The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Opinion Sat, 03 Dec 2016 21:57:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Garrison Keillor: Maybe a Trump presidency is what God intended, after all Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 So many Trumpists have written in since the election, and I am grateful for their interest and also impressed by the sheer variety of their profanity. I never learned to swear that well because by the time my mother died, at 97, it was too late for me to learn.

I gather from the letters that their lives were devastated by the advent of gay marriage, political correctness, the threat of gun control, the arrogance of liberals, and now a champion rises from Fifth Avenue and 56th Street and God forbid that any dog should bark when he speaks or any pigeon drop white matter on his limousine.

What the letter-writers don’t grasp is that cursing is highly effective in person – someone kicks his car in rage, forgetting he’s wearing flip-flops, and flames pour from his mouth, it’s impressive. But you see it in print and it’s just ugly. It makes you pity the writer’s wife.

It’s not good form to curse at someone you’ve just defeated. That is why the president-elect made it clear he would not be waterboarding Hillary Clinton or sending her back to Mexico. He was gracious in victory and said the Clintons are “good people.”

Several of his biggest applause lines seem to have been put back in the box. And his base is faced with the possibility that they may have elected a Manchurian. They know that he was a Democrat for most of his life and that the sight of Adam and Steve holding hands does not fill him with loathing. He is, after all, a New Yorker; he’s not from Tulsa.

He likes drama. Maybe he’ll appoint his sister to the Supreme Court. Maybe he would rather row than wade. Maybe the Republicans will privatize the Pentagon and maybe the Chinese will be the low bidder. Why not run the Marines like a business? Put the “deal” back into “idealism.”

Meanwhile, Chris Christie waits for the prosecutor to call and summon him to a low-ceilinged room with fluorescent lights and ask him pointed questions for the good man to answer under oath and say the same things he’s said in public, that he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with those orange highway cones.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani waits for his phone to ring, the mayor who put his Emergency Command Center on the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center, over the objections of the police department, and later started his own security consulting company. This is a new level of chutzpah. This is like the captain of the Titanic, had he survived, writing a book about the art of navigation.

My first election was in 1948, when we stayed up late listening to returns on a Zenith radio, in our home in the cornfields north of Minneapolis. Mother was content with Harry Truman’s victory, believing that he cared about the poor, and Dad was dubious of politicians in general and Democrats in particular.

It was interesting for a child to sense this division, though they were gentle people and evangelical Christians who refrained from voting on the assumption that the Lord was in charge and would put into power whomever He wished. If you voted, you might vote against His will.

Their reasoning seemed shaky to me – it seemed to argue that one should not get out of bed in the morning lest you eat the wrong cereal for breakfast – but I’ve inherited some of their fatalism. Maybe God did choose this bloated narcissist and compulsive liar and con man to be president, and maybe He will send a couple of Corinthians to light his pathway.

I have my doubts. You grow up to be skeptical of the hormone treatment that eliminates wrinkles, the metal detector that will locate buried treasure, the school that will teach you the secrets of getting rich, the great leader who will make the country great again.

But it does seem like the very thing God might do. Put an idiot in charge and cluster his clueless children around him and a coterie of old hacks and opportunists and thereby teach us haughty journalists a lesson. God made Balaam’s donkey open its mouth and say, “Quit hitting me, stupid.” And if He could do that, He could make this moose a halfway decent president.

Meanwhile, blessings on all who cursed me. May you thrive and prosper. I hope you have not cursed your children.

— The Washington Post News Service

with Bloomberg News

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Maine Voices: Hope for post-election renewal lies in humble reflection, education and action Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 BRUNSWICK — In the aftermath of a toxic presidential campaign, what insight can one offer into our nation’s character and spirit? Where is the hope for meaningful renewal?

Below are offered: 1) some perspectives on our human temptation to use power and influence primarily for personal gain; 2) an affirmation of the value of education at all levels in the humanities; and 3) a reminder of the virtue of humble self-reflection as preparation for responsible action.

But first, a football analogy.

In the primaries and general election campaign, there were innumerable instances of personal fouls, including flagrant ones akin to face-mask penalties and late hits. The game of football with its penalty system both reveals and and sets boundaries for human nature’s dark side and does this apparently better than our political game does. In any case, the grass on the political field at game’s end was strewn with yellow flags.

I believe that if personal foul penalties had been fairly charged, especially against the Republican candidate, the election would have had a different result. But blame is not the point here; neither is further division the intent.

Rather, the stubbornness of our national problems drives us to ask what can we learn about ourselves as a society and as human beings that might help turn us in what polls like to call the right direction. How can we get reconnected to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”?

What human problem lies beneath our widespread institutional distrust and the intractable partisan gridlock in Washington? Or, put another way: What is it in the human nature of those with power and influence that persistently shapes rules in ways that block a fairer distribution of wealth, income and political leverage?

One answer is this: It is the individual human ego – our universal human proclivity to get “curved in on ourselves,” Martin Luther’s definition of sin (translated from the Latin). Along with our inspired capacity to sacrifice ourselves for others, there is our inclination to place ourselves, our status and prestige at the center of the universe. The Buddha spoke of a fundamental “streak” in our nature that causes our attitudes and actions to fall “out of joint.”

Those with power (e.g., political, economic, financial and religious) are especially tempted. Reinhold Niebuhr, author of the Serenity Prayer, wrote in “The Irony of American History”: “It is characteristic of human nature, whether in its individual or collective expression, that it has no possibility of exercising power without running the danger of overestimating the purity of the wisdom that directs it.”

Conservative columnist David Brooks, in his best-seller “The Road to Character,” asserts, “We are all ultimately saved by grace … . You are accepted”; the book contains nearly 70 references to sin. Jim Wallis, a leading figure at the crossroads of religion and politics, writes that “history is best changed by social movements with a spiritual foundation … the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, and civil rights.”

But what about the role of education, the humanities, great literature? Parents and teachers continue to remind us of human nature’s gifts – and its slippery slopes.

Such truths are embodied in great art, drama, children’s literature, folk tales, Greek myths like Narcissus, and comparative religion. These continually remind us of our essential goodness as well as our common moral frailty. They illuminate the importance of gratitude, humble self-reflection and, above all, the centrality of compassion.

In his acclaimed 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, author and social critic David Foster Wallace provocatively posed the question of what we worship, what we ascribe ultimate worth to. He asserted there is no such thing as atheism.

“Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship,” Wallace said (mentioning Jesus, Allah, Jahweh, the Four Noble Truths and inviolable ethical principles), “is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.” Among the things that can devour us, he listed money and things, beauty, being smart and sexual allure.

Wallace’s words are a timely summons to humble national self-reflection, and they call us to live lives that are actively responsive to the better angels of our nature.

One of Niebuhr’s ardent admirers, Barack Obama, wrote some years ago that modesty and humility in the face of the world’s evil, hardship and pain should not be used “as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

The next step is ours to take.

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Obama: The time for Congress to act on the opioid epidemic is now Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 In the final weeks of my administration, we are as focused as ever on a promise I made in my inaugural address: putting American ingenuity to work to help Americans live healthier lives.

In honoring this promise, I remain committed to addressing the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, a crisis that is taking a devastating toll on far too many families. I’ve seen it in the faces of families I’ve met who’ve lost loved ones, and the countless letters I’ve received from Americans who are trying to find treatment. Next week, Congress has an important role to play in the fight.

Since 1999, the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdoses has nearly quadrupled. In several states, drug overdoses have become a leading cause of injury-related death. From Ohio and New Hampshire to New Mexico and West Virginia, the disease of addiction is affecting communities big and small, urban and rural; it doesn’t discriminate. Instead, it strains families as well as the capacity of law enforcement and our health care systems in ways that hurt all of us.

Those on the front lines of this fight have made it clear they need more resources. I heard them, and in February I proposed $1 billion in new investments to address the crisis. Through my proposal, Maine could be eligible for up to $4 million over two years to help individuals with heroin or prescription opioid addiction seeking treatment get the help they need.

It will build upon steps we have already taken to expand overdose prevention strategies, improve opioid prescription practices, and ensure more Americans seeking addiction treatment can get the help they so desperately need. Those devastated by the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic cannot wait any longer. They need help now, and we need to help turn the tide of this epidemic.

In the many months since I called on Congress to act, my administration has continued to use every tool at our disposal to make a difference. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all health care plans sold in the marketplace have to cover treatment.

We’ve also made it easier for health care providers to treat more patients with opioid addiction, made sure more providers are trained in appropriate opioid prescribing practices, expanded community health centers’ capacity to provide treatment and supported efforts to get the overdose reversal drug – naloxone – into the hands of first responders.

We have empowered federal agencies to provide local communities the support they need, doing what we can to help where it is needed most. And we have made sure everyone has a seat at the table where the solutions are being developed, holding roundtables and town halls with law enforcement, health professionals, family members, individuals in recovery and local leaders.

Next week, Congress can do its part.

U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin are among the members of the House of Representatives who just voted overwhelmingly – and in a bipartisan fashion – to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. In addition to funding the fight against the opioid epidemic, this bill can improve our nation’s long-term health with its support of Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, funding for important research through our BRAIN and Precision Medicine Initiatives, and important mental health reforms.

I hope that the Senate will pass it without delay. Seventy-eight Americans die every day from opioid-related overdoses. So every day that passes without Congress’ action is a missed opportunity to save and improve lives and to spare families pain and heartache.

Even in this season of transition, the American people expect us to act in their best interests. We all know someone who has been affected by these diseases and disorders. The time to act is now.

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Another View: Russia’s meddling goes deeper than hacking Sat, 03 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Russian meddling in Western democracies is often portrayed as malicious but soft-boiled, centered on cyberattacks, propaganda operations and financial help for pro-Moscow politicians. So it’s worth calling attention to a couple of recent episodes in Eastern Europe that were of an entirely different character. In NATO member Hungary, Russian agents have been fingered for training with a neo-Nazi militia; in the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro, which is on the verge of joining the transatlantic alliance, Moscow is accused of plotting a violent coup.

The evidence in both cases is incomplete but compelling. In Hungary, the story began with a gunfight in late October between police and the leader of the National Front movement, an extremist group that identifies with Hungarian fascists of the 1930s. Police subsequently raided a number of properties connected to the group and discovered large stockpiles of weapons, according to a report in the Financial Times. Hungary’s national security committee reported that Russian diplomats and men dressed in Russian military intelligence uniforms had openly engaged in paramilitary training exercises with members of the group.

The neo-Nazi arrested after the firefight, Istvan Gyorkos, was already known for having founded a website that spreads pro-Kremlin propaganda about the war in Ukraine. Hungarian media have published emails in which the group’s leaders discuss obtaining funds from Moscow. In short, the regime of Vladimir Putin appears to have been intimately involved with an armed movement dedicated to restoring fascism in Hungary.

The revelations have embarrassed Hungary’s right-wing government,which is among the most pro-Russian in Europe. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has struck lucrative energy deals with the Putin regime and resisted European Union sanctions on Russia. Rather than reward that cooperation, Putin’s intelligence services appear to have boldly nurtured an extremist alternative.

An even more audacious operation was underway in Montenegro, if authorities there and in neighboring Serbia are right. They say Russian agents attempted to foment a coup on Oct. 16, when parliamentary elections were being held. The idea was that armed men would seize the parliament building and assassinate then-Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who has led his country’s bid for NATO membership. Some 20 Serbians and Montenegrins were arrested for participating in the plot. One, a notorious Serbian mercenary, has told authorities of visiting Moscow to discuss the coup and receiving $200,000 to carry it out, according to a report in the New York Times.

Montenegrin authorities have not publicly accused the Russian government of sponsoring the plot. But they have identified two Russian nationals who traveled to the country as its organizers, and the Times quoted sources close to the investigation as saying they were intelligence officers. The men have since returned to Moscow and disappeared.

Russian intelligence services have been known for meddling in foreign countries since the time of the czars. But veteran analysts say such bold attempts to sow chaos in countries linked to NATO are virtually unprecedented. They reflect a regime that has given free rein to its covert operatives, on the calculation that there will be little or no pushback from a weak and divided West. Until that theory is proved wrong, expect more trouble from Moscow’s agents.

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M.D. Harmon: Outpouring of fake news on the left deserves attention Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 This week’s chuckles come from the left’s newest effort to push a contrived narrative.

This time it’s the “fake news” campaign, which is partly an effort to use Donald Trump’s more outré claims to divert attention from (#NotMyPresident) Hillary Clinton’s multiple flaws, which are the real reason for her loss.

But it’s also partly an effort to discredit conservative opinion sources as purveyors of intentionally false narratives, as opposed to what they mostly do, which is to dare to disagree with progressives.

In addition, the campaign has vainly tried to tie Trump to odious fringe movements with few supporters and zero influence.

But the plethora of “fake news” on the left deserves attention, too:

“Hillary is a shoo-in for president!” If there was one talking head who called the race in September, there were dozens, to the point where the only doubt was how many seats Democrats would win when they took over the Senate on Nov. 8.

True, this story’s purveyors apparently believed it. But it turned out to be fake nonetheless – just like Jill Stein’s money-grubbing “recount campaign” will soon prove to be. (Who knew “Green Party” meant the size of her bank account?)

“Fidel Castro was a patriot who served the Cuban people.”

This fake story has been going on for half a century.

After his death at age 90 last week, we were told Castro was “the George Washington of his country” (Jim Avila, ABC News); he “will be revered” for “education and social services and medical care to all of his people” (Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC); and he was a “legendary revolutionary and orator” who “made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation” (Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada).

Education matters little when the regime censors information, and visitors to ordinary hospitals (not the elite ones shown to foreigners) report beds without sheets and no antibiotics – or even Band-Aids.

Castro’s fortune was estimated at $900 million, while the average monthly wage in Cuba is $20. And his executioners slaughtered between 7,000 and 10,000 political opponents while imprisoning scores of thousands more.

While President Obama issued a bland statement of ill-defined regret, President-elect Trump, who promises to push for real change in Cuba, knew exactly what to say: “Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”

That’s attested to by a genuine Cuban patriot, Armando Valladares, who spent 22 years in Castro’s prisons.

In one, La Cabaña, he said, “Each night, the firing squad executed scores of men in its trenches. We could hear each phase of the executions, and during this time, these young men – patriots – would die shouting ‘Long live Christ the King. Down with Communism!’ And then you would hear the gunshots. Every night there were shootings. Every night. Every night. Every night.”

 “There were no real scandals in the Obama administration.”

The president recently repeated this claim, which requires that you forget about his doubling the national debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in just eight years; or the veterans who died while on Veterans Administration waiting lists; or the conservative groups excluded from the political process by his Internal Revenue Service; or his promises that Obamacare would save you $2,500 on health insurance and let you keep your doctor (a major fake news story all by itself); or that his secretary of state let four Americans die at Benghazi by denying them military aid and then lying about it, and also transmitted secret data using a private server; or his bypassing the Constitution with “a pen and a phone.”

No scandals, nope, none at all.

 Finally, ponder “climate change.” Sure, it’s happening because it always has and always will.

But the real issues are how much human action influences it; is what’s happening actually persistent and harmful; and can we somehow identify an “ideal” climate state and then fine-tune the entire planet to achieve it?

Claiming we have definite answers to those extremely complex questions is the epitome of “fake news.” Trump appears to know that, because he’s appointed a climate realist to address the actions of the rogue bureaucrats at the Environmental Protection Agency.

I also read that there’s an excellent way for Trump to deal with the Paris climate treaty that Obama has pretended to enact: Simply follow the Constitution (for a change) and submit it to the Senate for an up-or-down vote.

There will be nothing fake about what happens to it then.

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

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Our View: Existing laws won’t stem felons’ gun purchases Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 We don’t need new gun laws – we should just enforce the ones already on the books. That’s the familiar refrain of gun rights advocates when faced with even modest proposals to improve public safety.

But current law didn’t keep Norman J. Strobel of Naples, a felon and domestic abuser, from getting the weapon he recently used to kill a man.

Because of his criminal history, Strobel would have failed the federal instant background check that licensed firearms dealers must carry out. In Maine, though, prohibited persons can opt for private sales, where no such scrutiny is required – and, unfortunately, it’s a loophole that neither voters nor lawmakers here seem inclined to close.

Investigators haven’t released details yet on what gun Strobel used last weekend, or how he got it. We do know that he had a gun: His ex-girlfriend, whom he had threatened to kill, told a judge in a September letter that Strobel had bought a 9 mm handgun in a private sale two years ago. It’s also clear that it was illegal for him to own a weapon, because of a record dating back decades in Rhode Island, including felony assault, sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Apparently bent on carrying out his threats to his ex, Strobel drove to her Casco cottage late Saturday. Finding her not at home, Strobel shot and seriously injured her daughter’s boyfriend. Then, authorities say, he killed the acquaintance with whom he’d been sharing a mobile home in Naples, before his own death there early Sunday in an exchange of gunfire with police.

We don’t know whether Strobel exploited the private-sale loophole to buy the gun used in the shootings. But it would be unrealistic to expect that he would have sought out federal scrutiny when buying a weapon, since it’s so easy in Maine to avoid it by acquiring firearms through private sellers. A study by supporters of Question 3, the statewide proposal to expand background checks, identified 3,000 guns listed for sale in Maine through Uncle Henry’s classified magazine and the website.

And though most of those buyers and sellers are law-abiding people, guns found at crime scenes in Maine and other states have been traced to private sales in Maine in which there were no background checks.

But Question 3 failed at the polls on Election Day. So did similar measures when the Legislature weighed them in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings – evidence that despite the harm that can be done when guns get in the wrong hands, Mainers aren’t willing to do what it takes to make it less likely for that to happen.

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Another View: Pope Francis speaks out against virus of polarization Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Pope Francis’ characterization of worldwide tensions based largely on race and ethnicity couldn’t be more on point. The leader of the world’s Roman Catholic community labeled it a “virus.” That is exactly how to describe widespread refusal to understand, accept or even tolerate others who are different. And, as with viruses, the results of that ill will can be infectious and deadly.

The pope made his observation last month at St. Peter’s Basilica at Vatican City during a ceremony at which 17 new cardinals from six continents were inducted.

He urged the cardinals to be careful about the deep-seated animus that has taken root and that has spread exponentially in recent years. “We are not immune from this,” he said. “Our pitiful hearts … tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn.”

And bearing in mind people of different races, nationalities and beliefs, Pope Francis further urged caution against all who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”

He warned against casting someone as “an enemy because they come from a distant country, or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language, or social class.”

Often this subject brings to mind immigrants. And speaking of them, among the new “princes of the church,” as cardinals are also called, was Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin. A year ago, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asked the archbishop not to take in a Syrian refugee family. However, Cardinal Tobin defied the governor – now the vice president-elect – and welcomed the refugee family anyway.

The pope’s comments are applicable to every world inhabitant, believer and nonbeliever alike. Everyone who feels threatened by others who are different has a responsibility not to let this virus continue to spread. Pope Francis has called us all out.

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Maine Voices: USM’s Presidential Installation will focus on students Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Tradition plays an important role in colleges and universities. Each year commencements, lectures, athletic events and even campus pranks appear as important threads within the fabric of a college community.

This week’s Presidential Installation at the University of Southern Maine is no exception. It allows the community at large to acknowledge, even celebrate, the future of the institution as the baton of leadership passes. The ceremony underscores the importance of stability and unites the many stakeholders in affirming the university’s importance to our region and state.

This installation, however, will be a little different than most, focusing deeply on students. Close to 200 students have been selected by our faculty as Inauguration Scholars. These students will march into the Costello Fieldhouse on Friday to be honored as a centerpiece of the ceremony.

Reflecting the best values and principles of our school, our Inauguration Scholars have demonstrated academic excellence or have shown academic promise. Many have overcome great barriers, displayed bravery and courage in service to our country or simply revealed an inspirational commitment to their own education.

This all fits powerfully with our vision of USM as The University of Everyone. Our students exist as a beautiful mosaic of dreams, abilities, cultures and powerful futures. We unite under the banner of a university committed to empowering aspirations. They trust us to help build their dreams.

In fact, we must thank our students for USM’s vision, which has been unfolding over the past year. When we asked students why they came here (or why they left) and how should the university better fulfill their aspirations, they unequivocally highlighted three inspirational components to create our exciting vision:

First, students told us they want to feel welcomed and connected; that is, they want to know that someone on the faculty or staff knows them and cares about them.

We are working hard on this issue of connectedness, and we now start building it even before students arrive. Over this past summer, we launched a program where advisers met one on one for two hours with every single one of our incoming students. Students were asked what their hopes and goals were, what they saw as their challenges, and they were provided with advice and support.

I cannot underscore the importance of these meetings in helping our incoming students to feel immediately connected.

Second, our students told us they want a university that is affordable.

While USM begins with an advantage over most schools of having lower public tuition rates, today we go even further. We have significantly enhanced our financial aid packages and introduced new scholarships for high achievers. We have added scholarships for transfer students, while also making it simple for community college graduates to enroll with all their college credits.

At the same time that we are enhancing financial aid, we are also developing programs that expedite our students’ path to a graduate degree. We now have an arrangement with our Maine School of Law, so that students can enroll at the law school after their third year at USM, thus saving a year’s time and a year’s tuition in earning their law degree.

Similarly, we also have several arrangements between our undergraduate and graduate programs, so that our students can earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years instead of six.

Third, our students asked us to link them with real world skills and authentic experiences to help them network and build a viable future.

We are uniquely positioned to do just that. Between our campus in Lewiston-Auburn and our Portland-area campuses, we cover the largest metropolitan area in northern New England, with thousands of businesses of every size, nonprofits, government agencies, hospitals and health care organizations.

For the benefit of our students and the benefit of our regional and state employers, I could not be more committed to enhancing our already strong ties with the communities that surround us.

So after several years of challenges and struggle, on Friday USM celebrates. We celebrate our successes and we celebrate our vision. We celebrate our faculty and we celebrate our staff. We celebrate our alumni and we celebrate our community. But most of all, and always, we celebrate our students.


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Charles Krauthammer: After a mere 25 years, the triumph of the West is already over Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Twenty-five years ago – December 1991 – communism died, the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union disappeared. It was the largest breakup of an empire in modern history and not a shot was fired. It was an event of biblical proportions that my generation thought it would never live to see. As Wordsworth famously rhapsodized (about the French Revolution), “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/ But to be young was very heaven!”

That dawn marked the ultimate triumph of the liberal democratic idea. It promised an era of Western dominance led by a pre-eminent America, the world’s last remaining superpower.

And so it was for a decade as the community of democracies expanded, first into Eastern Europe and former Soviet colonies. The U.S. was so dominant that when, on Dec. 31, 1999, it gave up one of the most prized geostrategic assets on the globe – the Panama Canal – no one even noticed.

That era is over. The autocracies are back and rising; democracy is on the defensive; the U.S. is in retreat. Look no further than Aleppo. A Western-backed resistance to a local tyrant – he backed by a resurgent Russia, an expanding Iran and an array of proxy Shiite militias – is on the brink of annihilation. Russia drops bombs; America issues statements.

What better symbol for the end of that heady liberal-democratic historical moment. The West is turning inward and going home, leaving the field to the rising authoritarians – Russia, China and Iran. In France, the conservative party’s newly nominated presidential contender is fashionably conservative and populist and soft on Vladimir Putin. As are several of the newer Eastern Europe democracies – Hungary, Bulgaria, even Poland – themselves showing authoritarian tendencies.

And even as Europe tires of the sanctions imposed on Russia for its rape of Ukraine, President Obama’s much-touted “isolation” of Russia has ignominiously dissolved, as our secretary of state repeatedly goes cap in hand to Russia to beg for mercy in Syria.

The European Union, the largest democratic club on earth, could itself soon break up as Brexit-like movements spread through the continent. At the same time, its members dash with unseemly haste to reopen economic ties with a tyrannical and aggressive Iran.

As for China, the other great challenger to the post-Cold War order, the administration’s “pivot” has turned into an abject failure. The Philippines has openly defected to the Chinese side.

Malaysia then followed. And the rest of our Asian allies are beginning to hedge their bets. When the president of China addressed the Pacific Rim countries in Peru last month, he suggested that China was prepared to pick up the pieces of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now abandoned by both political parties in the United States.

The West’s retreat began with Obama, who reacted to (perceived) post-9/11 overreach by abandoning Iraq, offering appeasement (“reset”) to Russia and accommodating Iran.

In 2009, he refused even rhetorical support to the popular revolt against the rule of the ayatollahs. Donald Trump wants to continue the pullback, though for entirely different reasons. Obama ordered retreat because he’s always felt the U.S. was not good enough for the world, too flawed to have earned the moral right to be the world hegemon.

Trump would follow suit, disdaining allies and avoiding conflict, because the world is not good enough for us – undeserving, ungrateful, parasitic foreigners living safely under our protection and off our sacrifices. Time to look after our own American interests.

Trump’s is not a new argument. As the Cold War was ending in 1990, Jeane Kirkpatrick, the quintessential neoconservative, argued that we should now become “a normal country in a normal time.”

It was time to give up the 20th-century burden of maintaining world order and of making superhuman exertions on behalf of universal values. Two generations of fighting fascism and communism were quite enough. Had we not earned a restful retirement?

At the time, I argued that we had earned it indeed, but a cruel history would not allow us to enjoy it. Repose presupposes a fantasy world in which stability is self-sustaining without the United States. It is not. We would incur not respite but chaos.

A quarter-century later, we face the same temptation, but this time under more challenging circumstances. Worldwide jihadism has been added to the fight, and we enjoy nothing like the dominance we exercised over conventional adversaries during our 1990s holiday from history.

We may choose repose, but we won’t get it.

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

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Another View: Rep. Lockman doesn’t speak for all blue-collar Trump voters Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The Hon. Lawrence Lockman’s column “Trump win traumatizes Portland progressives” (Nov. 27) deserves a sharp rebuke from one of the deplorables he claims to channel.

He writes that Donald Trump’s election victory was “a huge middle finger from the country class to the ruling class,” but then loses the true meaning in a quest to fulfill his tinny social conservative agenda.

For myself and other working-class friends, we couldn’t care less who marries who or uses what bathroom. Many of us do not want to dictate to women what they can or cannot do with their bodies.

What we do care about is what we see as our government’s betrayal of our well-being and economic interest. We care about the social compact, derived from all classes pulling together during World War II, now torn up.

Our purchase on the American Dream is gone. We have been written off as “Wall People” whose time is past. We are upset about the fate of our children in a system set against them.

The “Best People” have written us off. Their mouthpieces liken us to Neanderthals who must give way to the Cro-Magnon or “Web People.” We deeply resent this characterization. The Best People, in response to our complaint, throw the fairy dust of “identity politics” in our eyes.

But Lockman throws his own fairy dust, or, considering his homophobia, “horse ordure” in our faces. His ploy is actually worse than their fairy dust as it scapegoats vulnerable groups. His noise and tub thumping obscures the issue that dare not say its name: class warfare.

]]> 0 Wed, 30 Nov 2016 18:49:54 +0000
Our View: Save New Balance jobs, but don’t stop there Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 New Balance shoe workers in Maine got some good news this week. Congress will be voting on a bill that will require the Department of Defense to follow a federal law that gives preference to domestic manufacturers of apparel, including athletic shoes.

Both the defense bill and the likely defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership mean that the 900 Maine workers will get a reprieve from global economic pressure. That’s reason for optimism not only in the families of New Balance workers, but also in the places where they buy their food, clothes and gas.

It’s also good for the New Balance factories’ neighbors, who would have seen their home values plummet had there been a mass layoff in town, and it’s good for the schools their kids attend and for the local police and fire departments, which all rely on tax dollars generated by people who are working. Good-paying jobs are the glue that holds communities together.

But while this is good news for these workers and their communities, there is plenty of cause for concern elsewhere in the economy. Manufacturing, which used to be a reliable source of the kinds of jobs that the New Balance workers are holding onto, is just not doing that as much anymore.

Much of the recent presidential campaign was spent arguing over whether free-trade policies and immigration were responsible for the loss of American manufacturing jobs, and with Donald Trump’s victory, many are expecting to see more protectionist policies from Washington.

That might mean more factories will reopen in the United States, but it does not mean that the jobs that hold communities together will come back with them. Technology is as responsible as foreign trade for the loss of manufacturing jobs, and closing the border won’t change that.

It’s not true, as many claim, that America does not “make things” anymore. Manufacturing is the largest sector of our economy, and American factories produce twice as much as they did in 1984. The inflation-adjusted output from American manufacturers is greater now than at any point in our history. But they are doing it with 7 million fewer workers than they employed 35 years ago.

So the factories may come back without the jobs that disappeared.

Maine’s congressional delegation, including 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, was right to fight for the New Balance jobs, because history shows they are hard to replace.

But going forward, the challenge for policymakers will be how to foster the growth of the kinds of jobs that support families and communities in the way that manufacturing jobs did in the past. Because, regardless of American trade policies, those jobs probably won’t be seen again.

]]> 0, 30 Nov 2016 22:49:35 +0000
Commentary: Treating others with respect, decency is key to progress for MaineSolutions Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — The release this week of new, bipartisan recommendations to help Maine seniors reminds me of the core values I learned growing up as one of six children of a military chaplain and public school teacher.

As I left for school every day, Mom said two things to me: “God loves you, and so do I” and “Remember who you are.” As I get ready to leave office as the longest-serving speaker of the Maine House since term limits became law 23 years ago, I still believe that those words are the measure of our work and life.

We were taught that “Remember who you are” meansto make a difference, look out for each other and serve the greater good. Those values have been at the heart of my decisions to attend seminary, become a family counselor and eventually serve in our citizen Legislature.

As I depart and new members prepare to begin their service as legislators, here is what I have learned: If you want to make progress on important issues like creating jobs and improving housing and care for seniors, then treat people with respect and decency.

I am proud that my party maintained a majority in the House of Representatives during my two terms as speaker and will continue in the majority in the 128th Legislature about to begin, but I am also proud to have worked with so many friends across party lines. Here are a few examples:

 When it comes to serving Maine’s seniors, over 50 representatives across the political spectrum joined my good friend Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, and me in creating the nation’s first Legislative Caucus on Aging. Our KeepME Home and Seniors Tours took us to communities across the state. We listened to Maine seniors and those involved in the issues that affect their lives.

Then we worked together to pass 18 common-sense pieces of legislation, including the KeepME Home initiative, which gives property tax relief to seniors, boosts wages for in-home direct care workers and provides bond funding for senior affordable housing. This week, we released a follow-up report with additional recommendations that will be championed by Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, and Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough.

 Similar bipartisanship was evident on my statewide jobs tour. Over 40 members from all parties visited, listened and learned from 29 businesses across nine counties. As a result, the Legislature passed the Put ME to Work initiative, which invests $1 million over the next few years to establish targeted partnerships between educational institutions and local employers to train workers for good-paying jobs.

One example is the recently announced mechanized logging operations training program developed in partnership with the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine. Three area community colleges (Northern Maine, Eastern Maine and Washington County) will offer training on equipment that directly connects Mainers to good jobs.

• A third example is my working relationship with Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport. Mike and I disagree on so many issues across the board, but as leaders charged with making the Maine House and Senate function, we have been able to work together based on mutual respect.

When budget negotiations broke down in 2015 and Maine was 11 hours from a state government shutdown, he and I resolved the issues and passed a budget. The same relationship allowed the Legislature to pass a comprehensive drug crisis bill that funded both treatment and enforcement.

• An overwhelmingly bipartisan majority – unanimous in most cases – voted to support our constructive, collaborative work together by overriding 164 (70 percent) of Gov. Le-Page’s vetoes during the 127th Legislature.

Two examples come to mind: First, the governor proposed eliminating the revenue sharing program, which would have crippled rural communities’ ability to deliver basic services and led to significant property tax increases. Second, the governor proposed cutting $48 million from the Drugs for the Elderly program, which helps 40,000 fixed-income Maine seniors afford the prescription drugs they need for their health. We won on both issues.

I have been humbled and honored to serve the people of my community as their state representative and the people of Maine as House speaker. I have strong faith that Maine’s future is bright and filled with opportunity if “we the people” and our leaders “remember who we are” and treat others with decency and respect. I wish each one of the elected representatives of the Maine people the very best as they begin their work together.

]]> 0 Wed, 30 Nov 2016 18:48:10 +0000
Now might be the time to dust off FDR’s economic bill of rights Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 NEWCASTLE — The current economic and political turmoil in the United States invites us to look back, not in a nostalgic way, but to remember important moments in our nation’s history and take inspiration from the work of transformational leaders. Thus, the Progressive Era and the New Deal are receiving fresh attention.

We can note as well how voting rights expanded over time to include women as well as men, and blacks as well as whites, and consider how public education spread across the land to include community colleges and state universities as well as elementary and secondary schools.

Reflecting on our national history can stir up hope and courage, for we have often shown ourselves to be a people of great projects. Some past projects may merit criticism, even condemnation, in the light of current insights and priorities. Yet, however flawed, these projects, together with those that are praiseworthy, indicate that in generations past, America was not afraid of big dreams and acted on those dreams.

In contrast, America today often sounds small-minded and small-hearted. We need dreams of a gracious society that rival the best dreams of the past so that we can act boldly upon them. We can even bring back good dreams that were not fulfilled in their time but can be realized in ours.

World War II was still raging when Franklin Delano Roosevelt dispatched his 1944 Message to Congress on the State of the Union. This message included eight points that he identified as a “Second Bill of Rights.”

Roosevelt told Congress that the nation cannot rest content if some fraction of Americans are without the necessities of life. As America began by asserting inalienable political rights, so with the growth of the national economy, “these political rights proved inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness,” he said.

He claimed that certain economic rights “have become accepted as self-evident” and that an economic bill of rights was necessary, expressing these rights in simple, stirring language:

“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

“The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

“The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

“The right of every family to a decent home;

“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

“The right to a good education.”

Subsequent government actions have helped Americans to realize portions of these rights, but the record is mixed and remains always subject to change for the worse. Our national record in some respects compares poorly to those of other nations.

While the American bill of political rights is admired by freedom-loving people around the globe, the weakness of our economic rights leaves many of our international friends puzzled and disappointed. The need for improvement in these areas is urgent. So, too, is the need to secure these rights as part of our Constitution.

In his 1944 Message to Congress, Roosevelt noted that “true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ ” Keeping alive the political principles contained in the first Bill of Rights requires supplementing them with a second Bill of Rights that addresses economic issues.

Legal scholar Cass R. Sunstein’s 2004 study, “The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever,” helped revive interest in what he calls “the speech of the century” and its implications.

Sunstein notes that FDR’s economic rights proposal “was a direct product of America’s experience with the desperation and misery of the Great Depression.” A 21st-century economic bill of rights can also draw on the tragedy of the Great Recession and the inhumane economy that has prevailed in America throughout the last four decades.

Our nation made horrible mistakes. We can learn from them. We can establish a far more gracious society than the one we have endured in recent years.

]]> 0, 01 Dec 2016 10:35:32 +0000
Greg Kesich: Set aside what president-elect says and focus on what he does Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 I made it through Thanksgiving with the in-laws without screaming at anybody, after reading all the advice on how to keep the peace at the holiday table (“Try other topics: Men like to talk about football, women like to talk about family”).

Nobody lost their tempers this year, and everybody is still talking to each other.

My social media relations, however, have taken a hit. Like millions of Americans, I had to cut off an online relationship as a result of the election.

I’m going to my Twitter account to unfollow Donald Trump.

I know, it’s fun to have a president who tweets. Just last weekend he went off on the election results, claiming that he won not only the Electoral College (“By a landslide!”) but also the popular vote, if you discount the millions of fraudulent votes that he claimed he had to overcome.

Now that’s funny: A politician sowing doubt about the integrity of an election that he won!

It’s hard to resist, but I’m going to try. From now on, I’m going to try to pay as little attention as possible to what he says, and try to keep focused on what he does.

Why? Because he says a lot of things that aren’t true. Whether he’s lying, confused or just changes his mind a lot, it doesn’t matter.

He’s for building a wall one day and a fence the next. Hillary Clinton should be locked up, or she’s suffered enough, depending on what kind of mood you catch him in. If we get outraged every time he says something outrageous, we won’t be doing much else.

But while it doesn’t really matter what he says, what he does is huge.

For instance, the day he was firing off tweet after tweet about “crooked votes for crooked Hillary,” The New York Times had a typically boring story in which it talked to multiple sources about the president-elect’s business dealings in a half-dozen countries around the world. It described how his adult children are courting state-owned businesses as local partners and applying for permits and tax breaks – that is, when they are not sitting in on transition team meetings at Trump Tower or schmoozing with foreign heads of state.

People are doing things right now that could matter a great deal, and we might miss it if we are too wound up about who should apologize to whom after that performance of “Hamilton.”

I have another early New Year’s resolution for the Trump era: I’m trying to stay away from calling people “hypocrites.”

This is not going to be easy. We are about to see another Republican president and Congress run up the deficit with new spending and tax cuts. It’s really easy to feel superior when you’ve seen them pontificate about how irresponsible it is to make our grandchildren pay this grievous debt for the past eight years.

But there’s plenty of hypocrisy out there. For instance, I’ve suddenly become aware that Edward Snowden revealed three years ago that everyone’s every phone call, movement, text message, email, Google search and Instagram post is collected and saved in an archive, from which a record can be assembled later by investigators.

Constant surveillance didn’t seem so bad when Barack Obama was in charge, but now, I don’t know.

Hypocrite? I guess, but I’m beginning to think hypocrisy might be what saves us.

The way people will change sides on issues so easily tells me that we are not as ideological as we think we are. Our positions are probably determined as much by our friends, our moods and who we trust as on careful analysis of the evidence. A little “hypocritical” flexibility should be welcomed.

There are a lot of people who argue that we should be having a big “conversation” so that we can understand each other better. But maybe we should listen to each other a little less, especially when we are yelling, and focus on what people are actually doing.

I’m going to try, anyway. It worked at Thanksgiving.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at


]]> 0, 01 Dec 2016 14:40:36 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LGBTQ community has a place in Portland to call its own Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Ed Gardner admits he was a little worried. As the owner of Ocean Gate, a sprawling office building and plaza in the heart of downtown Portland, you don’t roll out the red carpet for Maine’s LGBTQ community without wondering how the rest of your tenants might react to the new neighbors.

“The comments and compliments that we’ve had, because either someone’s sister or cousin or somebody is gay or lesbian, has brought a lot of new conversation to tenants in the building,” Gardner said Wednesday. “It’s been very, very positive for us.”

It’s called the Equality Community Center. The 3,000-square-foot suite on the first floor of Gardner’s building at 511 Congress St. recently became home to six LGBTQ organizations: EqualityMaine, Pride Portland!, SAGE Maine, Parents and Friends of Gays and Lesbians, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Southern Maine and MaineTransNet.

The center opened with little fanfare back in August. Now, with an open house planned for this week’s First Friday Art Walk, they’re ready to pull the party poppers.

A video produced for the center by LumenARRT! will be projected onto the front of the building.

The Maine Gay Men’s Chorus will perform in the lobby.

Food and drink will be served inside the center, where representatives from each program will greet visitors and explain why, at long last, they’re thrilled to all be under one roof.

“It gets us all out of our silos,” said Matt Moonen, executive director of EqualityMaine and a state representative from Portland. “We’re all doing good work, whether it’s with elders or with the trans community, but now we’re all together and talking to each other and figuring out what we can do to help everybody.”

The center has long been a dream for Maine’s LGBTQ community. Two years ago, an exploratory committee made up of Gardner; Betsy Smith, the former executive director for EqualityMaine; Richard Waitzkin, a social worker; and Matthew Dubois, an attorney specializing in elder issues, began working in earnest to make it happen.

They divided their long-range plan into two phases.

The first was to create not just a cluster of office and meeting spaces for the various LGBT organizations, but also a place where a sense of community might take root.

That starts in a big way Friday.

Visit the center and you’ll hear how SAGE Maine advocates for older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Mainers; how the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network of Southern Maine strives for the acceptance and safety of every kid in every school in Maine; how MaineTransNet holds drop-in hours every Friday afternoon for transgender men and women seeking support; how EqualityMaine advocates tirelessly for equal rights in the halls of state and federal government; how Pride Portland!, with its annual parade and other year-round events, indeed makes Portland proud.

At the same time, you’ll hear that this is only the beginning.

The second phase of the plan calls for a free-standing facility within the next five years. The Equality Community Center would occupy the first floor or two, with several floors of affordable housing, particularly for senior LGBTQ residents, above that.

Given the landmark victories already won in Maine when it comes to, say, equal rights and same-sex marriage, some might question why the LGBTQ community needs a center now.

Truth be told, committee member Smith has had the question put to her more than once in recent months.

She offers two responses.

“Yes, it’s good to have laws to protect us,” Smith said. “But we still like to have community. We still like to be around people like us.”

Then there’s Nov. 8, the day the entire country took a sudden and unexpected lurch to the right.

“When the election happened,” Smith said, “we sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, now more than ever.’ ”

It’s too soon to say where and how President-elect Trump will come down on the many and varied LGBTQ issues still simmering in some parts of the country and boiling over in others.

But a quick scan of Trump’s Cabinet nominations – Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama for attorney general, billionaire Betsy DeVos of Michigan for secretary of education, Congressman Tom Price for secretary of health, to name but a few – does not bode well for many of the advances by the LGBTQ community in recent years.

“We are deeply and seriously concerned about the federal level,” said EqualityMaine’s Moonen. On an anxiety scale of zero to 10, he said, “I’m at about an 8, 9 or 10.”

Ditto for John Hennessy, who chairs the board for Sage Maine and was doing volunteer desk duty Wednesday at the center.

Each month, Hennessy said, Sage Maine holds a dinner at the St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland for older LGBT folks and their supporters. Normally, about 40 or 50 people attend.

“The week before Thanksgiving, 90 people showed up,” Hennessy said. “People came up to me and said they’ve never felt more afraid in their lives. And these are the people, many of them, on whose shoulders this movement was built. These are the people who pretty much have seen it all. But they’re scared out of their minds.”

Thus it’s no surprise, noted Hennessy, that “people have this need for community.”

Of course, a few thousand feet of prime office space – even it comes at less than half the market rate courtesy of landlord Gardner – does not a community make.

That takes people – gay, straight and everything in between – who appreciate the value of coming together regardless of how fiercely the political winds may blow.

So go ahead. If you’re downtown on Friday evening, stop in and join the celebration at the Equality Community Center.

You’ll see Maine at its best.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:19 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2016 to correct the name of LumenARRT!


]]> 0, 01 Dec 2016 16:58:13 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Loathing Trump doesn’t justify undermining election with recount Wed, 30 Nov 2016 11:00:52 +0000 I oppose the recount.

There are, to my mind, only two reasons to re-examine ballots in a presidential campaign, as Green Party candidate Jill Stein has raised money to do. The first is in the event of error or fraud, but there is no evidence thereof in the 2016 election, as Stein herself has admitted.

The second is in the event the margin of victory is especially slim. And yes, in the three states where Stein is pushing for a recount – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – the margins are indeed thin, particularly in Michigan, which Hillary Clinton lost by just 11,612 votes.

But in a case like that, the recount must begin immediately – and preferably automatically – to be seen as credible. A recount three weeks after the fact cannot avoid the appearance of dirty tricks. Indeed, if the results in any of the states in question were overturned at this late date, Donald Trump’s supporters would suspect malfeasance – and be justified in doing so.

Don’t misunderstand: I remain unalterably convinced that the new president is an awful person and that America made a generations-defining mistake in choosing him. But that does not give us license to casually undermine the integrity of the election.

Besides, Trump is doing a fine job of that without Stein’s help.

You’d think, what with recruiting the political equivalents of Darth Vader and Victor Von Doom for his cabinet and presumably ordering a new Oval Office rug with a giant golden “T” in the center, he’d be too busy for such things, but you’d be wrong. On Monday, Trump tweeted, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

It was hardly the first time he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Not only is there zero evidence this supposedly massive fraud happened, but simple logic says that it could not. To be here illegally is to live off the grid, to be paid in cash, avoid interactions with police, steer clear of City Hall. Why would one such person – let alone millions – jeopardize the security of anonymity to cast a fraudulent vote?

It’s an idiotic idea. News organizations dutifully dubbed it “baseless,” too polite to say that his claim contained enough steer manure to fertilize Central Park.

And at this point, anyone who ever believed in an ideal called America should be unnerved.

A democracy is, in many ways, a fragile thing. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, it depends for its very existence upon the “consent of the governed” – meaning not our support of every action a government takes, but rather, our willingness to believe in its integrity. It is from this that democratic government derives its power. Democracy, then, is an act of mutual agreement.

In a nation of 320 million people who share no one ancestry, culture or faith, it is also connective tissue. The idea that my vote matters no more – or less – than yours is the tie that binds an Inuit in Bethel, Alaska, to a Haitian refugee in Miami to an Irish Catholic in Boston to a Mexican-American in San Diego to a Muslim in Kansas City. It is the thing that makes us Americans.

And it’s the thing Trump burned down in his scorched earth appeal to bigotry and resentment. Now, here comes Stein in a desperate bid to deny the electorate its appalling choice. Avatars of a demoralized left and a hateful right, they are alike in at least one respect: their apparent willingness to damage what they purport to love.

So we find ourselves at a no-win crossroads. Trump’s victory is a terrible thing.

Stealing it would be even worse.

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

]]> 0, 29 Nov 2016 21:19:02 +0000
Another View: Efforts to quell Twitter abuse could silence understanding Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Twitter is making it easier to avoid tweets you don’t want to see, and it is cracking down on “abusive conduct.” This will do more to exacerbate America’s problems than to solve them.

The social media platform is expanding its “muting” feature. It announced that it would empower users to decide not to see notifications about certain keywords and conversations. It already enables them to prevent themselves from seeing those users’ tweets. It said it has made it easier to report “hateful conduct” and retrained its staff to enforce its hate-speech rules. And it suspended the accounts of a number of users associated with the white nationalist movement that calls itself the alt-right, including an alt-right think tank.

Twitter isn’t bound by the constitutional freedom of speech, which forbids only the government to restrict speech. But Twitter proclaims itself a forum for free speech. And key reasons to cherish free speech are also reasons to protest Twitter’s decisions.

Many Americans are afraid to say some of the things they think because they fear they will be shunned as bigots. Silencing people and driving them out of mainstream online forums encourages them to stew in their own resentment, embrace others who say things similar to what they’re afraid to say and seek opportunities to lash out. Engaging with them promotes mutual respect and a sense of community.

Twitter argues that harassment can drive people off Twitter, suppressing their speech. That’s true, and the new muting feature may, in extreme cases, help bullying victims. But it is likely to be overused, separating people into ideologically segregated Twitter worlds.

We have a serious problem in this country of people failing to understand each other across ideological lines. We need to try to understand one another. And that means we need to face what others are saying.

]]> 0 Tue, 29 Nov 2016 22:03:46 +0000
Commentary: Castro’s death may shrink Cuba’s oversized notoriety in Latin America Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 For a man who had been reported dead so many times before, and whose vision of the world had shrunk long ago to the size of a T-shirt, Fidel Castro triggered a remarkable commotion when he died last weekend at age 90. Nowhere were the paeans more heartfelt than in Latin America

“A great one has died,” wrote Ecuador’s president and fast Cuban ally Rafael Correa. Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro declared three days of public mourning. “All who dreamed of a less unequal world, we all woke up saddened on Saturday,” wrote former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Perhaps this was only to be expected. Revolutionary Cuba’s success – in thwarting Washington, inspiring generations of political rebels, raising literacy and public health – won the island nation a lasting aura of strength and respect in latitudes accustomed to neither.

In college, my coolest classmates spent their spring break in Cuba, cutting sugar cane for the Venceremos Brigade. Confined to chilly New England, and later as a reporter based in Brazil, I contented myself with tales about Fidel and Ernesto “Che” Guevara and their Davidic efforts to face down the hemisphere’s major power.

No matter that the Cuban economy was already perilously dependent on another world superpower or that Fidel’s supremacy was built on stifling dissent, free assembly and speech and other “bourgeois” luxuries. Back then you chose your side – “everyone in the world has to be communist or anti-communist.” Thus did Castro’s champions lecture African-American poet LeRoi Jones, as Jones wrote in his essay on the revolution’s fevered aftermath, “Cuba Libre.”

What’s harder to explain is how the reverence has endured. Never has Latin America been so democratic. The vast majority of people in the 34 nations of Central and South America and the Caribbean choose their leaders in open elections, say what’s on their minds, and buy and sell things in market economies.

It’s not that Latin leaders were blind to the excesses of Castro’s Cuba. In his memoir, former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso recalls the pasting Fidel received in a closed-door meeting of Iberian and Latin American leaders in 1999. “Damn it, Fidel! What are you going to do about this lousy, piece-of-(expletive) island of yours?” one summit leader demanded.

And yet such reproach hardly ever was made public. “Even today it’s difficult – at least in Latin America – for someone who identifies with the left to publicly condemn Cuba’s political regime,” writes Argentine political scientist Claudia Hilb.

Hilb attributed that diffidence to a political blind spot: the conceit that Castro’s excesses were just unfortunate byproducts of an otherwise beneficent model of government when in fact tyranny was the foundation of the Cuban revolution.

If Castro got a pass from the left, he had help. From attempted assassination by exploding cigar to the half-century economic embargo, Washington’s permanent offensive against the Cuban dictator only played to Fidel’s hand, camouflaging the disasters of the command economy and ennobling his every move against dissidents.

It’s telling that the most expansive tributes to Castro came from the region’s struggling left, whose leaders – Rousseff in Brazil, Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner – either have been replaced by market-friendly conservatives or cling to office (Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia) against rising dissent, failing economies or political improbity.

One of Fidel’s neatest tricks was to have helped Cuba veer before it crashed. He stepped aside when he was ailing, and let his brother Raul change course. Even as allies in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia railed against Yanqui meddlers, the younger Castro warmly welcomed a visit by President Obama and helped nudge the guerrillas it once urged into battle to make peace with the Colombian government.

Cuba’s rebranding may have begun, but Latin America’s Cuba distraction lingers. I can still hear those who counseled me not to move to Brazil. After all, the story in Latin America back then was not a chronically underachieving capitalist democracy, but the Central American Cold War, which thanks to Fidel Castro’s outsize presence was enjoying a robust afterlife.

It didn’t matter that Cuba had the same population as Sao Paulo and less than half the Brazilian metropolis’ gross domestic product. “Cuba is the black hole in the Americas,” Eric Farnsworth, of the Council of the Americas once told me. “It sucks up all the attention in the hemisphere.” One of the opportunities in Fidel Castro’s passing could be to help restore a much-needed sense of proportion to hemispheric affairs. That’s a resizing I welcome.

]]> 0 Tue, 29 Nov 2016 22:16:31 +0000
Maine Voices: Mandating online verification of work status will maintain jobs for American workers Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 HOLDEN — North Dakota is like Maine: sparsely populated, rural and poor. And when Menards, a home improvement chain, couldn’t find enough workers in the city of Minot to meet the oil boom-fueled demand for building supplies, they decided to hire workers in the chain’s home state, Wisconsin.

They had a job fair. Competition was stiff. Menards flew their workers from Wisconsin back to North Dakota every week, putting them up in hotels with meal vouchers. Starting wage was $13 an hour. That’s what happens when businesses doesn’t have access to unlimited labor: They’re forced to recruit, train and hire from within the country.

Similar stories have played out whenever immigration laws were enforced and the foreign worker pool dried up. In 2006, when the Bush administration briefly engaged in job site raids, Crider Poultry in Georgia scrambled to hire unemployed Americans.

As The Wall Street Journal reported, the labor force went from 14 percent African American to 65 percent, and wages rose by $2 an hour. Similar scenarios unfolded at Swift Meats in the West and Midwest, Howard Industries in Mississippi and Smithfield Foods in North Carolina.

Record numbers of working-age Americans are not in the labor force today, and not counted in the unemployment rate. Citing Labor Department data, CNBC recently reported that 97.4 million Americans are not in the labor force, and one third of them are under 30.

In “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis,” Nicholas Eberstadt documents the astonishing job collapse for prime-age men (those 25 to 54), identifying the most vulnerable groups – minorities and the low-skilled – and the devastating social disintegration this crisis inflicts on families.

President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers also studied joblessness among prime-age men. They concluded that declining wages and “declining labor market opportunity” were the most important contributors to joblessness: in short, too little pay and too many workers.

Congress has been clueless, infatuated with globalization and swallowing every bogus claim of dire labor shortages that demanded more foreign workers. For decades, while trade agreements eviscerated millions of manufacturing jobs, and automation was rapidly destroying more, Congress inexplicably quadrupled legal immigration and massively expanded foreign worker visas.

Congress currently gives away another 700,000 good-paying jobs every year with renewable foreign worker visas, lasting up to six years. And these aren’t berry-picking jobs. If that weren’t bad enough, they also turned a blind eye to mass illegal immigration.

The message of this election is clear: Voters demand that government start protecting American jobs and enforcing immigration laws. No excuses.

Congress created two bipartisan commissions to study immigration, and both were headed by civil rights icons: the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh in the 1980s and Barbara Jordan during the Clinton administration. Both commissions decisively opposed illegal immigration, and called on Congress to beef up enforcement. Both made it clear that enforcing immigration limits had nothing to do with hate or fear of foreign people.

In a 1994 report to Congress, Jordan declared: “The commission decries hostility and discrimination against immigrants as antithetical to the traditions and interests of the country. At the same time, we disagree with those who would label efforts to control immigration as being inherently anti-immigrant. Rather, it is both a right and a responsibility of a democratic society to manage immigration so that it serves the national interest.”

The national interest! Not well-funded, self-promoting lobbies: employers seeking cheap labor, ethnic politicians seeking to expand their base, open border/multicultural enthusiasts intent on changing our demographic or foreign governments wanting more remittances.

The commission was succinct: The linchpin to stopping illegal immigration is going after the employers. That means requiring all employers to use E-Verify, the internet system created by the federal government to verify work status.

Stolen identities and fraudulent Social Security cards will no longer enable employers to recruit and hire illegal foreign labor and claim they didn’t know what they were doing. It’s the same technology credit card companies use to verify millions of business transactions every day. It’s not radical.

When President Obama took office, one of his first actions was to require all federal contractors to use E-Verify. It’s time to mandate E-Verify for all employers, end the jobs magnet and create a level playing field for all businesses.

Unscrupulous employers and immigrant activists will whine. Smart employers, like Menards, will start recruiting, training and hiring native-born Americans, legal immigrants and refugees. And that’s the right thing to do.

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Our View: Time for Maine to make course correction in anti-drunken driving effort Wed, 30 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The holiday season is supposed to be a time to celebrate, yet for too many Americans, it’s a time to mourn the lives lost in the alcohol-related vehicle crashes that regularly spike each year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Maine has taken commendable steps toward combating operating under the influence – but a jump in OUI deaths here between 2014 and 2015 shows that we have much more work to do.

Every 53 minutes in the U.S., someone dies from a car crash involving an alcohol-impaired driver. And as horrifying as that statistic is, it actually represents a vast improvement: The rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths has been cut in half since the early 1980s.

Driving after drinking has fallen out of favor as Americans have embraced measures aimed at better deterring, identifying and arresting impaired motorists.

Maine led the effort. We were the second state to implement a mandatory penalty for a first-time OUI conviction, the third to lower the blood alcohol limit to 0.08 percent and one of the first to urge harsher punishment for repeat offenders. And our proactive stance was noticed and recognized by the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has consistently given Maine high marks in their annual rating of states’ drunken-driving laws.

But Maine saw a total of 52 OUI deaths last year, up 40 percent from 2014 – even as drunken-driving fatalities rose just 3.2 percent on average nationally, according to federal regulators. And in MADD’s latest ranking, the recently released 2016 Report to the Nation, Maine is only in the middle of the pack when it comes to prevention.

We have sobriety checkpoint and ignition interlock laws – “the two most effective ways to dramatically reduce fatalities and injuries,” according to MADD – but we need to use them more aggressively.

While researchers have found that sobriety checkpoints do the most good when they’re carried out regularly (Mothers Against Drunk Driving calls for monthly implementation), Maine doesn’t conduct them on a regular basis.

We also get points off for not allowing for the use of ignition interlock after arrest, though all convicted offenders are required to use the devices, which keep a vehicle from starting unless the driver submits to a breath test.

Maine was once way ahead of our peers on the path to preventing drunken driving. But it appears that we’re now headed the wrong way – and if we don’t make an immediate course correction, we could have a hard time finding our way back to road safety.

]]> 0, 29 Nov 2016 21:26:51 +0000
Kathleen Parker: Will the real Donald Trump please stand up? Tue, 29 Nov 2016 03:45:00 +0000 In this season of Thanksgiving, a quirky source of gratitude has emerged – Donald Trump’s many campaign lies.

What else can one call the promises that he now treats as alien concepts? Almost daily, he reverses himself on a campaign promise, confirming what this column predicted: He would never keep his vows.

As a matter of practicality, Trump couldn’t do much of what he bragged about, such as build the wall and make Mexico pay for it. Now he’s talking fences.

Likewise, it isn’t the prerogative of the executive office to investigate, prosecute or jail Hillary Clinton, whom he now says he doesn’t plan to investigate because he doesn’t want to hurt the Clintons.

Similarly, Trump apparently no longer thinks that climate change is a Chinese hoax and is “open-minded” toward future discussions. When Marine Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s apparent choice for defense secretary, told the president-elect that he could get more information from a prisoner with a couple of beers and a cigarette than by waterboarding, Trump said, fine, he will rethink waterboarding.

If Trump has never been burdened by the truth, he at least has been true to his core value, which is say or do whatever it takes to win. And for him, what worked were lies. Or at least untruths.

What does seem true is that he never had any interest in governing, as evidenced by his reportedly being surprised to learn he had to replace so many White House staffers. Who knew?

Early on, Trump told us as much when he couldn’t really put a finger on why he wanted to be president. In a wide-ranging interview last April with The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, he wandered around the barn for several minutes looking for an answer, checking the sky for the Trump chopper to swoop down in a reverse deus ex machina to rescue him from this daunting question: “Can you isolate a moment when it kicked to yes?”

Not right off, no, he couldn’t.

First, it was the escalator ride, looking down on all those cameras, comparing the moment to the Academy Awards. Had the cameras not arrived, would Trump have returned to his office and forgotten all about it? Next, he talked about his TV show, his money, his children, hitting any topic that came to mind, circling, circling, searching for that dadgum moment. Woodward pressed on.

The polls, yes, it was the polls! Oh, also, watching Mitt Romney, “a very, very, failed and flawed candidate,” lose to Obama. After a mind-boggling discussion about breaking eggs to get elected, Trump landed on anger. Yes, he was angry. Plus, he always wins.

In Trump’s exhausting, attention-deficit world, winning is the end point, making this particular victory problematical. After the “Grand Opening” on Inauguration Day, the bands, confetti and the Inaugural Parade, what follows is much less fun – governing a fiercely divided nation that Trump helped create and making good on all those campaign slogans.

“How do you unbreak those eggs?” Woodward asked.

“That’s the question,” Trump replied.

Here’s another: How do you un-nut the nutcase? How does Trump explain to his base that he wasn’t really a crazed xenophobic bigot who will ban Muslims and thinks most Mexicans are criminals? How does he explain that he never intended to follow through on many of his crowd pleasers?

Hate to break another egg, but the answer is he won’t. Just as Trump never provided any substantive evidence for people’s faith in him, there’s no reason to believe that Trump cares what they think of him now. He won. An admitted establishment guy until he started running, he seems to have returned to his more familiar self.

Going forward, everything is anyone’s guess. As his base begins to show cracks, wondering what to do with their “Lock her up” T-shirts, his foes are wrestling a fresh angst – caught between detesting the man who spoke so foully of others and stupidly of issues, and the one who didn’t really mean it. A rational, decent Trump is not the man America elected and both sides, for better or worse, feel jinxed.

How does one revile the man who now says what you believe? How does one trust the man who obviously lied?

Finally: Who is the real Donald Trump and what does he stand for?

That remains the question.

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

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2016 19:44:19 +0000
Maine Voices: Playing both sides of the street when it comes to residency can lead to tax problems Tue, 29 Nov 2016 03:45:00 +0000 In my Maine tax practice, I am frequently asked to advise people who wish to change their residency or domicile from Maine to some other state. With the passage of Question 2, imposing a 3 percent tax surcharge on taxable incomes over $200,000 effective for 2017, the number of people seeking to leave Maine will likely climb.

Frequently, the go-to state is Florida, which has no personal income tax, no estate tax and much warmer winters. Other low- or no-income tax states, such as nearby New Hampshire, are also a strong draw.

While people have the right to move from one state to another, it is extremely important that the change be made correctly and honestly. Failure to do so can lead to intrusive tax audits and large assessments of back taxes, including interest and penalties. In some cases that are more intentional, improper changes of domicile can and have led to criminal charges. Furthermore, once you stop filing Maine tax returns, there is no statute of limitations protection on civil assessments.

There are common misconceptions about how to change one’s domicile. The most frequent one I hear is that “All I need to do is spend six months and a day outside of Maine.” It’s not that simple. You can still be required to pay Maine income tax even if you spend less than six months in Maine. Having a permanent place of abode in Maine and spending an aggregate of more than 183 days of the year in Maine is one way of being a Maine resident for income tax purposes, but not the only way.

Someone who is “domiciled” in Maine is also a Maine resident for income tax purposes. “Domicile” is not defined in the Maine tax code but is defined by court decisions on a case-by-case basis. Maine courts generally define domicile as having a residence coupled with an intent to remain. Since no one can get inside your head, “intent” is proven by looking at all of the important facts and circumstances of your life. No single factor, such as having a driver’s license in the other state, is determinative. In an age when many people have homes in more than one state and spend substantial time in each, a domicile determination can be quite complicated to make.

Keep in mind that in Maine the taxpayer (you) has the burden of proof. This means that if you are audited, you will have to prove your case. It is critical to retain documentation evidencing not only your whereabouts during the year, but documents that reflect your intent not to remain in Maine.

There are also a number of legal presumptions that can work against a person seeking to change his or her domicile. One legal presumption is that when there is conflicting evidence as to intent, your original domicile (usually Maine) prevails. Another presumption is that your Maine domicile continues to follow you until you can affirmatively prove that you established a new domicile (i.e., residence and intent to remain) in the other state. Thus, one can be domiciled in Maine for tax purposes even if present in Maine for zero days of the year. For example, if you decide to go backpacking out West for two years, you are still a Maine resident for tax purposes during that time because you have not yet established a residence and intent to remain somewhere else. You must file Maine resident income tax returns even if you did not spend a single day in Maine during that time.

Is it possible for you to keep a vacation home in Maine while being considered a resident of another state? Certainly. As long as you can prove that your domicile (residence coupled with intent to remain) is in another state, and you do not spend more than 183 days of the year in Maine, you would be considered a nonresident. However, if you are considering changing your domicile but planning to retain vestiges of your life in Maine, be sure to proceed with caution and consult with a tax adviser who is familiar with these issues. Obtaining good advice before you make the change can avoid real problems down the road.


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Our View: Senior housing needs more than maintenance Tue, 29 Nov 2016 03:45:00 +0000 A group of retired volunteers at Habitat for Humanity have for two years been offering their services – for free – to midcoast seniors, calling themselves the Harpswell Aging at Home team. In all, according to, they’ve completed about 60 jobs, insulating walls, fixing floors, installing new windows and mitigating fire hazards, all to help seniors remain in their homes.

It’s an approach that is being replicated, to some degree, in more than 60 communities across the state, as volunteers partner with local governments and nonprofits to meet the enormous challenge presented by Maine’s aging population and its old housing stock. It is bringing Maine praise, and rightly so – it may be the only way to complete costly upgrades, such as widened doorways, ramps and extensive weatherization, on such a wide scale.

But it is only part of the solution. Sometimes, it makes sense to renovate an old home to keep it viable for a senior with limited resources. More often, though, new homes, constructed specifically for seniors, are the answer, and there, Maine continues to fall behind.

About a fifth of Maine residents are 65 and over; by 2032, that is expected to rise to a third. Many have or will find themselves and perhaps a partner living in a single-family home too big for their needs.

A lot of these older houses are hard to heat. They have rooms on the second floor that are increasingly hard to reach. As the years go by, maintenance falls behind. If seniors can no longer drive, or if family members do not live nearby, they can become isolated, further harming their health and well-being.

The volunteer groups now working in Maine are an antidote to that depressing situation. They can fix and weatherize. They can bring hot meals and fresh produce. They can offer regular visits, or provide a reprieve to spouses acting as caregivers.

Those are all valuable services that make a real difference. But they are not a substitute for housing that provides seniors new, safe residences, near services and public transportation.

An estimated 10,000 Maine seniors are waiting for such housing, and that number is expected to rise to 15,000 by 2022. Maine State Housing Authority has been constructing an average of about 120 new units a year, and has funding approved for another few hundred. At that rate, thousands of seniors will have to continue to wait while living in substandard or costly housing.

The $15 million senior housing bond now sitting on Gov. Paul LePage’s desk would provide gap financing for another 225 new affordable senior housing units. LePage has held up that bond since it was approved more than a year ago by 69 percent of the voters, and it is crucial that legislators find a way to shake those funds free as the number of Maine seniors who need housing continues to rise.

Maine should be proud that its communities are so full of committed, sympathetic volunteers that groups such as the Harpswell Aging at Home team are being called a model for the rest of the country.

But not all old homes can be patched up. That’s why we need the Legislature to do the right thing, and release the housing bond.

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Charles Lawton: Maine’s social and political fault lines mirror our divided nation Tue, 29 Nov 2016 03:44:00 +0000 Maine sits precisely across one of the socio-political fault lines revealed so starkly in our most recent presidential election. Maine split its electoral votes, and that split embodies the character of the national split that elected Donald Trump through the Electoral College – even though he lost the popular vote by more than 2 million ballots. According to an analysis of voting results conducted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, Trump’s electoral victory can be attributed to higher turnouts and higher Republican support in rural areas and small metropolitan areas.

And what is the economically distinguishing characteristic of such areas? High job loss? Emphatically, no!

Large metro areas lost far more jobs in the Great Recession than did rural and small metro areas. The key difference has been slow or no recovery since the recession. Donald Trump actually got fewer votes in major metro areas than did Mitt Romney in 2012. The key to his victory was the vastly higher turnout and movement to the Republican candidate in areas that had still not regained the jobs they had lost in a recession that was “officially” over by 2010. This trend was particularly true among voters who in 2008 and 2012 had supported the “change” candidacy of Barack Obama. This picture of failed recovery is the perfect characterization of Maine’s non-metro counties.

According to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, Maine’s metro areas (York, Cumberland, Sagadahoc, Androscoggin and Penobscot counties) have regained all the jobs lost since the recession, and added about 3,000 more jobs. Maine’s non-metro areas, in contrast, saw total employment fall by more than 18,000 over a drop that continued from the 2007 peak all the way to 2012. And in the recovery since 2012, these areas have regained only 6,700 jobs, leaving them still nearly 12,000 below their 2007 peak.

And this stagnant job recovery has carried over into many other aspects of life in our non-metro areas. Population has fallen by nearly 12,000 since its 2007 peak. And, in spite of this drop, the ratio of resident jobs to total population has fallen to 55 percent. This is far below the 65 percent ratio in Maine’ metro areas, meaning that the dependent population – those too young, too old or too discouraged to work – is far higher in the non-metro areas. Finally:

 earnings per worker were substantially lower in Maine’s non-metro areas ($38,400 versus $43,100 in metro areas);

growth in earnings per worker was substantially lower in Maine’s non-metro areas (5.7 percent versus 8.4 percent in metro areas); and

the share of pay earned by commuting to jobs outside of the region was substantially greater in non-metro areas (6.3 percent and steadily growing versus 0.8 percent in metro areas).

All of these statistics simply underline the Brookings finding that Maine’s non-metro areas have not shared equally in whatever economic recovery the nation has experienced since 2010. The central point, therefore, is that Maine has a unique opportunity to lead. Whatever policies we may undertake as a state to address these regional inequities could point the way to national revival and thus an opportunity to heal the rifts made so obvious by our recent election.

To my mind, such policies must focus on three essential characteristics:

First, they must identify economic activities uniquely suited to rural areas. In Maine’s case, this seems most obviously to be the local production of food and beverage products. This is an area where Maine’s abundance of arable land, water for irrigation, and access to the ocean provide a stable geographic base. It is also an area not dependent on pipe dreams of regaining lost manufacturing jobs. Expansion of locally traceable food has the advantage of requiring thousands of jobs in transportation, packaging, distribution, marketing, finance, research, food safety and other supply chain niches required to get Maine products to market. This would not be a naïve “replace lost manufacturing” strategy.

Second, they must include specific, short-term, inexpensive labor training initiatives that require participation of both employers and public educational institutions. Maine’s most underutilized resource today is the thousands of men in the 25 to 55 age cohort who have dropped out of the labor force. Ways of re-engaging these “discouraged workers” are not “rocket science.” They are simply ways to bring current skills to people whose forebears filled such occupations a century ago.

Third, they must directly address the reality that the vast majority of economic activity is increasingly concentrated in our major metro areas and include relocation subsidies including temporary wage replacement for those seeking to move to new job opportunities.

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

]]> 0, 28 Nov 2016 19:43:43 +0000
Our View: Maine House Speaker Eves’ lawsuit dead, but issue still alive Mon, 28 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 House Speaker Mark Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. LePage hit a dead end last week, but that doesn’t resolve everything.

Eves had claimed that his First Amendment rights had been violated when LePage used his control over discretionary funds to prevent Eves from getting a job heading a nonprofit social service agency, Good Will-Hinckley, in retaliation for political differences.

A U.S. District Court judge in Maine ruled that LePage could not be held liable for doing his job, which includes authorizing or not authorizing the use of the funds. Now two members of a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals agree, likely putting an end to it as a legal matter.

But at its heart, this was always more of a political matter than a legal one, and the ramifications go beyond this single case.

The judges say that a governor has immunity from civil damages, even if he was using his power over Eves’ private life to punish the speaker for things he did in his official capacity. But is that any way to run a government?

Using the powers of office for political favors or punishment is something that has a long history in our democracy, but not the kind of history most people are proud of. It’s the leverage that master manipulators like President Lyndon B. Johnson is famous for, or the big-city “bosses” who used patronage to get their not-always-aboveboard way in the bad old days. Back-room politics like this is disdained for the very good reason that it is a very bad way to make public policy.

The Maine Legislature is a part-time job for most of its members, and the state government contracts for services with thousands of potential employers for lawmakers. Taking a job away from Eves – especially after it had been publicly announced – sends a chilling message throughout the State House: Think twice before crossing the governor, because he can make you pay.

This is not only true for this governor, who will only be in office for two more years. Future governors will also be able to use their control over discretionary funds to reward and punish. The state contracts for services with thousands of entities, and many of them may hire current or former legislators. What will fear of a vengeful chief executive do to honest debate or separation of powers?

Since the courts won’t bail Maine out, legislators should. Laws that take discretion over dispersing funds or issuing bonds away from governors like LePage, who will use them for reasons other than those for which they were intended, should be on the agenda in 2017.

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Another View: Trump should build wall – against conflicts of interest Mon, 28 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Imagine, for a moment, that Hillary Clinton were president-elect. Imagine further that she announced that her daughter, Chelsea, was taking over the Clinton Foundation – but would sit in on the president-elect’s meetings, including with foreign leaders who might have dealings with the foundation. Imagine – and this one isn’t difficult – the howls you would hear from Republicans.

That is, roughly, a mirror image of how the Trump enterprise is behaving, except the case of the real president-elect is more worrying. More worrying because Donald Trump’s company is for-profit, unlike the Clinton Foundation, and far less transparent than the foundation about its dealings, including overseas. Yet Trump is resisting the only ethical solution – selling his properties and putting the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, he says he will leave company management to his adult children – even as he involves those children intimately in setting up his new administration.

Blithe assurances from Trump’s associates that he will scrupulously follow the law are not reassuring, because – as Trump himself noted in his meeting with The New York Times on Tuesday – conflict-of-interest laws generally do not apply to the president. Some constitutional experts argue that if he does not divest he would be at risk of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars U.S. officeholders from taking anything of value from foreign governments. Certainly he would subject the country to four years of unseemly mingling of personal and national interests, and himself to four years of distracting accusations and second-guessing.

]]> 5 Sun, 27 Nov 2016 18:19:12 +0000
Maine Voices: The problem isn’t Obamacare; it’s the insurance companies Mon, 28 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 MILBRIDGE — With the recent news about increases in premiums for health plans sold through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, everyone wants to vilify the ACA. The ACA is but a symptom of the issue. Where are our policy dollars going?

As a primary care physician, I am on the front lines. Milbridge is remote. In good weather, we are 30 to 40 minutes from the nearest emergency room, so my office operates as an urgent care facility as well as a family medical practice.

It can take 20 minutes for an ambulance to get here (as it did one time when I had a patient in ventricular tachycardia — a fatal rhythm). I have to be stocked to stabilize and treat.

We are also about two hours from specialist care. Fortunately, I am trained to handle about 90 percent of medical problems, as my patients often do not want or do not have the resources to travel. I have to be prepared for much more than I did in Boston or New York City, where I had colleagues and other materials down the hall or nearby. No longer do I have a hospital blocks away.

One evening I was almost home after a full day’s work. Around 7:30, I got a call on the emergency line regarding an 82-year-old man who had fallen and split his head open. His wife wanted to know if I could see him, even though he was not a patient of mine.

Instead of sending them to the ER, I went back to the office. I spent 90 minutes evaluating him, suturing his wound and making sure that nothing more sinister had occurred than a loss of footing by a man who has mild dementia. When I was sure that the man would be safe, I let them go.

I billed a total of $789 for the visit, repair, after-hours and emergency care costs. Stating that the after-hours and emergency services had been billed incorrectly, Martin’s Point Health Care threw out the claims and reimbursed me $105, which does not even cover the suture and other materials I used.

I called them about their decision, said that it was not right and let them know they’d lose me if they reimbursed this as a routine patient visit. They replied, “Go ahead and send your termination letter” – which I did.

The same day, Anthem Blue Cross kept me on the phone for 45 minutes regarding a breast MRI recommended by radiologists on a woman whose mother and sister had died of breast cancer. She’d had five months of breast discharge that wasn’t traceable to anything benign (and it turns out the MRI is highly suspicious for cancer).

Anthem did not want to approve the MRI unless it was to localize a lesion for biopsy, even though the mammogram had been inconclusive! This should have been a slam-dunk fast track to approval; instead, dealing with Anthem wasted a good part of my day.

Then Aetna told me there is no way to negotiate fees in Maine. I was somewhat flabbergasted. I do more here than I did in either Brookline, Massachusetts, or New York. The rates should be higher given the level of care I am providing. I have chosen not to participate with them. This only hurts patients; however, I cannot keep losing money on visits.

I do lose money on MaineCare – their reimbursement is below what it costs me to see a patient. For now, that is a decision that I am living with.

I had thought those losses would be offset by private insurance companies, but their cost shifting to patients is obscene. I pay half of my employees’ health insurance, though I’m not required to by law – I just think it is the right thing to do.

My personal policy costs close to $900 a month for me and my sons (all healthy), and each of us has a $6,000 deductible. This means I am paying rack rate for a policy that provides only bare-bones coverage.

Something is wrong with the system. In one day, I encountered everything wrong with insurance. I am not trying to scam the system. I am literally trying to survive. I am trying to give care in an underserved area.

This is not the fault of Obamacare, which stopped the most egregious problems with insurance companies. Remember lifetime caps? Remember denials for pre-existing conditions? Remember the retroactive cancellation of insurance policies? Returning to that is not an option.

One answer is direct primary care: contracting straight with patients to provide their care, instead of going through insurance companies to get paid. I offer it (though I still accept Medicare, MaineCare and some private insurers). Many of my colleagues have also opted for direct primary care – they’ve experienced the same frustrations I have.

Something has to change if we are to attract up-and-coming medical students to primary care and retain practicing physicians. When both patients and physicians are frustrated, we know that only greed is winning, and the blame for that lies with corporations.

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Our View: Maine colleges rightly defend fearful undocumented students Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants have voluntarily come out of the shadows under an Obama administration program that offered them a temporary reprieve from deportation. Now, with Donald Trump about to take over the White House, those immigrants live in fear that the basic protections will be taken away, or worse, that the information they provided will be used against them.

That’s why we stand with the many members of the Colby College community who are speaking out in favor of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which recognizes how tightly those immigrants are woven into the American fabric, and simply assures them that they can continue to work and study in this country just as many of them have for most of their lives.

The DACA program allows undocumented immigrants who entered the country when they were under the age of 16 and who had not yet turned 31 in 2012 to apply for a two-year protected status. Those approved receive a two-year work permit and the ability to apply for a Social Security number and driver’s license. They can also travel to and from the country.

Nearly 750,000 undocumented immigrants are now taking advantage of the program, announcing that they are in the country illegally in exchange for the right to work, drive, study and bank here.

However, as a candidate, Trump said he would “immediately terminate” the program, and his pick for U.S. attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, has tried to block or minimize the program on several occasions.

Since then, Trump has said he would focus immigration enforcement on those with criminal records. But that is of little solace to the immigrants who have grown up here in ways almost no different from most Americans.

They have been in classrooms and on playgrounds next to American citizens. They have been their friends and co-workers and dorm mates. In many cases, they know no other life than that in the United States, and now they feel – understandably so – that they are in danger of losing it.

For a group that broke the law and were thrust into a precarious life through no fault of their own, and which came forward on their own volition when an opportunity arose to live in the open, that’s wrong.

That’s why we are glad that 113 faculty and staff members at Colby urged the college in a Nov. 16 letter to protect the safety and place on campus for any student enrolled in the DACA program,” and that President David A. Greene joined at least 250 college and university presidents, including those at Bates and Bowdoin, in signing a statement supporting the DACA program.

Undocumented youth who have grown up here and now attend college here deserve our protection. Trump not only could repeal the program, but there is some worry that his administration could use the information provided to the federal government to target these students, if not to remove them from the country then at least to take any federal student aid they receive.

It’s heartening that so many colleges and universities recognize that these students are a part of their communities and a benefit to higher education. As we await Trump’s decisions on immigration policy, we hope that others hear that message, and prepare to come to the aid of people who have a great deal to add to our country.

]]> 86, 29 Nov 2016 10:53:49 +0000
Commentary: How to detect fake news Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Anyone active on social media has probably done this at least once: shared something based on the headline without actually reading the link.

Let’s face it, you’ve probably done this many times. According to a study released in June by computer scientists at Columbia University and the French National Institute, 59 percent of links shared on social media have never actually been clicked.

So the first thing you can do to combat the rise of “fake news” is to actually read articles before sharing them. And when you read them, pay attention to the following signs that the article may be fake. There are fake news stories generated by both left-leaning and right-leaning websites, and the same rules apply to both.

• Determine whether the article is from a legitimate website.

There’s ABC News, the television network, with the Web address of And there’s ABC News, the fake news website, with the Web address of

The use of “.co” at the end is a strong clue you are looking at a fake news website. But there are other signs as well.

• Check the “contact us” page.

Some fake news sites don’t have any contact information, which easily demonstrates it’s phony. The fake “ABC News” does have a “contact us” page – but it shows a picture of a single-family home in Topeka, Kansas. The real television network is based in New York City, housed in a 13-story building on 66th Street.

• Examine the byline of the reporter and see whether it makes sense.

On the fake ABC News site there is an article claiming a protester was paid $3,500 to protest Trump. It’s supposedly written by Jimmy Rustling. “Dr. Jimmy Rustling has won many awards for excellence in writing including 14 Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes,” the byline claims. If that doesn’t seem absurd, then how about the fact that he claims to have a Russian mail order bride of almost two months and “also spends 12-15 hours each day teaching their adopted 8-year-old Syrian refugee daughter how to read and write.”

All of the details are signs that “Dr. Rustling” is not a real person.

• Read the article closely.

Many fake articles have made-up quotes that do not pass the laugh test. About midway through the article on the protest, the founder of – which debunks fakes news on the Internet – is suddenly “quoted,” saying he approves of the article. It also goes on to describe Snopes as “a website known for its biased opinions and inaccurate information they write about stories on the internet.” It’s like a weird inside joke, and in the readers’ minds it should raise immediate red flags.

• Scrutinize the sources.

Sometimes fake articles are based on merely a tweet. The New York Times documented how the fake news that anti-Trump protesters were bused in started with a single, ill-informed tweet by a man with just 40 followers. Another apparently fake story, that Trump fed police officers working protests in Chicago, also started with a tweet – by a man who wasn’t even there but was passing along a claim made by “friends.” The tweeter also has a locked account, making the “news” highly dubious. Few real news stories are based on a single tweet, with no additional confirmation.

If the article has no links to legitimate sources – or links at all – that’s another telltale sign that you are reading fake news.

• Look at the ads.

A profusion of pop-up ads or other advertising indicates you should handle the story with care. Another sign is a bunch of sexy ads or links, designed to be clicked – “Celebs who did Porn Movies” or “Naughty Walmart Shoppers Who have no Shame at All” – which you generally do not find on legitimate news sites.

• Use search engines to double-check.

A simple Google search often will quickly tell you if the news you are reading is fake. Our friends at Snopes have also compiled a Field Guide to Fake News Sites, allowing you to check whether the article comes from a fraudster. There is also a website called that allows you to post the URL of any article and it will quickly tell you if the article comes from a fake or biased news website.

• Combating the spread of fake news begins with you, the reader. If it seems too fantastic, it probably is. Please think before you share.

]]> 4, 25 Nov 2016 17:57:38 +0000
Alan Caron: Rise of extremism presents a real challenge Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 There were two deeply troubling events in Washington last week, and they are closely connected. One was the selection of Stephen Bannon as the chief strategist for Donald Trump. The second was a gathering of white supremacists, just blocks from the White House, that featured Nazi salutes.

Bannon is the driving force behind Breitbart News, a pretend-news site known for its racial, ethnic and religious hatred that serves as the propaganda arm of the so-called “alt-right.” Breitbart has replaced Fox News as the unifying instrument for a boiling stew of angry hate groups ranging from armed militias to the KKK to neo-Nazis.

In a building named for Ronald Reagan, hundreds of these extremists came out of the underground to hear speakers and explain themselves to the mainstream media. Most looked remarkably like pampered frat boys, sporting the aptly-named “fashy,” the haircut that Adolf Hitler made famous: buzz cut on the sides, longer hair on the top swept to the side.

Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, spoke at the end of the day on the need to recreate America as a white nation. America, he said, belongs to white people, who are “the children of the sun.” Also: “Every tree, every rooftop, every picket fence in the south should be festooned with the Confederate battle flag.” And “to be white is to be a creator, an explorer and a conquerer.”

Spencer called Trump’s victory a “victory of will,” echoing the title of a famous Nazi propaganda film, and attacked the mainstream press with the Nazi’s favorite “Lugenpresse,” or “lying press.”

As he wrapped up his speech, Spencer called out to the crowd to “Hail Trump” and “Hail Victory,” the English translation of “Sieg Heil!” Members of the audience responded with Nazi salutes.

Trump’s triumph has given these and other American extremists new hope. The far right is on the march in America, and every one of us, whether a conservative or a liberal, is its target.

There are still some people among us who were part of the “Greatest Generation,” which worked to defeat the Nazis in World War II. They fought a war unleashed by a violent Nazi ideology that divided the world into just two camps: true believers and lesser humans meant for subjugation or elimination. It is a war that killed millions, including more than 400,000 Americans.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and hundreds of our ships were being sunk in the Atlantic by German submarines, the walls that had divided Americans by party, ethnicity and region melted away to reveal a country with one purpose. America became one, and together Americans sacrificed and shared, worked and fought, to build the arsenal of democracy that would defeat totalitarianism and establish a new world someday, in the hope that all of the world’s dictatorships might be eliminated.

I’m old enough to have grown up surrounded by a generation of these World War II veterans, who were the heart of every family and every town. Their war ended in 1945, but the struggle for democracy and freedom did not. Hitler died, but totalitarianism and fascism did not. They simply go out of sight, deep into the darkest parts of human societies, a latent disease awaiting the next time a society is weakened by hardship, fear, anger and division.

As soon as the horrors of the war had begun to fade, American fascism began to reorganize itself, slowly and quietly, waiting for the right time. And enlisting the most troubled and angry men in our country, as it always has done.

The rise of extremism among us won’t look like German fascism. It will look uniquely American. We have a far deeper tradition of democratic freedom than the Germans did in the 1930s. We have nowhere near the hardship that Germans experienced after the armistice of World War I, when wheelbarrows of money, sometimes reflecting a life’s savings, were needed to buy a loaf of bread. We know nothing of the sense of shame and loss that they felt.

American fascism won’t announce itself with a brown-shirted army of the disaffected and a stirring, charismatic leader. And that will make the work of exposing it, and defeating it, all the more difficult.

The rise of extremism in America represents a new challenge to all of us: to put aside party, ideology, region and background, and to put at the center of our concerns the future of the country. All of us, despite our differences, love this country. Perhaps this is a good time to relearn the lessons of the Greatest Generation.

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:

]]> 12, 25 Nov 2016 17:59:30 +0000
Rep. Lawrence Lockman: Trump win traumatizes Portland progressives Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Just when you thought Maine’s leftist media elites had hit rock bottom in their post-election meltdown, along comes the Portland Press Herald editorial board with a patronizing hit piece (Nov. 20) slamming us “rural voters” in Maine and across the country for the deplorable outcome on Nov. 8. The Press Herald’s grotesque caricature of the people who live and work outside the urban areas oozes condescension and contempt and tells us far more about left-wing progressives and their twisted worldview than it does about anyone who lives in rural Maine.

Here’s how the editors profiled voters in the “other Maine” who voted for Donald Trump by wide margins.

First of all, rural Mainers are much more likely to be cigarette smokers. Moreover, smokeless tobacco use is twice as common as in urban areas. Obesity rates are higher, and so is alcohol abuse, as well as teen birth rates and youth suicide. Get the picture? The Press Herald editorial board counsels that what we really need out here in the “other Maine” is more government programs to expand access to health care, not empty promises from Donald Trump about bringing back manufacturing jobs.

Bear in mind that these same fat, chain-smoking, alcoholic, suicidal losers voted decisively for President Obama just four years ago. So what happened in the meantime? The Portland progressives explain rural Maine’s – and rural America’s – embrace of Trump’s right-wing populism by pointing to the loss of manufacturing jobs. But that simplistic single-issue analysis misses the “culture war” element of Trump’s victory, and the shellacking of Democrats up and down the ballot over the past eight years.

Since Obama took office, Democrats have lost 910 state legislative seats nationwide. Republicans now hold 56 percent of the country’s 7,383 state legislative seats, up 12 percentage points since 2009. In addition, Republicans picked up 12 governorships (now at 31) under Obama, with majorities in 69 of 99 state legislative bodies.

Think of it as a huge middle finger from the country class to the ruling class.

The Press Herald’s air of moral superiority, its smug condescension and its elitist contempt for Trump voters are not unexpected. We’ve already heard much the same from the mouths of Obama and Hillary Clinton. At a San Francisco fundraiser in 2008, Obama referred to rural Pennsylvanians as poor losers clinging to their bibles, bigotries and guns. And it was Clinton herself who famously called Trump supporters “racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, Islamophobic … bigots.”

Democrats ran an “us versus them” culture war campaign against the deplorables and had their heads handed to them. And now the left’s dumbfounded reaction looks like a full-blown case of post-election stress disorder.

The outcome illuminates the yawning chasm between the secular progressive faith of the ruling class and the Judeo-Christian worldview that still holds sway outside of America’s big cities. America is still predominantly a culturally conservative country after all.

Large majorities of the rural voters so despised by progressives are opposed to abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy and don’t have a problem with requiring parental notification and consent for teen abortions.

These same voters take their Second Amendment rights seriously and voted accordingly on Nov. 8, rejecting former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s bogus background-check initiative – Question 3 – by huge margins.

Folks in the country class are appalled that illegal immigrants get better medical care than disabled American veterans. And we resent being lied to, as in: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”

Most of the voters outside Greater Portland, Lewiston and Bangor hold to the primitive notion that marriage means a man and a woman and that nobody should have to pay a fine or go to jail for refusing to bake a cake. They think that confusion about one’s “gender identity” is a symptom of mental illness, not a badge of victim status. And they don’t think it makes any sense to let teenage boys share locker rooms or showers with teenage girls.

For years, these voters have been bullied and intimidated by the left’s assault on free speech, known as “political correctness.” They were made to feel that they are in the minority and that their views are evidence of bigotry. If nothing else, Trump’s stunning, unexpected victory has blown political correctness to kingdom come and empowered the silent majority to stand its ground.

Jan. 20 can’t come soon enough for us deplorables.

Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, was re-elected to a third term in the Maine House of Representatives on Nov. 8. He serves on the Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development committee. He can be contacted at:

]]> 235 Sat, 26 Nov 2016 11:23:20 +0000
Another View: Corrections chief says his heart goes out to family of teen suicide victim Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 My heart goes out to the family of Charles Maisie Knowles (who died in state custody this month), the staff members and young residents of the Long Creek Youth Development Center, as well as those within the greater community who are feeling this loss on a very personal level.

It is heart-wrenching to remain silent; however, as the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, I am legally bound to refrain from comments about an ongoing investigation.

As a clinical psychologist with a 25-year history of advocating for children and families, I certainly understand the critical role of ongoing emotional support following such a tragic loss of a young life. In the past 20 years, the Maine Department of Corrections has not experienced the death of one of our young residents. Our staff at Long Creek has and will continue to provide a safe space for all our young residents.

On a daily basis the dedicated men and women working at Long Creek try to support and strengthen the lives of the young people in their charge. The staff members too are struggling with this tragedy. I want them to know that we wholeheartedly support and appreciate their ongoing dedication to their work with the young residents of Long Creek.

As the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections, I have an open-door policy of transparency related to the development and oversight of our policies and protocols. We routinely collaborate with outside agencies and experts such as American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Disability Rights Center of Maine and the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Maine, as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the development of our policies, practices and training. As a part of standard operating procedure, we are regularly audited and reviewed by the American Correctional Association and the National Organization of Performance Based Standards. These ongoing reviews ensure we uphold the highest level of daily operations and treatment programming.

However, even with all the aforementioned oversight and safeguards, we are struggling with the tragic loss of one of our residents. So we are diligently reviewing all of our current policies and protocols, which will include an analysis by state and federal experts in the areas of suicide prevention and transgender policies and programming.

In closing, I would just like to state that this tragic loss of life has been devastating for all involved, and our hearts and prayers are with the Knowles family during their time of sorrow.

]]> 1 Fri, 25 Nov 2016 18:39:48 +0000
Maine Observer: Overwhelmed by choices at the supermarket Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 It’s sometimes important to stay out of the way. I’ve learned this over the past 66 years of my life. This concept is especially true when you find yourself at the supermarket. Following my wife, I was impressed how easy it was for her to fly through the labyrinth of shopping carts and displays that were placed in the middle of the aisles to not only sell the products but to drive everyone in the store to stress levels they never wanted to reach.

We worked our way through the store to finally reach one of my wife’s favorite sections. It had every type of vegetable I knew and a few I hadn’t imagined existed. Understanding only the vegetables I recalled seeing in my refrigerator and could pronounce I was surprised by a burst of cold water flowing from the top of the refrigerator case. At first, I thought some sort of water line had broken. The woman who came to my aid explained that a spray system is used to keep the vegetables looking fresh.

Toward the back of the store was the delicatessen area. I took a number and waited my turn. When called on, I confidently ordered one pound of turkey. The person behind the counter hesitated a few seconds and asked me what type of turkey I wanted. There are different types? After I stared blankly for a few seconds she broke my stupor by explaining turkey could be in the form of pastrami, ham, bologna, or hot dogs. Hot dogs? She asked if I wanted “just turkey.”

“Yes!” I answered, hoping the questions would come to an end. When she came back she asked if I wanted something else. Quickly I ordered the one thing I knew she would understand. “One pound of American cheese!” I bellowed, hoping all who surrounded me might understand I knew what I was doing. Finding my wife at the milk and egg departments, I proudly gave her the neatly wrapped plastic bags containing the meats I was assigned to order. She was about to say something but decided not to because of a rather pathetic look on my face. I never realized milk came in not only different sizes but also different levels of fat. The bread aisle was the longest and with the most varieties. Arriving at the checkout counter I saw an assembly line that would have made Henry Ford jealous. Within minutes we were buzzed and beeped through a type of laser computer that registered my purchases. Before we left, I was given a giant receipt that told me not only the prices of my groceries but also exactly what I had bought. The number on the bottom of the receipt shocked me the most; $295.96. Driving home, I came to a rude awakening.

I had just spent more for groceries than I paid for the mortgage on my first home.

]]> 2 Sat, 26 Nov 2016 20:23:28 +0000
Maine Voices: Autistic skiers shine at Sugarloaf thanks to partnership with Spurwink Sun, 27 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 I am a skier. I am a “Sugarloafer.” And I’ve worked with individuals with autism at Spurwink Services for nearly 30 years.

Today in Maine, we have about 6,100 families who are dealing with autism and its effects on both the child and family. Unfortunately, despite the growth of Maine’s autism population over the last decade, our state has very few outdoor recreational opportunities that support inclusion for children with autism.

A notable exception is Spurwink on the Slopes, Maine’s only ski program designed specifically for children with autism spectrum disorder. Created in partnership with Sugarloaf’s ski school, the program will begin its sixth year on Jan. 7!

Learning downhill skiing is not an easy endeavor for anyone. When you factor in the challenges facing individuals with autism, such as motor planning difficulties, social engagement struggles and sensory challenges, you might think that ski lessons are a setup for failure, but, in fact, we have seen quite the contrary.


The rewards and challenges involved in learning to ski come rapid-fire for most new skiing students, not just children with autism spectrum disorder. When on skis, standing can be demanding and falling may happen frequently. The emotional responses can be all over the map, from initial laughter to tears, from fear to exhilaration and from insecurity to confidence.

Physically, skiing builds muscle strength and balance. It can also foster independence. It can be fun, too, especially for the kids who get to enjoy the Moose-calator ride up the mountain.

Many factors contribute to success when teaching or helping someone else learn something new. What’s required is not just expertise with the technical skills associated with the task, but also the ability to provide the right level of support: understanding how the child thinks, how the child feels and how the child learns.

And this depth of support really has been key for these children learning to ski. Spurwink on the Slopes provides one-to-one volunteers who know and understand children with autism. The volunteers come from backgrounds that include personal and/or professional experience in the field, such as occupational therapy, special education, social work, speech and language and direct support. They get it!

Secondly, a supportive environment is critical, and my hat goes off to those from Sugarloaf who have embraced the idea of this program from the beginning. Six years ago, four children participated; last year, 33 different children, ages 4 to 14, took part, filling 69 lesson slots.

Spurwink has provided both formal and informal education about autism to Sugarloaf staff, which has helped, but the enthusiasm of coaches and their delight at working with children, all children, are largely what has sparked the growth of the program. From administration to program staff to the individual ski coaches, everyone has contributed to Sugarloaf becoming an inclusive place.


Preparation is also critical to the success of the experience. Spurwink obtains information about a child before their lesson from a person who knows the child best, usually a parent. We ask about their child’s motor planning skills, how they interact with others, how they learn best, what their sensory challenges are, what they think is the most important thing that volunteers and ski coaches know about their child, and what they hope their child will get out of the experience.

In addition, Spurwink sends all children a social story in the mail before their lesson. A social story is a guide, with pictures and writing, that predicts what will happen in various situations. In this case, the story shows children what to expect from the moment they arrive in the parking lot, to the bus ride up the hill, entering ski school, being fitted for gear and what happens on the hill.

When kids learn to ski, some stay on the hill for the entire lesson, while others go in after only one run. Some have difficulty separating from parents, while others barely turn to wave goodbye. Some have really good balance, while others fall a lot. Some pick up the skills quickly, while others try over and over again.

One thing is true: Whether a child has a disability or not, they are all different.

And when on the hill, they are all just children learning to ski. And that is the goal of Spurwink on the Slopes: to be truly inclusive.

]]> 0, 26 Nov 2016 21:09:29 +0000
Another View: Attorney general pick Sessions should let states decide on pot Sat, 26 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 President-elect Donald Trump’s nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to be attorney general of the United States rightly has proponents of marijuana legalization troubled.

Sessions, who at an April congressional hearing remarked that “good people don’t smoke marijuana,” and joked in the past that he thought members of the Ku Klux Klan were “OK until I found out they smoked pot,” is a hard-line drug warrior at a time when most of the nation has signaled a willingness to permit marijuana use.

Recent public opinion polls have shown a majority of Americans support legalization, including polls conducted by Gallup and Pew Research finding 60 percent and 57 percent in support, respectively. An additional Gallup poll reported 13 percent of American adults identify as current marijuana users – bad people, according to Sessions – and 43 percent of adults have tried marijuana in their lifetimes.

While concerns over the abuse of marijuana, or any substance for that matter, are perfectly valid, it is clear that growing numbers of Americans are no longer convinced that prohibition and criminalization are justifiable approaches to the issue.

In fact, we now live in a nation where 29 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes, and eight states plus the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, despite marijuana officially being illegal under federal law.

On Election Day, four states – California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada – voted to legalize recreational marijuana. An additional three states – Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota – voted to allow medical marijuana in their respective jurisdictions, while Montana voters approved a measure better facilitating access to medical marijuana.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Justice has effectively taken a hands-off approach, allowing states to try their own approaches to marijuana policy. But marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, illegal under federal law for medicinal or recreational use and distribution.

Going on his record and past statements, the prospects of a hands-off approach to marijuana under a Sessions-led DOJ seem dim. “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger,” said Sessions at a hearing in April.

If there’s any room for optimism, it comes from statements made by Donald Trump throughout his campaign. “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said to The Washington Post last year. He later told Bill O’Reilly that he is “a hundred percent” in support of medical marijuana.

We completely agree with these stances from Trump. Allowing states greater freedom to experiment with differing approaches to complex problems is often desirable, and this is certainly the case with respect to marijuana.

Ideally, Congress should consider removing marijuana from the federal drug scheduling system entirely to remove any ambiguity about the legal status of marijuana. Short of that, a continuation of the current hands-off policy from the DOJ makes more sense than going against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

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Maine Voices: Maine lawmakers should heed voters’ wishes in several policy areas Sat, 26 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — Mainers want change that benefits working people. That’s the lesson from this year’s election results.

While neither party can claim a sweeping electoral victory in Maine, when newly elected and returning legislators convene in Augusta in December, they will have clear instructions from the people of Maine in several policy areas.

A majority of Mainers voted for fair wages, supporting Maine schools and improving our roads. On the presidential campaign trail, both candidates agreed on the importance of supporting good-paying jobs, helping families with the cost of child care and the need to modernize our infrastructure. Mainers chose policies that invest in our communities and our workers.

Mainers agreed overwhelmingly to raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2020, and close the loophole that allows restaurants to underpay their wait staff. Likewise, they voiced their support for the wealthiest Maine households paying their fair share to support our schools.

Mainers across the state supported both questions 4 and 2. A majority of voters in both Maine’s congressional districts approved raising the minimum wage, while Mainers from Paris to Calais and Fort Kent to Kennebunk voted in favor of the tax surcharge on annual income above $200,000 to fund education. The first order of business for the 128th Legislature must be to enact both measures, which will ensure fair pay for hard-working Mainers, and provide Maine students with the best chance of future economic success.

Exit polling from this year’s election revealed that even as they acknowledge an improved national economy, Mainers expressed overwhelming concern about the state’s economy. This year, 66 percent of voters told exit pollsters that their family’s financial well-being is about the same as, or worse, than it was four years ago. Three-quarters of the electorate said the same thing in 2012 – which suggests that a large share of Mainers continue to find their personal economic security no better than it was in 2008, in the depth of the Great Recession.

Working Mainers continue to struggle in a stagnant state economy, while under Gov. Le- Page’s economic policies, Maine continues to limp behind the rest of the nation‘s economic recovery.

Compared to 2007, fewer Mainers have jobs, their paychecks have grown more slowly than inflation and the rollback of safety-net programs has left more people in poverty and prevented Mainers from realizing the full benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Mainers want state policies that blaze a path out of poverty, offer their children the opportunity to prosper and enable their communities to thrive again.

The governor’s administration, which will present a biennial budget in January for the Legislature’s consideration, has already made its position clear. And their priorities could not be further from the values that Maine voters supported – better jobs, better schools, better communities and better tax policies that oblige the wealthy to pay their fair share.

The Legislature should not hesitate to repudiate the administration’s failed trickle-down economics of tax cuts for the rich at the expense of our schools, the false savings promised by state workforce reductions and further attempts to undermine the voters’ will.

Instead, legislators should focus on the issues that matter to Mainers – ensuring that one in three workers in the state gets a raise, that the wealthiest Mainers pay their fair share to support our schools and that our roads and bridges are kept in good repair. Mainers want solutions that work.

Despite a divisive election, consensus is not hard to find. Whether they cast their ballot for Hillary Clinton or for Donald Trump, 93 percent of Maine voters supported a presidential candidate who promised to increase spending on our roads and bridges, to give workers access to paid family leave, promote college affordability and to support good-paying jobs. Maine legislators need to address all of these issues.

We have an opportunity to restore our state’s reputation for bipartisan solutions that work for everyone, and to live up to the state motto by leading the way for the rest of the nation. At polling stations across the state, hundreds of thousands of Mainers showed they are hungry for change, and voted for ballot initiatives that position Maine as a national leader in implementing policies that benefit working families. Legislators need to listen to the voice of Maine’s voters and act accordingly.

]]> 3 Sat, 26 Nov 2016 22:47:51 +0000
Commentary: Class identity matters but may not be simple as we seek to define ourselves Sat, 26 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Class, like gender identity, is on a continuum. Just as Benedict Cumberbatch is more feminine than Cameron Diaz, so are members of “Duck Dynasty’s” Robertson family – estimated net worth of around $53 million – regarded by many fans as “real working guys” while Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – worth just over $4 million – is regarded as a privileged Ivy League elitist.

Is class a matter of identity, like gender and race? Is it a matter of loyalty? How do Americans define themselves when it comes to class?

It’s an uncomfortable question, so I’ll begin. If I were using trendy identity politics alone to provide my answer, I’d say I identify as a working-class woman – because that’s the class into which I was born and in which I was raised – who as an adult has made money.

But that self-portrait is misleading. I’m a college professor and columnist who lectures around the country. To call myself working class would be as disingenuous as the character played by Bryan Cranston on “Seinfeld” who converted to Judaism in order to tell Jewish jokes. To refer to myself as working class now would be to disrespect those who are the real thing.

I no longer have to rise before dawn, as my parents did, to take public transportation to jobs they didn’t like for a wage that underpaid them so that they could pay bills that left them with no savings, no retirement and, most significantly, no way out. I didn’t leave school after the eighth grade, as they did, to support their families. Their hard work and disciplined life permitted me choices they didn’t have.

Sure, I grew up wearing used clothes and used shoes and never owning a pair of pajamas or slippers, which were considered frivolities only the wealthy could afford. We waited for condescending relatives to ship us their old stuff as hand-me-downs, and I don’t think my mother ever wore stockings that didn’t have a run in them. But that was my family of origin; it’s not who I am today.

Now if I work my tail off, I do it on my terms – and if there is any definition of privilege, it’s precisely that.

So what am I? Upper-middle with my lower roots showing, like somebody who doesn’t color her hair often enough and whose true colors can be seen only when somebody is looking down on her? Am I like my friend Lynne Ferrigno, who says her family has “white-collar jobs but many blue-collar values”?

My former student and friend, Ebony Murphy-Root, argues that “Trump voters don’t own the label ‘working class.’ I don’t need to read the Harvard Business Review to understand the U.S. working class. How about I just ask my dad, who’s driven a tractor-trailer for the past 30 years? He doesn’t seem that resentful. He taught me no one owes you anything and certainly you are not owed a life ‘better than your parents had it’ just for being born.”

It seems to me that many Americans voted against their own self-interest in this year’s election, if practical personal gain is the only measure. I did; my household will profit from the lower taxes and cuts in spending promised by the party I voted against.

My friends who voted for Trump are, for the most part, hard-working, working-class people who I believe will be punished by the Republican administration. They have family members on disability; they have relatives relying on workers’ comp, Social Security or veterans’ benefits, and I think these programs will be in danger.

Maybe humor can save us, or at least help us connect. When I first went to college, I had no idea how to cope with the unfamiliar environment.

On one of my first days in the dining hall, I saw a girl who sat across from me in my French course. I decided it would be too weird not to acknowledge her.

“I know we’re in a class together,” I said. “Which is it?” “Upwardly mobile,” she said, grinning, and bit into a hard roll. From that day forward, I figured I would be OK. Here’s hoping all of us will start feeling that way soon.

]]> 8 Fri, 25 Nov 2016 19:56:47 +0000
The humble Farmer: Even to one with a foggy memory, ‘Da Vinci Code’ error is clear Sat, 26 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 How good is your memory? If you’re like your best friend, you have no trouble remembering things that you feel are important.

Do you remember reading “The Da Vinci Code”? If Tom Hanks comes immediately to mind, you probably copped out and simply watched the movie.

“The Da Vinci Code” was written before grandchildren first brightened our septic home with their coughs and runny noses. Widely popular in its day, the book is now easily obtainable in dusty back-street bookstores or on Amazon for a penny – plus an exorbitant charge for shipping.

Years behind mainstream America, after watching the movie I finally read the first and last two chapters of “The Da Vinci Code.”

You might remember my saying that whenever I read a book I always first read Chapter 1 and the last two chapters. Reading the first chapter tells me whom the book is about, and reading the last two chapters tells me if he and she will be standing or lying down at the end. I like only books and movies that make me laugh.

Catharsis is not my thing, and if the story doesn’t have a happy ending, why should I muck up a sunny day by reading or watching it? If I want to be depressed, I can break out “Antigone” – or my diary from 1955.

Another dozen pages into “The Da Vinci Code” and I am not comforted. To my way of thinking, the author is talking down to us when he patiently explains that the Jardins des Tuileries has nothing to do with tulips.

Put yourself in my place. Were I to mention the Louvre, how would you feel if I looked at you over the top of my glasses, raised my eyebrows and added, “It’s in Paris” – just to make sure you were on board?

Although we read how much research had been put into this book to ensure accuracy, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read in “The Da Vinci Code” that Art Buchwald boasted that he had seen the “Mona Lisa,” “Venus de Milo” and “Winged Victory” within a time span of 5 minutes and 56 seconds.

I shouted and almost cried because, as you well remember, this is not true. As every adult should know, Art Buchwald wrote that it was an American, Peter Stone, who sprinted through the Louvre and set a tourist record by seeing all three in 5 minutes and 56 seconds. You might recall that Peter Stone was the American who once studied “Winged Victory” for an hour, stepped back and said, “It will never fly.”

Some people are able to remember everything. One of my favorite stories is about Paul Dirac, who read “Crime and Punishment,” handed it back to the friend who’d loaned it to him and said, “In one of the chapters, the author made a mistake. He describes the sun rising twice on the same day.”

Now you know that I cannot remember the names or faces of my friends. And you know that I can put a plate of food in the microwave at noon and forget to eat it until my wife, Marsha, finds it five hours later.

So you might well ask how a man who can’t even remember to eat can critique a book that sold 40 million copies. How, you ask, could humble know that Art Buchwald never boasted of a Six-Minute Louvre?

May I explain in the Maine coast manner?

One evening, during a quiz game at a Grange meeting, my brother knew how many million sheep were in Australia.

Yes, we’ve talked of this before. So you already know that ever since he was eight or 10 years old, I have been in awe of my younger brother’s prodigious memory. When he was only in the fourth or fifth grade he would know the answers to many questions I’d dig out of a reference book – a feat that seemed impossible to me at the time. But his knowing how many sheep were in Australia – well, wouldn’t you agree that he was pushing the envelope?

After the meeting, when I asked him how he knew how many sheep were in Australia, he said that Mr. Moberg mentioned it in a geography class down at Gorham Normal School. I allowed as how that was nice, but how could he remember it for 55 years?

My brother straightened up a bit, gave me an incredulous look and very slowly replied, “How could you forget anything that Moberg said?”

May I, with slouched shoulders, study my shoes as I offer you the same rationale? “How can you forget anything that Art Buchwald wrote?”

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

]]> 2, 25 Nov 2016 19:54:54 +0000
Another View: Trump right to back off Clinton probe, but it’s still not his call Fri, 25 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The nation ought to be relieved that President-elect Donald Trump has decided not to press his campaign pledge to criminally investigate rival Hillary Clinton for her handling of email while secretary of state and for the activities of the Clinton Foundation.

A drawn-out probe, fueled by Trump from the White House, would invariably become a political circus, take on the overtones of vendetta and deepen the wounds of the election. It would represent a continuation of the reckless “lock her up” chants by Trump’s campaign crowds, a mantra that suggested a Trump administration would run roughshod over the rule of law.

It would also fly in the face of the conclusion already drawn by FBI Director James Comey after a thorough investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. Comey said that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case against Clinton based on the available evidence.

With the presidential campaign ended, Trump seems to have concluded that the legal pursuit of Clinton or former president Bill Clinton would be a legal and political loser.

“It would be very, very divisive for the country,” he told The New York Times on Tuesday. “My inclination,” he said, “would be, for whatever power I have on the matter, is to say let’s go forward.”

But even in his welcome rethinking, it was not clear that Trump understands the principle of justice insulated from political control. His statement contained only a glimmer of recognition that, as president, it should not be for him to decide whether criminal prosecutions are undertaken. The law enforcement system and the U.S. attorneys who investigate and prosecute federal crimes are supposed to be independent, free from interference by the White House or anyone else.

]]> 6 Thu, 24 Nov 2016 20:51:14 +0000
Maine Voices: See the forest for the trees and recognize benefits of biomass Fri, 25 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 FALMOUTH — Late last spring, in a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation, the U.S. Senate passed a far-ranging energy bill. Led by Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and several of their colleagues, the bill included a unanimously adopted amendment recognizing the renewability and carbon benefits of biomass energy derived from wood and plant material. The amendment requires the Environmental Protection Agency to recognize biomass as a renewable energy resource, much the same as wind and solar.

Now the Congress has reconvened, and the House-Senate Conference Committee should do its job and keep the biomass amendment in the energy bill.

Critics claim that lawmakers have gotten out in front of science and that there is not enough evidence to definitely prove the environmental benefits of biomass. They are wrong. Science recognizes that biomass is a well-established way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, say Steve Shaler, director of the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources, and Roger Sedjo, senior fellow at Resources for the Future, among others.

They cite a recent peer-reviewed study from the University of Illinois that concluded that electricity derived from popular biomass products is 74 to 85 percent less carbon-intensive than coal-based electricity, just one recent entry in the large and growing body of literature that demonstrates that biomass helps reduce greenhouse emissions. They also cite a recent letter from more than 100 of the country’s pre-eminent forestry experts to federal regulators that calls the carbon benefits of biomass “well established.”

Biomass is often derived from bark, sawdust, tops of trees and low-quality wood not suitable for building homes or furniture. It can be used in place of fossil fuels to produce heat and electricity, resulting in significantly fewer emissions than conventional energy sources. In fact, biomass produces 27 percent of Maine’s electricity, and 1,300 people are employed in its production. Another example of biomass use is in the manufacturing of wood pellets, made in four Maine plants and others throughout the country.

Using biomass for energy also contributes to the health of our forests. When biomass is removed from growing forests, the remaining trees are helped to grow larger and remain healthy.

It’s amazing to realize that American forests have increased in volume by 50 percent since the 1950s, which is a major reason why biomass provides such significant carbon savings. New trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere, thereby reducing the total greenhouse gas emissions coming from biomass. In fact, say Shaler and Sedjo, “the net growth in U.S. forests offsets 13 percent of total U.S. CO2 emissions annually.”

This is where biomass and Sens. Collins’ and King’s amendment come in. The amendment recognizes the carbon neutrality and renewability of forest biomass.

As others have pointed out, the lack of a clear federal standard on biomass has resulted in uncertainty about investment in our mills. Furthermore, the loss of biomass markets negatively affects those who harvest wood, those who truck it to the mill and those who manage the forests, the foresters and landowners. This makes biomass significantly different from other renewable energy resources, which result in few jobs once they are built.

Today and going forward, we need to encourage all the potential market opportunities for Maine wood if we are going to maintain our forestland and have a healthy forest products industry. As large and small landowners understand, active, sustainable forest management means harvesting trees. This contributes to the health of forests and their carbon-capturing abilities, today and into the future, and means that the income from these harvests gives landowners the ability to continue to own the land.

Biomass energy means less use of fossil fuels, healthier forests and a dramatic reduction in carbon emissions, exactly the sort of clean energy option that those looking for real solutions to climate change should be championing.

]]> 20, 24 Nov 2016 20:56:33 +0000
Charles Krauthammer: How segmented politics left Clinton’s campaign resting in pieces Fri, 25 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 One of the more salutary outcomes of the recent election is that Democrats are finally beginning to question the wisdom of basing their fortunes on identity politics. Having counted on the allegiance of African-Americans, Hispanics, gays, unmarried women and the young – and winning the popular vote all but once since 1992 – they were seduced into believing that they could ride this “coalition of the ascendant” into permanent command of the presidency.

They’re reconsidering now not because identity politics balkanizes society, creates state-chosen favored groups and fosters communal strife. They’re reconsidering because it’s not working.

Democrats read the 2008 and 2012 election results as a harbinger of the future. Then came 2016. They now realize that the huge turnout of their constituencies was attributable to Barack Obama, a uniquely gifted campaigner whose aura is not transferable.

And why assume that identity politics creates permanent allegiances? Take the Hispanic vote. Both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump won less than 30 percent, but in 2004 George W. Bush won 44 percent. Why assume that the Republican Party cannot be competitive again?

As these groups evolve socioeconomically, their political allegiances can easily change. This is particularly true for the phenomenally successful Asian-American community. There is no reason the more entrepreneurial party, the GOP, should continue to lose this vote by more than 2-to-1.

Moreover, the legitimation of identity politics by the Democrats has finally come back to bite them. Trump managed to read, then mobilize, the white working class, and to endow it with political self-consciousness. What he voiced on their behalf was the unspoken complaint of decades: Why not us?

For all the embrace of identity politics at home, abroad Obama has preached the opposite. Here is a man telling a black audience in September that he would “consider it a personal insult, an insult to my legacy” if they don’t turn out for the Democratic candidate in November. Yet on his valedictory tour abroad just nine weeks later, he lectures anyone who will listen on the sins of parochialism. His urgent message for the nations of the world, including his own, is to eschew “tribalism” in the name of a common universalism.

This doctrine of global consciousness found its photographic expression just two weeks ago. There was parka-bundled John Kerry on a visit to the Antarctic, to which he had dropped in to make a point about global warming. Three days later, Vladimir Putin, thinking tribally, renewed the savage bombing of Aleppo and then moved nuclear-capable missiles into Kaliningrad to remind Europeans of the perils of defying the regional strongman.

Putin is quite prepared to leave the Antarctic ice sheets to Kerry while he sets his sights on Eastern Europe and the Levant. Our allies, meanwhile, remain amazed that Obama still believes the kinds of things he said in his maiden U.N. address about the obsolescence of power politics and national domination – and acts accordingly as if his brave new world of shared universal values had already arrived.

Seven months ago, Obama went to Britain to urge them – with characteristic unsuccess – to remain in Europe. Now he returns to Europe to urge everyone to resist the siren song of “a crude sort of nationalism, or ethnic identity, or tribalism.”

This is rather ironic, given that what was meant as a swipe at both European and Trumpian ethno-nationalism is a fairly good description of the Democratic Party’s domestic strategy of identity politics.

To be sure, ethnic appeal has been part of American politics forever. But the Hillary Clinton campaign was its reductio ad absurdum: all segmented group appeal, no message. Even Bernie Sanders is urging that “we go beyond identity politics” if Democrats are ever to appeal again to the working class.

As for foreign policy, there has always been and always should be an element of transcendent mission to American actions. But its reductio ad absurdum was the Obama doctrine of self-sacrificial subordination of U.S. interests to universal values. That doctrine is finished. The results, from Ukraine to Aleppo to the South China Sea, are simply too stark.

For the Democrats, the road back – from tribalism at home and universalism abroad – beckons.

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

]]> 4, 24 Nov 2016 20:48:28 +0000
M.D. Harmon: Love comes on the wings of a dove and from grandchildren Fri, 25 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m ready to give politics a rest today.

Political junkies often believe their monomania is 1) the most important thing in the world and 2) as utterly fascinating to everyone else as it is to them.

That’s not just terribly wrong, it’s doubling down on wrongness.

But today is the day after the one national holiday dedicated to gratitude itself (as opposed to being thankful for maternal parental units, hard-working exemplars of organized labor, or Italian explorers who financed their wacky schemes with money wheedled out of naive Spanish monarchs).

Instead, in an idiosyncratic spirit, I’d like to explore a couple of things worth appreciating that have nothing to do with contested elections, prevaricating politicians, wildly off-the-the-mark polls or bureaucrats’ regulatory nightmares.

That is, I want to write about things involved with real life, as it is rather charmingly called.

1) So, let’s start with birds.

No, not the turkey you are still digesting, but ones with feathers still attached.

I worked for years for a man whom I still consider the nation’s No. 1 birdwatcher, former chief editorial writer George Neavoll, and for a long time I regarded his hobby as a cross between playing tiddlywinks (look it up, kids) and collecting pull-off tabs.

Oh, I could probably tell a robin from a bluejay from a crow, but I didn’t see any reason why it made a difference, and most varieties were just bunches of feathers with feet to me.

But then something odd happened. One summer Saturday, in a tree at the end of my driveway, I saw one of the biggest, oddest-looking birds I’d ever seen. It had a long, sinuous neck, and was mostly black but with white stripes along the head and a big red topknot.

So, of course, I called George and described it to him. “That’s a pileated woodpecker,” he informed me. “They usually stay in the deep woods, so you should feel happy you saw one.”

And the strangest thing was, I did feel happy, like I’d seen an eclipse or a scenic vista. Something different had visited my yard, and suddenly I began to notice birds, and look them up in books, and discuss varieties and migration habits.

Now, we have three feeders in the backyard (we finally found some genuinely squirrel-proof ones, so my former tree-rat resettlement program is on hiatus, and the arboreal filchers feed on the seeds the birds drop).

Two feeders hold black-oil sunflower seeds, and the third is thistle for goldfinches (aka “pigs with wings”). Two suet holders for hairy and downy woodpeckers and upside-down-feeding nuthatches round out the set, which is supplemented in the spring with an orange-streamer-decorated jelly dish for Baltimore orioles.

Watching them flit and feed and filibuster (they get raucous when the feeders aren’t promptly filled) is remarkably entertaining.

And no one is more surprised at that than I am.

2) Then there are the grandchildren.

I know, I know, the two most terrifying things you can hear are “We’re surrounded by a pack of ravenous zombies!” and “Want to see pictures of my grandkids?”

But I’m not going to expound on their various wonderfulnesses, as I know everybody exults to see a grandchild take a first step, or utter a few halting words, or grow up to make a million dollars, buy Nonnie and Pawpaw a new house and take them on a round-the-world cruise.

(OK, that last hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time. Right, kids?)

Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with specifics, but instead to verify that the Bible speaks an absolute truth when it says, “Blessed is he who lives to see his children’s children.”

When you see your own kids, whom you shepherded through all the pitfalls and pratfalls of growing to adulthood, actually restart the process all over again, the whole “life-is-a-flowing-river” metaphor becomes real right in front of your eyes.

So when you watch them making the same mistakes you did, and help out where you can (but not too much, because they have to stand on their own or they will never stand at all), and bite your lip when you want to give advice, and watch triumphs and disasters occur among those you love, and discover that love really is endlessly expandable – you discover that living, even in the most quotidian circumstances, is an adventure unlike any other.

So you are grateful for the common things of life, for they often are the best parts of it. (Blessed, too, is the person who knows where to address his daily missives of thanks.)

What’s that? You say I wrote a whole column on the day after Thanksgiving and didn’t mention until now that it was Black Friday?

Gee, you noticed.

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

]]> 4, 24 Nov 2016 21:44:59 +0000
Our View: Maine corrections chief right to speak up on Long Creek suicide Fri, 25 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 It’s hard to know what to say when a family is grieving the suicide of a child. But if the child was in state custody, there is no excuse for silence.

That’s why we were encouraged this week when Maine Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick spoke about his reaction to the death of Charles Maisie Knowles, a 16-year-old transgender boy who died Nov. 1 as a result of self-inflicted injuries suffered at Long Creek Youth Development Center last month.

In a letter to the editor, Fitzpatrick expressed his sympathy for the teenager’s family, as well as the staff at Long Creek, who are shocked by the sudden death of someone who was in their care. It was the first death at the institution in 20 years.

The commissioner said that he is reviewing all of the department’s policies and procedures to see if there could be something that would prevent an event like this from happening again.

In a subsequent interview, Fitzpatrick said that he planned to convene a panel of outside groups to evaluate the case and make recommendations. He said that there were two open investigations involving the state police and the Attorney General’s Office.

Fitzpatrick is limited in what he can say now, but there are still important issues that will need to be aired after the inquiry is complete.

For one, there is a dispute between the Knowles family and Fitzpatrick about the type of mental health services available to young people who are being “detained” at the facility, but not “committed.”

Michelle Knowles, the child’s mother, has said she had been told that her son was not receiving a full complement of treatment because he was being held at the facility awaiting court action, but had not been committed by a judge. Fitzpatrick forcefully pushed back in his interview, saying, “There is no differential between committed and detained in terms of health care or mental health care. In terms of access to psychiatry and medication and clinical social workers and psychologists, it’s the same.”

Another issue is whether the facility has the right policies in place to care for transgender youth. Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, along with the Maine chapter of the ACLU, have raised questions about whether the proper safeguards were in place in this situation.

Fitzpatrick is doing the right thing by convening a panel and speaking out, even in the limited way now available to him. He should not stop there.

Every Mainer is responsible for the health and safety of children who are in state custody. The commissioner should keep the public informed about what changes, if any, he is making at Long Creek and what his staff will do to protect every child in their care.

]]> 0, 24 Nov 2016 22:29:07 +0000
Our View: No time to turn our backs on Syrian refugees Thu, 24 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Gov. LePage’s refusal to administer the state’s federally funded refugee resettlement program will do nothing to prevent Maine and the rest of the United States from providing a safe haven for people fleeing war-torn countries. A nonprofit agency will simply step in and fill the void.

Instead, the real danger comes from President-elect Donald Trump, whose anti-refugee rhetoric has given Americans a distorted view of the resettlement program, and whose administration promises to reduce or end it.

As we give thanks for all we have as Americans, and prepare for a season of giving, there is an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a moral country and the world’s superpower, with the ability to provide sanctuary for people coming from unimaginable circumstances.


LePage notified the federal government in a Nov. 4 letter that he would not administer the refugee resettlement program “until adequate vetting procedures can be established,” joining 13 other states. He went on to misquote the FBI director on the competency of that vetting process, and said Maine has been burdened by an “unchecked influx of refugees.”

Trump used much of the same language, noting during a campaign stop in Portland that “hundreds of thousands of refugees” were streaming into the United States.

But there is no deluge. Maine received 607 immigrants last year. If the state’s population is represented by a capacity crowd at Fenway Park, that’s like adding 17 more people to the bleacher seats.

The U.S. accepted around 85,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, including a record 38,901 Muslim refugees – in a country of 320 million. Among them were 12,587 Syrians who fled airstrikes, terrorist attacks and starvation at home, then spent months if not years in official or makeshift camps that are dangerous in their own right before being approved for refugee status.

If Trump follows through on his campaign promises, that lifeline would be cut off, based on the fear that the resettlement program raises the possibility of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.


But a sober look at the program shows that is not the case, certainly not to the degree Trump and LePage claim.

Anyone with an internet connection can look up the particulars of the program, which takes 18 to 24 months and includes multi-agency background checks, in-person interviews and other safeguards. Refugees make up about 10 percent of the immigrants who come into this country, and they are the most thoroughly screened category.

There are some weaknesses, including the reliability of information coming out of some source countries, but opponents calling for “adequate vetting procedures” seem to miss that they are already in place, and that there are far easier ways for someone dangerous to get into the country.

There are 5 million Syrian refugees – half of them children – and the U.S. has taken fewer than 15,000. Congress should address those shortfalls where they exist, but there is no need to bring a halt to the program, not when so much help is needed to quell this enormous humanitarian disaster, and not when the refugee program has had so few failures.


Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, over 800,000 refugees have come to the United States, many from Afghanistan, Somalia and Iraq, not inconsequentially places where the American military has intervened. In all that time, and out of all those people, only five have been arrested on terrorism-related grounds, and none has been involved in an attack.

It is impossible to say that no refugee with terrorism in mind will get through. But we cannot let outsized fear paralyze us while a world in crisis needs our help.

Our country was strengthened by Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrants, as well as by Vietnamese and Cuban refugees who came here fleeing war and dictatorships.

On the flip side, to our lasting shame, hundreds of Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany were turned away as a threat to national security.

In another trying time, we cannot let that happen. We are better than our prejudices, and stronger than our fears.

]]> 153, 23 Nov 2016 22:26:23 +0000
Commentary: Jeff Sessions’ open hostility to Voting Rights Act worthy of shudders Thu, 24 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 I was a young lawyer in the civil rights division at the Justice Department in 1981 when I first encountered Jeff Sessions, then the new U.S. attorney for Alabama. I met him while I was handling a major voting rights case in Mobile, and I relayed a rumor I’d heard: A federal judge there had allegedly referred to a civil rights lawyer as “a traitor to his race” for taking on black clients. Sessions responded, “Well, maybe he is.”

Five years later, that startling incident came up again, after Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship. The American Bar Association asked me and my supervisor for background on Sessions, as was standard in those days for judicial confirmations. I told the ABA about conversations I’d had with the U.S. attorney in which he referred to the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American.” As he saw it, by fighting for racial equality, these groups were “trying to force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them.”

I assumed that my deposition for the ABA would remain confidential, until I got a surprise call. A car would be picking me up in 30 minutes to take me to the Hill, where I would testify about Sessions before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

When I arrived, Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., and a congressional staffer took me into a back room. The testimony on Sessions was going south, and they told me to get in there and straighten it out – or my job would be in jeopardy.

I told them I knew they had no role to play in whether I kept my job and that I did not appreciate what they were saying. And then I offered my testimony.

Sessions rebutted some of the testimony against him (including that he had called an African-American prosecutor who worked for him “boy” and told him to “be careful what you say to white folks”), but he didn’t deny what I said about him. He never apologized for those comments, either, saying only that “I am loose with my tongue on occasion.”

The Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee didn’t approve his nomination, making him only the second nominee in 50 years to be rejected by the Senate for a federal judgeship. I had no further contact with him.

Thirty years later, Sessions has been tapped to be the federal government’s top attorney, charged with enforcing the law fairly and protecting all Americans’ civil rights. I have little faith that he will. So again, I am adding my personal encounters with him to the public record.

The comments I heard Sessions make are three decades old, but his consistent policy positions over the years speak volumes. He falsely charged three African-American civil rights activists in Alabama, including a longtime adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., with 29 counts of mail fraud, altering absentee ballots and attempting to vote multiple times. The evidence showed that these activists were simply helping elderly African-American voters complete mail-in ballots. All were acquitted of every charge.

He has promoted the myth of voter-impersonation fraud despite overwhelming evidence that it is exceedingly rare. He has ignored the racial impact of voting restrictions, which have a well-documented negative effect on minority communities, the impoverished and the elderly. He has disagreed that people are sometimes denied the right to vote, and proclaimed victory in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. Sessions asserted that “Shelby County has never had a history of denying voters” – willfully discounting the Alabama county’s recent history of discriminatory voting changes.

This is the man President-elect Donald Trump has selected to be in charge of enforcing the Voting Rights Act and all of our federal civil rights laws. It should make every American shudder.

I served in the Justice Department for over two decades, under 10 attorneys general. Administrations come and go, but for the most part, the career lawyers continue fighting for justice. I hope those lawyers in the civil rights division do what I and other division attorneys did when the Reagan administration came in: We continued pressing the cause of civil rights. We knew that our nation is stronger when equality under the law is not just a slogan but an enforcement policy of the Justice Department.


]]> 7 Wed, 23 Nov 2016 19:50:50 +0000
The hungry need your help year-round, not just on holidays Thu, 24 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 AUBURN — On Thursday, families around Maine will gather to give thanks for all they have. While some will be giving thanks for the abundance that life has given them, many of our neighbors will be giving thanks for their local food pantry and for the food they receive there. One in seven Maine households relies on a local hunger relief charity for food each month.

Good Shepherd Food Bank partners with more than 400 local organizations across Maine to distribute nutritious food to Maine families, children and seniors in need. The simple truth is that there are many people throughout our state who would go without food this holiday season were it not for the work of the food bank and our statewide network of food pantries and meal sites. We are thankful that we can offer this service, and we are grateful to the many generous donors who make our work possible.

Speaking of generosity, at this time of year, hunger relief organizations like Good Shepherd Food Bank receive many offers of help. People are eager to volunteer their time, contribute food and donate money. And we are often asked the same questions:

 “Is this your busiest time of the year?” No.

 “Do you run special programs during the holidays?” No.

 “I called my local food pantry and the volunteer shifts were filled. Do they really need my help?” A resounding yes.

The problem is that the food pantry needs your help just as much in February and in July as it does on Thanksgiving. Good Shepherd Food Bank doesn’t distribute special holiday food, but our network of local food pantries and meal sites will provide more than 385,000 meals the week of Thanksgiving – just like we will the week before and the week after.

The generosity displayed during the holiday season is a wonderful gift; it’s something to be appreciated and encouraged, especially when we see young people giving back to their communities. But it is important that we remember that hunger is a problem 365 days a year.

Hunger isn’t a holiday. It is a stark reality for more than 15 percent of Mainers, including one in four of our children. So we need your help, but not just because it’s Thanksgiving.

We need your help because Maine has one of the highest rates of hunger in the country. We need your help because too many of our children are not reaching their full potential because they are going to school on empty stomachs. Being hungry is more than a physical state of discomfort. It means seniors are forced to choose between eating dinner or taking their medication. It means families are living with the daily, toxic stress of not knowing how they are going to put a meal on the table tomorrow.

Good Shepherd Food Bank and our partners across Maine are making progress in ending hunger in our state. We’re distributing more food each year, improving the nutritional quality of that food, and reaching families in new locations, including schools and health centers. We’re purchasing and distributing more local foods from Maine farms each year.

We don’t have a shortage of food in our state; we do have shortages when it comes to capacity and financial resources. If we are going to reach our goal of ending hunger in Maine, we need your help. We need your time and we need you to donate. But we need you to know that financial donations have significantly more impact than leftover food.

If you have food that you don’t need or food that would otherwise go to waste, then by all means bring it to your local food pantry. But if you have the ability to give financially, we encourage you to give money to your local food pantry or the Good Shepherd Food Bank, where we can leverage your donation and get nearly eight times as much food for the same dollar as what you can buy at the store.

Mainers are incredibly generous people, and I cannot thank you enough for all that you do to help our neighbors in need. Please continue to ask the question “How can I help?” because you really can make a difference. One in four of Maine’s children is counting on you.

]]> 4, 23 Nov 2016 22:37:28 +0000
Dana Milbank: Media folks who submit to Trump’s antics deserve bad press Thu, 24 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 It was a pathetic spectacle: TV news executives and anchors filing in to Trump Tower on Monday to be the president-elect’s whipping boys.

Donald Trump had summoned them for a talk, but it turned out to be part tongue-lashing, part perp walk. The TV news people had foolishly agreed that the session was “off the record,” leaving Trump and his aides free to characterize the media representatives as groveling while Trump berated them as liars.

“Trump Eats Press,” announced pro-Trump Breitbart News.

The New York Post: “Donald Trump’s media summit was an (expletive) ‘firing squad.’ ”

Drudge: “Trump Slams Media Elite, Face to Face.”

Trump singled out for abuse CNN – the outlet that, with its endless live broadcasts of Trump speeches, did more than any other to win Trump the Republican nomination.

Many outlets (though not The Washington Post, happily) seem to expect and crave a return to business as usual after the election. They envision off-the-record chinwags with the new president. They expressed indignation when he ditched the press pool to go to dinner.

They’re begging him to hold a news conference and devouring the crumbs he tosses their way. And ominously, they’re taking to heart the criticism that the media were too tough on him, and talking about recalibrating their approach to him to regain public approval.

Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, in a segment with me on MSNBC on Tuesday, said that “the media is really overplaying its hand” in its coverage of Trump’s business conflicts of interest. “I think the media is on thin ice with the American people, very thin ice, and that they ought to just … dial it back.”

My former editor Liz Spayd, now public editor at The New York Times, fretted that letters to the editor are at their highest level since 2001 and that “many are venting about the Times’s coverage,” including “the liberal tint.”

Trump, naturally, used this to further his campaign against the media, tweeting Tuesday that “the failing” Times “just announced that complaints about them are at a 15 year high. I can fully understand that.”

Journalists need to recognize that we’re not going to win a popularity contest with Trump, and we shouldn’t try. Trump campaigned against the media, and he will continue to use the media as a foil. His party controls Congress, and conservatives will soon control the Supreme Court. If he can discredit the media, he’ll remove another check to his power.

Our third president, Thomas Jefferson, remarked that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Our 45th president would clearly prefer the former. He has shut out news organizations, including The Post, whose coverage he dislikes. He has threatened to restrict First Amendment press freedoms.

Rather than cozying up to this new establishment, the media need to savor our traditional role as outsiders. Columbia Journalism Review’s top editor, Kyle Pope, has it right when he urges “a return to journalism’s oppositional roots; it has done reporters no good to think of themselves as part of the establishment or a megaphone for the conventional wisdom. We need to embrace, even relish, our legacy as malcontents and troublemakers.”

Pursuing public affection is a fool’s errand. The profession was never held in high public esteem. And the recent decline in approval is due entirely to Trump’s daily bashing.

A September Gallup poll found a historic low for trust in the mass media: just 32 percent, down 8 points from 2015. But Gallup speculated that this was a “result of Trump’s sharp criticisms of the press,” noting that trust of the press among Republicans fell 18 points in a year.

Was the press really hard on Trump? Thirty-nine percent of voters think so, according to a Pew Research Center poll. But looking at it another way, 59 percent thought the press was either too easy on Trump (27 percent) or fair (32 percent).

There is much the press should do differently: Ditch the horse-race coverage, the discredited data journalism and the tendency among news reporters to express their opinions in social media.

But for those who think the media could gain public support if we stop hassling Trump about his conflicts of interest, the rise of white supremacists alongside him, the Trump Foundation’s self-dealing and the $25 million Trump University legal settlement – too bad. We’re not here to be popular.

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

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Podcast: Transitions and Identity Politics Wed, 23 Nov 2016 22:35:28 +0000 Portland Press Herald columnists Cynthia Dill and Alan Caron join Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich for a discussion of how the Trump transition is shaping up, and how the moves already taking shape will affect the presidential term.

Subscribe to the Press Herald Podcast on iTunes

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Leonard Pitts: For those who find thankfulness elusive this Thanksgiving, food for thought Wed, 23 Nov 2016 11:00:52 +0000 I was sitting in the service department of my Toyota dealer, staring at a book without seeing it as I waited for my car. God was next to me, watching “The Price is Right.”

“Eight-hundred forty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents,” he said.

“Huh?” I said.

“The retail price of a stainless-steel Kenmore 4.2-cubic-foot freestanding gas range,” said God, pointing to the television.

On the screen, an excited young woman blurted, “Twelve hundred dollars!”

Drew Carey looked sad for her as he revealed the price. God shook his head. “I tried to tell her,” he said. “If people would only listen to me … ”

“Oh,” I said, and returned to the book I wasn’t reading.

God regarded me a moment. Then he said, “Transmission?”

I looked up. “What?”

God said, “I asked if you brought the car in because your transmission went blooey. Obviously, something’s got you down.”

I sighed and closed the book. “Trump,” I said.


“The guy that’s going to be our new president,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” said God. “With the hair, right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That guy.”

“Well, what about him?”

On the screen above us, some man had Drew Carey in a bear hug. I sighed. “He’s the worst excuse for a leader I’ve ever seen,” I said.

“What kind of ‘president’ spends his time whining about how he’s treated on ‘Saturday Night Live’? Or has to pay out $25 million to resolve a fraud case en route to inauguration? Not to mention that he’s assembling a Cabinet only a Klansman could love.”

“Frightening,” said God.

“Yes,” I said. “Now here it is Thanksgiving and I find that, well, I’m just not feeling very thankful.”

God was incredulous. “But look at all I’ve given you. You’ve got that great wife, you have a house, you have health and you’ve got that new granddaughter toddling around.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Of course, I’m thankful for all that. But the country …”

“You should thank me for the country, too,” he said.

“How?” I said. “Like I just told you, there’s nothing to be thankful for.”

“I disagree,” said God. “I did some of my better work here.”

“Oh?” I said. “Which part? The bigotry, the stupidity or the misogyny?”

God gave me a level look. “You’re angry,” he said.

“Yeah,” I admitted. “I probably will be for the next few years.”

“Why?” asked God.

“Why?! Didn’t you hear what I said about the dope we elected? About the Masters of Evil he’s surrounding himself with? I expect better from this country.”

“You expect better,” said God. On the screen above, some lady shrieked and bit her fingernails as the Big Wheel spun.

“Yeah,” I said. “I do.”

“And what gives you this expectation?”

“This is America,” I said.

God laughed. “You people always say that word like a magic spell,” he said. “But there is no magic in it. Certainly no guarantee. You may expect better in America only because here, you have the freedom to demand better – and to work toward better. That’s all ‘America’ means. You had that freedom before this Trump person was elected, and you have it still. Not everyone does.”

“So you’re saying the fight to form a more perfect union is always ongoing? And that even in our current predicament we can draw strength from knowing that? You’re saying that God abides even now, and that these are things to be grateful for on Thanksgiving Day?”

God smiled. “I’m saying thanksgiving is not a day.”

“Wow,” I said. “I never thought about it like that.”

“You’re welcome,” said God.

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

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Commentary: Where have all the judges gone? Unfilled seats on the federal benches obstruct justice Wed, 23 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 RICHMOND, Va. — Holding open Justice Antonin Scalia’s vacancy on the Supreme Court was a stated goal of Senate Republicans throughout the protracted, divisive federal elections. But it wasn’t only the high court that senators neglected. There are now 94 unfilled openings on federal circuit and district courts – a vacancy rate that is impeding the delivery of justice.

Senators’ lengthy absence during the election season – which followed a prolonged summer recess and a truncated September session – means that no judge has been confirmed since July 6.

The election results likely will prompt yet more judges to retire or assume senior status (in which they manage reduced caseloads), which means this number could easily swell to 110 openings. Fully 13 percent of seats on the federal bench could be vacant by Inauguration Day.

With just a modicum of cooperation, Republican and Democratic senators could restore some of the judicial resources courts desperately need. There are, most notably, 20 well-qualified, mainstream district court nominees whom the Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote without dissent. A majority of them were recommended for the bench by their Republican home-state senators. They should get a final confirmation vote during the lame-duck session that began last week.

A failure to consider these nominees during the lame-duck session means that whole process will have to start over – a waste of effort exactly when the new Trump administration needs to fill a Supreme Court vacancy and create a new government. Vacancies will continue to pile up before the administration can focus on filling them; many will still be empty in 2018.

Throughout the first six years of the Obama administration, with a dearth of cooperation in the Senate, the number of judicial vacancies hovered around 90 – the highest number of vacancies ever allowed to remain unfilled for so long.

After Republicans captured the Senate majority two years ago, the Republican leadership pledged that it would restore “regular order” to the upper chamber. Instead, despite many promises, there were few expeditious candidate recommendations or swiftly planned nominee hearings and committee votes. The major bottleneck was the Senate floor, because Republican leaders rarely scheduled final debates and votes.

So in 2015, the Senate confirmed just one circuit and 10 district judges; in 2016, it approved only one circuit and eight district jurists before departing to campaign in late September. During the entire 114th Congress, the Senate averaged fewer than one confirmation per month.

A clear example of the difficulties such obstruction creates is the Idaho District Court, where caseloads are now 20 percent higher than the national average. The court has one active judge and an 82-year-old second judge, who assumed senior status in July 2015. The nominee to fill this post has languished 11 months.

Another salient illustration is Texas, which confronts 13 vacancies (eight of which don’t even have nominees). The U.S. Courts declared all 13 “judicial emergencies” because of the protracted length of the vacancy or the substantial caseload. For instance, judges in the Eastern District of Texas manage caseloads that are triple the national average.

Stalled confirmations obviously undermine the swift, economical and fair handling of cases, which erodes public respect for the confirmation system and the coequal branches of government. Drawing out the appointment process also forces talented, mainstream nominees to put their robust careers on hold – a situation that dissuades many strong candidates from contemplating the bench.

Some Republicans may assert that 2016 is a presidential election year, when the “Thurmond Rule” holds – that is, confirmations slow and halt, especially after a new president from the opposite party captures the election.

But this “rule” is an unwritten custom, not a legal mandate – and one both parties have applied inconsistently at best. Moreover, the federal courts’ dire straits show the Senate should look to other relevant traditions.

Most pertinent is that modern Senates and presidents conventionally have accorded competent, moderate nominees a final vote. A compelling example: the Senate confirmation of Stephen Breyer to the 1st Circuit after Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980. Republicans at least should permit confirmation votes on the 20 highly qualified, moderate district nominees who have waited months.

The courts desperately need these openings filled, and most of the nominees are capable and uncontroversial. Moreover, by the time President Trump has his administration running and confirms a replacement for Scalia, there could be 135 vacancies.

This could even precipitate third-branch dysfunction at a crucial time in the nascent Trump administration. All that can easily be avoided by confirming many judges now in the lame-duck session. Both parties should work together in these final weeks of 2016 to cut down this backlog of vacancies for the good of the courts, the Senate and the country.


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