little more exercise.”

I can’t forgive the saleslady who insisted I looked fabulous in a pricey knitted ivory suit, which, I discovered as I saw myself in my home mirror, makes me look less like a European sophisticate and more like something in its larval stage. It was a final sale. Of course.

I can’t forgive the boy who, when we were 16, not only stood me up but also went to the party without me and bragged to everybody there that he’d stood me up, inspiring one of the more popular girls to call me at home “because I feel bad for you, just waiting there, when he’s already broken up with you.”

I can’t forgive the colleague who, right after my first book started doing well, announced to other members of our department that I was “a hack” and would do anything for a buck. I was 31 – she was 55. I’d thought she was my friend; I’d respected her.

The calumny by an older woman I’d admired is the one that still rankles.

It’s tough to relinquish the grudges we develop when we’re faced with betrayal. Precisely because a stable and shared sense of balanced reality keeps us sane, we’re stunned when lies and unacceptable actions become normal.

Natasha can’t forgive “The 23-Years-Older-Than-I Husband Who Had an Affair When We Were Living Abroad with the Married Daughter of Our Landlord Who Evicted Me at 4:30am With This News.” I liked her use of capitalization, providing, as it does, the heft of a parable.

“Why can’t I forgive the co-worker who went behind my back 36 years ago and deliberately revealed something said in strictest confidence?” Barbara asks. “For the same reasons I can’t forgive the current occupant of the White House. That former co-worker and this current president are constructed from the same basic kit, right down to their beady little eyes.”

Barbara is not the only one forging connections between betrayals on a personal level and betrayals on a broader – bigger, wider and universally momentous – scale.

Kim finds unforgivable, “People who believe that calling something by a different name will change its essence.”

Words can either clarify or obscure. Unless you are God (and merely believing that you’re God doesn’t work), words do not alter truth.

I suspect that the phrases “alternative facts” and “fake news'” are the political equivalent of “I love her but I’m not in love with her” and “I haven’t touched my mate in years even though we live together.”

Nobody should believe these words. Ever.

If the person to whom you’re addressing your duplicitous remarks is vulnerable, guileless or a wildly uneducated voter, you’re responsible for the connivance, the cruelty and the consequences.

History doesn’t forget, nor should it. And yes, some things should remain tough to forgive. Don’t forget to tip.

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The humble Farmer: Celebrating my 81st-and-a-half birthday http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/the-humble-farmer-the-humble-farmer-celebrates-his-81st-and-a-half-birthday/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/the-humble-farmer-the-humble-farmer-celebrates-his-81st-and-a-half-birthday/#respond Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229409 Jo Lindsay said that the first time she met me, I told her that she had to take off all her clothes.

You do know that I recently celebrated my 81st-and-a-half birthday, don’t you? More than a handful of friends gathered at the St. George Grange Hall on July 18 for this highly publicized and not-to-be-repeated event, and, because I needed something to fill this space today, I asked each guest to stand up and say a few words about the first time we met.

As they spoke, I diligently scribbled in my little notebook. You will forgive me if I misquote because my cousin Truman Hilt, who was sitting behind me, kept whispering aphorisms in my ear. Let me give you an example and get that out of the way. Don’t bother to look it up and correct him: “Opera is where a guy gets stabbed and instead of dying, he sings.”

Cousin Truman makes me laugh. He’s got a shop full of good old things, and has a standard answer for anyone who asks him if he buys antiques: “I’ve got to. I can’t steal enough to stay in business.”

Psychologist Gar Roper was among the first to speak. He told of a hippie wedding he attended years ago at a friend’s summer camp in the back woods of Maine, and described in detail how the flower-decked bridal party paraded down a grassy green moraine to where bride and groom were joined in blissful matrimony. Gar said that when they asked the assemblage for comments, one unassuming stoop-shouldered man slowly raised his hand. The bride obviously knew him because she grimaced. The man said, “When I was invited to this wedding, I figured I’d probably be the only person here wearing a tie. I didn’t realize that I’d also be the only one wearing shoes.”

Peg Gagnon from up Palmyra way stood and said, “His short-term memory is nonexistent. But he can tell you who he is related to back to 1609.”

For several years Denise, who, with her husband, George, has spent the second Friday in July in our bed-and-breakfast, said she found our webpage on Google. “And there I saw a picture of Marsha on her knees washing the kitchen floor. I said to myself, ‘How can this be a B&B?’ I shut off my computer and said, ‘I’ve got to start over again.’ And this time I turn up a man. And he’s drinking his oatmeal out of a tin pan.”

Cousin Truman said, “I went to humble’s wedding. He got married at 12. At 1 he started auctioning off the wedding presents.”

If you were at our wedding, you know that there is not a word of truth in that statement. We didn’t send out personal invitations to our wedding, but I did pay to have a blanket wedding invitation printed in several newspapers, hoping that a few people with a morbid sense of humor would show up with food. I mentioned that presents were not wanted, and, because we were merging two households into one, after the ceremony guests were expected to buy something at the auction in which unwanted furnishings from an 1811 Maine farmhouse attic would be sold.

The ad drew dealers from all over Maine and warranted a two-page illustrated spread in Sam Pennington’s Antique Digest. We raked in enough from the auction to pay for the newspaper ads, and because the widow Marsha recycled the minister she used at a similar event, our wedding cost us nothing. We also had enough food left over to eat for a week. It is my understanding that some people lay out two or three hundred dollars to get married, and why more people don’t do it the way we did is beyond me.

Some things are best left unsaid. When I asked my younger brother, Jim, if he’d say a few words, he politely declined. He told me later that I should thank him.

Marsha had to work in Tenants Harbor that day and so couldn’t attend the birthday party. She has been a wonderful wife, but likes to keep her life separate from the mad social whirl that surrounds mine. When we first met, she would rather scrape paint off the front of a house than make marketing calls for my speaking business, which is why I advertised for help.

Jo Lindsay said that when she showed up to work in my office, I was so allergic to the cat hair on her clothes that she had to throw them in a pile and change into something Marsha had just washed before I’d let her in.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at his website:

www.thehumblefarmer.com/MainePrivateRadio.html

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First responders need to know that we share the burden they take on every day http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/maine-voices-first-responders-need-to-know-that-we-share-the-burden-they-take-on-every-day/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/maine-voices-first-responders-need-to-know-that-we-share-the-burden-they-take-on-every-day/#respond Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229421 CAMDEN — The words of Knox County Chief Deputy Tim Carroll in the July 15 article “Union crash victim had launched second career” have stuck with me this past week and will not let go.

Deputy Carroll spoke about having to notify families when their loved ones have died tragically: “I don’t know if I ever do it right. I ask myself after each one if I could have done it differently.”

Over the past 12 weeks, our Knox County first responders have answered calls involving the deaths of six people on our roads, in addition to the non-fatal accidents and countless incidents and deaths involving house fires, drug overdoses and domestic abuse that we don’t hear about in the news.

Our sheriff’s deputies, local police officers, firefighters and ambulance crews work hard to prevent tragedies, and when there is one, they’re the first people there and the last to leave. And the work doesn’t end at the scene.

First responders, as front-line caregivers, put themselves in danger every day not just physically, but emotionally as well. They’ve chosen to accept the burden of the stress, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger and self-doubt that go hand in hand with the already-demanding physical tasks of their jobs.

Many will suffer from compassion fatigue – secondary post-traumatic stress disorder that affects caregivers who regularly interact with other people’s trauma. It takes time, hard work and a lot of self-care just to deal with one traumatic experience. And these courageous women and men get up every single day, go to work and pile more on top.

Experiencing trauma vicariously every day can result in a broad range of health consequences – everything from headaches and back pain to loss of sleep, depression and despair. Exposure to critical events like fires, murders and car accidents can overwhelm any individual, even the strongest among us. And it can often be difficult to ask for help.

Imagine looking our statewide opioid addiction epidemic in the face every day as you literally work to save the lives of men, women and children who have overdosed – and feeling you have no way to personally stop these incidents from happening. Imagine working to save a life in a head-on collision, knowing that a slower speed, a seatbelt or less distraction could have avoided the incident altogether – but having no control over what drivers do when they get behind the wheel.

Fortunately, first responders, while considered at high risk for compassion fatigue and burnout, have also been identified as a group that shows incredible resiliency despite a constant barrage of traumatic incidents. One element of this resiliency has been identified as a sense of community, not just within their professional ranks, but also within the neighborhood, city or county where they do their work.

This means that we – every single one of us – play a real role in the physical and mental health of our first responders, not only in their ability to do their jobs successfully, but also in making sure they don’t suffer for the incredible work they do for us.

It’s not enough to just say thank you. Our first responders need to know that we, as a community, will share the burden they take on every day. They need to know that we are here for them. First responders like Deputy Carroll need to know that when he has to make a long walk up to a family member’s front door, we’re all standing there behind him.

That’s why I’d like to ask you to contact your local first responders and tell them you support them and that you’re here for them. Give them a call, write an email or bring some cookies on a busy weekend. It means more than you know.

And for goodness’ sake, please slow down on the roads and get off your cellphone. We have to do our part, too. Every time each of us chooses to take more care on the road, it’s one less potential walk a first responder will have to make to deliver unthinkable news.

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Another View: States should fix solar incentives, not dump them http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/another-view-states-should-fix-solar-incentives-not-dump-them/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/another-view-states-should-fix-solar-incentives-not-dump-them/#respond Sat, 22 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1229484 Almost overnight, it seems, the decade-long expansion of rooftop solar in the U.S. has come to an end. Installations are set to fall by 2 percent this year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Partly to blame is a widening campaign to end a key customer incentive, homeowners’ ability to sell their extra energy back to the grid at retail prices.

Power companies pressing for this change argue that the practice shifts costs from the affluent owners of solar-powered homes to poorer ratepayers. That’s misleading. Net metering, as it’s called, has a negligible effect on most utilities’ retail rates, especially in states where rooftop solar has only just begun to catch on.

Still, getting these prices right, and treating all consumers fairly, is a complicated business. To encourage wider use of emissions-free energy, state regulators need to carefully weigh all the costs and benefits – including the cost of greenhouse-gas emissions to the climate – and set an appropriate price for rooftop solar power that’s returned to the grid.

As things stand in many states, rooftop solar users get full credit for the excess power they generate and return to the grid – a deduction from their monthly electricity charges. The utilities are thus expected to pay retail for rooftop solar, with no accounting for the grid costs involved. This amounts to a subsidy.

Solar power should indeed be subsidized, relative to carbon-based energy – to protect against climate change and the lung-damaging pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels. The question is how big that subsidy should be. The best way to put different energy sources on the same footing would be through a national carbon tax. By raising the cost of coal and natural gas, this would give the utilities the correct incentive to buy rooftop solar. Since the U.S. has no such tax, net metering (together with the national 30 percent tax credit for residential solar systems) is a workable, albeit inferior, alternative.

That said, it makes sense for states to calculate the net-metering subsidy carefully. The rooftop-solar users’ grid costs should be accounted for, alongside the benefit to the utilities (less required capacity) and to society at large.

New York State has taken a step in the right direction by adopting rates for rooftop solar that account for such variables, including even the relative value of electricity at different times and locations. If all goes to plan, New York will eventually do away with net metering altogether, paying rooftop-solar users an arranged price that strikes the right balance.

In the long run, the dispute over net metering will likely diminish, as costs fall and better batteries make storing surplus power economic. In the meantime, states should dispel needless uncertainty about solar by assuring users and utilities alike that a fair price will be paid for sending power back onto the grid.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/22/another-view-states-should-fix-solar-incentives-not-dump-them/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1229484_china_solar_glut_jpeg_9261f.jpgIf we won't tax carbon to put a realistic price on its bad environmental effects, we should continue to subsidize renewables because of the broad-based benefits their use delivers.Fri, 21 Jul 2017 19:46:59 +0000
Nutrition science isn’t broken, it’s just wicked hard http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/nutrition-science-isnt-broken-its-just-wicked-hard/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/nutrition-science-isnt-broken-its-just-wicked-hard/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:22:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/nutrition-science-isnt-broken-its-just-wicked-hard/ My dad is an old-school rancher who uses a flip-phone, refuses to wear a seat belt and swears by the Atkins diet. Like many Americans on both sides of the political aisle, he’s skeptical of science. But not because he thinks Al Gore invented climate change, vaccines cause autism or GMOs are an elaborate corporate conspiracy. He’s skeptical of science because of eggs.

As a truck driver in the 1970s, catching the news on late-night hauls somewhere between Willie Nelson ballads and CB radio chatter, he learned that cholesterol was public health enemy No. 1 and that eggs were golden syrupy orbs of artery-clogging cholesterol, heart-disease in a shell.

Three decades, the invention of the Internet and a cornucopia of superfoods later, a few studies showed that eating an egg or two a day did not lead to high cholesterol, and Americans put eggs back on the table.

My dad is skeptical of science because scientists can’t even seem to settle on whether it’s a good idea to eat an egg, and people have been eating eggs for eons.

Research had shown that high levels of LDL cholesterol in blood were linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and we knew eggs were packed with cholesterol. But it turns out that most of the cholesterol in our bodies is made by our liver and doesn’t come directly from our diets. You can’t fit that kind of nuance into a headline. Shutterstock photo

So why is such a seemingly simple question so difficult to answer? As someone who has spent months on experiments that ended up in the “appendix of failures” at the back of my dissertation, I can testify that science is hard. And nutrition science is really, really hard. “A wickedly difficult field,” as David Ludwig, professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, put it.

Because human nutrition is exceedingly complex, “truth can only emerge from many different studies with many different methods,” he said.

That’s why I get frustrated when I see headlines like “Drinking more coffee leads to a longer life.”

Had the authors dug deeper, they might have noticed the multitude of studies showing that coffee, like eggs, wine and practically everything else we eat, somehow simultaneously causes and prevents illness. In fact, hundreds of nutrition studies come out every week. Even more are conducted, but “only the exciting stuff gets published,” said John Dawson, assistant professor of nutrition at Texas Tech. And only the flashiest publications draw headlines.

The stereotypical problem with news covering nutrition, said David Klurfeld, a nutritional scientist with the USDA, is that studies not designed to answer specific questions are portrayed as though they do.

The coffee studies in the news last week were what scientists know as observational studies. In these studies, researchers followed coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers and monitored when and how they died. The problem is, when you go about searching for differences between any two groups, you’re going to find them. “That doesn’t prove that coffee is providing the benefit,” said Ludwig. For example, people who drink coffee regularly might have higher incomes, drink fewer sugary beverages, or lead more active lifestyles.

Observational studies like these are useful for identifying interesting trends, but they do not demonstrate cause and effect. To test whether coffee prevents a certain disease, the researchers would need to conduct a randomized controlled trial. In this type of experiment, volunteers (preferably hundreds of them or more) are randomly assigned to one of two groups. In this case, one that drinks coffee and one that abstains.

“Then you have to get them to comply,” Klurfeld said. People who drink coffee will be hesitant to give it up, and people who don’t might be reluctant to start the habit. And there is no way of knowing whether they’ve done what you’ve asked them to.

Assuming the volunteers in the study actually play by the rules, there’s still a possibility that some other important difference exists between the two groups by chance. In the end, “these variables make it very difficult to come up with a definitive answer,” Klurfeld said.

HUMANS vs. MICE

So while randomized controlled trials are the gold standard of nutrition research, they’re still not a silver bullet. They’re rare, long, painstaking and extraordinarily expensive. “Large clinical trials across multiple sites can easily cost millions,” Dawson said. And they sometimes raise ethical quandaries. If we had reason to suspect that coffee might be bad for you, for example, should a group of people be assigned to drink coffee regularly?

And even with randomized control trials, “one study can never answer a truly important question by itself,” Ludwig said. The next question he asks is, “Do we have a plausible reason to expect there might be an effect?” For example, is caffeine or some other compound in coffee known to influence cells in a way that could protect against heart disease or cancer or other common killers?

Studies in animals or cell cultures in test tubes are useful for answering this type of question. But humans have diverged a long way from mice, and the complexity of human nutrition cannot be replicated in a test tube, so these findings aren’t definitive on their own either.

Only when multiple observational studies, randomized controlled trials and experiments in animal models or individual cells all point to the same answer do responsible scientists begin to draw conclusions about nutrition. The results of all of these studies taken together can help inform us about how to improve our diets.

Unfortunately, news can’t wait until a consensus is reached. So here are a few strategies you can use to identify which headlines you should pay attention to. First, make sure the study was conducted in actual living humans. Then, determine whether the study was observational or based on a randomized controlled trial.

Stories covering observational studies will make very generalized statements about the populations studied, like: “In Europe, where the Mediterranean diet is common . . .” or “people who eat breakfast regularly . . .”

If you can’t tell from the news coverage, follow the link to the study abstract and look for terms like “prospective cohort,” “cross-sectional” or “case control.” These are hallmarks of observational studies.

THE SNIFF TEST

Whether the news is reporting on an observational study or a randomized controlled trial, Dawson and Ludwig recommend applying the “sniff test.” Ask yourself whether the claims make sense with what you know of your own experiences and human evolution. For example, we’ve been drinking and studying coffee for decades. If it killed people or made them super healthy, wouldn’t we have noticed by now?

There are lots of dietary trends that don’t pass the sniff test. Consider the fat phobia that erupted about the same time eggs made the bad food list. Ludwig called the low-fat craze a “nutritional disaster” because it caused many Americans to give up things we now know to be exceedingly healthy, like avocados, nuts and full-fat yogurt, while reaching for sugar-packed alternatives. Claims that cutting any given food from our diets will cure us sound too good to be true because they are.

Most importantly, “don’t change your diet based on one study,” Klurfeld advised, especially if that study has a small effect or contradicts a whole lot of other studies. In the case of coffee, barring the fact that these two new studies are observational, they still only showed that drinking coffee reduced mortality by about 10 percent. To put that into perspective, your odds of getting lung cancer if you smoke increase by about 1,000 percent to 3,000 percent.

So next time you hear that chocolate will help you lose weight, cocktails protect you from heart disease, binging on sugary fruit juices cleanses your liver, ancient grains like wheat are toxic, or an extra two cups of joe a day will make you immortal, ask questions. How strong is the evidence? Are there multiple studies saying the same thing? And does it pass your common-sense sniff test?

My dad applied the sniff test when he heard the news about eggs and went along with his normal breakfast routine. And he was right! Unfortunately, he assumed because public health officials had once advised otherwise that science is broken. Science isn’t broken. It’s just wicked hard.

Research had shown that high levels of LDL cholesterol in blood were linked with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and we knew eggs were packed with cholesterol. But it turns out that most of the cholesterol in our bodies is made by our liver and doesn’t come directly from our diets. You can’t fit that kind of nuance into a headline.

What we do know about nutrition comes from repeated studies with a variety of methodologies in large populations and with mechanisms tested in animal models that show the same thing: Eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is good for you. Eating a low-fiber, high-calorie diet packed with sugar and fat is bad for you. But that’s not new or news, so those studies aren’t going to make headlines.

Amid the headline mania, if you want some surefire dietary advice to hold onto, Klurfeld predicts “moderation and variety are the two nutrition rules that are never going to change.”

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Portland’s housing crisis is something that can be turned around http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/maine-voices-portlands-housing-crisis-is-something-that-can-be-turned-around/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/maine-voices-portlands-housing-crisis-is-something-that-can-be-turned-around/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228710 Portland is facing a housing crisis. A 2015 report commissioned by the city and carried out by the Greater Portland Council of Governments indicated that middle-class families are being priced out of the city. This same report says that by 2025, Portland will face at least a 28 percent gap between the demand for and supply of workforce housing: housing that is affordable to someone making the median income for a particular area.

Maine Housing’s 2016 Housing Facts and Affordability Index for Cumberland County lists the median home price for the city of Portland as $262,000. According to housing affordability guidelines, being able to comfortably buy a house in that range requires an annual income of $80,110 – nearly twice the median Portland income of $43,839.

The home price that an individual earning the median income can afford? $143,479. The number of single-family homes available in that price range in Portland, according to a real estate website? One. Between 2010 and 2014, only 29 percent of the new housing projects that were permitted or being built were priced within the reach of Portland’s workforce.

Dual-income families whose annual earnings are closer to what is needed to purchase a home at the median price do not fare much better. That $262,000 is far more likely to buy a one-bedroom condo than a single-family house that is large enough to raise a family. What’s more, these issues are not just limited to homebuyers: 61.9 percent of Portland households cannot afford the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment.

What does this mean for the city of Portland? It means that many of those who work in the city are unable to live here and instead find themselves seeking housing options outside of Portland, as the Portland Press Herald has documented in its “No Vacancy” series. This can have lasting impacts on the people forced to make this move and the economic vitality of the city.

Employees face longer commutes to work. Instead of being able to walk or make use of public transportation, they sit in their cars for longer and longer periods of time. Researchers have found that individuals with longer commute times face increased rates of obesity, higher blood pressure and other health problems linked to inactivity. As families move in search of cheaper housing, they may also lose access to higher-quality services, such as good schools and robust emergency medical services.

At the community level, higher numbers of commuters also contribute to increased local road congestion and ground-level air pollution in the towns they must pass through. As the demand for housing increases in these outlying communities, zoning regulations that are not up to date may lead to increased sprawl and strain on local infrastructure. Sprawl is known to contribute to numerous environmental issues, such as contaminated stormwater runoff into our waterways, more paved surfaces (which absorb heat and raise the risk of flooding) and decreased wildlife habitat.

According to the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, access to a large and diverse labor pool is a key factor for companies making decisions on corporate locations. High housing costs are also a deterrent for new college graduates who are just beginning their careers and find that an entry-level salary limits their housing options. This can lead to stagnation of the labor pool and put the city at risk of becoming a less desirable corporate location.

There are steps that can be taken to mitigate this. As with many urban areas, development space in Portland, and thus development opportunities, is limited. Supporting developers who will create rental housing and homebuying options for people of mixed income levels is of vital importance. Working to make the best use of currently available land with higher-density developments that create attainable homeownership while preserving open space can both help mitigate housing issues and protect the green spaces that are integral to the character of the city.

Portland’s housing crisis is something that can be turned around. With foresight and thoughtful planning, the city can help foster a development environment that creates a diversity of housing options that are affordable to all of Portland’s citizens.

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Commentary: Republican women killed the Senate health care bill http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/commentary-republican-women-killed-the-senate-health-care-bill/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/commentary-republican-women-killed-the-senate-health-care-bill/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228785 Senate Republican leaders originally blocked all five Republican women out of negotiations for their health care bill. And on Tuesday, three Republican women sank leaders’ last-ditch effort to do something toward their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.

After Senate Republicans’ second version of a health care bill collapsed Monday under the weight of more than a dozen senators (male and female) who had concerns, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decided to just vote on repealing Obamacare without a replacement.

McConnell’s aim was to stick it to conservative senators who played an outsized role in sinking the first two versions of the bill. He was daring them to pull the trigger on something that could leave 32 million more people uninsured over the next decade and blow up the insurance markets.

But before McConnell could even play chicken with these (mostly male) senators, by lunchtime Monday, Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, shut that down.

“I did not come to Washington to hurt people,” Capito tweeted.

“I do not think that it’s constructive to repeal a law that is so interwoven within our health care system without having a replacement plan in place,” Collins said in a statement.

“I cannot vote to proceed to repeal (Obamacare) without reform that allows people the choice they want, the affordability they need and the quality of care they deserve,” Murkowski said.

In the Senate’s incremental world, three “no” votes is enough to stop a bill from even getting a chance for a full vote. By lunchtime Monday, Republicans’ effort to unwind Obamacare was dead, less than 12 hours after it had already died.

And it was Senate Republican women who killed it.

Let’s rewind to explain why the Senate’s five Republican women weren’t originally involved in crafting a health care bill. Republican leaders have been trying to write a bill that could pass an ideologically divided Senate since May, when House Republicans barely passed a controversial – and largely unpopular – piece of legislation. Senate leadership promptly threw that in the trash.

Instead, Republicans set up a group of about a dozen lawmakers to come up with something more moderate. None of them were women. Republican aides stressed the group was soon opened to any Republican senator who wanted to participate.

Leaving women out of the negotiations for legislation that affects half the population in a very intimate way was a huge optics blunder for Republicans. It underscored the party’s lack of diversity, especially in the Senate, where 47 out of 52 Republicans are men.

Just last year, Collins had told researchers for a report about women in Congress that as a woman in this nearly all-white-male world, she has to fight harder to get recognized.

“My experience has been, and sadly I think this is still true today, that when a woman is elected to the Senate, she still has to prove that she belongs there, whereas when a man is elected to the Senate, it’s assumed that he belongs here,” she said.

But leaving out women soon turned into a political problem for Republican leaders, too.

McConnell retreated behind closed doors to write the legislation, and soon, even members of the original working group didn’t know what was in the legislation. They unveiled a bill in June that received immediate skepticism from about a dozen senators, including Collins, Murkowski and Capito.

Republican leaders felt they had no choice but to negotiate the bill in secret to try to find a delicate balance between the party’s conservative and moderate factions, which have very different ideas about government’s role in health care. But in leaving senators out, they also left out their opinions. In the end, it was three female senators who were left out of negotiations from the start that torpedoed Republicans’ final attempt to undo Obamacare.

But but but. We have to be careful not to conflate these senators’ gender with why they opposed the health care bill, as conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh seemed to do Tuesday night:

“Limbaugh on Collins, Murkowski, Capito: “Three female leftists” are now running the Senate.

“- Daniel Dale (@ddale8) July 19, 2017”

Female Republicans’ concerns were much the same as their male colleagues’ concerns about the legislation. It would have cut Medicaid too much. It raised premiums on the elderly and sick.

It left rural hospitals without a safety net. Murkowski and Collins said they wouldn’t vote for a bill that defunded Planned Parenthood.

“This bill would make sweeping and deep cuts in the Medicaid program, which has been a safety net program on the books for more than 50 years,” Collins told ABC News on Sunday.

If there’s a lesson in all this, it’s that when trying to overhaul a major social program, perspectives matter.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/commentary-republican-women-killed-the-senate-health-care-bill/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/AP17178741425988.jpgPresident Donald Trump, center, speaks as he meets with Republican senators on health care in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, June 27, 2017. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, left, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, right, listen (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Fri, 21 Jul 2017 20:02:51 +0000
Charles Krauthammer: Let the parents take little Charlie Gard where they wish http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/charles-krauthammer-let-the-parents-take-little-charlie-gard-where-they-wish/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/charles-krauthammer-let-the-parents-take-little-charlie-gard-where-they-wish/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228802 One cannot imagine a more wrenching moral dilemma than the case of little Charlie Gard. He is a beautiful 11-month-old boy with an incurable genetic disease. It depletes his cells’ energy-producing structures (the mitochondria), thereby progressively ravaging his organs. He cannot hear, he cannot see, he can barely open his eyes. He cannot swallow, he cannot move, he cannot breathe on his own. He suffers from severe epilepsy and his brain is seriously damaged. Doctors aren’t even sure whether he can feel pain.

For months he’s been at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. His doctors have recommended removing him from life support.

His parents are deeply opposed. They have repeatedly petitioned the courts to allow them to take Charlie for experimental treatment in the United States.

The courts have denied the parents’ petition. They concluded that the proposed treatment has no chance of saving the child and would do nothing but inflict upon him further suffering.

They did, however, allow the American specialist to come to London to examine Charlie. He is giving his findings to the court. A final ruling is expected on July 25.

The Telegraph of London reports that Charlie’s doctors remain unconvinced by the American researcher. Indeed, the weight of the evidence appears to support the doctors and the courts. Charlie’s genetic variant is different and far more devastating than the ones in which nucleoside bypass therapy has shown some improvement. There aren’t even animal models for treating Charlie’s condition. It’s extremely unlikely that treatment can even reach Charlie’s brain cells, let alone reverse the existing damage.

What to do? There is only one real question. What’s best for Charlie? But because he can’t speak for himself, we resort to a second question: Who is to speak for him?

The most heartrending situation occurs when these two questions yield opposing answers. Charlie’s is such a case.

Let me explain.

In my view, two truths must guide any decision: (1) The parents must be sovereign, but (2) the parents are sometimes wrong.

I believe that in this case the parents are wrong, and the doctors and judges are right. Charlie’s suffering is literally unimaginable and we are simply prolonging it. This is a life of no light, no sound, no motion, only moments of physical suffering (seizures? intubation?) to punctuate the darkness. His doctors understandably believe that allowing a natural death is the most merciful thing they can do for Charlie.

As for miracle cures, I share the court’s skepticism. They always arise in such cases, and invariably prove to be cruel deceptions.

And yet. Despite all these considerations, I would nevertheless let the parents take their boy where they wish.

The sovereignty of loved ones must be the overriding principle that guides all such decisions. We have no other way. The irreducible truth is that these conundrums have no definitive answer. We thus necessarily fall back on family, or to put it more sentimentally, on love.

What is best for the child? The best guide is a loving parent. A parent’s motive is the most pure.

This rule is not invariable, of course. Which is why the state seizes control when parents are demonstrably injurious, even if unintentionally so, as in the case of those who, for some religious imperative, would deny their child treatment for a curable disease.

But there’s a reason why, despite these exceptions, all societies grant parents sovereignty over their children until they reach maturity. Parents are simply more likely than anyone else to act in the best interest of the child.

Not always, of course. Loved ones don’t always act for the purest of motives.

Heirs, for example, may not be the best guide as to when to pull the plug on an elderly relative with a modest fortune.

But then again, states can have ulterior motives, too. In countries where taxpayers bear the burden of expensive treatments, the state has an inherent incentive (of which Britain’s National Health Service has produced notorious cases) to deny treatment for reasons of economy rather than mercy.

Nonetheless, as a general rule, we trust in the impartiality of the courts – and the loving imperative of the parent.

And if they clash? What then? If it were me, I would detach the tubes and cradle the child until death. But it’s not me. It’s not the NHS. And it’s not the European Court of Human Rights.

It’s a father and a mother and their desperate love for a child. They must prevail. Let them go.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

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Our View: Voter fraud commission begins national unicorn hunt http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/our-view-voter-fraud-commission-begins-national-unicorn-hunt/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/our-view-voter-fraud-commission-begins-national-unicorn-hunt/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228825 After President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission met for the first time Wednesday, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the 12-person panel, told the Portland Press Herald: “Let’s see where it takes us before we condemn it.” He’s welcome to withhold judgment, but we’re not going to.

Vice President Pence tried to set a nonpartisan tone for the first meeting of the commission he co-chairs by declaring that the panel has “no preconceived notions or preordained results.”

But Pence’s efforts were nuked into orbit when commission co-chair Kris Kobach said in an interview with MSNBC that “we will probably never know” whether Trump’s 2016 rival Hillary Clinton really won the popular vote, because “even if you could prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.”

Just to refresh your memory: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for president by nearly 2.9 million votes. Voter fraud is vanishingly rare: 31 credible allegations nationwide out of over 1 billion votes cast in all primary, general, special and municipal elections between 2000 and 2014, according to a study by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt. So it’s ludicrous to assert that there could have been more than a handful of illegal ballots cast in last fall’s election – let alone millions.

Not that this will stop Kobach, who’s also Kansas secretary of state, and other true believers from trying to smoke out fraudulent voting. And they’ve used their groundless concerns to justify mandatory photo-ID laws and other regulations that keep likely Democratic voters from casting ballots.

Now these state-level crusades are going national. Vice President Pence’s office has confirmed to ProPublica that the voter fraud panel intends to run the state voter rolls it has requested against federal databases to check for potential fraudulent registration.

Citing Washington Times coverage, ProPublica reported that the commission may check the state rolls against the federal database of noncitizens. This move bombed in Florida in 2012, according to ProPublica: Many legitimate voters were errantly flagged for having the same names as green card holders, people with temporary visas and undocumented immigrants who had been arrested. The effort was scrapped, and Gov. Rick Scott apologized.

The implications of taking this unicorn hunt nationwide are staggering: Thousands more people could end up disenfranchised through no fault of their own. This is an attempt at voter suppression, and there’s no disguising it as anything else.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/our-view-voter-fraud-commission-begins-national-unicorn-hunt/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1228825_Election_Laws_50651.jpg-c9a.jpgEfforts by Vice President Mike Pence, left, to set a nonpartisan tone for the Election Integrity Commission's first meeting were undercut Wednesday by co-chair Kris Kobach's evidence-free claim that the results of the 2016 popular vote for president were in question.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 22:53:03 +0000
Another View: Whatever its current results, more of same is best Fed policy http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/another-view-whatever-its-current-results-more-of-same-is-best-fed-policy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/21/another-view-whatever-its-current-results-more-of-same-is-best-fed-policy/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228836 The U.S. economy continues to present something of a puzzle to investors and policymakers alike. Now at or close to full employment, it should be pushing up wages and inflation. But it isn’t. This complicates the Federal Reserve’s goal of getting monetary policy back to normal.

Despite the puzzle, the Fed’s current approach – guide interest rates slowly but surely higher, and set in train a plan for reducing its balance sheet – is still correct. Deviating from this strategy before the data insist would be a big mistake.

The main thing to remember is that the current stance of monetary policy is still extremely accommodative. The short-term interest rate stands at 1.0 to 1.25 percent (negative in inflation-adjusted terms) and the Fed’s balance sheet retains some $4.5 trillion in securities purchased under the central bank’s massive program of quantitative easing. With unemployment at 4.4 percent, and asset prices sufficiently elevated to be causing the Fed some concern, that’s a very large amount of monetary stimulus.

Granted, at 1.4 percent, the Fed’s preferred measure of core inflation is below the 2 percent target, and lower than at the start of the year – but the central bank can’t afford to wait until inflation has come all the way back and is clearly on an upward trend. Monetary policy works with a lag, so acting at that point would be too late. And gently dialing back a strong monetary stimulus isn’t “tightening” in the ordinary sense. A steady intention to normalize monetary policy is still reasonable.

The Fed has insisted throughout that its approach is data-dependent, as it should be. If inflation shows signs of persistently falling, or if the good pace of job creation slackens, the Fed would be right to pause and rethink. Under those circumstances, there’d be a better case for normalizing more slowly. At the moment, there’s no such case.

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Maine scientist: How Trump made me a whistle-blower http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/mainer-joel-clement-how-trump-made-me-a-whistleblower/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/mainer-joel-clement-how-trump-made-me-a-whistleblower/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 15:34:46 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/mainer-joel-clement-how-trump-made-me-a-whistleblower/ I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.

I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistle-blower on an administration that chooses silence over science.

Nearly seven years ago, I came to work for the Interior Department, where, among other things, I’ve helped endangered communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to a changing climate. But on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to “improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,” the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.

I am not an accountant – but you don’t have to be one to see that the administration’s excuse for a reassignment such as mine doesn’t add up. A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers. Some of my colleagues are being relocated across the country, at taxpayer expense, to serve in equally ill-fitting jobs.

I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.

On Wednesday, I filed two forms – a complaint and a disclosure of information – with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.

Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The AlaskaNative villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean. In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country.

Alaska’s elected officials know climate change presents a real risk to these communities. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) have been sounding the alarm and scrambling for resources to help these villages. But to stave off a life-threatening situation, Alaska needs the help of a fully engaged federal government. Washington cannot turn its back.

While I have given small amounts to Democratic candidates in the past, I have no problem whatsoever working for a Republican administration. I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies. But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great.

Now that I have filed with the Office of Special Counsel, it is my hope that it will do a thorough investigation into the Interior Department’s actions. Our country protects those who seek to inform others about dangers to American lives. The threat to these AlaskaNative communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful.

Let’s be honest: The Trump administration didn’t think my years of science and policy experience were better suited to accounts receivable. It sidelined me in the hope that I would be quiet or quit. Born and raised in Maine, I was taught to work hard and speak truth to power. Trump and Zinke might kick me out of my office, but they can’t keep me from speaking out. They might refuse to respond to the reality of climate change, but their abuse of power cannot go unanswered.

The writer was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Interior Department until last week. He is now a senior adviser at the department’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

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Commentary: Solar bill could help Mainers facing some of nation’s highest utility rates http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/commentary-solar-bill-could-help-mainers-facing-some-of-nations-highest-utility-rates/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/commentary-solar-bill-could-help-mainers-facing-some-of-nations-highest-utility-rates/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228260 If the Legislature passed a law making you pay your grocer for the vegetables you grow in your own garden, you would be pretty unhappy. You’d have even greater unhappiness if you had to pay your oil dealer for burning firewood you cut off your own land.

This is precisely the crux of the current solar battle in Augusta – Central Maine Power’s and the Public Utilities Commission’s effort to require people who generate power with rooftop solar used in their own homes to pay CMP as though the power had been delivered over CMP’s grid.

It’s also the basis for CMP’s absurd cost impact estimates for solar and apparently for its support of Gov. LePage’s latest solar veto. Both are obviously wrong.

Nobody disputes that we all should pay the utility when we use the grid, and everyone with solar at home does just that for the power CMP delivers to them – paying some of the highest electric rates in the nation.

We all pay those costs, to the great benefit of CMP and its parent company in Spain. (CMP’s 2016 profits: $136 million.) The larger question, one we citizens of Maine have every right to ask, is why the utility to whom we have given a power-delivery monopoly feels it has the right to seriously mislead us about the actual cost of solar. With our grant of that monopoly comes a duty of straightforward guidance, not something else.

At worst, assuming rooftop solar has no benefits to other ratepayers, an assumption Maine’s Public Advocate and PUC strongly reject as false, rooftop solar costs CMP ratepayers a little more than $1 million a year. But let’s call it $2 million to be conservative. That’s $2 million out of $834 million of CMP’s total cost to Maine citizens, about two-tenths of 1 percent of your CMP bill. This is simply negligible compared to the cost of CMP’s new, ratepayer- financed, $52 million billing system, or the $100 million in CMP smart meters they forgot to program actually to be “smart,” or CMP’s recent transmission rate increase of $44 million, the largest utility rate increase in Maine history.

These costs, along with stunningly high rates of return provided by federal and state regulators of 10 to 12 percent (compare that to your interest rate on your bank account), help make CMP s delivery rates among the highest in the nation.

Don’t let CMP fool you. These high rates aren’t caused by solar on someone’s roof.

The solar bill, which is extremely similar to a bill offered by Republicans last year, requires the PUC to determine the costs and benefits of rooftop solar and to consider time-of-use rates and other mechanisms to match more closely the benefits provided to customers with rooftop solar to the value that such solar provides to other ratepayers. This is what is happening in many other states around the country, and it’s a good time for it to happen in Maine.

While that analysis is being conducted, the bill requires a 10 percent decrease in the rates applicable to rooftop solar each year for two years. That’s right: The bill lowers the already small cost of solar to other ratepayers.

When the PUC completes its design of time-of-use rates and other revised compensation mechanisms, rooftop solar will be properly compensated for its value in avoiding other costs for ratepayers – other costs such as more unnecessary investment in transmission lines on which CMP earns 11 percent to 12 percent every year, whether or not we actually need the lines.

The solar bill to be decided this week in Augusta will both control solar costs and cause solar to be used where utilities can use it to lower consumer costs, such as by avoiding those expensive power lines. The PUC will have tools and policy direction it needs to ensure that solar is used wisely, lowering consumer costs.

No wonder some would blind us to the real facts about the solar legislation.

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Dana Milbank: Nominee for ambassador to the Vatican clear example of cronyism http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/dana-milbank-nominee-for-ambassador-to-the-vatican-clear-example-of-cronyism/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/dana-milbank-nominee-for-ambassador-to-the-vatican-clear-example-of-cronyism/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228274 Let us consider the qualifications of President Trump’s nominee to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See: one Callista Gingrich of Virginia.

She is a former clerk on the House Agriculture Committee.

She is the author of children’s books about an elephant named Ellis.

She sings in the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

She plays French horn in City of Fairfax Band.

And, she testified Tuesday, she has “looked at some of” Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change.

But really, Gingrich was receiving a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee because of one qualification: She is married to Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a major backer of President Trump.

And now, for his support of Trump, he is getting the ultimate patronage: the chance to live in Rome on the taxpayer’s dime while his wife, the president of Gingrich Productions, enjoys a plum posting.

Newt, who converted to Catholicism several years ago, set his wife up nicely for the job by co-hosting two videos with her about Pope John Paul II, produced with a Gingrich political ally.

But if it is good news for the Gingriches, it is an(other) insult to Francis from Trump, who has sparred with the pope over immigration and climate change. Newt carried on a six-year extramarital affair with Callista in the 1990s when she, 23 years his junior, was a House staffer and he, as speaker, led the impeachment of Bill Clinton over his extramarital affair with an intern.

National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters called it “astonishing that a party that celebrates family values at every turn has a president who is on his third wife and who has bragged about his extramarital affairs and who is appointing an ambassador to the Vatican who had a six-year affair with her future husband while he was still married to his second wife.”

The nomination of Callista is also Trump’s beatification of Newt, who has done as much as anyone to coarsen American politics – and to pave the way for Trump – with his name-calling, demonizing and brinkmanship.

All presidents reward supporters with patronage. New York Jets owner Woody Johnson will be our man in London. On Gingrich’s panel Tuesday was George Glass, a big Trump donor, tapped to be ambassador to Portugal though he doesn’t speak Portuguese.

But the choice of Callista Gingrich is another category of cronyism for an administration populated by friends and relations rather than appointees of merit.

This has fueled the Russia scandal, stalled the agenda in Congress and made the administration seem singularly incompetent – yet Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to say that this is unacceptable.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., introduced Gingrich on Tuesday by noting that she was valedictorian of her high school class.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who succeeded Newt in the House before moving to the Senate, declared that “one of her great, great persuasive talents is to not only convince Newt to marry her, but convert him to Catholicism.”

Gingrich, an uncomfortable smile fixed on her face, provided, in lieu of actual answers to questions, strung-together snippets of cliches.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., asked about refugee policy, on which Francis and Trump disagree. Gingrich responded with a bromide about “a deep commitment in this country to work to forward peace and stability.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked how she would work with the Vatican to counter extremism. Gingrich responded with a word salad about looking “forward to working on those issues of our shared policy opportunities.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked about the pope’s climate change encyclical. She responded with boilerplate about how “President Trump wants to maintain that we have clean air and clean water.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., asked if she had even read the encyclical.

“I have looked at some of it,” the witness replied.

“Are there pieces of it that particularly resonate for you?”

“Well,” Gingrich replied generically, “I think we’re all called to be stewards of the land.”

Staffers on both sides of the committee were now grinning at the pained responses.

Johnson, attempting to rehabilitate the witness, urged her to talk about her “study” of John Paul II and what she learned about U.S. and Vatican leadership. Gingrich retreated again to platitude: “It’s so important that we reach out to places like the Holy See to forward good in this world,” she said.

That was enough for Johnson, who pronounced her “perfectly suited for this position.”

Perfectly situated, at least.

Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

dana.milbank@washpost.com

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Bill Nemitz: Anti-vaccine movement’s disregard for reality poses a threat for all of us http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/bill-nemitz-anti-vaccine-movement-out-of-touch-with-reality/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/bill-nemitz-anti-vaccine-movement-out-of-touch-with-reality/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228346 Its formal name was Rosemary Lake, a small body of water in my hometown to which we kids flocked each summer seeking relief from the heat.

But to this day, I remember it by its ominous nickname: Polio Pond.

To be clear, no one to my knowledge ever actually contracted polio from the murky water – although Dr. Bailot, our family physician, often decried the town-operated swimming facility as a petri dish of childhood infections.

But the name was nonetheless telling: Polio, while on the wane in the late 1950s and early 1960s, still scared the hell out of everyone.

And the vaccine that all but eradicated it in the United States – from tens of thousands of cases to virtually none in a mere decade – left parents far and wide thanking God for this modern-day miracle.

Memories of benevolent old Dr. Bailot, syringe in hand, resurfaced this week with the news that the percentage of Maine children showing up at kindergarten without vaccinations jumped from 4 percent to 4.8 percent over the past year.

No big deal? Guess again.

As Peter Michaud, associate general counsel of the Maine Medical Association and chair of the Maine Immunization Council, told Portland Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor, the uptick is “extremely distressing.”

It’s also a case study in how times can change. Half a century ago, parents welcomed with open arms the array of vaccinations for polio, measles, mumps, rubella and other serious infectious diseases that had long run roughshod over every level of society.

They had seen what those illnesses could do, how a child could be healthy one minute and paralyzed – or in a tiny casket – the next. To not inoculate your child with these readily available remedies was unthinkable.

No longer. Today, for a small but growing number of parents, the vaccines are the bogeymen. The danger of the diseases they target is overblown. It’s the pharmaceutical companies that are trying to kill us.

They could not be more wrong. Nor could they be more self-centered.

Don’t misunderstand. I have no doubt that these parents love their children as much as my mother loved her four boys and four girls.

But this is not just about them or their kids. It’s about all of us.

Much of today’s anti-vaccine movement stems from “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe,” a 2016 film that alleges a conspiracy by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to hide a purported connection between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism.

The film has since been discredited from every corner of the scientific community as baseless, fear-mongering propaganda. It was directed by Andrew Wakefield, who lost his license to practice medicine in the United Kingdom because of serious ethical violations in his anti-vaccine research.

Such as? Well, Wakefield never disclosed that while conducting his since-debunked 1998 study of possible links between the MMR vaccine and autism, he was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by lawyers looking to sue the vaccine producers.

No matter. Despite that and other transgressions, an anti-establishment star was born.

Which brings us back to those Maine parents who think they’re doing the right thing by not vaccinating their kids and sending them off into the general population.

Two years ago, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would require parents with a “philosophical objection” to vaccines to at least consult with a medical professional before opting their kids out of their preschool shots. He wrote nonsensically that the legislation “unwisely leads the horse to water and tries to make it drink.”

LePage also maintained that, while he personally supports vaccinations, parents who opt out “have as much right to their opinions as the parents who choose to vaccinate.”

Their opinions, however, aren’t the problem here. It’s their blinders.

Many in the anti-vaccine crowd maintain that the danger is overblown – the diseases in question are now so rare that the risk of contracting them is outweighed by the perceived (albeit unproven) risk of vaccination.

But it’s precisely because of decades of vaccination that the diseases are so rare. All of society has benefited from diligent adherence to vaccine protocols – including those parents who now turn up their noses at the needles and say, “None for my child, thank you.”

It’s enough to make my dearly departed mother, and millions like her, turn in their graves.

The simple truth is that the “herd immunity” created by vaccines protects us all, including those with compromised immune systems and other medical conditions that legitimately prevent them from getting their inoculations.

Still, herd immunity is a fragile thing. Chip away at it or, worse yet, create clusters of non-vaccinated children – the number of unvaccinated kindergartners exceeded 20 percent in six Maine public schools during the just-completed school year – and bad things inevitably will happen.

To wit: To maintain herd immunity from the highly contagious and potentially lethal measles virus, a society must vaccinate 96 percent to 98 percent of its population.

But according to a 2016 mathematic modeling study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the population exposed to the virus at Disneyland in late 2015 – an outbreak that eventually sickened 145 Americans – had a vaccination rate no higher than 86 percent and possibly as low as 50 percent.

This for a virus that was declared “eradicated” in the United States back in 2000.

Here in Maine, the first measles case in 20 years was reported last month in Farmington – a female who contracted the virus during overseas travel.

Considering that a whopping 90 percent of unvaccinated people exposed to measles end up infected with it, imagine what would have ensued had that patient walked into a kindergarten class where a quarter or more of the students had never received their MMR shots.

And for what?

Because a crusading quack made claims 20 years ago that have never, not once, been backed up by real science?

Because we live in an age when people first decide what they believe and only then seek out the “facts” to back it up?

Because it will never happen to their kid … until it does?

Not too long ago, I drove through my old hometown to revisit my childhood haunts.

Sure enough, Polio Pond is still there. But decades ago, the town actually inserted a separate – and much cleaner – swimming pool into the portion of the lake where our young immune systems once battled Lord knows what.

I saw plenty of kids splashing in the crystal-clear water.

I saw no one swimming on the dirty side.

Chalk one up for common sense.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/bill-nemitz-anti-vaccine-movement-out-of-touch-with-reality/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgPORTLAND, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Wed, 19 Jul 2017 22:40:39 +0000
Do we need to rebuild 4 schools? This crucial issue deserves closer look http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/maine-voices-do-we-need-to-rebuild-four-schools-this-crucial-issue-deserves-closer-look/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/maine-voices-do-we-need-to-rebuild-four-schools-this-crucial-issue-deserves-closer-look/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228198 Portland is embroiled in a heated debate over elementary school renovations. In November, voters will be asked whether to spend $32 million to rebuild two schools, or whether to spend $64 million to rebuild four schools.

At the center of the debate is Progressive Portland, a group of activists with a lot of political clout. The group has promised to raise $50,000 for the campaign for the four-school bond. Progressive Portland is using the issue as a litmus test for local candidates, and it has pledged to work to defeat at least one official who supports the two-school bond.

I am concerned about a divisive campaign that pits neighbor against neighbor. I fear that it will distract attention from far bigger challenges facing the Portland Public Schools.

Consider a little historical perspective. Portland’s enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade peaked in 1969. That year, 14,188 students attended city schools, according to the district’s website.

Since then, enrollment has plummeted to less than half of that amount. Last year, about 6,700 students attended the district’s K-12 schools.

Portland has built two elementary schools and renovated a third during the past 11 years. A fourth elementary school, Hall, now is under construction. Given the decline in enrollment, why do we need four more mainland elementary schools, in addition to the two schools serving island children?

I think that question has been squelched because the school board doesn’t have the courage to redistrict students.

Closing schools is always controversial. As a newspaper reporter in another state, I covered a school closing that tore a community apart. I learned an important lesson from talking to students, parents, public officials and other residents involved with that issue. While adults get all worked up about school closings, kids adjust just fine.

When Portland school board candidates seek my vote, I want to hear that they have the guts to tackle redistricting. That could allow us to eliminate one of the four new schools.

During the past three decades, the city school system has undergone a demographic transformation every bit as dramatic as the decline in enrollment. What was once a district made up primarily of children from middle-class homes is now primarily a student body living in poverty. Last year, 55 percent of the children in the Portland Public Schools qualified for free or reduced-price lunch because of low family incomes.

Educational research shows that students benefit from attending schools with a mix of incomes. Moreover, the future health of our city depends on keeping and expanding its middle class. Otherwise, we are at risk of becoming an economically polarized city such as San Francisco, with a lot of wealthy people and a large homeless population.

To keep the middle class in Portland, we have to rein in property taxes. That means ensuring that every dollar spent on the Portland Public Schools is needed.

When plans were underway for the new Hall building, the Maine Department of Education urged the school board to make it large enough to serve the Longfellow district as well. The board chose not to do that.

Now, instead of continuing to seek state funding to rebuild Longfellow and Reiche schools, local taxpayers are being asked to pay all of the costs.

Those who support the $64 million bond must justify why it is necessary to rebuild all four schools. They also should justify why they are asking Portland taxpayers to cover costs that might be paid by accessing state construction funds.

The $64 million bond would be the largest in city history, according to City Councilor Nick Mavodones. The average homeowner would pay an extra $104 per year in taxes for 26 years, or a total of about $2,700.

The leaders of Progressive Portland have downplayed the burden that will create for city taxpayers. Some of my friends and neighbors tell me a different story. Those living on fixed incomes say it will make a real dent in their budgets.

I fear that if the $64 million elementary bond passes, taxpayers could refuse to pony up for future increases in school operating expenses. While students need decent facilities, they also need fairly paid teachers, well maintained buildings and school supplies. My biggest fear is that higher taxes will push more middle-class people out of the city, exacerbating income inequality in Portland.

This is a crucial decision for the city. We need officials who will show courage in leading us forward.

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Our view: On addiction response, it’s finally time to listen http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/our-view-on-addiction-response-its-finally-time-to-listen/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/our-view-on-addiction-response-its-finally-time-to-listen/#respond Thu, 20 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1228255 We’d like to say something about the news that the Scarborough Police Department’s Operation Hope is pulling back on its out-of-state drug treatment placements, but the problem it exposes is hardly news. Just look at what’s been said already:

July 19:

“Operation Hope is not the answer. Maine needs a comprehensive answer, and this is not it,” Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton, on his department’s two-year-old program helping people with addiction find help.

July 9:

“As Maine’s opioid crisis worsens, 128th Legislature largely does nothing,” headline.

Feb. 24:

“In proportion to the severity of the problem, it’s lacking by a magnitude of an order of at least 10 times what’s needed,” Dr. Mark Publicker, leading addiction expert, on a plan to provide $2 million for addiction treatment for Maine’s uninsured.

Feb. 24:

“It will only help the tip of the iceberg, but any help is welcome and should be encouraged,” Dr. Mary Dowd, who treats opioid addiction at the Milestone Foundation in Portland and through Catholic Charities.

Feb. 2:

“Maine overdose deaths soared nearly 40 percent last year, to record 378,” headline.

Dec. 10, 2016:

“It’s gotten to be very difficult to find beds for people. We were hoping for a regional or state solution, a comprehensive program to come along by now. It hasn’t,” Moulton.

May 25, 2016:

“Amid state’s drug crisis, DHHS slow to expand treatment options,” headline.

March 7, 2016:

“Drug overdose deaths surge by ‘shocking’ 31 percent in Maine,” headline.

Feb. 28, 2016:

“I don’t think anyone understands how hard it is to find beds for people,” Steve Cotreau, Portland Community Recovery Center

Feb. 28, 2016:

“There’s just nowhere in Maine to get help,” Scarborough police Officer John Gill, coordinator, Operation Hope.

Nov. 28, 2015:

“My office phone rings daily with people looking for help. Most we have to turn away. The other practices that do this work are likewise full. There are very few treatment centers in Maine, and those are generally full with long waiting lists,” Gust Stringos, D.O., Somerset Primary Care.

May 15, 2015:

Kristin Nolan, Spectrum’s vice president of outpatient service, announcing the organization’s closure following cuts in MaineCare reimbursement rates, “Heroin deaths in Maine jump – record level of overdose deaths in 2014,” press release, Office of the Attorney General.

Sept. 26, 2012:

“We have a public health emergency here. It’s going to get far worse. This is just a preview,” Ronni Katz, substance abuse program coordinator for Portland, describing the spike in heroin use,.

July 9, 2012:

“(The director of Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse) said that despite increasing numbers of addictions reported, Maine’s resources for treatment of drug addictions are dwindling. During rounds of recent state budget cuts, treatment expenditures decreased by $1.4 million between 2009 and 2011,”

April 6, 2012:

“You continue with the way you’re doing things and we’re going to be sitting here in the next five years saying the same things,” Capt. Marsha Alexander, administrator of the Kennebec County jail, on the failure to treat prisoners for addiction,.

Oct. 20, 2011.

“There are tens of thousands of Mainers who have serious opiate addictions and who have no access to care,” Publicker.

Oct. 13, 2011:

“During the same period that this epidemic has been growing, treatment resources in Maine have been dwindling because of funding cutbacks. In Maine, this drug problem is fueled by poverty, isolation and despair, and it will not go away on its own,” Peter Wohl, director of outpatient services, Crisis & Counseling Services.

By now, we’ve heard what the experts in medicine, public health and law enforcement have to say – we don’t have enough capacity to provide drug treatment.

When are we finally going to listen?

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/20/our-view-on-addiction-response-its-finally-time-to-listen/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1227935_20160126_op_hope_3.jpgScarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton, right, and Officer John Gill coordinate Operation Hope, a lifeline for opioid addicts in Maine.Thu, 20 Jul 2017 10:16:10 +0000
Leonard Pitts: The more power the extreme right amasses, the angrier it becomes http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/leonard-pitts-the-more-power-the-extreme-right-amasses-the-angrier-it-becomes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/leonard-pitts-the-more-power-the-extreme-right-amasses-the-angrier-it-becomes/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 10:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227759 It began in April.

That’s when there appeared on YouTube an NRA recruitment video that raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. Speaking through a jaw clenched tight enough to crack walnuts, with an intensity that suggested a major artery might blow out at any second, conservative pundit Dana Loesch described an America wracked by carnage.

“They,” she said, “use their media to assassinate real news.”

“They,” she said, “use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler.”

“They,” she said, “use their ex-president to endorse the resistance.”

In her telling, this “they” of hers is smashing windows, burning cars and generally scaring the bejeezus out of good, God-fearing conservatives. “We,” she said, must save our country from what “they” are doing by fighting “this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.”

Leni Riefenstahl – Google her – would’ve been proud. As propaganda goes, this was a masterpiece, playing like Yo-Yo Ma on a Stradivarius the racial, religious and cultural resentments that gave rise to our current president.

Indeed, many observers saw the ad as a coded incitement to violence. One gun owner, commenting on Facebook, called it “disgusting.” Another said the NRA was “hate-mongering.” Still another called the NRA a “terrorist” group.

As you might imagine, progressive activists also were appalled. One of them, Tamika Mallory, an organizer of the Women’s March in January, posted an open letter to NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre, calling the ad “irresponsible and dangerous” and “a direct attack on people of color (and) progressives.” She demanded it be taken down and that the NRA apologize.

In response, the NRA aggressively targeted Mallory – that verb is used advisedly – in a new ad that rejects any notion of an apology.

“Get over it and grow up,” says the NRA’s Grant Stinchfield. “I’m talking to you, Tamika Mallory.” For good measure, an image of Mallory then appears on the screen. Somehow, they resisted putting crosshairs on her face.

All this sound and fury is telling, coming as it does on the heels of the NRA’s utter silence on a matter that you’d think would be a lot more pressing for a group calling itself “America’s foremost defender” of the right to bear arms.

After all, it’s been more than a year and the family of Philando Castile is still waiting for the NRA to speak up for this man, who was killed by a panicky cop while legally exercising his right to bear arms.

For that matter, the families of Tamir Rice and John Crawford III, both killed while holding toy guns, are also waiting. But all three were black, so the wait will likely be long. Apparently, the NRA doesn’t actually defend the right to bear arms – just the white to bear arms.

But these videos reveal more than selective silence and rank hypocrisy.

Has anyone else noticed that the more power the extreme right wing amasses, the less satisfied it seems to be? That the more government it controls, the more fearful and angry the extreme right becomes?

That, ultimately, is what’s so viscerally jarring about those videos, the reason even some gun owners are taken aback. To watch them, you’d think a riot in Baltimore or a tasteless joke by Kathy Griffin was the end of the known world. There is no vision there. There is no hope. There is only “they,” who are out to get “us.”

Tamika Mallory, then, should wear the NRA’s scorn with pride. Why would she crave the approval of people like this? Their scared and angry rhetoric condemns them.

Their cowardly silence does, too.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/leonard-pitts-the-more-power-the-extreme-right-amasses-the-angrier-it-becomes/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/04/PITTS_LEONARD_1_TNS2.jpgTNS Columnist Leonard Pitts. (Olivier Douliery/TNS)Tue, 18 Jul 2017 20:28:41 +0000
Maine Voices: Administration needs to heed Katahdin Woods and Waters supporters http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/maine-voices-administration-needs-to-heed-katahdin-woods-and-waters-supporters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/maine-voices-administration-needs-to-heed-katahdin-woods-and-waters-supporters/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227651 AUGUSTA — In May, the Trump administration asked Americans to weigh in on the fate of 27 national monuments, including Katahdin Woods and Waters. People jumped at the chance. Now it’s time for the administration to listen.

By July 10, the end of the two-month public comment period, more than 260,000 people had submitted comments specifically mentioning Maine’s new national nonument. The Department of Interior posted all comments on its official website, whether they were submitted online or in hard copy.

Natural Resources Council of Maine staff members examined all of the comments the Interior Department had received through July 4 that mentioned Katahdin Woods and Waters. This included thousands of comments that were contained within attachments to online submissions. We spent 120 hours reviewing them all.

The public comments reveal nearly unanimous endorsement of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. As of July 4, we found that 99.96 percent of the comments supported Maine’s monument: Only 67 were against Katahdin Woods and Waters and 192,000 were for it. And by July 10, the percentage in support did not change. This number does not even include generic comments in support of all national monuments under review, or tens of thousands of names on petitions.

Printed out, the comments in support of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would tower 60 feet high – the height of a five-story building. In comparison, the comments in opposition would be only one-quarter of an inch tall.

Reading the comments, it is clear that the vast majority of people see Katahdin Woods and Waters as good news for the region, for Maine and for the nation. Commenters see the designation as a settled matter, and do not want the monument taken away.

Many Katahdin-region residents who once opposed the monument have since become strong supporters, as they see the economic boost in the Katahdin region and new financial investments that they say would not have happened without the new monument. Commenters mention seeing visitors from all over the country who are spending money, and many say they plan to return.

The comments make clear that, in addition to broad support, there was also significant opportunity for local input and the original proposal was modified based on public input, especially from the Katahdin region.

Katahdin Woods and Waters was established after a multi-year, statewide public conversation about the possibility of a national park or monument like this in the Katahdin region. There was exhaustive public outreach, including hundreds of group and one-on-one discussions and presentations, a major public listening session attended by almost 1,400 Mainers, and coordination with relevant stakeholders. In their comments, scores of people described the public meetings they attended during the past five years.

Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument was established by then-President Obama on Aug. 24, 2016. Obama’s action was made possible through the donation of 87,500 acres of land by Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. The nonprofit foundation purchased the land from willing sellers, and generously donated it to the Department of Interior to be permanently conserved, with public access forever. Elliotsville Plantation also has pledged to provide $20 million to support the monument and help raise an additional $20 million.

The land features stunning views of Maine’s tallest mountain, Katahdin; the wild and scenic East Branch of the Penobscot River; forests that inspired Henry David Thoreau and Teddy Roosevelt; and moose, bear and other wildlife that are a major attraction for visitors.

For those who may wonder if the residents of the Katahdin region got their say during this public comment period, they spoke up in droves, and their words were inspiring. Here are just a few excerpts we found from people who specifically said they are from that region:

“Just miles from my house, the newly-created Katahdin Woods and Waters monument is already bringing new life to our city in the form of tourist dollars, while also preserving the beauty of our great state for generations to come.”

“The Monument has been a welcome boost to our local economy in the short nine months since its creation and it has the potential to continue to grow our economy in the years ahead. I’ve witnessed firsthand the positive effect of the Monument in our local real estate market.”

We sincerely hope that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Trump acknowledge the overwhelming support and heed the wishes of the vast majority of Americans and protect this gift to our nation forever.

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Greg Kesich: Good old days were not always so good in Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/good-old-days-were-not-always-so-good-in-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/good-old-days-were-not-always-so-good-in-portland/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227746 I’m not a real Mainer, but I have been here long enough to take on some of the local customs.

For instance, I orient myself with landmarks that no longer exist. You might take Exit 44 off the Turnpike, but to me it’s still “6A.”

When I go to South Portland, I think I’m driving across the Million Dollar Bridge. And I’ve caught myself at times giving directions like, “Turn left where the church used to be.”

It’s a quirk of the people who live here and one of the things that sets Maine apart from the other places I’ve lived. Mainers are always aware of how things used to be and they don’t jump on the latest fad. It’s a conservative place, if by that you mean a place where things are conserved and not wasted.

But every strength can be a weakness, too, and Maine’s pride in the past can start to look like nostalgia or even fear of change if it’s taken too far.

Where I live in Portland we gripe about how much better things used to be in the good old days, when housing was cheap, you could park wherever you wanted and you never had to worry about crowds of tourists.

Like I said, I’m not a native, so maybe I missed the old days that were really good. But in my nearly 30 years here, I’ve seen a lot of change, and most of it has been for the better.

Sure, I miss the gritty Portland I first saw in the late 1980s when there were dozens of fishing boats tied up at the docks. And I wish my kids could find a cheap apartment on Munjoy Hill like their mother and I did.

But I don’t get all misty-eyed about it. I’m glad some things are gone.

Maybe I can’t afford to eat at the new restaurants on the Hill, whose outdoor tables crowd the sidewalks, but I didn’t buy crack cocaine from the kids who used to stand out on those corners, either, and the restaurants’ clientele gives me a lot less to worry about.

And even if I’m not cool enough for the food trucks that line the Eastern Prom on a summer night, I can still appreciate that they’re a big step up from the anonymous sex scene that used to be so active in the park that the police had to put up “No cruising” signs.

This is the kind of thing I think about when I hear people growl the term “gentrification” as the scourge that ruined Portland.

The analysis goes something like this: Real estate in what used to be working-class neighborhoods was snapped up by people with money, who renovated the buildings and jacked up the rents or converted them to condos.

High-end housing for even richer people got built, but there’s nothing affordable for the kinds of people who used to live there.

All those things definitely happened, but it doesn’t explain everything I’ve seen. Some of those cheap rents were set by absentee landlords who never screened their tenants or invested in their buildings.

The biggest change to the neighborhood came before the condos, in the 1990s, when the state’s New Neighbors program made it easier for someone buying a multi-unit building to get a mortage if they planned to live on-site. As they cleaned up and improved their homes, others followed.

A lot of what people say they miss about the old Portland was the result of neglect.

Sure, kids used to be able to play in the street. You could always find parking because there was no reason to come to the neighborhood if you didn’t live there. Empty lots stayed empty, and people began thinking of them as public open space.

But congestion, competition and new construction are signs of progress, not decline.

Former Sen. George Mitchell likes to say, “the solution to every human problem contains the seed to another problem.”

The challenge for a place like Portland is how to make room for the people who want to move here – rich, poor and middle class – without displacing those of us who are here already and want to stay.

If that’s what we want to do, we’ve got to think about making housing more affordable in ways that the free market won’t, and by permitting enough density to make public transit truly viable.

That will take a readjustment in attitudes about growth and change. You don’t get there by clinging to the past.

Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at:

gkesich@pressherald.com

Twitter: gregkesich

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Our View: Surge in opt-out rates for childhood vaccinations should cause alarm http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/our-view-surge-in-opt-out-rates-for-childhood-vaccinations-should-raise-alarms/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/our-view-surge-in-opt-out-rates-for-childhood-vaccinations-should-raise-alarms/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227774 The bad news: The rate of Maine parents with nonmedical reasons for refusing childhood vaccinations is back on the rise. The worse news: People who reject immunization for their children tend to live near others who think like they do, putting whole communities at higher risk as cases of preventable diseases spike.

During the 2016-17 school year, according to state officials, 4.8 percent of Maine parents cited religious or philosophical reasons for not having their kindergartners vaccinated. This demoralizing statistic represents not just a jump from the year before – when the rate was 4 percent – but also the reversal of a decline that started after Maine’s nonmedical opt-out rate reached 5.2 percent in 2013-14, the fifth highest in the U.S. that year.

The growth in the vaccine-refusal rate is driven by parents who have philosophical objections to vaccines. They distrust the overwhelming scientific consensus on the disease-prevention benefits of vaccinations in favor of outlier research like the long-since-debunked, deliberately falsified study that allegedly showed a link between vaccines and autism.

And there are a lot of people who think the same way. Just 53 percent of Americans are confident that vaccines are safe and effective, a 2014 Associated Press-GfK Public Affairs study found – about the same as the percentage who believe in ghosts and haunted houses.

But while believing in spirits doesn’t hurt anyone else, rejecting vaccines does. A new Harvard study shows a link between a spike in whooping cough in 2012 – which saw a 57-year high of 48,277 cases nationwide – and rising nonmedical vaccine exemptions. Looking at county-level data from five states that had higher-than-average rates of the respiratory disease (which can be deadly to babies), the counties with the most cases also had a high level of exemptions.

Why? In a recently released analysis of the 2012 Oregon whooping cough outbreak, researchers there concluded that social and geographical connections among anti-vaccination families laid the groundwork for an outbreak by allowing the disease to spread first among unvaccinated children, who then infect others in their community – including the 90 percent of their peers who have been immunized.

The same thing could be at work in Maine. A total of 227 whooping cough cases have been reported through June of this year – nearly double the total from the first six months of 2016.

Gov. LePage’s veto was enough to kill a 2015 effort to tighten vaccine exemption laws, and he’s not easily swayed when he’s dug in his heels on an issue. Maine lawmakers should wait him out and use his remaining months in office to craft a policy that will mandate vaccinations for healthy public school students and give all young people in Maine a sound place to learn.

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Another View: Video games keep young men too busy playing to work http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/another-view-video-games-keep-young-men-too-busy-playing-to-work/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/19/another-view-video-games-keep-young-men-too-busy-playing-to-work/#respond Wed, 19 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227788 A group of economists released a paper recently suggesting young men are working fewer hours because they are spending so much time playing video games. Video games might also help explain a new study from Johns Hopkins University researchers, who said that today’s 19-year-old is as sedentary as a 60-year-old.

Inactive lifestyles, obesity and the opioid epidemic have combined to end a streak of life expectancy increases. In 2015, the number dropped for the first time in two decades – from 78.9 to 78.8. Social media, phones, video games and TV are keeping people from being on their feet, from making friends and from being productive.

The economists found that American men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a year than the same age group did in 2000. Part of that difference is because gaming and social isolation prevent some men from even entering the workforce. Some men, researchers believe, limit the amount of time they work so they can play games.

All of this matters. Inactive lifestyles and poor diets are directly linked to increasing obesity rates, which correlate with the decline in life expectancy.

Choosing social isolation or gaming over a fulfilling job or friendship deprives a person of support systems that could help when dealing with an addiction. And decreased productivity and unemployment prevent the economy from reaching peak efficiency, thereby hurting others who are fully engaged in the workforce. Americans need to get back to moving their bodies.

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The Comments Section: Letter Writer of the Month and Facebook discourse http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/comments-section-letter-writer-month-facebook-discourse/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/comments-section-letter-writer-month-facebook-discourse/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 20:49:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1225322 Editorial page editors Greg Kesich and Sarah Collins dug into the mailbags to crown Kathleen Mikulka as June’s Letter Writer of the Month. In this episode, Mikulka joins us to share more about her teaching experience and why she is concerned about creating education policy based on test scores. We also hear from social media czar Jim Patrick, who makes the argument that while Facebook maintains its reputation for impulsive, ad hominem comments, the Press Herald has also attracted engaged, informed readers that will tempt you to defy the Internet principle of “Don’t read the comments!”

Lastly, we dig into the funniest, smartest, most indignant messages from PressHerald.com, featuring yarmouth1, bowdoin 81, elvisisdead, 3midcoastg8tor, and a special appearance by columnist Jim Fossell.

Related Stories

Letter to the Editor: Raising the diploma bar slams doors

Our View: Indifference at State House prolongs Maine’s opioid crisis

Kesich: If we let people die when it’s time, health care may cost a lot less

Letter to the editor: Don’t let Congress discard lifesaving benefits of ACA

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/comments-section-letter-writer-month-facebook-discourse/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1131284_392252_facebook.jpgThe younger you are, the more likely it is that you get your news via social media sites like Facebook, whose CEO recently acknowledged that "we do a lot more than just distribute the news ... we're an important part of the public discourse."Wed, 19 Jul 2017 09:07:47 +0000
Maine Voices: Portland task force’s pesticide ordinance is full of loopholes http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/maine-voices-portland-task-force-pesticide-ordinance-is-full-of-loopholes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/maine-voices-portland-task-force-pesticide-ordinance-is-full-of-loopholes/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227211 HARBORSIDE — Anyone who has followed the Portland City Council task force deliberations on a pesticide ordinance over the last year has to have been encouraged by the strong showing at a June 21 hearing. Residents testifying in favor of the most protective regulations – namely, the provisos of an ordinance enacted by South Portland last year – outnumbered by 5 to 1 supporters of the chemical industry-friendly draft ordinance from the Portland task force.

The task force ordinance, which purports to be based on integrated pest management practices and to ban synthetic pesticides on public and private land, is replete with loopholes that allow insecticides, herbicides and fungicides to be used if “the pest population exceeds acceptable safety, economic or aesthetic threshold levels.” Whose “aesthetic threshold”? Someone who objects to dandelions on lawns? Whose “economic threshold”? That of a playground manager who looks for the cheapest way to kill grubs and weeds regardless of the environmental and human health consequences?

The task force also proposes waivers for undefined “emergency” situations, which would undoubtedly include the browntail-moth infestation now plaguing parts of the coast. Among the state-approved insecticides for this pest are four neonicotinoids and three pyrethroids, all deadly to bees and other pollinators. Recent evidence of the harm done by neonicotinoids to both honeybee and wild bee populations makes the case for banning these insecticides in the strongest possible terms.

Although they profess adherence to integrated pest management guidelines for least-toxic products and protocols, regulators and their business allies have hijacked the concept. It now translates to intensive spraying on a schedule rather than integrated pest management. As we saw at the hearing, they construct a straw-man argument based on the concept of organic pest management – the basis of the South Portland ordinance – demonizing organic products like vinegar and essential oils while ignoring the fact that organic pest management means fundamentally building healthy soil.

In addition to promoting this kind of environmentally protective land care, the South Portland ordinance stresses educating residents about organic pest management; Portland’s proposed ordinance does not. Education will be critical to making residents aware of nontoxic alternatives to the insecticides being sprayed to combat the browntail moth as well as the herbicides that destroy food sources and habitat for endangered pollinators.

These poisons, along with fungicides typically used pre-emptively on golf courses, are running off into streams (five of which are ranked “impaired” in Portland) and draining into Casco Bay. Unaccountably, the flawed Portland task force draft has been endorsed by Friends of Casco Bay, whose 2001-2009 stormwater monitoring shows the many lawn and golf-course chemicals polluting the bay.

Consider how the system works now: You live on a Portland street with one or more close neighbors who contract with a landscaper for regular spraying. You’re in a vulnerable subgroup, possibly with children and pets who must be kept inside while chemicals are applied and drifting close enough to you to trigger irritation and other symptoms of concern.

You can pay $20 to be listed on a state notification registry, so that anyone within 250 feet must let you know before the exterminator’s arrival on the scene. But it’s a hit-or-miss system. Pesticides are sometimes applied to the wrong property, or they drift off target, or contractors fail to provide advance notice.

The white flags put up after pesticide applications – with blank spaces for notes on the chemicals used, Environmental Protection Agency registration numbers and reason for spraying – provide none of that information. Why? Neighbors and bystanders exposed involuntarily to those dangerous chemicals have a right to know what has been sprayed.

In the limited cases where South Portland grants waivers for what are deemed emergencies, full disclosure of the pesticides used is required on the warning flags and all properties sprayed under waivers are itemized in the public record.

One final reason to reject the task force proposal: It originated with Deven Morrill, a commercial applicator with Lucas Tree Experts, who also chairs the state pesticide control board. We cannot count on the oversight authority in Augusta, which is known to be more about enabling than controlling pesticide use. Instead, we need a legal framework for transitioning to organic pest management at the local level, as the South Portland model does.

Anyone who’s concerned should write to members of the City Council’s Sustainability Committee (Spencer Thibodeau, Belinda Ray and Jill Duson) at portlandmaine.gov and attend a council-sponsored expert panel on pesticides July 26.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/maine-voices-portland-task-force-pesticide-ordinance-is-full-of-loopholes/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/02/793344_RiversideChemicals.jpgThe city-owned Riverside Golf Course in Portland budgeted $25,000 for synthetic pesticides in 2015, according to a recently released Portland Protectors report.Mon, 17 Jul 2017 20:29:46 +0000
Our View: Sen. Collins is on the right side of health debate, but Rep. Poliquin is not http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/our-view-collins-on-health-debates-right-side-poliquin-is-not/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/our-view-collins-on-health-debates-right-side-poliquin-is-not/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227232 Republican plans to “save” our health care system by destroying big chunks of it appear to have stalled. But the battle is far from over, and Mainers should remember which of their representatives in Washington have been on their side.

The American Health Care Act, which the House passed in May, and the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which now appears to be failing in the Senate, are two pieces of legislation that try to achieve the same goal. What was sold as a “repeal of Obamacare” was really an attack on Medicaid, the 52-year-old program (known here as MaineCare) that looks out for the people who need it most, including two-thirds of nursing home residents, 40 percent of pregnant mothers and millions of children and people with disabilities.

Independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree have been early and outspoken critics of the bill in its several incarnations. But since this has been an entirely partisan effort – where only Republican votes were courted – they have been outside the process. Maine’s Republican Sen. Susan Collins and 2nd District Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, however, had an opportunity to stand up for the people they represent.

Collins proved to be up to the challenge. Soon after Election Day, she voiced opposition to outrageous plans to rush through a sweeping health care reform package in time for President Trump’s inauguration without holding a single public hearing or legislative debate.

She continued to oppose the House bill, and after the Senate version was drafted, she put herself down as an opponent, knowing that her party’s leaders had only two votes to spare. Collins’ timely and principled stand made it easier for other moderates to join her in opposition.

Poliquin, on the other hand, stuck with his party’s leaders and supported the bill, even though thousands of his constituents would suffer.

Poliquin ducked questions on the issue for months until he had no choice but to cast a public vote.

Then he repeated Republican talking points that were instantly exposed as false – claiming, for example, that the bill would affect only the 7 percent of Mainers who buy insurance on the individual market, and not the tens of thousands of Mainers on Medicaid, including thousands of his constituents, who would be direct losers.

It’s important to remember that what Poliquin and the others support is not just an attack on the Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act, an aspect of the law in which Maine does not participate. But roughly a fifth of Mainers get their health care through traditional Medicaid – and tearing that apart is central to both the House and Senate attempts to repeal the ACA.

Both bills cap would federal contributions for the states for their Medicaid programs, rather than paying a share of the costs of caring for each program enrollee. As health care costs climb, the federal share would shrink as a portion of the whole cost, forcing states to cut services. Vice President Pence claims that you can’t call it a cut, because the federal share might actually show a slight increase on a year-over-year basis.

On Sunday, Collins would have none of it. “I would respectfully disagree with the vice president’s analysis,” she said on CNN. “You can’t take more than $700 billion out of the program and not think that it’s going to have some kind of effect.”

It’s unclear now whether the Better Care Reconciliation Act will ever come up for a vote in the Senate. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was hospitalized for emergency surgery to remove a blood clot near his brain, so the vote has been postponed. As details of the bill come forward, more senators have echoed Collins’ concerns.

But regardless of what happens next, Mainers should remember where Collins and Poliquin stood when their voices mattered most.

When the question was, “Should millions of low and moderate income Americans lose their health insurance to pay for a tax cut for the wealthy?” Collins said “no,” and Poliquin said “yes.”

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CMP chief: Lawmakers should sustain Gov. LePage’s veto of solar bill http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/cmp-chief-lawmakers-should-back-gov-lepages-veto-of-solar-bill/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/cmp-chief-lawmakers-should-back-gov-lepages-veto-of-solar-bill/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227237 Legislators who want to move Maine’s energy policy forward should support Gov. LePage’s veto of L.D. 1504, An Act To Modernize Rates for Small-scale Distributed Generation.

Despite the title’s promise, the bill locks in an outdated and expensive subsidy for the businesses that install private solar systems. It also unfairly shifts costs to everyone who pays an electric bill and delays opportunities for solar energy to make a more meaningful difference for Maine’s environment and economy. As president of Maine’s largest electric utility, I believe our customers – and our state – should not be held back by these narrow special interests.

With today’s technology, solar energy has new potential to deliver environmental and economic benefits for Maine. Our company has some of the most advanced grid technology in the U.S., and parallel advances in solar technology have created entirely new opportunities that were unattainable only a decade ago. We now have the ability to combine cost-effective, renewable energy resources and the power of dynamic energy markets to maximize the benefits of solar technology for everyone. However, L.D. 1504 preserves 1990s-era regulations that lock in inefficient solutions and could burden Central Maine Power’s customers with as much as $150 million in unfair costs between now and 2035.

The companies that install private solar energy systems built their businesses around an outdated state energy policy called net energy billing. Put in place more than 30 years ago, this policy provided a simple and effective incentive to jumpstart evolving technologies such as rooftop photovoltaic systems. Today, solar technology is a proven success. A recent study of the industry by Bloomberg New Energy Finance concluded that the costs for PV panels are down 90 percent since the 1990s. The market for private solar has taken off, and despite that progress, the incentives haven’t changed.

The success has had unintended consequences for customers of the state’s electric utilities. Today, the people who invest in private solar systems earn their return on the investment by shifting millions of dollars of grid operating costs onto those who don’t or can’t make the same investment. That is simply not fair.

The Maine Legislature, the Maine Office of the Public Advocate and the Maine Public Utilities Commission have acknowledged the unfairness of this cost shift. In 2015, the Maine Legislature passed a resolve calling for the development of “an alternative to net energy billing that fairly and transparently allocates the costs and benefits of distributed generation to all customers.”

After working with stakeholders for nearly a year, the PUC developed an alternative rule that provided an equitable transition away from the net metering subsidy, while providing long-term (15 years) protection for the owners of existing systems and slowly winding down the cost shift. The commission’s rule has drawn criticisms from all sides of the debate, yet it appropriately balances the different interests in the state and provides for a gradual transition away from net metering.

When the new Legislature convened in January, the special interests came back to reclaim their subsidy through state law in L.D. 1504. If they succeed, it will postpone progress in energy policy, unfairly shift costs to customers who cannot afford to install solar systems and continue to provide a windfall to solar customers while handing everyone else the bill.

The future of L.D. 1504 now hinges on the Legislature’s choice to sustain or overturn the veto. The issue of real progress versus status quo hangs in the balance.

The growth of private solar technology was financed in part by utility ratepayers through policies like net energy billing, while other technologies, such as smart meters, advanced as well. These investments in technology give us the opportunity to align the financial incentives for solar installers and private solar owners with our collective economic and environmental interests without imposing a $150 million premium on the rest of CMP’s residential and business customers.

The advocates for L.D. 1504 call it a step forward for solar, but in reality, it’s a step backward for everyone. A vote to sustain the governor’s veto will be a vote for fairness and a victory for those who support a serious response to the need for clean, renewable energy.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/cmp-chief-lawmakers-should-back-gov-lepages-veto-of-solar-bill/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1226243_686715_netzero002.jpgA bill that would maintain net metering for solar producers like this home in Wells has been vetoed by Gov. LePage, but the Maine Legislature can, and should, revive it. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick OuelletteMon, 17 Jul 2017 20:35:41 +0000
Charles Lawton: Our national and state body politic needs a time-out http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/charles-lawton-our-national-and-state-body-politic-needs-a-time-out/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/18/charles-lawton-our-national-and-state-body-politic-needs-a-time-out/#respond Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1227239 The older I get, and the more strident the shouting that serves as political discourse becomes, the more I am convinced that we should return to that archaic description of the disparate elements that together compose this thing all our new candidates seek to lead – the body politic.

Thirty-five years ago, I used to run from my office or a hearing room to the old YMCA in Augusta, slip into shorts and shoes and join the next group to number five.

Together we would dash onto the court to bump, shove and attempt to run around and shoot over five other assorted bureaucrats, Cabinet members and legislators. If we got five baskets first, we’d remain on court to take on the next five. Win and stay on, or lose and leave.

Only the most egregious fouls were enforced, and then, only by silent consensus. We’d all get as much exercise as a lunch “hour” would allow, shower, dress and rush back to work.

No one thought about aches and pains, much less discussed them. The point was “have fun; enjoy the game.”

Today, I can’t start a beginner-level yoga class without a careful, five-minute body inventory. Which toe, shoulder or rib hurts today? How shall I explore and inhabit this old body today? The point is “keep this collection of tissue and bone and organs that has served me so well for so long in sufficient condition to do what I choose to do today.”

This attitude of careful attention to a complex organism that has served many of us reasonably well over our lifetimes is precisely the attitude we desperately need to bring to our body politic.

For many of us, it has served us reasonably well over our lifetimes. At the same time, its history holds numerous examples and the promise of better serving tomorrow those of us who haven’t been served so well in the past.

Our body politic, both nationally and in Maine, has been battered into a bloody and increasingly angry pulp over the past 20 years by the philosophy of 50.1 percent. Do whatever is needed to get a fraction over one-half of those voting on your side – whatever cost that may impose on truth, human decency and the chance for broader social well-being – then impose your ideological position on everyone.

Since at least 2000, our body politic has been like a patient on a gurney being tugged by two competing specialists toward two separate operating rooms where two radical, frightening and very different procedures await, each of which, we are assured, will cure all our ills.

To my mind, the very intensity of the battle undermines the promised outcome. We don’t need radical surgical transformation – we need careful contemplation of our goals.

We don’t need more (or fewer) government programs – we need a strategy of governance. Our body politic needs a time-out.

The exhausting games we played heedlessly three decades ago because they were so much fun aren’t as enjoyable anymore.

Our body politic demands a different approach to return to health. The old saw about academic politics applies more broadly today: Question: “Why is it so vicious?” Answer: “Because there is so little at stake.”

Repealing or failing to repeal Obamacare will not make our system of health care healthy. Cutting taxes for the rich will not make our economy healthy. Slapping quotas and import duties on products from outside U.S. borders will improve neither labor force participation nor labor productivity. Financing 55 percent of Maine’s K-12 education system with state rather than local taxes will neither improve the quality of education nor reduce the local property tax burden.

All of those electoral outcomes will constitute victories for some and defeats for others. But not a one will improve the quality of governance in this state or in this nation. And that failure will leave our body politic – the subject on which we all should be focusing – to continue its slow, irritable and increasingly irrational descent into a sad state of dementia.

The question voters in Maine and in the nation as a whole should forcefully pose to each and every candidate who seeks to lead us is not, “What is your position on ____ (fill in the blank for issue or program)?”

It is, rather, “How do you propose to govern our body politic?”

Charles Lawton, Ph.D., is a consulting economist. He can be contacted at:

cttlaw3@gmail.com

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Joe Scarborough: ‘Trump is killing the Republican Party’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/joe-scarborough-trump-is-killing-the-republican-party/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/joe-scarborough-trump-is-killing-the-republican-party/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 14:30:25 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/joe-scarborough-trump-is-killing-the-republican-party/ Joe Scarborough, host of the MSNBC show “Morning Joe” and former four-term Republican congressman from Florida, elaborated on his reasons for leaving the Republican Party in this opinion piece published in Sunday’s Washington Post.


I did not leave the Republican Party. The Republican Party left its senses. The political movement that once stood athwart history resisting bloated government and military adventurism has been reduced to an amalgam of talk-radio resentments. President Trump’s Republicans have devolved into a party without a cause, dominated by a leader hopelessly ill-informed about the basics of conservatism, U.S. history and the Constitution.

Joe Scarborough Associated Press

America’s first Republican president reportedly said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity. But if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” The current Republican president and the party he controls were granted monopoly power over Washington in November and already find themselves spectacularly failing Abraham Lincoln’s character exam.

It would take far more than a single column to detail Trump’s failures in the months following his bleak inaugural address. But the Republican leaders who have subjugated themselves to the White House’s corrupting influence fell short of Lincoln’s standard long before their favorite reality-TV star brought his gaudy circus act to Washington.

When I left Congress in 2001, I praised my party’s successful efforts to balance the budget for the first time in a generation and keep many of the promises that led to our takeover in 1994. I concluded my last speech on the House floor by foolishly predicting that Republicans would balance budgets and champion a restrained foreign policy for as long as they held power.

I would be proved wrong immediately.

As the new century began, Republicans gained control of the federal government. George W. Bush and the GOP Congress responded by turning a $155 billion surplus into a $1 trillion deficit and doubling the national debt, passing a $7 trillion unfunded entitlement program and promoting a foreign policy so utopian it would have made Woodrow Wilson blush. Voters made Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House in 2006 and Barack Obama president in 2008.

After their well-deserved drubbing, Republicans swore that if voters ever entrusted them with running Washington again, they would prove themselves worthy. Trump’s party was given a second chance this year, but it has spent almost every day since then making the majority of Americans regret it.

The Republican president questioned America’s constitutional system of checks and balances. Republican leaders said nothing. He echoed Stalin and Mao by calling the free press “the enemy of the people.” Republican leaders were silent. And as the commander in chief insulted allies while embracing autocratic thugs, Republicans who spent a decade supporting wars of choice remained quiet. Meanwhile, their budget-busting proposals demonstrate a fiscal recklessness very much in line with the Bush years.

Last week’s Russia revelations show just how shamelessly Republican lawmakers will stand by a longtime Democrat who switched parties after the promotion of a racist theory about Barack Obama gave him standing in Lincoln’s once-proud party. Neither Lincoln, William Buckley nor Ronald Reagan would recognize this movement.

It is a dying party that I can no longer defend.

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Jon Meacham has long predicted that the Republican and Democrats’ 150-year duopoly will end. The signs seem obvious enough. When my Republican Party took control of Congress in 1994, it was the first time they had won the House in a generation. The two parties have been in a state of turmoil ever since.

In 2004, Republican strategist Karl Rove anticipated a majority that would last a generation; two years later, Pelosi became the most liberal House speaker in history. Obama was swept into power by a supposedly unassailable Democratic coalition. In 2010, the tea party tide rolled in. Obama’s reelction returned the momentum to the Democrats, but Republicans won a historic state-level landslide in 2014. Then last fall, Trump demolished both the Republican and Democratic establishments.

Political historians will one day view Donald Trump as a historical anomaly. But the wreckage visited by this man will break the Republican Party into pieces – and lead to the election of independent thinkers no longer tethered to the tired dogmas of the polarized past. When that day mercifully arrives, the two-party duopoly that has strangled American politics for almost two centuries will finally come to an end. And Washington just may begin to work again.

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Our View: Victims of domestic abuse can get help in Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/our-view-abuse-victims-should-know-they-can-get-help/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/our-view-abuse-victims-should-know-they-can-get-help/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226718 Statistics show that the most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is the end, when the abuser is confronted with the possibility that he or she no longer can control the abused.

Two domestic violence incidents separated by days, in central Maine, appear to bear that out. In all, four people were killed, and another wounded, by men jealous and angry at the break down of a relationship.

Of course, to the victims and their loved ones, it doesn’t matter if the homicides fit some sort of pattern. Each murder – in fact, each incident of domestic violence – is its own tragedy, with its own set of circumstances. These events should not be simply reduced to statistics or cautionary tales, nor should the victims or circumstances be blamed for the behaviors of the perpetrators.

But the dangers of domestic violence are very real, and people who recognize in their own relationships some of the behaviors that serve as warning signs should know that there are people who understand what they are going through, and are ready to help.

Lori Hayden, friends say, was trying to move out of her house when her husband shot her, their son and two other men on July 5 in Madison – only one of the men survived. Hayden’s husband believed, erroneously, that she was having an affair with one of the other victims – those kinds of accusations another warning sign of domestic violence.

A few days later, in Jay, police say Wendy Douglass was killed while she slept by her ex-boyfriend. They were recently separated, but still living together. According to an affidavit, the ex-boyfriend left a note: “Wendy I love you you ruin my love I already know you cheat on me you lie lie lie a lot.”

Investigations into the murders continue. But there is no question that abusive relationships are about power and control, and when that power and control is threatened, as when a partner is trying to leave, abusive behavior can escalate.

That signals something fundamentally wrong with the abuser, in which normal human feelings of jealousy, insecurity and anger become violent, self-absorbed rage. These patterns of behaviors must be identified and interrupted before something goes horribly wrong. Unfortunately, that burden often falls on the victims or their loved ones.

The stigma around abusive relationships – the hesistancy to get involved and the tendency to minimize abusive actions – is a barrier, as is the fear and self-loathing that abusers use to control the abused.

But those people should know that help is out there, and they can find it by calling the state’s toll-free hotline, 1-866-834-4357, where counselors can point people toward the right resources.

They should know that many others are in the same position and understand just how complicated it all is. They should know there is no shame in reaching out for help. They should know that there are people waiting to help who know what to do, whatever their situation.

They should know that they are not alone.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/our-view-abuse-victims-should-know-they-can-get-help/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1226718_354647_20170706_homicide_fo1-e1500287014336.jpgThe home of Lori Hayden, who was killed by her husband on July 5 in Madison. Abusers seek control, and they are at their most dangerous when they start to feel it slipping away.Mon, 17 Jul 2017 06:23:43 +0000
Maine Voices: Expanded deep-freezing facility would heat up local, state economy http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/maine-voices-expanded-deep-freezing-facility-would-heat-up-local-state-economy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/maine-voices-expanded-deep-freezing-facility-would-heat-up-local-state-economy/#respond Mon, 17 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226723 I have been involved in commercial fisheries for the past 28 years. I’ve witnessed the decline of groundfish landings at the Portland Fish Exchange, from 30 million pounds per year in the early 1990s to about 3 million pounds annually since 2015. Despite this steady decline, Portland seafood processors have been able to maintain production, sales and jobs by supplementing fresh fish with frozen fish.

These processors not only use frozen seafood products but also create ready-to-prepare frozen lobster tails, lobster meat, fish fillets and minimally processed seafood that require a local, deep-freeze storage facility.

But the lack of a public, deep-freeze facility in the state has been difficult for these companies, which are forced to truck seafood to deep-freeze facilities in Massachusetts and back again to Maine. The additional cost of trucking reduces their margins, giving out-of-state processors a competitive edge in the marketplace.

These Maine businesses could very well have relocated to Massachusetts, taking advantage of better freezer infrastructure and reduced transportation costs. But the owners are committed to maintaining a presence here in Portland, keeping jobs here and the economic return local.

Now there is an opportunity to provide a level playing field for Maine businesses. The Portland Planning Board is considering a zoning change that would allow for the construction of a freezer warehouse adjacent to the container terminal on West Commercial Street.

I ask that residents of the city of Portland support the zoning change and recognize the economic contributions that these companies give to the city’s economy.

This freezer facility is not just about seafood processors’ needs. Farmers who grow fruits and vegetables, such as blueberries, cranberries, broccoli and potatoes, also would benefit from a dedicated deep-freeze facility. Its location adjacent to the container terminal and a rail line would open new domestic and international markets.

Eimskip, one of the world’s premier shipping lines for moving frozen seafood, has committed to establishing its North American container operations in Portland. A freezer building is needed to ensure that Eimskip is fully operational for handling freezer containers.

Eimskip cargo volumes are growing, and the company hopes in the near term to schedule ship calls every week. Weekly calls are important because most companies send and receive cargo on a weekly schedule. This new schedule, however, hinges upon a freezer facility being available.

As a Portland resident and property owner since 1990, I have watched Portland’s economic climate surge and retreat numerous times. The current housing building boom has created temporary jobs and expanded the tax base, but no real long-term jobs that have benefits are being created. We need a diverse economy that provides many kinds of jobs.

I am also concerned about the direction of the waterfront economy, which in recent years has shifted from commercial to recreational uses. With that shift, jobs have been added and lost. For the Port of Portland to be economically diverse, good-paying, industrial jobs need to be added.

A deep-freeze facility would create construction jobs, administrative jobs, dock worker jobs, trucking jobs and seafood processing jobs.

The beautiful city we know today is a product of its historic seaport. Our waterfront for centuries has served as a hub for cargo transportation, fishing and industry. While we have added tourism dollars to our economy, we should not turn our backs on our heritage. There is room for both.

I can understand the Western Promenade abutters’ concerns. They say they support cold storage but not at the capacity proposed. But a smaller capacity is not economically competitive and therefore not viable. A sound assumption is that this facility will experience strong demand once constructed.

This proposed freezer plant is a generational opportunity for the city of Portland and the state of Maine. This is an opportunity to make our port more economically diverse and to create a robust waterfront economy.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/17/maine-voices-expanded-deep-freezing-facility-would-heat-up-local-state-economy/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/05/1198598_244507-20170518_ColdStora3.jpgPortland Planning Board members and others get a tour Thursday evening on the waterfront site where a proposed cold storage facility would be built. The nearby Portland Yacht Services building was used to compare what the height of the proposed building might look like.Mon, 17 Jul 2017 14:34:23 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Trump Jr. meeting could trace back to revenge by Putin http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/cynthia-dill-trump-jr-meeting-could-trace-back-to-revenge-by-putin/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/cynthia-dill-trump-jr-meeting-could-trace-back-to-revenge-by-putin/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226173 We’ll probably never know exactly what the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya whispered to Donald Trump Jr. in their meeting at Trump Tower that was arranged by an English publicist, working for an aspiring Russian pop star, whose daddy helped Trump Sr. bring his Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013.

We only know what was promised to him in emails: “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

A recently disclosed email from publicist Rob Goldstone to Trump Jr. continues: “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Collusion? In the everyday use of the word way, yes. Obviously. It’s indisputable Trump Jr., an insider working for a presidential campaign, eagerly accepted Moscow’s underhanded help in beating Clinton.

The legal gymnastics of whether what was conveyed at the meeting at Trump Tower was “anything of value,” and therefore potentially a donation accepted from a foreign government and prohibited by federal election law, are not as interesting as the political poetry of a Trump administration taken down a notch by an email scandal about Hillary Clinton.

“If that’s what it is, I love it,” to borrow the words of Trump Jr. Or, as they say in Russia, karma is a “cyka.”

“Bashka” is how you say “chump” in Russian, according to Google, and surely the word on Veselnitskaya’s mind as she met with the slicked-back-with-a-sheen son of the Republican candidate.

She was no doubt on instructions from the “crown prosecutor” of Russia himself, Vladimir Putin, or at least that’s the best storyline.

The Russian president was still very mad that Clinton in late 2011 said as secretary of state that his country’s parliamentary elections were “neither free nor fair” when 12 million “extra” votes were found for Putin’s ruling party. And don’t forget Putin deeply resented the U.S. Congress for having the nerve to pass the Magnitsky Act, named after a brave Russian whistleblower who died in a Moscow prison, at a time when Congress couldn’t do much of anything else.

This was the 112th Congress, in 2012, when its approval rating was rock bottom because of complete and utter dysfunction. Record low numbers of laws were passed, partisanship was fierce and the budget remained at an impasse. Gridlocked, members couldn’t find a way to work together and prevent the country from going off the fiscal cliff, but Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that Russian thugs who kill whistleblowers are not welcome in America.

NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA

We’ll probably never know what exactly Putin said to the 42-year-old Veselnitskaya, described by The New York Times as a “fearsome Moscow insider” before dispatching her to America, but an unnamed source in my head tells me Putin said, as he patted her on the head, “Go now to the dumb one and dangle Clinton catnip. We’ll show the world who has an election fraud problem.”

Trump Jr. claims Veselnitskaya had “no information to provide,” and we’ll probably never know exactly what she teased him with – maybe it was a Photoshopped picture of Hillary Clinton dancing on a table in a bar in Vladivostok swinging around a bottle of vodka with a lampshade on her head.

Or maybe the beautiful Veselnitskaya mentioned to Junior that Bernie Sanders was one of four U.S. senators to vote against the Magnitsky Act, a fact largely unreported during the heated 2016 primary.

Is Bernie Sanders anti-Magnitsky? There’s no missing email about his position, but there appears to be a vote. The law blacklists Russians connected to the death of the gallant whistleblower and to other human rights violations, barring entrance to the U.S. and prohibiting the use of its banking and financial systems. It was coupled with another law granting Russia trade deals, probably a pill too hard for the good senator to swallow.

Sergei Magnitsky was 35 years old and working as a tax lawyer for an American investment company in Moscow when he discovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme being conducted by Russian officials using stolen documents from the firm, according to The Washington Post.

“When Magnitsky accused officials, they arrested him. Magnitsky died in pretrial custody in November 2009 after nearly a year in jail. Despite evidence that he had been beaten and tortured, no one has been punished, and Magnitsky is being prosecuted posthumously,” the Post reported.

The United States Congress came together to pass a law honoring Magnitsky, who was arrested and falsely accused of committing the very tax fraud he uncovered and reported before dying a painful and lonely death in a Russian prison. Congress also punished Russia and there was more retaliation by Putin and friends. Election tampering aimed at Clinton is coming back around via email.

Cynthia Dill is a civil rights lawyer and former state senator. She can be contacted at:

dillesquire@gmail.com

Twitter: @dillesquire

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/cynthia-dill-trump-jr-meeting-could-trace-back-to-revenge-by-putin/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/02/20150928cynthiadill0032-e1456164666846.jpgPORTLAND, ME - SEPTEMBER 28: Cynthia Dill, a new columnist, was photographed on Monday, September 28, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Staff Photographer)Sun, 16 Jul 2017 17:37:31 +0000
Another View: Author takes divisive tone in column urging greater unity http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/another-view-author-takes-divisive-tone-in-column-urging-greater-unity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/another-view-author-takes-divisive-tone-in-column-urging-greater-unity/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226184 This is a difficult time for all of us, especially people trying to find a rational middle ground. So reading “Maine Voices: Fear-mongering by liberals on ACA repeal incites hostility and violence” (July 12), written by a psychologist (Mark Holbrook, Ph.D.), was like reading an article from The Onion: pure irony.

Psychologists know we all have bias and that we all see the world through our own experiences. Using provocative language about fear-mongering is engaging in the same behavior that the writer professes to abhor. If the steady drumbeat is to stop, it needs to stop with each individual.

How? Start with “the other side.” Like it or not, there is no “other side”: We are all in this together. None of us is going to “win,” especially at the expense of our neighbors, our family, our friends.

In this mud-slinging fray, we are all guilty. When we talk about other people, we need to be striving for neutral language. If we don’t like actions like rioting, we need to condemn rioting, not liberals, not Republicans, because it doesn’t matter who riots, we think rioting is wrong.

When we talk about other people, we need to talk about them as individuals. Sweeping statements about groups, as though every individual in a group is a cookie-cutter person, is lazy. We get to label them “the other side” and dismiss them. In fact, every individual is much more complex, and giving “them” a one-label name says something about us, not about “them.” It says that we are lazy and bigoted.

We might not like an action that someone took, but we have all taken actions in our lives that we have regretted. We have all said inappropriate things and been embarrassed, regretful, ashamed. We can tell someone they offended us without being offensive ourselves.

If we have an opinion to share, more people will listen and weigh the merits of our arguments if our opinions are backed up with supporting facts, such as personal experiences and scientific studies. We need to acknowledge that our personal experiences may be different from other people’s and that both experiences are true.

If we don’t like fear-mongering, we need to change the way we, as individuals, think and speak. There is no “other side.” There is only us.

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Maine Voices: When an abuser kills, don’t seek ‘trigger’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/maine-voices-when-abuser-kills-dont-seek-trigger/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/maine-voices-when-abuser-kills-dont-seek-trigger/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226192 The lethal actions of a man reported to have a history of domestic abuse have again made the headlines in Maine. Last week, another man murdered his longtime partner when she sought to leave him. These stories remind us that, while the rates of domestic violence homicides have dropped in the past few years, domestic abuse and violence is still a significant contributor to deadly crime in our state.

When a person murders his partner and others around them, the public asks why. We want to know, “How could such a tragedy happen?”

In the news reports of the Madison and Jay homicides, those familiar with the dynamics of domestic abuse and violence recognize familiar indicators: threatening and aggressive behaviors, jealousy, accusations of infidelity, the victim’s intent to end the relationship. As often happens when an abuser kills his partner, much of the public conversation has focused on what role these factors played in motivating these men to kill.

Unfortunately, that line of inquiry misses the point.

None of these factors explains why an abuser commits murder. Many of us feel jealousy or anger. Very few of us will choose to act on those feelings by killing people. The explanation for such crimes lies elsewhere.

In seeking to understand domestic violence homicide, we too often look at the symptoms – extreme jealousy, aggressive behavior, the use of drugs or alcohol – rather than the cause. But the explanation lies in the fact that the killer – who is, in most cases, a man – deeply believes that he has the right to control his partner’s life, up to and including whether the partner lives or dies. When that control is threatened, as often happens when the partner is trying to end the relationship, that abuser believes he has the right to decide if his partner gets to exist without him.

When abusers kill, the news coverage is often about the exact lethal moment in time, with little attention paid to the broader context of the relationship. But domestic violence homicide is about more than that moment. It is about the pattern of behaviors that came before, in which the abuser creates the circumstances that lead to his choice to kill. It is about what the abuser believes he is entitled to, and how far he is willing to carry that entitlement.

Too often, our public dialogue obscures this reality. We wonder “What set him off?” as if something outside of the abuser is responsible for his behavior. We name “the abusive relationship” as if the relationship itself pulled the trigger – when it fact, it was a person who chose to use lethal violence against someone else, someone with whom they had a relationship and had shared intimacy and affection. These distinctions are key.

To end domestic abuse and violence, we need to move beyond awareness to true understanding. We need to look beyond the symptoms and understand the patterns of behaviors in which abusers engage and the belief systems that lead to those behaviors.

When we do so, we can work on all levels to challenge the ways in which our culture fosters those beliefs. We can speak with the people in our lives when we are concerned about their behavior and what their words reflect about their thinking, so that we might interrupt that pattern of destructive actions. We can examine how our own thoughts, words and actions might excuse systems of thought that lead to violence. Our individual efforts to make this change in our own communities will inform a strong response to abuse in our laws and institutions.

Accountability is not a matter reserved for the justice system. This is our work to do. Only when we all do it will we get to a place where we stop seeing “Domestic violence homicide again rocks Maine community” in the headlines.

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Our View: Time for lawmakers to override solar veto http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/our-view-time-for-lawmakers-to-override-solar-veto/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/our-view-time-for-lawmakers-to-override-solar-veto/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226243 The Legislature is supposed to be long gone by the time the summer heat has Mainers turning on their air conditioners, creating the year’s peak demand for electricity.

But it’s mid-July and lawmakers still have some work to do on a bill that would better harness the sun’s power and put clean electricity on the grid at the time of year when we need it most.

A bill that would make modest changes to the way that producers of solar energy are compensated shouldn’t be a controversial issue, but it is, thanks to a veto by Gov. LePage. L.D. 1504 was enacted by more than two-thirds margins in both the House and Senate – enough to override a veto – but we’ve been here before: LePage has shown his ability to turn around just enough votes in crucial situations to sustain vetoes on bills even when they had originally passed with unanimous support, so no one should take this vote for granted.

This time, lawmakers should hold firm and give a Maine industry the regulatory certainty it needs to grow.

The bill would:

• Prevent implementation of an expensive and counterproductive scheme put together by the Public Utilities Commission that would force all ratepayers to fund the installation of additional meters for solar customers, and would charge the owners of solar panels for the electricity they generated and used on site.

Temporarily maintain net energy billing (or net metering), which gives solar producers credit against their bill for energy they put on the grid pending a report from the PUC by the start of the legislative session in 2021. The commission would be called to recommend a more sophisticated system that better reflects the real value of the power at the time that it is produced.

Lift the cap of the number of people who could pool resources and invest in a community solar farm from 10 to 100. This would allow people who either can’t afford to install solar panels or who live in an apartment or other place where they are not practical cut their home energy bill by earning solar credits.

In addition, the bill would require the PUC to do a formal cost-benefit analysis of solar power, filling in some of the information gaps that have made the debate so difficult.

This is not the much more ambitious bill from last year, which proposed an alternative compensation plan. That measure was devised by then-Public Advocate Tim Schneider and had the support of the transmission utilities like Central Maine Power as well as environmental groups and the small businesses that install solar panels. It fell just two votes short of an override in the House, when five Republican House members who had supported or pledged to support it “took a walk” when it was time to vote, denying the compromise the support it needed to pass.

But even a less ambitious bill is worth passing. This bill would prevent something harmful from happening – the implementation of the PUC plan – and take a small step toward implementing a better compensation system. It would also create incentives for homeowners and others to invest in solar, boosting demand for the services of local solar installers. These are good jobs that can’t be outsourced, and what they earn will stay in the Maine economy, unlike the money spent importing fossil fuels.

The governor maintains his opposition to solar power, again claiming that he is protecting the poor and elderly from being taken advantage of by people rich enough to afford solar panels.

The good news is that the governor has the facts wrong. The PUC commissioned an economic study two years ago that shows that all ratepayers benefit from a more dependable grid that results from distributed generation of solar power.

The bad news is that the governor doesn’t care if he’s got the facts wrong. His opposition to solar energy is personal and political rather than economic. LePage had no problem making the poor and elderly pay a little more on their electric bills when he wanted to finance a natural gas pipeline to buy above-market-price power from failing biomass plants. He will keep fighting regardless of what the facts are.

Meanwhile, other states are benefiting from a clean energy boom created by plummeting prices for solar panels. It’s lowering utility bills for individuals and businesses while creating jobs. Maine could get a piece of that action if lawmakers – especially Republicans in the House of Representatives – stand up to the pressure and hold firm to the votes they cast last month.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/our-view-time-for-lawmakers-to-override-solar-veto/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/07/1226243_686715_netzero002.jpgA bill that would maintain net metering for solar producers like this home in Wells has been vetoed by Gov. LePage, but the Maine Legislature can, and should, revive it. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick OuelletteFri, 14 Jul 2017 18:50:20 +0000
Jim Fossel: For better Maine schools, it’s not all about the money http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/jim-fossel-for-better-maine-schools-its-not-all-about-the-money/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/jim-fossel-for-better-maine-schools-its-not-all-about-the-money/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226166 If you just watched the final few frames of the action-drama that was this year’s biennial budget battle, you might have thought the debate ultimately boiled down to taxes: Democrats wanted to raise them a lot, Senate Republicans a bit, while House Republicans and Gov. LePage didn’t want them raised at all.

All of that was true, and while it was the final sticking point, that was less the core of the conflict than the reason it was so easily concluded late on July 3.

In the end, Democrats just weren’t all that dedicated to raising taxes: they simply wanted to ensure more funding for education without having to allow any major policy changes in return. In that they were, unfortunately, largely successful. Though they didn’t get the $300 million in increased education funding they wanted, they wound up with more than half of that.

Unfortunately, throwing more money at our schools simply won’t solve the problems with education in this state. We need to take a serious look at how that money is spent: where it goes, not just the total amount.

Right now, for example, Maine ranks near the top in spending per student, but near the bottom in teacher pay. In other words, we’re spending a lot of money not on making sure we have good teachers, but on administration and overhead. If there were any evidence whatsoever that this produced good results, it might be fine, but there isn’t.

Maine tends to be in the middle of the pack in national rankings, and far behind the other New England states when it comes to results. So, we’re not just spending a lot of money on overhead, but we’re getting little to show for it.

Republicans didn’t err in fighting for education reforms to be included in the budget. Indeed, if anything, they erred in not pushing for more substantial reforms.

They could have fought not just for a statewide teacher contract and reworking the funding formula, but for such reforms as expanding charter schools, school choice, merit pay and more.

Maine has had a successful school choice program for over a century, implementing a voucher program in 1873 – the second-oldest in the nation. Unfortunately, right now it’s limited to special circumstances and to towns that don’t have schools of their own. That can be a real boon for those towns, as it helps attract new residents.

However, there’s no reason students whose parents don’t have the luxury of at least some degree of mobility should be trapped in an under-achieving school just because of geography.

Studies have shown that the quality of education can have enormous impact on the quality of your life down the road.

We ought to fully expand school choice statewide to allow better educational opportunities for all Maine students, removing the bureaucratic hurdles that impede students’ chances for success.

Another reform Republicans could have pushed for in the budget is expanding charter schools in Maine. Maine finally passed a charter school law in 2011, becoming one of the last states in the country to allow them. In order to do so, Republicans had to overcome Democratic intransigence to education reform that was so entrenched that Maine had failed to qualify for President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top education grant program.

However, the legislation as passed limited the number of schools allowed in the first 10 years to 10 statewide and granted far too much power to the state charter schools commission.

We could allow other entities besides local school boards and the state commission to approve charter schools, provide funding for their facilities and eliminate the statewide cap on charter schools.

Doing all of that would increase choices for students and increase the quality of our public education overall.

Unfortunately for Maine, Eliot Cutler is right when he says that the state Democratic Party enjoys far too close a relationship with the teachers’ unions.

That has made education reform a partisan football here, when it isn’t in other states.

If much of Gov. LePage’s tenure has been marked by sharp debates over taxes, spending and welfare reform, the focus of the next election should be education reform.

Mainers deserve to have a real, substantive debate about education that revolves around something other than money. That will only happen, however, if we begin to elect legislators interested in actually fixing the problems with education in this state, rather than just fighting about them or throwing money at the schools.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

jwfossel@gmail.com

Twitter: jimfossel

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Maine Observer: How the battle over strawberries was won http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/maine-observer-how-the-battle-over-strawberries-was-won/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/maine-observer-how-the-battle-over-strawberries-was-won/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226169 When we first built our home I decided that I was going to grow strawberries. I cleared a patch of earth, surrounded it with a 2-foot fence and planted a large group of seedlings. The next year I added a few more plants, and the result was a fledgling strawberry patch.

Annually, I would wait with great anticipation for the plants to bloom, and like magic the fruit would appear. Hidden beneath the wavy green leaves were the beautiful crimson prizes. I then picked what little fruit ripened and we would have them with our dinner.

Last year my plants had covered the entire enclosed bed, flowered and turned to fruit. It was truly one of the most beautiful and rewarding sights I had ever seen. Well, at least I thought so. My wife is the gardener and usually pokes fun at my wilder endeavors, until I am successful, and then she quietly gives her approval.

Each day I watched with baited breath anticipating the exact day I would harvest my banner crop of berries. The day arrived and with my basket I headed jubilantly out to the bed. To my chagrin I found that my fruit was gone!

Who had stolen my beautiful fruit? As I was standing there in dismay, out of the woods came a baby chipmunk with a large ripe strawberry clenched between its teeth. The battle had begun!

I headed to a nearby garden center to enlist their help. The sales staff told me that coyote urine would deter wildlife. Yee gads! I don’t even want to know how they get that stuff. But sure enough, they sold it in plastic bottles directly from “out west.” I then questioned how to use the urine and they directed me to plastic bottles you fill and hang around your garden. I gladly bought the supplies and headed home.

I spent a very smelly afternoon pouring coyote urine into the bottles and hanging them around the garden fence.

The very next day I went out to observe my success. There, two small chipmunks were busy in the garden. Both looked at me and seemingly chuckled. They each grabbed a berry, ran right around the bottles and headed into the woods. I was enraged!

I began asking friends who gardened about pests and one guaranteed a cure. He said to spread some mothballs around the outside of my garden. I ran to the store, bought the mothballs and went back to work. I carefully laid the mothballs around the garden perimeter and said a prayer.

The next morning I beat my chest declaring victory. And then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a chipmunk about to enter my garden. He looked at me, smiled and stepped over the mothballs, walked around the urine, grabbed a strawberry and headed back to the woods. I had lost the battle.

This year I did my research and found that netting was the only solution to my wildlife invasion. Two days before harvest I covered my garden. That very day I saw a chipmunk climb to the top of my fence, look at the netting in defeat and run back to the woods empty-handed. Victory was mine! I collected my fruit, made my preserves, and took off the netting, sharing the remainder of my bounty with those chuckling chipmunks.

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Alan Caron: Glee of LePage and company over ‘victory’ good for laughs http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/alan-caron-glee-of-lepage-and-company-over-victory-good-for-laughs/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/16/alan-caron-glee-of-lepage-and-company-over-victory-good-for-laughs/#respond Sun, 16 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226172 There isn’t much that’s amusing about politics these days. Senate Republicans in Washington are promoting a bill that will throw millions of Americans off health care. A shutdown of state government just ended in Maine. Every day brings a new candidate for governor, most of whom will scatter if Susan Collins announces that she’s running.

If it weren’t for the brilliant work of Stephen Colbert, John Oliver and “Saturday Night Live,” this would be a tough time to keep your sense of humor.

Fortunately, over the last few weeks, we all got some much-needed comic relief in the form of a victory lap from the governor and the state’s House Republicans, after they shut down government and then reopened it by defeating their own idea.

This is comedy on par with Monty Python’s merry band traveling across the back lawn on imaginary horses, producing the sounds of hooves with clapping shells. Or the escape scenes from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

How all this happened, and how it ended with the wild dancing by LePage and company, is worth retelling. As Larry the Cable Guy likes to say, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny!”

The casting: Aside from hundreds of extras playing legislators, demonstrators and the worried public, this comedy troupe has four main characters, all of whom apparently have long careers in improvisational comedy and stand-up.

The first is Gov. Paul LePage, who works under the stage name of Vinny Veto. His main sidekick is Minority Leader Kenny Fredette, who leads the crazy uncle chorus in the state House of Representatives. Senate President Mike Thibodeau plays the straight guy, regularly reminding Veto and Kenny that they aren’t actually riding horses. Finally, there’s the earnest and determined Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, who somehow fell through a hole into this bizarre world.

Prologue: Governors, like presidents, have two kinds of power. One is the power to move their agenda forward. The other is the power to stop others from getting anything done. When they can’t do the first, they are left with the second. And so it is with Veto. In his first two years in office, he accomplished some things. Since then, almost none of his ideas have been supported by the Legislature. Angry and frustrated, he’s looking for a signature moment of triumph. At whatever cost.

Act 1: LePage and company demand that a recently enacted tax hike on the rich, which was supposed to increase funding for schools, be eliminated. Democrats say, “OK, but give us a lot of money for education.” After the obligatory mud wrestling and taunting, leaders in the Legislature agree to increase school funding by $162 million dollars over the next two years. A small portion of the increased costs would be paid by adding a penny and a half to the lodging tax.

The first scene closes with a round of glass-clinking celebrations in the Legislature.

Act 2: Enter Vinny Veto to the sounds of furious winds, flashing lightning and deep organ chords, his imaginary sword flashing. “I will shut down government unless the poor downtrodden tourists are saved from this great burden. I have spoken!” All the uncles repeat the chorus three times: “Gonna shut down government to save the tourists a penny!”

Democrats are in shock. “But Mr. Veto, sir,” says Speaker Gideon, politely, “raising the tax on lodging was your idea. Don’t you remember, it was in your budget?”

“Nonsense,” replies Veto. “Fake news!”

And so it comes to pass that the state government is shut down. State employees get an extended July 4th holiday with their families and still got paid, so it isn’t all bad for them. Taxpayers, as usual, pick up the tab.

Just after the holiday ends, to nobody’s surprise, a new deal is struck and government reopens. Democrats keep the $162 million in new school funding that they wanted. Veto and the uncles get rid of the lodging tax, which they first proposed and then opposed. Republicans declare a great victory. Democrats smile quietly.

Act 3: Veto and the uncles go wild. In the aftermath of the shutdown, it is as though Monty Python’s Flying Circus has won its first make-believe battle.

“We kicked butt,” giddy Republicans proclaim, to high fives. The crazy uncles even work up a catchy acappella version of the seven dwarfs’ “Heigh Ho” from “Snow White.”

Epilogue: As the stage clears, the audience sits in stunned silence at the absurdity of it all, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

Alan Caron is the owner of Caron Communications and the author of “Maine’s Next Economy” and “Reinventing Maine Government.” He can be contacted at:

alancaroninmaine@gmail.com

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Gina Barreca: Here’s my perfect world, and I’m willing to work with yours, too http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/gina-barreca-heres-my-perfect-world-and-im-willing-to-work-with-yours-too/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/gina-barreca-heres-my-perfect-world-and-im-willing-to-work-with-yours-too/#respond Sat, 15 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226223 In GinaLand, everybody would be able to change a diaper, change a tire, change the dressing on a wound and change their minds when presented with a more convincing argument. In GinaLand, people would not fear hearing from those who hold points of view at variance from their own, but instead welcome vigorous and informed debates. Town halls would replace sports events as the most highly prized competitions between well-matched rivals.

In GinaLand, all elected officials would have a real education, meaning they would understand world history, not only their own, and show mastery over several languages, including their own.

They would understand, too, that there is more than one version of history: They would have taken courses in classical rhetoric, in geopolitics, in economics, in philosophy (Eastern and Western) in comparative literatures, in the scientific method (and its application across the disciplines) and – naturally – they would’ve contextualized all of this within a deep understanding of the arts.

As educated citizens, they’d be able to do all of this as well as be able to pass the tests given to new citizens entering our nation. Of course, we should all be able to do this already, but have you tried? Those tests aren’t easy, especially given that we are now living in a world where major news outlets are forced to remind people, as I just heard one announcer say without any irony or sarcasm on the radio, that “Canada is just north of the U.S. border.”

I wish I were making that up. In GinaLand, satire would be obvious and nobody would have to include a subject line saying “FYI: Not From ‘The Onion’ ” before emailing a hilarious, but real, article.

Politicians would emerge from an informed electorate, showing mastery over ordinary, everyday tasks of life: They would have solid reputations as good citizens, generous community members, honest taxpayers, reliable neighbors, loyal partners, trustworthy bosses and intelligent raconteurs. They would be aware of familiar phrases such as “second lady” and “priming the pump,” and be able to distinguish between homonyms such as “president” and “precedent.”

Neither sex nor money would be a mystery in GinaLand. Making wise choices concerning both would be part of both private and public conversation, addressed with neither shame nor taboo.

Of course kids need to know about sex. As stand-up comic Elayne Boosler once told us, some folks are afraid of talking about where babies come from because “birth is a miracle.” “Hey, popcorn is magic if you don’t know how it’s done,” Boosler points out. As for those who believe that “if you teach sex education in school, kids will go ahead and do it,” she insists it doesn’t work that way: “I had four years of algebra,” says Boosler, “and I never do math.”

In GinaLand, learning how to understand, manage and protect your money would be as important as understanding, managing and protecting your sexual impulses. Taught at an early age and discussed at every stage of development, you’d learn that nothing is written in stone and that everything is in flux.

The only shame surrounding money in GinaLand would be living by the 10x10x2 rule, which is paying $10 million for a 10,000-square-foot property that you use two weeks out of the year. This would not be regarded as a reward for doing well but literally an embarrassment of riches.

Vocational education and training in GinaLand are highly valued, and everybody is eager to take pride in his or her skill. A good mechanic, a good engineer and a good orthopedist will respect each other equally and meet for a “women’s night out” on a regular basis without anyone commenting.

Schools, from kindergarten through university, in GinaLand are fully funded and free, as are the many libraries, museums, theaters, parks and preserved lands, because shutting the doors on knowledge, beauty, creativity, science, nature and history are not the way to go.

Joyce Schlemm, my 97-year-old friend from Lac Brûlé, Quebec, declares that in JoyceLand, “If everybody could just have a good breakfast, everything would be OK.”

GinaLand is my land. What happens in yours? And how can we make the best of these ideas happen in the world we share?

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Another View: Republicans should stop making excuses for Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/another-view-republicans-should-stop-making-excuses-for-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/another-view-republicans-should-stop-making-excuses-for-trump/#respond Sat, 15 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226228 In a Senate hearing Wednesday, Christopher Wray, President Trump’s nominee to head the FBI, delivered the pledges the public needed to hear from a man on track to lead the nation’s premier law enforcement agency at a perilous moment. Much may depend on his living up to those pledges.

Wray’s hearing occurred as the nation continued to process a newly public email conversation involving Donald Trump Jr., showing that the president’s son and possibly other top members of the Trump campaign not only knew about Russian attempts to help his father but also enthusiastically welcomed Kremlin assistance. President Trump had previously questioned whether there was any Russian influence plot at all, denied that his campaign colluded with Moscow and attacked those investigating these matters.

Wray bore a special responsibility to assure lawmakers and the public that he would support a fair investigation into the administration of the man who appointed him, resisting any bullying or blandishments. He promised he would “never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law and the impartial pursuit of justice, period, full stop.” He repeatedly asserted that he had not been asked and did not offer any pledge of loyalty to the president, detailing conversations he had with administration officials. He said that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was not a “witch hunt,” contrary to Trump’s view as expressed in tweets, and he promised to support it, including by protecting it from political interference.

Wray condemned foreign efforts to influence U.S. elections and indicated that the younger Trump should have reported any offer of Russian government campaign help to the FBI. He said it was important for law enforcement to work with, not demonize, the Muslim community. He promised to resign rather than carry out illegal or unethical orders.

During the questioning, senator after senator bemoaned the public’s eroding trust in government institutions and expressed hope that Wray could help the FBI’s reputation.

If they are so concerned about restoring public trust in government, they could start with demanding better from their colleagues and leaders.

As with so many disturbing events over the past year, the predominant Republican response to the latest email revelations has been to play down their significance, either explicitly – Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., for one, speculated that the younger Trump may have been “duped” – or implicitly by failing to publicly acknowledge how disturbing they are. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have taken the latter route.

The White House reaction, meanwhile, has been not to condemn any solicitation of or cooperation with a Kremlin influence campaign, or to walk back any of Trump’s statements undermining the Russia probe, but to praise his son’s supposed transparency, decry “fake” news and attack leakers. The president absolved his son in a Wednesday Reuters interview, saying incorrectly that “many people” would have done what he did.

Wray’s testimony Wednesday was encouraging, but it will take more than an FBI director of integrity to restore faith in government. Lawmakers, too, must show that they deserve public trust. The Republican majority in Congress is failing that test.

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Commentary: Too bad for the hounds, but Trump Jr.’s meeting is nothing to bay at http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/commentary-too-bad-for-the-hounds-but-trump-jr-s-meeting-is-nothing-to-bay-at/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/commentary-too-bad-for-the-hounds-but-trump-jr-s-meeting-is-nothing-to-bay-at/#respond Sat, 15 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226233 What has really happened since Donald Trump Jr. released his email chain setting up a meeting last June with a Russian lawyer? Are Democrats and their allies in the media any closer to having their high crime or misdemeanor?

Answer: No.

As Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said Tuesday, “It is unlikely that attendance at the meeting violated any criminal statute.” Well said, Mr. Dershowitz.

And yet, the media would have you believe that the meeting Trump Jr. described as “literally just a wasted 20 minutes” is a smoking gun that will inevitably take down President Trump, his administration and his entire family, forever.

In reality, Trump Jr.’s emails show he has nothing to hide.

Further to this point, Trump Jr. went on “The Sean Hannity Show” on Tuesday night to speak specifically about his actions. Granted, Hannity is not always interested in giving a complete, unvarnished account of what happens in Trump World, and his questions are softballs, but Trump Jr. made some important points nonetheless – namely, the fact that there was no subsequent follow-up or contact with the Russian lawyer and “nothing to tell” then-candidate Trump. Therefore, unless you decide to believe he is lying, there was no “collusion.” The holy grail is still missing.

I don’t think Trump Jr. went on national television and told a bunch of lies. Undoubtedly, the president’s enemies will believe that they are justified in feeling otherwise. But Trump Jr. has little incentive to do anything but tell the truth at this point.

Even if we suppose there was follow-up from the campaign with the Russian lawyer, it is hard to say that more conversations or meetings would have amounted to a crime. And yes, something can be wrong but not illegal. However, that is not the argument Democrats and their allies in the media want to make. They want this to crack the foundation of the Trump presidency. They want it to crumble.

Blinded by disdain for the president, liberals and the media pack are mostly trying to create credibility for accusations of criminal violations and impeachable offenses. They embellish everything just so that they can keep the story moving. Maybe they will get a break and someone will stumble into a crime during the investigation into the non-crimes from the fall campaign.

In their search for a nonexistent smoking gun, Trump’s opponents appear at least partially satisfied by the constant hounding of the White House and the president’s family.

In politics, being innocent is just an advantage. It is not determinative. And although the facts do not support the left’s pursuit of criminal wrongdoing on the part of the Trump clan, Trump Jr. is sure to face a lot of harassment and he may make more mistakes. But that is far from being in the cross hairs of an American law enforcement investigation that could bring down a president. Sorry to the Trump haters for being such a buzzkill.

If Trump Jr. is guilty of anything, it is letting someone so lacking in credibility (like music publicist Rob Goldstone) have unfettered access to his schedule. Danger. You usually see your enemies coming, but it is your friends who will blindside you and get you in trouble.

Anyway, Trump’s enemies are desperate for something impeachable. But remember, there is no such thing as the crime of collusion. It’s not even a misdemeanor. And unless the Russian lawyer provided an illegal contribution, stolen property, etc., to the Trump campaign, there is no crime that will take this story where the media want it to go. But that doesn’t mean they will quit trying.

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Water bond package was good for Maine in 2014, and it’s even better now http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/maine-voices-water-bond-package-was-good-for-maine-in-2014-its-even-better-now/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/15/maine-voices-water-bond-package-was-good-for-maine-in-2014-its-even-better-now/#respond Sat, 15 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1226145 On Monday, Maine legislative leaders have a significant opportunity to create or sustain 3,000 jobs, protect clean water, support our river and ocean fisheries and support Maine’s rural and recreational economy. They can accomplish all those goals by supporting one piece of legislation: the Clean Water and Jobs Bond package.

This bond package has bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate for a good reason. This year’s $60 million bond is modeled on the one that passed the House 126-19 and the Senate 30-2 in 2014. That bill, like this one, enjoyed the strong support of a diverse coalition representing Republicans, Democrats, independents, business leaders, contractors, sportswomen and men, municipal leaders, economic development professionals and environmentalists from every region of Maine.

Protecting Maine’s clean water and investing in water infrastructure is good for our economy, our bottom line and our environment. An Associated General Contractors analysis of the 2014 bill projected it would create or sustain more than 1,000 jobs and add $119 million to Maine’s gross domestic product and $38.5 million to personal earnings. The bill also allowed Maine to leverage over $21 million in federal matching funds. The 2014 bond delivered substantial environmental benefits as well, including protecting clean drinking water, stormwater system upgrades to keep sewage out of our waterways, and restoration of natural habitat so Maine’s fish, game and wildlife thrive.

The good news is the 2014 water bond delivered. In three rounds of grant awards, 72 projects from Fort Kent to Kittery were funded. Each of these projects is rigorously evaluated and prioritized based on multiple factors, but here is just one example of how important these investments are economically: alewives and the Maine lobster fishery.

This spring, Maine’s historic alewife runs happened again. Hundreds of thousands of fish went up brooks and streams from the ocean to spawn. There are only 24 municipalities in Maine actively harvesting alewives, which are an essential bait fish used by lobstermen and women up and down our coast. Culvert upgrades undertaken with funds from the 2014 bond – in Ellsworth, Newcastle, Lincolnville, Orland, Phippsburg and West Bath, as well as two in Dresden – were critical to maintaining eight of those 24 alewive fisheries. Failing culverts and closed streams in these places could shut off a vital part of Maine’s $547 million lobster harvest.

Here is the not-so-good news: There is so much more critical water infrastructure in need of work and in danger of failing. For example, while 72 projects have been selected and funded since 2014, the total number of projects seeking to fund was 207. That means there are 132 projects are still pending.

A new analysis by the Maine chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Maine a D-plus grade for wastewater infrastructure and a C-plus for drinking water, noting that water infrastructure in many instances is “10-50 years” beyond 100-year replacement cycles. We know from a recent University of Southern Maine study for the Portland Water District that investments like the ones included in the 2014 water bond and this year’s bill can save taxpayers 2½ times the cost of delaying investments until there is a failure.

Here are two more practical, tangible reasons to support the Clean Water and Jobs Bond package. If legislative leaders pass the package, Maine will receive $121.5 million in federal funds to invest in wastewater projects across the state. If we do not pass the package, it will be much harder for Maine to leverage federal funds. And according to an analysis by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Associated General Contractors of Maine, the passage of this package will create or sustain well over 3,000 Maine jobs.

For all of these reasons, we urge legislative leaders to fully fund the Clean Water and Jobs Bond package on Monday. Fixing our roads, culverts, bridges, drinking and wastewater systems offers direct, tangible and immediate benefits for people all over our state. Let’s get something good done that supports 3,000 Maine jobs, clean water, Maine’s fisheries and Maine’s rural economy by passing this package.

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U.S. lawmakers should say no to drug import legislation http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/14/maine-voices-u-s-lawmakers-should-say-no-to-drug-import-legislation/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/14/maine-voices-u-s-lawmakers-should-say-no-to-drug-import-legislation/#respond Fri, 14 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1225592 BANGOR — U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill that would allow Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada. The legislation is intended to curb the costs of prescription drugs.

But it would come with a huge cost. Lawmakers need just look at Maine to see why.

A few years ago, Maine introduced similar legislation that allowed patients to buy drugs from foreign pharmacies. We, too, wanted to provide patients with lower-cost medicines.

It proved to be a big mistake. Instead of getting drugs from Canada, we got dangerous and ineffective counterfeit pills from other countries. Maine’s disastrous experience with counterfeit Canadian drug imports should serve as a lesson to our lawmakers to say no to drug importation legislation.

The globe is awash in counterfeit drugs. The World Health Organization estimates that 10 percent of all drugs worldwide are fake, a number that rises to 30 percent in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Thousands of sites sell these drugs to consumers – in 2014, more than 10,000 websites selling counterfeit drugs were shut down.

Counterfeit drugs can be deadly. Sometimes, they contain dangerous ingredients that kill, but far more often, fake drugs contain no active ingredients at all. Patients take these duds expecting them to have positive effects. But instead, patients only grow sicker. Worldwide, officials estimate that counterfeit drugs kill more than 700,000 people each year.

The United States bans most prescription imports in order to prevent smugglers and counterfeiters from shipping unapproved, unsafe products to American patients and pharmacies. In the early 2000s, the Food and Drug Administration stepped up enforcement of the ban after finding that nearly 90 percent of drug shipments to the United States were not up to par. Many of these illicit shipments contained medications that hadn’t been approved by the FDA. Others had not been shipped at the proper temperatures to prevent spoilage.

Despite law enforcement’s best efforts, some counterfeit drugs still wind up in our drug supply. The FDA warns that medical professionals have injected hundreds of patients with counterfeit cosmetics in recent years. Fake treatments for HIV and cancer also have turned up hundreds of times at American medical practices.

And when counterfeit blood thinners from China made their way into the U.S. drug supply in 2008, as many as 81 people lost their lives.

Mainers experienced these hazards firsthand in 2013. That’s when state lawmakers legalized drug importation from developed countries such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Many of the drugs that entered our state were not legitimate. To show how unreliable imports could be, Kenneth McCall, then president of the Maine Pharmacy Association, ordered drugs from Canada Drug Center, an online pharmacy claiming to be Canadian. McCall found that the drugs actually had been manufactured in facilities in Turkey and India. Lab testing found that the supposed “Canadian” medications contained “only a tiny percentage of the active ingredient.”

Worse, some of the imported drugs contained dangerous ingredients. The generic blood thinner Clopidogrel, for instance, was contaminated. It most likely contained methyl chloride, which can damage genetic material and even cause cancer.

There is simply no way to ensure the safety of drugs reportedly coming from Canada. Indeed, Bernie Sanders’ proposed law has no mechanism to stop counterfeiters from shipping fake drugs from developing nations, through a Canadian check station, and then on to America. FDA officials have repeatedly warned that they cannot vouch for the safety of drugs that cross the border. And making matters worse, Canadian officials have said that they would not inspect drugs that pass through Canada en route to America. They only monitor the safety of medicines that are prescribed to Canadian citizens.

Americans would be wise to learn from Maine’s mistake. Drug importation is not a worth risk taking, for in the quest for “cheap” foreign drugs, patients could pay with their lives.

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Charles Krauthammer: Trumpites should know that bungled collusion is still collusion http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/14/charles-krauthammer-trumpites-should-know-that-bungled-collusion-is-still-collusion/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/07/14/charles-krauthammer-trumpites-should-know-that-bungled-collusion-is-still-collusion/#respond Fri, 14 Jul 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1225695 The Russia scandal has entered a new phase, and there’s no going back.

For six months, the White House claimed that this scandal was nothing more than innuendo about Trump campaign collusion with Russia in meddling in the 2016 election. Innuendo for which no concrete evidence had been produced.

Yes, there were several meetings with Russian officials, some only belatedly disclosed. But that is circumstantial evidence at best. Meetings tell you nothing unless you know what happened in them. We didn’t. Some of these were casual encounters in large groups, like the famous July 2016 Kislyak-Sessions exchange of pleasantries at the Republican National Convention. Big deal.

I was puzzled. Lots of cover-up, but where was the crime? Not even a third-rate burglary. For six months, smoke without fire. Yes, President Trump himself was acting very defensively, as if he were hiding something. But no one ever produced the something.

My view was: Collusion? I just don’t see it. But I’m open to empirical evidence. Show me.

The evidence is now shown. This is not hearsay, not fake news, not unsourced leaks. This is an email chain released by Donald Trump Jr. himself. A British go-between writes that there’s a Russian government effort to help Trump Sr. win the election, and as part of that effort he proposes a meeting with a “Russian government attorney” possessing damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Moreover, the Kremlin is willing to share troves of incriminating documents from the Crown Prosecutor. (Error: Britain has a Crown Prosecutor. Russia has a State Prosecutor.)

Donald Jr. emails back. “I love it.” Fatal words.

Once you’ve said “I’m in,” it makes no difference that the meeting was a bust, that the intermediary brought no such goods. What matters is what Donald Jr. thought going into the meeting, as well as Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, who were copied on the correspondence, invited to the meeting, and attended.

“It was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame,” Donald Jr. told Sean Hannity. A shame? On the contrary, a stroke of luck. Had the lawyer real stuff to deliver, Donald Jr. and the others would be in far deeper legal trouble. It turned out to be incompetent collusion, amateur collusion, comically failed collusion. That does not erase the fact that three top Trump campaign officials were ready to play.

It may turn out that they did later collaborate more fruitfully. We don’t know. But even if nothing else is found, the evidence is damning.

It’s rather pathetic to hear Trump apologists protesting that it’s no big deal because we Americans are always intervening in other people’s elections, and they in ours. You don’t have to go back to the ’40s and ’50s when the CIA intervened in France and Italy to keep the communists from coming to power. What about the Obama administration’s blatant interference to try to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu in the latest Israeli election? One might even add the work of groups supported by the U.S. during Russian parliamentary elections – the very origin of Vladimir Putin’s deep animus toward Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, whom he accuses of having orchestrated the opposition.

This defense is pathetic for two reasons.

First, have the Trumpites not been telling us for six months that no collusion ever happened? And now they say: Sure it happened. So what? Everyone does it.

What’s left of your credibility when you make such a casual about-face?

Second, no, not everyone does it. It’s one thing to be open to opposition research dug up in Indiana. But not dirt from Russia, a hostile foreign power that has repeatedly invaded its neighbors (Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine), that buzzes our planes and ships in international waters, that opposes our every move and objective around the globe. Just last week, the Kremlin killed additional U.N. sanctions we were looking to impose on North Korea for its ICBM test.

There is no statute against helping a foreign hostile power meddle in an American election. What Donald Jr. – and Kushner and Manafort – did may not be criminal. But it is not merely stupid. It is also deeply wrong, a fundamental violation of any code of civic honor.

I leave it to the lawyers to adjudicate the legalities of unconsummated collusion. But you don’t need a lawyer to see that the Trump defense – collusion as a desperate Democratic fiction designed to explain away a lost election – is now officially dead.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

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