Opinion – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Thu, 30 Mar 2017 18:24:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 Commentary: New Markets Program’s return for Maine a positive by any standard http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/commentary-new-markets-programs-return-for-maine-a-positive-by-any-standard/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/commentary-new-markets-programs-return-for-maine-a-positive-by-any-standard/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1174271 AUGUSTA — The nonpartisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability recently released its comprehensive report on the New Markets Capital Investment Program. The report showed what many of us in the economic development business know first-hand to be true: When government and the private sector work together, Maine wins.

Maine’s New Markets Capital Investment Program is modeled on a federal program first introduced in 2001. The goal of the program is to bring job-creating development into economically depressed areas that would otherwise be unattractive to investors. The program has been used to spur tens of billions of dollars in investment across the country, and has been lauded by politicians from both sides of the aisle.

Last year, the Maine Legislature directed OPEGA to dig into the New Markets to make sure it was a worthwhile investment for state taxpayers. The report was commissioned after the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram gave attention to one New Markets-facilitated investment in the Great Northern Paper mill in East Millinocket. The tax credit had been used as part of an effort to revive the ailing mill and save hundreds of jobs. Tragically, the mill didn’t survive, causing some to speculate that New Markets was not living up to its purpose, and the program became a political football.

Thankfully, OPEGA stepped in to bring facts and clarity about the New Markets Capital Investment Program. OPEGA’s report now provides the Legislature with a foundational understanding of the program’s track record, as well as a framework for making improvements to the program over time.

What OPEGA discovered, in short, is that Maine’s New Markets Capital Investment Program has been a successful economic development tool. While some projects have been more successful than others, OPEGA found that New Markets has provided an overall positive fiscal impact of $15.8 million for Maine’s budget.

It’s clear from the report that this program is benefiting Maine’s economy.

Consider this: For every dollar Maine taxpayers invest in the New Markets Capital Investment Program, we get $1.19 back in new, in-state economic activity. That’s nearly a 20 percent rate of return. As Sen. Tom Saviello, a member of the Government Oversight Committee, recently said, “I’d make that investment every day.”

The report also found that New Markets created or retained 764 permanent jobs directly, and over 1,000 jobs throughout the supply chain of the various projects funded by the program. That’s a positive result by any standard.

And one of the most positive impacts OPEGA reported on was that most of the funding for New Markets projects was from investors who had never made investments in Maine before. Attracting out-of-state investment is the key to getting Maine’s economy moving forward, and successful projects like those supported by New Markets make it that much easier to attract future capital to the state.

OPEGA’s report also identified ways we can improve the New Markets program. Primarily, OPEGA found that the state needs to do a better job evaluating the projects funded through the program. With additional metrics and better data collection procedures, Maine taxpayers can keep tabs on New Markets’ investments without having to rely on government oversight investigations in the future. OPEGA also suggested ways to make the administration of the program more cost-effective, and to tighten some of the safeguards within the program to ensure taxpayer funding is invested as wisely as possible.

It’s been said many times, but the work of OPEGA, led by Executive Director Beth Ashcroft, is invaluable to our state. As they have done over and over again, OPEGA has cut through the political rhetoric and brought much-needed reality to the policy making process. The grandstanding that took place in the past about New Markets has been replaced by the facts, and now the Legislature can make the adjustments it needs to the program without mitigating the positive impact it has had on our state.

As the OPEGA report made clear, the New Markets Capital Investment Program has been a good investment. Maine’s economy is at a crossroads right now, and it’s going to take a concerted effort by both policymakers and the private sector to ensure our state is positioned as well as possible to attract outside investment and create new jobs. New Markets has been a great example of that positive collaboration, and we look forward to seeing this program continue its positive track record for years to come.

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Commentary: Budget must be based on ideologies that promote, not withhold http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/commentary-budget-must-be-based-on-ideologies-that-promote-not-withhold/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/commentary-budget-must-be-based-on-ideologies-that-promote-not-withhold/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1174301 AUGUSTA — On Thursday, members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will deliver what is called a “report back” to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. To put it in simpler terms, we’re going to let them know what we think of the current budget proposal from Gov. LePage.

We sat through hours of public testimony and heard from countless experts. We took a hard look at what’s been happening and how it’s been affecting Maine families. We know most Mainers won’t have the opportunity to read these reports, but this information is critical to the success of our state – so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share what we’ve learned.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. For the last six years, we have failed to invest in Maine’s future. And like any failure of investment, whether it be in business or in education, the consequences can be dire. But unlike business or education, the consequences from this lack of investment affect the health, safety and economic security of Maine children and their families.

Gov. LePage and Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services have been the architects of short-sighted policies that have driven children and families deeper into poverty, increased childhood hunger and removed basic health care from struggling families. We are now seeing the devastating effects: Our children are experiencing high levels of hunger and stress in their development, and an increasing number of children are starting school unready to learn.

The programs the DHHS administers should seek to empower Mainers and provide them with opportunities to be healthy, strong and productive. Simply cutting participation in these programs does not help to improve Mainers’ lives, but rather contributes to them becoming less healthy, poorer and less able to participate successfully in work and community.

We need to highlight Le-Page’s and Mayhew’s reasoning behind cutting programs – to fund an enormous income tax cut for those who need it the least. Their proposal would give a tax break to the tune of $14,000 a year to a married couple without children making $500,000. A family of four who makes $58,000? Well, they’d see about $8.

Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2014, Maine had the sharpest increase (50 percent) of any state in the country in the number of children living in extreme poverty – or less than half the federal poverty line, about $10,000 for a family of three. Imagine trying to take care of your family on about $800 a month. It’s absolutely terrifying. We know that too many Mainers are actually living with that budget as their reality.

We’ve got to accept that this is a direct consequence of policy decisions by this administration based on ideologies that withhold opportunity instead of promoting it. It’s creating a system that rewards those doing well and tries to punish people out of poverty. It’s not working. It’s making things worse.

The programs carried out by the DHHS are meant to create a bridge from challenging circumstances to the ability to live out these ideals. Mainers work hard for their money, but they are also willing to help their neighbors going through tough times to get back on their feet. They trust us as legislators to be thoughtful, practical and expedient.

Mainers value dignity, hard work, practicality and independence. Our government must reflect those values by ensuring that people can meet their most basic needs, while at the same time providing the services and supports necessary to help prepare them to live healthy, productive, independent lives.

Rather than cutting people off from lifelines to security, we must do what we can to support our people to reach independence and achieve their goals. These lifelines are not intended to be long term solutions, merely a bridge to stability and financial independence. To paraphrase former Maine Gov. Joseph Brennan and President Ronald Reagan, the best welfare program is a job, and the best social welfare agency is a family.

The problems we need to solve are bigger than this budget, bigger than the next two years, and bigger than the current administration. It won’t be easy, but the future of our state depends on the decisions we make right now. We think Maine is strongest when all families are thriving. We must capitalize on our natural advantages, deliver quality services and invest in Maine’s future. We know that’s what Mainers want, and it’s what we intend to deliver.

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Maine’s low health ranking is a call for action, not further backing off http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/maine-voices-maines-low-health-ranking-is-a-call-for-action-not-further-backing-off/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/maine-voices-maines-low-health-ranking-is-a-call-for-action-not-further-backing-off/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1174314 We Mainers like to explain our state as a series of dichotomies. Whether it’s physical geography – mountains vs. the sea – or social geography – bustling small cities vs. a rolling rural countryside – we can never quite let go of the idea of “two Maines.” As is often the case with such platitudes, there is an element of truth to this view, and that is certainly the case when it comes to the health status of Maine people.

The latest national County Health Rankings report, released this week by the University of Wisconsin, shows that where Mainers are doing well economically, they are among the healthiest people in the nation, and where Maine people struggle, their health is poor.

In 2017, Washington, Aroostook, Piscataquis, Androscoggin and Somerset counties are at the bottom of the rankings, while Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Knox and York rank at the top. The lowest-ranked counties are poorer, less educated and have more behavioral and environmental challenges than their top-ranked counterparts.

In addition to large disparities among counties, the data tell us that Maine’s health status overall is worsening. In December, the America’s Health Rankings report, which has ranked the health of all U.S. states for 25 years using similar measures to those in the county report, said that Maine slipped from the 15th healthiest state in 2015 to 22nd in 2016. Among a number of troubling findings, data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Maine’s infant mortality rate, an especially sensitive measure of the health of states and countries, is rising despite declines between 2005 and 2010.

The continuing economic deterioration of many of Maine’s poorest counties is perhaps the single most important contributor to these trends. Without adequate incomes, many Mainers struggle to find basic economic security, housing, a good education, healthy food and access to good health care.

Health rankings are a call to action, not a prescription for solutions. For example, in 2009, publication of the America’s Health Rankings report prompted Maine’s largest health care system, MaineHealth, to act. System leaders recognized that achieving their lofty vision of “Working together so our communities are the healthiest in America” was not possible without identifying and addressing problems.

MaineHealth selected six leading health problems with a large impact on health, including low childhood immunization rates, tobacco use, obesity, preventable hospitalizations, cancer deaths and cardiovascular disease deaths – and called for an annual report to track progress on these priorities over time. A seventh priority (opiates and prescription drug abuse) was added in 2012.

MaineHealth’s own Health Index report (also released this week at mainehealthindex.org), was conceived as a way for MaineHealth and its community partners to hold themselves accountable. And through programs such as Let’s Go!, which targets childhood obesity, real progress has been made. Let’s Go! is now being implemented in all 16 Maine counties and has produced both behavior and environmental changes that appear to be having an impact on stabilizing child obesity rates.

Unfortunately, as Maine’s health has deteriorated, the state has stepped away from programs and policies that could help people make better choices. Such disinvestment includes significant reductions in public health nursing in many of our most vulnerable communities and a budget that eliminates funding for obesity and tobacco prevention.

Moreover, according to a recent report, the state has explicitly chosen not to pursue federal grant opportunities to address colorectal cancer screening rates, to improve water testing for arsenic and lead and to address other critical public health problems and needs.

Meanwhile, Maine’s decision not to expand health coverage through the Medicaid expansion option in the Affordable Care Act has left over 30,000 low-income citizens without access to health insurance

Although we cannot immediately change our economy or our social demography, we are not powerless to improve our health. Vermont, New Hampshire and other rural states have seen their health rankings far surpass our own.

Let’s use these rankings not as an indictment, but a call to action. We must first recognize we have a serious problem and acknowledge that poor health will undermine the state’s future economic growth. Then we need a realistic, practical plan that borrows the best ideas from other states.

For all the talk of “two Maines,” only together can we create a thriving state where each community is among the healthiest in America.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/maine-voices-maines-low-health-ranking-is-a-call-for-action-not-further-backing-off/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/01/576502_AP592954148722.jpgNurse Renee Blankenship, left, gives Christina Martin a measles-mumps-rubella vaccination at a clinic in Shiloh, Ohio, last year.Thu, 30 Mar 2017 13:12:30 +0000
Our View: Congress alters notion 
of privacy in digital age http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/our-view-congress-alters-notion-%e2%80%a8of-privacy-in-digital-age/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/our-view-congress-alters-notion-%e2%80%a8of-privacy-in-digital-age/#respond Thu, 30 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1174340 Imagine this scenario: The day after you call the washing machine repairman, a salesman, tipped off by your phone company, shows up at your door, wondering if you’d like to buy a new machine. Most people would consider that an egregious violation of privacy.

But the same thing happens online millions of times a day – in fact, it is the backbone of the internet, generating billions of dollars for companies like Facebook and Google. Does anyone really care? Has the internet changed our very concept of privacy? Republicans are about to find out.

The U.S. House this week voted largely along party lines to allow internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon to collect and sell the information generated by their customers, following a similar vote in the Senate. President Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.

The action, which repealed a set of protections created by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration, will allow browsing history, location data, app usage and other online activity to be curated into an individual profile and used to target advertising directly at a consumer, all without the consumer’s consent.

Websites like Facebook and Google, which fall under a different regulatory framework, have been doing this for years, making sure that when you search for a ski jacket online, you’re inundated with ads for L.L. Bean and The North Face.

Online advertising is an $83 billion-a-year business, and it is growing. Internet service providers are in a unique position to capitalize on it, if only they can get people to go along.

Unlike Google, Facebook and their affiliated sites, which internet users can avoid with a little inconvenience, internet service providers are a requirement to access the internet, and in most markets they hold a monopoly or near-monopoly. Consumers can’t just switch if they don’t like how their internet service provider is handling their personal information.

And internet service providers have access not only to your searches and Facebook “likes,” but also to every site you visit, every physical location you go to and every app you use. That information is enough to create a strong profile, and advertisers want it.

Consumers are unlikely to give it up, however, if internet service providers have to get their explicit consent. The big telecommunication companies know this, and they lobbied Congress hard to repeal the Obama-era rules, which had yet to go into effect.

Opponents of the rules, like 2nd District Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Republican Sen. Susan Collins, say they put internet service providers at a disadvantage against websites that can sell personal information. But that doesn’t explain why Republicans want to withdraw the protections, not extend them to other parts of the internet.

No, this is about providing the giants in the telecommunications industry a new market. AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and others are hoping that consumers won’t search for the “opt-out” option, hidden deep in their preferences, or move en masse toward services that encrypt their online actions or turn off tracking. They hope there isn’t a call for more local providers that put consumers before profit.

Republicans hope that this will pass unnoticed, that there is so much else to worry about in the Trump administration that this won’t even be acknowledged.

But most of all, they hope that as more and more of our lives are conducted online, the line between public and private becomes blurred so much that it doesn’t matter. Judging from how differently we treat the telephone and the internet, they may be right.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/30/our-view-congress-alters-notion-%e2%80%a8of-privacy-in-digital-age/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1174340_shutterstock_290998688-e1490844113246.jpgInternet service providers have access to every site you visit and every app you use – and soon they won't need your OK to capitalize on the data.Wed, 29 Mar 2017 23:24:29 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Florida governor chillingly pursues mob-style justice over rule of law http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/leonard-pitts-florida-governor-chillingly-pursues-mob-style-justice-over-rule-of-law/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/leonard-pitts-florida-governor-chillingly-pursues-mob-style-justice-over-rule-of-law/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 10:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173839 It’s a scene you’ve observed a hundred times.

The angry rabble advances on the jail, meaning to seize the prisoner and hang him from the nearest tree.

The sheriff, a lone defender of the rule of law, stands them off, refusing to give in to the mob’s demand for extralegal justice.

Granted, no one is storming the Orange County, Florida, lockup where Markeith Loyd sits waiting for trial on charges of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer.

But in at least one respect, what is happening in central Florida mirrors that movie cliche absolutely.

The mob wants blood.

Somebody has told them ‘no.’

And they are not happy about it.

Chief among the unhappy is the governor, Rick Scott.

In a stunning move, he recently removed State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the case after she announced she would not seek the death penalty against Loyd – or any other defendant.

It was an exercise of brute executive force so alarming that last week nearly 140 legal professionals signed their names to a letter declaring themselves “deeply troubled” by it.

Donna Coker of the University of Miami School of Law, Gerald Kogan, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Karl Racine, attorney general of Washington, D.C., and Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles County district attorney, are among those accusing the governor of an action that “infringes on the vitally important independence of prosecutors (and) exceeds your authority.”

Scott, they said, has set “a dangerous precedent. The governor picking and choosing how criminal cases are prosecuted, charged or handled in local matters is troubling as a matter of policy and practice.”

People will want to make this a referendum on the heinousness of Loyd’s alleged crime.

It isn’t.

People will also want to make this a referendum on the death penalty.

It isn’t that, either.

Ayala, yes, has a philosophical opposition to capital punishment.

Many of us do.

It is worth noting, though, that a number of her defenders support the death penalty and disagree with her decision.

Yet they are still in her corner.

Because death is not the issue here.

No, the issue is whether we shall have law or the mob.

The tenor of the latter may be inferred from a Facebook post by a Seminole County bureaucrat who wrote that Ayala “should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree” for her refusal to seek the death penalty.

Stan McCullars, who later deleted that post, was placed on administrative leave and ultimately resigned.

Given that Ayala is the first African-American state attorney in Florida history, his threat carries a terrible resonance.

It’s arguably more noteworthy, however, for what it says about the mind of the mob.

They want – no, they demand – blood and they will not be denied.

Which is human, maybe even understandable.

But it’s also inimical to justice.

That’s why we construct the machinery of law, to temper and constrain the passions of the moment.

We trade the visceral satisfaction of ripping the limbs off some accused child rapist for rules that protect us – particularly the wrongly accused among us – from just that sort of misguided rage.

Ayala is an elected official.

If the voters dislike her decision, they have the means to hold her accountable for it.

Instead, the governor imposes his office, supersedes her will and tramples upon the separation of powers.

Those who can’t see beyond their own fury are surely pleased.

The rest of us can only be appalled.

The law exists to protect us from the mob.

But that’s hard to do when the governor is leading it.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/leonard-pitts-florida-governor-chillingly-pursues-mob-style-justice-over-rule-of-law/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/04/PITTS_LEONARD_1_TNS2.jpgTNS Columnist Leonard Pitts. (Olivier Douliery/TNS)Tue, 28 Mar 2017 21:52:02 +0000
Maine Voices: Trump plan to gut civil legal aid would have devastating impact on Mainers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/maine-voices-trump-plan-to-gut-civil-legal-aid-would-have-devastating-impact-on-mainers/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/maine-voices-trump-plan-to-gut-civil-legal-aid-would-have-devastating-impact-on-mainers/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173813 BRUNSWICK — The Trump administration is calling for the elimination of the Legal Services Corp., which has provided federal funding for civil legal aid since 1974. If this becomes reality, Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, would lose $1.4 million, almost one-quarter of its budget.

Across our nation, civil legal aid has long enjoyed broad bipartisan support for a reason: Americans believe in justice for all, not just for those who can afford it. The Legal Services Corp. has helped ensure fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of how much money one has.

Pine Tree, a nonprofit organization with local offices around the state, has provided free legal aid to help low-income and vulnerable veterans, elders, children and other Mainers. When these Mainers are involved in civil legal cases, as opposed to criminal cases, the law does not require them to receive a court-appointed lawyer. The Legal Services Corp. provides funding so that when these people’s livelihoods, their health and their families are on the line, they have representation and a fair shot.

Pine Tree comes to the rescue of thousands of Mainers who cannot afford the legal help they need when faced with a life-changing situation. They help veterans denied rightfully earned benefits, women trapped in abusive relationships, parents seeking custody of their children and families facing wrongful evictions. In addition, they provide assistance in cases involving employment, public benefits, health care and consumer protection.

Many of the Maine residents served by Pine Tree are the working poor. Others are single parents trying to provide a stable family life for their children. Some are adults with significant disabilities who are struggling to live independently. In 2016, elderly Mainers, veterans and low-income military families represented a substantial portion of all clients served, and direct legal services benefited almost 7,400 children and youth.

Civil legal aid makes fiscal sense and is a good investment. It helps Mainers of all backgrounds and ages, saving taxpayers millions of dollars while ensuring justice for all.

Everyone benefits when someone remains housed. Housing stabilizes families and helps them remain self-sufficient, ultimately saving taxpayers’ money. The public costs of sheltering families that become homeless are significant, as are the increased costs of providing public assistance, transitional housing and health care for families in crisis. Helping survivors of domestic violence reduces shelter costs. Early legal interventions prevent more serious problems down the road.

Over the past two years, Pine Tree has:

Saved Maine families from $2.9 million in illegal debt collection by third-party debt buyers.

 Secured $2.3 million in ongoing alimony and child support, primarily for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.

 Avoided homelessness for more than 3,400 families, saving the state more than $3.2 million in emergency shelter costs.

In 2016, the small staff and volunteers of Pine Tree Legal handled almost 7,400 cases for clients in every part of Maine. Pine Tree’s staff has never been large enough to handle all requests for help, but this level of service was possible because Pine Tree secured $540,000 worth of donated services from Maine lawyers, students and community volunteers.

Pine Tree staff resolve most problems through simple advice, a quick explanation of the law or negotiation, thus avoiding a protracted and expensive lawsuit. It has been commended by the federal government for its effective and cost-effective work.

Gutting civil legal aid would devastate low-income families and vulnerable people in Maine and throughout the United States. Especially hard hit would be rural areas, where families struggle to find the legal help they need. If members of Congress do not save the Legal Services Corp., they will be turning their backs on their constituents and causing unnecessary suffering.

Funding for the Legal Services Corp. is a minuscule slice of the federal budget – roughly one-hundredth of 1 percent. However, eliminating the federal agency would be devastating to many. Our nation’s extremely modest investment in the Legal Services Corp. is an essential building block for ensuring fairness in the justice system and social stability. I urge all readers to contact their U.S. senators and representatives on this important issue.

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Commentary: Bill would make sure ‘milk’ on the label applies only to the real item http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/commentary-bill-would-make-sure-milk-on-the-label-applies-only-to-the-real-item/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/commentary-bill-would-make-sure-milk-on-the-label-applies-only-to-the-real-item/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173826 EXETER — In the dairy industry, few things are predictable and certain, from the weather to the price we receive for our milk.

But at the end of the day, what leaves our farm remains tried, true and consistent: Real dairy milk is wholesome, safe and full of nutritional benefits.

That healthy halo is so distinct that some nondairy processors will go to great lengths in an attempt to copy our products.

Dairy farmers work extremely hard to follow our industry’s extensive regulations – including the Food and Drug Administration’s labeling laws specifying what milk is.

So it’s frustrating to see these copycats take a handful of seeds or nuts, grind them into a paste, add emulsifiers and whiteners, sprinkle in a few nutrients and then pour the resulting concoction into a carton and call it “milk.”

All the camouflage in the world won’t produce the natural goodness of real milk.

And government regulations say imitators shouldn’t be able to copy the names of cheese and yogurt, either.

But for more than a decade, we’ve seen an explosion of products that mimic certain attributes of milk, including co-opting that very name.

Unfortunately, the FDA has turned a blind eye to this growing practice.

That’s why I support the Dairy Pride Act, new legislation in the Senate and House that simply asks the FDA to do its job and police the long-standing food labeling standards that clearly spell out what milk is.

Given the importance of the dairy industry here in Maine, we need support from our congressional delegation to get this bill passed.

The bill would ensure that anything labeled “milk” has to have come from an animal source.

It actually doesn’t create a new law, it merely tells the FDA to be accountable for enforcing existing food standards.

This fight is not new.

Federal law dictating what should be labeled milk – and dairy’s call on the FDA to enforce it – has been around for decades.

What the dairy farmers and lawmakers are doing in endorsing the Dairy Pride Act is simply asking the companies that make imitation dairy products to respect this definition.

A key reason food standards exist is to prevent creative marketers from misleading consumers with inferior impersonations, and that’s exactly what’s at stake here.

None of these fake milks match the natural, consistent and high levels of nutrients contained in real milk.

Without the FDA’s role in defending food standards, people can be misled into thinking plant-based drinks have the same nutritional makeup as milk, when most just don’t.

Milk is naturally packed with nine essential nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium and vitamin A.

Imitators cannot guarantee the same nutrient package across the many types and brands in the grocery store.

It’s unlikely that consumers know if they’re getting the right package of nutrients in every glass. Where imitators vary greatly, milk remains steadfastly the same. Every glass, every day.

Interestingly, other English-speaking countries do not face this confusion, because they are much more diligent in enforcing the use of dairy-specific terms.

The same popular brand of almond beverage is sold in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. But only in the U.S. is the term “almondmilk” displayed on the packaging.

Canada and Britain have regulations similar to the U.S. that don’t allow use of the term “milk” on products that don’t contain milk, but the difference is, their governments enforce that standard.

Here in the U.S., our Food and Drug Administration is asleep at the switch.

I strongly encourage my fellow farmers and dairy industry stakeholders – as well as Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree – to get behind this bipartisan and bicameral effort.

They’re urging a federal agency to do its job, and they’re doing it to reduce confusion in this already muddled consumer marketplace.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/commentary-bill-would-make-sure-milk-on-the-label-applies-only-to-the-real-item/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/02/795899_312575-20160126_XC_Skiing_2.jpgRick Guinard of Alfred buys his milk at Harris Farm in Dayton.Wed, 29 Mar 2017 12:33:18 +0000
Our View: Maine’s handling of sexual assault evidence deserves closer study http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/our-view-maines-handling-of-sexual-assault-evidence-deserves-closer-study/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/our-view-maines-handling-of-sexual-assault-evidence-deserves-closer-study/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173906 Sexual assault is a vastly underreported violent crime whose perpetrators are relatively rarely brought to justice. Changing this sorry situation is the focus of a praiseworthy push to expedite the handling of evidence collected from victims – a national movement that has come to Maine, with three rape testing kit- related bills in Augusta this session.

But the bills raise issues that are beyond their scope to address, and we stand with Maine’s victim advocates in urging legislators to put aside the measures for now and launch a comprehensive review of the system instead.

Over 175,000 unprocessed rape testing kits exist in the 38 states that keep track of the problem, according to the nonprofit End the Backlog initiative. Sometimes, there’s a processing backlog because the rapist has been identified or is already behind bars. The issue can also be one involving cost – or an investigator who doubts the victim’s story and has set the case aside. But regardless of the reason, the fact that many rapists strike repeatedly means that processing untested kits can help identify serial offenders and exonerate the innocent.

How big is the backlog in Maine? It doesn’t seem to be much of a problem, the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault’s Destie Hohman Sprague recently told legislators at a hearing on a bill to create a computerized statewide system to track the kits’ status. The rape kits that are needed in prosecutions are handled quickly, said Sprague, while the others are generally stored until long after the offender is prosecuted.

The coalition has been neutral on both this bill and another proposal, which would set standards for access to and retention of rape kits. (A third bill, which gives the State Police a six-month deadline for processing each kit, won’t have a hearing until April 5.)

But neutrality doesn’t mean inaction. Sprague and the coalition’s executive director, Elizabeth Ward Saxl, have made an excellent case for studying how Maine is dealing with rape testing kits before deciding whether and how to change the process.

Among their questions: Is there a less administration-heavy way to assess the status of Maine’s rape kits? Are current processing practices causing problems with sexual assault prosecutions? How can authorities notify a victim that their rape kit is about to be destroyed while still honoring their right to privacy?

It’s been nearly 20 years since Maine last examined how it deals with evidence in sexual assault cases – the state introduced its uniform rape testing kit at the recommendation of the legislative panel that looked into these issues in 1999. It’s high time that legislators, sexual assault survivors and victim advocates, police, prosecutors and other stakeholders examine how the system that was set up is working and what it can be doing better.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/our-view-maines-handling-of-sexual-assault-evidence-deserves-closer-study/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1173906_shutterstock_366037751.jpgIt's been nearly 20 years since Maine last examined how it deals with evidence in sexual assault cases, and stakeholders should now take another look at how the system is working and if it needs improvement. .Tue, 28 Mar 2017 23:18:56 +0000
Another View: Bumblebee needs protection for humankind’s sake http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/another-view-bumblebee-needs-protection-for-humankinds-sake/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/29/another-view-bumblebee-needs-protection-for-humankinds-sake/#respond Wed, 29 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173938 In January, before President Barack Obama left office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scheduled the rusty patched bumblebee to be listed on the endangered species list Feb. 10 – and with good reason. The population of rusty patched bumblebees, which used to be abundant in 28 states, has declined nearly 90 percent over two decades. At this rate of decline, it is expected to be extinct within a few years.

There’s no underestimating the importance of bumblebees to the natural order. While their busyness doesn’t yield honey for your tea and toast, the nest-dwelling fuzzy pollinators are vital to the process that produces fruit, seeds and nuts. The rusty patched bumblebees are the first of continental America’s domestic bee population to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.

On Feb. 9, the day before they were to be officially listed as endangered, the Trump administration temporarily froze all new federal regulations. The rusty patched bumblebee’s status was suddenly thrown into limbo at a time when protections are needed most.

The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Trump administration for delaying the bumblebees’ listing as an endangered species, arguing that it was a violation of the law.

Fortunately, the Trump administration reversed its position and is allowing the rusty patched bumblebee to be listed. This will mean that bee habitats and the dwindling number of places they can be found can be protected from companies and individuals that would harm them.

This is the right call. Besides, it wouldn’t have only been a species of bumblebee that felt the sting of extinction. It would’ve been everyone dependent on the fruits of the bees’ labor, too.

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Our View: Informed pet buyers can help end cruel dog breeding practices http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/our-view-informed-buyers-can-help-end-cruel-breeding-practices/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/our-view-informed-buyers-can-help-end-cruel-breeding-practices/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173354 It can take a lot of misery to produce a puppy.

That’s not what anyone wants to think about when they bring home a new pet, but the evidence is hard to ignore.

The latest comes from Skowhegan, where authorities who searched a home said they found 11 dogs kept in poor conditions, the place heavy with the smell of urine. The resident, a 32-year-old woman, was arrested after a months-long investigation by Skowhegan police and the state’s Animal Welfare Program.

First, the woman was arrested for selling dogs with fake vaccination records.

Later, a stray dog with severe tissue damage from a muzzle was traced back to the woman. Police say they obtained a search warrant after an undercover officer bought a puppy from her, and then raided the house, where they found sickly dogs with little to no access to food or water.

Three puppies were locked in a closet next to a cat litter box. Four others were in a bathtub with a towel soaked in urine. Their mother was in a dirty cage in a cold garage, police say, and was malnourished to the point that she needed significant care at the Humane Society of Somerset County.

Investigators believe that the woman was “pet flipping.” In a practice that animal advocates say is happening more often, people acquire pets at no or very little cost, either by stealing them, or by posing as a buyer to someone who has a litter of puppies for sale, or who for some reason has to give up their pets. The pet flipper then sells the animal, typically online, for a hefty profit.

If investigators had not come along, the adult dog may have stayed in that garage for as long as she could reproduce, delivering puppies that would have been sold to families unaware of the cruelty and indifference that made them possible.

Unfortunately, that same dynamic plays out with breeders across the country. With or without a license, some breeders produce puppies under deplorable conditions, then hide behind the anonymity of the internet, often using multiple names and phone numbers to hide the scope of their operation.

Even some of those with an official breeding license treat dogs in a way that would disgust new puppy owners, if they were ever allowed to see them.

Instead, the breeders set up shop in states with lax oversight, safe in the knowledge that the overmatched and impotent regulators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will never come and check. They sell puppies online or through pet stores, at a safe remove from their harsh origin.

That’s why it’s up to the consumer to make sure these conditions aren’t tolerated.

First, there is always adoption, even for purebreds, through many reputable organizations.

If you must buy a puppy, avoid online ads. Ask to see where the puppies were born, and to meet their parents, if only to make sure you are getting what you paid for – no legitimate breeder would say no.

And think twice before visiting a pet store, which often get their dogs from large-scale puppy mills that only have to meet the USDA’s low standards.

For that reason, the Legislature passed a bill proposed in 2015 that would have banned pet stores from offering anything other than rescue dogs and cats. Unfortunately, Gov. LePage vetoed the legislation, and an override failed.

Portland, however, passed its own ban on the retail sale of cats and dogs last year, and the statewide measure deserves another shot.

In any case, cruel breeding will continue until buyers make it stop.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/our-view-informed-buyers-can-help-end-cruel-breeding-practices/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1173354_edi.0328-e1490676689710.jpgThese puppies and eight other dogs, all kept in reportedly squalid conditions, were recently taken to a Skowhegan shelter. Police believe the owner acquired them at no or little cost and sold them for a hefty profit.Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:54:02 +0000
Kathleen Parker: Health care debate showed Trump trying to govern by ultimatum http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/kathleen-parker-health-care-debate-showed-trump-trying-to-govern-by-ultimatum/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/kathleen-parker-health-care-debate-showed-trump-trying-to-govern-by-ultimatum/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173340 In a week that felt like a month, Americans got a clear view of Donald Trump’s governing style and also of his fabled dealmaking approach.

Or rather, I should say, Trump got a good sense of what governing is like – hard, hard, hard. And it’s bound to get more difficult given the president’s tactics of consent: “Do as I say or you’re dead to me.”

Even bolder, Trump told congressional Republicans that if they didn’t pass the American Health Care Act to repeal Obamacare, he was finished. Done. He’d walk away and move on to other things, he told recalcitrants. (To perhaps a new resort project, many were overheard praying.)

House opposition to the health care bill came both from moderates, as well as from hard-core, market purists, notably the Freedom Caucus. The latter didn’t want Obamcare Lite. They wanted obliteration. As negotiations continued until the vote was called off last Friday afternoon, the path to reform became increasingly muddled – and the way forward more complex. Fixing health care was never going to be a one-off.

But Trump, who promised repeal and replace (as has nearly every Republican the past seven years), has no patience with process. As the chief executive of his own company for most of his life, and notwithstanding his reverence for his dealmaking skills, he prefers quick results. And, hey, if things don’t tumble his way, well, there are other greens to sow and mow. And, certainly, a 30-foot wall to build.

To the 60-day president, it seemed, getting health care out of the way was mostly a means to checking a box – an important one, to be sure – but nothing to bestir his personal passions. Call it ego. Call it pride. Call it a day, but get it done, he commanded. Or else: “I’m gonna come after you,” Trump told North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, one of his fiercest foes in the Freedom Caucus opposition. The president was joking around, according to those present, but Meadows still might want to keep a close eye on his favorite bunny.

As many have observed, Trump’s spin of the wheel was risky business. He gambled on his own power to persuade (or bluff), the result of which could leave him holding Obamacare and conceding failure. What, then, do Republicans tell their base? And what would this say about the party in power? After years of harping on the collapsing health care plan installed by President Obama and the then-Democratically controlled House and Senate, they had their opportunity to govern responsibly.

You’d think seven years would be ample time to cobble something together that could replace Obamacare. The fact that Republicans didn’t confirms that such an overhaul requires the time and patience Trump and Co. haven’t been willing – or able – to spare. What we saw these past several weeks, meanwhile, was a frantic race to pass something virtually no one recognized as a workable piece of legislation, and which the Senate would probably reject.

Back in 2010, when then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Obamacare had to be passed so that we could find out what was in the bill, Republicans guffawed – and never let her forget it. At least, one observes, the Democrats had a bill. Republican lawmakers have been racing to pass something that isn’t fully written yet.

What’s with the rush, anyway? Why not take the time to get things right? While Democrats solicited input from experts in the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, Republicans have spent most of their time fighting among themselves. The resulting bill was a patchwork of margin scribbles and crossouts, even including instructions to the Senate to figure out ways to make certain parts work. And the rush was mere drama. Last Thursday, the original deadline for the vote, was the seven-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act’s passage.

Once that deadline passed, Trump began acting like a child who didn’t get to have his birthday party on the precise day of his miraculous delivery into the glare. “Forget it. I don’t even want a party now.”

The truth is, many Republicans never seriously thought Obamacare could be repealed and replaced, probably for the good reason that it’s nearly impossible to do. The most sensible solution was to fix what was already in place until the inevitable day, coming soon, when we become a dual health care system: Single-payer for the majority of Americans and concierge health care for the wealthy. It’s just a matter of time.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. She can be contacted at kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/kathleen-parker-health-care-debate-showed-trump-trying-to-govern-by-ultimatum/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1160594_Trump_Speech_69747.jpg-1797.jpgPresident Trump said in his address to Congress on Tuesday night, "The time for small thinking is over."Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:56:47 +0000
Maine Voices: Abandoning the arts and humanities would be a giant step backward http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/maine-voices-abandoning-the-arts-and-humanities-would-be-a-giant-step-backward/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/maine-voices-abandoning-the-arts-and-humanities-would-be-a-giant-step-backward/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173348 KENNEBUNK — The Trump administration’s recently released proposed federal spending plan has crippling implications for America’s arts and humanities communities. Part of the budget proposal would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

If these national entities seem unfamiliar to you, consider a small sample of the projects they’ve funded over the years. These projects include National Public Radio, “A Prairie Home Companion,” PBS, The Sundance Institute and Film Festival; literature, arts, dance, and theater education programs in public schools, and research funding for museums, libraries and colleges.

Maine receives about $1.2 million per year from the National Endowment for the Arts. This helps support the Maine Arts Commission, arts organizations, arts programming and individual artists, writers and musicians. An additional $1.7 million per year is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help fund Maine Public’s TV and radio network. In 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $1.65 million to Maine institutions through the Maine Humanities Council – about 73 percent of the council’s annual budget.

I am a student at the University of Southern Maine and a local musician. I will be graduating this spring with my bachelor’s degree in social work. The threat of this proposed budget hit home for me as an individual with potential career paths in both the arts and the humanities.

I’ve spent my senior year internship at Engine, an arts-based nonprofit working with the Biddeford community. Engine is founded on the belief that artistic expression and creative vibrancy are the gateway to cultural, social and economic revitalization. At 128 Main St. in Biddeford, Engine maintains an art gallery, community flex-space and a FabLab with 3-D printing technology where people of all ages can use sophisticated equipment to build potential product prototypes. It’s one of many organizations in Maine that rely on funding from the NEA and NEH to make their programming possible.

These programs are diverse and strive to meet a variety of needs within the Biddeford community. There are maker camps for students during their school vacation week; an upcoming collaboration where Engine will provide screenprinting classes for the Department of Corrections, and opportunities for a local artist or writer to exhibit their latest work.

As part of my internship, I’ve started a weekly guitar group at the alternative learning high school that is part of the local public school system. Thanks to the state-of-the-art technology and support staff available at Engine, I was able to train my guitar students on the software to design and print guitar picks.

During my internship, I’ve been fortunate to see first-hand how beneficial arts programming can be for the community. The expectation of community-based arts programming is not that every participant will become the next Picasso or Trey Anastasio. Rather, participating in community-based arts programming aims to inspire creative thinking and therefore creative problem solving. In theory, this would mean more well-rounded individuals better equipped to handle the complex problems facing modern society.

Out of $1.1 trillion in annual federal discretionary spending, only about $300 million goes toward these endowments – a whopping .0002 percent of the total budget. This move by the Trump administration seems to be more of a symbolic attack on our artistic, historical and educational institutions rather than a logical attempt at addressing our nation’s debt. American society simply cannot afford to take such a monumental step backward by abandoning the arts and humanities.

I ask for your help in protecting the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. How can you help? Reach out to the people who represent us in Washington – Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin – and explain what the arts and humanities mean to you. Sign a petition such as this one at change.org/p/don-t-eliminate- the-national-endowment-for-the-arts.

Don’t stop there: Organize, educate and get support from your friends, family and foes. The more voices we have, the more likely we are to be heard.

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Charles Lawton: Democrats can help improve the health care system in place http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/charles-lawton-democrats-can-help-improve-the-health-care-system-in-place/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/28/charles-lawton-democrats-can-help-improve-the-health-care-system-in-place/#respond Tue, 28 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1173350 It is far easier to convince people of the advantages of gaining benefits they don’t understand than to sell them on the advantages of avoiding costs that they do understand. That seems to be the lesson to be learned by anyone wondering what’s next for health care reform after the House Republicans’ bungled attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Along with the rising insurance premiums under the ACA, that program’s infamously inept rollout and the problems people encountered with keeping familiar providers made “Repeal Obamacare!” a popular slogan for electioneering. Just citing the problems implied a solution. Some unspecified something had to be better than this.

But when the thrill of victory turned into the grind of governance, the airily implied solutions turned into complicated costs to be avoided – the premium-raising costs of covering “essential health benefits,” the personal freedom-limiting costs of mandating the universal purchase of health insurance, the tax-raising costs of subsidizing premiums for households below specified income levels, and, least transparently and most cynically of all, the tax savings from reduced health spending that would make the Republican “second front” of tax reform easier to finance and sell.

In the end, all these theoretical avoided cost arguments, all of these “trust me, the replacement will be better” assurances, paled to insignificance compared to the harsh reality of real constituents losing access to health care and identifying very clearly the people who took it away.

The ideological rigidity and political ineptitude of the past week (as well as the months of poor thinking that led to this inevitable outcome) now present all those interested in improving health care policy with a new opportunity. Courageous Democrats can reach out to their now-sobered Republican colleagues who sensibly defied both their leader and their president and offer to work together to improve the system in place.

But the first order of any such collaboration must be to establish a first principle of expanding rather than restricting access to health care. The primary reason for failure of the repeal effort was not affection for the current system, but fear that its insanely complicated, internally contradictory, riddled-with-cross-subsidies and totally opaque operations would be forced to exclude more regular, everyday people.

The only way that bipartisan efforts to reform (and perhaps rename) Obamacare is to address this fear head on, to say that yes, cost containment is important, yes, competition is good and, yes, finding ways to return the patient-provider relationship to the center of health care delivery is important, but bottom line, you will get care, you will be treated – and not just at the last minute in an emergency room.

Addressing this fear of loss of access will be expensive. But arguing about what constitutes a minimum acceptable level of assured health care service and what such services are likely to cost would be a vast improvement over hiding the total cost by cobbling together a mélange of taxes imposed on entities deemed “rich” or somehow engaged in the health care industry (like medical device manufacturers).

Such backdoor ways of paying the bill both hide the true total cost behind a maze of financial trickles and create all manner of dysfunctional incentives. If we are ever to have an effective health care system, it must have a clear, comprehensive and transparent cost. And everyone should know it. Only in this way will it be possible to understand what drives that cost and, thus, how to make changes to reduce them – something an improved Obamacare should seek to do.

Much of the now-failed Republican plan was based on exclusion: Don’t mandate insurance, don’t mandate specified coverages and limit entitlement access. A House committee recently voted to advance a separate Republican-backed bill that allows employers to impose hefty financial penalties on workers who decline to get genetic tests as part of workplace wellness programs. Such an approach necessarily generates fear. Rather than allowing access to health care to define us a community, as a nation, it further set us apart.

The alternative approach that now seems more likely to arise will face a far higher probability of success if it begins with broad inclusion and then, on a secure and fearless foundation, sets forth firmly on the path of instilling and rewarding more individual responsibility for health decisions on the part of the consumer while experimenting with innovative ways of providing services more efficiently on the part of the providers.

Consulting economist Charles Lawton, Ph.D., can be contacted at cttlaw3@gmail.com.

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Our View: Time for Maine to close state’s only youth prison http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/27/our-view-time-for-maine-to-close-states-only-youth-prison/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/27/our-view-time-for-maine-to-close-states-only-youth-prison/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172881 The suicide late last year of a transgender boy at Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland has led to deep reflection over policies at the state’s only youth correctional center. Instead, it should raise questions about why we incarcerate youth at all.

Despite best efforts, the system isn’t working. It is time to close Long Creek, and target resources toward facilities and programs that are more successful in turning troubled youths into productive adults.

FEWER INMATES, NEW CHALLENGES

That’s not meant as a criticism of Long Creek, a facility with the right general philosophy on youth corrections, and with many talented and dedicated staff members.

But even the best youth prisons remove children from communities they should be learning to live in, and struggle to serve such a vulnerable and sensitive population.

The challenges start with the teenagers who end up at Long Creek.

The number of incarcerated youth in Maine fell from 318 in 1997 to 186 by 2013. The state’s other youth facility, Mountain View in Charleston, closed in 2015, after seeing a reduction in inmates from more than 100 at one time to nine.

Long Creek, where the average population was more than 100 just a few years ago, houses just around 80 teenagers today.

The state achieved those reductions by keeping kids out of the court system whenever possible and steering them toward community-based programs that offer alternative education and restorative justice, allowing kids to gain knowledge and skills and to make amends with the people and communities they harmed.

The teenagers who end up at Long Creek are the ones with the most challenging home lives, the ones with the most absent or overwhelmed parents, who can’t or won’t advocate for diversion or provide support through the process.

Increasingly, they are teenagers with mental health problems – post-traumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, depression and others. They end up incarcerated because they aren’t receiving the treatment they need, or aren’t following through with the treatment they’ve been prescribed – otherwise, they would not have committed a crime.

CORRECTION, NOT TREATMENT

But Long Creek isn’t equipped to deal with them – it is a correctional facility, aimed at keeping juvenile inmates safe while addressing their conduct, not the mental health issues that led to the crime.

So inmates with mental health challenges are not being treated, and they need significant supervision, which puts stress on the staff. The staff then cannot dedicate enough time to others. As a result, few are getting the help they need.

It’s no coincidence that individual stays at Long Creek, which are based on an individual’s progress, are getting lengthier, keeping kids away from their families and communities, further alienating them from the life they’ll have to learn to live if they are going to be successful.

And it’s no surprise that many of the inmates in Long Creek are suffering.

Charles Maisie Knowles died on Nov. 1 of injuries he sustained when he hanged himself with a bedsheet on Oct. 29, raising questions about how he was treated as a transgender boy, and how his mental illness was being addressed.

Around the same time, there was at least one other suicide attempt at Long Creek, and subsequent reports have noted an epidemic of self-harm at the facility.

Long Creek’s Board of Visitors, which is appointed by the governor and has oversight authority, reviewed Knowles’ suicide. The report notes the central problem: “(Long Creek) is not medically equipped to deal with the delicate needs of these vulnerable youth.” Without changes, the report said, more harm will come to inmates.

But no new policy or program can change the fact that Long Creek is a correctional facility, unequipped to treat most of the young people in its care.

The state should close Long Creek and send those kids – most of whom have committed only misdemeanors – to community-based programs. It should create a much smaller facility to house the rare teenager who legitimately needs incarceration.

And it should use the savings – roughly $200,000 per inmate – to fill the regional and programmatic gaps in care that have been allowed to grow across Maine.

The state should shut down a broken system that is helping no one, and replace it with one that gives troubled youth a better chance.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/27/our-view-time-for-maine-to-close-states-only-youth-prison/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1172881_511087-20140303_LongCreek2.jpgAs the number of incarcerated youth in Maine has fallen from 318 in 1997 to 186 in 2013, the teenagers who end up at Long Creek are increasingly those who have mental health challenges and aren't getting the treatment they need.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 17:51:07 +0000
Maine Voices: Truly great countries like ours also need to be good world citizens http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/27/maine-voices-truly-great-countries-like-ours-also-need-to-be-good-world-citizens/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/27/maine-voices-truly-great-countries-like-ours-also-need-to-be-good-world-citizens/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172888 Today, we live in a world of unprecedented health and wealth disparities, and in a country in seeming retreat from its responsibilities to be a part of the solution to our most difficult global challenges. While our daily news cycle is dominated by Twitter pronouncements from Washington and Mar-a-Lago, the United Nations’ recent warning that the world faces the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945 goes largely unnoticed and unheeded.

The U.N. reports that over 20 million people across the four countries of Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria face imminent starvation and famine, hoping to stir the world to action. Today in Haiti, where I write this, the U.N. has raised only 2 percent of the $400 million it estimates it will cost to eliminate the scourge of cholera, a disease that did not exist there until inadvertently introduced by the U.N.

It is in this context that the budget proposal coming out of the White House shows this administration’s priorities and values. In order to find the money for an unprecedented military buildup and for the construction of a huge wall between us and our neighbors, it proposes to make dramatic cuts in many other areas, including foreign aid and global health.

One reason that there has not been a big outcry about the proposed cuts to foreign aid is that a false narrative continues to be perpetuated: that we are giving away so much money at the expense and negligence of our own people’s needs. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that, on average, Americans believe that spending on foreign aid makes up 31 percent of the federal budget. Only 3 percent of those polled know that foreign aid actually accounts for less than 1 percent of federal spending The president has made much of the fact that not all NATO countries are living up to their obligations in terms of military investments, but little is said about our respective humanitarian obligations. While it is true that the United States is the biggest contributor to foreign aid in real dollars, it ranks 20th in the world in terms of contributions as a percentage of gross national income.

Money spent on global health by wealthy nations is less than 1 percent of what we spend on our own health care. Given that, it is hard to see how global health and development expenditures are undermining our homeland needs. In fact, the proposal to drastically cut this support may be compromising the homeland security that the military buildup is purported to be addressing. Even the military elite see this underinvestment as destabilizing and dangerous for the U.S.

Over 120 retired generals and admirals recently signed a letter calling on Congress not to slash funding for foreign aid, stating their “strong conviction that elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.” Perhaps prophetically, Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress in 2013, as commander of U.S. Central Command: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.” That calculation seems to be playing out with the current proposed budget, as foreign aid is slashed to augment the biggest military budget in the world: more than the next seven largest countries combined.

It is true that there is much to criticize about how foreign aid is implemented. As someone who is working on the ground in Haiti, I see that up close and personal. It is very complex and difficult work, and we need to get better at it as a nation. Along with the problems, I also see how well-applied resources make a huge difference in the health and well-being of so many people living on the other side of the wealth-health disparity divide.

Budgets, whether personal or federal, are true reflections of priorities and values, because they play out “where the rubber meets the road” in very concrete ways. I used to tell my kids that the true measure of a person is not how much money he or she makes, but how much positive change he or she makes in the world. The same can be said for countries: Truly great countries are good world citizens.

Fortunately, presidents don’t set budgets – they only propose them. With a closely split Congress, our senators can play an especially important role at this important juncture in making sure that the budget that is ultimately passed reflects our real values. Please join us in contacting your elected members of Congress and asking them to oppose the proposed drastic cuts to these essential programs.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/27/maine-voices-truly-great-countries-like-ours-also-need-to-be-good-world-citizens/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/02/595048_844673_flag.jpgThe American flag stands for freedom – and that includes the freedom to hold unpopular views.Mon, 27 Mar 2017 13:29:18 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Trump needs to free himself from the Freedom Caucus http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/cynthia-dill-trump-needs-to-free-himself-from-the-freedom-caucus/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/cynthia-dill-trump-needs-to-free-himself-from-the-freedom-caucus/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172308 The last card played by President Trump in the high-stakes game of repealing and replacing Obamacare was the defunding of Planned Parenthood. But his gamble failed, and now’s the time for him to cut a new deal.

Trump, called in by House Speaker Paul Ryan to be the “closer” in negotiations between House Republican factions, tweeted out at 8:30 Friday morning: “The irony is that the Freedom Caucus, which is very pro-life and against Planned Parenthood, allows P.P. to continue if they stop this plan!”

Limiting the irony of the Republicans’ fiasco of a bill to its failure to mortally wound Planned Parenthood while it had the chance was no accident. The president knows what’s really at the heart of any deal for some in the Republican caucus. The red meat is ideology, not health insurance or governing.

WHEN IN ROME …

Had Trump more than 140 characters to play with in his tweet, he could have noted several more ironies before House Republican leaders abruptly pulled the American Health Care Act moments before Friday’s scheduled vote. Take the name “Freedom Caucus” for the roughly three dozen hardliners who have been holding America hostage: so-called “pro-life” religious folks hell-bent on taking away life-saving medical care. It’s ironic that these self-described “smaller government” men want, on one hand, laws that require women to bear children and, on the other hand, laws that eliminate maternity and pediatric care as an essential benefit covered by insurance.

The Freedom Caucus says it wants government out of the health care business so people can be free to buy health insurance on the free market, but that’s impossible in the context of the real world in which most of us live.

The Freedom-From-Reality Caucus, as the Wall Street Journal editorial board dubs this group, ignores the reality of laws that require hospitals to treat sick people regardless of insurance or the ability to pay and overlooks already-entrenched and government-sponsored health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Imagine the free market for groceries if stores were required by law to give food to hungry people. Unless you are high on ideology, you simply can’t – but that doesn’t mean you can’t improve a marketplace with a safety net baked in.

In the wake of the humiliating House Republican meltdown on Obamacare repeal, the president should cut a deal with people who want to expand insurance coverage and reduce premiums. That is the “win-win” for the country that his administration needs, as I told him in a tweet: “@realDonaldTrump people want Affordable American Healthcare Act! AACA, or ‘Double A.’ Walk away from Freedom Caucus. They are losers!”

Do I like tweeting to the president of the United States using exclamation points in sentences that state the obvious? No, I do not, but when in Rome do as the Romans do, and when on social media, hurl epithets and exclamation points. It’s the new language of the new administration, and at least some of us are willing to compromise.

FREE TO MAKE DEALS

The alternative to the ridiculousness on display in the Capitol is easy to conjure for people outside the trench warfare of Washington politics. People want lawmakers to hammer out a deal, the terms of which seem so obvious: Democrats agree to support the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court with 60 or more votes, and Republicans agree to improve rather than repeal a 7-year-old health care law that has expanded coverage, reduced the deficit and is very popular. Trump should free himself from the Freedom Caucus and work with Democrats and moderates to cut a deal. That’s the luxury of being an outsider.

In the current political climate of chaos and instability, the Ryan bill’s proposed jettisoning of the mental health treatment mandate is insane, and it’s odious that a group of men is being seduced with the prospect of eliminating women’s health care.

The president’s suggestion in his tweet that the elimination of Planned Parenthood should have made the deal irresistible to the extreme right was a strong message to other lawmakers who might have been on the fence. “Fiscal conservatism” is not driving the House proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Trump called the Republican game Friday, showed the party’s hand and then lost. Some think this will weaken his presidency, but I disagree. People who negotiate and make deals for a living learn from their mistakes. The president is free to deal with others, and I hope he does.

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/2017/03/26/cynthia-dill-trump-needs-to-free-himself-from-the-freedom-caucus/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, 26 Mar 2017 09:10:26 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Do my words bother you? That’s OK – you didn’t hear them from me http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/bill-nemitz-do-my-words-bother-you-thats-ok-you-didnt-hear-them-from-me/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/bill-nemitz-do-my-words-bother-you-thats-ok-you-didnt-hear-them-from-me/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172626 First, let’s get one thing straight. I did not write this column.

I know, that’s my name up there and that’s my picture right next to it and any reasonable person would therefore conclude that these are my words and I can thus be held accountable for everything that follows.

Wrong. Never wrote it. Never said it.

How can I make such a ridiculous claim?

Easy. I just did.

It’s the latest thing in public discourse these days, brought to us by our chief executives both here in Maine and in what’s left of Washington, D.C.

Up in our neck of the woods, Gov. Paul LePage did it with remarkable aplomb during a town hall forum in Gorham on Wednesday.

A woman in the audience asked why he vetoed a politically charged solar-power bill last year, yet signed another bill granting a $13 million bailout for Maine’s biomass-to-electricity industry.

Timely question: Just the day before LePage’s town hall, Portland Press Herald staffer Ed Murphy reported that struggling loggers have stopped delivering biomass to Stored Solar of West Enfield, one of two companies receiving the state subsidy.

Their problem? According to the loggers, Stored Solar stopped paying them for their deliveries weeks ago – adding fuel to many a critic’s prediction that the bailout would end up benefiting only the corporations.

So there stood LePage with this hot potato of a question on his hands and what did he say?

“I did not sign that bill,” he replied flatly. “It went into law without my signature.”

The crowd lapped it right up. But sitting off to one side, Maine Public State House reporter Steve Mistler’s ears went up.

The ever-observant Mistler followed the biomass bill closely last spring and distinctly remembered LePage reluctantly signing it. He even remembered double-checking and seeing the actual signature on the actual document.

And so Maine Public immediately ran with Mistler’s story, headlined “LePage Says He Didn’t Sign $13 Million Biomass Bailout (He Did).”

It was hardly LePage’s first head-on collision with the truth. But unlike many of his past whoppers, this one wasn’t about some distant memory or some story that could never be fully vetted.

No, this was a flat-out denial of a recent signature that’s still there, plain as day, for all to see. This was the preschooler solemnly swearing he didn’t eat the cookies, oblivious to the Oreo chunks still lodged between his teeth.

So how did Team LePage contain the damage from this one?

They didn’t. No pushback, no clarification, no claim that the governor, once again, was taken out of context. Not a peep.

Lie? What lie?

Damage? What damage?

I’m telling you, folks, you just can’t go wrong with this look-people-in-the-eye-and-lie strategy. I mean, you literally can’t go wrong. Ever!

Cut to Washington, D.C., where President Trump has spent the last few weeks drowning in his made-up claim that the Obama administration had “wires tapped” in Trump Tower during last year’s presidential campaign.

Umm … nope. Never happened.

Yet still Trump clings to this fabrication. It’s only a matter of time before he tweets that he heard about the wiretap from none other than the Man from U.N.C.L.E. … or was it Agent Maxwell Smart?

Then, late on Friday, Trump one-upped even himself.

While the repeal and replacement of Obamacare went down in flames all around him, a strangely serene president told a gaggle of reporters in the Oval Office: “You’ve all heard my speeches. I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.”

Correct, Mr. President. As the Washington Post points out in a delightful, rat-a-tat video montage, you repeatedly said “one of my first acts as president” would be to deep-six the Affordable Care Act “immediately … starting on Day One.”

Foiled again? Fuggedaboutit. It’s time, Trump now tells us, to move on.

So this is what we’ve come to, folks.

While fake news swirls through the gutter in the stiffening political winds, our highest elected officials no longer obfuscate, equivocate or prevaricate.

They just flat-out lie.

There is no ink on that piece of paper.

There is no video on that screen.

There is no unassailable truth. Reality itself is now up for grabs.

And while those smart enough to have not voted for them in the first place watch these “day-is-night, night-is-day” twisters in utter amazement, Trumpists and LePage loyalists nod along in blissful agreement with whatever spews from their heroes’ mouths.

In LePage Land, there simply is no signature to what’s starting to look like yet another shameless corporate giveaway of millions in taxpayer dollars.

In Trumpworld, repeal and replace was … meh … somewhere down there on the to-do list. (A fantastic to-do list, by the way. Totally fantastic. Terrific list. …)

So now I get it.

Facts are facts, until they’re not. What happened happened, until it didn’t.

Memory is in the eye of the rememberer – perhaps best illustrated by the time on “Get Smart” that Agent Max took a fire extinguisher to the head of the Chief.

“I said I was sorry,” Max later told Chief. “You just didn’t hear me because you were in a mini-coma.”

There’s a lot of that going around these days. Indeed, considering how high LePage and Trump have risen, maybe this complete lack of accountability for what comes out of one’s mouth is the new normal.

I don’t know about you, but I find that strangely liberating. Kind of like not having your cookies and eating them too.

Tempted to give it try? Allow me.

Paul LePage is a fraud. He’s disgraced his state, squandered millions on boneheaded ideological crusades and, one year after trying to organize a Republican coup against then-candidate Trump, now fantasizes about the call from the White House that will come … someday?

Donald Trump is beyond a disgrace to the office of the presidency. He’s supremely unqualified, has no leadership acumen whatsoever and poses a serious danger to the entire planet.

Say what?

You didn’t like that?

Not my problem.

I didn’t write it.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/bill-nemitz-do-my-words-bother-you-thats-ok-you-didnt-hear-them-from-me/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)Sun, 26 Mar 2017 04:29:52 +0000
Maine Voices: A voice for the common man http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/maine-voices-a-voice-for-the-common-man/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/maine-voices-a-voice-for-the-common-man/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172177 In October 1965, I was associate White House press secretary. A few hours after President Johnson announced he would enter the hospital for gallbladder surgery, the New York Herald Tribune correspondent asked if their famous columnist, Jimmy Breslin, could call me for a favor.

Sure, I said. I’d idolized Breslin since 1962, when he wrote perhaps the best – and definitely the funniest – baseball story ever to appear in Sports Illustrated. It was titled “Worst Team Ever,” about the 1962 New York Mets, and it made me (and everyone else) laugh out loud every 30 seconds.

I was hooked. Addicted. He was the best, most original, insightful and funniest columnist I ever read. He wrote about people, important people and others who you wouldn’t think were important, but he did.

He wrote often about his neighbors, most of whom he disliked, and about the guys he hung out with: gamblers, petty thieves, sportswriters, street lawyers and bail bondsmen, whom he liked. One time he put up a sign in his front yard in Queens that said “People I’m Not Talking to This Year” and featured the names of several neighbors, including the milkman and the breadman. He began a column about this in the following fashion:

“The wife of a new neighbor from up on the corner came down and walked up to my wife and started acting nice, which must have exhausted her.”

ONE OF A KIND

So when the Trib called, I was eager to help. Shortly, Breslin was on the phone. I explained that we’d have a press room at the hospital and provide a press briefing twice a day during the president’s hospitalization and he was welcome to join us. “No, I don’t want that,” Breslin said. Instead, he asked me to arrange for him to interview the surgical nurse who stood over the unconscious president and watched the surgeon make the incision.

That call led to a 50-year friendship. Breslin, who died last week, was one of a kind.

While in Washington I would occasionally fly up to New York and meet Jimmy at a bar, initially at a place next to the New York World-Telegram building on the Lower East Side where he used to work, but most often at Gallagher’s Steak House on West 55th Street, which Jimmy graced for decades, and which is still going strong.

The routine was pretty much the same. Jimmy would be accompanied by Fat Thomas, the bookie, and a few other sketchy friends, such as Hymie Limousine, owner of a one-car limousine service (featuring a 15-year-old stretch DeSoto) who chauffeured Jimmy and his friends around Manhattan. Jimmy never learned to drive.

Jimmy wrote about civil rights and walked with Martin Luther King in the Selma-Montgomery march; he wrote about the Vietnam War and went to Vietnam, and he wrote nasty things about New York politicians who became former friends. But mostly he wrote about very interesting human beings and events that most of us pay no attention to, but that serve to give us a peek at what really is happening around us.

Once, and only once, did he cover a typical presidential trip and temporarily assume the role of White House reporter. Three days with LBJ, beginning with a health care speech at a Catskills resort hotel and finishing in Maine, with stops in Brunswick, the Topsham Dairy Queen, Lewiston, Portland and finally Campobello Island near Lubec.

While all the others wrote stories about LBJ’s health care speech, Jimmy wrote about an older hotel guest, standing in the crowd watching the president’s arrival at the resort hotel, who sported a diamond pinky ring and a beautiful young companion. It was dark when the motorcade arrived. The TV lights suddenly came on, illuminating the entire scene, and instantaneously, the older man, accompanied by what some would surmise as his granddaughter, pulled his trench coat over his face. Breslin had his column, and it wasn’t about health care.

When we got to Maine, Jimmy was done. He looked at me and said, “Why did you make me come here?”

UNMATCHED AT READING PEOPLE

Jimmy was able to empathize with ordinary human beings better than any journalist in America. One night during the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, I was trying to find a cab outside the Hilton Hotel to take me to the convention hall, and I found myself in the middle of a riot. Hundreds of Chicago police were beating on war protesters, traffic was gridlocked and I was nervous.

Suddenly a car horn was sounding and someone was calling my name. It was Jimmy and his driver. I jumped into the safety of the car, greeted by Jimmy blasting me for stupidity.

Thinking that Jimmy and I viewed the riot police in the same way, I said the Chicago police were out of control and beating on everybody in sight for no reason. Jimmy responded with his special insight.

“Most of those cops,” he said, “are the sons of immigrants. They didn’t get to go to college. But they have a job that people are supposed to respect. They are moving into the middle class, buying a home and planning to send their children to college. And along come these entitled college kids from the Ivy League who are pissing on them. The cops are enraged. What do you expect?”

Jimmy’s columns described what was really going on in his community. He was often angry, and politicians feared him. He was also kind, thoughtful and caring.

He was not only a great writer, he had an unmatched expertise: people. Jimmy was truly one of a kind.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/maine-voices-a-voice-for-the-common-man/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1172177_Obit_Breslin_01452.jpg-1c2.jpgJimmy Breslin, seen in 1986 after winning the Pulitzer Prize, was one of America's most recognized columnists for decades.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:06:11 +0000
Jim Fossel: Lawmakers are free to tinker with citizen initiatives – respectfully http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/jim-fossel-lawmakers-are-free-to-tinker-with-citizen-initiatives-respectfully/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/jim-fossel-lawmakers-are-free-to-tinker-with-citizen-initiatives-respectfully/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172184 Apart from the biannual wrangling over the budget, much of the focus of the legislative session thus far has been on bills that were already passed. If that seems foolish to you, with Maine facing so many pressing problems that need to be addressed, then rest assured you aren’t the only one.

The problem here, though, is less the content of the bills than how they were passed. You see, these bills were passed as citizen initiatives at the ballot box rather than by the Legislature. That means they didn’t quite have to run the same gantlet as most bills in Augusta, going through committee hearings and floor votes and facing the threat of possible veto by the governor.

Legislators, of course, hate that, as do the entrenched special interests in Augusta. So as is often the case after a citizen initiative has been approved by the voters, many of them are now engaging in efforts to modify these laws after they were approved. Right now, the debate is focused on the tax surcharge that increases funding for education and on the minimum-wage hike. A number of Republican legislators are proposing bills that would limit or completely negate these citizen initiatives. They’re right to be concerned, as there’s good reason to think these new laws could have a negative impact on the state’s economy.

Democrats, of course, seem not to share those concerns: They are standing by the outcomes of the referendums, by and large. They’ve been arguing that Maine voters knew very well what they were doing when they supported these policies, and that Maine legislators shouldn’t override the will of the voters by ignoring referendum results. They’re not wrong, of course: The Legislature shouldn’t just overturn citizen initiatives after the fact or ignore them. However, there’s reason to sincerely doubt their claim to be stalwart defenders of democracy.

After all, Democrats and Republicans alike have ignored the citizen initiative requiring that the state fund 55 percent of education costs for years. Moreover, the budget that eliminated Clean Election funding for gubernatorial candidates was not a partisan exercise but a bipartisan budget that was supported by two-thirds of the Legislature. If those examples aren’t recent enough for you, earlier in this very session Democrats had no problem going along with Republicans to rewrite the law on legalizing marijuana that passed last year. So this newfound respect from Democrats in Augusta for referendum results is welcome, to be sure, but it is so very sudden that it should not be believed.

No, clearly neither party has any problem ignoring, revising or completely rewriting citizen-initiated laws when it’s politically convenient for them. Let’s stop pretending otherwise. Instead, let’s demand that when the Legislature sees fit to meddle with citizen initiatives, it does so the right away. There are a number of ways for legislators who are concerned about citizen initiatives to fix them that respect the will of the people.

Contrary to popular belief, citizen initiatives aren’t just automatically sent directly to the ballot. They are instead referred first to the Legislature, which has the option to pass them as is or vote against them, sending them to the ballot. However, they also can craft a competing measure – make changes to the law instead of simply approving or rejecting it. If those changes are approved, then voters are presented with three options: the amended citizen initiative, the original as written, or they can reject both choices. If any option garners more than 50 percent of the votes, that’s that; if not, there’s a runoff to decide what becomes law.

The other option is to send any legislation modifying a citizen initiative out to referendum itself. This method isn’t often used, but the Legislature can always refer any legislation to the voters – and it’s what should be done with any major changes to laws originally passed by the people. That would give voters the chance to weigh in on the proposed changes, ensuring that they remain a part of the process.

The citizen initiative procedure was intended to give the people a greater voice. It wasn’t supposed to be a way for legislators to duck decisions on the issues. If certain aspects of a referendum are particularly controversial, legislators have every opportunity to make changes – before or after it appears on the ballot. Legislators in both parties should absolutely respect the decisions of voters, but that doesn’t ever preclude them from making responsible changes to the laws that result.

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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Alan Caron: It turns out the Cold War is still alive and kicking in 2017 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/alan-caron-it-turns-out-the-cold-war-is-still-alive-and-kicking-in-2017/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/alan-caron-it-turns-out-the-cold-war-is-still-alive-and-kicking-in-2017/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172186 In November 1989, the Berlin Wall was pulled down, reuniting a German nation that had been divided since the end of World War II. Two years later, the Soviet Union, and the communism of Eastern and Central Europe, disintegrated. We clinked our glasses in celebration of the end of the Cold War, but the party may have been premature.

The Cold War, it turns out, never ended. It merely went into a Siberian hibernation while the Soviet Union reinvented itself into the modern Russian state, replacing an aging Politiburo with a new class of brutal billionaire oligarchs, headed by former KGB spy Vladimir Putin.

Cold War 2.0 is upon us, and it isn’t an entirely cold conflict. In the last few years, Russia has invaded the Ukraine, sent jets and advisers into Syria to directly challenge the U.S. and begun to systematically undermine elections in Europe, and now in America, through hacking computers and spreading fake news.

What the Russians did in our last election is, regrettably, now caught up in partisan politics in Washington. But their actions have implications that go far deeper than the politics or the personalities of the moment. In this last election cycle, the Russians not only interfered with our internal affairs and the direction of the country, they also widened our partisan divides by favoring one party over another.

But Russia’s role in our politics is hardly a partisan issue. Consider, for a moment, what could come next in this new cyberwar. Russian hackers are working hard to figure out how to change vote tallies in selected systems, turn off elements of the nation’s power grid, shut down internet links between financial institutions and perhaps even paralyze some elements of the U.S. military and intelligence command structure.

Republicans and Democrats always have had their disagreements, but when it came to the Soviet threat, they stood shoulder to shoulder. In the past, it wouldn’t have mattered if the Russians helped one party over the other. Russian intervention would have generated national unity. That’s because we are first and foremost Americans, not Republicans or Democrats.

Now, in a reversal that must have President Ronald Reagan turning in his grave, a Republican president is dismissing the warnings of all of the country’s intelligence agencies about Russian intervention, smearing the credibility of those agencies and even accusing them of playing partisan politics.

Last week, we learned that the FBI has been engaged in a major investigation, since last July, of Russian meddling in this last election. It is an investigation into both the extent of Russian involvement and whether or not there was any coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign.

No matter how much partisan Republicans may wish it, this is an issue that will not go away soon, if at all. RussiaGate is a dark cloud hanging over this administration, distracting and sapping their ability to lead. And given this past year’s Russian successes, it is likely to return as an issue in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

None of us knows where this investigation by the FBI will lead. It may simply paint a picture of what happened and what needs to be done. Or it could lead to the appointment of an independent prosecutor – and even a Watergate-style national crisis or impeachment.

Here’s what we do know, and it is sobering.

 President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has had close relationships with Russia for over a decade. He resigned last summer after documents showed that he had received $12.7 million from Ukraine’s pro-Russian president. As recently as 2009, he was a paid lobbyist for Russian interests in Washington.

 Trump adviser Roger Stone bragged about his connection to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, which is a code name associated with the Russian hacking team and intelligence agencies.

 Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser amid controversy over his contacts with Russia’s ambassador; it has since become known that he was once a paid adviser to the Russian propaganda channel RT.

 A former Trump adviser, Carter Page, was investigated by the FBI in 2016 for his ties to Russia and his ongoing and loud public defense of Russian foreign policy.

Trump has added fuel to the fire by his admiration of Putin, dismissing the Ukraine intervention, praising the country’s approach in Syria and attacking U.S. intelligence agencies.

This is an issue that challenges us to act together as a nation. This isn’t about Trump or which party wins or loses. It isn’t even about politics. It’s about the future of America.

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

alancaroninmaine@gmail.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/alan-caron-it-turns-out-the-cold-war-is-still-alive-and-kicking-in-2017/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/10/Columnist-Caron.jpgGordon Chibroski / Staff Photographer. Wednesday, August 8, 2012. Alan Caron portrait for Column.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:46:20 +0000
Our View: The opioid plague http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/our-view-the-opioid-plague/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/26/our-view-the-opioid-plague/#respond Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172187 It’s Year Five of the plague, and here’s what we know: The death toll is mounting so fast that it would be foolish for anyone to believe that it couldn’t touch them.

The opioid epidemic kills more Mainers per year than murder or suicide. It’s more deadly than car crashes, drownings, hypertension, breast cancer or diabetes.

Since 2012 there have been double-digit increases in the number of deaths each year, culminating in a nearly 40 percent increase last year, with Mainers dying at a rate greater than one per day.

“Lost,” a 10-part series that begins in today’s newspaper, tells part of the story behind those cold numbers. We profile 60 of the people who have died, just a fraction of the lives lost in the past few years, but a broad enough sample to show how deeply the sickness has sunk its roots.

Some of these stories will fit the stereotype that many of us believe about drug abusers – that they are young thrill-seekers who got in over their heads. But many will not.

You’ll see that their road to addiction was as likely to begin with an innocent prescription for painkillers as a crazy night of partying. Most people can walk away after that first taste, but because of genetics or psychology, for others it’s a lifelong struggle.

And like the biblical plague that “struck down all … in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon,” opioid overdose deaths are creeping across our state, killing without regard to social class or station.

It kills teachers as well as students, mothers as well as children, those who helped others as well as those who desperately needed help themselves.

And it strikes not just the ones who are unloved and forgotten, but also those who are cherished, needed and mourned.

What else have we learned in these last four years?

We need government to take the lead.

Gov. Paul LePage came to office believing that he knew more than the experts. Along with Commissioner Mary Mayhew of the Department of Health and Human Services, LePage cut the Medicaid rolls, claiming that “toxic charity” was making poor Mainers dependent.

The numbers show that just as the opioid crisis was getting worse in 2012 and 2013, LePage’s ideological opposition to government-financed health care was making treatment harder to get.

Instead of getting help, drug-dependent Mainers moved from pharmaceutical opioids to street drugs like heroin and fentanyl, creating a market for out-of-state gangs.

LePage and Mayhew capped Medicaid coverage for methadone – the single most effective treatment for the most addicted people. The governor tried to prevent the expanded circulation of naloxone, the overdose antidote drug, claiming that it “merely extends” lives and doesn’t save them. In his State of the State address this year, LePage resigned himself to his belief that this crisis would not end until “this generation dies.”

The state has finally started to increase funding for medication-assisted treatment, a step in the right direction, but too late for so many.

In one sense, this public health crisis resembles another plague that struck America a generation ago: HIV/AIDS. Then, too, government was slow to respond because it was believed that the disease was isolated in marginalized groups: the gay community and intravenous drug users. Just as they say about opioid addicts today, leaders claimed that people infected with HIV had brought the sickness on themselves through bad judgment and immoral acts.

But we know that no one is perfect, and that the people who died were not so different from those who lived. And we know that many lives were lost because we waited too long to act.

Twenty-five years ago, AIDS activist Bob Rafsky stood before an open coffin at a funeral and railed at the cruel indifference to suffering and death that was being exhibited by people who had the power to make it stop.

He cried out in frustration: “When the living can no longer speak, the dead may speak for them.”

It’s Year Five of this plague, and the dead are speaking. It’s time we listen.

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Another View: Telling the whole story about Question 2 matters http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/another-view-telling-the-whole-story-about-question-2-matters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/another-view-telling-the-whole-story-about-question-2-matters/#respond Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172304 It’s unfortunate so many continue to miss the mark on what voters truly wanted in November when they cast their vote in support of Question 2, the Stand Up for Students initiative. Despite intense opposition to Question 2 from Gov. LePage, former Gov. John Baldacci, this newspaper and other newspapers around the state, voters in Maine approved the initiative. In fact, Question 2 garnered more votes than either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Almost 384,000 voters in Maine supported Question 2.

The Portland Press Herald (Our View, March 21) sees the passage of Question 2 as a mandate to fully fund our local schools, but refuses to recognize the popularity and support for a 3 percent surcharge on the wealthiest Mainers. Question 2 wasn’t just about funding schools – it was also about tax fairness.

At a time of intense economic inequality in Maine, there is no better way to address these issues than asking the wealthiest earners to pay a little more to fund educational opportunities for our students. We need better-funded schools, but we also need a tax code that isn’t rigged to benefit those at the top. The 3 percent surcharge is now law, and these funds are dedicated to support our public schools.

Failing to appropriately fund our schools creates more pressure on local communities forced to make up the state’s shortfall by increasing property taxes. This needs to stop, and can stop if the state does what voters demanded in November.

The ballot language was clear; Question 2 was the shortest on the ballot. There was no ambiguity or confusion. Voters are not stupid and they are not uninformed. Now is the time to finally honor the will of the voters. Legislators and the Press Herald shouldn’t attempt to reinterpret the results of the election with a revisionist theory.

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Maine Voices: Environmental stewards should stand together against Gorsuch http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/maine-voices-environmental-stewards-should-stand-together-against-gorsuch/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/maine-voices-environmental-stewards-should-stand-together-against-gorsuch/#respond Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172309 BAR HARBOR — Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, stood up for the health and safety of all Americans by voting against the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt was the former attorney general of Oklahoma who regularly conspired with the fossil fuel industry to attack EPA protections, but unfortunately he was confirmed in a close vote.

With Pruitt at the helm of the EPA, clean air and water in Maine, and the health of citizens across the nation, are at risk. The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia is an even more important vote.

Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge, has a record of extreme positions that proves he is too far outside the mainstream and too hostile to the environment for this critically important position. Gorsuch has been described as more extreme than Scalia, the most anti-environment justice in recent Supreme Court history.

Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy will limit the access of everyday Americans to the courts and prevent agencies like the EPA from doing their job to protect our air, water and health. This is a dangerous view that will favor polluters and industry over the rights of the people.

On at least three separate occasions, Gorsuch has denied access to the courts for environmental groups. Environmental laws without citizen access to the courts to enforce them are a hollow promise. Citizen suits are the hallmark of our environmental law safety net, yet Gorsuch has a track record of rulings that keep citizens from enforcing the law and that threaten the health of all of us.

Gorsuch is also a firm opponent of the Chevron doctrine: the common-sense rule that courts should defer to the technical and scientific expertise of agencies charged with administering our laws. Without the widely accepted Chevron doctrine, the EPA would have a harder time carrying out its mission and polluters would be emboldened to constantly challenge our environmental safeguards. Gorsuch’s position is worrisome; we need health, safety and environmental standards that are based in sound science, not politics.

Collins, the only Republican who voted against Pruitt’s nomination, defended the EPA when she announced she would oppose the confirmation of Pruitt for EPA chief, saying, “The EPA plays a vital role in implementing and enforcing landmark laws that protect not only our environment but also public health.” If she believes this to be true, she should also oppose Gorsuch.

With so much at stake, we need independent judges who will be a check on Donald Trump when he violates the law or the Constitution. Trump has already overstepped his authority with sweeping executive orders that have been overturned by courts and he has shocked the nation with attacks on the independence of our judiciary.

I have worked for federal judges appointed by both Republicans and Democrats. To a person, these judges have valued and embodied the essential role that an independent judiciary plays in our constitutional democracy. Adherence to the rule of law and the Constitution in the face of political pressure is a fundamental cornerstone of this role. Gorsuch’s troubling history of deference to executive power shows that he will not be that independent voice.

Unless Republican leaders violate well-accepted precedent, Gorsuch will need 60 votes to be confirmed. We must hold the Senate to that 60-vote threshold. Anyone who is receiving a lifetime appointment to the most important judicial position in the world should have the confidence of more than a mere majority of the U.S. Senate. Gorsuch’s views place him too far out of the judicial mainstream to earn such support.

Collins and King must raise their voices with us and reject Neil Gorsuch, as they did with Scott Pruitt.

 

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Another View: Congress has obligation to weigh in on war-making http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/another-view-congress-has-obligation-to-weigh-in-on-war-making/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/another-view-congress-has-obligation-to-weigh-in-on-war-making/#respond Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172378 Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford found something constructive to tell senators on an appropriations subcommittee this week, even if it had nothing to do with the Pentagon budget. They challenged lawmakers to finally provide a legal basis for the U.S. war against terrorist groups.

It’s something that President Obama was never able to get from Congress. So instead, for his entire presidency, Obama based U.S. counterterrorism efforts abroad mostly on the authorization for the use of force that Congress passed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. The logical problem here is obvious: Today’s biggest terrorist enemies – groups such as the Islamic State and al-Shabaab in Somalia – didn’t exist in 2001. Thus, it’s absurd to say they count among the terrorists who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the Sept. 11 atrocities. Nor are they covered by the follow-on 2002 authorization to invade Iraq.

This is more than legal semantics. Congress has for too long abdicated its role in American war-making, another example of it ceding ever-more ground to the executive branch on matters of highest national importance.

And now that President Trump is reportedly looking at counterterrorism actions going well beyond the Obama approach – including bringing new terrorists to Guantanamo Bay, and loosening the rules on and broadening the air war in Yemen and Somalia – the legal precariousness poses a tangible threat. Any new detainees brought to Gitmo would have a strong claim to U.S. courts that their imprisonment is illegal, while international authorities could more easily make the case that drone strikes in Somalia or Yemen are war crimes.

Of course, there are many issues to be hashed out on the language of a new measure. Would it have geographic constraints, or allow the U.S. to fight the jihadists wherever they go? Would it be indefinite or have a sunset date? Would it replace the 2001 measure or just augment it? In any case, a new authorization should require the administration to report regularly to lawmakers and the public on where actions have taken place and what groups have been added to the target list.

But before Congress can even start grappling with these questions, it needs to get serious about its constitutional requirement to get involved. Let’s hope Mattis and Dunford gave lawmakers the boost of courage they needed.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/another-view-congress-has-obligation-to-weigh-in-on-war-making/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1172378_APTOPIX_Iraq_Mosul_33474.jp_.jpgThree roadside bombs laid by Islamic State militants explode in Mosul, Iraq, on March 8, killing one of the Iraqi engineers tryng to defuse the devices. Groups like the Islamic State didn't exist in 2001, so it's absurd to say that the war authorization passed after the Sept. 11 attacks applies to them.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 19:39:42 +0000
Garrison Keillor: Donald Trump has no idea how to tend his own garden http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/garrison-keillor-donald-trump-has-no-idea-how-to-tend-his-own-garden/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/garrison-keillor-donald-trump-has-no-idea-how-to-tend-his-own-garden/#respond Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172274 What a world. I spend an evening looking at a friend’s video he shot in Uganda, impoverished people dancing with hands over their heads, overjoyed that a well has been dug and they can drink good water without having to hike for miles. The next day I read about a foundation grant to create storytelling programs in small towns to create radical reimagining of narratives that lead to healing. And then the Boy President on TV with Angela Merkel looking at him and thinking, “Who is that old game-show host standing at the podium? What movie am I in?”

The Ugandans are firmly in touch with reality: Good water is a beautiful thing. Drink it and praise the Lord.

For the storytelling program people, I say: Good luck with that, and don’t forget to serve a good lunch.

As for the man at the podium, you wish that he maybe leveled with her in private (“I have no idea what I am doing most of the time and it scares me to death”) and she said, “Call me whenever you like. Remember, 3 a.m. is 8 a.m. my time. I’m up, I’m happy to take your call.”

Reading the news, I think of Solomon, who said, “The thing that has been is the thing that shall be; and the thing that is done is that which shall be done: there is nothing new under the sun.” That sounds like a joke to me, one that must have been a hoot among the Children of Israel but now is lost in translation. Same with “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” That’s the essence of comedy right there.

So … a guy walks by the Oval Office and hears the president screaming, “Twenty-one! Twenty-one!” It sounds urgent so the guy sticks his head in the door and the president kicks him in the shin and yells, “Twenty-two! Twenty-two!”

Reams have been written about the Democrats’ losses in 2016 and here is my analysis, in fewer than 50 words:

The Democrat ran out of gas and walked to the gas station to buy some, and the station attendant had no gas can, only a chamber pot, so he filled that up for her and the Democrat took it back to the car and poured it into the gas tank and people driving by thought, “She is nobody I’d care to ride with, that’s for sure.”

Okay, 66 words. So I lied.

The nothing-new-under-the-sun view of things is not the view that the speakers at our graduation ceremonies put forth: They seemed to believe we were the vanguard of a new era of enlightenment and progress, and now here we are with this wildly ignorant man who would be more believable as the leader of Aruba or Barbados, who would get in the news once in a while for his belief that he is descended from dolphins and that cashews are a cure for cancer.

My feeling about Trumpism is that it demonstrates the value of hoeing and weeding in human development. Lawn-mowing, vacuuming, laundry – very important, too, but digging in dirt is basic to civilization, and the children of privilege who missed out on that chore are incomplete human beings. I remember the long row of corn extending over the hill and beyond, the sun above, the dust in my mouth, as I chopped at the weeds, a job that seemed endless so you found thoughts to occupy your mind. Reciting poetry helped, Bible verses, song lyrics, limericks, and when you ran out, you invented your own.

The Ugandans know about this and so do you and I.

Barefoot in the warm earth, hoeing up milkweed, thistles and quackgrass in favor of onions, peas and sweet corn, you learn about steadiness and humility and attention to the facts of the matter.

And now, years later, you realize that writing a column of 750 words is not so different from hoeing. Is this president able to put a pencil to paper and write a succession of thoughts? It would seem not. He has impressions but there is not much thinking going on. He hears things that please him and repeats them, like a magpie making a nest. He has no idea how to grow vegetables. We are all in danger.

 

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Gina Barreca: Do we fear listening to the other side? http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/gina-barreca-do-we-fear-listening-to-the-other-side/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/25/gina-barreca-do-we-fear-listening-to-the-other-side/#respond Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1172288 In our conversations, whether political, public or private, we seem to be increasingly belligerent, uncivil and unrelenting, determined to crush the opposition rather than listen to the other side.

Could it be that what we fear most is that our positions might change?

We wrap ourselves in our colors, cocoon ourselves in our ideologies and do everything except stick our fingers in our ears. We hear only what we choose and try to mute other voices as if holding a universal remote to silence those with whom we disagree. We insist on our right to speak up, but the real danger is that we are only making noise and losing our ability to create meaningful discussions.

What seemed true once might no longer be the truth. Some stories, like mistakes, don’t get better simply because they are repeated. Like laundry, some might need to be changed or replaced.

Listening to somebody else’s ideas is the one way to know whether the story you believe about the world – as well as about yourself and your place in it – remains intact. We all need to examine our beliefs, air them out and let them breathe. Hearing what other people have to say, especially about concepts we regard as foundational, is like opening a window in our minds and in our hearts.

Speaking up is important. Yet to speak up without listening is like banging pots and pans together: Even if it gets you attention, it’s not going to get you respect.

There are three prerequisites for conversation to be meaningful:

You have to know what you’re talking about, meaning that you have an original point and are not echoing a worn-out, hand-me-down or pre-fab argument.

You respect the people with whom you’re speaking and are authentically willing to treat them courteously even if you disagree with their positions.

 You have to be both smart and informed enough to listen to what the opposition says while handling your own perspective on the topic with uninterrupted good humor and discernment.

New York Times best-selling author of “Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion” Jay Heinrichs says that “We lose civility when we argue without a goal. What do you really want: a better country, or to prove the other guy is a jerk?”

An old friend from our early days of writing, Jay is now a powerful advocate for the art and importance of rhetoric. He reminds us that, as St. Augustine counseled, it’s imperative that we “hear the other side.” Explains Jay: “Augustine didn’t say that because he was a saint; he said it because it’s the single best way to win people over.”

It’s not only to win people over that we need to exchange stories – although that might be the most fun part – but it’s to remind ourselves of why our stories matter in the first place.

Amy Dickinson, the columnist we know as “Ask Amy” and author of the brilliant new memoir “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things,” says: “It is vital that we continue to talk, and to listen to one another, as we tell our stories. This feeling of connectedness underscores our humanity.” Amy continues: “None of us is alone, as long as we are brave and generous enough to hold onto each other.”

In my youth, I lashed myself down to certain ways of thinking, the way sailors would tie themselves to the mast in a storm, for fear of being moved from the one spot considered safe.

Terrified of change, miserable at the possibility of the slightest disruption, I put myself more in harm’s way with my inflexibility than any shift in circumstances would have done. Only by listening to other people’s stories about how they navigated paths to safe ground did I finally free myself from what held me back – and held me down.

Listening carefully, especially to what we suspect we don’t want to hear, or even to the sides of arguments we’ve shrugged off, is one of the most courageous actions we can take. Paying attention to the other side might put us through the wringer but only rarely is it a mistake.

 

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Commentary: With all the outrage about double standards, we forget they’re double the fun http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/commentary-with-all-the-outrage-about-double-standards-we-forget-theyre-double-the-fun/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/commentary-with-all-the-outrage-about-double-standards-we-forget-theyre-double-the-fun/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171625 The sphere of American politics is supposed to be a place of bottomless cynicism, yet the existence of double standards is a constant source of outrage – genuine outrage – for both politicians and commentators. Any time someone on one side does something idiotic or utters some indefensible remark, the other side complains of an insufficient reaction. What if someone on our side had said that? There’d be calls for resignation!

President Trump relishes this line of reasoning. On Wednesday, to take the most recent example, he complained, via Twitter, about a music video in which the rapper Snoop Dogg points a toy gun at a clownish Trump look-alike. (He pulls the trigger, and a little flag protrudes from the gun: “Bang.”) Trump: “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if @SnoopDogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time!”

I interpret the phrase “jail time” as hyperbole, a term for general outrage. And I find it hard to disagree with his real point. It’s a preposterous thing for a president to complain about, but true enough: A similar stunt involving an Obama look-alike would have drawn strident denunciations from Trump’s noble despisers.

It’s a double standard. They are everywhere in our society – and indeed in any human society.

Which is what makes grousing about them so irresistible to politicos and pundits of all ideological propensities. Recall, for example, Trump’s suggestion to Fox’s Bill O’Reilly that Vladimir Putin isn’t that much worse than other world leaders, even American ones: “You think our country is so innocent?”

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York took to the Senate floor to point out the muted response among his Republican colleagues. “Can you imagine if a Democrat had said that? Every one of these seats would be filled with people decrying that kind of moral equivalence.”

True. It also was true, as Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., remarked around the same time, that if any Democratic president had disparaged the intelligence community the way Trump had, we would have heard “howls from the Republican side of the aisle.”

Complaints about double standards are just as frequent on the right, and just as credible. When, for instance, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond, D-La., made a nasty joke about Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway kneeling on a couch in the Oval Office, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass couldn’t help noticing that Democrats, theretofore exercised about Trump’s misogyny, didn’t seem to mind. “Just imagine if a Republican congressman said something like that about a Democratic woman?” Kass wrote. “(Nancy) Pelosi would have much to say. And so would organizers of women’s marches and anti-Trump women’s political theater.”

And when Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said in an interview that her “greatest desire” was to “lead (Trump) right into impeachment,” conservative commentator Tyler O’Neil asked his readers to “imagine if a Republican had said the same thing in 2009, or if a Republican had said his or her ‘greatest desire’ was to get Obama impeached. That congressman or congresswoman would have been vilified as discourteous, angry and racist. But when Waters does it to Trump? Crickets.”

Well, crickets and Tyler O’Neil. And a fair number of high-traffic conservative websites.

Alerting the world to the existence of double standards is so easy, and so much fun – easy because the double standards are usually obvious and real; fun because you can put a finger in the eye of your adversaries without bothering to defend or advance your own view. But if the double standards are everywhere, it follows that we’re all more or less guilty of perpetuating them.

Which, inevitably, we are. Double standards are an ordinary part of human behavior and experience. You interpret a passing remark by your mother much differently from the way you interpret the same remark when it’s spoken by that creepy neighbor who lets his dogs roam the neighborhood. Just so, when a politician of whom you approve says something strange or offensive, you construe it in the best possible light; whereas when another, whom you dislike, says something equally strange or offensive, you assume the most uncharitable meaning.

And you’re not always wrong. You like and dislike politicians – and people in general – for a thousand different reasons, many of them valid, and you don’t expect others to adopt precisely your criteria.

Now just imagine if someone criticized your every use of a double standard. Jail time!

 

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Maine Voices: Bill to lower age for carrying concealed handgun is foolish and dangerous http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/maine-voices-bill-to-lower-age-for-carrying-concealed-handgun-is-foolish-and-dangerous/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/maine-voices-bill-to-lower-age-for-carrying-concealed-handgun-is-foolish-and-dangerous/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171650 As a hazardous-duty military veteran, a family physician and a father, I oppose L.D. 44, An Act to Lower the Age Requirement to Carry a Concealed Handgun, introduced by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and co-sponsored by Reps. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, and Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea.

This bill would lower from 21 to 18 the minimum age for civilians to carry loaded, concealed firearms in public without getting a permit. (State law already allows permitless concealed carry by Maine residents age 18 and over who are either active-duty members of the U.S. military or honorably discharged veterans.)

There is a time and a place for weapons. Military and police forces know that extensive training is fundamental to safe weapons stewardship and use. L.D. 44, however, would include no training requirement.

When I was in the military, I was not a physician, so I did receive training on a variety of weapons. I earned two medals for expert marksmanship, and on deployment for Operation Enduring Freedom I carried a sidearm pistol when it was necessary. These experiences showed me what sort of training, organization, leadership and oversight are generally necessary for young people to be truly reliable with a firearm.

Now, as a family physician in general practice and in a teen health clinic, I have insights into the often-tumultuous lives of teenagers. Social conflicts, emotional distress, impulsiveness, semi-delusions of invincibility and even youthful bravado are simply part of the picture. We all know that. So why would we mix those ingredients with the lethality of firearms?

On March 17, at the public hearing on L.D. 44, the bill’s supporters essentially argued that there ought to be no limits on the carrying of concealed weapons by adults. I respectfully disagree. There is compelling evidence of known harms, which far outweigh the hypothetical benefits of Brakey’s proposal.

In a 2012 position paper, the American Academy of Pediatrics noted that firearms continue to be one of the top three causes of death in American youth. Most of these gun-related deaths are either homicides or suicides.

Significant risk factors for homicide and suicide include patterns of intimate partner and other interpersonal violence; substance abuse; and depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders. Mixing these all-too-common adolescent troubles with firearms would be foolish.

While adolescence is fundamentally similar in most parts of the inhabited world, the availability of firearms is not. This country’s disproportionate proliferation of firearms among civilians has had deadly consequences. The same 2012 landmark paper cited additional research indicating that the U.S. homicide rate among young people ages 15 to 24 is more than 35 times higher than the rate in similar countries – over 35 times higher than the rate of homicide among youths in the very age band this bill addresses.

The quantified and statistical evidence from the medical and public health establishment is incredibly compelling. So, too, are the heartbreaking gun violence stories to which doctors and other health professionals routinely bear witness in primary care offices, mental health centers, emergency rooms and hospital wards.

This is the vantage point of eight health professional organizations that came together in 2015 to sound a call to action about firearm-related injury and death. The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Physicians, the American College of Surgeons, the American Psychiatric Association and the American Public Health Association cried in unison for a series of steps to reduce human suffering associated with firearms.

A proliferation of concealed weapons among untrained young civilians would be foolish because it would facilitate homicide, suicide and firearm accidents in the very age group whose characteristics make firearms even deadlier.

I urge the Legislature to kill this bill, not to enable the killing of our people.

— Special to the Press Herald

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Charles Krauthammer: In Trumpian era, American democracy is not so decadent, after all http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/charles-krauthammer-in-trumpian-era-american-democracy-is-not-so-decadent-after-all/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/charles-krauthammer-in-trumpian-era-american-democracy-is-not-so-decadent-after-all/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171680 Under the dark gray cloud, amid the general gloom, allow me to offer a ray of sunshine. The last two months have brought a pleasant surprise: Turns out the much-feared, much-predicted withering of our democratic institutions has been grossly exaggerated. The system lives.

Let me explain. Donald Trump’s triumph last year was based on a frontal attack on the Washington “establishment,” that all-powerful, all-seeing, supremely cynical, bipartisan “cartel” (as Ted Cruz would have it) that allegedly runs everything. Yet the establishment proved to be Potemkin empty. In 2016, it folded pitifully, surrendering with barely a fight to a lightweight outsider.

At which point, fear of the vaunted behemoth turned to contempt for its now-exposed lassitude and decadence. Compounding the confusion were Trump’s intimations of authoritarianism. He declared, “I alone can fix it” and “I am your voice,” the classic tropes of the demagogue. He unabashedly expressed admiration for strongmen (most notably, Vladimir Putin).

Trump had just cut through the grandees like a hot knife through butter. Who would now prevent him from trampling, caudillo-like, over a Washington grown weak and decadent? A Washington, moreover, that had declined markedly in public esteem, as confidence in our traditional institutions – from the political parties to Congress – fell to new lows.

The strongman cometh, it was feared. Who and what would stop him?

Two months into the Trumpian era, we have our answer. Our checks and balances have turned out to be quite vibrant. Consider:

n The courts: Trump rolls out not one but two immigration bans, and is stopped dead in his tracks by the courts. However you feel about the merits of the policy itself (in my view, execrable and useless but legal) or the merits of the constitutional reasoning of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (embarrassingly weak, transparently political), the fact remains: The president proposed and the courts disposed.

Trump’s pushback? A plaintive tweet or two complaining about the judges – that his own Supreme Court nominee denounced (if obliquely) as “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”

n The states: Federalism lives. The first immigration challenge to Trump was brought by the attorneys general of two states (Washington and Minnesota) picking up on a trend begun during the Barack Obama years when state attorneys general banded together to kill his immigration overreach and the more egregious trespasses of his Environmental Protection Agency.

And beyond working through the courts, state governors – Republicans, no less – have been exerting pressure on members of Congress to oppose a Republican president’s signature health care reform. Institutional exigency still trumps party loyalty.

n Congress: The Republican-controlled Congress (House and Senate) is putting up epic resistance to a Republican administration’s health care reform. True, that’s because of ideological and tactical disagreements rather than any particular desire to hem in Trump. But it does demonstrate that Congress is no rubber stamp.

And its independence extends beyond the perennially divisive health care conundrums. Trump’s budget, for example, was instantly declared dead on arrival in Congress, as it almost invariably is regardless of which party is in power.

n The media: Trump is right. It is the opposition party. Indeed, furiously so, often indulging in appalling overkill. It’s sometimes embarrassing to read the front pages of the major newspapers, festooned as they are with anti-Trump editorializing masquerading as news.

Nonetheless, if you take the view from 30,000 feet, better this than a press acquiescing on bended knee, where it spent most of the Obama years in a slavish Pravda-like thrall. Every democracy needs an opposition press. We damn well have one now.

Taken together – and suspending judgment on which side is right on any particular issue – it is deeply encouraging that the sinews of institutional resistance to a potentially threatening executive remain quite resilient.

Madison’s genius was to understand that the best bulwark against tyranny was not virtue – virtue helps, but should never be relied upon – but ambition counteracting ambition, faction counteracting faction.

You see it even in the confirmation process for Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s supremely qualified and measured Supreme Court nominee. He’s a slam dunk, yet some factions have scraped together a campaign to block him. Their ads are plaintive and pathetic. Yet I find them warmly reassuring. What a country – where even the vacuous have a voice.

The anti-Trump opposition flatters itself as “the resistance.” As if this is Vichy France. It’s not. It’s 21st-century America. And the good news is that the checks and balances are working just fine.

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

letters@charleskrauthammer.com

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Our View: Budget rollback should bypass Meals on Wheels http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/our-view-budget-rollback-should-bypass-meals-on-wheels/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/our-view-budget-rollback-should-bypass-meals-on-wheels/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171796 A federal program that covers nearly half of Maine’s Meals on Wheels costs faces an uncertain future under President Trump’s recently announced budget proposal. The network of Area Agencies on Aging, which runs Meals on Wheels in Maine, is already scrambling to meet its clients’ nutrition needs – this news puts more pressure on these groups at a time when federal officials should be doing more, not less, for older Americans.

Nationwide, the biggest source of federal funding for Meals on Wheels is the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, which covers 35 percent of Meals on Wheels costs nationally. In Maine, the federal program accounts for 44.5 percent of Meals on Wheels spending; the rest comes from state, foundation, private and corporate sources.

So a proposed 18 percent reduction in the budget of the federal Health and Human Services Department, which runs the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, has ominous implications. “It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which these critical services would not be significantly and negatively impacted if (the budget proposal is) enacted into law,” Jenny Bertolette of Meals on Wheels America – a senior advocacy group that speaks on behalf of local Meals on Wheels programs – told National Public Radio this week.

In helping to fight hunger among older Mainers, Meals on Wheels and groups like it are taking on a huge challenge. One in six Maine residents age 60 and older – some 50,000 people – is struggling with hunger, according to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger. They may not consistently have access to nutritious food, and they worry that the food they do have on hand will run out before they can afford more.

Any homebound person who’s at least 60 and can’t regularly prepare their own food is eligible for Meals on Wheels; there is no income test. Once a senior is connected with Meals on Wheels, they’re part of a program with major nutritional and social benefits.

Eighty-one percent of recipients say their health has improved since they started participating in Meals on Wheels (nutrition has been shown to speed recovery for those who have been ill or undergone surgery). Regular contact with the volunteer who brings their meal helps minimize social isolation, as do the check-in calls made by the program’s volunteer Phone Pals on nondelivery days.

Support for nutrition for seniors is a relatively small federal investment (less than 0.1 percent of discretionary spending) with a big payoff in health and quality of life for older Americans. The president’s budget chief and those who report to him should do a cost-benefit analysis and look elsewhere to find sources of government waste.

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Another View: Repeatedly inept Secret Service must get its house in order http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/another-view-repeatedly-inept-secret-service-must-get-its-house-in-order/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/24/another-view-repeatedly-inept-secret-service-must-get-its-house-in-order/#respond Fri, 24 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171812 The Washington Post

Seventeen minutes. That is a shockingly long time for an intruder to roam undetected on the grounds of the White House while the president is inside the executive mansion. Fortunately, the intruder March 10 was carrying nothing more lethal than two cans of pepper spray. But how could such a breach of security have occurred? Secret Service officials owe an answer.

The security failure, in which a 26-year-old man with a history of mental illness pierced the outer perimeter of the White House near the Treasury Department, renews questions about the Secret Service’s ability to protect the country’s leaders and facilities.

A series of embarrassments, including a 2014 incident in which an intruder with a knife managed to get into the White House before being tackled by an off-duty agent, brought the agency under scrutiny. There followed an overhaul of management that supposedly tightened protections. That makes this latest incident, along with the theft of an agent’s laptop containing sensitive information about Trump Tower, all the more troubling.

“I worry this is the worst one yet,” said Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chaffetz, describing a surveillance video viewed by the committee Monday in a closed-door briefing, detailed how the intruder cleared a fence and ground barriers, lingered on the south portico of the White House, moved through the south garden and peered in several windows before being apprehended.

Only after Chaffetz raised questions did the Secret Service release a timeline of events disclosing that agents failed to detect the intruder for 17 minutes.

The Secret Service urgently needs to get its house in order. The agency is without a permanent director after the retirement of Joseph Clancy. In choosing a replacement, President Trump would do well to take to heart recommendations about the need for someone from outside the agency to bring a fresh eye to its operation.

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Maine Voices: Exempt feminine hygiene products from state sales tax. Period. http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/maine-voices-exempt-feminine-hygiene-products-from-state-sales-tax-period/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/maine-voices-exempt-feminine-hygiene-products-from-state-sales-tax-period/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171083 Imagine being a homeless woman. You have just $7 and you are starving, but you’ve just started your period. Now what do you do? Do you go into the store and buy food, or do you buy feminine hygiene products?

For five to seven days of the month, homeless women experience what no one should have to. These women are unable to properly care for themselves during that week. They create makeshift tampons out of tissue paper, towels, cotton balls, pillowcases – any material that is absorbent. Imagine what women would save and, most importantly, what women would gain if tampons and sanitary pads were more accessible and affordable.

There are 50,000 women living on the streets in the United States. These women are experiencing inconsistency in where they will sleep, where they will shower, when they will eat again and how they will stay clean and dignified five to seven days a month.

Low-income women also face the consequences of the unaffordability and inaccessibility of menstrual hygiene products: the “pink tax.” Women are taxed for something they cannot control. We are being taxed because we are women, and we have a uterus.

“I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax (feminine hygiene products) as luxury items,” Barack Obama said last year in an interview with YouTube personality Ingrid Nilsen. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

Let’s just remember: Out of the 45 states that have a sales tax, 44 states don’t tax Viagra (Maine doesn’t), and eight don’t tax Rogaine. But 38 states – including Maine – tax pads and tampons. Apparently, getting an erection and having hair are not luxuries, but menstruating is.

I had no idea that menstruation was luxurious – bleeding for days straight, having painful cramps, and (the worst part) feeling dirty. When you are able to bathe, and change your clothes regularly, it is easy to manage. When you are living on the streets, what do you do then? Get creative, deal with unsanitary conditions, face an increased risk of infection and hope for the best.

On average, a woman has her period from five to seven days, and the average woman menstruates from age 13 until 51. That means the average woman endures some 456 total periods over 38 years, or roughly 2,280 days with her period, or six years and three months of her life.

Feminine hygiene product companies instruct women to change their pad or tampon every four to eight hours to protect against bacteria that can cause serious health issues. When women are bleeding more heavily, pads and tampons may have to be changed more often.

At Walgreens, a box of 36 regular-sized pads costs $7, or 15.5 cents each. On average, menstruating women will use six pads a day, averaging one box of 36 pads a cycle.

Thirty-six pads per cycle, multiplied by 456 periods, equals 16,416 pads in a lifetime. At 36 pads per box, that’s 456 boxes in a lifetime; at $7 per box, the cost is $3,192.

You’re instructed to change your tampon every four to eight hours – every six hours, on average – so that is four tampons a day, and 20 tampons per cycle. A box containing 36 tampons costs $7 at Walgreens.

Twenty tampons per menstrual cycle, multiplied by 456 periods, equals 9,120 tampons in a lifetime. At 36 tampons per box, that’s 253.3 boxes in a lifetime; at $7 per box, that equals $1,773.33.

Think about all the other expenses women endure during their period. Think about all the underwear women go through, requiring them to purchase new ones, if they can afford them. Pain is bad? You go to the store and purchase Midol. In order to regulate periods, women use birth control. At Planned Parenthood, a woman could pay anywhere from zero to $50 a month, all dependent on her income or lack thereof. Being female is fun.

This session, the Maine Legislature is considering L.D. 206, a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Campbell, R-Orrington, that would exempt feminine hygiene products from the state sales tax. That is the right step in the right direction. New York City requires free tampons and sanitary pads in all homeless shelters, public schools and jails.

Let’s end this stigma and start talking about blood – period – and about what we can do as a society to make Aunt Flo’s visit as “luxurious” and affordable as possible for all women.

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Commentary: Lawmakers must protect Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid patients http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/commentary-lawmakers-must-protect-planned-parenthoods-medicaid-patients/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/commentary-lawmakers-must-protect-planned-parenthoods-medicaid-patients/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171092 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are expected to decide on a number of health policies that will have a very real impact on people here in Maine, such as whether to rip health care away from thousands of Mainers by repealing the Affordable Care Act, or whether to block Medicaid patients from receiving basic health care at Planned Parenthood.

As a health care provider who has worked at Planned Parenthood for eight years, I know firsthand that Planned Parenthood health centers are an irreplaceable resource for women, men and young people in our community. Each year, our health centers in Maine provide lifesaving health care, including cancer screenings, birth control and disease testing and treatment, to about 10,000 people. Our motto is care no matter what. We see patients regardless of their ZIP code, income, race, immigration status or gender identity. Our patient-centered care means we are open evenings and weekends and are able to see people the same day or next day for an appointment.

I, along with the entire Planned Parenthood of Northern New England staff, work hard to ensure that our patients and their families are always able to access affordable, high-quality health care in a safe and caring environment.

As the health care home for our patients we treat a wide array of issues in an effort to improve their health and well-being. Sixty-six percent of our patients live at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Most are uninsured or underinsured and our health centers are their only access to care.

Here in Maine, we provide affordable birth control and family planning counseling to more than 7,000 people a year. Last year, we provided more than 1,000 Pap tests, 1,300 breast exams and nearly 20,000 STI tests and treated countless other primary care needs from smoking cessation to vaccinations to wellness exams.

Behind each of these numbers is a story. A patient. A person.

These are people like Miranda, who wrote, “Planned Parenthood has always been a judgment-free experience for me. I have always felt 100 percent comfortable talking with the friendly staff about any issues I have had, whether they be physical or mental.”

Leah, who was sexually assaulted in high school: “It was such a shameful experience for me, but I went to Planned Parenthood so that I could take care of myself,” she said. “Because I didn’t know how to tell my parents or my primary care doctor – even my gynecologist – the health care providers who helped me at Planned Parenthood were my only line of defense against what had happened to my body. If I hadn’t been able to go to Planned Parenthood for help, I don’t know where I would have gone.”

And Stephanie, who had a bad reaction to the birth control implant she received at her doctor’s office. She went to the emergency room and was told she needed to have the implant removed. When she called her doctor, she was told her doctor couldn’t remove it for two weeks. So she called Planned Parenthood and we were able to treat her the next day. “If it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood, I would be in massive pain and probably be put back in the hospital,” Stephanie said.

Miranda, Leah, and Stephanie are not alone. Across the state, nearly 1 in 3 women have visited a Planned Parenthood health center for care.

For many in Maine and across the country, we are the sole access to care. Which is why it is frustrating to hear politicians repeatedly claim that other health care providers would be able to step into a gap of this magnitude and serve Planned Parenthood patients. It’s simply not true.

In fact, Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, has said it is “ludicrous” that providers like community health centers could absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients.

Yet today, the House of Representatives will likely vote to prevent Planned Parenthood health centers from being reimbursed for care provided to Medicaid patients.

Since more than 25 percent of our patients in Maine are on Medicaid, the effects would be devastating. This is cruel, discriminatory and defies decades of medical and public health expertise.

Our leaders in Congress have the responsibility to keep Americans safe and healthy. Without a doubt, cutting access to Planned Parenthood will put lives at risk.

Our elected leaders must reject any attempt to cut off millions of women from their trusted, irreplaceable health care provider and access to lifesaving preventive care.

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Maine Republican leader: Our state needs workers, not welfare recipients http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/maine-republican-leader-our-state-needs-workers-not-welfare-recipients/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/maine-republican-leader-our-state-needs-workers-not-welfare-recipients/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171094 I am the daughter of Greek immigrants. Growing up, I worked in my parents’ seasonal restaurant all summer long so that I could afford to go to the University of Maine. My family, friends and, for that matter, most Mainers have the will to work hard for the betterment of their families.

That is why it was so shocking to me to hear two Maine lawmakers discussing immigrants and Maine’s workforce in the way they did.

In a work session in Augusta recently concerning welfare for noncitizens, Rep. Jennifer Parker said, “Mainers can only last at the backbreaking work for a certain amount of time.”

Excuse me? It is hard to tell from this quote whether Parker, a new Democratic lawmaker representing parts of South Berwick and North Berwick, is calling Mainers weak or lazy. Neither is true.

During my travels across Maine there is one thing that is clear, Mainers are some of the toughest, hardest-working people I know.

From our factories, forests and farms to our fisheries, hospitals and restaurants, anywhere you go in Maine you will find some of the most industrious and persevering people in the world.

In that same work session, Parker also suggested that crime would go up if we cut state welfare funding for noncitizens.

Apparently, Parker worries that these same new immigrants who work so much harder than Mainers are also holding us hostage and will commit property crimes if Maine taxpayers stop footing the bill on their welfare programs. Parker presents us with quite a conundrum, if this is true.

Parker’s colleague, Democratic Rep. Scott Hamann of South Portland, another misinformed legislator, even went as far as to suggest we “double down’ on the millions we spend on noncitizen welfare if it would bring in more workers.

This whole episode has the feel of insult and exploitation of entire groups of people.

For one, if Maine needs workers, we need workers. Growing a welfare program while refusing to institute some work requirements when able and possible, or volunteerism, will in no way grow our economy – it will shrink it by taking money from people who are working hard for a better life and filtering it through a wasteful bureaucracy.

It’s really hard to understand how we can make Maine a more attractive place to work when our own lawmakers say that increasing taxes and spending on those who work to pay for those who don’t might be the “silver bullet” (as Hamann put it) to Maine’s economic challenges.

If jobs are going unfilled, it stands to reason that either immigrants who can legally work would come in and fill them – no welfare required – or wages would rise to attract workers to fill the jobs. Neither of these require taxpayers to fund a welfare program at any level to attract jobs.

If Parker truly feels that not providing welfare for noncitizens would increase crime, it is reckless of her to push for us to bring more people in “for the benefits.”

If Hamann truly thinks Maine’s welfare benefits should be used to draw people to our state, he should find another line of work.

And if either of these representatives truly thinks that using exploitative language about immigrants and insulting the work ethic of generations of Mainers is the path to political success, I have news for them.

It is not.

The wealth extracted from the back-breaking work of millions of Mainers over generations paid for everything they have at their jobs in Augusta today. From the roads and buildings to their very paychecks. It’s time they recognize that.

Stop undermining the value of the labor of Maine workers. Stop exploiting the work of noncitizens. Stop insulting the work ethic of Maine people. And most of all, stop putting a faulty ideology ahead of Maine. Put Maine workers, Maine taxpayers and the Maine people first.

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Bill Nemitz: A sermon for those on the mound, from one who’s been there http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/bill-nemitz-a-sermon-for-those-on-the-mound-from-one-whos-been-there/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/bill-nemitz-a-sermon-for-those-on-the-mound-from-one-whos-been-there/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171107 Dennis Eckersley, the onetime closer and now TV color commentator for the Boston Red Sox, once said, “I can’t recall too much about pitching, but I was anxious to get it over with.”

I, on the other hand, remember every agonizing second of my brief career on the pitcher’s mound. And like Eckersley, I wanted only for it to end.

It lasted all of one-half inning.

Memories of my long-ago trauma were tweaked this week with the news that all over Maine, high schoolers are scraping off the winter rust in anticipation of the start of baseball season on April 12.

Pitchers, who began throwing this week, will face a new set of rules this year: Per order of the Maine Principals’ Association, they face a limit of 110 pitches per game. Also, should they throw more than 95 pitches in one outing, they must get four days of rest before taking the mound again.

All of which got me thinking: Nowhere in team sports is there a position so lonely as that of the pitcher.

Throw well and you’re the hero.

Throw poorly and you’re the goat.

Throw somewhere in between and you’re at best a glutton for punishment, not to mention a candidate for psychotherapy.

It happened 50 years ago this summer.

Having just turned 13, I was too old to play Little League that year.

But when I heard about a summer league being formed for kids my age and slightly older, I jumped at the chance to reclaim my familiar – and often terrifying – corner at third base.

That is until the coach, whom I’d never met, saw me throw and asked, “Have you ever pitched?”

Yeah, right.

Me? … Pitch? …Was this guy crazy or what?

“Uhh … no,” I replied. “I play third.”

“Take the mound,” he said. “Let’s have a look.”

Fast forward to the first inning of our first game.

My Dad is among the smattering of fans on the hill behind our bench. Normally, he’s the one who gives me the thumbs-up and yells something mortifying like, “Go get ’em, Bill!”

But Dad’s strangely quiet on this day, just watching. His kid is … pitching?

For the first time ever, I take the mound. It’s all so unfamiliar: the beat-up rubber, the sticky rosin bag, the fact that everyone, on and off the field, is suddenly focused exclusively on me …

I wind up, feeling clumsy. I let the first pitch fly, thinking all the while, “Am I doing this right? … Do I look stupid? … Where’s it going to go?”

Ball one.

Again, I go through the unfamiliar motion. “Geez, that strike zone looks so tiny from up here,” I think midway through the wind-up.

And then, as I release the ball, “Dear God, please don’t let it hit him!”

Ball two.

Balls three and four come in rapid succession.

Same for the next batter – four balls in a row, and suddenly there are runners on first and second and no outs.

Same for the batter after that – and now the bases are loaded.

My teammates, full of chatter just a few minutes ago, have all gone silent.

I look to the bench, where my new coach halfheartedly claps his hands in encouragement. I see his hands come together, but I don’t hear any sound.

I look to the hill behind the bench. There sits my Dad, helplessly calm.

Did he just nod – or is he looking down because he can’t bear to make eye contact with his sudden failure of a son?

I want to run away, but I’m trapped by the simple reality that baseball, for better or worse, tends to frown on simply giving up. The ball weighs a ton. The next kid up to the plate looks more scared than I am.

And then, out of nowhere, I get angry.

“You want it? Here, take it!” I mutter, rearing back and throwing, eyes closed, as hard as I can. Only when I hear the “pop” in the catcher’s mitt do I look.

Strike one.

I’m still mad. I hurl it again, same way, without a thought for what I’m doing. If I kill the poor kid cowering at the plate, so be it.

Strike two.

I go on to strike out not just this batter, but the two who follow.

I walk off the mound to cheers, pats on the back from my teammates, a thumbs-up from my Dad. Yet I make a beeline for my coach.

“I’m begging you, please don’t make me go back out there,” I implore him. “I’m not a pitcher. I play third. Please!”

Coach relents. My pitching career – three walks, three K’s, no earned runs, a lifetime of nightmares about rosin bags – mercifully comes to an end.

These days, after the snow surrenders our soggy diamonds, I often pull over to catch a minute or three of a Little League or high school game in progress.

My eyes, like all eyes, go directly to the pitcher.

One kid, all by himself, with the outcome of the game literally in his hands.

Behind him, an entire team, poised not to act, but to react: A good pitch requires nothing of them. One bad pitch, however, and they must keep it from becoming a catastrophe.

And the batter, these days all swagger and Big Papi preparation, also waits. Go ahead, he tells the pitcher with his eyes, go ahead and try …

Bob Feller, a Cleveland Indians mound legend, once observed, “When you make a bad pitch and the hitter puts it out of the park and you cost your team the game, it’s a real test of your maturity to be able to stand in front of your locker 15 minutes later and admit it to the world. How many people in other professions would be willing to have their job performances evaluated that way, in front of millions, every afternoon at 5 o’clock?”

And so here’s to the pitchers – the good, the bad, those who command and those who collapse.

You truly are a different breed.

You work alone, even as you’re surrounded by others.

You stand atop a small hill, the better for the rest of us to watch you succeed or fail.

To do that well – heck, to do it at all – takes just a little bit of crazy.

That and a ton of courage.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Our View: Maine’s child care safety net is only getting weaker http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/our-view-maines-child-care-safety-net-is-only-getting-weaker/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/23/our-view-maines-child-care-safety-net-is-only-getting-weaker/#respond Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1171143 The central theme of the LePage administration’s welfare reform is that every working-age Mainer who is physically able to work should have a job. For an aging state with a shrinking workforce, it is in general a sound philosophy.

But if the governor wants that to be anything more than a campaign slogan, he should be helping to break down the barriers that keep residents struggling at the lowest rungs of the economy. Instead, he is putting up more.

UNAFFORDABLE CHILD CARE

According to a report in the Bangor Daily News, Maine has in each of the last four years left on the table at least $4 million in federal funds available to lower-income families for child care vouchers.

Child care in Maine is tremendously expensive – day care for an infant costs more annually than tuition at a state university. People in poverty pay more than a third of their income for child care, and in Maine it costs around 37 percent of the median income for a single mother.

Without a voucher to defray some of the cost, some parents literally cannot afford to work. For others, child care, along with housing, transportation and health care, takes up all their income each month. They can never get ahead, and are always one car breakdown or illness away from destitution.

Maine is allotted roughly $17 million a year in federal funds toward vouchers, but the state can claim those funds only if it spends enough of its own money on child care. In 2013, the Bangor Daily News reported, the state gave up $4.1 million in federal funds because it didn’t spend $2 million. In 2015, the state left $4.9 million on the table.

That money, along with the requisite state funds, could have been used to provide 1,600 additional vouchers.

Or, Maine could have raised the amount given to each recipient, which was cut in 2011 from the 75th percentile of market rates to the 50th. The state could have specifically targeted rural areas, where there are few providers, or those in severe poverty.

Instead, the money went to other states, and the LePage administration further weakened an already insufficient program.

FEWER AND FEWER VOUCHERS

In addition to the 2011 cut in the amount of each voucher, the state has taken a number of steps in the past decade – spanning two administrations – that have made the voucher program more cumbersome and expensive for day-care providers. As a result, the number of providers accepting vouchers has fallen by more than 60 percent since 2007.

With fewer providers and a smaller pool of vouchers, the number of families being helped by the program has dwindled. During an average month in 2015, only 2,800 children were using vouchers, half the number in 2007, and just 8 percent of the 44,000 who are eligible.

That may make the state budget look marginally more conservative. But in the long run it pushes Mainers – particularly single mothers – out of the workforce, and makes it significantly harder for poor families to do anything more than simply survive.

Taking full advantage of the federal voucher funding won’t make that problem go away, but it will help, particularly if it is coupled with other changes designed to help low-income families afford child care.

A bill to increase the individual voucher amount to the 60th percentile of market rate failed last year, but there is legislation now under consideration to raise it back to 75.

There is also a lot to be said for the former system, which used county-based organizations to manage the voucher system.

On the federal level, tax credits should be made fully refundable to better help low-income families, as proposed by Sen. Angus King.

That would be a good start to repairing the system that helps low-income Maine families access child care, which was inadequate when Gov. Le-Page first took office and has only gotten worse ever since.

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Thanks to Comey, Trump may finally have to face the music named truth http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/thanks-to-comey-trump-may-finally-have-to-face-the-music-named-truth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/thanks-to-comey-trump-may-finally-have-to-face-the-music-named-truth/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 10:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170652 On Monday, accountability finally arrived for Donald Trump. After 70 years spent largely skating free of consequences for his puerile misbehaviors and diarrheal mouth, he likely found it something of a shock. Seven decades is a long time, after all, and if the so-called president has learned nothing else in those years, he has learned this: Accountability is for other people.

Received a bill? Stiff the vendor.

Get caught in a lie? Tell another.

Say something stupid? Blame somebody else.

To watch him over the 21 months of his political career has been to suffer a kind of nauseated awe as he repeatedly brazened and bluffed his way through scandals, lies and acts of bungling incompetence that would have sunk … well, anybody normal. You had to wonder if the chickens had forgotten how to come home to roost. You had to wonder if gravity still works.

But accountability arrived this week in an extraordinary open session of the House Intelligence Committee. There, FBI Director James Comey laid waste to Trump’s contention that he was “wiretapped” by then-President Barack Obama during last year’s campaign.

The bizarre claim has already been roundly shredded in the two and a half weeks since Trump first made it in a series of early morning tweets. But the so-called president has clung to it with a stubborn insistence. He discomfited German Chancellor Angela Merkel when he tried to joke about it during their joint news conference. And he outraged the British when they were forced to refute a – pardon the tautology – baseless Trump claim that they had participated in the alleged bugging.

So it was gratifying to hear the head of federal law enforcement say definitively that there is zero evidence to support Trump’s contention. That, however, was just the hors d’oeuvre. The main course was Comey’s confirmation of media reports about an FBI investigation. Yes, he said, the FBI is looking into whether Trump’s people colluded with Russia as that country was meddling in last year’s election with the express aim of electing Trump. The probe could dog the White House for many months.

Cornered, Trump and his apologists tried familiar dodges. They cried, “Fake news!” They misrepresented Comey’s words. They tried to change the subject. Surrogate Jeffrey Lord even insisted the problem is that Trump has been “misinterpreted.”

It all felt even more threadbare than usual. It was hard not to imagine Trump drenched in the flop sweat of a birthday party magician who just realized he left the rabbit in his other top hat.

Small wonder. The tactics that have always served him will not work here. You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time. But good luck fooling the feds any of the time.

Heaven only knows where this will end up. Maybe the campaign will be exonerated. Maybe we’ll discover the Russian meddling was plotted by Trump and Vladimir Putin over drinks in a hot tub at Mar-a-Lago.

Either way, there is something to be said for the simple fact that the investigation is underway, that Trump and his team will finally be forced to answer serious questions from serious people who will not be impressed by alternative facts and brazen deflections. It’s the kind of knowledge that renews your faith in the system. And in karma.

Turns out the chickens know their way after all, and gravity still works just fine. Accountability has arrived. She’s seven decades late, so she and Donald Trump have a lot of catching up to do.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/thanks-to-comey-trump-may-finally-have-to-face-the-music-named-truth/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/04/PITTS_LEONARD_1_TNS2.jpgTNS Columnist Leonard Pitts. (Olivier Douliery/TNS)Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:30:57 +0000
Increased screening for colorectal cancer could save thousands of Mainers’ lives http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/maine-voices-increased-screening-for-colorectal-cancer-could-save-767-mainers-in-2018/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/maine-voices-increased-screening-for-colorectal-cancer-could-save-767-mainers-in-2018/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170603 There are far too many cancers where the opportunity for either prevention or early detection simply does not exist. In these instances, we often find the cancer only when it becomes symptomatic in an advanced stage. But this is not the case for all cancers. In fact, for some cancers, such as colo- rectal cancer, we have highly effective methods to prevent the cancer or to catch it at an early and highly treatable stage.

This March, we celebrate Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Given the fact that colorectal cancer remains a leading cause of cancer deaths and that almost 50 percent of colorectal cancer cases can be prevented through screening, the public health significance of screening and early detection is clearly evident. Right now, with approximately $51 million in grant money, the American Cancer Society is supporting 92 cutting-edge research projects focused on ending colorectal cancer. However, it is still imperative that we do all we can to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and the importance of screening. Research has already shown us that screening works.

A collaboration of more than 1,300 organizations nationwide have come together in an effort called 80% by 2018, with a commitment of educating about the importance of screening and improving access to those screenings so that by 2018, 80 percent of adults aged 50 and older will be regularly screened for colorectal cancer.

Maine has achieved a 73 percent screening rate of those 50 and older. If Maine achieves that 80 percent goal by the end of 2018, then by 2030, we will have helped 1,046 Mainers avoid ever getting cancer and saved 767 more lives from cancer death. While Maine’s screening rate is one of the top in the nation, to reach our goal means that we still need to make sure that 92,000 more people 50 and older get the colorectal cancer screenings that they should.

If the entire country meets its 80 percent screening rate by 2018, the results would be phenomenal. By 2030, 277,000 people would never get cancer. It could be completely prevented. And an additional 203,000 more people would live. They would not die from a colorectal cancer diagnosis.

Getting screened doesn’t need to be as invasive or as difficult as some people may believe. There are now several effective options available for colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopy, fecal immunochemical tests and virtual colonoscopy.

Despite the availability of highly effective screening tests, a significant percentage of individuals over the age of 50 are not screened as recommended. Statistics show that nationally almost 40 percent of individuals over the age of 50 have not received the recommended colorectal cancer screening; within certain populations, this percentage is even higher.

More public education to raise awareness about the risk associated with colorectal cancer and the importance of screening is a clear first step to improve screening rates. But we must go beyond that; we must ensure that awareness campaigns reach every corner of our community and screenings are made widely available to those who need it.

We must also address the barriers patients face when trying to get a colonoscopy or other screening test. Some screening tests require significant preparation and time off from work, and they also require patients to have someone available to take them home following the procedure. Addressing these challenges can be a vital bridge to a successful screening test.

We can all play a role in increasing colorectal cancer screening rates. Do you know someone who is over 50 and hasn’t been screened yet? Help them learn more about the importance of screening (the valuable information posted at www.Cancer.org is a great first step) or encourage them to speak with their doctor about screening. Providing a ride for a neighbor, colleague or relative who has a scheduled colonoscopy can be the critical difference between a screening that is completed and one that is not.

This March, let’s all work together to get more people screened, reduce rates of colorectal cancer and save lives.

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Rep. Chellie Pingree: Passing ‘Trumpcare’ would take us backward http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/rep-chellie-pingree-passing-trumpcare-would-take-us-backward/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/rep-chellie-pingree-passing-trumpcare-would-take-us-backward/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170638 WASHINGTON — Last weekend, hundreds of Mainers turned out for a town hall I held on the Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Trumpcare. People who attended shared their battles with cancer, disease and poverty and described how the Affordable Care Act, while imperfect, had opened a door for them to access care and prevent bankruptcy.

I’d be the first to say the Affordable Care Act has room for improvement. I was disappointed that we did not accomplish single-payer health care or a public option and that the ACA did not go far enough to hold down costs and keep insurers from unreasonably raising deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. However, nothing in Trumpcare will address rising health care costs. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office said the first draft of Trumpcare will increase out-of-pocket costs for older Americans by as much as 750 percent and immediately drop 14 million people from their coverage.

Trumpcare not only undoes the gains of the Affordable Care Act, but will actually lead to higher numbers of uninsured than before the ACA was passed in 2010.

Trumpcare is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes health care dollars away from poor, rural, and older Americans in order to give tax breaks to insurance companies, drug companies and the wealthiest Americans. The numbers are simply staggering. Trumpcare will give insurance companies a $145 billion tax break and require individuals who have a gap in their coverage to pay a 30 percent premium surcharge to the insurance company for a year. It will reduce taxes on drug companies by $15 billion and give top earners a $158 billion windfall.

At the same time, the CBO estimates that a 64-year-old man earning $26,500 a year who previously paid $1,700 for his coverage will pay $14,600 under Trumpcare — that’s more than half his income. Inexplicably, Trumpcare also strips federal funding for Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide basic health care services to thousands of low-income Mainers and millions of Americans nationwide. President Trump recently asked, “Who knew health care could be so complicated?”

Obviously, he’s never had to navigate the health care system alone and cannot imagine what it’s like to lose his health insurance or have his coverage denied. Most Americans know health care is very complicated. Just take Ed Saxby of South Portland, who attended my town hall on Sunday.

Ed stood beside his wife, both military veterans, and their granddaughter as he bravely told hundreds of strangers about his battle with cancer. He said that the odds of survival are against him because Trumpcare will take away the tax subsidies he needs to afford health coverage as a retiree living on a fixed income. Ed told the room, “We cannot repeal and not replace — that will be an American genocide.”

If there were a quick fix to reform our health care system it would have happened 50 years ago, but there’s a reason the Affordable Care Act took two years to pass – we allowed the public to be a part of the process.

As a member of Congress when the ACA was passed, I remember hundreds of hearings were held and thousands of amendments were considered before President Obama signed the law.

In stark contrast, Republicans have fast-tracked Trumpcare without holding a single public hearing. Some Republican members will not even face their constituents back home who rightfully want to know how Trumpcare will impact their daily lives.

No one can avoid illness or aging — that’s why health care policy is deeply personal and important to us all. It is unlike any other issue we work on in Congress.

At my town hall, Ed Saxby’s wife, Jill, asked if those who are championing Trumpcare would be willing to trade places with those who it will harm. It’s a question I’ve posed to my colleagues in Congress and hope they will consider when they vote on Trumpcare on Thursday in the U.S. House of Representatives.

— Special to the Press Herald

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Our View: Grants for drug treatment in Maine’s jails could break cycle of relapsing, reoffending http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/our-view-grants-for-drug-treatment-in-maines-jails-could-break-cycle-of-relapsing-and-reoffending/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/our-view-grants-for-drug-treatment-in-maines-jails-could-break-cycle-of-relapsing-and-reoffending/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170691 About two of every three of the nation’s jail and prison inmates have substance use disorders, but only 11 percent of those who are addicted receive treatment while incarcerated, according to a 2010 study.

Though these are national figures, it’s likely that Maine – which had a record 378 overdose deaths last year – fits the same pattern. But new legislation offers cause for hope by making it possible for jail inmates to access addiction treatment while behind bars.

Sponsored by state Sen. Justin Chenette, a Saco Democrat, L.D. 377 would establish a Corrections Department grant program that would be designed with mandatory input from Maine’s sheriffs and county commissioners and pay up to half the cost of county jail-based drug treatment programs.

Grants would be awarded based on need, local buy-in and county financial support. Applicants also must present evidence-based proposals – a category that covers everything from detoxification services and medication-assisted treatment to recovery coaching and faith-based treatment.

Given how many inmates in Maine are struggling to overcome addiction, it’s clear that L.D. 377 could do a great deal of good. But Jenna Mehnert, head of the mental health advocacy group NAMI Maine, made an important point during the public hearing on the bill, when she told the lawmakers who are weighing the measure that it’s important to distinguish between people facing felony charges who “simultaneously struggle with addiction,” and low-level offenders whose crimes are directly related to their substance use.

The serious offenders, she said, would benefit from Corrections Department-approved inmate rehabilitation services, which would “allow for recovery to begin before inmates are released” – but those accused of drug-related misdemeanors would be better served by being diverted to a program that offers services such as housing, job training and health care in lieu of arrest. And the evidence backs up her recommendation: Diversion programs like those being piloted in Portland, Bangor and several other Maine communities have been shown to prevent relapse and recidivism.

Maine’s cash-strapped county jails – which have become what Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce recently called “the state’s largest mental hospital and detox center” – are feeling the impact as the addiction epidemic continues to escalate. L.D. 377 is based on a sound concept; with some revisions, the bill could cut off a frustrating and often tragic cycle of release, relapsing and reoffending that rarely, if ever, results in recovery for Mainers suffering from addiction.

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Another View: There’s little to celebrate in outcome of Dutch elections http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/another-view-theres-little-to-celebrate-in-outcome-of-dutch-elections/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/22/another-view-theres-little-to-celebrate-in-outcome-of-dutch-elections/#respond Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170699 It says something about European politics that the Dutch election results are widely seen as cause for celebration. Geert Wilders – a far-right populist who makes Donald Trump look like a cautious centrist – did worse than expected. But he was by no means crushed, and the anger Wilders and his ilk are channeling is still there.

In due course Prime Minister Mark Rutte will be able to form a new coalition government. (These things take time in the Netherlands.) But his center-right party has lost seats and had to tack to the populist right to avoid a worse result. Wilders’ PVV party increased its tally of seats from 15 to 20.

It won’t be hard to exclude the PVV from the new coalition government, but this was no shattering defeat for the far right.

And consider what it took to contain the threat. Rutte had to toughen his language (if not his policy) on immigration – “behave normally or leave,” he told migrants in a letter published in January in Dutch newspapers. Rutte’s standing up to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late in the campaign probably also helped his cause.

More encouraging is that the Netherlands, unlike the U.K., shows little interest in quitting the European Union. On the whole, strongly pro-EU parties did well in the election, and Wilders’ fervid opposition to the EU may actually have held him back.

Immigration remains the most troublesome issue. The Netherlands used to stand as a model for multiculturalism, but no longer. Like many other EU countries, the Netherlands has failed to assimilate its immigrants.

It can be argued that this is what multiculturalism means. If the sentiments driving far-right populism are to be defeated, however, assimilation will have to take precedence. Education, language training and housing policy must be recruited to the cause. Making it easier for migrants to find work – the Dutch record on this is especially poor – is crucial.

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Maine Voices: A little money goes a long way at the Portland Museum of Art http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/maine-voices-a-little-money-goes-a-long-way-at-the-portland-museum-of-art/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/maine-voices-a-little-money-goes-a-long-way-at-the-portland-museum-of-art/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170035 About a week ago, I had the pleasure of hosting the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, William “Bro” Adams, at the Portland Museum of Art, giving him a tour of the newly reopened museum. This was no happenstance: The NEH awarded the PMA a $400,000 grant for our multiyear project, “Your Museum, Reimagined,” which allowed the museum to reinstall every piece of artwork and reposition itself as a welcoming space for everyone.

As I walked with Adams through our galleries, the conversation kept coming back to our community. “A little money goes a long way at a regional museum like the Portland Museum of Art,” he said, “which is so much more significant in the lives of local citizens than the giant urban museums.” That struck a chord with me, because one of the central tenets that currently drives the PMA is to connect and engage with our community in meaningful ways.

These grants and awards do not simply benefit cultural institutions like the PMA, but allow the museum to hire local tradespeople, businesses and experts throughout our community. I can’t begin to count all the electricians, contractors, architects, tech developers, educators, painters and designers who helped make the newest iteration of the PMA a success. The National Endowment for the Humanities, along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services – both of which support the museum as well – provide funding to important projects that spur economic development, provide jobs and reverberate throughout the cultural economy. Make no mistake, national endowments like the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Institute of Museum and Library Services are critical to the growth of our region, the success of our businesses and the future of our people.

When these endowments were created in 1965, they were done with the acknowledgment that our society must fully value the arts and humanities and work to advance our cultural landscape. “An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone,” says the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, “but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.”

More recently, the Maine Office of Tourism has launched campaigns to position Maine’s cultural offerings alongside the well-known tourism narratives of outdoor activities and our food industry. This has been imperative to the PMA in recent years, and we have seen an increase in visits from tourists from New York and Boston, D.C. and Dallas, and everywhere in between. The message is clear: our culture is unique and a powerful contributor to our economy, and we need to welcome that.

The Portland Museum of Art is not alone in this important national discussion. There are hundreds of organizations throughout all 16 counties in Maine that receive support from the NEA and NEH. The eight museums along the Maine Art Museum Trail have all benefited from these programs. Small projects – including the redesign of Congress Square Park just across the street from the museum, and the research and development of the St. John Valley cultural heritage trail guide in Madawaska – have also been positively affected by the endowments. But unfortunately, the NEA and NEH are just a few of the federal organizations that are facing proposed defunding. Our friends at Maine Public are also at risk, as are countless others who will bear the brunt of this most recent push to reduce support for these endowments.

As with any discussion on federal spending and national budgets, it is difficult to see the forest for the trees when talking about the value of cultural organizations like these. However, I feel that speaks to their vast and immeasurable impact, rather than an ill-informed notion pointing to government excess or waste. To understand their importance and embrace their missions, we need only to take a walk through our communities, visit a local business and speak with our neighbors. Supporting the arts and humanities demonstrates the pride we have in our culture – America’s culture. We cannot be great without them.

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Kathleen Parker: Presidential budget logic: Help single moms by building the wall http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/kathleen-parker-trumps-budget-logic-help-single-moms-by-building-the-wall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/kathleen-parker-trumps-budget-logic-help-single-moms-by-building-the-wall/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170053 From Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen” to Donald Trump’s “Detroit single mom,” the unmarried mother remains a constant fascination to Republicans wielding budget-cutting scalpels.

Whereas Reagan was propagating a stereotype of the fraudulent abuser of public largesse when he popularized the term in 1976, framing welfare policy thereafter, Trump’s budget blueprint purportedly is aimed at helping single mothers (in Detroit, for some reason) by building a better military.

If you’re having trouble connecting the dots, welcome to the fracas.

The budget, which includes massive cuts to spending in the arts, sciences (including medical research) and diplomacy – mostly in the interest of increasing military spending by $54 billion and subsidizing that blasted wall – was designed by asking: Can we ask the single mother in Detroit to pay for this?

This is how White House budget director Mick Mulvaney explained the administration’s calculations on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Apparently cognizant of diversity’s fealty to both sexes (not to be confused with genders), Mulvaney also mentioned coal miners (with apologies to Barbara Burns, noted groundbreaking female miner).

“One of the questions we asked was, can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?” Mulvaney queried. “The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

Are there really no single mothers in Detroit listening to NPR’s “Fresh Air”? Or whose kids watch “Sesame Street”? Although the CPB receives $450 million annually in federal funds, much of that money is distributed to local television and radio stations and producers. National Public Radio, long an object of Republican contempt, probably will be fine thanks to donor support, but not so the local shows, which often are educational and/or public safety-oriented.

The end objective, Mulvaney said, is to keep Trump’s campaign promises while not increasing the budget deficit. Among those promises: Build the wall (delete: I will make Mexico pay for that wall); and beef up national security.

And, of course, the ultimate goal in whittling away programs that serve the poor or protect the environment is to Make America “Great” Again. “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means,” as Inigo Montoya said in “The Princess Bride.”

Before we parse the meaning of the word “great,” a few facts: The proposed budget, which is really just a collection of bad ideas or suggestions, doesn’t stand a chance of congressional approval as is. To pass the Senate, over which Republicans hold a relatively slim majority (52-48), it would require Democratic support. The blueprint’s strong emphasis on defense and security, notwithstanding cuts in airport policing, at the expense of domestic programs is a no-go.

Although many Republicans also oppose some of the more draconian cuts, others want yet more defense spending. Both Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and John McCain, R-Ariz., chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively, want $640 billion rather than the measly $603 billion proposed.

Given Trump’s commitment to a military buildup – and the formerly silent Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent remarks that military action may be necessary to end North Korea’s nuclear games – investing in defense might not be a bad gamble.

But hope for a cancer cure might be. The National Institutes of Health – the nation’s premier research institution – is threatened with losing about 20 percent of its budget. And bets on climate-related concerns would be long shots. Among many related cuts, the budget would eliminate four NASA missions, including the Deep Space Climate Observatory, which monitors climate change from its position 1 million miles from Earth. Collect information that might suggest the need for environmental regulations? LOL.

By tragic coincidence, we learned the day before Trump’s budget was released that vast portions of Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, one of Earth’s largest organisms, are dead from overheated seawater caused by greenhouse gases emitted via the burning of fossil fuels.

But never mind. Greatness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder – and Trump’s idea of both tends toward reactionary excessiveness unburdened by history’s future judgment. Besides, what do NASA missions have to do with coal miners or single moms?

Not one thing, other than a future for all those fatherless children in Detroit – and the coal miner’s daughter, who probably needs essential social services more than she does that blasted wall.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group. She can be contacted at:

kathleenparker@washpost.com

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Charles Lawton: For productivity and its growth, similar areas hold lessons for regions in Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/charles-lawton-for-productivity-and-its-growth-similar-areas-hold-lessons-for-regions-in-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/charles-lawton-for-productivity-and-its-growth-similar-areas-hold-lessons-for-regions-in-maine/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170076 One of the most important forces in human affairs is the power of example. Sometimes it manifests as competitive resentment or envy – “If he/she can do it, why can’t I?” In other cases, it emerges as sympathetic inspiration – “If so-and-so succeeded after enduring such a horrible event as that, surely I can overcome my own less catastrophic history.” In both cases, it is possible to find motivation and inspiration from the example of others.

It is interesting, in this regard, to search for whatever lessons may be learned from an examination of the position of Maine’s three census-defined metropolitan areas within the list of 382 such areas across the country. Using labor productivity – defined as the dollar value of total economic output per worker in each area –as one metric, it is generally true that the larger an area’s total population, the higher its labor productivity.

The New York metro area, with an estimated 2015 population of 19.6 million, has a labor productivity of $148,000 per worker. The smallest metro area – Carson City, Nevada, with a population of just over 55,000 – has a labor productivity rate of $99,000 per worker. The average labor productivity rate of the 10 largest metro areas was $128,000 per worker, while the average for the 10 smallest areas was $96,000 per worker.

Just as importantly, this productivity differential between large and small metro areas has been growing. The average inflation-adjusted increase in labor productivity for the top 10 metro areas between 1978 and 2015 was 1.2 percent. For the bottom smallest 10 areas, it was 0.8 percent.

While these general trends are not rigidly true across all areas, the general pattern is apparent – and the same pattern is evident in Maine’s three metro areas.

• The Portland metro area (Cumberland, York and Sagadahoc counties) ranked 104th among the nation’s 382 areas. Its labor productivity in 2015 stood at $87,000 per worker, and its increase in real productivity since 1978 stood at 1.1 percent.

• The Bangor metro area (Penobscot County) ranked 268th. Its labor productivity in 2015 stood at $78,000 per worker, and its increase in real productivity since 1978 stood at 0.5 percent.

• The Lewiston metro area (Androscoggin County) ranked 342nd. Its labor productivity in 2015 stood at $81,000 per worker, and its increase in real productivity since 1978 stood at 1.2 percent.

While the national pattern of labor productivity declining with population size held true for Maine’s three metro areas, both the Portland and Lewiston areas exhibited growth in productivity that nearly equaled that of the nation’s top 10 metro areas, surely a positive sign. It is interesting, therefore, to dig a bit deeper to see how Maine’s three metro areas compare to their peers – here defined as the four metro areas above and below them in the population size list.

For the Portland area, its eight peers include Spokane, Washington; Santa Rosa, California, and Lexington, Kentucky. The average labor productivity for this group of nine peers (the 100th through 108th largest metro areas) was $102,000 per worker, and their average productivity growth since 1978 was 0.9 percent.

Comparatively speaking, the Portland area was last among the nine in level of worker productivity at $87,000 per worker, just below Lexington and far below Santa Rosa’s $126,000. In productivity growth, Portland fared better. Its 1.1 percent growth ranked fifth among the nine, well above the peer average but far below the leaders. Perhaps a closer examination of the patterns of growth in these areas would give Portland some insight into how to accelerate its economic growth prospects.

For the Bangor area, its eight peers include Decatur, Alabama; Jefferson City, Missouri, and Wichita Falls, Texas. The average labor productivity for this group (the 264th through 272nd largest metro areas) was $91,000 and their average productivity growth since 1978 was 1.0 percent.

Within this group, the Bangor area was last among the nine in level of worker productivity at $78,000 per worker, far below the top figure of $107,000 for Wichita Falls. In productivity growth, Bangor’s rate of 0.5 percent ranked 8th in the group, barely above Decatur’s 0.47 percent increase. Again, a closer examination of the patterns of growth in Bangor’s peer areas might provide some insights about how to adjust its economic growth strategies.

Finally, for the Lewiston area, its eight peers include Michigan City, Indiana; Sumter, South Carolina, and Lima, Ohio. The average labor productivity for this group (the 338th through 346th largest metro areas) was $94,000, and its average productivity growth since 1978 was 0.9 percent.

The Lewiston area ranked eighth in its group in worker productivity at $81,000 per worker, well above Sumter’s $68,000 but far below Lima’s $107,000. In productivity growth, Lewiston ranked second among the nine at 1.2 percent, falling below only Lima’s 1.4 percent growth.

In all of these comparisons, Maine’s metro areas show some signs of strength and some of weakness. My point here is simply to say that by considering their economic fates in context rather than simply as some individually fated good or poor luck, they would all gain by a careful comparison of their standing relative to somewhat similar areas.

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

cttlaw3@gmail.com

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Our View: Level of funding, not its sources, is key for Maine schools http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/our-view-level-of-funding-not-its-sources-is-key-for-maine-schools/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/our-view-level-of-funding-not-its-sources-is-key-for-maine-schools/#respond Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170081 The debate over school funding now underway in the Legislature will surely be influenced by a new state report showing the harmful effect that a 3 percent tax surcharge on high incomes could have on the Maine economy.

But Question 2, the ballot question approved by voters in November that included the surcharge, was never really about taxing the rich. Instead, it was about lawmakers failing for so many years to live up to their obligation to Maine schools by finding a way to fund 55 percent of K-12 education.

How the Legislature fulfills that obligation is up to them – just as it has always been. If lawmakers do not like the tax surcharge, which would raise an estimated $124 million, they should find another source of revenue. That’s their job, and it’s time for them to do it.

They’ve ignored it long enough. Voters in 2004 approved the measure establishing the 55 percent state-funding level, and the state edged toward that goal for the next few years, until the economy collapsed in 2008. It hasn’t come close since – the gap between the state mandate and actual funding was around $240 million in 2015.

It wasn’t necessarily an aversion to state education funding that caused the gap, but rather wide disagreement on how to pay for school costs. The backers of Question 2 decided on the 3 percent tax surcharge on marginal incomes higher than $200,000, and voters approved it by a slim margin last November.

But just as with the 2004 referendum, state officials are threatening to ignore the wishes of voters on school funding.

Gov. LePage has made opposition to the surcharge one of his central themes, saying it will devastate the state economy. Meanwhile, he’s proposed a budget that cuts school spending by 2 percent next year, and would mean less money for 65 percent of the state’s school districts.

The governor’s office recently released a report backing up the governor’s claims. The additional tax, the report says, would cause people to leave the state, or dissuade them from coming here to start a business, and others would shield income from taxes.

As a result, the report says, private-sector employment, real disposable income, population and gross domestic product would all decline in the first year, and the negative effects would accumulate as the years go on.

The report contains some questionable assumptions on just how much tax policy influences people’s movements in and out of Maine. But it is certainly resonating with Republican lawmakers.

One bill, L.D. 571, from state Sen. Dana Dow, R-Damariscotta, would scrap the 3 percent tax and instead use marijuana sales taxes, among other items, for school funding.

This is why we came out against Question 2 before November’s election. Changes to tax policy and school funding don’t happen in a vacuum – they have to be weighed against other priorities. There will certainly be other lawmakers making a case for how to spend the marijuana funds, just as there are for all state revenue. That’s a job for the Legislature, not the referendum process.

So as lawmakers consider what to do with Question 2, they shouldn’t ignore it altogether, as the governor’s budget does, or send it back to voters, as would a bill proposed by state Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough.

They should honor the will of voters, expressed twice now, that the state fund 55 percent of education costs, and together figure out a way to get there.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/21/our-view-level-of-funding-not-its-sources-is-key-for-maine-schools/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1170081_442187-20140129-Core-Math-1.jpgFor over a decade, the state of Maine has failed to follow the law and fulfill its obligation to fund 55 percent of K-12 public education costs.Mon, 20 Mar 2017 19:20:03 +0000
Our View: Report puts spotlight on juvenile court records http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/our-view-state-courts-need-better-training-on-youth-records/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/our-view-state-courts-need-better-training-on-youth-records/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1169315 Believing doesn’t make it true, and when it comes to court records, it’s not belief that counts.

Consider this widely held belief that juveniles with a criminal record get a fresh start when they turn 18. Lawyers believe it and so do their clients. Judges believe it, and so do the clerks who manage the records.

But the problem is that it’s only sort of true.

A recent study by researchers at the Muskie School of Government at the University of Southern Maine found that there is a widespread misunderstanding about the law. A juvenile criminal record can be sealed by a court, but the process is not automatic and past offenses might be showing up in a job seeker’s criminal background checks without his knowledge, making a smooth transition to the straight and narrow adulthood tougher than necessary.

The report “Unsealed Fate: The Unintended Consequences of Inadequate Safeguarding of Juvenile Records in Maine” found few people who understood how the system really works.

“The myth of records being sealed automatically at 18 was being repeated by so many different players,” said Susy Hawes, one of the study’s authors. “Everyone we spoke to in the system had that belief. It’s a vicious cycle of believing something and then hearing it again and believing it.”

Juvenile records are treated differently than adult offenses for a good reason. The juvenile system is designed to rehabilitate a young person who has made some bad choices during a time when their brains are not fully formed. Most young people get through that period without violating the law with support from good families and strong communities, but even the best kids can be led astray.

It’s right to expect an adult to live with the consequences of his choices for the rest of his life, but it’s in the interest of both the juvenile and society in general to give them another chance to get on the right track.

Aside from the fact that it isn’t well understood, there is nothing wrong with the current law.

A juvenile has to wait three years after a conviction to petition the court to have his record sealed. To have a chance at closing that chapter of his life from others’ eyes, the offender has to have a clean record, paid all fines and completed all other instructions and requirements. Even then a judge could refuse to grant the petition, and the former juvenile offender cannot appeal.

It’s a good law because it gives a youthful offender the incentive to straighten out his act. The law gives the court a chance to help a kid who made a mistake while protecting the community from someone who would hide behind juvenile confidentiality while continuing to commit crimes.

Hopefully, this report will be used by lawyers, judges, clerks and probation officers in their training so they can give young offenders and their families the correct information.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/our-view-state-courts-need-better-training-on-youth-records/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/1169315_501694_20170104_kayla_ste_4-e1490006188772.jpgA judge can seal a juvenile's record after he is clean for three years and meets other requirements. Even then a judge could refuse to grant the petition, and the former juvenile offender cannot appeal.Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:17:51 +0000
Maine Voices: Business experience doesn’t necessarily mean economic success http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/maine-voices-knowing-business-doesnt-necessarily-mean-knowing-economics/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/20/maine-voices-knowing-business-doesnt-necessarily-mean-knowing-economics/#respond Mon, 20 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1169320 SKOWHEGAN — There has been a long-standing belief among Americans that experience in business prepares one for political leadership. Yet although we have elected plenty of businesspeople as governors and presidents, their economic record has never been any better than that of their peers without business backgrounds. It does not matter which economic indicator or when measured: A relationship between a chief executive’s business experience and his administration’s economic success does not exist.

Part of this is because of the near powerlessness that a governor or president has in the face of significant economic change. Economies change because of social and economic factors beyond the control of the chief executive.

No matter how much we all want a pulp and paper economy to return to this state, for example, no executive action is going to make the people of the planet want to read newspapers and store information in paper files anymore. The president or governor may use his personal authority to stop a major company from relocating to Mexico, but he cannot stop the loss of 5 million manufacturing jobs to automation and foreign competition. These are market forces well beyond the immediate control of any law, policy, tariff or trade agreement. The chief executive may be able to influence smaller events on the margin, but diverting an economy of 350 million people is like trying to change the direction the wind is blowing.

Of course, it’s not popular to look at facts and confirmed scientific data, so none of this analysis is likely to go far with the voting public. In today’s world, truth is anything that gets you elected. There are, however, more compelling reasons to question the value of business leadership.

Businesspeople see money only once. A client pays for the product and moves on. To the business owner, the transaction is done and profit realized.

In an economy, however, every time that dollar gets spent, the community is one dollar richer. Our business owner uses his profits to buy a new car at the local dealership, the dealer uses the money to buy groceries for the week, the grocer uses the money to build a deck on his house and on and on it goes. The money keeps circulating until it is gradually absorbed through saving, and every time it circulates through a new set of hands, the economy is one little bit more wealthy.

To a business owner, paying for disability claims, medical services and education is little more than red ink on the debit side, but in an economy, this is only the first round of spending. Whatever budgetary gains are made by a cut have to be balanced against the future budgetary loss resulting from reduced economic activity. Planning what to cut from a governmental budget, and how much, is not nearly as straightforward as it is in a business.

Successful business owners have to be familiar only with their own segment of the economy. If you run an insurance agency, what goes on in restaurants along the coast or in the potato industry in Aroostook County has little to do with you. Business owners know their market better than any scholar or government agent. You couldn’t find anyone on the planet who knows more about purchasing discount clothing and used household goods than our governor. To be a chief executive, however, you have to understand the economy at large, with its thousands of businesses and markets, and make decisions based on that understanding.

Business leadership is far more authoritarian than governmental leadership. In a business, the jobs and chain of command are clearly defined and unquestioned. Leadership decisions are usually unquestioned and mistakes are contained, and hidden, within the books of the business. They may go bankrupt, grow exponentially or something in between, but the leadership is clear and the mandate to lead unchallenged.

In a democratic economy, however, leadership is not nearly as clear cut. The Legislature, Congress, the courts and the voting public all have their own power base and can confound any attempt by the chief executive to make significant change on his own. In an economy, gains are made through compromise and conciliation, not through individual action from the top.

We have had remarkable leaders who were businesspeople, but we have had more who were just citizens doing the job as best they could. In the end, what has always made a successful chief executive in both national and state government is the ability to help contending groups forge a tolerable compromise and a vison that extended beyond the next election. All those who think that that is what we have now, raise your hand.

 

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Jim Fossel http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel/#respond Sun, 19 Mar 2017 14:37:21 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1170875 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/03/Jim-FosselWeb.jpgMaine Sunday Telegram columnist Jim FosselWed, 22 Mar 2017 16:06:06 +0000 Jim Fossel: Timing of requesting expansion of Medicaid in Maine is surprising http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-in-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/jim-fossel-medicaid-expansion-in-maine/#respond Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1168922 Over the past several years, a curious dichotomy has emerged in Maine: Liberal ideas succeed at the ballot box, while liberal candidates fail time and time again.

This first began to appear in 2012, when progressives were able to pass marriage equality. Buoyed by this success, they turned their efforts toward the 2014 elections, when Gov. Paul LePage was up for re-election and they had the opportunity to keep the 2nd Congressional District in Democratic hands.

Not only were both of these efforts failures, Republicans also retook control of the state Senate and gained seats in the House. This pattern repeated itself in 2015 and 2016, when progressives successfully used the referendum process to expand Clean Elections, raise taxes to increase education funding and raise the minimum wage, while Democrats failed to recapture the state Senate or defeat Rep. Bruce Poliquin.

So on some level, it was no surprise when the Secretary of State’s Office announced that activists had gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on Medicaid expansion. After all, they’d been pushing for Maine to do so ever since a federal court ruling made that part of the Affordable Care Act optional, but it had been consistently stymied by Republicans in Augusta. With their lack of success in the 2014 election, initiating the process by citizen initiative would seem to be their only remaining option.

What was surprising was their timing: Proponents reportedly collected most of their signatures on Election Day in 2016, and the referendum will appear on the ballot in 2017. Had they begun earlier, it might have been a lengthier (and more expensive) process to collect the signatures, but putting it on the ballot in 2016 could have helped turn out voters to elect Democratic candidates statewide. Failing that, they could have delayed their process slightly and timed their submission so that it would be on the ballot in November 2018, possibly helping to elect a Democrat to the Blaine House.

That means that not only will candidates not benefit from the referendum, the referendum won’t benefit from candidates either. In an even-numbered year, both parties put enormous effort into voter ID and turnout, and that boosts referendums as well. In an odd year, these operations will be entirely up to the referendum supporters.

Data at a national level have suggested that in midterm elections, turnout is lower and voters tend to be older and less diverse, which helps Republican candidates. It’s tough to measure turnout in odd years – only a few states hold statewide elections of any kind – but they’ve been a mixed bag in Maine in the past.

In 2009 – the last odd-numbered year to have a wide variety of referendums – the first attempt to pass marriage equality failed, but so did several tax-cut measures, and an expansion of medical marijuana succeeded. In 2017, Medicaid expansion will only share the ballot with yet another gambling initiative and a bond measure. There’s no doubt what will be the center of attention. Putting the measure on the ballot next year not only provides zero ancillary benefits to Democratic candidates, it’s also a risky decision for Medicaid expansion proponents.

Putting aside politics, the election of President Trump and the continued Republican control of Congress mean that all aspects of the Affordable Care Act are up for review (or “repeal and replacement,” if you like). The so-called promise of federal funding for most of Medicaid expansion always has been a dicey one at best. There’s no such thing as a guarantee in life – if you don’t believe me, just ask Hillary Clinton or the Atlanta Falcons.

However, with avowed Obamacare opponents in complete control of the federal government, that promise has gone completely out the window. Right now, Maine is just as likely to receive zero dollars in federal matching funds as it is 90 percent – and if that gets resolved before November, the number is a lot more likely to be closer to zero.

Of course, it’s questionable whether Maine could have even afforded the 10 percent contribution required under the current law. We remain a poor state, after all – and in other states, the cost of Medicaid expansion has outstripped expectations.

However, now that we have no idea what the federal matching funds might be, proponents are essentially asking a state to write a blank check. That’s not a reasonable or responsible approach to governing, and it’s one that Mainers should reject no matter who’s doing the asking – or for what program.

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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Another View: The full bill for your vegetables isn’t present until tax time http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/another-view-the-full-bill-for-your-vegetables-isnt-present-until-tax-time/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/03/19/another-view-the-full-bill-for-your-vegetables-isnt-present-until-tax-time/#respond Sun, 19 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1168884 It seems inappropriate for Source, a section of the Maine Sunday Telegram dedicated to sustainability and environmental stewardship, to promote agribusiness trucking in hundreds of workers across thousands of miles to harvest local crops while undercutting the local labor market (“Immigration cloud hangs over local farms,” Page S1, March 5).

It is more environmentally responsible to purchase a tomato from Central America grown by indigenous people than to buy a tomato grown in Massachusetts by workers shipped from the same region.

Sure, the business owner makes out, and the migrant laborers can live on welfare payments while sending the wages home, but the locals and the environment suffer.

When a business owner complains, “I can’t find any workers …,” it’s always appropriate to add the words she’s careful to leave out: “… at the wages I am willing to pay to sustain my profits.”

If you can’t pay enough to attract workers, then you don’t really have a sustainable business. The only reason they can keep pocketing profits is they have socialized the cost of labor. It’s a pretty neat trick that agribusiness has managed to foist the true cost of workers onto the taxpayers. I feel bad for the local farmer, teenagers and unemployed who can’t make a viable economic arrangement because the big farm next door is busing in hundreds of migrant workers.

It would be better for the environment and the local community to ban this practice. And if you think a pint of blueberries is inexpensive, that’s because the real cost is hidden in your tax bill.

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