The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Opinion Wed, 29 Jun 2016 02:49:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Kathleen Parker: Brexit in Great Britain, meet Trexit in the United States Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 With Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, did Donald Trump just win the presidential election?

On the surface, this may seem an odd question, but the concerns that led a majority of Brits to vote “leave” last Thursday are similar to those that have catapulted Trump to the Republican nomination – immigration, refugees, underemployment.

Also similar have been reactions to Brexit and to Trump’s political rise. Analysts and market speculators were shocked that the prediction models they used were wrong. Overnight, the political playbook seemed to have become a relic of some distant past.

The biggest gambler of all was Prime Minister David Cameron, who held the referendum despite his preference to “remain.” His resignation essentially marked the death of the establishment and a rebirth of people who have risen in protest of a world they refuse to accept.

The populist, anti-establishment movement we’ve been witnessing in the U.S. isn’t purely local. Other countries, especially in Europe, are feeling similar stresses to their psychic as well as their material infrastructure, leading to renewed calls for nationalism. Already, other nations are queuing up to join merry old England on the exit ramp.

The ground has shifted and, with it, global markets. Immediately, the pound plunged along with stock values. Rattled investors tried to regain their equilibrium. The world gaped in breathless wonderment as a new, upside-down landscape took shape.

All, that is, except for Donald Trump.

Conveniently in Scotland to visit his Turnberry resort, the brand-brandishing baron of bombast opined that Brexit was “a great thing.” Never mind that the “Scotch,” as Trump recently referred to his Scots heritage, voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and likely will hold a referendum soon to separate from Britain.

What matters is that Trump saw in Brexit an opportunity to profit. Because that’s what Trump does. One impoverished fellow’s home foreclosure is Trump’s business opportunity. One nation’s lost cause is his tourist bonanza.

You probably thought Brexit was about national independence, didn’t you? Trump thought it was about him. The pound’s decline, he explained, could mean more travelers to his resorts – and what could be better than that?

Trump further explained that it was great the British people are taking their country back, just as Trump supporters are hoping to do in November. Indeed, in many respects, Trump is America’s “Trexit” – a ticket to leave the establishment and entrenched bureaucrats whom Trump’s admirers – and Britain’s leavers – see as responsible for their respective nation’s problems.

This message, though we’ve heard it a thousand times, has taken time to penetrate the minds of commentators and analysts who now humbly acknowledge that they didn’t see “it” coming – neither Brexit nor Trump. It was easier to name the manifestations – xenophobia, racism, sexism, “fear of the other” – than it was to recognize the root causes, which, distilled, amount to a looming sense of lost identity.

The smartest thing Trump has said during his campaign was in a speech last week. Citing Hillary Clinton’s slogan “I’m with her,” he said his slogan is “I’m with you, the American people.”

Brilliant. When Trump frames things this way, he wins. When his critics point to his xenophobia and racism, legitimate though these observations may be, he wins again. To his fans, the critics don’t get it. When Trump supporters hear post-Brexit analysts say the “leavers” suffered “fear of the other,” they hear fools ignoring the realities of unsecured borders, possible terrorists posing as refugees and illegal immigrants demanding entitlements.

A majority of Brits apparently heard the same thing. Their retreat isn’t only away from the European Union and, inferentially, from globalization, concubine of the New World Order. It is rather a turning back toward home, the idea as well as the place. Home is who we are, the values we share, the traditions we practice and the one flag to which we all pledge allegiance.

This is the red meat of the matter.

Those who miscalled Brexit haven’t – or hadn’t – fully grasped the gravity and intensity of the identity imperative. Trump, love him or hate him, grasped it, embraced it, gave it a helicopter ride and promised to respect it in the morning. He placed all bets on the power of nationhood and on his unique power to harness and reinvent globalization in his own image.

Clinton would do well to heed these identity concerns, lest she become America’s Cameron to Trump’s Trexit.

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

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Charles Lawton: Don’t wring hands when globalization hurts Maine towns. Take action! Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There is a stretch in my weekly jog that requires complete attention. It’s a rise up and over a small knoll along a woods trail. It is riddled with tree roots running along, into and across the otherwise woodchip-covered pathway. Each root runs irregularly and is a different size.

Successful navigation requires channeling my inner football running back – the high-stepping-through-tires drill. I have endured more scraped knees, twisted ankles and sprained wrists along that stretch than I care to remember for failing to keep my eyes, my mind and my feet on the same spot as I traversed that section of trail.

I was reminded of that path as I thought about the painful but not entirely surprising results of the recent vote that will take the United Kingdom out of the European Union. Those focused on long-term, highly diffuse general public welfare ignore at their peril the short-term, highly concrete and very individual suffering that inevitably follows major social change. Thinking and talking about the benefits of globalization will trip all of us up if we don’t attend to the immediate details of those for whom the phrase “long-term benefits” means “no job today.”

Looking at the maps of the Brexit vote – London favoring “stay” and much of the rest of the country favoring “leave” – I was reminded of our long-running debate here about “the two Maines.” One of the effects of globalization seems to have been an increased concentration of the benefits in specific geographical areas. In Maine, we see that as “Greater Portland”– or, as some would have it, “northern Massachusetts” – versus the rest of the state.

But we are not alone in this feeling. According to a recent report by the Economic Innovation Group, only 28 percent of U.S. counties matched or exceeded the national average in job growth since 2010, and fully half of national job growth since 2010 has occurred in only 2 percent of all U.S. counties.

These facts point to two overarching conclusions:

 Whatever the overall gains associated with globalization may be, the painful adjustments associated with those gains are widespread and are ignored only at the risk of provoking widespread backlash against it.

No amount of sympathy and no amount of acknowledgment of the reality and validity of individual losses can bring back the past. Efforts to put the globalization genie back in its bottle will only impoverish everyone. Raising barriers to trade and increasing subsidies to residential preference will only further slow the economic growth that is the only answer to the problems of globalization.

What, then, can we do to counter the growing concentration of business and job creation that has been so prevalent during the so-called recovery of 2010 to 2016?

The first step is to change our thinking from distinct regions to nodes in a network – from field clearing and single-crop planting agriculture, like potatoes and grains, to nodes and runners agriculture, like strawberries. We can’t hope to spread economic activity evenly across the landscape to replace every mill that has closed. That would be far too expensive and far too subject to the same competitive vulnerability that has laid waste to the mills that originally sprung up in so many small, rural communities.

Instead, I believe that the best public policy response to the losses of globalization is to work with those communities that demonstrate a commitment to facing the future courageously rather than nostalgically.

One example of a node in Maine that’s working today is Belfast, with its commitment to its waterfront and to working with Athena Health to find and help train not workers who already possess needed skills, but workers willing to learn the new skills needed for a 21st century service business.

An example of progress is Greenville, with its “all-in” commitment to developing both the scenic resources around Moosehead Lake and the downtown amenities that will encourage visitors to come again and to stay longer. Similarly, Sanford plans to build a high-speed internet connection to its downtown and to accompany that investment with a matching effort to identify and attract the types of businesses that need this infrastructure, rather than simply hoping that a “build it and they will come” philosophy is sufficient.

Maine’s state and local governments, its business leaders and its philanthropic community must show they realize that saying “We feel your pain” is not a sufficient policy response to the challenges of globalization. That declaration must be followed by a reminder that “while pain is inevitable, suffering is not, and we are prepared to help alleviate the suffering.”

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions, Inc. He can be contacted at:

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Our View: Major Supreme Court ruling upholds women’s right to choose Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Supreme Court issued its most important abortion decision in a generation Monday, striking down one of the most restrictive state laws in the country and opening the door to legal challenges of many others.

Twenty-four years after Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which the court permitted states to pass laws restricting abortion as long as they did not put an “undue burden” on the women seeking the procedure, the pendulum has swung the other way.

On the surface, the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt shoots down two parts of a Texas law that would have cut in half the number of abortion clinics in the state by imposing expensive regulatory requirements on facilities and physicians. But more importantly, the court ruled that states cannot use professed concern for women’s health as a shield to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights.

The five-vote majority opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer will have an immediate impact in Texas, but it could also affect similar bans in Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin, which are experiencing their own self-inflicted access shortage. And the doctrine could be applied to other abortion restrictions, such as waiting periods, scripted “counseling” and mandatory ultrasound laws designed to delay an abortion until a woman changes her mind or it’s too late for her to get one.

In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed a bill that required abortion clinics to be regulated as ambulatory surgical centers, and abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals – ostensibly to ensure better care for patients in case of serious complications. While protecting women’s health sounds like a noble goal, it was clear that there was something else behind the concern.

No matter where you stand in the abortion debate, you cannot dispute that it is already a very safe procedure without any new laws. A 2014 study by University of California researchers reported that fewer than 2 percent of abortions resulted in any complications, far less than the complication rate for wisdom tooth extractions (7 percent) or for tonsillectomies (9 percent).

Only two-tenths of 1 percent of abortions in the study resulted in major complications (requiring surgery or a blood transfusion), compared with the 0.35 percent serious complication rate for colonoscopies. But no special laws are being passed to guarantee the safety of colonoscopies or tooth extractions.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said there had to be something other than a concern for women’s health behind the Texas law because it would have made abortions much more risky, not more safe.

“It is beyond rational belief that (the law) could genuinely protect the health of women, and certain that the law would simply make it more difficult for them to obtain abortions,” Ginsburg wrote. “When a state severely limits access to safe and legal procedures, women in desperate circumstances may resort to unlicensed rogue practitioners … at great risk to their health and safety.”

By striking down this and other similar laws, the court has done a great service. Regardless of which state they call home, women have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies, and state governments should not be allowed to interfere.

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Maine Voices: Healthy masculinity and femininity reflect our shared humanity Tue, 28 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When yet another mass shooting or sexual assault makes headlines, we talk about the role of guns, religion and alcohol.

Perhaps because most men aren’t violent, what we don’t talk about is the fact that most violence is committed by men.

It’s an uncomfortable conversation. But 98 percent of mass shooters are men, so it’s a discussion we need to have.

What does it mean to be a “real man” in today’s world? Does this notion push some men toward violence? These, too, are uncomfortable questions. Many men don’t agree with tough-guy masculinity but still feel pressure to conform to it by hiding deep feelings and avoiding the vulnerability of emotional connection with lovers and friends.

In their book “Man, Interrupted,” psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe quote a soldier who writes that men’s friendships “are based on what abilities they bring to the group.” In high-risk situations, he must remember that his “life is devalued.” And showing concern disparages his ability to face that challenge.

But this masking of concern for others can be socially isolating. And when a man denies his human vulnerability, it can prevent him from developing relationships with friends and family that provide the emotional support we often find in women’s friendships.

American culture has a lot to say about males who aren’t “real men.” A man who doesn’t live up to the aggressive masculine ideal or who shows vulnerability is often mercilessly ridiculed by peers.

Proving you’re a man often means demonstrating physical toughness and emotional detachment. Hazing is a common initiation into an all-male group.

At other times, masculinity is proved through long work hours and professional success.

In recent decades, there have been radical shifts in women’s roles. We’ve also seen gay, lesbian and transgender advocacy for equal rights. Traditional ideas of masculinity still remain, but often clash with new norms for women and society at large.

Gender equality means sharing power, but this feels like a loss of status for some men. Sociologist Michael Kimmel calls it “aggrieved entitlement.”

Pop culture romanticizes men as women’s protectors. But there’s a dark side as well. A man may feel that his protection and financial support of a woman entitle him to control her. Or that a woman without a man at her side is fair game. And it’s her fault for putting herself in that position. Sexual assault victims hear this too often.

Violence and abuse shatter lives. But the excuse that “boys will be boys” enables violence and implies that we don’t expect much from boys and men.

In today’s changing landscape, however, a man’s value must be more than his ability to earn money and hold his own in a fight.

Zimbardo and Coulombe write that being needed and respected motivates men – but that respects needs to be garnered by “doing prosocial things that make life better,” not by “outdrinking their buddies.”

Men need to be rewarded for sharing power and increasing emotional connection with others.

Instead of solving problems with violence, healthy masculinity is about solving problems creatively and without violence. It’s also about valuing female leaders as equals.

Self-confidence is important, too. But that doesn’t mean being cocky or arrogant.

Self-confidence is valuing your dignity and the dignity of others. Respecting people’s boundaries without having to be told. Admitting you’re wrong without defensiveness. Apologizing without excuses. Respecting other people’s self-determination rather than vying for control.

Cooperation, decisiveness and acknowledging the equal humanity of others is leadership. Understanding sexual consent and putting it into action. Setting boundaries with nonviolent communication instead of verbal or physical retaliation (or limiting self-defense to whatever is minimally necessary to prevent further harm).

A comment that stood out to me at a group discussion sponsored by Maine Boys to Men is that healthy masculinity is about being an emotionally healthy person. Maine Boys to Men runs the Reducing Sexism and Violence Program with boys, girls, men and women to examine sexist attitudes and behaviors that lead to gender-based violence. The program serves entire communities by helping boys reach their potential to become emotionally healthy, respectful and respected, nonviolent men.

As with the participants in the Reducing Sexism and Violence Program, actively discussing and promoting healthy gender perspectives – and healthy masculinity specifically – with our sons and daughters, friends, family, community and elected officials is essential for preventing violence. Ultimately, healthy masculinity and healthy femininity are both reflections of our shared humanity, and key to a less violent world.


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Our View: Use of terror no-fly list won’t cut gun deaths much Mon, 27 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Finally, members of the U.S. House and Senate are showing some resolve to do something about gun violence. But is this the best they can do?

On Wednesday, Democratic members of the House of Representatives sat on the floor of the House chamber, determined not to allow any business to be conducted until there was a debate and vote on several gun control measures, including a version of “No fly, no buy” that would require that anyone prohibited from buying an airline ticket because their name is on a government terrorist watch list to be also prohibited from buying a firearm.

The demonstration was led by civil rights-era hero Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and joined by Maine’s 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree, who said, “If you were to walk outside the House right now and stop someone on the street and ask the simple question, ‘Should terrorists be allowed to buy guns?’ You would get a simple answer. They would say, ‘No, of course terrorists should not be allowed to buy guns.’ But they can, and Republicans here in the House won’t even let us have a debate and vote on it.”

Meanwhile in the Senate, Maine Republican Susan Collins was working hard to draft a bipartisan version of “no fly, no buy,” which was able to withstand a procedural vote. Her colleague, Maine Sen. Angus King, called it “good ol’ Maine common sense.”

But is it, really? All it takes to get on a watch list is a government agent’s unsubstantiated suspicion. Collins’ amendment refers only to the most restrictive terror lists that require a higher standard of proof, but still do not call for judicial oversight. If there were real, credible evidence of terrorist activity, criminal charges would be more appropriate than denying the suspect access to air travel or gun buying.

In the absence of evidence of a criminal act, letting the government take action against citizens doesn’t sound like common sense.

And only a small subset of gun homicides involve terrorists, at least in the way that terrorism is thought of in the post-9/11 world. Of the approximately 11,000 U.S. gun homicides in 2015, only 22 meet the common definition of terrorism (six in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and 16 in San Bernadino, California). The other 10,988 or so could not have been affected by the use of a terrorist watch list.

Gang violence is not considered terrorism, even though gangs use violence to intimidate. Domestic violence is not considered terrorism, even though abusers use violence to control.

When we say terrorism, we are almost always talking about violence perpetrated by political/religious groups connected with outside-the-mainstream sects of Islam based in the Mideast and southern Asia.

So names on the watch list are bound to overrepresent people from certain national and religious backgrounds. People likely to commit crimes with guns do not fall into such neat categories.

Terrorists strike where they find a weakness, and America’s tolerance of gun violence has proven to be a public safety weak point, as evidenced by the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks.

But attempting to reduce terrorist shootings would do almost nothing to limit gun violence and probably very little to prevent terrorism, because terrorists have shown a willingness to use whatever means are available to them.

Pingree, Collins and King deserve credit for trying to do something about gun violence in the wake of the Orlando massacre, but they should work harder to do something more meaningful. “No fly, no buy” might be a step in the right direction, but it’s a very small step.


CORRECTION: This editorial was updated at 6:10 p.m. on June 27, 2016, to clarify that the terror watch lists that Collins proposes using would require law enforcement to meet the “credible information” standard of proof, not the less-restrictive “reasonable suspicion” standard. Also, the Senate remains in session this week.

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Maine Voices: Inequality, not immigration, fueling discontent on both sides of the Atlantic Mon, 27 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “… Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

… The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

– W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming” (1919)

BRISTOL — The vote of England and Wales (though not Scotland and Northern Ireland) to leave the European Union, followed by the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, shocked the complacent establishment in London, in Brussels and in banks and financial markets around the world. It should not have been a surprise.

Voters in Britain were given the opportunity that voters everywhere are seeking: a chance to express their disgust with political and economic institutions that have for 30 years failed to represent and serve the interests of the majority of people in developed economies.

Originating in the Reagan-Thatcher free-market revolution of the 1980s, the decline of the middle class and of unions, the end of “living wages” and loss of jobs for skilled workers, and the steady erosion of pensions and aid to the elderly, have led to mounting, deep-seated frustration and anger. The major political parties on both sides of the Atlantic failed to recognize the problem or to stand up against the forces of globalization and income inequality.

Perhaps the one fact that most swayed opinion in the last week before the British referendum was the announcement that the U.K. population had passed 65 million, with the arrival of 500,000 immigrants in the last year. England’s share of that U.K. total is about 84 percent, or 54.8 million.

England is a bit less than 1½ times the land area of Maine. In terms of people per square mile, that means 1,089 per square mile in England, compared to 174 per square mile in Scotland and 43 per square mile in Maine.

Population growth means that Britain is expected to pass Germany in 10 years – it would have become the largest member of the EU. Clearly, there is more to fear of immigration than racism. It also reflects concern for the environment, quality of life, public services and personal incomes.

It is ironic that immigration, not inequality, was the focus of the rancorous debate in Britain before the vote to leave. Ironic because of who was leading both campaigns. They’re hard to typecast either as narrow-minded “Little Englanders” or as aristocratic elites. For examples:

Leaders of the “leave” campaign:

Boris Johnson, Conservative former mayor of London: born in New York of Turkish, English, German and French ancestry.

 Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party: Huguenot French and German ancestry.

Gisela Stuart, Labour member of Parliament, co-chair of Vote Leave: immigrant from Germany.

 Michael Gove, lord chancellor, Conservative member of Parliament and co-chair of Vote Leave: adopted as an infant by a Presbyterian family in Aberdeen, Scotland.

Leaders of the “remain” campaign:

David Cameron, prime minister: of Scots and Welsh ancestry, his family’s fortune was made in Chicago in the 1880s by his Scottish grandfather.

Stuart Rose, chair, Stronger in Europe campaign: grandparents were White Russian exiles, he grew up in Tanzania.

Chuka Umunna, member of Parliament, Labour spokesperson: parents from Nigeria and Ireland.

Keith Vaz, outspoken pro-Europe Labour member of Parliament: born in Aden to Portuguese-Indian parents.

We associate this kind of diversity with the United States, not a European nation-state. It reflects the fact that like the United States, Britain today is a country of immigrants. The historically inclined would suggest that has always been the case, looking back at the waves of Romans, Danes, Saxons, Normans, Huguenots, Jews and others who came to England over 2,000 years.

A further irony is that the Celtic parts of the U.K. – Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Welsh-speaking parts of Wales – are the most pro-European. The original Celtic Britons, who have been in the British Isles longest, look to Europe. Those whose families came later are more likely to think Britain does not need Europe.

Whether the British vote proves disastrous for Britain’s economy, as forecast by the “remain” campaign, remains to be seen. What can be predicted with certainty is that politics will no longer be “business as usual.” Here in the United States, the phenomenon of Donald Trump reflects similar rejection of an establishment that has become rich and powerful while leaving the middle class behind.

The U.K. polls failed to predict the vote for Brexit. The U.S. polls may also be failing to identify the extent that a protest vote may benefit Donald Trump. We now live in a world where nothing can be taken for granted.


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Maine Voices: When a fish is more than a fillet Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 FREEPORT — The expression “Waste not, want not” originated in America. By surveying the best seafood utilization practices around the world, Maine could lead the United States in reviving thrift and increasing profits and sustainability.

Maine lobster has become synonymous with value. But what if there were additional profits waiting to be unlocked in what we currently toss out?

Surprisingly, chitin, a natural polymer found in lobster shells, can be harvested and amassed for high-value agricultural, industrial and medical applications. Chitin from crustacean shells is just one example of 100 percent seafood utilization.

Just like Native Americans used every part of the buffalo, there are now opportunities to fully use seafood and push upward on the value chain. Investing time and resources in the utilization movement could generate new jobs, products and startups in Maine and beyond.

The Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University estimates that the United States wasted 4.6 million metric tons of edible and inedible seafood from 2009 to 2013. During this same period, the center calculated, at least 1.8 trillion milligrams of fish oil was wasted.

With raw fish oil selling for $9 a pound and fish oil capsules selling for $370 a pound, the raw oil wasted in the United States represents millions of dollars in potential value if worked up to pharmaceutical quality. This is just one example of an opportunity for economic and environmental improvement.

Iceland has pioneered the 100 percent utilization movement, focusing on cod in particular. While most North Atlantic countries use around 45 percent of a cod, Iceland uses 80 percent on average, driving closer every day to 100 percent.

Instead of using fish only for fillets, Icelandic companies have created enzyme-rich creams, cosmetics and collagen health drinks, to move up the value chain to complement traditional fishing industry uses.

The Icelandic model prevents high volumes of discard, contributes to stronger fish stocks and leads to more jobs and income throughout the supply chain.

To avoid losing opportunities, the time is right for the top fishing ports in Maine and around the United States, by both value and volume, to internally assess what percentage of seafood they utilize.

While significant change won’t happen overnight, Maine can be a leader in the United States in reviving the American tradition of optimization. For New England fishing ports, full utilization would benefit all levels of the supply chain, including remote workers, even in the face of reduced quotas. As a model, Iceland brought economic advantages to remote coastal dwellers by tripling the cost of cod because of the value-added demands. If Maine collaborated with research and innovation communities throughout New England, new applications could be discovered and nurtured, from cosmetics, to health food, to pharmaceuticals.

Critics of the utilization movement may argue that the waste problem has already been solved. However, fish products are currently used for relatively low-grade products, such as fertilizer. Higher-value products are possible.

High-end fish skin leather jackets and wallets, for example, which look like fashion out of “The Matrix,” elevate utilization to the next level. Recent research shows that seafood can be used for many other purposes, including biodiesel, carbon blocks and managing gastrointestinal cancer.

By spearheading internal assessments of what percentage of seafood is currently used in Maine’s processing, we could better understand the potential benefits of striving for 100 percent utilization domestically. The New England Ocean Cluster, based in Portland, has contributed to this process with a recent crustacean utilization analysis.

To dig deeper, utilization experts in Iceland also recommend investigating the larger systems at play in Iceland, such as the individual transferable quotas fisheries management system, which facilitated their country’s seafood success.

Today, pollution, ocean acidification and overfishing reduce seafood availability worldwide, so it is critical to do more with less. Setting a goal of 100 percent utilization could create new jobs in research and development, new companies and larger profits for existing businesses in Maine and beyond.

By transforming waste into wealth we can increase our independence and hopefully improve both the Earth and the economy for years to come.


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Our View: Future of Maine economy depends on innovation Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The economic recovery of the last six years, unlike any before it, has been carried by the activity in only a dozen or so metro areas, while the rest of the country has struggled to replace the jobs lost in the 2008 recession.

Those areas, anchored by cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, have two things in common – they are all heavily populated, with each of the 10 largest counties among the highest in job creation, and they have all embraced an economy built on innovation and entrepreneurship.

Maine can’t match the sheer size of the country’s biggest cities, but it can follow their lead when it comes to encouraging growth. In the 21st century, there may be no other way that has a chance to succeed.


In the past, the areas hardest hit by economic downturns were the first to show significant gains in a recovery, bouncing back to add new jobs at a high rate until pre-recession levels were reached everywhere.

That meant the recovery was spread around. After the recession in the early 1990s, for example, gains in the 125 fastest-growing counties, including Cumberland County in Maine, accounted for half of the total new businesses that formed as investment and spending rebounded.

But since the economy began to turn around in 2010, the economic expansion has been concentrated in just 20 counties nationwide, according to an analysis by the bipartisan Economic Innovation Group. All the counties include or are near large cities that weathered the recession relatively well, and are now booming by encouraging the kind of startups that drive job growth.

And it’s not that highly populated counties are producing more jobs than in previous recoveries – smaller areas are just not producing any. In the recovery of the 1990s, more than 1 in 4 new jobs came from less populated counties. In the recovery following the 2002 crash, it was 1 in 5 jobs. Now, it’s fewer than 1 in 10.

According to the Brookings Institution, the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have recovered all the jobs they lost in the 2008 recession and added nearly 6 million more. All other areas combined are barely 300,000 jobs over pre-recession levels.

It’s those areas that have taken the worst of the economic changes over the last 30 years. They’ve suffered historic losses in manufacturing and construction, and they’ve seen their local businesses pushed out in favor of big-box stores. As a result, they are losing people or barely staying level. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that doesn’t bode well for rural America.

“It’s going to get much, much worse,” said John Lettieri, a former Republican congressional aide who co-founded the Economic Innovation Group. “As bleak as these numbers are now, these may be the good years.”


And it doesn’t bode well for Maine. The state’s metro areas – Portland, Lewiston and Bangor – are accounting for all of Maine’s growth in the post-recession period, but they are still stagnant, particularly when placed alongside places like Dallas, Miami and San Jose.

But the future is not set in stone. In fact, there is plenty to be optimistic about.

Growth doesn’t necessarily require that you have a lot of people, just that you have the right kinds of people. Large cities tend to have more of the innovators and risk-takers who are driving growth in the new economy, but Maine can attract them, too.

The high quality of life here is certainly a draw for entrepreneurs and workers who can do their jobs anywhere – as long as we solve problems related to slow internet speeds.

But Maine’s natural resources are also an advantage. Imagine our mountains and forests as testing grounds for new outdoor recreation products, or our innovative small farms – the wave of the future – as laboratories for agriculture and aquaculture technology.

In one example, Sampriti Bhattacharyya wants to test her underwater drone in Maine. One day, it could be used to track fish species.

Bhattacharyya was a speaker at Maine Startup and Create Week, which wrapped up Friday in Portland. In its third year, Startup and Create Week is part of a statewide effort to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in Maine, one that should be supported by public policy.

And it can’t stop there. Our schools, kindergarten through graduate school, cannot be content to create just the workers of tomorrow – they have to form entrepreneurs, too. Students have to come out of school with aspirations to build world-class products and businesses, and into a culture that encourages them to exchange ideas, collaborate with other innovators and not be afraid to fail upward.

The jobs and industries of tomorrow will come from within, created by people who live here by using the attitudes and attributes that are special to Maine. That’s the path for the 21st century, and we have to follow it with will and passion.

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Commentary: Friendship is good for your health Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Overwhelmed recently by the stress of an impending move – along with the usual demands of a busy life – I turned to the people I love.

In small chunks of time between tasks on my to-do list, I called and texted with my sister, my parents, local friends and old friends scattered around the country. Some conversations turned my stress into laughter. Others made me cry. One friend came over to clean out my closet. Then she took our kids for four hours so we could pack without interruption.

With each hug, conversation and gesture of support, I started to feel better. As it turns out, those feelings may be paying long-term dividends, too: According to accumulating evidence, strong relationships breed better health, with benefits that include resilience against heart disease and a longer life.

It’s encouraging research that’s worth paying attention to. When life gets hectic, making time for friends can be a challenge. And some studies suggest that many of us have fewer friends today than our parents did a generation ago.

Those obstacles make prioritizing relationships all the more important, experts say.

“A good friendship is a wonderful antidepressant,” says psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus. “Relationships are so powerful, we don’t always appreciate the many levels at which they affect us.”

Ever since researchers began to make links between loneliness and poor health about 25 years ago, the scientific literature on the value of friendship has exploded. Today, the data make a convincing case: Having people who care about us is good for us.

In a 2010 meta-analysis that combined data on more than 308,000 people across 148 studies, for example, researchers found a strong connection between social relationships and life span. The size of the effect rivaled that of better-known health-related behaviors such as smoking and exercise.

Because the studies used different methods, the analysis couldn’t say exactly how many more years of life we might gain by having true pals, says lead author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

But in a 2015 analysis that compiled data on more than 3.4 million people across 70 studies, she and colleagues found that the absence of social connections carried the same health risk as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness led to worse outcomes than obesity. And the findings held true for people of all ages.

Early on, it seemed possible that healthier people might simply make more friends. But a growing body of research suggests instead that good relationships actually lead to better health. One clue comes from studies that begin with a large group of healthy people and follow them for decades. Experimental work on animals has also linked isolation with earlier death.

And plenty of studies have revealed biological theories that may explain what makes us healthier when we feel supported: lower blood pressure, better hormone function, stronger immune systems and possibly lower levels of inflammation.

Meanwhile, friends can influence health-related behaviors through peer pressure that values healthy eating, exercise taking prescriptions and going to doctor’s appointments, Holt-Lundstad adds. True friendships can also give us a sense of purpose, making us more motivated to take care of ourselves.

But even as evidence piles up to support the value of bonding, the nature of friendship seems to be changing, says Glenn Sparks, a communications professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who studies how media affect people. One reason is that people move more frequently than they used to. And for many people, a focus on display screens has replaced a focus on faces.

Sparks remembers arriving at Purdue in 1986 and marveling at a stretch of sidewalk on campus dubbed the “Hello Walk.” The point was to smile and say hello to the people you passed there, and that’s what students did.

“Today, you walk down that sidewalk and people are starting at their iPhones and iPads and in some cases even their laptops,” says Sparks, co-author of “Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships.” “Their ear buds are in and they’re gone into some virtual space. We think that really takes a toll on the relational health of any community.”

Technology isn’t necessarily all bad, he adds. Facebook and Skype can help keep people connected from afar, and science hasn’t yet caught up with the nuanced ways that digital devices might alter relationships. But a confluence of factors seems to be threatening the potential for connection.

According to a long-term study published in 2006, people had an average of about three friends they felt they could discuss important things with in 1984. By 2005, the average number of confidants had dropped to about two. At the end of the study, close to 25 percent of respondents said they didn’t have anyone they could truly trust, triple the proportion from two decades earlier.

More recently, a 2010 study by AARP surveyed more than 3,000 people age 45 and older and found that 35 percent scored in the lonely category. Another survey, published this year by researchers at the University of Oxford, included more than 3,300 British people and found that, even though respondents averaged 155 Facebook connections, the number they felt they could approach in times of extreme distress was just four.

It’s not necessarily important to have a lot of friends, though some studies suggest that more might be better than fewer. The AARP survey found that loneliness rates were highest in people who had fewer than three close friends, and having five or more was better than having three or four.

What is clear is that quality trumps quantity. Just as strong relationships can improve health measures, toxic or stressful relationships can lead to depression, high blood pressure and other negative outcomes.

In one recent study, Kiecolt-Glaser and colleagues asked married couples to discuss something they disagreed about. Over the next day, pairs that both included someone with a history of depression and had argued with hostility burned fewer calories than did those who talked to each other with more kindness. That suggests that relationship quality can affect metabolism.

So how can we cultivate more and stronger relationships? Science can’t yet say. Studies that have randomly assigned patients in hospitals to be part of a support group or have sent visitors to sit with lonely people have produced mixed results, probably because of chemistry: There’s no guarantee that two people will click.

A better strategy, Hold-Lundstad suspects, is to try volunteering or joining activities that allow for interaction with a wide variety of people. It’s also worth making a conscious effort to be the kind of friend you’d like people to be for you, Kiecolt-Glaser says. That includes being supportive, being there when friends need you, having fun together and making an effort to listen, even when you’re busy or stressed-out.

In my case, I’m going to try to remember how much it meant to me when friends helped us with our move. And if I can organize a closet or even show up to give a hug, I’ll do my best to be there. After all, there’s something in it for me, too.


]]> 0, 24 Jun 2016 18:12:15 +0000
Bill Nemitz: First lady serves up a reason to raise wages Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Hard times have come a knockin’ at the Blaine House door.

Mainers far and wide did a double take last week when WGME-TV reported that first lady Ann LePage has taken a summer job as a waitress at McSeagulls Restaurant in Boothbay Harbor because, as she unabashedly told reporter Jon Chrisos, she could use the extra dough.

“Oh, honey, it’s all about the money. It’s all about the money,” Mrs. LePage said with a laugh while the video camera rolled. As for life as the first family, she later added, “It’s tight sometimes.”

A couple of points worth making here.

First, as the TV report clearly shows, Mrs. LePage has all the attributes of a top-notch waitress. She’s friendly, fast and full of fun as she scurries about doing a job that she “always, always wanted to do.”

Any restaurant in Maine would be lucky to have her.

Second, at $70,000 per year, Maine pays its governor less than any other state in the country.

Sure, the job comes with free housing, free food, free transportation and other perks, but the fact is you’re not going to get rich serving as Maine’s chief executive – at least while you’re still in office.

All of which raises an interesting – and timely – question:

If we take the first lady at her word and accept that times can be tough on a Maine governor’s salary and benefits, what about those Mainers struggling to get by on far, far less?

Put another way, what are the odds that footage of an aproned Mrs. LePage readily admitting, “Oh, honey, it’s all about the money,” will show up this fall in a TV ad supporting the referendum to gradually increase Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 to $12 an hour by 2020?

Make no mistake about it, folks, this looming fight goes to the core of the political turmoil roiling not only Maine, but the entire country.

On one side are voices in the business community (with some exceptions) who argue that $12 an hour, with built-in cost-of-living increases after 2020, is way too extreme. They say it will cost jobs, jack up prices and drive a stake through the hearts of small businesses that (as always) are on life support as it is.

Echoing that gloom and doom (again, with some exceptions), are restaurant owners who warn that raising the minimum wage for tipped service workers from $3.75 per hour to the adjusted minimum wage by 2024 will force them to lay off their wait staffs in droves.

Predicting these catastrophes and proving them, however, are two vastly different things.

In a 2014 letter to President Obama on increasing the federal minimum wage, more than 600 economists from across the nation, including seven Nobel laureates, made this observation:

“In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market.”

They continued, “Research suggests that a minimum-wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth, and providing some help on the jobs front.”

Meaning rather than hurt the economy, an increased minimum wage can actually help it.

On the other side of this fight we have those low-wage workers.

Last week, Oxfam America and the Economic Policy Institute released a report showing that 181,410 Mainers, or 31.9 percent of the state’s workforce, currently earn less than $12 an hour.

Worse yet, the report states, 130,022 Maine workers, or 22.9 percent, make less than $10 an hour.

Do the math. Working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year – no vacation or paid sick time for this crowd – $12 per hour translates into an annual gross income of $24,960. Doing the same at $10 per hour will get you $20,800.

If “it’s tight sometimes” for Maine’s first lady, imagine what it’s like for those poor neighbors to pay the rent or mortgage, buy the food and keep gas in the car …

And if they have kids who need day care? Forget about it.

So who exactly are these people?

Contrary to the myth sure to be peddled by opponents of this fall’s referendum, they’re not all entry-level teenagers eager to get their first foothold on the ladder to prosperity.

In fact, Oxfam America found, of those Mainers making less than $12 an hour, 26 percent are between 25 and 39 years old, 20 percent are between 40 and 54, and a stunning 18 percent are age 55 or older.

Retirement? Once again, forget about it.

And what about those restaurant servers?

At a recent town hall meeting, before revealing that his wife had gone to work “to supplement the governor’s salary,” Gov. Paul LePage told his audience that his daughter spent last summer earning $28 an hour as a waitress in Boothbay Harbor.

It’s nice work if you can get it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2015, a waiter or waitress in Maine made $18,850, or just over $9 per hour. With tips.

My guess is that Ann LePage, who said she plans to tuck away this summer’s earnings to buy herself a car, will do at least as well as her daughter as she showers locals and tourists alike with her genuine Maine hospitality.

I also suspect that as the co-owner of a home in Boothbay valued by the town at almost a half-million dollars when she and the governor bought it from a bank for $215,000 in 2014, she’ll have no trouble surviving once the LePages depart the governor’s mansion come January of 2019.

But unwittingly or not, Mrs. LePage spoke for more than herself last week when she graciously agreed to let the TV crew show her doing what tens of thousands of low-paid Mainers do every day, every week, every month of the year.

It truly is all about the money.


]]> 224, 27 Jun 2016 08:33:37 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Brexit vote should act as a warning Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Brexit seemed harmless and cute at first – like a Labradoodle – but it was more like a Sharknado. The British referendum on whether to leave the European Union became a freak cyclone that flooded the city of London with shark-infested seawater.

OK, enough dramedy. Brexit is probably not that bad, and it’s not funny that British Prime Minister David Cameron sold his soul to the devil in exchange for 10 Downing St. in 2015, when he promised a referendum on England’s continued membership in the European Union if re-elected.

The seemingly harmless political ploy of Cameron’s to smooth over rough patches within the Conservative Party in England instead created a big, festering pimple that popped Thursday following “a campaign punctuated by numerous claims that have little relationship to the facts, with sharp tones of xenophobia, racism, nativism and Islamophobia,” according to The New York Times.

The Brex-zit sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Here in the U.S., a campaign untethered to facts, filled with white pus, xenophobia, racism, nativism and Islamophobia rings a bell bigger than Big Ben.

Nonchalantly selling their souls to extremists while the floodwaters of hate rise all around them is what American conservatives have been doing, too, at their own little Tea Party.

Just like Cameron has no one to blame but himself for the stunning Brexit vote – one that economists and business people across the globe believe will cause major disruption, chaos and instability – the Republican Party in the United States has no one to blame but itself for the rise of Donald Trump. It has tolerated and even encouraged anti-government fervor and anti-intellectualism across the country, and the result is bad government populated predominantly by stupid people.

Look at our national politics. Republicans control the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, and we can’t get a bill passed that bars people on a terrorist watch list from buying assault-style weapons, let alone reform the tax code, pass long-term budgets or confirm judges and political appointees to vacant positions. With Republicans in charge we can’t even get a ninth Supreme Court justice on the bench.

In the states, the Republican Party has more market share than Walmart. It has a trifecta in 24 states, controlling both the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature. It has majorities in 70 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers and controls both chambers in 30 states, plus Nebraska’s single chamber, and 31 governor’s mansions, including the Blaine House.

No wonder the electorate is angry. We’ve got a bunch of bozos and banksters running things around here – people who don’t believe in science or the rule of law. Large swaths of America’s elected officials aren’t doing their jobs tackling poverty and income inequality because they are too busy getting rich. The median net worth of lawmakers was just over $1 million in 2013, or 18 times the wealth of the typical American household, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. And while Americans’ median wealth is down 43 percent since 2007, the net worth of members of Congress has jumped 28 percent.

Republicans elected to govern most of America aren’t crafting public policy to best cope with globalization. They aren’t fixing a broken immigration system. They aren’t reducing poverty, increasing security for seniors or tackling global warming. Instead, they spend time blocking the president at every turn, chasing kids in and out of bathrooms and bromancing the National Rifle Association.

President Obama has done everything possible to keep America strong and in the driver’s seat. He’s pushed hard to help families, small businesses, kids, immigrants, the LGBT community, seniors and the planet thrive and be secure. But he’s led the fight for average Americans with a monkey the size of the Republican Congress and the handicapped Supreme Court on his back.

The Republican establishment running our country is leading us off a cliff – and now it plans to nominate a casino millionaire braggart-with-a ducktail to be president of the United States in the next referendum here? We can only hope the results are a stunning rejection of the rot that’s been eating away at the fabric of America.

The extreme right has got to go or we too shall perish – and you can bet that America will not follow England down the jackalope hole. Business leaders from Netflix and Dropbox are supporting Hillary Clinton, along with an impressive list of other Republican and Democratic leaders who declared allegiance to sanity, including Jim Cicconi, the senior executive vice president at AT&T who served in both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and donated $10,000 last year to Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise superPAC but now says he’s voting for Clinton in November.

“Hillary Clinton is experienced, qualified, and will make a fine president. The alternative, I fear, would set our nation on a very dark path, ” Cicconi said.

Also this past week, Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser for two Republican presidents, endorsed Clinton for president, saying her experience, judgment and understanding of the world prepare her for the job of commander in chief. Meanwhile, Democratic members of Congress stood up against House Speaker Paul Ryan’s refusal to bring a vote to the floor on gun control by sitting down. They staged a protest and spoke out instead of caving to the status quo of do-nothingness and offering a moment of silence.

Brexits happen, so we must look for the light at the end of the Chunnel. Extremism and ignorance are un-American. Republicans who nonchalantly ignore the threat of a Trump presidency do so at their peril.

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

Twitter: dillesquire

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Alan Caron: So much news, so little time Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Most normal people, meaning people who don’t do politics or writing for a living, probably don’t appreciate how much time and energy it takes to write a weekly opinion piece that contains at least one kernel of insight carefully wrapped in an interesting gift box. I’ve worked in construction, loading trucks and in cotton mills, as a community organizer and leading organizations and companies, but this column business ranks right up there as one of the most challenging.

My problem is that there are too many events in the world that deserve to be dissected and put into perspective. I could write a column every day, if it weren’t for the pesky distraction of needing to keep my day job.

So this week I’m going to condense a few columns into bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, which seem like perfect finger food for late June.


Last week’s column didn’t sit well with the kind of people who can never relax because the world is beset with too many problems. They probably feel the same way about sleep, which makes me hope they don’t drive in my neighborhood. Some particularly resented my suggestion that everyone should avoid hyperventilating about the presidential campaign until the majority of voters actually care, which will be after Labor Day.

Here’s the deal about summer in Maine, if you’re new to the area. We do summer with particular gusto. It’s not a marathon, it’s a sprint – mostly because what little summer we have has to be busily stockpiled for the winter.

When my belovable wife came to Maine, one of the first things I explained to her is that Mainers have a very distinct seasonal rhythm. We go into quiet isolation in the depths of winter. And we make up for it in July and August, when we gorge ourselves on life and sunshine.

Except for those people who work in seasonal businesses like tourism, farming or carnivals, July and August are not times to do serious work, let alone carry on arguments, make any big decisions or launch any new initiatives. If you do any of those things, you’ll only agitate the people around you.

Trying to get big things to happen politically in the summer in Maine is like delivering a speech at the town hall the day before the meeting because you’re anxious to get started. Nobody’s there to listen.


Donald Trump supporters didn’t seem to like my column last week either. They want me to stop talking about Trump, who I’ve described as the greatest threat to American democracy since the World War II, and possibly the Civil War. Their complaint got me thinking. When was the last time supporters of any presidential candidate wanted anyone to stop talking about him?

Trump had a free ride in the primaries, mostly because his opponents didn’t want to offend his supporters, who they’d ultimately need if they were the nominee. The press also got caught up in the theater of Trump and seemed to forget, for a while, that it had a job to do.

Now it’s all different, and neither Trump nor his supporters like it much. Stop talking about Trump? He’s soon to be the nominee of the Republican Party, running for an office that would make him commander in chief and the leader of the free world. This is not fun and games anymore.


This is Gov. Paul LePage’s last relevant election cycle, unless he runs for Senate in two years. His strategy of holding town meetings around the state and launching referendums for the summer and fall are all a dismal failure. Our economy is falling further behind the rest of New England. And he wants to get the Legislature to come back to Augusta so he has someone to argue with. Every week he’s got another crazy idea to make him relevant again. None of it has worked.


There’s a lot of talk out there these days about building a new Maine economy driven by innovation and entrepreneurs, which I’ve often written about. But how can we build an entrepreneurial economy if we don’t have schools turning out more entrepreneurs and innovators who will create tomorrow’s jobs?

That’s the subject of an unusual gathering at Bowdoin College on Thursday that is bringing together innovative educators and business people to explore how they can work together to build a new prosperity in Maine. More information at


I appreciate all the letters and notes I get from people each week. I haven’t responded to everyone this month, but I will. Of course, it might be after Labor Day.

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

]]> 2, 24 Jun 2016 19:08:55 +0000
Another View: Cynthia Dill column missed the point on Clinton’s emails Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Cynthia Dill’s May 29 Insight column on the State Department inspector general’s report leaves the impression that it is uninformed and outright stupid to investigate Hillary Clinton’s misuse of a private email server to conduct U.S. government business.

How does illegal use of such a secretive mechanism “prove” Hillary Clinton is the “most qualified and trustworthy candidate” for president? Ms. Dill acknowledges the “breaking the rules” portion of the report is only six pages long. Is she kidding? Six pages about rule breaking and confidential U.S. documents on a private server?

Shouldn’t we expect a secretary of state to make it his or her priority to review the existing Foreign Affairs Manual or to have it reviewed by qualified legal counsel? To blame such gross failure to do so on “longstanding systemic weaknesses” (debunked lie) is ridiculous.

If Clinton felt that her hiding personal emails was business as usual, what else might she be hiding? Wasn’t the existence of a secret, personal email server blurted out in a congressional hearing on Benghazi? Was this business as usual?

But wait – didn’t President Obama direct that there be no such use of private email servers to conduct government business? Clinton decided this directive did not apply to her. She left office, declaring all emails had been relinquished to the government. Not so! She kept 30,000-plus emails to destroy at her leisure, destroying them only after they were requested by a government investigating authority.

Look, it’s not just emails. It is the continuous scheming, sleazy handling of official documents and dodging responsibility (remember Benghazi) without any reprimand. She should have been fired!

Blaming the death of four Benghazi personnel on a video; telling one victim’s father that she’d “have the filmmaker arrested who was responsible for the death of (your) son”; having Susan Rice lie to us; denying this was a terrorist attack; and blowing her cool in a congressional hearing, asking “What difference does it make?” when referring to their deaths.

Ms. Dill is flat out wrong in trying to convince us of Clinton’s unbiased evaluation on such an important national concern.

]]> 14 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 18:17:47 +0000
Maine Observer: At last, a reunion with Dad that I could enjoy Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Fifteen years ago, I decided I would travel to see my father. His moving had kept us apart, and I seldom got to see him.

Our relationship had fractured over the years, and we had never had a warm relationship like some fathers and sons. He was a stoic man.

I remember all the stories my father had told about his youth, living in abject poverty with nine brothers and sisters. When he was 9, his father died of a mysterious illness. It was the Depression, so he quit school in the ninth grade to help support his family.

At 16 he lied about his age and joined the Navy. The military taught him discipline and respect. He loved being in the Navy because he had received three meals a day and shoes that fit.

It somehow was insignificant to him that he was a gunner on a ship and left the service with legs scarred from gunshot battle. He was honorably discharged and began to live the good life (so he thought) with my mother in the 1950s.

I thought we were poor growing up. By today’s standards we would be considered very poor, but I did not feel so poor because we always had a house with heat, albeit a little cold at times. And we always had food on the table, but seldom did we have meat as a main course. We usually sat down to beans and cornbread; sometimes, if we were lucky, we would have hot dogs. When we did, we were so thrilled we called them “tube steaks.” Today tube steaks are still my favorite treat even though I no longer eat meat.

Little did I know, this visit would be the last time I would see my father alive. The few days that I did have with him, I enjoyed the man for the very first time. He had seemed different to me – or maybe I had changed over the years.

A year before his death, he had a knee replaced through elective surgery. The surgery did not go well and he suddenly found himself diagnosed with diabetes and a number of other physical ailments that he acquired at the age of 69. He had lost a lot of blood through his bowels and almost died. He found that he now regretted opting for the operation. When I looked at him, I saw a sick old man, where previously I had always seen a healthy and vital one. He had changed.

He said to me, “Don’t ever let them do elective surgery on you.” I then told him he should retire and enjoy his life. He told me that he did not have anything to retire to.

He then looked at me and said, “It is time to say our final goodbyes.” When I looked in his eyes I somehow knew I would never see him again. I was heartbroken I hadn’t gotten to know him better.

Six months later, I got a call in the night from my brother telling me that our father had died in his sleep.

— Special to the Telegram

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 19:10:04 +0000
Maine Voices: Empty campaign rhetoric feeds government’s failure Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 BOOTHBAY HARBOR — We live in and benefit from a highly complex society, the most complex in history, and of a complexity that is challenging to comprehend and to sustain and manage.

Indicators of that complexity include the myriad federal institutes, agencies, administrations, commissions, boards and bureaus dealing with matters such as defense, commerce, communications, transportation safety, homeland security and public health. Then there are the state and local highway, police, fire, water, sanitation and education systems. All these and more perform services essential to the functioning of a modern society.

It takes energy to sustain a complex and beneficial society. The energy is not just that of conventional or renewable energy or investment (and tax) resources. Most importantly, it includes intellectual effort, the collective societal consideration and discussion and understanding of and agreement on the requirements and commitments necessary to sustain a complex society.

It requires mental effort and public participation and compromise necessary to develop policies to deal appropriately with challenging foreign affairs, economic stresses, social inequalities and injustices, maintenance of physical infrastructure, climate change, health care, hospital deficits, drug addiction, affordable educational opportunities and responsible and effective sociopolitical entities such as Congress.

Higher education, fundamental to maintaining a complex society, is becoming unaffordable for many people. If sufficient energy or intellectual effort is not committed to these concerns and responsibilities of a modern, complex society, that society cannot be sustained.

Joseph Taintor’s book “The Collapse of Complex Societies” analyzes nearly 20 societies through history that have collapsed. Taintor concludes that people abandon a society when it becomes too expensive to maintain with few or no benefits commensurate with the costs, or when people no longer commit sufficient energy necessary to sustain that society.

Perhaps our current political disarray is an example of Taintor’s thesis. Our Congress, with historically low public approval, seems unwilling to commit sufficient energy and to appropriate sufficient funds to maintain our physical and sociopolitical infrastructures. When in session, it works three days a week. In that time many members reportedly spend four hours a day raising money for re-election.

Congress seems to be driven by the belief that government should be reduced rather than maintained at a size necessary to deal with the complexity of and challenges to our society. Which government services would we dispense with if our goal were to reduce government, to shrink Big Government – to get government off our backs? And what would be the consequences to society?

The mostly simplistic or mindless, derogatory and irrelevant presidential campaign rhetoric, although attracting and cheered on by large crowds, seems unable or unwilling to address the complexities or subtleties of foreign policies or climate change, or any of the other vital issues urgently needing attention.

Where in this campaign is there intelligent discussion and consideration of the many issues that challenge our society and well-being? Isn’t this largely pointless campaign the functional equivalent of a failure to invest the intellectual energy necessary to respond to the needs of our society?

Parts of the private financial sector seem equally intent on avoiding their shared responsibilities in supporting the complex society that they have, in part, created and from which they benefit.

Segments of private enterprise have been fined multiple tens of billions of dollars for deliberate violations of laws for the sole purpose of avoiding their share of maintaining society. Similarly, a large segment of private enterprise and excessively wealthy individuals hide their income in overseas tax shelters for the same purpose of avoiding their responsibilities.

Individuals may despair of understanding or influencing the functions or requirements of our complex society. Perhaps they conclude that their energies or intellectual efforts to influence the course of events are simply inadequate to make a difference. So they give up and cheer on the reality-show entertainment that seems to be the essence of our political campaign.

This lack of rational attention and effort is functionally equivalent to a failure to commit energy necessary for maintenance of complex societies. The result is failure to provide essential benefits and services, and their abandonment by the people and the collapse of their societies, as Joseph Taintor documented. Or if the result is not literal economic and political collapse, then at least stagnation and slow degradation are inevitable.

This is a lesson and warning of history. It is said those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.


]]> 19, 25 Jun 2016 15:49:02 +0000
The humble Farmer: Hear some public speaking advice: Slow down and speak up Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Thirty or so years ago, Tim Sample and I were setting up for a show at the Portland Family Festival in Deering Oaks. The sound man gave us enough volume to deafen anyone in the front three rows, but Tim said to crank her up two more notches.

Tim gave me my first lesson on how to keep people in the back row from dozing off, and it amounted to this: “What availeth it a man to be bright, witty and articulate, and then stand before the multitudes and swallow the punch line to a story?”

My friend Richard says that his grandmother was so frugal that she even spoke while inhaling, so’s not to waste any breath. You’ve heard people suck, “Eyah” into their lungs and know what we’re talking about here.

What do you do when you are trapped in an audience and then discover that the person behind the mike continues to move his or her lips while inhaling? The speaker might even be in the business of standing before assemblies or congregations on a regular basis.

If you are a regular at any kind of meeting, it probably happens to you on a weekly basis. You’ve attended meetings where you’ve heard a shout, “Can’t hear you up here in the back!” But there are some solemn gatherings where that would not be appropriate.

Do you sigh and live with it? Or do you make a humanitarian effort to educate the offender and thereby make the world a better place in which to live? Do you whisper in an ear when they are off the platform and are smiling with pride over a job well done?

Please tell us, when was the last time you went up to a speaker after his or her presentation and said, “I wanted to hear what you had to say, but – do you realize that you run out of breath and whisper the last three words in your every sentence?”

Many years ago Georgie Pease, who might have been 85 at the time, said he really enjoyed my TV show because I was the only person on the tube he could understand. This is because I make an effort to speak clearly and slowly and to enunciate each word – unless it is the “t” in “often” or the “r” in “Garner.”

Sen. Edmund Muskie once stood before the Maine Legislature and said that when speaking to an audience, it was not only necessary to speak clearly so all could hear what was said. It was also imperative to speak slowly so the audience would have time to comprehend what was being said.

I once attended the funeral of a very good and well-loved man. Preachers of several denominations were in attendance and although all of them spoke, only two were comprehensible. The others mumbled into their shoes like nervous eighth-grade students giving their first book report.

Yes, all but two of these professional speakers, appropriately garbed, stood before a packed house, clearly articulated 90 percent of each sentence and then dropped their voice on the last handful of words – the words that gave the sentence meaning.

After the service I approached a woman who spoke well and said in a low voice, “Did you have the impression that you really didn’t fit in up there on the platform? You and that man over there (pointing) were the only two speakers who knew how to project to an audience. I could hear every word you said. Thank you.”

The woman laughed and told me that she learned how to deliver lines years before when she was an actress.

Later in the day, while chatting with a former teacher, I asked him why some speakers ran out of projection power before they’d finished most sentences.

He agreed that it was all too common and said he once worked at a school where they had just built a $3 million gym. At one of the assemblies, the speaker waved the microphone aside and said he could do without it. He then spoke for 20 minutes, and the only people who heard him were sitting in the first three rows.

The last two words in any sentence are often the most important ones. Take, for example, this story of a prisoner who gained 80 pounds while wintering in a Maine county lockup. Later, the warden of that jail was offered a job in Washington as executive director of the National Association of Pork Producers.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 18:56:54 +0000
Commentary: Did you fail to learn something? There’s still time Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 STORRS, Conn. — If you could go back and study a subject you’d never had the chance to explore or understand, what would it be?

Let your imagination go free-range with this question. Don’t narrow your answers by worrying about whether you’d become one of the leaders in the field; picture yourself being diligent and achieving excellence. If you choose a performance- or practice-based area, dismiss any anxieties about whether you’d receive accolades or awards; consider only the satisfaction of your curiosity and satisfying your own sense of mastery.

You will not be graded. You will be applauded. You’re doing this for yourself alone and not your resume.

With these principles in mind, what do you wish you’d had the opportunity, the talent, the strength and discipline to place into your life’s intellectual carry-on?

Mine are fairly basic and they fall into three categories.

Because I am illiterate when it comes to all things musical – being unable to read it, even though I can appreciate hearing it – I wish I’d taken courses in music when I was in high school and college. Because of budget cuts that continue to plague arts programs in public schools, our district phased out classes for those who did not sing in a choir or play an instrument (and poor kids did not usually play instruments).

I knew I liked The Doors better than The Archies, and I knew that Leonard Cohen’s voice made me cry while Peaches & Herb made me wince, but I could never explain why. I’d like to hear the design in a Bach fugue as well as be in awe of it, and I’d love to hear nuance as well as brass when listening to a jazz band.

At both fundamental and ethereal levels, I know math and music are connected, and I wish I knew the math part, too. Because I unknowingly but systematically transposed numbers as a kid, however, I was always terrible at math, barely passing even the most basic classes. I assumed that part of my brain was misshapen, like an intellectual hangnail or hammertoe, annoying and unfixable. I placed mathematics in my peripheral vision.

Yet when I recently had the honor of being the graduation speaker at The Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island, I listened to one of the young women deliver a charming, enthralling and hilarious class speech concerning the concept of integers (which I had not known was derived from the Latin word for “whole”) and employing it as a vehicle to discuss how the girls, as individuals, created a community.

The Lincoln senior explained integers with elegance, lightness and simplicity, and as I watched her appreciative classmates nod in understanding, it struck me that they were already enviably fluent in the vocabulary of a world I would never enter. I wish I had a third of her grasp of the subject (but that’s a wild guess, since I’m not sure what a third would be because of the whole I’m-bad-at-math thing).

In addition, so to speak, there are nearly countless bonuses attached to learning mathematics: With it, I might have been able to study physics, astronomy, economic theory and figure out what exactly European dress sizes mean.

I’d like to be able to claim with confidence that I can: ice-skate, fix old cars, trace your family’s genealogy, design and build a bookcase where the title I’m searching for is instantly illuminated and recite the Book of Job in the original Hebrew whenever the need arises (which happens more than you think).

Lastly, I’d like to grasp the actual plot to “Game of Thrones,” but, even with a total immersion course, that’s probably not possible. I have no clue who these people are anymore. It’s sad.

Most lives aren’t long enough to study everything we’d love to learn, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. If we’re fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of horizons that shimmer in our imagination, or have at our fingertips talents we’d like to unlock, let’s instill in one another the courage to approach them. The only thing there’s no time for is a sense of inadequacy or a fear of failure. That time has passed.


]]> 0 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 18:25:17 +0000
Another View: Brexit reminds us to never underestimate the power of the angry voter Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Britain’s stunning vote Thursday to leave the European Union was part of a dramatic internal struggle over the country’s identity, culture and independence that will transform its role in the world for the foreseeable future.

It will undoubtedly cause economic pain for its citizens while likely sparking a fresh Scottish referendum on independence, as well as a possible reassessment within Northern Ireland of its place in the United Kingdom.

The Brexit vote may turn out to have been a blunder of historic proportions: Instead of affirming Britain’s identity and independence, it could tear the country apart.

Americans would be wrong to see this as a faraway dispute with no bearing on our own politics. In the United States, demagoguery, populism and the stoking of nationalist fears are also winning hearts and minds – as well as votes for presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. His popularity is rooted in anger and frustration – and those emotions are not only felt on the right.

A different sort of dissatisfaction – but dissatisfaction nonetheless – propelled Sen. Bernie Sanders’ improbably strong showing in the Democratic race.

Does this reflect a failure of democracy or of politics? Maybe a little of both. Elections are the foundation of a democratic system, and even when voters opt for a path that is contrary to their best interests, they need to be respected. It is through elections that competing visions and, yes, grievances, are mediated.

Yet the Brexit vote also points up just how much work needs to be done by those who believe in a society that is pluralistic, pro-free-trade, non-isolationist and pro-immigration.

The skeptical need to be persuaded and the disengaged need to be brought into the process.

]]> 6 Fri, 24 Jun 2016 18:41:09 +0000
Our View: Child well-being in Maine headed in wrong direction Sat, 25 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A disappointing report on child well-being in Maine should be an agenda-setter for the upcoming election.

Maine was ranked 17th from the top among the 50 states, slipping five places since last year, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book, released each year by the Children’s Alliance of Maine.

While a stronger economy has improved life for children in other states, Maine children are falling backward in several important areas, including the number of children without health insurance, an increase in the percentage of low-birthweight babies and a lack of improvement in reading scores.

While these reflect problems with health care, education and family structure, they all stem from economic disadvantage, an area in which Maine has not made progress since the financial collapse of 2008, and the beginning of the anti-government LePage administration.

Childhood poverty in Maine has not subsided as the economy has been otherwise improving. Last year, 18.2 percent of children and 21 percent of children under the age of 5 were living under the poverty line.

That matters because the effects of growing up in a low-income household can have lifelong effects on health and education that perpetuate a cycle of generational poverty. One troubling data point in the Kids Count book is the rate of disconnected youth in Maine communities. In Maine, about 6 percent of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 are neither employed nor attending school. That means that in just a few years, there will be thousands of men and women who will not have had the solid foundation they need to start and support a family. It would be much more effective to help them now than it would be after they are struggling to care for children of their own.

All candidates for the Maine Legislature should be prepared to talk about what they plan to do to arrest and reverse these troubling trends. It’s not enough to offer bromides about tough love and self-sufficiency – government is the only entity that can intervene in health care and education in a significant enough way to overcome the negative consequences of childhood poverty.

There’s no mystery about what needs to be done. The only question is whether the people in government will have the resolve to do it.

]]> 5, 24 Jun 2016 18:53:35 +0000
Maine Voices: Ban Muslims from entering the U.S.? I live among 20 million of them Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The assumption undergirding the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States is simple: More Muslims equal more terrorism and a less secure United States. And while there is utterly no evidence of a relationship between increased Muslim immigration to the U.S. and increased rates of domestic terrorism, as many as 50 percent of Americans support at least a temporary ban, one poll has found.

The question that no one is asking is: Why? Why would half the U.S. electorate think that banning nearly one-quarter of the world’s population from entry is a good idea? Are we just a country of bigots?

No, we are not. As the push for marriage equality demonstrates, we are actually very tolerant – once we get to know the group or the idea. But that’s precisely the problem with relation to Muslims: We don’t really know any.

Muslims are only 1 percent of the U.S. population, and they’re disproportionately concentrated in a handful of urban areas. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 40 percent of respondents had never spoken to a Muslim and 24 percent had done so occasionally. Only 6 percent reported speaking with a Muslim daily.

What these numbers lay bare is that for the average American, their only reference points for Muslims are the occasional glimpse of a foreign-looking woman in a veil and, well, the likes of Omar Sadiq Mateen, San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook or the Boston Marathon bombers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Combine that with the so-called Islamic State, and more than a decade of war and terrorism in the majority-Muslim Middle East, and it’s not that hard to comprehend why opening the doors to Muslim immigrants might give the average American some pause. Since we barely know the 3.3 million already here, we have no idea what it could mean to live with 3 million, 4 million or 5 million more.

Well, I do. For 10 months out of the year, I live with 20 million Muslims.

That’s right: 20 million Muslims.

Since accepting a position at the American University in Cairo, I have lived cheek by jowl with Muslims. Cairo, an urban megalopolis of 22 million to 24 million, is just plain teeming with them. In fact, in a city with a population density of 50,000 per square mile, I am literally surrounded by Muslims.

From the moment I open my door in the morning until I close it at night, there are Muslims at every turn. The family down the hall from me is Muslim, as are four of the five families on the floor below. The crossing guard who scolds my son for not looking twice before crossing the street is a Muslim, and so are the guards checking IDs at the entrance of his school. I sit next to Muslims on the bus to work and gripe with them about the traffic.

I argue with Muslims in faculty meetings, and go to them for advice. I teach them in my classes, and mentor them on career paths or options for higher study. I wait in long lines with them at the bank, buy groceries from them and watch them fix the air conditioner in my apartment for the umpteenth time. And when I manage to drag myself to the gym, I work out with them.

You see, when you live with 20 million Muslims, their Muslim-ness is just the backdrop for all those other characteristics that matter in being a neighbor, an anonymous bystander, a friend or a threat.

In an environment where being Muslim is the common denominator, it is absolutely certain that the person committing an act of terror will be an adherent of the faith. But Muslims are also the victims, the police coming to investigate, the reporters covering the event, the people queuing to give blood and the leaders charged with devising the best policy to counter what they and their constituents know is radical extremism promoted by groups of extremists.

One of the most important facts missing from the current discourse around terrorism and Islam is that Muslims are the most common victims of radical Islamist extremism. And when you live with 20 million Muslims, you hear them talk about this danger to their lives, their nations and their faith every single day.

So before jumping on board with the idea of a comprehensive Muslim ban, it might be worthwhile to focus instead on the realities faced by Muslims around the world, and maybe, just maybe, get to know one or two.

— Special to the Press Herald

]]> 95, 24 Jun 2016 09:10:02 +0000
Our View: Panel’s agenda keeps warden service’s evasion in the spotlight Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Mainers concerned about government accountability got good news Wednesday. That’s when the state’s Right to Know Advisory Committee reversed course and decided that it will discuss the Maine Warden Service’s handling of requests for public records on its undercover operations.

The warden service has been under fire since the publication May 8 of “North Woods Lawless,” reporter Colin Woodard’s six-month Maine Sunday Telegram investigation into allegations that an undercover warden enticed poaching suspects into breaking the law by giving them alcohol and violating the regulations he was supposed to be enforcing.

The warden service wouldn’t talk to Woodard. And it has refused to give the Telegram public records, including copies of its communications with the producers of the reality TV series “North Woods Law,” who filmed the raid that was the culmination of the poaching sting. Of the documents that have been turned over, some have been heavily redacted – including a copy of the service’s undercover policies.

But hopes that the warden service would be pressured into transparency soon were dashed. First, legislators on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee announced June 1 that they were letting the entire matter drop, apparently taking their cue from warden service Col. Joel Wilkinson, who declared at a one-sided hearing that day: “I’m not going to put my officer under investigation because someone misprints false allegations.”

Then last week, the Right to Know Advisory Committee announced that it had no plans to take up the stonewalling at its monthly meeting June 22. Why? Well, the public records panel normally takes its direction from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, state Sen. David Burns, who chairs both panels, told the Press Herald. And since Judiciary Committee members had made no such request, that was that.

Fortunately, the advisory panel as a whole recognizes the significance of the warden service’s actions, or lack thereof: It unanimously backed a motion by board member and Maine Public Broadcasting radio reporter A.J. Higgins to put the matter on the agenda for next month’s meeting July 20.

While the Right to Know Advisory Committee doesn’t have investigatory powers or the authority to subpoena witnesses, it can recommend new legislation or changes to existing law. And, just as importantly in this case, the committee can keep the spotlight on the warden service’s resistance to legitimate public records requests. Serious questions about how the service uses its authority have been raised but not answered, and bringing at least part of the matter before an advisory panel is a step in the right direction.

]]> 6, 24 Jun 2016 08:55:29 +0000
Another View: A new peacetime registration would shore up ranks of voters Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There is little logical basis for excluding women from the duty to register for the Selective Service now that they may fight on the front lines alongside men. Most senators agree: The Senate passed a defense bill last week that would require women turning 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, to register for the draft. The House version of the legislation does not include the measure, a difference that will have to be reconciled in conference.

An apt question as legislators debate is whether the Selective Service makes sense at all in the modern age. An all-volunteer force has worked well in the U.S. since 1973. It’s not clear that mass conscription would make sense for today’s high-tech military even if the nation faced a large-scale threat.

The millions of dollars put into maintaining the system each year might be better spent on a more pressing problem: Almost a quarter of the population is not registered to vote. Because studies show that voting is habit-forming, it is particularly important to bring young people to the polls – but they register at even lower rates. Poor registration systems may deter potential voters, and they cause other problems, too: Estimates say about 24 million voter registrations are invalid or inaccurate.

A national system that automatically registered U.S. citizens at 18 could brighten this picture. Five states employ automatic registration through their motor vehicle agencies, and a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., would make the practice mandatory. Researchers have identified the Selective Service’s automatic draft registration model as one to increase voter registration numbers. Why not shift resources to voter registration, or – if sign-up strictures must stay – tie the two together? We should want citizens not just in the armed forces but in the voting booth as well.

]]> 7 Thu, 23 Jun 2016 19:42:00 +0000
Charles Krauthammer: Clinton would lead us into an empty future of platitudes Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 “I believe in an America always moving toward the future.” – Hillary Clinton, June 21

This was not the most important line in Clinton’s Ohio economic policy speech, only the most amazing. Surely there cannot be a more meaningless piece of political rhetoric. Every terrestrial entity from nematode to the United States of America moves forward into the future quite on its own, thank you. Where else is there to go?

To be fair, however, spouting emptiness is tempting when you’re running as the de facto incumbent in a ragingly “change” year. Clinton is the status quo candidate, Barack Obama’s heir, running essentially on more of the same when, after two terms and glaring failures both at home and abroad, Americans are hardly clamoring for four more years.

Historically speaking, they almost invariably do not. Which is why for the last 60 years, with only one exception, whenever one party has held the White House for two terms, it’s been unceremoniously turfed out. (The one exception: 1988, when Ronald Reagan was rewarded with a third term to be served by George H.W. Bush.)

How little does Clinton have to offer? In her recent speeches, amid paragraph upon paragraph of attacks on Donald Trump, she lists the usual “investments” in clean energy and small business, in school construction and the power grid, and of course more infrastructure.

Ever heard a candidate come out against infrastructure? Even Trump waxes poetic about the roads and bridges he will rebuild, plus putting up that beautiful wall.

Haven’t we been here before? All those shovel-ready infrastructure projects to be funded by Obama’s $830 billion stimulus? Where did the money go? Yet the one area of agreement among all candidates of all parties is that our infrastructure is crumbling still.

Defending the status quo today is a thankless undertaking. It nearly cost Clinton the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders campaigned loudly and convincingly against the baleful consequences of the Obama years – stagnant wages, income inequality and a squeezing of the middle class. Clinton was forced to echo those charges while simultaneously defending the president and policies that brought on the miseries.

Not easy to do. She is left, therefore, with a pared and pinched rationale for her candidacy. She promises no fundamental change, no relief from the new normal of slow growth, low productivity and economic stagnation. Instead, she offers government as remediator, as gap-filler. Hillaryism steps in to alleviate the consequences of what it cannot change with a patchwork of subsidies, handouts and small-ball initiatives.

Hence the $30 billion she proposes to soften the blow for the coal miners she will put out of business. Hence her cure for stagnant wages. Employers are reluctant to give you a wage hike in an economy growing at 1 percent. So she will give it to you instead by decreeing from Washington a huge increase in the minimum wage.

Hillaryism embodies the essence of modern liberalism. Having reached the limits of a welfare state grown increasingly bureaucratic and dysfunctional, the mission of modern liberalism is to patch the fraying safety net with yet more programs and entitlements.

It reflexively rejects structural reform. (That’s the project of Paul Ryan and his Reformicons.) The triangulating Bill Clinton was open to structural change, most notably in his 1996 welfare reform. Hillaryism is not.

She is offering herself as safety-net patcher. A worthy endeavor, perhaps, but, compared to the magic promised first by Sanders, now by Trump, hardly scintillating. Hence her campaign strategy: platitudes (the future), programs (a dozen for every constituency) and a heavy dose of negativity. Her speeches go through the motions on “vision,” while relentlessly attacking Trump as radical, extreme and dangerous.

Her line of argument is quite straightforward: I’m the devil you know – experienced, if flawed; safe, if devious; reliable, if totally uninspired. I give you steady incrementalism. Meanwhile, the other guy is absurdly risky. His policies on trade, immigration and national security threaten trade wars, social unrest and alienation from friends and allies abroad.

The only thing missing from the Clinton campaign thus far is the nuclear option. Lyndon Johnson charged that Barry Goldwater was going to blow up the world. Literally. Johnson’s “Daisy” commercial counts down to a mushroom cloud.

Somewhere at Clinton headquarters, a smart young thing is working on a modern version. Look for it on a TV near you.

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

]]> 27, 23 Jun 2016 19:45:04 +0000
M.D. Harmon: Clinton, Trump or neither? Readers share their opinions Fri, 24 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Two weeks ago, I asked readers what voters should do who find Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump unappealing, but who don’t want to abandon their obligation as informed citizens to participate in our democracy.

Their responses have been edited for length and grammar, but are otherwise intact.

First, some who thought my diagnosis was in error:

Faye wrote: “I would like to see a person from each party who is honest, sincere and knowledgeable declare themselves as candidates. That is highly unlikely. Do I still plan to vote? Yes. For whom? The lesser of two evils, Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton is a liar, a cheat and a murderer. I deplore the thought that our men and women in the military would be required to salute her as their commander in chief.”

 Ken disagreed, with equal vehemence: “I do plan to vote for Clinton. Though she is a flawed candidate, she is at least psychologically sound as best I can tell, and not the uninformed, xenophobic, narcissistic, racist, global warming-denying, constantly lying (expletive) we have in Trump.”

 Eva wrote: “I will hold my nose and vote for Trump only because of the Supreme Court. If two or three (judges) need to be replaced in the coming years, I would like a Republican president choosing them. Anyone is better than Hillary!”

 Pem wrote: “My wife and I will vote, and we will vote for the Republican nominee. And the more the Illuminati scold us for our inclinations, the more defiantly we will vote for Trump. For more years than we can count, we have been fed up with the say-anything, do-nothing ‘leaders’ of the Republican Party, and have been screaming ‘throw them all out’ at the TV.”

Bill wrote: “I don’t care for either Trump or Clinton, but I will vote for anyone but Clinton. Unfortunately, there is no real chance that a viable third-party candidate could win, because it is too late to get a name on the ballots in most states … .”

 Jeff wrote: “I’ll be voting for two reasons. First: the direction of the Supreme Court, which will determine which direction the country will take for decades. … Every four years we’re told that ‘this is the most important election in our lifetime.’ This time it happens to be true. The second reason? To honor the countless men and women who have given their lives so that I may have the privilege of taking part in our democratic process.”

Others saw different paths:

Mary wrote: “A (Bernie) Sanders option … would be for him to take his votes to an independent ticket, not necessarily in top position but as vice president to lessen the fear of socialism by some voters. Actually, if we could attract a worthy dark horse candidate like Sen. Angus King to head a ticket to which Bernie could bring his supporters … that would be an attractive alternative … .”

Elinor wrote: “I am a Republican, but at this point a man of integrity with the necessary attributes to run this country and a decent approach to the rest of the world would be mandatory. Regretfully, I will not vote for the two choices out there at this time.”

Elaine wrote: “I cannot bring myself to pull the lever for either Trump (my usual party) or Hillary. I had been considering Libertarian (Gary Johnson’s a loose cannon but Bill Weld added weight) until I read a column in the Wall Street Journal … and will follow that lead: a write-in for Paul Ryan (second choice of John Kasich if I change my mind about Ryan before November).”

Joanne wrote: “I cannot believe Trump will win the nomination; what is wrong with the people in this country? … My dream ticket would be Michael Bloomberg/Susan Collins and I believe they would overwhelmingly beat Trump and Clinton. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there will be a third party. If not, I think I’ll just stay home.”

Mark wrote: “My answer is Gov. Gary Johnson. As you are aware, he is a Libertarian (I’m a compassionate conservative), and the other two candidates make me ill. I heard Johnson speak on a number of recent ‘talking-head’ shows, and he made sense to me on every topic he addressed – taxes, foreign policy, illegal aliens, etc.”

“SUR” wrote: “I’d vote for Sanders because I believe the separation of powers will keep him in check. At least he is honest and has a few ideas and can develop a complex thought beyond sound bites. Plus, and most important, he won’t lead us into the pointless, unwinnable wars that are ruining us. … The country will be better served by the implosion of both (major parties).”

Thanks for participating, folks. Things continue to percolate, so let’s see where it all goes from here.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at:

]]> 10, 24 Jun 2016 18:38:24 +0000
Dana Milbank: Trump candidacy mirrors his tactics in failed Taj Mahal casino Thu, 23 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Not long ago, Donald Trump set a $1 billion fundraising goal for his presidential battle against Hillary Clinton.

Now he says there’s “no reason” to raise that much, and his operatives fear they will struggle to raise even $300 million. He brought in only $3.1 million in May to Clinton’s $27 million, leaving him with $1.3 million in the bank to her $42 million.

He has virtually no campaign apparatus, has sacked his campaign manager and has one-tenth the staff that Clinton does. Yet in May he managed to spend over $1 million in payments to Trump companies and in travel reimbursements to his family members.

Republicans are panicky, for good reason. We have seen this movie before. It’s called the Trump Taj Mahal Atlantic City.

In that, the first of his enterprises’ four bankruptcies, he convinced regulators that he could raise plenty of money to complete the $1 billion project, claiming his golden name meant he wouldn’t have to rely on high-interest junk bonds, as other developers did. But then he issued junk bonds. Gamblers didn’t show up and spend the money he needed. Costs got out of control. Six months after the Taj opened in April 1990, it was in default, and nine months after that it went bankrupt, followed by two other Trump casinos.

The former head of the casino regulatory authority told The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. that Trump had built a “Potemkin village.” Atlantic City never quite recovered, but Trump “got out great,” as he told O’Harrow.

Now Trump is doing to the Republican Party what he did to Atlantic City.

Substitute voters for gamblers, “contributors” for bankers and the Republican Party for gambling regulators, and the arc has been eerily similar. Call it the Taj Technique.

Trump did well at first, winning control of the Taj – much as he won the primaries – with what one regulator called a blend of “hyperbole, contradictions and generalities,” making grand promises that his name alone guaranteed success. He threatened to walk away from the project if he didn’t get full ownership – not unlike his threat to bolt the Republican Party if he didn’t secure the nomination. The massive resort got brisk business at first because of the free publicity Trump generated – much as he benefited from free publicity during the primaries.

But once he gained full ownership of the Taj, he quickly failed in his vow to secure prime lending, just as he quickly abandoned his fundraising goals after locking down the nomination. Then, as now, he made sure the Taj generated money for other Trump businesses. Then, as now, he alienated many who had supported him, and regulators suspected deception – but they continued to support his ownership of the floundering casino (much as Republican leaders support his nomination) because they were already in too deep.

O’Harrow’s definitive January account of the Taj Mahal bankruptcy presents a tale of overpromising and underdelivering that will sound familiar to those who watched Trump’s triumph in the primaries and subsequent swoon.

Trump had based his purchase of the Taj on a basic untruth: He didn’t need junk bonds. “I can build at the prime rate,” he told regulators. “I mean, the banks call me all the time. ‘Can we loan you money?’ ” He said, “It’s easier to finance if Donald Trump owns it.”

But he walked away from this pledge, claiming this year that doing so was his “prerogative” and that “I would do it again.”

Trump ignored stark and repeated warnings that he would not be able to attract enough gamblers to pay the bills – just as many warned last year that Trump’s coalition of angry white men was not large enough to win a general election.

Trump expanded the Taj into the biggest, costliest casino ever built at the time. He got fired a securities analyst who warned, correctly, that after the initial “free publicity,” the Taj “won’t make it.”

The analyst was correct, and Trump ultimately had to sell his yacht and give up some casino interests. But his investors, large and small, suffered the most, and Atlantic City didn’t rebound the way Trump did.

Now that Trump has clinched the nomination with outlandish promises and free publicity, polls show that the “market” isn’t there for his mix of bigotry and strongman promises. Donors are fleeing, and party officials would like to cut him loose but could lose even more if they abandoned him now.

In short, the promissory notes are coming due, and Trump doesn’t have the cash to back up his big boasts.

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

]]> 31, 22 Jun 2016 19:04:21 +0000
Maine Voices: Steer prison philosophy toward reintegrating prisoners into society Thu, 23 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 WARREN — Today in the world of criminal justice, virtually everything is being questioned and we need to take a hard look at rehabilitation.

In Maine, overcrowding in the county jails and prison system has been the constant theme. Releasing an inmate who has a felony record and little or no education and social skills is a recipe for failure. Without the means to succeed outside prison, untrained and uneducated former prisoners will increase the recidivism rate.

According to the National Institute of Justice, recidivism rates are high. One study tracked 404,638 prisoners in 30 states after their release from prison in 2005. The researchers found that within three years of release, about two-thirds were rearrested. Within five years of release, about three-quarters of released prisoners had been rearrested.

The 2014 Maine Crime & Justice Databook reflects a lower rate for Maine; however, the methodology may be different and anecdotal evidence tells us our recidivism rate remains too high.

In other countries, such as Germany, the psychology is far more focused on reintegrating prisoners into society. The future of the American correctional system can change from its current prospects if we incorporate new thinking more conducive to a work and therapy mindset.

For example, if correctional officers can be viewed not as enforcers, but as resources for prisoners – and if prospective correctional staff can be trained to help the incarcerated understand that their job is to improve prisoners, not humiliate them – then the job of a corrections officer can become interesting work indeed.

In my 30 years in prison I have known some amazing corrections officers, and we could gain a lot by finding ways to expand and enhance their roles. Congress and the constitutional courts are looking for new ways to bring American correctional system into a much different light. If action can be taken to propel the correctional system further along the path of facilitating prisoners’ re-entry into society, this would be a start.

Converting correctional facilities into “showcase prisons” and getting away from oppressive and heavily guarded compounds would be consistent with the German philosophy and bring about a less troublesome correctional system.

We lock up nine times as many people per capita as Germany, but Germany is far safer, with a murder rate about one-fifth of ours. There can be no doubt that prisons are big business in the United States. No matter how many prisons are built, there is a judge and district attorney ready to fill the prison beds. Unless and until we change the American correctional philosophy, no matter how many prisons are built, they will always be filled to capacity.

The most powerful force governing the behavior of prisoners is hope. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to realize that even the sanest and most law-abiding person will be moved to irrational behavior if hope is removed from their existence.

Parole has been a neglected resource for too long in Maine. If the state were to upgrade, extend and explore the full potential that exists in parole or some type of positive re-entry program, it would improve the overall structure of corrections and enable inmates to function with the proper incentives needed to contribute to society.

This would also mean a reduction in the prison population. That would reduce or eliminate the need for the state to commit capital to the construction of prisons.

A prime example of our misdirected correctional systems is that Maine has several “good-time” laws in place for a small prison population. Over the years, law and order measures have been taken to reduce earnable good-time credits for sentence reductions, which in turn have left people in prison longer at great expense to the taxpayers.

The state’s 1983 good-time law, for example, requires that an inmate serve at least 57 percent of their imposed sentence. Under the good-time laws now in place, dating from 1995 and 2004, inmates now must serve at least 85 percent of their prison term.

Just as people come to prison because they fail to live by society’s rules, once people are ready to become an asset rather than a liability in the community and are corrected, they should be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate the change and to speak out about their desires to live a productive life in society.

Germany reminds us that someday, most in prison will be back among society and that they, in many respects, are society. If nothing else, the German model ought to make us reflect on our approach.

]]> 4, 22 Jun 2016 23:44:29 +0000
Commentary: New food nutrition labeling unlikely to help those who need it the most Thu, 23 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Food and Drug Administration recently unveiled significant changes to nutritional labels. The new labels will give consumers greater insight into how much added sugar is hidden in the food we eat. Calories will be displayed more prominently and serving sizes will better reflect actual portion sizes. Public health advocates, consumer groups and the FDA have touted these new requirements as essential to combating America’s obesity epidemic.

The only problem is that these new-and-improved labels may not help those who need nutritional information the most.

To grasp the details on the back of a bag of chips or a can of soda, a consumer needs to understand grams and complicated ingredient names, calculate how many servings the item contains and put everything together in the broader context of the amount he or she consumes each day. These calculations require English and math skills, time and motivation.

It should come as no surprise, then, that consumers who are already more informed about the connection between diet and health are more likely to take advantage of information presented on nutritional labels, or that people who already eat healthfully tend to use labels more than others. Research reveals that factors such as income, gender, age and race also influence label use.

A study published in 2010, for instance, showed that about 65 percent of whites report using labels, compared with 41 percent of Mexican-Americans and 55 percent of blacks. The same study found that about half of low-income respondents report using labels, compared with 70 percent of high-income people.

The same patterns hold for calorie counts at restaurants. Much of the research on this subject comes out of New York City, the first jurisdiction to require chains to post calories on menus and menu boards in an effort to steer consumers toward healthier choices.

Even though New Yorkers notice and favor menu labeling, only wealthier patrons seem to actually use the information. For example, menu labeling reduced the calories purchased at Starbucks, but not at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC. (Starbucks attracts a more educated, more affluent clientele than fast-food establishments.)

Similar patterns were found in Philadelphia, where menu labeling does not seem to have altered purchasing behavior among black, high school-educated fast-food customers.

Thanks to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, we’ve had nutritional labels in this country since the early 1990s. Yet over two decades, research shows a widening nutritional quality gap between the diets of college-educated Americans and those of people with a high school diploma. The gap in obesity rates between minority communities and whites has also widened. There’s no reason to think the FDA’s new labels will improve the situation.

This is not to say that lack of information – or lack of ability to process information – is wholly responsible for poor diets. The link between nutrition and health is much more complex. Other factors play a role, including access to healthy foods, and influence from peers. Still, information matters. And while labels make information available for everybody, they apparently translate into healthier eating only for those who are best equipped to pay attention to the information and are motivated to act on it.

The answer isn’t to scrap transparency measures, but to improve them.

Public health advocates in Britain have recommended revising nutritional labels to include exercise equivalents. By switching to a more comprehensible metric – from calories to minutes spent exercising – they believe the data provided can be translated more easily into action.

And in fact, there’s good reason to think the British experts are right. Black teens drink an average of two cans of soda a day, which puts them at high risk of obesity. Researchers tried to change that by showing low-income black teens in Baltimore the calorie information for each soda they consumed, including absolute calorie numbers, calories as a percentage daily value and calories expressed as an exercise equivalent. It turns out that telling teens they would need to run 50 minutes to work off a bottle of soda was the most effective way to steer them to healthier beverages.

In California, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health’s “Sugar Pack” campaign helped consumers visualize the number of table-top sugar packets in each bottle of sugary drink. Over 60 percent of surveyed residents reported they were likely or very likely to reduce soda consumption as a result of the campaign.

We shouldn’t accept the simple notion that more information is always better. Unless it is comprehensible and actionable, transparency can end up empowering those who are already well-equipped to understand the information, and leave the rest behind.

]]> 1, 23 Jun 2016 11:49:42 +0000
Our View: Healthier school meals improving students’ lives Thu, 23 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Three years after the federal school lunch program underwent its first major overhaul in three decades, students are eating healthier and wasting less food. For a country awash in obesity, that’s a meaningful step toward helping the youngest generation live longer and healthier lives than their predecessors, once an American birthright that has been lost in a storm of salty, sugary, processed foods.

More must be done to incorporate what we know about nutrition and quality of life into school meals, where many students, particularly those from low-income families, receive much of their sustenance. But it is clear that the improvements made as part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act have schools going in the right direction.

The first year of the new guidelines, passed in 2010 but implemented in 2012, brought criticism from some school lunch directors who said they were seeing more of the new, healthier foods end up in the trash rather than students’ stomachs.

But numerous studies now show that not to be the case. Requirements that every student choose a fruit or vegetable with each meal have significantly increased the amount of fruit eaten by students. Fewer kids are choosing vegetables, but those who do are eating more of them. Overall, fruit and vegetable consumption are up, and food waste is significantly down.

In short, the 32 million students who have school meals every day are eating foods of higher nutritional quality. They are getting more lean protein, whole grains and fiber, and as the preparation and presentation of these foods improve, they are throwing away less of what’s on their plate.

Through these improved meals, students are getting more of the nutrients they need to live full lives. And because they eat them every day, they are developing the tastes and habits needed to make nutrition a permanent part of their lives.

It cannot be overstated how importance that change is. In the U.S., 40 percent of women and 35 percent of men are now obese, up from 16 percent of adults in the early 1980s. Twenty-one percent of adolescents are obese.

As a result, stroke, chronic liver disease, heart disease and diabetes are rampant. If nothing is done, today’s children will live less healthy lives, and possibly shorter ones, than their parents, despite the vast improvement in what is know about living well. All the medical advancements made over the last 30 years are no match for the prevailing American diet.

The improvement in school meals, where low-income students get up to half of their calories, shows there is hope. Schools must continue to improve the quality and taste of meals. Maine schools should take advantage of the boom in local agriculture to serve students healthy, tasty meals (some, including Portland, already have). They also should continue to push students to try new things – a luxury poor students don’t have at home.

And Congress needs to continue to guard the community eligibility provision, which makes it simple for schools to offer meals to more students. Despite its unquestionable success, the provision, much like food stamps, has its detractors.

Good nutrition is the foundation for successful, happy, healthy lives. Under the new guidelines, schools are doing better than ever at providing that nutrition, and we shouldn’t take a step back now.

]]> 4, 23 Jun 2016 09:26:23 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Violence against Trump won’t solve what’s eating America Wed, 22 Jun 2016 10:00:24 +0000 On Saturday, someone tried to kill Donald Trump.

You may not have heard about it. The story didn’t get much play, the attempt wasn’t well-planned and the candidate was never in jeopardy.

Still the fact remains that authorities arrested one Michael Steven Sandford, 19, after he allegedly tried to grab a gun from the holster of a Las Vegas police officer with the idea of using it to kill Trump at a campaign rally.

Authorities say Sandford, who carried a UK driver’s license but who had been living in New Jersey for about a year and a half, had visited a nearby gun range to learn how to handle a firearm. They say he has wanted to kill Trump for a year.

Let us be thankful he was not successful. The assassination of Donald Trump would have been a new low for a political season that is already the most dispiriting in memory. It would have deprived a family of its father and husband. It would have traumatized a nation where political murder has been a too-frequent tragedy.

And it would have imparted the moral authority of martyrdom to Trump’s ideas. That would be a disaster in its own right.

Like most would-be assassins, what Sandford apparently did not understand is that you cannot kill an idea with a bullet. Even bad ideas are impervious to gunfire.

Trump, of course, has been a veritable Vesuvius of bad ideas in the year since he took that escalator ride into the race for the presidency. From banning Muslim immigrants to building a wall on the southern border to punishing women who have abortions to advocating guns in nightclubs to judging judicial fitness based on heritage, to killing the wives and children of terror suspects, if there has been a hideous, unserious or flat-out stupid thought floated in this political season, odds are, it carried the Trump logo.

It is understandable, then, that even people who wish Trump no bodily harm might feel as Sandford presumably did: that if he were somehow just … gone, the stench of his ideas – of his anger, nativism, coarseness and proud ignorance – might somehow waft away like trash-fire smoke in a breeze.

But it doesn’t work that way. Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality did not die on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. Nor did Adolf Hitler’s dream of racial extermination perish with him in that bunker beneath Berlin. Ideas, both transcendent and repugnant, are far hardier than the fragile lives of the men and women who give them voice.

So, any hope that Trump’s disappearance would somehow fix America is naïve. America’s problem has nothing to do with him, except to the degree he has made himself a focal point.

No, America’s problem is fear. Fear of economic stagnation, yes, and fear of terrorism. But those are proxies for the bigger and more fundamental fear: fear of demographic diminution, of losing the privileges and prerogatives that have always come with being straight, white, male and/or Christian in America. It was the holy quadfecta of entitlement, but that entitlement is under siege in a nation that grows more sexually, racially and religiously diverse with every sunrise.

Trumpism is only the loudest and most obvious response to that, and it will not disappear when he does. Indeed, there is no instant cure for what has America unsettled. There is only time and the hard work of change.

In a sense, we are bringing forth a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men and women really are created equal. If for some of us, that fires the imagination, it is hardly mysterious that for others, it kindles a sense of displacement and loss. The good news is that their Trumpism cannot survive in the new nation.

In the end, you see, only one thing can kill a bad idea.

And that’s a better one.

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

]]> 13, 21 Jun 2016 20:20:04 +0000
Another View: Nation losing a nuclear weapon against climate change Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Some environmentalists are thrilled over Tuesday’s announcement of the planned closing of California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. They might want to reconsider: Fighting climate change requires more nuclear power, not less.

That Diablo Canyon’s two reactors could be allowed to shut down is alarming evidence that too little effort is being made to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The electricity that the Diablo Canyon plant generates, which amounts to about 9 percent of California’s power, would be lost.

Yes, a deal reached among the plant’s operator, labor unions and a few environmental groups stipulates that greater energy efficiency and more renewable power – solar, wind and the like – will pick up the slack. But to the extent that these strategies are used to replace clean nuclear power, they make zero progress toward lowering carbon emissions. Diablo Canyon prevents the emission of 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually.

It’s true that Diablo Canyon stands close to a geological fault line. But the plant has operated safely since it opened in the mid-1980s. And it has been built to withstand an earthquake much stronger than anything that fault could be expected to unleash.

Diablo Canyon now joins the list of nuclear plants across the country that are set to close (or already have) because they can’t compete with record-low natural gas prices. Nuclear power is also expensive, because reactors require a relatively large workforce.

The plants should be given full credit for the climate protection they provide – via a carbon tax or through inclusion in state energy portfolio standards – so that they can keep generating clean power for many more decades.

Allowing them simply to close may be satisfying to some environmentalists. But it is a wrong turn in the fight against climate change.

]]> 3 Tue, 21 Jun 2016 18:36:03 +0000
Our View: Appalachian Trail advocates wise to take Maine park’s concerns seriously Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Last year, 1,700 northbound long-distance hikers reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, the centerpiece of Baxter State Park and the northern end of the Appalachian Trail. Most went unnoticed – but not endurance athlete Scott Jurek, whose champagne celebration of his summiting record last July resulted not only in summonses for allegedly violating Baxter rules, but also in threats to re-route the trail out of the park.

It’s encouraging, then, to learn that a campaign is underway to educate AT “thru-hikers” about Baxter’s resources and unique regulations. Keeping the park and trail as partners should be the goal, and we have faith that it can be done without sacrificing what makes Baxter special.

Interest in completing the AT has soared, with the number of thru-hikers at Baxter rising from 359 in 1991 to 2,137 in 2015. But while summiting thru-hikers make up just 3 percent of all Baxter users, park officials say they consume a disproportionate share of staff resources and occasionally flout restrictions on camping, hiking in large groups and excessive celebrations. (Jurek, the professional athlete, wound up paying a $500 fine for drinking alcohol atop Katahdin in violation of Baxter rules; other charges were dropped.)

We’ve chastised park officials for their overreaction to Jurek’s relatively minor – and hardly unique – transgression. However, they’ve raised legitimate issues. Baxter, according to director Jensen Bissell, is at capacity – which means that the expected increase in the number of thru-hikers will strain already-strapped park staff and infrastructure. Hence, the warnings about moving the trail.

In response, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit that oversees the AT, this week opened a visitor center. There, two full-time staff will help thru-hikers prepare for the final 115 miles of the trail, including the grueling 100-Mile Wilderness, with no towns, stores or paved roads.

The hikers also will be able to pre-register for their Baxter summiting permits – a new requirement – and hear messages about the importance of keeping their celebrations quiet, small and booze-free. And this will be just part of an education effort all along the 2,190-mile trail, said Ron Tipton, executive director of the group.

The growth in the number of hikers on the Appalachian Trail is a positive trend. It’s heartening that more people want to experience what the outdoors has to offer firsthand. But we’re also glad to see that trail advocates are taking seriously the threat that the AT’s popularity presents to the long-term health and unique beauty of Maine’s iconic Baxter State Park.

]]> 4, 22 Jun 2016 10:57:52 +0000
Greg Kesich: As we honor city visionary, affirm our own vision for Portland Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Cities don’t stand still. They grow. They shrink. They can flourish. They can die.

No one seems to have understood that better than Portland native John Menario, who was honored this week by the City Council.

The plaza in front of the Nickelodeon movie theater will soon be named for the former city manager, who between 1967 and 1976 laid the groundwork for an economic rebirth of the downtown commercial center, creating the Portland that we know today.

Standing in the plaza at Temple and Spring streets, we can tick off the testaments to Menario’s vision, with tall office buildings at every corner of the intersection and a pedestrian mall leading to Monument Square.

The key to it, Menario has said, was Franklin Arterial, seven-tenths of a mile of divided highway that carries traffic between I-295, the central business district and the waterfront. It was built in 1969, and he says it made all the rest possible.

So it’s funny that Franklin Arterial is the Menario-era project that gets so much criticism.

To many who care about development in Portland, turning Franklin Street into a “cross-town expressway” with an enormous median strip was a huge, expensive mistake.

The city took out a neighborhood full of houses – something that’s in short supply today – and created a barrier for people who want to walk or ride a bike between the East End and downtown.

And it’s emblematic of the sterile, auto-centric development of the ’60s and ’70s, when walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods were razed to make a place for overbuilt roads, parking lots and strip malls.

A plan to reclaim Franklin and turn it back into an urban street was approved last year but is languishing at City Hall. The ceremony honoring Menario would be a good time for the city to thank him for what he built and recommit itself to getting the new Franklin Street project off the ground.

There’s no contradiction: You can love the city that Menario helped create even if you don’t like the road that made it happen. You can revere the man and not be wedded to the past.

After all, he certainly wasn’t.

People who are critical of Franklin Arterial and Menario should remember where Portland was in the 1960s. It had been in economic free fall since the end of World War II, when thousands of shipbuilding jobs disappeared overnight. The Maine Mall vacuumed retail business off Congress Street, and middle-class people were escaping to the suburbs.

Back then, out-of-control rents weren’t a problem – but neglected and abandoned buildings were.

Menario and others recognized that the city would have to be more car-friendly to survive. They built parking garages and “urban highways,” and they got the result they were looking for in an unprecedented building boom that gave us the downtown business district we see today.

But just because that might have been the right move in the 1970s doesn’t mean it’s what we need now.

Just like mutton-chop sideburns and bell bottoms, not every popular idea stands the test of time.

Franklin’s future is a question of value. A city street is a place for economic activity. Streets create wealth. They create jobs. They generate taxes. They should be cherished.

Roads just move vehicles. They are an expense, not a source of revenue.

You need both streets and roads in a city, but why build a road when you could have a street?

Among its many charms, the Franklin Street Reclamation Project would liberate somewhere around 5 acres of developable land, right in the heart of the city. The buildings could be tall without blocking any views and create places for people to live, work, play and do business.

And since transportation planners have learned a lot since the 1970s, the redesign would improve traffic flows, not restrict them. That’s why it has the approval of the Maine Department of Transportation, hardly a hotbed of radical urbanism.

Portland is not competing with the suburbs as it was in Menario’s day.

It’s competing against other cities all over the country for people to move here with their talent and capital to start the businesses that will mark the next phase of development.

Portland is already a magnet for young people, and they are not coming here for the parking. They are looking for the kind of neighborhoods the new Franklin Street would create.

Portland is rightly honoring Menario for having vision and showing leadership at a time when the city needed it.

That was his vision. What’s ours?

]]> 28, 21 Jun 2016 20:23:38 +0000
Maine Voices: Bus information at a glance would benefit business, environment, health Wed, 22 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 It’s just below freezing, sleet is blowing sideways off the water and you want to know when the next bus is coming. You’re two bitter blocks from the nearest bus stop – with no idea what’s going on.

Passing a cozy coffee shop, you glance enviously and see a screen in the window displaying arrival times for the next three buses. You step inside and wait for the bus in comfort, drinking a soothing cup of java while confidently monitoring bus arrivals on another screen inside.

When you need a ride, two questions suddenly become the most important information in your life: When will the bus (or train, ferry, etc.) be here, and why is it late? A key reason people don’t take the bus is that they have no confidence when it will show up. But we have the technology to provide this information, much of it real-time, at a modest cost, ubiquitously along transit routes throughout communities.

In an innovative model of collaboration, signage vendors and content aggregators can work with local leadership – including business improvement districts, economic development boards, chambers of commerce, advocacy groups, hospitals, schools, local employers, franchises, merchants, transit agencies and city government – to fund and establish transportation information networks through which transit arrival times and related information can be distributed and displayed.

Take a look next time you walk down the street or when you’re in stores, banks, restaurants, hotels, theaters, sports arenas, building lobbies, etc. There are digital screens everywhere. They display TV programming, menus, news headlines, sports scores, weather, local messages or local events. Location-specific, real-time transit information should also be part of this mix.

Venues use widely available operating and content management systems to choose which content to display, and when and where it should appear. Organizing existing screens into an ad hoc network, and supplementing them with screens dedicated to transit information, creates a transportation information network that displays location-specific transit arrival times.

Consider the benefits. Riders can walk down the street and easily see when transit is coming instead of fumbling for phones in bad weather or unsafe conditions. Businesses can provide better experiences for guests and customers by displaying useful and relevant information – and drive attention to their promotional messages. They can also promote their participation in transportation information networks to attract more foot traffic – “Come in, buy your coffee here, stay safe, dry and warm and we’ll let you know when the bus is coming.”

Making it easy for people to find out what’s going on with transit allows venues to give something back to the community and strengthen their local identity. Giving riders more confidence in transit also encourages environmentally sustainable and healthy behavior. More people on buses and fewer in cars means less congestion, less pollution and more walking, which combine to improve air quality and personal health. More people using transit also creates a sense of public safety.

Cities and transit agencies also benefit. Traditionally, dedicated outdoor “countdown clocks” have large capital and maintenance costs, making them too expensive to be deployed ubiquitously (e.g., $20,000 to buy and install the sign and another $20,000 in maintenance over five years). These countdown clocks are generally dedicated to the single transit mode operated by the agency that installed the sign.

A new indoor screen is about 10 percent the cost of a countdown clock. So utilizing a mix of existing signage at public and private locations along with some new screens saves significant money and provides benefits to many more riders.

If better transit information displays can get just a few drivers out of their cars and into buses, other savings are possible. A new indoor parking space costs about $40,000. Imagine how much transit signage could be deployed for the cost of a few parking spaces, while relieving traffic congestion.

Cities can create transportation information networks to avoid high costs and reach communities that are dependent on public transit. Plus, it’s possible to combine on a single screen all of the available options, including bike sharing, car services and other options, not just those from a single agency.

As more people choose urban lifestyles without cars, cities are investing heavily in transit. Transportation information networks offer an innovative, collaborative public-private partnership model that makes it easy for transit riders to find out what’s going on – simply by looking up.


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Our View: Report of possible Unum layoffs underscores need for entrepreneurship in Maine Tue, 21 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maybe this is what Gov. LePage was talking about: Rumors became public last week that Unum is considering shedding over 200 local jobs by outsourcing its IT department.

The governor was crowing at one of his town hall meetings this spring about plans by an unnamed southern Maine company to cut 900 jobs. He said the reason for the layoffs was that Maine’s taxes and electricity rates are too high, but even though that doesn’t seem to be what’s behind the potential Unum move, it’s as close to the right story as the governor usually gets.

If true, that would be very bad news for the affected employees and their families, and potentially could have a ripple effect through the local economy. Fortunately, there is a very tight job market in southern Maine and skilled IT workers should be able to find other employment opportunities.

One good thing about this story is how it sheds light on the importance of what a group of Maine businesspeople are doing about the future right now – hosting the third annual Startup and Create Week in Portland.

The conference brings entrepreneurs and potential entrepreneurs to share ideas and practical know-how about starting and growing businesses. The people behind it are challenging conventional wisdom about what an economic center looks like and what can be accomplished outside a major metropolitan area.

Starting new businesses – even new industries – sounds like a pipe dream, but it’s something that is happening right now in Portland and could develop momentum if enough people get behind it.

What does that have to do with the Unum rumor? It’s an illustration where jobs come from.

Mature companies like Unum are always looking for ways to become more efficient, and often that means cutting jobs. Sending jobs overseas is an all-too-common event for an established American company that wants to juice up its productivity.

We often hear that most jobs come from small businesses, but that’s only partly true. The real generator of new jobs is new businesses, and they are also the ones most likely to grow quickly. So while it’s nice to have venerable companies that have provided good jobs in the community for a long time, it’s essential to have fertile ground for new businesses to get their start.

We applaud the people in who are turning ideas into businesses, and look forward to seeing what they will do to build a new economy for Maine.

]]> 22, 21 Jun 2016 06:43:38 +0000
Commentary: Natural Resources Council of Maine says ‘No’ to good-paying jobs, LePage charges Tue, 21 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Natural Resources Council of Maine held a news conference June 1 to complain about a letter I wrote to some of its donors. To no one’s surprise, the Maine media was quick to take the NRCM’s side.

The truth is that the NRCM is a wealthy nonprofit organization run by environmental activists whose public face masks its true intent. Quite simply, the NRCM is fiercely opposed to any economic activity that would provide good-paying career jobs for rural Mainers who are desperate for employment. You won’t read about this in newspapers or see it on TV.

The NRCM is funded by hundreds of wealthy donors, many of whom most likely do not understand the job-crushing intent of its activist agenda. It is easy to convince out-of-state visitors, residents of wealthy coastal towns and those living in southern Maine to financially support the perceived policies of the NRCM. However, these well-meaning donors enjoy low rates of unemployment, nice homes, clean and safe neighborhoods and thriving local businesses.

Most are almost certainly unfamiliar with the harsh economic crisis facing rural Maine, especially in northern and Down East Maine. They’ve probably never heard of towns such as Danforth, St. David or Athens, which are some of the communities in desperate need of prosperous jobs. As these well-meaning folks send in their annual donations, they probably don’t realize that the NRCM’s anti-business policies are preventing poor, rural Mainers from getting the kind of jobs they need to raise themselves out of poverty.

The NRCM is the chief supporter of the aggressive movement to preserve – not conserve – the environment, which is holding Maine back from prosperity. The organization has blocked reasonable mining regulations that would provide high-paying jobs to rural families in northern Maine; promoted unilateral executive action to establish a national monument that would eliminate hunting and timber harvesting from thousands of acres; and has proudly blocked any significant hydroelectricity development over the last 40 years. These policy decisions have contributed to the decline of the manufacturing base that has been an anchor for rural Maine and has employed generations of sportsmen and women.

Maine has traditionally balanced the stewardship of our environment while ensuring our population has economic opportunity. A Maine Department of Environmental Protection official who is leaving the position to be with family in Massachusetts told me that over the past few years, many people have thanked the department for finally allowing them to be treated fairly on environmental issues. The DEP has worked hard to restore the concepts of good science and common sense into its mission, while still striving to protect our environment.

We have seen great success. Maine now has one of the cleanest energy portfolios in the country and millions of acres of green-certified forest. The Maine lobster fishery is certified sustainable through the Marine Stewardship Council, which is widely considered the gold standard in sustainability certification.

However, a balance is vital to providing opportunities for prosperity to rural Mainers. If we support economic development at the expense of the environment, we will have a natural disaster. If we support the environment over any kind of economic development, we will continue to have severe poverty.

The NRCM is not interested in this balance. The NRCM never says, “Let’s work together.” It just says “no” to every opportunity that would allow Mainers to prosper, and it is working to make rural Maine a national park virtually devoid of human activity or meaningful employment.

Donors may not realize that their financial support of the NRCM pays for a lavish office building just a block from the State House – a short walk for its highly paid lobbyists to push their agenda on legislators – while residents of places like Calais, Millinocket or Mars Hill cannot afford even modest, middle-income homes. NRCM recently spent donors’ money to rent buses and transport activists from southern Maine to a meeting in Orono to push for a national monument in the Katahdin region, something the Legislature and town after town in rural Maine have voted to oppose.

Folks in rural Maine have neither the time nor the resources to attend these meetings or travel to the State House and lobby for the good jobs they need. The NRCM should not be leading the charge to deny life-changing economic opportunity to poverty-stricken people in rural Maine. That’s why I have invited the NRCM to meet with me and discuss how we can work together to create long-term, good-paying career jobs for Maine people.

I understand and appreciate donors’ desire to support Maine’s environment and precious natural resources. However, they should know their financial support of the NRCM is costing rural Mainers good jobs and keeping them mired in poverty. I urge supporters of the NRCM to take a balanced approach to protect our environment and provide prosperity for the Maine people who live in it.

]]> 27, 20 Jun 2016 19:04:55 +0000
Maine Voices: As debate over pesticides ramps up, let’s dispel a number of myths Tue, 21 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Towns and cities nationwide are going organic in the management of land within their jurisdictions because it eliminates the use of chemicals that have known environmental and public health hazards.

Maine is on the forefront for good reason, being a coastal state with waterways that need protection and steeped in the tradition of marine biologist Rachel Carson, who, with the publication of “Silent Spring” over 50 years ago, alerted the nation to the adverse effects of DDT and other pesticides on people and wildlife.

Since the 1960s, as U.S. pesticide use to kill insects, weeds and fungus has climbed to nearly a billion pounds a year, with per-acre use in parks, home lawns and golf courses in some cases higher than in agriculture, a number of safety myths have emerged and are voiced in Charles McNutt’s June 17 Maine Voices on South Portland’s proposed lawn-pesticide ban.

 Myth 1: Our health is adequately protected by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Maine Board of Pesticides Control.

While Maine relies on the EPA for the underlying assessment of pesticides’ legal use patterns and allowable harm, epidemiologic and laboratory studies link pesticide use to disease outcomes, including cancer, neurological and immune system effects, reproductive disorders, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, respiratory problems and learning disabilities.

The effects on vulnerable population groups, such as children and those with pre-existing health conditions, are elevated. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded in 2012: “Children encounter pesticides daily and have unique susceptibilities to their potential toxicity. … Recognizing and reducing problematic exposures will require attention to current inadequacies in medical training, public health tracking and regulatory action on pesticides.”

 Myth 2: The environment is adequately protected by the EPA and the state.

The ecological hazards of pesticides and their impact on complex biological systems in nature are even less studied than human health effects. With the severe decline of bees and other pollinators, the EPA recently acknowledged that bees experience many indirect exposure pathways to a widely used bee-toxic insecticide, such as contaminated surface water, plant sap, soil and leaves, and said it “lacks information to understand the relative importance of these other routes of exposure and/or to quantify risks from these other routes.”

This deficiency extends to the life-sustaining microbiome, or microbes, in the soil and in mammalian species, performing critical digestive, immune and biological functions.

 Myth 3: EPA toxicity classifications assess the full range of acute and chronic effects.

The toxicity classification of pesticide products does not tell the full story because it is limited to immediate effects and not long-term illnesses, such as cancer. Equally important, incomplete data are not a part of the classification. So the public is not aware that the pesticides have not been tested for their ability to disrupt the endocrine system, the message center of the body, or the increased toxicity associated with mixtures of multiple pesticides on a treated lawn or playing field.

 Myth 4: Pesticides used on private and public property stay where they are used.

Pesticides move off the use site through drift and runoff. Those not allowed for indoor use find their way into houses through air currents and being tracked inside. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the overwhelming majority of the most popular pesticides have been detected in surface waters, including popular herbicides.

In referring to various pollutants, including pesticides and fertilizers, the Maine Department of Environment Protection states on its website, “Individually small amounts of pollutants may seem insignificant, but collectively they add up to create the largest source of pollution to Maine’s waters.” As a result, pesticide use on all property is a community public and environmental health concern.

 Myth 5: Beautiful lawns require toxic pesticides.

Toxic pesticides are not necessary for beautiful turf, just as they are not needed in a $40 billion organic food industry. Organic turf systems focus on building soil health to support healthy lawns that do not threaten the health of children and pets that play on them.

Numerous practices and organic-compatible products work in concert with nature to enhance soil biology and the resiliency of grass and other plants, and cycle nutrients naturally. They also reduce energy and water use, sequester atmospheric carbon and provide business opportunities for retailers and service providers. It’s a win-win for health, the environment and business.

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Charles Lawton: Our state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem should look outside Maine Tue, 21 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I have long viewed entrepreneurship as a critical element of Maine’s economic development, particularly in this long era of deindustrialization, which has seen the withering of so many of our state’s traditional sources of employment. We need new sources of jobs to replace the old ones that have been lost. What better way than to start new businesses?

The logic of this argument is sound. And Maine has made great strides in recognizing and working to enhance its entrepreneurial ecosystem – the complex system of people, attitudes and support institutions that constitute the soil in which new enterprises can start and grow.

The recently released 2016 Kaufmann Index of Growth Entrepreneurship ranks Maine 19th among the 25 smaller states, a ranking that’s bounced up and down over the past several years with no clear trend.

It is useful, therefore, to look at Maine’s performance in each of the three components of the index: rate of startup growth, share of scale-ups and density of high-growth companies.

 The first – rate of startup growth – measures the average employment size of newly formed businesses in a given year against the average size of the surviving companies of that cohort five years later.

By this measure, Maine ranks seventh among the 25 smaller states and has maintained slow but steady growth over the period since the end of the Great Recession, rising from an average growth rate of about 25 percent for the five-year survivors in 2006 to about 60 percent for the 2013 survivors.

Terrific! Maine startups are adding employees. But from the perspective of a three- or four-person startup growing to five or 10 employees after five years, this measure announces good but not great news.

 The third element of the Kaufmann Index – density of high-growth companies – is the ratio of high-growth companies, as defined by Inc. magazine, to all employment-reporting companies in a state.

By this metric, Maine ranks 13th among the 25 smaller states and has enjoyed relatively steady growth from 2008 to 2013 before a substantial drop in 2014 (the year used for calculating the 2016 Kaufmann Index).

Again, good but not great news, considering that Maine’s high-growth density score of 32.3 means that for every 100,000 total employment-reporting companies, there are 32 Inc. high-growth companies (firms with “at least $2 million in annual revenue” that have seen three years of 20 percent growth in annual revenue).

 The second (and, from Maine’s perspective, most significant) element of the Kaufmann Index – share of scale-ups – is a measure of the percentage of newly formed companies that survive for 10 years, reach at least 50 employees by year 10 and didn’t start with at least 50 employees.

By this measure, Maine ranks 20th among the 25 smaller states, with a rate of 1.06 percent. More importantly, this measure fell steadily from 2001 to 2009 and has remained around this level since.

In a word, what the Kaufmann Index tells us is that Maine is falling short in the most transformative element of its entrepreneurial ecosystem: the growth of startups into employment-generating dynamos capable of bringing a significant share of the population along on its path of growth. And this fact is precisely why Maine should look not just within its own boundaries when thinking about its entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Consider, for example, our southern neighbor Massachusetts, ranked fourth among the 25 larger states. Its 2016 score on rate of startup growth (59.2 percent) was lower than Maine’s score (62.1 percent), but its rate of scale-ups (1.69 percent) was half again as large as Maine’s (1.06 percent), and its high-growth density score (104.7) was more than triple Maine’s score (32.3).

This is meant neither to accentuate some failure in Maine’s entrepreneurial ecosystem nor to invite comparisons to levels of activity that Maine cannot reasonably hope to match. Rather, it is to call attention to all the experience and energy close at hand.

Welcoming Massachusetts residents to visit our state and spend wads of money at our hotels, restaurants and parks is not saying that we want them all to move here.

Similarly, getting Massachusetts entrepreneurs to think of Maine both as a place to come to learn about entrepreneurship and – just perhaps – as a good place to bring their new companies someday would be a great way to strengthen our entrepreneurial soil without having to spend an inordinate amount of money trying to create our own unique Miracle-Gro.

Charles Lawton is chief economist for Planning Decisions, Inc. He can be contacted at:

]]> 3 Mon, 20 Jun 2016 19:08:00 +0000
Another View: Open primary, not ranked-choice voting, is the way to ensure that Maine lawmakers get majority vote Tue, 21 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Jill Ward (Maine Voices, June 11) makes some good points about election reform, but ranked-choice voting isn’t the answer. The goal – to elect candidates whom the true majority prefer – is a noble one. And Ward is right that Americans want honest democracy with more participation. Our officeholders should earn the majority of the people’s support.

However, we vote for governor and legislators from fields of three to five many times and get plurality winners. So how can we give all worthy candidates a shot and get a people’s choice majority winner? An open primary.

Ranked-choice is a referendum question and should be rejected. It creates a false majority winner when there is no majority winner. Voters must select for each office their first-, second- and third-ranked choices instead of the one best person.

Such a system will make voting more confusing without an outright winner. It’s like college football, with the final four “ranked” teams qualifying instead of an open playoff. Under ranked-choice, voters must learn the positions of all the candidates, compare them and then devise a ranking for each office.

The Maine Legislature should instead adopt an open primary, under which all candidates for office – Democrats, Republicans and independents – compete in a June primary. The top two vote-getters for each office face off in November. All contenders get an equal shot, choice is preserved and a true majority winner is realized. With all eligible voters able to take part in June and November, the will of all the people is better served.

Maine’s largest voting bloc is independents, and with our history of selecting good lawmakers regardless of party, we should embrace this inclusive reform. No more plurality winners, no complicated rankings. Just one vote for the best choice. True democracy found.

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Another View: Column leaves out too much about Social Security’s history Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In his June 16 column, The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson chastises President Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to reach a “grand bargain” that would fix the Social Security system. Mr. Samuelson has a short memory, and he is addressing the wrong problem.

The underfunded status of both Social Security and Medicare has long been a recognized problem, caused in large part by Congress’ willingness to raid the trust funds in order to meet other spending goals. If the two systems were private insurance companies, they would have been seized by the regulators long ago, as they are technically insolvent.

Workers have long complained that they are being shortchanged by the Social Security system, in that if they had the opportunity to invest their contributions elsewhere, such as an annuity, their retirement funds would build to a much greater level. Mr. Samuelson’s proposals would further reduce taxpayers’ returns.

President George W. Bush, in 2005, made his famous proposal for private accounts. This was shouted down with the rant that the president wanted people to bet their retirement funds on the stock market to benefit his Wall Street friends. Lost was the fact that the available investments would have been very conservative, including the same government bonds that the system is supposed to invest in, but at double the return Social Security now gives the taxpayer.

What is also forgotten is Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to offer an alternative plan: all the Democrats needed to do was deny, deny, deny that there is a crisis as a means of making the proposal go away and giving the Democrats the opportunity to seize power.

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Maine Voices: Prioritizing early childhood education would pay off for children, Maine Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 FALMOUTH — Every student deserves the chance to succeed. But for too many Maine kids, by the time they enter a kindergarten classroom, the deck is already stacked against them.

Eighty-five percent of a child’s brain development occurs before they turn 5, and whether or not a child has access to a nurturing educational environment during those earliest years can have a significant impact on his or her success in school and in life.

The research about the importance of quality early childhood education is resounding and conclusive. Adults who experienced quality early care as kids are more likely to graduate from college, be employed and make higher wages. They are less likely to enter the criminal justice system or rely on public assistance. The military has even labeled lack of early education as a national security issue because so few young men and women are qualified to serve.

Despite the overwhelming evidence in favor of investing in this critical, formative stage of life, the United States trails far behind other developed countries in access, investment and quality of early childhood education programs.

We are not just failing our kids; we’re also missing out on a powerful economic development tool. Investments in high-quality early education generate economic returns of over $8 for every $1 spent.

Like most of the country, Maine lacks a comprehensive early childhood education system, and we need to do something about it. Expensive and less effective correctional interventions later in life are too little, too late. We need to make investments when they count the most – even before kids begin to learn their ABCs and 123s.

Children from low-income families are less likely to have access to quality early care than their middle-class peers. They are more likely to face an uphill battle in school, reinforcing the achievement gap and compounding the other challenges they already face.

If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, strengthening our economy and breaking the cycle of poverty, this investment is the single most effective public policy tool we have.

The first problem to tackle is access. Public preschool programs are available in just 64 percent of Maine school districts, and only about a third of 4-year-olds in Maine are enrolled. When private preschool is included, participation rises to 42 percent for 3- and 4-year-olds, but that’s behind the New England rate of 56 percent. For children from families who make less than 200 percent of the poverty level, or about $40,320 a year for a family of three, participation is even lower, and the prohibitive cost of private programs is a big factor.

In 2014, the Maine Legislature passed a law to establish public preschool programs at all Maine school districts by the 2018-2019 school year. Participation would be voluntary, but universal access would help expand opportunities for Maine kids, no matter where they live or what their parents can afford. However, without adequate funding for this expansion, this goal will not be attained. We must prioritize funding to help school districts fill this gap in the public education system.

In addition to access, the biggest factor that affects current participation is cost. According to a 2015 report by the Economic Policy Institute, childcare for a 1-year-old accounts for 61.3 percent of the salary for a full-time minimum-wage worker.

But even middle-class families struggle with the high cost. In fact, a year of daycare for an infant is more than the cost of in-state tuition for a year at the University of Maine. Many parents are forced to quit their jobs or scale back their hours to stay home, representing a loss for the economy.

Finally, we need to ensure that early childhood programs are high quality, employing best practices for childhood development.

One way to do that is by valuing early care teachers more. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average income for a full-time child care professional in 2014 was just $21,710. It is challenging to draw skilled and passionate child care professionals to the field when the pay is so low.

Maine has the opportunity to be a leader in the field of early childhood education. We could attract more young families in a state that is currently the oldest in the country and on track to grow older.

There is no time to waste. On average, about 35 babies are born in Maine each day, and they each deserve the chance to succeed.

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Our View: Disarray at Riverview deters patient progress Mon, 20 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There was troubling news from an Augusta courtroom this month, when a judge denied Mark Bechard permission to move from a group home to a supervised apartment.

Bechard had been found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disease or defect after a brutal 1996 attack on cloistered nuns in Waterville and has been indefinitely committed to state custody. Any change in his living conditions has to be cleared by a court.

What was troubling about the hearing was not that moving Bechard to a less-restrictive environment could have exposed the community to some risk. The troubling thing was that management failures at Riverview Psychiatric Center are filtering down to the quality of care for patients, and the judge did not have confidence that there were safeguards in place for Bechard to make progress in his treatment.

By the state’s admission, Bechard’s treatment staff was in “disarray” because of significant turnover at Riverview, and the team working with Bechard might not recognize a deterioration of his mental health because they don’t know him well enough.

According to a Riverview official, Bechard has had at least three psychiatric care providers since January and is anticipating a new one later this year.

At the time of the hearing, no nurse practitioner was assigned to his case, and Bechard was waiting for a new case manager to be assigned next month.

In denying the request, Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen found “that there simply is no substitute for a person developing a relationship (with a patient). … It is a fact that (Bechard’s) level of suspiciousness and distrust of others can minimize his ability to come forward and bring issues that (he) may be experiencing to his treatment providers.”

Turmoil at Riverview, especially regarding forensic patients like Bechard who have been committed through the criminal justice process, has been evident for several years. The hospital lost its federal certification in 2013 and has forfeited $20 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements. A revolving door for senior leadership and inadequate pay for front-line workers have apparently translated into an unstable environment for patients.

The turmoil is probably not unique to Bechard’s case. His hearing attracted public notice only because of the horrible consequences of his psychotic break and attack at the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Three nuns were bludgeoned to death and a fourth was seriously injured.

Given that history and the potential for violence, you would think that monitoring his care would be a top priority. If Bechard’s treatment team is constantly changing and incomplete, what’s going on with the people whose names are not as well known?

It’s long past time for the state to get its act together and bring stability to the treatment of some seriously ill people.

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Maine Voices: Citizens can help prevent terrorism Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 CAPE ELIZABETH — While the nation’s attention was focused on Orlando, another significant but underreported homeland security event took place in California that highlights America’s most powerful counterterrorism weapon: citizen involvement.

The West Coast incident underscores the vision of Maine Emergency Management Agency officials who are about to update our statewide homeland security strategy with a strong re-emphasis on “See Something, Say Something.”

As the details surrounding the Orlando attack emerge, it becomes clear that there were multiple opportunities for the killer’s family, friends, fellow nightclub patrons and workplace colleagues to recognize increasingly aberrant statements and behavior. Those opportunities were wasted when that information was not passed along to authorities.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, officials at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI have been urging Americans to notify authorities of suspicious activity so that pre-operation patterns of activity can be detected and attacks prevented – “See Something, Say Something.”

In the California neighborhood, they exercised that policy in classic fashion and may have prevented an Orlando-style horror.

The Santa Monica residents observed someone in their neighborhood early Sunday acting in a manner that raised their suspicions. They phoned police, who searched his car and found three assault rifles, a handgun, high-capacity ammunition magazines taped together to enable rapid re-loading, a knife, a stun gun, a security badge and a 5-gallon bucket of chemicals that could become ingredients in an improvised explosive device. They also found camouflage clothing and a black hood in the car.

The driver told police that he was headed to the gay pride parade in Los Angeles.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Monica suspect’s Facebook site includes political posts, including one in which he compares Hillary Clinton to Adolf Hitler. In another, he repeats conspiracy theories that the government was behind notorious terrorist attacks, including Sept. 11, 2001. That post shares a video claiming that last year’s terror attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a hoax and attributable to the “New World Order.”

He was arrested and taken into custody, and is being held for trial. It may develop that he is completely innocent of all charges. We don’t know his intentions. That’s up to our judicial system.

Here’s what we know for sure: There were over 100 people dead or wounded in Orlando, and zero in Santa Monica. The resolution of the California event was not triggered by images from a spy satellite or a drone, an FBI undercover team or a massive electronic surveillance program. A citizen made a phone call.

On Tuesday, MEMA will host a gathering of emergency management and homeland security practitioners from across Maine – state, county, cities, federal, private-sector reps – to update our statewide homeland security strategy. Against the background of recent events they will address key issues, survey current capabilities and identify gaps, assess risks to critical infrastructure and set objectives to reduce exposure to threats, both natural and man-made.

It promises to be a timely and significant discussion leading to tangible improvements in our posture. (To MEMA’s credit, these brainstorming sessions were scheduled long before the recent tragedy in Florida.) Since the last iteration of the statewide strategy in 2010, for example, cyber security has risen in importance and domestic terrorism has evolved. Mass casualty incident response, interagency cooperation, and interoperable communications are always issues.

Mainers can take some reassurance from the fact that these professionals are actively engaged in updating their plans and policies, that they are regularly talking to each other across traditional turf boundaries, sharing information and applying lessons learned from the latest events across the globe. Good prevention and response depend upon good preparation.

Importantly, MEMA leadership plans to re-energize every sector’s commitment to increased participation in the practice of “See Something, Say Something” across Maine. That will be a good thing.

We all should become involved citizens in this common-sense practice to honor past victims and help prevent future ones.

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Our View: Gun violence demands public health approach Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 There’s a disease that kills 30,000 Americans every year, and strikes twice as many others, often resulting in lifelong disabilities.

It’s gun violence, and if it were a virus, we would be doing everything in our power to find the best way to fight it.

But because of intense lobbying from the National Rifle Association and others, we go from funeral to funeral in the dark, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control prevented by law from funding any research into finding ways that might save lives.

It’s time for that to end. The American Medical Association has classified gun violence as a public health crisis, and has pledged to use its lobbying clout to lift Congress’ 20-year ban on researching the gun problem. This move is long overdue, and there is no reasonable argument against it.

Last week’s massacre in Orlando is only the most recent example of why it’s so important to collect this data. It’s unclear whether Orlando was solely an act of aggression against the United States, or an atrocity against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities – or some combination of the two.


But it is beyond dispute that 49 people were shot to death and 53 others were wounded in a rampage that was facilitated – at least in part – by our liberal gun laws, including the ones that permit easy access to military-style assault weapons designed to kill quickly and in big numbers.

The Orlando massacre is just a more extreme example of what has been going on all around us. On average, there are 33 gun homicides a day, 52 gun suicides and two fatal accidents.

But as the bodies pile up, what does the gun lobby offer? Bromides about firearms being neutral tools (“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”) – as if we would be comfortable with 30,000 table saw deaths every year. The peak of absurdity came last week from likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who had the gall to suggest that the problem at the Pulse nightclub last weekend was not one gunman too many, but many gunmen too few, and if we only encouraged people to bring firearms with them when they went out to bars, everybody would be much safer.

We can do better than that, and we owe it to the families of victims to not take their deaths lightly.

There is near consensus on two principles behind current gun control laws that limit access without threatening constitutional rights: There are certain people who shouldn’t have firearms, and there are certain firearms that no one should have.

Public health research should help society do a better job of refining the laws to support those principles. For instance, current law prohibits gun possession by people who have ever been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, but that reflects old thinking about mental health. Today, even very ill people are likely to be treated on an outpatient basis. A more effective ban might be a temporary prohibition of gun possession for a person in crisis, but determining how to enforce that would take thorough research.


And despite the Second Amendment, most Americans are prevented by law from owning fully automatic machine guns, and the penalties for breaking the law are so onerous that even criminals don’t bother. The same logic could be applied to semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines, which are involved in only a small fraction of homicides but are used in about half of mass killings (those that involve four or more victims).

Or researchers may find that the sheer number of guns scattered around the country, and not their type, could be the reason behind America’s gun violence rate, which is unlike any other developed country’s.

And the research could also show that the gun industry lobbyists have been right all along, and there is nothing that would effectively slow the steady drumbeat of injury and death. But the fact that they have dug in so hard against asking these questions shows that, at least on some level, they suspect that their position won’t withstand the cold, hard facts.

There is a disease that is killing and disabling tens of thousands of Americans every year. It’s time that we have the doctors take a look.

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Another View: DHHS official’s slow action on opioid crisis a poor response Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In response to the June 7 column by Sheldon Wheeler, director of the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services:

I would like to point out a couple of issues with his alternate reality.

He opens his argument by using the same tired attacks on “the left-leaning media” and wasteful government spending.

This is the first line of defense this administration trots out every time they get called on the carpet for some mistake: that is, to first blame the media and wasteful liberals. That, folks, is straight out of the Gov. LePage playbook, and it’s not working anymore (see “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”).

He then proceeds to justify the malfeasance and foot dragging of his department by claiming that, if they don’t “measure twice” before constructing the right program, the whole thing will fail. This is pure nonsense, and everything that follows in his piece is misdirection, smoke and mirrors.

The addiction crisis is a five-alarm fire and, under Mr. Wheeler’s plan, the fire department is going to construct a strong framework while the house burns down. Let’s not worry about it, though. Look at the wonderful job they’ve done with the Riverview Psychiatric Center as a result of the DHHS’ strong framework and planning.

]]> 1 Fri, 17 Jun 2016 18:17:53 +0000
Commentary: How should Mainers deal with cultural divide over guns? Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 He was at the end of the driveway, thrashing around, starting to cross the road, then pivoting awkwardly back in the direction of the house. I watched him for a minute, as cars slowed and people stared, and then did what most people would do in the central Maine village where I live. I went inside to get a gun.

The raccoon had distemper or some other disease. He couldn’t raise himself up on his feet, and he appeared to be blind. I shot him with a .22-caliber handgun, then put him in a bag and disposed of him at the far side of the back field. It had to be done, and the task fell to me because the sick animal was on my property.

If he had showed up in one of my neighbors’ driveways, they most likely would have done the same thing.

This was a couple of weeks ago, and the incident has stayed with me since, not just because it was unpleasant – I love wildlife and nature – but because I’ve spent months thinking a lot about guns. I write mystery novels and my latest, “Straw Man,” published last month, involves the gun culture in Maine – and the very different ways guns are used in places to our south.

I say this as the nation reels from the horror of Orlando and is confronted yet again by the thorny question of gun rights. Once again, we ask, who needs a gun? And for what? I’ve been asking myself that question for months.

Researching “Straw Man,” I shopped online in Uncle Henry’s, that iconic Maine publication, and talked to gun sellers who ranged from full-time dealers to a guy who wanted to trade a 12-gauge shotgun for a four-wheeler. Everyone I spoke with or emailed was polite and helpful, whether they were offering a Montgomery Ward .22 rifle, a Glock .40 or an assault rifle.

There is an assumption among Maine gun sellers that you share their views on what a gun is for – hunting, target shooting, home protection or just plain collecting. Most sellers eventually ask for an ID, and I didn’t run into anyone who seemed to be the type to sell to someone they found sketchy – or from that other category of suspicious character: “from away.”

It’s a self-policing sort of community, for the most part, ruled by common sense and an underlying belief in the Second Amendment. But the jurisdiction of that policing only extends so far.

I say this because the other part of my research involved riding with plainclothes police in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, teams that patrol the streets in an effort to get guns out of the hands of young people. It’s an endless task, punctuated mostly by small victories: stopping known gang members and finding firearms in the car or seeing a kid on the sidewalk with a bulge in his pants and taking that handgun away before it can be used.

It’s very different from when I was growing up in a city not far from Dorchester, where the most heated disagreements were resolved behind the high school. The combatants were typically surrounded by a ring of spectators who were treated to a clumsy version of mixed martial arts. Often the two combatants would shake bloody hands at the conclusion of the match. Sometimes, like in a bad movie, they came away friends.

Disagreements among gang members in Dorchester are more likely to end with somebody dead.

Guns in that world – from cheap revolvers to machine pistols – are displayed with bravado, flashed in YouTube rap videos. When they aren’t showing up as props, the guns are used to settle scores, and the severity of the punishment is inversely proportionate to the seriousness of the offense. An insult can mean a bullet to the head. Ditto for disrespecting somebody’s girlfriend or, even worse, ratting somebody out. Each shooting demands reprisal, which calls for somebody to shoot back. And in a place where drive-by shootings are known by cops as “spray and prays,” the victims are likely to be people whose only offense was being in the general vicinity of the shooter’s target.

This isn’t Orlando, a horrific mass killing of innocents. But these still are tragedies, especially when both the perps and victims are just kids.

We hear of only the saddest of these cases in the news. A child shot on the way home from church choir practice. A high school sports star killed by a stray bullet. We don’t see the “routine” murders, where young people are killed or wounded on Boston streets, deaths that barely merit mention in the bigger media. I kept track of them on the website, where Boston crime is reported with chilling matter-of-factness:

“Another person shot in Codman Square, this time fatally … Woman shot in arm near Codman Square … Woman leaving church grazed by bullet … gunfire at East Cottage and Leyland streets … Two shot in Ashmont …”

There are some big victories for the police who have taken on the task of breaking this cycle, the latest just two weeks ago. Sometimes some good intel leads to a bust, or an undercover operation yields a roundup of major gang members. Either way, that bust is marked by press releases that include photos of piles of cash, drugs – and guns.

And some of those guns are likely to have come from Maine, New Hampshire or Vermont, all classified by the federal Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms as “source states” that sell to “market states” in the rest of New England.

The numbers are a little fuzzy, but the cases are not.

A Maine gun that got some press was the 9 mm handgun used by Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to kill Sean Collier, an MIT police officer. That gun was originally bought at a Maine gun shop, and years later it surfaced in Boston. In another case, a Boston gang member was convicted in 2009 of using straw buyers to buy 40 guns in Maine. The buyers were paid in crack cocaine. The guns were sold on the streets in Boston.

Last year a member of the Red Side Guerilla Brims, a New Haven, Connecticut, gang, was sent to Maine to trade cocaine and heroin for 20 firearms. Last fall a man from Bangor was convicted of using straw buyers to pick up more than 20 guns from private sellers and pawn shops in Maine. The guns were sent to New Haven for distribution.

The fact is, Maine isn’t Mayberry. The opioid epidemic that’s ravaged the state has been matched by what seems like daily drug busts in small towns across the state. Bag a drug dealer and you’re likely to find one of the tools of the trade: a loaded handgun. But gun violence here is nothing like gun violence in places like Dorchester. A fatal shooting on the streets of Portland or Bangor or Lewiston still makes the front page.

Here in Maine, we’re a world away from the never-ending gang feuds around the Dorchester projects. So how does their problem become our problem? If a gun makes its way south into the hands of criminals, how is that our fault? If a Maine car dealer sold a car used years later at a Boston bank robbery, do we lock down the car dealers? If you sell your old beater off your front lawn, are you culpable if the new owner drives drunk?

Of course not. But a car isn’t a gun. You can’t carry a loaded Subaru in your waistband.

I say all this knowing full well that guns are the tools of my trade, too. Many of the characters – good and bad – in my dozen or so crime novels carry guns and sometimes use them. In “Straw Man,” death threats against my protagonist, reporter Jack McMorrow, and his family have him carrying a loaded handgun. McMorrow is backed up by a Marine Corps veteran named Clair who can be depended upon for sound judgment and firepower. When the New York Times assessed the book, the review noted that in “Straw Man,” Clair offers McMorrow sage advice – and a Glock with an extra clip.

But that said, as I did my research I couldn’t help but be struck by – and even haunted by – the contrast in gun cultures in these two nearly adjoining states. In rural Maine, a gun is like a chainsaw or a riding mower. I know for a fact that in my small central Maine village, most of my very law-abiding neighbors – from middle-aged hunters to elderly women – keep at least one gun in the house, and many keep several. The other neighbors? I’m not sure. It hasn’t come up in conversation. (As I write this on a Sunday morning, I hear shots nearby. Target shooting to start the day.)

So should private gun sales in Maine be better regulated? Should all sellers be legally required to demand ID and report that information to the state? If I trade a shotgun to my neighbor for an old snowmobile, do I take down my neighbor’s information and mail it in to somebody in Washington?

The idea rankles many of us Mainers, I know, being people who are independent by nature and able to run our lives just fine without Augusta, thank you very much. And if we thought a potential gun buyer intended to use that gun to commit a crime, we’d refuse to sell that weapon, get the license plate number and call the cops – law or no law.

But here’s the rub, the part that I can’t shake. In Dorchester riding with the gang unit, we passed occasional makeshift memorials, flowers and candles and stuffed animals set out on sidewalks and tenement stoops. Each marked a spot where someone very young had been shot very dead. Life over. No second chance.

For some reason I thought of this as the raccoon was writhing at the side of the road. A few kind people stopped to ask if I was going to call the animal rescue. I said no because the “rescue” would end the same way, and waiting for someone’s arrival would just prolong the animal’s suffering.

So the deed was done, the gun put away until next time. But I couldn’t help but wonder if those people who were distressed by the raccoon’s plight would be just as moved by the tragedy of teenagers shot and killed on the street an hour from the Maine border. And if so, would they feel at all responsible? Would they feel a need to change our own gun culture? If not, why not? If so, where do we begin?

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Alan Caron: Don’t let Donald Trump ruin your summer Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine Democrats have been traumatized by two successive victories by Gov. Paul LePage. Faced now with a similarly insurgent Donald Trump candidacy, they’re seeing shadows of LePage lurking everywhere. And they worry about a déjà vu experience in November, on a national scale.

If it happened here, they ask, wide-eyed with fear, can it happen to the whole country? OK, Democrats. Time to come down from the tree limb. Leave your keyboard up there. Turn off Facebook. Stop tweeting.

It’s summer in Maine. The birds are singing, the gardens are growing and the cookouts and beaches and golf courses are beckoning. Let’s see if we can’t get everyone to relax a little. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. There we go. That’s it.

Look at the bright side. You don’t have half the apprehensions that Republicans have right now. Oh sure, you’ve got your ritual dispute between the candidate of the left, who are always pure and noble, and the mainstream candidate who lives in the nasty real world and can actually win. Sure, you have to slog through that healing process with all those unpleasant steps of denial, anger, grief and acceptance, and then take it to unity at your convention.

But those things pale against the problems that Republicans have. They have Trump. Some Republicans like that, of course, seeing Trump as the billionaire version of the second coming. Social media sites are abuzz with loud bravado and predictions, as though baying at the moon somehow persuades people.

Most Republicans, though, are quietly agonizing over the long-term damage that the Republican brand will endure after producing a presidential candidate so obviously unqualified for the office. In their heart of hearts, they know that Trump would be damaging to the country and that he’s going to lose in the fall. And they won’t do much to stop it.

Their worst fear is that in the course of this election, when the pressure becomes too great, Trump will simply explode into little pieces that will rain down on other candidates in races across the country, costing the Republican party control of the Senate and perhaps even the House.

My Democratic friends are always asking me whether I think Trump could win. Well, yes. Anyone can win. His opponent could be run over by a bus. We could be struck by a massive asteroid. The gravitation fields of the Earth could suddenly take a siesta.

That apparently hasn’t been reassuring enough, because lots of them are still walking around with deeply furrowed brows, looking blankly ahead and muttering to themselves: “LePage did it. What about LePage? Will it happen again? It might, right? It will, won’t it? Tell me!”

I want all those folks to have a nice summer and enjoy the conventions. So here’s what I hope they’ll think about:

Trump has had a miserable six weeks as the presumptive nominee, including his recent response to the Orlando tragedy. This week, for the first time, polling shows that a majority of Americans will not vote for him. As much as 30 percent of Republicans say they won’t vote for him. And, 25 percent of Americans now describe him as a racist. Major Republicans, including all former Republican presidents, haven’t endorsed him, four weeks before their convention.

There is no national equivalent to our three-way elections. While there will be others on the national ballot, mounting a national campaign without the national infrastructure and money of a party is more than anyone, including the immensely popular Teddy Roosevelt, has been able to do.

Hillary Clinton is a seasoned campaigner and debater. Though she has a tendency to run lackluster front-runner campaigns, Clinton knows a lot about presidential campaigns and how the country and the world works. She’s also a very tough debater who comes armed with the facts. Trump has trouble doing his homework and gets things mixed up a lot. Enjoy the show.

Presidential elections are not like state elections, where all the votes get totaled. There are 50 different state elections. This one will be decided in 10 states, and nine of them lean Democratic in recent presidential elections.

Clinton’s lead in national polling is growing, after Trump’s clumsy responses to the tragedy in Orlando. Last week’s average of about a 4 percent lead against Trump is now climbing and may be at 8 percent or even 10 percent by the end of the week.

Both candidates will get a bump after their conventions. The thing to watch is how big the bump is and how much of it dissolves two weeks later.

So relax, friends. It’s summer in Maine. Go have a cookout!

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

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Cynthia Dill: The courage of her convictions Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When Anne Verrill heard the news of another mass shooting by a man wielding an assault-style rifle – this time targeting young people in Florida – she thought “there but for the grace of God go my kids” and then jumped out the window of her safe echo chamber into the snake pit of gun zealots.

The owner of Grace Restaurant and Foreside Tavern had exhausted the conversation about gun violence with people she agreed with and saw the futility of signing another online petition. Words, thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, and Congress, awash with gun-lobby money, is impotent to do the political work necessary to make changes. Senators in Washington live in a gun-free bubble opposing reasonable gun laws while the rest of us live in a glass house surrounded by people who love to throw rocks.

So Verrill put her money where her mouth is. She served up an announcement on Facebook that owners of assault-style weapons are no longer welcome in her establishments, with a picture of an assault weapon on the side.

“You don’t privately own this weapon to protect your family, or to hunt. I understand that I may be offending members of my community, but this is a human issue, not a gun owners’ issue, or a Second Amendment issue, it is about humans,” she continued. “I cannot, in good conscience, accept anyone inside of my restaurants who believes that this is OK.”

And so up went a red flag that quickly beckoned the usual army of right-wingers waving their yellow Gadsden flags and screaming about their right to bear arms, while spewing filth and spittle on Verrill’s rights and all people of her ilk who believe repeated massacres of innocent civilians by military-style assault weapons is a human-rights issue.

Verrill’s concern is not without merit. Since last July, seven out of eight of the high-profile mass shootings have been carried out by assault-style weapons. Terrorist groups around the world are buying U.S. guns to kill our citizens and our allies.

“America is absolutely awash with easily obtainable firearms,” American-born al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn said in a video. “You can go down to a gun show at the local convention center and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check, and most likely without having to show an identification card. So what are you waiting for?”

The easy access to military-style weapons designed to kill large groups of people quickly is so ridiculous – so completely moronic – that even Donald Trump agrees it’s a bad idea to let people on a terrorist watch list buy them.

Time will tell whether Verrill shot herself in the foot for taking a stand, or whether her courage will inspire business people everywhere to get off the sidelines and into the ring. Corporations may be the only “people” immune from high-capacity magazines of ammunition, and clearly there’s a market for gun-violence solutions.

Let’s out and shame all those who profit from mass murder. Let’s report people who make threats and say incendiary and disgusting things online to their employers. Let’s take away public benefits from people who use the town square we now call the internet to threaten and harass.

We don’t have to accept the extraordinary amount of gun violence in America. It’s not inevitable – it’s a choice, and everyone who throws up their arms in despair and avoids difficult conversations about it are complicit. And we don’t have to tolerate bullying by gun fanatics online or surrender the internet to terrorists and organizations intent of harming people.

Business owners can refuse customers with a fetish for assault-style guns designed primarily to kill people, and they should. There’s a difference between banning people who own guns from your restaurant and refusing to sell a wedding cake to a same-sex couple or a black man.

“There is nothing intrinsic to the human person about owning a gun. Being a gun owner is not a protected characteristic under the Maine Human Rights Act,” according to Mary Bonauto, the Maine lawyer who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in the historic case Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples nationwide and winner of a 2014 MacArthur Fellowship award.

You may have a right to own and carry certain guns, but not all guns. You can’t own and carry a shoulder-fired missile, for instance. There is a line between what guns citizens can have and what weapons are reserved for the military. Until lawmakers adjust the line and make it bright, there are actions we can take and should. Send your thoughts and prayers to Verrill for her courage, and then jump out of the box you’ve been thinking in.

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

Twitter: dillesquire

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Maine Observer: The deeper meaning of ‘congratulations’ Sun, 19 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 June is often thought of as a season of endings and beginnings when graduations and weddings abound. Families celebrate the past as they anxiously and excitedly look toward the future.

Since the school year really starts in September and ends in June, it’s also often time for another type of ending – the retirement of veteran and beloved teachers.

Two colleagues I worked with in a past school district will be retiring at the end of this school year. I started writing them each a card by saying “Congratulations on your retirement,” and then I stopped and remembered how odd that had seemed to me when I retired a few years ago.

It seemed strange that someone would congratulate me on something that I was just doing – ending a career in education. I simply wrote a letter to the superintendent and was done. It didn’t seem much to warrant praise. But then I started remembering these two exceptional teachers and I had a bit of a paradigm shift concerning the definition of the word “congratulations.” So I think perhaps people are really saying a number of things when they say “Congratulations on your retirement,” particularly in the case of these two remarkable women. I think they are really saying:

Congratulations for being able to find just the right key to unlock a child. It might have been introducing a child the wonderful world of Arnold Lobel and the “Frog and Toad” reading books, or helping a student continue to try different musical instruments to find that one that fits perfectly. Double congratulations for doing it with those students who were quiet and shy – those easily missed in the craziness of elementary school.

Congratulations on watching out for those students most needy: the ones who couldn’t afford to purchase a band instrument or perhaps looked longingly at your lunch one day. Congratulations for being an advocate for them and bringing their needs to the attention of school counselors and administrators, thus allowing them to become more successful at their studies and in their student life.

Congratulations on being superb professionals, attending staff meetings, planning student activities and very rarely complaining. Extra kudos for taking that unexpected bus or playground duty and smiling about it.

Congratulations on being mentors to the younger teachers in your buildings, providing training on a reading assessment, or helping them fill out their first report cards, or being there with an encouraging word and maybe even a tissue if needed.

Congratulations on connecting with parents and families and making them feel comfortable as partners in their child’s school career, perhaps reaching out with night program at the local library or creating musical performances that brought the audience to their feet with tears in their eyes.

So to my dear colleagues, thank you for making a difference in so many students’ lives and in so many teachers’ lives. Congratulations on your retirement, indeed.

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Maine Voices: Memories come tumbling out during dive into overstuffed clothes closet Sat, 18 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 YORK — My wife was annoyed with me the other day. I was sent to my closet to get rid of items I no longer wore. These included T-shirts, sweatshirts, pants, jeans, shorts, hats and every other thing I’ve covered my body with for the past 50 or so years.

As always, my wife had the right idea. When I opened my closet, it looked like it was filled with a solid block of multi-colored cloth. There was not a space, either hanging or on the shelf, that could fit another item. How the shelf didn’t fall from the massive weight of sweatshirts and sweaters is above and beyond my comprehension.

Shoes and old worn-out sneakers covered the floor of the closet, over what I assumed was a rug. It was possible that the shoes were actually on top of even older sweaters. I decided to start at the top and work my way down.

When I reached and grabbed what I thought was a single sweatshirt, the entire contents of the shelf came tumbling down. I don’t understand how I survived the resulting avalanche. After I got over the shock and awe, I started to dig through what I would later consider a history of me.

Black, gray, blue and even gray sweatshirts were strewn in front of me. Some had logos of teams, businesses and schools I had long since forgotten.

I also found sweatshirts that had the insignia of every Boston sports team that has won a championship since the mid-1970s. The one that put the widest grin on my face was the one from Super Bowl XX, held in Louisiana in 1986. Actually, it looked almost new, because I was so impressed that the New England Patriots had been AFC champions that season, I didn’t want it to lose its glow.

After stuffing the sweatshirts in a large black plastic garbage bag that was heading for the big yellow Salvation Army collection bin in the back of the parking lot of the closest shopping center, I found a haberdashery of baseball caps. Many were Red Sox and Patriots championship caps, which I will never get rid of. They represent too many great times and ecstatic feelings.

Others had no insignia but were worn to the point they could never again fit any head. One was especially interesting because it advertised “Kerrybunkport.” It dates from 2004 and has never been worn, but it will be placed with the rest of the hats that provided too many memories to be thrown away.

I then dug through the shirts, which clearly demonstrated where my mind had been over the past few decades. Very colorful shirts represented the 1980s. Some had buttons leading up to the top of the shirt, where there wasn’t any collar. Others were dress shirts, with little wear because I had little use for them with the exception of weddings, meetings and the occasional award presentation.

Digging deeper I found half-sweater, half-shirt combinations that were a favorite during the coldest of our winters. Toward the bottom of this part of the pile lay flannel shirts that in my youth I swore I would never wear. These could become a favorite part of my future.

I have no concept of why I would have ever purchased the number of T-shirts that now lay at my feet. It took at least an hour to go through them.

Some of my favorites had statements like “Independent Variable,” “What Stress?” and others that could never be printed in a family publication. Of course, I had T-shirts representing every championship team ever assembled. I also had T-shirts representing the absolute bums of their sport.

I didn’t have the heart to throw any of the shirts out. I guess this is what the space under the bed should be used for.

I thought the cleaning and organizing of my closet would take no longer than an hour. Four hours later I was still astounded by how eclectic a life I’ve had. H.G. Wells should have known that if one were looking for a time machine in this universe, all they had to do was look in an old man’s closet.

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Our View: From Stonewall to Pulse, it’s a long march for justice Sat, 18 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Pride movement started in a gay bar. Fed up with harassing police raids, patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn used force to protect themselves and demanded to be treated with respect. The activism that resulted led to the first Pride march on the one-year anniversary of the rebellion.

The tradition has spread, and cities around the world host parades every June to bring lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies together to celebrate and reinforce the message. Portland’s march is Saturday.

As a result of what happened last Sunday – the attack on another gay club – it will be an emotional event. A self-professed terrorist gunned down a closing-time crowd at Pulse in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and injuring 53. So this year’s Pride events will mark not only how much progress has been made in the last 47 years, but also how far we have to go.

To understand why the sense of violation caused by the Orlando atrocity has rippled through LGBT communities far away from Florida, it’s important to think about why gay bars exist. It was not because LGBT people wanted to exclude straight men and women from their parties. It was because LGBT people were not safe in places where straight people gathered.

There’s strength in numbers and protection from people bent on causing harm. Standing up against unjust laws, as was done at Stonewall, could not have been done by a lone individual.

At Monday’s City Hall vigil in Portland, Gia Drew, program director for EqualityMaine, said, “For many of us, clubs have always been a safe haven where we can go to hug, dance and kiss. But the news yesterday out of Orlando felt like a home invasion, like someone broke into our house and killed members of our family.”

Many of us would like to think that anti-gay prejudice is an artifact from history, but the Orlando attack and the thwarted bombing of this year’s Pride event in Los Angeles show that this is not true.

LGBT people are still in danger, even when they come together in a supportive community. LGBT people are more likely to be the target of a hate crime than any other minority. And despite gains in legal status, like the Supreme Court decision that affirmed same-sex marriage in every state, there are still millions of people who can be fired, evicted or denied service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Stonewall Inn is reportedly soon to be designated a national monument, a symbol of how a community standing together can defeat powerful forces.

There is still a long way to march, but by assembling Saturday, the LGBT community of Maine will show the way to get there.

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