Opinion – The Portland Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Fri, 20 Jan 2017 05:26:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.2 Financially ailing hospitals need a rate increase, not another tax increase http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/maine-voices-financially-ailing-hospitals-need-a-rate-increase-not-another-tax-increase/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/maine-voices-financially-ailing-hospitals-need-a-rate-increase-not-another-tax-increase/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139812 AUGUSTA — The proposed two-year state budget hurts hospitals to fund tax cuts. If the spending plan is enacted, Maine hospitals would lose more than $66 million per year when each of the various cuts are fully implemented. Hospitals in Maine oppose the budget as drafted and urge the Appropriations Committee to oppose it as well.

Medicaid provides coverage for medical care, nursing homes and a variety of other health care services to nearly 240,000 low-income Maine citizens. Generally speaking, when the Medicaid program is in a financial crisis, the state seeks to make cuts like the ones proposed in the budget.

However, the Medicaid program is not facing a financial crisis, or even a challenge. In fact, the Medicaid budget is balanced. The cost of the program has grown less than 2 percent per year for several years now. The proposed budget shrinks the Medicaid program in order to fund tax cuts.

There are a number of reasons why the Medicaid program’s costs have slowed in recent years. The primary reason is that enrollment in the program has dropped by more than 75,000 people. When fewer people are served, state costs go down.

But hospital costs go up. Almost all of the 75,000 people who lost coverage are eligible for free care in Maine hospitals because of a state mandate. The state cut people from Medicaid knowing that hospitals would be obligated by Department of Health and Human Services policy to continue meeting some of these patients’ health care needs for free. This shift of responsibility from the state to the hospitals has contributed to Maine hospitals losing about $250 million per year in uncompensated care costs, which are costs associated with care that is provided but for which patients do not pay.

These changes have also contributed to a sharp reduction in the operating margins of hospitals. The average operating margin for Maine hospitals is about 1 percent: That is, 99 percent of the revenue that flows into a hospital flows out in the form of expenses such as nurses’ salaries, prescription drug costs and the like.

Unfortunately, a third of hospitals are operating at a loss. An additional $66 million in cuts is not sustainable.

The state budget hurts hospitals in four ways.

 First, it increases the state tax imposed on hospitals for the third time in six years to about $103 million annually.

 Second, it cuts the reimbursement rate for small, rural hospitals, known as critical access hospitals, by more than $6 million per year.

 It cuts reimbursement to primary care physicians who work for hospitals by more than $16 million. This cut is particularly curious since the LePage administration has repeatedly said more care should take place in the primary care setting.

 Finally, the budget would eliminate Medicaid coverage for another 20,000 people. Hospitals would lose over $36 million per year once those cuts were fully implemented. And, under state law, every single one of those individuals would be eligible for free care. That care, however, is not comprehensive: For example, hospitals are not pharmacies and do not provide free prescription drugs to people.

If cuts of this magnitude were to be enacted, services would be cut, hospital employees would lose their jobs and the survival of some Maine hospitals would be threatened. And Maine people would be sicker.

It’s not as if hospitals have seen pay increases from Medicaid, either. In fact, Maine hospitals are paid about 72 cents for each dollar of care provided to a Medicaid patient. This is down from approximately 77 cents five years ago. Hospitals need a rate increase, not a tax increase. The state has not raised hospital rates in over a decade; in fact, hospital outpatient rates were cut 10 percent three years ago.

Thankfully, the Appropriations Committee has rejected each of these cuts in recent years. Each of the hospital proposals in the budget has been tried before. Local elected officials understand the devastating impact these proposals would have on the health of their citizens and the health of their local economies.

On behalf of Maine’s 36 hospitals, their 30,000 employees and hundreds of thousands of patients, we urge legislators to oppose the cuts proposed in the biennial budget.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/maine-voices-financially-ailing-hospitals-need-a-rate-increase-not-another-tax-increase/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/11/1112406_282585-20160922_Mayo0258.jpgA patient gets a CT scan at Mayo Regional Hospital. The population in rural Maine is trending older and poorer, which translates to lower payments – read government reimbursements – to local hospitals.Thu, 19 Jan 2017 19:17:06 +0000
Dana Milbank: Trump press plans shocking, if not surprising http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/dana-milbank-trump-press-plans-shocking-if-not-surprising/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/dana-milbank-trump-press-plans-shocking-if-not-surprising/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139838 I followed the routine on Tuesday that I had hundreds of times covering the Clinton, Bush and Obama presidencies.

I flashed my White House press pass at the guard at the northwest gate, cleared security and walked unmolested up the North Lawn driveway to the West Wing.

I entered the press room, dropped my briefcase at the Post desk, then crossed into the briefing room to see the president’s press secretary take questions from all comers.

Over the decades, thousands of other journalists have performed this ritual, a potent symbol of the unparalleled freedom of the press in America: journalists freely accessing the very seat of power – the West Wing of the White House – and demanding answers of high officials.

Now, Donald Trump is considering putting an end to this. Over the weekend, Vice President-elect Mike Pence and incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus confirmed that they were weighing a plan to kick reporters out of the West Wing in favor of a larger site elsewhere in the White House compound.

That they are even considering such a move is shocking, yet not surprising.

Journalists have had a regular place to work and to question officials in the White House proper since the McKinley administration, and presidents and White House officials of both parties and journalists of all varieties have honored the custom.

Journalists were there the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and evacuated side by side with Bush officials when it was thought a hijacked plane was headed for the building.

Tuesday was Obama press secretary Josh Earnest’s 354th and final press briefing, and the first since the talk of evicting reporters from the White House. Earnest was at least as alarmed as the journalists.

“Was there ever any consideration by anybody in this White House of shutting this briefing room down, of taking reporters and moving them out of the West Wing?” asked ABC News’ Jon Karl.

“No,” Earnest said, “there was not.”

“The fact that all of you represent independent news organizations and have regular access to the White House, have regular access to … the briefing room at almost any hour and can hold people in power accountable is really important,” he said. For White House officials, “sometimes that’s a little inconvenient, sometimes it’s uncomfortable,” he said, “but it’s necessary for the success of our democracy. … And your ability to do that is going to be affected if you don’t have regular access to the White House.”

Bill Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry used to note that his office was 50 feet from the Oval Office and 50 feet from the briefing room – an important symbol of the American free press. To this day, journalists can walk into Earnest’s office, mere steps from the president’s, and pose questions.

The Trump administration’s talk of discarding a system that endured through two world wars suggests more substantive changes are not impossible. During the campaign, Trump banned news organizations he didn’t like (including The Post) and kicked a disfavored journalist out of a news conference. During the transition, he has sometimes ditched the “pool” of journalists traveling with him in case of crisis.

Will he now ban unwanted organizations and reporters from presidential events and Air Force One and slip the “protective pool” of journalists assigned to follow him? Will he prosecute reporters for guarding their sources, attempt (as he threatened) to roll back First Amendment protections and use the Justice Department to go after owners of news outlets he doesn’t favor?

At Tuesday’s briefing, Earnest gave a sentimental valedictory, and Obama dropped in to praise his spokesman. But the topic kept returning to the Trump transition’s talk of carting reporters out of the White House.

Earnest encouraged the White House press corps to “protect the things that are worth protecting,” including the daily briefing.

“The symbolic value of this podium in this room in front of all of you is powerful, and it sends a strong message not just to the American people, but to people around the world,” he said.

CBS News’ Mark Knoller asked whether there were days Earnest dreaded the briefing.

Earnest admitted there were. Still, he said, “it will take some getting used to seeing somebody else standing up here doing it.”

“Or not,” he added.

There was laughter, but it wasn’t really a joke.

“Do you feel like this is the last briefing of this kind that we might see for a very long time?” asked CNN’s Michelle Kosinski.

“I hope not,” Earnest said. “But I don’t know.”

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

dana.milbank@washpost.com

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Commentary: An EPA administrator is needed who will help, not hurt Maine’s environment http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/maine-voices-an-epa-administrator-is-needed-who-will-help-not-hurt-the-environment-donald-trumps-pick-for-epa-chief-is-bad-for-maine-its-farms-fishing-wildlife-and-people/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/maine-voices-an-epa-administrator-is-needed-who-will-help-not-hurt-the-environment-donald-trumps-pick-for-epa-chief-is-bad-for-maine-its-farms-fishing-wildlife-and-people/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139864 This holiday season, our Christmas tree farms were under attack – and not from hatchet-wielding holiday revelers.

Climate change makes extreme weather, like drought, wildfires and even hurricanes, more frequent and more severe. And experts even suggest it may be the reason the drought is decimating our pine tree farms this holiday season.

Thanks to climate change, northeast Christmas tree farmers got drought in their stockings this year. Across New England, farmers are losing as much as 80 percent of their plantings, forcing them to cut selling seasons and lose income. As one story put it, “It’s a tale that climate scientists and forest ecologists say may become more common with warmer temperatures associated with climate change.”

But it’s not just a war on Christmas we have to worry about. Maine’s coastline is threatened by sea level rise, which causes harmful flooding and erosion. Our coasts and the tourism industry that depend on them are in danger.

Climate change is also causing the tick population to boom, as more ticks and larvae survive shorter, milder winters. These ticks spread Lyme disease, and even affect our hunting. In 2014, the winter tick-related mortality caused officials to reduce the number of the state’s moose-hunting licenses by 25 percent and then another 9 percent in 2015.

And nearly 130,000 adults and children in Maine suffer from asthma, which is made worse by climate change and the dangerous ozone smog it exacerbates.

That is exactly why President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Environmental Protection Agency administrator is bad for Maine.

Mr. Trump has nominated Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the EPA – the very agency that Pruitt has been vigorously opposing. Pruitt is a renowned climate denier, who’s used his position of power to prevent lifesaving public health protections like the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan sets the first ever federal limits on carbon pollution from power plants, our country’s biggest source of the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. It would prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 asthma attacks in children every year by 2030.

Climate change threatens our coasts, our economy, and our prosperity. The lobster industry is Maine’s most lucrative commercial fishery, bringing in $457 million in 2014. But climate change puts Maine’s fisheries in the crosshairs, with climate impacts like warm water, acidification and disease all contributing to declining seafood populations, from lobster to shrimp to cod. It even harms the blueberry and maple syrup industries. Climate change would increase the costs of business in Maine by threatening economic activity and services while pushing insurance premiums higher to pay for increasingly frequent natural disasters such as floods and wildfires, putting 32,069 Maine small businesses at risk.

Climate change makes extreme weather more frequent and more severe. Total Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster spending in Maine was almost $5.26 million in 2015. The effects on Maine can be felt in every part of the state.

Mainers understand the threat. That’s why 76 percent of Mainers support treating carbon pollution as a pollutant and 62 percent support setting limits on carbon pollution from existing coal fired power plants.

We need an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who protects our environmental laws, is guided by science when crafting and implementing policy, puts public health ahead of special interests and has the qualifications necessary to safeguard the American public from climate change.

Scott Pruitt meets none of those criteria and is in the pocket of the very industry the EPA was created to oversee. In fact, the industry has invested nearly $350,000 in Pruitt’s campaigns, and is looking for a return on that investment.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King should oppose Pruitt’s nomination. They should do so not just for our Christmas trees, blueberries, lobsters, and maple syrup, but for our kids and our future. Scott Pruitt is bad for Maine and bad for our health. Mainers deserve better.

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Bill Nemitz: LePage is Maine’s very own Archie Bunker, but in reality, he’s not funny http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/theyre-old-lines-and-no-one-is-laughing/ Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139879 Move over, Gov. Paul LePage. Make room for Archie Bunker.

In a 1974 episode of the television classic “All in the Family,” black neighbor George Jefferson asks America’s favorite bigot to sign Jefferson’s petition to run for Republican County Committee. While wife Edith looks on, Archie takes a long, hard look at the clipboard …

George: It ain’t an IOU; just go ahead and sign it.

Archie: Hold it, hold it, Jefferson. I don’t go around signin’ political documentaries just like that, y’know. I mean, even Abe Lincoln, as smart as he was, he read the Declaration of Independence before he put his John Hancock on it.

Edith: Archie, are you sure Abraham Lincoln signed the Declaration of Independence?

Archie: Sure, fourscore and seven years ago.

The live audience roars. Good old Archie has mangled U.S. history once again.

“All in the Family” was a revolutionary sitcom through which creator Norman Lear held up a mirror to American society and forced us to laugh at ourselves.

Paul LePage, on the other hand, is a cringe-worthy reality show.

Just like Archie, LePage wears his stupidity like a badge of honor. But unlike Bunker’s weekly descents into the absurd, there’s nothing even remotely funny about Maine’s governor.

“I will just say this: John Lewis ought to look at history,” LePage fumed Tuesday during his weekly chat with the ever-obliging Bangor talk-radio hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler.

LePage was incensed over last week’s comment by Lewis, a civil rights icon before he embarked on his 30-year (and counting) career as a congressman from Atlanta. In an interview with NBC, Lewis said Donald J. Trump is not “a legitimate president” because of “a conspiracy on the part of the Russians, and others, that helped him get elected.”

LePage’s “history” lesson for Lewis? That Republican presidents are the best thing ever to happen to blacks in the United States.

“It was Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves, it was Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant who fought against Jim Crow laws,” LePage said. “A simple thank-you would suffice.”

Somewhere in TV heaven, Archie Bunker is standing and applauding. All by himself.

LePage’s attack on Lewis is, first and foremost, an appalling insult to a man who suffered greatly at the hands of white oppression.

The scar still visible on Lewis’ head bears testimony to the fractured skull he sustained from an Alabama state trooper’s billy club during the “Bloody Sunday” march into Selma on March 7, 1965. It will forever define Lewis as a man who, even when faced with certain physical injury, courageously refused to back down.

But LePage’s personal attack on Lewis, as egregious as it may be, is only one part of the picture here. Another is the governor’s stunning ability, once again, to make an absolute fool of himself.

Rutherford B. Hayes and Ulysses S. Grant “fought against Jim Crow laws?”

A quick Google check is more than enough to demonstrate that Jim Crow laws began to take root at the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era in 1877, after President Grant left office.

And why did those pillars of “legal” segregation – denying the so-called “freedmen” of their rights to vote, to unrestricted travel, to public accommodation, to a decent education – spread like wildfire across the South?

Because President Hayes, locked in a squeaker of a presidential election in 1877, cut a deal with Southern electors: They would install him in office in exchange for his withdrawal of all Northern occupying troops from the South.

Hayes, in his letter accepting the Republican nomination, at least put in a good word for the newly freed slaves.

“What the South most needs is peace, and peace depends upon the supremacy of law,” he wrote. “There can be no enduring peace, if the constitutional rights of any portion of the people are habitually disregarded.”

To which Southern states responded by passing the Jim Crow laws right under Hayes’ nose. They would remain a blight on our democracy until 1965.

In short, neither Grant nor Hayes “fought against Jim Crow laws,” as LePage so authoritatively claims. Grant pre-dated them, and Hayes, in what would forever be called a “corrupt bargain,” set the stage for their enactment.

You’d think LePage might have researched all of this a bit before popping off on the radio. And now that he’s being widely dismissed (once again) as that dimwitted idiot from Maine, you’d think he’d be a wee bit embarrassed.

Yet, just like Archie Bunker, he’s oblivious to all but the fawning praise from supporters who celebrate any factual error, any ridiculous claim, as their hero “not being politically correct.”

Really? How about “not being factually correct”? Does that matter for anything anymore?

Not to some people. They accept whatever comes out of Trump’s or LePage’s mouth on the premise that if their man said it, that’s good enough for them. (Say what you will about poor Edith Bunker – at least she did the occasional double take.)

And what say these willfully ignorant folks to anyone who takes the time to do a little fact-checking? In today’s toxic political environment, five minutes on Wikipedia is enough to get you labeled “intellectual elitist.”

LePage, in an interview later Tuesday with Portland Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle, insisted for the umpteenth time, against reams of evidence to the contrary, that he is not a racist.

In fact, he said, “Some of us (white people) are abolitionists. I’m a strong abolitionist …”

It’s enough to make you laugh. Or scream.

He also snarled, “The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”

Did you hear that, fellow Americans? Not “our” battle. “Their” battle.

Those gasps we can all hear from near and far are of horror, not admiration. Maine’s chief executive has reached what Archie Bunker once referred to as “a new high in lowness.”

So please, Gov. LePage, enough. Try keeping your trap shut at least until you know of what you speak.

Or as Archie himself once advised, “Don’t talk like an ignarosis.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgPORTLAND, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Thu, 19 Jan 2017 13:58:47 +0000
Our View: Make connections with at-risk mothers to prevent the killing of newborns http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/our-view-make-connections-with-at-risk-mothers-to-prevent-the-killing-of-newborns/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/our-view-make-connections-with-at-risk-mothers-to-prevent-the-killing-of-newborns/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139891 Every year across the United States, several hundred infants are killed in their first 24 hours of life – an act known as neonaticide. A high-profile case of neonaticide in Maine concluded this month with the sentencing of the mother to nine years in prison. But while incarceration may satisfy calls for retribution, preventing neonaticide demands that we reach out to women at risk.

Kayla Stewart, who pleaded guilty Jan. 4 to manslaughter, gave birth in December 2015 at the Fairfield home she shared with her boyfriend, Nicholas Blood. According to prosecutors, Stewart, then 20, either left the full-term boy to die in the unheated garage or smothered or suffocated him. Her defense attorney argued that Stewart believed the child was stillborn and wrapped him up and put him behind an oil tank in the garage as a way to keep the baby with her.

Stewart’s experience fits a pattern that Michelle Oberman, a law professor who has studied neonaticide, recently described to the Morning Sentinel’s Colin Ellis: isolation and denial. Stewart and Blood, then 25, already had a 3-year-old and both worked. They didn’t see much of each other, her attorney said, and Stewart wasn’t close to her adoptive mother.

Asked by her mother whether she was pregnant, Stewart initially denied it, according to a probable-cause affidavit; later, in either late November or early December, she called her mother and said she’d been seen by a doctor after a fall at work and had been told that her fetus was just a few months old and had no heartbeat. Neither of these were true. Stewart’s attorney said her client was convinced the baby was dead because she “smoked and did drugs” during the pregnancy.

What is clear is that Stewart had no plan for giving birth, and that like most women who deliver a child unexpectedly, she was in no condition to take proactive steps – such as cleaning herself up, getting dressed and dropping off the child at a “safe haven,” like an ER or a doctor’s office.

Keeping newborns from being killed calls for making connections. Ideally, teenagers, one of the groups most at risk for pregnancy denial and infanticide, should have access to evidence-based sex education and contraception. If they don’t use birth control, or if it fails, they need someone in their lives – a health provider, a friend, a relative – who’s caring but still willing to ask questions and help the woman weigh her options. And the existence of “safe haven” laws can help by alerting the public to the possibility that someone they know might be concealing a pregnancy.

A child died just as his life was getting started. Sadly, nothing will bring him back – but if we want to prevent similar tragedies, intervention should take place far before the labor pains start.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/our-view-make-connections-with-at-risk-mothers-to-prevent-the-killing-of-newborns/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1139891_shutterstock_529524046.jpgAt-risk pregnant women need someone in their lives to provide support, ask questions and help the woman weigh her options so she's not dealing in isolation with the unexpected delivery of a newborn.Wed, 18 Jan 2017 23:21:47 +0000
Another View: Incoming Trump administration should move to cut losses in Iraq http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/another-view-incoming-trump-administration-should-move-to-cut-losses-in-iraq/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/19/another-view-incoming-trump-administration-should-move-to-cut-losses-in-iraq/#respond Thu, 19 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139894 One question that should be high on the foreign policy agenda of President-elect Donald Trump is whether America should continue the war in Iraq, which now risks having ensnared three U.S. presidents.

The war has now cost the taxpayers $2 trillion. Nearly 4,500 Americans have died, the conflict arguably spawned the Islamic State and some 5,000 American troops are still engaged there. Iraq’s predominantly Shiite government still has not gained the support or even the acquiescence of Iraq’s mixed population. It was formerly constituted, under Saddam Hussein, of roughly 20 percent Sunni Arab Muslims, on top of the heap, 17 percent Kurds, also Sunnis, and 60 percent Shiites.

The invasion in 2003 and subsequent occupation put Shiites on top, in principle based on Western democracy’s one-person, one-vote formula, but the Sunnis have never accepted the new order; some back the mostly Sunni Islamic State.

Deadly bombs go off in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, almost certainly directed by Sunnis against the ruling Shiites. The Islamic State has held Mosul, Iraq’s second city, since June 2014.

The question now is whether the incoming Trump administration will continue to keep the United States on the hook in Iraq. President George W. Bush tried to withdraw from the conflict starting in 2008. President Obama, in spite of passionate promises, was unable to resist Iraqi government and domestic pressure, including by military leaders still in quest of redefined victory, to keep forces and assets committed. U.S. involvement is now coming up to 14 years.

If Trump looks at Iraq as an investment of U.S. assets, including military personnel as well as money, he could sensibly conclude that enough is already far more than enough and pull forces and other assets out, leaving the Iraqis to sort out their situation themselves. As a U.S. investment, Iraq now looks a lot more like today’s Atlantic City than like another California gold rush.

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Greg Kesich: A pre-Inauguration Day letter to my daughters http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/greg-kesich-a-pre-inauguration-day-letter-to-my-daughters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/greg-kesich-a-pre-inauguration-day-letter-to-my-daughters/#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139335 Hi, kids: On Friday, America will inaugurate its 45th president. It will also be your first inauguration as adults.

It feels like this is the point where my generation hands over the future to yours. Sorry, but it doesn’t look as good as I’d been hoping.

Barack Obama was sworn in as president eight years ago when you two were in the sixth and ninth grades. I thought we had come to a turning point in history.

The policies of the 1980s and 1990s had failed, the nation was in the middle of an economic free-fall driven by unlimited greed at the top, and American troops were bogged down in two unwinnable wars.

Obama came along and told me what I wanted to hear: That we were not as divided as our politics would suggest. That we could all move forward together if we just could get past our petty differences. That we were all part of an American story of ever-expanding freedom and justice.

I admit, I fell for it.

Eight years later, the rich are richer than ever, but the poor and middle class are no better off. Politics is even more toxic, and a living embodiment of that will be taking the presidential oath on Friday. The people’s movement I’d hoped for is being led by a billionaire who stiffs contractors and maybe is being blackmailed by Russia.

So, OK. I didn’t see that coming.

Things don’t look so good to me, which should give you some reason to hope. As you know, I’ve been wrong before.

Instead of looking forward, let me take a step back. The ceremony that takes place Friday on the Capitol steps has been decades in the making, and it has little to do with Donald Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton or any number of famous names who will be getting the credit or blame, depending on your point of view, for putting the country in the position it is in today.

I came of age in the years after Vietnam and Watergate. People didn’t challenge just the president and the military, but all of the institutions in our society.

We were taught to question everything. At various times, the courts, the colleges, the churches, labor unions, the political parties, charities, even the news media itself have all come under investigation, and not one of them came out clean.

A lot of wrongs were righted, but there were other consequences as well. Now we live in a country where nobody trusts anything.

Some people say we need to go back to America in the 1950s, where all those institutions were strong and prosperous and everyone was unified. That would be a terrible idea, and fortunately it is impossible.

Many people who actually lived in the 1950s did not find it to be the paradise you hear about. America was less than great if you were black, gay or an immigrant, or if you were interested in watching something on television on a Sunday night other than a guy who could spin plates on pool cues.

Those institutions that we remember so fondly could be oppressive. Conformity was stifling. People couldn’t wait for the 1960s to come along and shed themselves of those bonds. The decades that followed led to more individual expression and more opportunities.

And it turned out that there was good reason to stop trusting politicians. The Pentagon Papers showed that the president lied about Vietnam – not just Richard Nixon, but a whole string of presidents.

The problem of living in a society where there is so little trust, however, is that we become vulnerable to con men.

It’s too easy to discount anything you don’t agree with by screaming “Fake news!” It makes us easy to manipulate and hard to lead.

The task for your generation won’t be going back to a time when we were great, but building institutions that you can trust, ones behind which people can put aside self-interest and work together for the common good. We need new kinds of political parties, labor unions and other organizations that can give ordinary people a powerful voice, and new kinds of media outlets that allow everyone to argue with a similar set of facts.

Don’t trust leaders, but learn to trust each other. Don’t fall for every conspiracy theory that comes along – the bad guys aren’t that organized.

Don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right, but don’t expect other people to be perfect, either.

And don’t be discouraged by what you see in Washington. This is the last gasp of something old.

It’s time for you to build what comes next.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at www.pressherald.com/podcast.

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

gkesich@pressherald.com

Twitter: @gregkesich

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/greg-kesich-a-pre-inauguration-day-letter-to-my-daughters/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/10/Columnist-Kesich-e1441211688709.jpgJohn Patriquin/Staff Photographer.Wed. July,25, 2012. News room mug shots Greg Kesich. (Photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)Tue, 17 Jan 2017 21:46:55 +0000
Maine Voices: Don’t let plan for freezer warehouse, a vital need on waterfront, slip away http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/maine-voices-dont-let-plan-for-freezer-warehouse-a-vital-need-on-waterfront-slip-away/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/maine-voices-dont-let-plan-for-freezer-warehouse-a-vital-need-on-waterfront-slip-away/#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139341 The Port of Portland has been offered a generational opportunity: a modern freezer warehouse, accessible by sea, rail, air and highway, available to every food producer in the region, and built with private capital. But there’s a hitch: The proposed warehouse would be built in the waterfront port development zone, an area zoned with a maximum height of 45 feet, and the warehouse must be 68 feet tall to accommodate enough pallets to make the project economical on the limited available land.

The zone is the heart of Portland’s industrial waterfront. The container terminal is in the zone, and the zone extends to the Sprague Marine Terminal near the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. The area has a rich history in shipping. A gas plant once resided there, converting shiploads of coal to lamp gas, and not so long ago the massive “china clay” docks, handling kaolin for the paper mills, towered over West Commercial Street precisely where the freezer warehouse would be sited.

There are comparable buildings on Portland’s waterfront today. Sprague Energy’s white newsprint warehouses, located adjacent to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge on what was the Merrill Marine Terminal, are 60 feet tall. The Pierce Atwood building, a former cold storage warehouse, is about 70 feet. Most of the property on the north side of Commercial Street is zoned to allow buildings up to 65 feet in height, such as the Marriott Courtyard hotel.

The freezer warehouse would not be painted white, and it would not be a box. Rather, it would be an attractive, modestly scaled structure resembling an office building, and indeed, the building would include the North American headquarters for Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping line. The warehouse is an appropriately sized project in an appropriate zone, and it’s something Maine badly needs.

The Port of Portland has always handled food. Yet for decades the port has been without a cold storage warehouse usable in conjunction with deep-water shipping. Every serious study of the Port of Portland, whether privately commissioned or government-sponsored, has identified a cold storage warehouse as conspicuously lacking among the port’s assets. There are dozens of superb business opportunities that Portland has lost because the port lacks a freezer warehouse.

The benefits of such a warehouse would extend throughout the state and region. More and more, Maine’s farmers, fishermen and other food producers recognize that to compete across the world they must produce value-added food: not just fish fillets, berries or pork, but also ready-to-cook portioned fish, frozen berry desserts and gourmet sausage.

While the freezer plant is under construction, salespeople will fan out across Maine to show food brokers and producers how a frozen product can add to their bottom line. The freezer warehouse would be able to handle pallet loads, allowing Maine’s smaller food producers – those who could not now fill a container – inexpensive access to distant markets, including Europe and Asia. The freezer warehouse is a game-changer for Maine’s niche food producers in the Portland area and throughout the state. The freezer warehouse is truly a project of regional significance.

The 300-year history of the Port of Portland makes clear that a healthy port must be tended with care. Cargoes decline and new cargoes take their place, some moving in modern containers, some in bulk and some in break-bulk, and all by sea. A healthy port adapts to and provides accommodation for new cargoes, and even across the centuries, that port continues to thrive.

Such has been the experience of the Port of Portland, though not without exception. Readers will recall the cement silos proposed in the 1990s for the western waterfront, which met with organized opposition from residents who chose to live overlooking the western waterfront. Those three silos were finally built – but they were built in New Haven, Connecticut, where they, their ships and their many well-paid employees are still busy. Let’s not let that happen to the freezer warehouse.

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Our View: LePage again makes Maine look bigoted http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/our-view-lepage-again-makes-maine-look-bigoted/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/our-view-lepage-again-makes-maine-look-bigoted/#respond Wed, 18 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1139331 The governor of Maine is an ignorant man. This is not news.

The man who said Tuesday that civil rights hero John Lewis should say “thank you” to white people for ending slavery is the same person who said last year that black drug dealers who impregnate “white girl(s)” were mainly responsible for the state’s opioid problem.

This is the same man who was in office for less than a month before telling the NAACP that it could “kiss my butt” if it didn’t like him skipping the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast.

We would like to ignore him, but we can’t. Even when he’s just running his mouth on talk radio, he’s our governor. We all suffer from guilt by association if we don’t speak up.

Gov. LePage takes great offense at being called racist because he claims to have no personal bias against people based on the color of their skin. We can’t know what’s in his heart, but we do have enough evidence to draw other conclusions from his repeated racially charged comments.

Racial prejudice is no small thing to be wrong about. It’s one of the fault lines of our society. Failing to build unity in a culturally diverse society is what will make or break this country. A public official who deepens the divide does damage to us all.

But the governor is consistently wrong about race and when he is confronted with it, he offers half-baked history lessons. As usual, in his telling, he’s the victim.

“The blacks, the NAACP (paint) all white people with one brush,” LePage said. “To say that every white American is a racist is an insult. The NAACP should apologize to the white people, to the people from the North for fighting their battle.”

If the NAACP said that all white people were racist they must have whispered it in LePage’s ear, because it’s not in any of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization’s public statements.

But the governor does not stop there. He goes on to suggest that living in a state that fought for the Union in the Civil War allows him to say with impunity whatever comes into his head.

He wants all white Northerners to get collective credit for the sacrifice made by civil rights workers like Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, who were murdered while registering black voters in 1964, but he’s not willing to accept that there was any collective harm done to millions of African-Americans by 400 years of slavery, segregation and lynching.

There is no political cost in Maine to this type of wrongheadedness because, judging from their silence, most Maine Republicans and some Democrats and independents think he’s right. Still, the governor has once again embarrassed his state on a national stage.

You can expect there to be an economic price to pay by companies that are trying to recruit students and professionals to make Maine their home, or by economic development agencies trying to entice entrepreneurs to relocate.

But even that does not match the human cost that will be paid by ordinary Maine people, like an African-American mother who has to put her child to sleep at night knowing that her governor thinks he deserves “a simple thank you” from people like her because her baby is not in chains.

We’ll all be paying for his ignorance for a long time.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/18/our-view-lepage-again-makes-maine-look-bigoted/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1139331_776910-LePage-e1484711944661.jpgGov. Paul LePage fancies himself a student of history, but he continues to misrepresent the past to justify his racially charged ideas. Mainers suffer from guilt by association when he expresses such notions.Tue, 17 Jan 2017 22:59:16 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Let us not accept Trump’s bizarre behavior as the new normal http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/leonard-pitts-let-us-not-accept-trumps-bizarre-behavior-as-the-new-normal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/leonard-pitts-let-us-not-accept-trumps-bizarre-behavior-as-the-new-normal/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 11:00:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/leonard-pitts-let-us-not-accept-trumps-bizarre-behavior-as-the-new-normal/ Sometimes, you’ve got to go through it to get to it.

That’s a personal motto with which I have occasionally consoled myself since I was a teenager. It means that for as much as we naturally seek to avoid the unpleasant situation, to find a way over or around it, there are times in this life when the only option is to go through it, to endure the unendurable thing and pick up the pieces on the other side.

That philosophy has succored me through breakups, deaths and career reversals. I find myself turning to it again to gird for the inauguration of the 45th president.

For years, many of us have sought to avoid, to go over or around, the consequences of the Republican Party’s retreat from seriousness. Meaning its studied outrage, its practiced hysteria, its obstructionism, its bigotry, its withdrawal into a facts-free alternate universe, its embrace of human cartoons like Sarah Palin, Ben Carson and Herman Cain. But avoidance is no longer an option, and the impossible is upon us.

The Great Trumpkin is rising from the Trumpkin patch.

Cliff Clavin just got the last laugh on the gang at “Cheers.”

The most flagrantly unfit man in history is about to be sworn in as president.

And for the first time in my life, I am not optimistic about America’s future – at least not its next four years. There is no disaster, up to and including a nuclear exchange, that would surprise me under the incoming administration.

If you need a silver lining, I can offer only this: Assuming America survives the next four years in any recognizable form – by no means a foregone conclusion – I suspect Donald Trump’s debacles and the sheer tiresomeness of the man himself, will so thoroughly discredit this strain of Republicanism as to destroy it completely.

Maybe then the country will be in a mood for serious people – Democratic and Republican – with serious ideas again. That’s what passes for hope these days. Meantime, I have made a resolution: I will, at all costs, retain my capacity for outrage.

Yes, that will be easier said than done.

The capacity for outrage is like a physical muscle in the sense that it tires from being overworked. And certainly, Trump has worked our capacity for outrage like a drill sergeant.

Shock upon shock, insult upon insult, falsehood upon falsehood, he has been a daily deluge of the unbelievable and the unthinkable until you don’t even know what to respond to first. Shall we answer the misogyny? But then, what about the bigotry? Shall we decry the incompetence? Will that leave us time to deal with the ignorance? The man is a white noise of badness.

The danger is that it comes to seem normal, that you stop seeing how truly bizarre it is. One of the things that makes us human, after all, is our resilient adaptability. Whether sickened by cancer, swamped by flood, broken by bankruptcy or savaged by war, we always find a way to accommodate ourselves to the new circumstance. With good humor and quiet courage, we accept the new normal.

But I refuse to do that now.

Doing it now would feel less like an act of courage and good humor than one of surrender, of forgetting that there was once a time dignity, intelligence, honesty and statesmanship were traits we desired and demanded in our leaders. But if we forget that, we forget us, and then we are well and truly lost.

Love of country demands better. Martin Luther King once said he was “proud to be maladjusted” to the inequities and inequalities of his time. That works for me.

So I am proud to be maladjusted to Donald Trump.

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

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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Maine Voices: Consider what ranked-choice voting promises for 2018 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/maine-voices-consider-what-ranked-choice-voting-promises-for-2018/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/maine-voices-consider-what-ranked-choice-voting-promises-for-2018/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1138783 YARMOUTH — An article published online late last week by the Independent Voters Network revealed that former state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, is considering a run for U.S. Senate against incumbent independent Angus King. Should he be worried?

Most people consider Sen. King’s re-election in 2018 a near certainty. But not so fast. It’s been speculated for some time that Gov. LePage is also considering challenging Sen. King. Yes, I’m talking about the Paul LePage who got 48 percent of the vote in 2014, trouncing his two opponents in a state that also gave an electoral vote to President-elect Donald Trump in 2016.

So how does this play out? One could envision Diane Russell energizing the dreams of 15 or 20 percent of voters from the Bernie Sanders left, Republican Paul LePage holding strong to his 40-plus percent base, and Angus King winding up back home in Brunswick in a distant second place. And voila, a minority of Maine voters launches LePage on to the national stage.

Fortunately, from my perspective, Maine’s elections will use ranked choice-voting in 2018. That translates to an instant runoff between LePage and King, and King returning to Washington with 55 or 60 percent of the vote, just as we expected all along, and just as a true majority of Maine voters find acceptable.

So Diane Russell should dive right in. We have no spoiler problems in Maine anymore. Justin Alfond? Ethan Strimling? Go for it. We want to hear their hopes and dreams for America.

Of course, all this assumes that the Maine Legislature and secretary of state do their jobs and implement ranked-choice voting in 2018, as the people have demanded by public referendum, and as state law now mandates.

Let’s turn now to the 2018 governor’s race. Lots of speculation there, too. And assuming that Susan Collins takes a pass, the field is wide open. If you’re worried about the state of politics in this country, and you care about Maine, and you think you have something positive to offer our great state, what better time than now to run for office?

My speculation is that there will be eight or 10 Democratic Party candidates, eight or 10 Republican Party candidates, a Green Party candidate, a Libertarian Party candidate and three or four independents.

If that happens, it is a wonderful thing. Wonderful that we’ll have an engaged group of citizens stepping up to the best of America’s democracy by running for public office. Wonderful that they will bring with them a diversity of ideas, vision, experience and talents.

And thanks to ranked-choice voting, we have an ingeniously efficient way to whittle down these 15 or 20 candidates to the one among them who best represents the views, ideals and hopes of Maine voters most broadly – someone who is most likely to bring us together, rather than divide us.

But again, this sensible whittling down of the field assumes that the Legislature and secretary of state do their jobs and implement ranked-choice voting in 2018, as the people have demanded, and as state law mandates.

Maine is getting national attention for putting into law a reform that definitively improves democracy in multi-candidate races. In crowded party primaries, as we will likely see in the 2018 governor’s race, there will be a sequential narrowing down of candidates to a nominee with the broadest appeal to each party’s voters.

That is the ingenious system that Maine voters put into law when they passed ranked-choice voting.The same sequential narrowing down of candidates will then happen in the general election, assuring a final winner with the broadest appeal to all Maine voters.

In the upcoming U.S. Senate and governor’s races, I truly welcome anyone who wants to run. At this crazy time in American politics, I welcome anyone stepping up and running for any public office, whether it’s Town Council, School Committee, sate representative, governor, U.S. Senate or anything else. I say dive in. But I can say that only because we have ranked-choice voting.

If the Legislature and secretary of state somehow fail in implementing ranked-choice voting for 2018, even though state law clearly mandates it, and even though the people have clearly demanded it by public referendum, then our democracy will have been blatantly compromised.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/maine-voices-consider-what-ranked-choice-voting-promises-for-2018/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/1098656_684141_20160823_ranked_ch_6.jpgKyle Bailey, campaign manager for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, counts up the votes in a demonstration at Foulmouthed Brewing put on by the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting of what it's beer tour will look like this September. The committee is ranking beer in beer flights to demonstrate how ranked voting works to the public. The campaign will hold it's event at Foulmouthed Brewing on Sept. 11. Brianna Soukup/Staff PhotographerMon, 16 Jan 2017 23:15:31 +0000
Our View: U.S. food policy needs more than junk ban http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/our-view-u-s-food-policy-needs-more-than-junk-ban/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/our-view-u-s-food-policy-needs-more-than-junk-ban/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1138789 We don’t agree with much of what Gov. LePage has to say regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, an essential piece of public assistance that ensures millions of Americans do not go hungry.

But he is absolutely right about one of the program’s central hypocrisies – its multibillion-dollar subsidy to the junk-food industry.

“The Obama administration goes to great lengths to police the menus of K-12 cafeterias, but looks the other way as billions of taxpayer dollars finance a steady diet of Mars bars and Mountain Dew,” the governor wrote last summer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees SNAP.

Five cents out of every SNAP dollar is spent on soda, with another 10 cents going to other sweetened beverages, such as energy drinks or fruit juice, according to a new study from the USDA itself.

Banning the use of food stamps on these beverages, as LePage wants and the USDA has so far resisted, is a logical first step in changing federal policy that is fighting with itself even as it fights the obesity epidemic.

However, if the ban is about public health and not the public shaming of the poor, it must be done alongside efforts to reduce the overall consumption of sweetened beverages, which are a problem for SNAP participants and non-participants alike, and contribute not only to obesity but also to a wide range of health problems costing the United States hundreds of billions of dollars every year.

The goal should be reducing that use across the board, using the kind of campaign that has already led to a large reduction in the amount of soda consumed among the population as a whole, extending it to all sorts of sweetened beverages, and specifically into the low-income communities that on average consume junk food at a higher rate.

The USDA should also continue to push for a more rational food policy, one that does not so heavily subsidize the soy and corn that are used as filler in so many unhealthy processed foods. If spending billions of SNAP funds on soda is bad policy, so is funneling billions to farmers whose crops become high-fructose corn syrup.

Instituting a ban as part of a more wholistic approach to food policy would make it decidely more effective, and separate it from the more punitive food stamp measures forwarded by officials like LePage who have sought to cut the rolls even as hunger spreads, stressing schools and food banks.

Perhaps it is this existential argument over food stamps that has the Obama administration balking at a ban, as a reflex for defending the program as a whole. Otherwise, its arguments don’t make much sense.

Both of the USDA’s main points against a ban – that it would be difficult to administer, and that it is punitive toward the poor – are proved wrong by other federal programs, such as school lunch and Women, Infants and Children, both of which have clear restrictions and strict guidelines on nutrition.

No, banning food stamps from being used on junk food isn’t an attack on the poor, but part of an antidote to food policies that are making us sick.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/our-view-u-s-food-policy-needs-more-than-junk-ban/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1138789_346561_20151123_junkfood_00.jpgThe federal government should slash subsidies to the producers of the soy and corn that are used as filler in so many unhealthy processed foods.Mon, 16 Jan 2017 23:14:04 +0000
Another View: Companies like Ikea should make safe products without being forced http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/another-view-companies-like-ikea-should-make-safe-products-without-being-forced/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/another-view-companies-like-ikea-should-make-safe-products-without-being-forced/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1138813 Ikea, the world’s largest furniture seller, recently agreed to pay $50 million to settle three cases in which boys died after being crushed by Ikea dressers that toppled on them.

The settlement doesn’t clear the way for Ikea to go back to business as usual. If anything, the payout seems to indicate how badly Ikea mismanaged the safety issue. The deaths might have been prevented had Ikea designed its dressers to pass the industry’s national voluntary safety test, developed to ensure that dressers meet a minimum standard for stability.

Instead, Ikea was slow to respond to safety concerns after scores of accidents dating to 1989. That was the year that a 20-month-old Virginia girl died after a four-drawer chest tipped over and fatally pinned her. Last February, a 22-month-old Minnesota boy died after a six-drawer chest fell on him.

But it was not until June that Ikea agreed to stop selling dressers that were found to tip over too easily and offer refunds to customers that bought the 29 million dressers sold over the course of more than a decade.

Ikea finally took some action after increased scrutiny that included a series of stories by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Tricia L. Nadolny. Too bad it took public shaming and legal action to force the company to do the right thing.

A child dies an average of every two weeks in accidents involving toppled furniture or TV sets. Last week, Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Amy Klobucher, D-Minn., and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said they plan to reintroduce legislation calling for stronger furniture safety standards.

Corporations should always do the right thing, but too often they don’t. Now is the time to act before another child dies needlessly.

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Kathleen Parker: Real concerns about Russia, Comey should rise above partisan fighting http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/commentary-real-concerns-about-russia-comey-should-rise-above-partisan-fighting/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/commentary-real-concerns-about-russia-comey-should-rise-above-partisan-fighting/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1138849 Republicans can argue until their last breath that Trump objectors are sore losers, but isn’t more at stake than “mere politics”?

This phrase has been rendered quaint by such serious issues as: Russian hackers apparently trying to tilt the election toward Donald Trump; the FBI’s possibly politically motivated practices; Trump’s initial resistance to the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community; Trump’s refusal to release tax records, which might mollify concerns about his relationship with Russia.

These aren’t partisan issues, or shouldn’t be, as evidenced by the Justice Department inspector general’s decision to investigate how FBI Director James Comey handled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s email and private server. The focus will be on Comey’s statement in July that Clinton and her colleagues were “extremely careless” with classified information but that he wasn’t recommending criminal charges – as well as his announcement to Congress just a week and a half before Election Day that, because of new information, he was reopening the investigation.

This fresh look pertained to new emails found on the laptop of Carlos Danger, aka Anthony Weiner (but, really, why the name change?), estranged husband of top Clinton adviser Huma Abedin.

The emails subsequently were found to be inconsequential, but if there were any fence-sitters left at that point, at least many of them probably toppled into Trump’s camp, from sheer exhaustion if not outright disgust.

Let me help you: Eleven days to go and the man who had said there’s nothing to see here suddenly says, Hey, there might be something after all! And no one’s supposed to think this affected the election?

How could it not have? Anecdotally, I can report at least a dozen friends who say, “That was it for me.” But polling, too, suggests a consequential voter shift in the final days of the campaign.

FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s polling/analysis group, reported that Clinton had an 81 percent chance of winning in mid-October. About a week after Comey’s announcement, that number dropped to 65 percent.

This rapid shift didn’t occur because people suddenly recognized that Trump is a brilliant foreign policy strategist. It’s true that undecided people often return to their party at the last minute, but this might not account for Clinton’s sudden drop.

While it’s impossible to prove that Comey had any impact, there’s enough reason for dissatisfied Americans to continue to protest the results – even on Inauguration Day.

For certain, Comey acted against bureau policy never to interfere politically or discuss investigations so close to an election. If there’s any justification, Comey may have felt that the information would be leaked anyway.

Adding suspicion to skepticism, the hacking and release of Democratic National Committee emails also may have affected election results, though, again, it’s impossible to know how much since, as far as I’m aware, we can’t read people’s minds (yet).

Thus, we’re left to draw inferences from suppositions from what little else we know.

We do know that our intelligence community concluded that Russia hacked the DNC, and Trump finally accepted this last week.

To concede that Russia was behind the hacking (rather than a 400-pound person sitting in a bed somewhere, as Trump at one point theorized) was, presumably, to admit that Russia helped him win. Well, didn’t it? Didn’t Trump loudly call upon Russia to hack Clinton’s emails?

For the undecided (or the unpersuadable), let’s pose a hypothetical: What if Clinton had publicly asked Russia to hack Trump’s records and release his tax returns – and Russia did?

And what if the FBI announced less than two weeks before Election Day that it was going to investigate fraudulent practices at Trump University? Let’s say that Trump’s number dipped dramatically and he lost.

Do you reckon Republicans would be a tad upset?

The inspector general’s investigation into Comey’s conduct, as well as Congress’ investigation into Russia’s apparent interference in the election, are urgent, overdue, and probably useless.

Mostly, Comey is guilty of poor judgment. And Russia is being Russia – a fact best quickly absorbed by the soon-to-be president.

Yes, democracy needs saving and the republic’s foundation is showing wear. But isn’t the crucial question the very one that can’t be answered: Did we really elect Donald Trump to be president of the United States?

We may never know precisely who sowed the wind, but to be sure, we’re all going to reap the whirlwind.

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

kathleenparker@washpost.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/commentary-real-concerns-about-russia-comey-should-rise-above-partisan-fighting/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/10/1102278_Campaign-2016-Comey-Caree6.jpgFILE - In this Dec. 9, 2015 file photo, FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington. Comey's announcement that his bureau was reviewing new emails possibly relevant to Hillary Clinton's private email server investigation has thrust him into the public spotlight again just days before Election Day. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)Tue, 17 Jan 2017 10:53:29 +0000
Commentary: Mainers to celebrate immigration at The Other Inaugural Ball http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/mainers-to-celebrate-immigration-at-the-other-inaugural-ball/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/17/mainers-to-celebrate-immigration-at-the-other-inaugural-ball/#respond Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1138893 One of our favorite works of art in Maine is a series of charcoal drawings on paper squares about 2 feet on a side and pasted like posters on the outer wall of a little café called Java Joe’s in Farmington, where they are slowly dissolved by the weather.

The simple and poignant portraits, by the artist known as Pigeon (aka Orson Horchler), depict a wide array of humanity, different races, faces, different hairstyles, smiles, frowns, types of dress, hopes and dreams implied. The title of the work, printed in large letters on the brick wall above, is simple, too: Mainers. The artist has explained that his subjects were all born abroad but all live and work now in Maine. The owner of the café recently asked Pigeon back to reinstall the temporary work. Why? Because people like it.

If a work of art can offer welcome, an artist can, too.

And that’s how The Other Inaugural Ball – coming on Jan. 21 – was born. A gallery owner, a painter, a writer, then another, a singer, a printmaker, and then our friends, and their friends, and their children, and their neighbors, conversations about what positive contribution we might make in what was starting to feel like a negative environment, how we might form a coalition that would grow into a network of mutual support that depends on everyone, all shapes and sizes, that accommodates difference (including political difference), that can and will not only endure but thrive, get us all through the inevitable crises to come.

We felt that rather than despair in the wake of recent blanket denouncements of certain religions, certain races, various ethnic groups, certain nationalities, certain political factions, and rather than remain passive in the face of vandalism and hate mongering both subtle and overt, we’d try to come together, make a statement together. A statement both simple and complex: diversity brings riches, and we Mainers are the beneficiaries of these riches. And as such, we must all show one another gratitude, must not only work together, but celebrate together. Our little group, being Maine artists, quickly became a bigger group, and then bigger yet, reaching out beyond the arts, Mainers showing one another gratitude, expressing our joy at being part of the great American tradition of immigration.

It’s the shared duty of all Americans, and certainly of Mainers, to ensure that the guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which is at the core of the American experiment, is held out to the newest among us. That we put out the welcome mat, and more than that, continue to offer the assistance and protections that keep our own lives feeling secure. And take action to face the reality of fear, like children hearing news reports that might just refer to them or their parents, like store owners wondering who’s painted slurs on the walls of their American dream. That in the process of becoming new Mainers, we become we. That we – this new, magnificent we – make use of all the building blocks at our disposal, that we work from common interest toward the common goal of inclusion, true community, universal acceptance.

We thought a day of art would be the best response to the inauguration going on down in D.C. We wouldn’t spark further division by barking out demands or complaints or diatribes or insults. Instead, a ball, The Other Inaugural Ball, which would bring together all corners of the community for a night of fun, communication, positive fellow feeling.

And why not bring in all of the arts – musicians, dancers, writers, painters, performers, actors, on and on? And rather than a single evening bash, why not use some of the wonderful gallery spaces in town to show work by people who care, to hear the voices of our best poets – Reza Jalali, Wes McNair, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Portland’s poet laureate and Betsy Sholl, former Maine poet laureate – to put on view the work of our best artists – Abby Shahn, Accra Shepp and Peter Rolston – to dance to the spins of DJ32French; to experience the wonderful Theater Ensemble of Color; to eat food from all the corners of the world that have come together to build our contemporary Maine.

Keynote speaker Fatuma Hussein, founder of the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine, will speak directly to the refugee experience, the importance of courage, and why immigrants help Maine thrive.

Together we can solve all the problems we face. Apart, the problems will only multiply.

 

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Maine Voices: Cybersecurity would be enhanced if we just collect less data http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/16/maine-voices-cybersecurity-could-be-enhanced-if-we-would-just-collect-less-data/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/16/maine-voices-cybersecurity-could-be-enhanced-if-we-would-just-collect-less-data/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137956 NORTH YARMOUTH — Russia’s information operations against the United States and the media’s Russian hacking-centered election after-party make clear that nothing is secure in our cyberworld. As the owner of a Maine cybersecurity company, I know that the list of hacked organizations is long and distinguished.

It’s personal for many of us. A few years ago, my security background investigations – updated every five years since the mid-1980s – were stolen from the federal government. That data, which included candid assessments about my character and habits from friends and acquaintances, is in the hands of the Chinese. To prevent blackmail in the future, I’m disclosing publicly that I love black coffee and am a Dallas Cowboys fan from way back. Let the fake news begin.

The Obama administration has been subject to some sharp critiques on its lackluster cyber initiatives. President Obama has focused on protecting critical infrastructure. What is “critical” ranges from things like electrical systems to more unexpected areas, like agriculture. While these efforts are important, much of the work has focused on organizing meetings and voluntary standards.

Protecting government systems also has moved slowly and is hobbled by familiar factors: old systems that must be replaced at great cost and a bureaucracy that rewards itself for programs instead of results.

President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to make cybersecurity a priority. We wish him luck, because there are technical, legal and organizational hurdles galore. They are often underpinned by a central fear: We want our cyberwarriors to be effective, but at the same time, we are wary of the tools that reach into our lives.

Are we comfortable with an Obama (or, soon, a Trump) administration being in charge of voting machine security and the integrity of the results, as was seemingly proposed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson last fall? The phishing attack on Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta was old art. But new threats are already here with the growing “internet of things.” Thermostats and other small devices are connected to the Web, but are poorly secured.

Their risk was highlighted recently when thousands of Chinese-built security cameras were hijacked and used to send data to cripple a major internet gateway. More unnerving was that the attack seemed to be fine-tuning its process, looking for just the right mix of data and devices needed to be debilitating. This was not Barron Trump and a can of Monster Energy drink.

Organizing an effective defense and response to activities as we’ve seen from Russia or China will be expensive and come slowly. But while we grapple with defending both our virtual homeland and our privacy, we should look to quick wins that can change the cybergame fundamentally.

First, Washington should escalate its offensive cyber operations. These operations should be targeted against criminal elements outside the United States, who, conveniently for us and the rule of law, are often also in service of foreign governments. U.S. policy should be to apply the full weight of our intelligence and military services in the same way we did in the war on terror. There’s plenty of room at Gitmo now.

Easier still, we should make the risk of identity theft a thing of the past. How? By placing the burden of fraudulent loans on lenders. To some extent, this system exists, but you or I have to prove that there was a fraud. This is stressful and time-consuming.

Credit cards provide a better model: When you claim a fraudulent charge, a simple form is usually all it takes to reverse it. Merchants and banks bear the cost of these reversals, but most importantly, it incentivizes their practices to prevent it. Our goal should be to return to the good old days when you just didn’t care who knew your Social Security number.

Finally, an important policy that’s often overlooked is to avoid data collection altogether. You cannot steal money from an empty safe. We should establish laws and policies to aggressively restrict data collection and retention.

A prime threat I see frequently is the call to collect more and more student data. Under regulations enacted by the Obama administration, student data can be collected and provided – without your knowledge or consent – for a research purpose with only the flimsiest assurance of protection. And how prepared is your cash-strapped school to protect data from cybertheft?

I, for one, don’t count on such data being uninteresting. The potential for embarrassment alone – as seen in this political season – is priceless.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/16/maine-voices-cybersecurity-could-be-enhanced-if-we-would-just-collect-less-data/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2015/05/AP397236104212_web.jpgA specialist works at the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) in Arlington, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014. Ground zero in the nation’s fight against cybercrime hides in plain sight, in a nondescript suburban office building with no government seals or signs. Only after passing a low-key receptionist stationed on the seventh floor does one see the metal detectors, personal cellphone lockers and a series of heavy doors marked “classified” _ all leading to the auditorium-sized National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:55:18 +0000
Our View: ‘For-profit’ plans should be met with skepticism http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/16/our-view-for-profit-plans-should-be-met-with-skepticism/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/16/our-view-for-profit-plans-should-be-met-with-skepticism/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137934 How much difference does an election make? Well, when President Obama announced in August that he was phasing out the use of some for-profit prisons in the federal system, stocks of publicly traded prison operators plunged. On Nov. 9, however, the day after the election of Donald Trump, they rebounded heavily, buoyed by the president-elect’s campaign support.

Trump is a supporter not just of for-profit prisons, but also of privatizing a whole host of government services, including public infrastructure and veterans’ health care, and it is clear his Cabinet of billionaire CEOs sees profit motivation as a powerful force.

But while the pursuit of profit may lead to innovation and efficiency in many sectors, it has overrun quality of care and basic ethics in others. For-profit prisons, colleges and health care have been a failure in so many ways, leaving Americans awash in debt and misery, and any attempt to commit public funds to those private companies should be met with great skepticism.

Obama’s move on for-profit prisons came following an inspector general’s report that showed that in the federal system, for-profit prisons did not save much on cost and did not positively affect recidivism rates.

What’s more, inmates in these prisons were more likely to have weapons than their counterparts in publicly run prisons, and there were more assaults on inmates and guards and 10 times more lockdowns.

The record is just as spotty on for-profit colleges, the worst of which used illegal and unethical tactics to draw students into programs they could not afford to gain degrees that had little success earning people jobs, one of the main drivers of the student debt crisis. A study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office covering 15 for-profit schools in six states and Washington, D.C., found that all 15 “made deceptive or otherwise questionable statements” to applicants, exaggerating employment prospects and graduation rates, and falsifying financial aid forms.

Another found that 98 percent of the more than 800 vocational programs across the country that failed to place graduates in jobs good enough to repay their loans were at for-profit schools; not one program at a community college made the list.

In short, many of these colleges recruited students using unethical tactics in order to draw federal student loans, which then became the responsibility of taxpayers when the students couldn’t find work and defaulted on the loans. And at for-profit hospitals, a RAND Corporation study found higher mortality rates, while researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that for-profit nursing homes more frequently used sedatives, which are less costly than using personnel to handle difficult patients.

Those experiences should weigh heavily on any attempt to house prisoners, teach students or treat patients through for-profit companies. That includes the LePage administration’s plan to build a privately run facility for some of the mental health patients now at Riverview Psychiatric Center.

For-profit companies may excel at building a better widget or finding the best way to get it to market. But in other cases, the urge to cut corners is just too great, and when oversight falls short, people suffer.

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Cynthia Dill: Say no to lowering concealed-carry age http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/cynthia-dill-say-no-to-lowering-concealed-carry-age/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/cynthia-dill-say-no-to-lowering-concealed-carry-age/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137970 At the height of an opiate crisis, let’s take away their health insurance and instead give 18-year-olds a loaded concealed handgun and some marijuana. What could possibly go wrong?

L.D. 44, if passed by Maine’s 128th Legislature and signed by Gov. Paul LePage, will lower from 21 to 18 the age at which a person can carry a concealed handgun. At the polls, Mainers decided pot will be legal, and Republicans across the country are vying to repeal Obamacare, which would result in about 75,000 people losing their health insurance in this state, including, most likely, low-income young people. Treatment for addiction is expensive and virtually impossible to obtain without health insurance. Without treatment, addicts often turn to crime to feed their addiction. And handguns are tools for crime.

Most 18-year-olds are seniors in high school. Many do not yet know how to do laundry. Legislation enabling them to carry around a concealed loaded handgun is as good an idea as raising their speed limit on Interstate 295 at rush hour. It’s a bad answer to our manufactured crisis of ridiculous levels of gun violence. Again we are on the gerbil wheel of NRA-speak and can expect the same tortured logic. True lovers of liberty are free to be shot. Strengthening laws makes us weak. The mass shooting of innocent children is inevitable.

The sponsor of L.D. 44 is what some might call a “fresh face” in politics: a rising star – a young gun – and maybe he is. Only time will tell. As a first-term senator last session, Eric Brakey successfully carried the water for the NRA to get Maine’s first “constitutional carry” law passed for those 21 and older, so maybe he sees this year’s bill as icing on the proverbial cake. He’s “finishing the job” so bigger, better work will come, along with media attention and cocktail parties. No doubt young “hunters” in his Auburn district were clamoring for the right to carry their Smith and Wessons and Glocks under blaze orange hoodies with their Game Boys.

Ultimately, though, whether L.D. 44 passes has less to do with the bill’s sponsor than it does with the rest of us. If we want to reduce gun violence we can. Nothing in the Second Amendment says the United States has to be the leader of thoughts and prayers about senseless gun-related deaths. We do not have to accept over 750 children being killed by guns, out of roughly 13,000 deaths last year by gun violence. From 2005 through 2015, 71 Americans were killed by terrorists on U.S. soil, while 301,797 were killed by gun violence that disproportionately affects black men. One in five kids are without enough to eat in Maine, while kids younger than 3 have gotten ahold of guns and shot someone at least 59 times this year in America.

Republicans who complain about “outside special interests” controlling factions of the left need to look in the mirror. If an 18-year-old is not mature enough to have a beer with the snack his mother tucked in his backpack, why are we giving him a loaded gun to hide in his pants?

The problem in part is party capture. The Republican Party is beholden to the gun lobby, and it controls the state Senate and the Blaine House. Unless some of Maine’s Republicans are independent enough to buck the party line and risk becoming a bullseye, it will be up to Democrats to stop the bleeding. But this is not complicated. The gun lobby cares as much about preserving Maine’s hunting culture and “freedom” as drug dealers care about pain. Billions of dollars of profit is made off the gun industry, and its lobbyists are expertly trained to spin the threads of blood-moneyed legislation into imaginary flags that don’t tread on you or me, just kill or seriously injure us.

To say no to L.D. 44 is the tough love Maine kids need, but just like we can expect most Republicans to let us down when it comes to rational gun laws, we also can expect a handful of Democrats to be seduced by NRA money and jawboning about alleged liberty interests and “hunting” rights. Republicans and Democrats are susceptible to caving in the face of common sense. These legislators must be held accountable too, for not doing what they can to reduce gun violence. Democrats hiding behind rural districts or conservative constituencies must be reminded that the overwhelming majority of people want more gun safety laws passed, not fewer.

Democrats who enable the NRA in Maine should be held accountable because they can stop the wave of NRA bills being passed in Augusta since LePage took office. What’s the use of a muscle unless one is willing to flex it now and again? The speaker of the House should reward NRA appeasement by any Democratic member with swift and effective political consequence. No NRA placater should chair a legislative committee or otherwise have opportunity to exert influence on a process that has allowed guns and senseless gun violence to proliferate at rates that are absurd. Votes should have consequences.

L.D. 44 is not about jobs, the economy, freedom or the Second Amendment. It is a bill custom tailored for the gun industry, by the gun industry, to increase already-staggering profits, and it will increase incidents of gun violence. Its passage is not the way life should be.

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

dillesquire@gmail.com

Twitter: dillesquire

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/cynthia-dill-say-no-to-lowering-concealed-carry-age/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1137970_228539-brakey.jpgAUGUSTA, ME - APR. 8: Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn introduces his bill LD 652 during a Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee hearing on several gun bills on Wednesday April 8, 2015 at the State House in Augusta. (Photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:30:51 +0000
Alan Caron: Under Trump, Republicans will have to pick their poison http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/alan-caron-under-trump-republicans-will-have-to-pick-their-poison/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/alan-caron-under-trump-republicans-will-have-to-pick-their-poison/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137974 In a few short years, two things seem likely to happen. The country will look back fondly at the Obama years. And many of the people who voted for Trump will deny they ever did.

Strap yourself in, friends, for what promises to be a wild ride during Trump’s first year, as he tries to roll back the clock on civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, health care and climate change while also trying to reduce taxes on his billionaire friends and their struggling cousins, the lowly millionaires.

Wondering what the next year will look like? Look no further than eight years ago, when Republicans openly promised to block anything the incoming president tried to do. Now reverse the roles of the two parties.

Republicans have argued that they were only being obstructionists because that’s what Democrats did when George W. Bush was elected. Democrats say Republicans did it first, when Bill Clinton was elected. And so it goes, in an endless cycle of “they started it,” all the way back to the nasty fight between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

There will be some noise over Trump’s Cabinet choices, but that is musket fire compared with what’s coming. Democrats will mostly hold their fire for the big fights over heath care, a massive defense buildup, tax cuts and this year’s sleeper issue, climate change.

Ironically, Trump’s biggest problems over the next few years may not be with Democrats as much as with traditional Republican fiscal and military hawks, who have spent decades fighting two things that Trump seems indifferent to: budget-busting programs and the Russian bear.

You’ll remember that most Republicans in Congress couldn’t even look at Trump during the election without wincing. They thought him ill-informed and ill-equipped to be president. Now most of them are running around Congress with the gleeful giddiness that comes from newfound power and perks for your friends.

None of that will last long once the Trump team gets down to specifics. Much of what Trump promised during the campaign involves big spending that runs against Republican orthodoxy. We’ve already had a preview of what that means, as Trump’s promise to deliver the largest public works spending program in history lies dead on the floor of Congress. Trump didn’t know that wasn’t a Republican thing to do.

Republicans will agree on a variety of relatively small and symbolic things, like building something they’ll call a wall along the southern border, but the big promises from Trump on trade, health care, military spending and taxes all carry the risk of exploding the national debt and plunging the country into a new recession.

Health care is shaping up as the first major migraine for Republicans. Trump has promised to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Republicans are slathering over the repeal part but lack any collective sense of what to replace it with.

Here are the political and practical realities for Republicans. Repealing Obamacare is politically popular among Republicans. But not replacing it is a huge political risk for 2018. That’s led some Republicans to propose a kind of sleight-of-hand card trick in which they repeal Obamacare, with great fanfare, but don’t have that repeal kick in until after the next election cycle.

Trump this week said that repealing and replacing Obamacare should happen quickly and within “hours” of each other. Welcome to the real world, Mr. President. Congress is no reality show, and there isn’t a chance in the world of that happening.

So the first great fight in the Congress won’t be between Trump and Democrats. It will be between Trump and Republicans.

There are now 20 million people who have health insurance who didn’t have it six years ago. The majority of them can afford it because they receive a subsidy. That subsidy is paid by a “mandate” that requires everyone to either buy insurance or pay a fine.

Republicans hate the mandate, but after watching the polls for a while, they’ve joined other Americans in liking some of the benefits of Obamacare, which Trump has promised to keep.

All of that leaves Republicans with some hard choices. Kick people off health care and have them once again flood into emergency rooms, driving up insurance costs for everyone and risking a voter backlash in 2018. Keep some form of mandate but call it something else or fudge the numbers. Keep the good things in the current law and absorb trillions of dollars in new taxpayer spending. Or keep the framework of Obamacare but rename it RyanCare.

In other words, Republicans now have to pick their poison. Let’s hope they have health insurance.

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

alancaroninmaine@gmail.com

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Commentary: Thank first lady for ‘Yes we can’ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/commentary-thank-first-lady-for-2008s-yes-we-can/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/commentary-thank-first-lady-for-2008s-yes-we-can/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137980 President Obama bid farewell to the nation Tuesday night in the same city where he began his quest for the presidency, with the same three words that launched it.

“Yes, we can,” he said during his farewell address in Chicago. “Yes, we did. Yes, we can.”

The phrase – alongside “change we can believe in,” “Hope” and “fired up and ready to go” – is among the most indelible slogans the first black president employed to convey his political message during the last decade.

“Yes we can” defined his most famous 2008 speeches in New Hampshire and in Chicago’s Grant Park and was chanted at political rallies nationwide. It appeared on campaign posters and inspired a song and celebrity-packed music video by artist will.i.am.

And, like some of the nation’s most revered word arrangements, it almost didn’t happen.

Obama initially thought the almost lyrical catchphrase was “corny.”

His wife convinced him otherwise.

That pivotal moment for “yes we can” came in 2004, when Obama was running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois as a long-shot, “seriously underfunded” candidate, political adviser David Axelrod wrote in his 2015 memoir “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics.”

Axelrod, at the time Obama’s campaign media adviser, had written, as the very last line of Obama’s very first 30-second Senate campaign ad, the words “Yes we can.”

“The initial ad, narrated by Obama, wove his personal history of defying the odds – as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review and on issues such as death penalty reform – into a parable about breaking down barriers,” Axelrod explained in the book. “It had strong appeal to the black and liberal voters on whom we were counting. The closing lines tied his personal history to a larger theme.”

“Now they say we can’t change Washington,” the much younger Obama says in the ad. “I’m Barack Obama, I’m running for the United States Senate and I approve this message to say, ‘Yes we can!’ ”

Obama taped the ad at the home of a neighbor, Axelrod wrote, and when he read the words aloud during the first take, the young candidate “wrinkled his face and expressed a concern.”

” ‘Yes we can,’ ” he repeated. “Is that too corny?”

Michelle Obama, who had an hour of spare time and had come to watch her husband film the first ad, listened from a staircase as Axelrod explained his rationale for the final three words.

Obama was unconvinced. He turned to his wife.

“Meesh,” Axelrod recalls Obama asking. “What do you think?”

Chin in hand, she shook her head slowly, side to side, and said: “Not corny.”

“That was enough,” Axelrod wrote in the book. “My reassurance had left Obama still wondering, but he deeply trusted Michelle’s instincts and connection with people. Her imprimatur immediately sealed the deal, preserving a tag line that would become our rallying cry in this and future campaigns.”

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine about that moment in 2004, Axelrod credited the future first lady with the save.

“Thank God she was there that day,” he told the Times.

Though Obama’s origin story with the phrase began in 2004, its roots as a unifying slogan for community organizers dates back to the time of American labor leader Cesar Chavez, who co-founded with Dolores Huerta the United Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers) and first uttered the words in Spanish.

“Si, se puede,” he said during his 25-day Fast for Love in 1972 after the Arizona legislature passed a bill sponsored by the Farm Bureau denying farmworkers the right to strike during harvest seasons, according to the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

Just a few days into his strike, weakened and bedridden, Chavez, with Huerta by his side, was briefed by Latino labor and political leaders fighting the bill. They told him the grower lobby was too strong and efforts to fight it were futile.

“No, no se puede!” they told him.

“No, no it can’t be done.”

Still in bed, Chavez lifted his head from the pillow and whispered: “Si, si se puede!”

“Yes, yes, it can be done.”

“Dolores Huerta immediately understood the significance of the words and made the slogan the rallying cry for the farmworkers’ campaign in Arizona,” the Foundation wrote, adding that “si se puede!” went on to be “adopted worldwide, inspiring advocates of everything from other labor struggles and community empowerment to civil rights and immigrant rights.”

Obama’s 2008 use of the more colloquial translation of the phrase, “Yes we can,” is probably the most popular iteration of the rallying cry. At a campaign rally in Nevada that same year, his crowd chanted the Spanish version – “Si, se puede!” – and the candidate chimed in, a move that drew some criticism at the time because the UFW had endorsed his Democratic primary challenger, Hillary Clinton.

But the Cesar Chavez Foundation told Time magazine in 2008 that it didn’t mind Obama employing the phrase:

“The foundation itself is comfortable with him using the slogan ‘Si Se Puede’ and so is the UFW to a certain extent,” said Paul Chavez, who works with the foundation. “Being that the UFW is very strongly for organized labor and they have a very strong commitment to the Clinton camp there was some conflict internally. The way that it played out was that as long as any individual, whether it’s Hillary, whether it’s Obama, maintains and supports the standards of what the slogan is … we’re comfortable with it because we really feel that it shouldn’t be limited to just one camp. It’s a battle cry, a call to action whether it’s to voting or getting out and participating in the political process.”

Years later, in 2012, when Obama was handing out that year’s Presidential Medals of Freedom, he credited Huerta with coining the three-word phrase that defined the UFW movement and now his own ascent.

“Dolores was very gracious when I told her I had stolen her slogan, ‘Si, se puede.’ Yes, we can,” Obama said during the Medal of Freedom ceremony. “Knowing her, I’m pleased she let me off easy, because Dolores does not play.”

Obama revived the Spanish phrase once more in an address to the Cuban people in March.

And in Chicago Tuesday night, the president bookended his presidency with the signature words – with a nod to the theme of “change” that resonated with many Americans during his eight years in office.

“I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change, but in yours,” he said. “I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes, we can.

Yes, we did.

Yes, we can.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/commentary-thank-first-lady-for-2008s-yes-we-can/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1137980_607111-ObamaHuertaArtPath.jpgPresident Obama awards Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012. Her group coined the "Yes we can" slogan – in Spanish.Sat, 14 Jan 2017 23:54:20 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Mr. President, millions are grateful for the Obama legacy http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/bill-nemitz-mr-president-millions-are-grateful-for-the-obama-legacy/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/bill-nemitz-mr-president-millions-are-grateful-for-the-obama-legacy/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1138096 Dear President Obama,

I thought long and hard before deciding to write this.

After all, we all grow weary of the cat-and-ball-of-yarn syndrome that choreographs our politics these days: Roll out the tiniest thread of a thought, and the opposition reflexively pounces, battering it into oblivion because that’s what the opposition is wired to do.

Let them. With the clock steadily ticking toward the end of your presidency this Friday at noon, I and many, many Americans like me have but one thing to say.

Thank you.

It’s indeed disheartening – not to mention entirely predictable – that congressional Republicans who have opposed you so myopically for so long already are hard at work dismantling what they call, with a partisan sneer, the “Obama legacy.”

They likely will repeal the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare,” as even you eventually came to call it. I harbor little doubt that whatever replaces it will fall short of the protections it offers for people with pre-existing conditions, high medical costs and low incomes.

Your opponents also insist, with self-bestowed immunity from all irony, that we can’t afford to go any longer with an unfilled vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Your nominee, the truly middle-of-the-road Chief Judge Merrick Garland, has been reduced to a historical footnote.

They talk with starry eyes about the nation’s need to “recover” from your eight years in the White House.

Recover from what? An unemployment rate that’s dropped from 10 percent to 4.7 percent in the past six years? The rescue of the U.S. auto industry? The capture and killing of Osama bin Laden?

But here’s what they can’t touch, Mr. President. They can’t lay a glove on your integrity.

Perhaps it’s faint praise to note that yours was an administration sans scandal. No clumsy burglaries, no illegal arms for hostages, no stained dress, no war launched on false pretenses …

Some call it the “Jackie Robinson effect.” The simple, painful reality that as America’s first black president, your path from day one paralleled the edge of a perilous cliff: The slightest moral misstep, the tiniest chink in your character, would surely bring your political downfall.

Yet you never stumbled.

Come hell, high water or the congressman who hollered “You lie!” – you held your head high. You can look all of us, not to mention your wife and daughters, in the eye knowing that at no time did you enshroud your administration in shame.

That, to borrow a well-worn adjective, is huge. And of that, history will take note.

I juxtapose two pictures: one of you walking out onto the stage in Chicago on election night in 2008, the other of you returning to the same platform last week. Like we do at times like this, I marvel at how your hair has grown so gray.

But gray, while marking the inexorable passage of time, is good.

It connotes maturity achieved through hard work, persistence in the face of overwhelming odds, courage to say what needs to be said.

For multiple reasons, Mr. President, I doubt your successor’s hair will change at all.

There’s no need to dwell on President-elect Trump here – whatever awaits us these next four years, he will stand or collapse on his own merits. Just like all you chief executives do.

But since Trump’s stunning election last November, I’ve been struck by the hopeful note you continue to sound.

Your insistence that this country is far bigger than one man is as pitch-perfect now as it was when you first took the oath yourself eight years ago.

You left a lump in many a throat last Tuesday when you said, “I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when I started.”

Some surely must have thought your euphemistic nature had gotten the best of you, one last spin before twirling your way back into private citizenship.

Not me.

If I’ve come to believe one thing over your two terms, it’s that deep down, you actually are as hopeful as you so often sound.

I’m convinced, beyond any reasonable doubt, that your love for and faith in this democracy eclipses that of detractors who lambaste you as “un-American” in one breath and then chant “USA!” in the next.

Un-American? Unlike you, Mr. President, I don’t have a copy of my birth certificate at the ready. Given my Irish-German pigmentation, nobody’s ever asked for it.

Were you perfect? Of course not.

Given what you know now, would you take a mulligan on your “red line” in Syria, your deadline-driven withdrawal from Iraq, your rocky rollout of healthcare.gov?

Who wouldn’t?

But here’s one thing I doubt you’d do over: your demeanor.

Two years ago, in a piece titled “Why History Will Be Very Kind to Obama,” New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted your “inclination to play Spock even when the country wants a Captain Kirk.”

Some called it your cool. Others called it your arrogance. Some said you carefully measured the global implications of your every utterance. Others said you were out of touch.

Looking back, I think history will say you were simply being yourself in an era when one impulsive quip, one thoughtless rejoinder, can hijack the news cycle in seconds and dominate it for days on end. (See: @realDonaldTrump.)

So off you go, Mr. President. This time next week, you’ll be no different from the majority of us – watching a new administration take the reins and wondering, with more than a little trepidation, where this new ride is headed.

I’ll steady myself with words I heard you speak while I and close to 2 million others – the largest crowd ever to gather in Washington, D.C. – shivered on the National Mall eight years ago this Friday.

You said, “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Well said, Mr. President. And well done.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/bill-nemitz-mr-president-millions-are-grateful-for-the-obama-legacy/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgPORTLAND, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Sat, 14 Jan 2017 20:24:35 +0000
Maine Observer: Paris the dog is lovely this time of year http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/maine-observer-paris-the-dog-is-lovely-this-time-of-year/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/maine-observer-paris-the-dog-is-lovely-this-time-of-year/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137780 “Let’s have lunch in Paris,” my husband likes to say.

“Great,” I’ll reply to his suggestion. Of course, this is our little Maine in-joke. We can have lunch in any one of the major cities or countries of the world without leaving the country – Lisbon, Norway, Naples, even Peru or Poland. There are many more, and there are good reasons why the town fathers in the mid-1800s chose the names they did and it is fascinating research, but that is not the point of this story.

One particular, brilliant September day, we headed to Paris (the one in Maine) to pick up our new 9-week-old, 3-pound female apricot shih tzu-toy poodle puppy.

She was born in Paris, on Bastille Day (July 14), so what else should she be named but Paris? Bringing this shy, fluffy, sweet puppy into our lives has made all the difference.

That was almost 11 years ago, and a near-death experience she had last summer reminded me how grateful we are to still have her through this winter.

Our first family “farm dog” as our son referred to her, Gingerbread, was a rescue retriever-collie mix who was faithful, loyal and utterly irreplaceable but succumbed to Lyme disease long before we moved to Maine. We waited until after our first grandchild was born to become dog owners again, probably as a result of an overflow of maternal instincts.

Paris has never failed to evoke comments and smiles wherever she goes. She has stopped truckers, kids, store clerks, anyone who comes in contact with her – our blind, 102-year-old mother-in-law included.

For years, in South Portland, then in Brunswick at our store, Mulberry Cottage, she was often carried around by our salespeople to stop her from announcing the arrival of each new customer.

Big dog owners make comments like “Eight pounds, that’s not even a big cat!” or “What can she do? Her mouth isn’t big enough for a Frisbee or ball” or even, “She looks like a stuffy toy!”

When our neighbor informs us the barred owl is back hanging out, we are sure to put a leash on Paris and go out with her. The image of her being scooped up and carried off is just too terrifying.

But – and it is a big “but” – Maine has long winters and even longer springs. It never fails to make you smile if you can put something cuddly and warm in your lap.

Especially when it’s something that’s mostly quiet, stares at you with two button black eyes and doesn’t eat more than a half cup of dog food a day. And it’s even better if she can dance on her hind legs or do her business on command and bring smiles to even the most hardened pre-teen.

So, bring it on Maine! We will make it till spring on our island in Casco Bay, because in our hearts we will always have Paris.

— Special to the Telegram

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Our View: Augusta focused on the wrong drug problem http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/our-view-augusta-focused-on-the-wrong-drug-problem/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/our-view-augusta-focused-on-the-wrong-drug-problem/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137784 It’s a new year, and there’s a new Legislature ready to pitch in and work on a drug abuse problem.

Too bad they are working on the wrong one.

Last week, legislative leaders announced that they were ready to debate a one-year moratorium on portions of a voter-approved law that legalizes marijuana use for adults. Meanwhile, on average, overdoses – mostly of heroin, prescription opioids and fentanyl – claim one life in Maine every day, and the state still hasn’t done enough to face its most serious public health crisis.

Despite significant analysis of the problem, Maine still lacks the detox beds it needs to address the problem. It hasn’t even replaced the ones that disappeared as a result of the LePage administration’s misguided health care policy.

BEST THERAPY UNAVAILABLE

And even though the best evidence points to medication-assisted treatment as the best way to save lives, methadone clinics or doctor-prescribed Suboxone therapy is unavailable to many of the people who need it most because they can’t afford to pay for it.

That’s a problem that would be made even worse if Gov. LePage’s budget were to become law, because he would drop thousands more poor Mainers from MaineCare, putting drug treatment out of reach for them.

Given that laggard response to this crying need, the call to do something right away about the marijuana bill makes little sense. The most controversial aspects of the law – the licensing of retail stores and smoking clubs – wouldn’t go into effect for nine months anyway.

What kind of legislative magic do the leaders expect to occur in those extra three months?

This legislative session continues until June. Why not just have the state agencies start working on the regulations? If the rules are not ready when it’s time to adjourn, lawmakers could pass an emergency bill then.

There is a drug crisis in Maine that demands emergency attention, but marijuana isn’t it.

POT LAW AFFECTS RELATIVELY FEW

With all due respect to the citizens who campaigned for the referendum, polling shows that about 20 percent of adults are at least infrequent users, making the law irrelevant to most of the remaining 80 percent.

Even if marijuana use were to climb when it becomes legal, it’s safe to assume that no one will die from too much marijuana – because no one ever has.

Science has yet to find a dose that would be lethal, which separates the drug from alcohol, over-the-counter medications and dozens of items commonly found in most people’s homes.

There are health problems associated with excessive marijuana use, but they pale in comparison with the very real consequences evidenced by hundreds of opioid deaths a year. The opioid problem is out of control and getting worse.

How did slowing down pot legalization jump to the head of the line?

It’s not that Maine has not taken some important steps. The state passed new protocols for prescribing pain medication that should lower the supply of what has become the true gateway drug in the opioid epidemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services announced last month that it would make $2.4 million available for medication-assisted treatment for people who do not have health insurance.

COORDINATED APPROACH

Private organizations like Maine Behavioral Health are coordinating acute and long-term treatment for people who want to beat their addiction with the help of both medicine and therapy.

But the state could do much more to lead the fight. If you need to see an example of what that would look like, you don’t need to go very far.

In 2013, Maine and Vermont were both reeling from a spike in overdose deaths. Maine lost 174 people while Vermont, with about half the population, lost 93.

In 2014, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin made fighting opioid abuse his top priority in his State of the State Address. He articulated a strategy that involved law enforcement and health care, creating a “hub and spoke” system, where addicts could start in a detox center and move to community-based treatment under the care of a physician.

Though the overdose deaths haven’t stopped in Vermont, they have stayed constant over the last three years. But in Maine they have increased from 174 in 2013 to 216 in 2014 and 272 in 2015. Last year Maine averaged one overdose death a day through the first nine months, smashing what had been a deeply disturbing record.

Lawmakers in Augusta are expected to debate the marijuana bill this week, and leaders predict that it will pass with the two-thirds majority it would need to go into effect immediately as an emergency measure. Gov. LePage has made public statements indicating that he would support putting off this change to the law.

Meanwhile, on average, a Mainer dies every day. That’s a real emergency. That’s the drug abuse problem that needs their attention.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/our-view-augusta-focused-on-the-wrong-drug-problem/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1137784_651943__201508012_medcu_2a.jpgDuring this call in 2015, Portland paramedics were able to revive a woman who had injected a quarter-gram of heroin – but the number of Mainers who die of drug overdoses is increasing at an alarming rate.Sat, 14 Jan 2017 13:58:21 +0000
Maine Voices: Women have fought this fight before http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/maine-voices-women-have-fought-this-fight-before/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/maine-voices-women-have-fought-this-fight-before/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137786 GRAY — One hundred years ago this month, the National Woman’s Party sent silent sentries out to stand in front of the White House gates.

Holding banners draped with their signature colors – purple, white and gold – their purpose was to call attention to the fact that (incredibly) most women in the United States still did not have the right to vote. National Woman’s Party leader Alice Paul and her supporters wanted Congress and the president to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution giving women voting rights, rather than leaving it up to the states to decide.

At first reporters treated them with condescension. “How cute,” they said, in effect, “the little ladies are trying to bother the president, but he has more important business and they should just go back home where they belong.”

As the country prepared to enter World War I the activists stepped it up, bringing signs with printed messages that berated President Woodrow Wilson for protecting democracy abroad while refusing to recognize women’s legitimate demand for democracy at home.

America was a scary place in those days. The inflammatory messages printed on the banners enraged onlookers, who attacked the brave women and tore the signs from their hands as Washington, D.C., police stood by with orders not to intervene.

By June 1917, police were arresting the National Woman’s Party picketers and throwing them in the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, a clear violation of their rights under both the First Amendment and the Clayton Act, which Congress had passed in 1914 and which guaranteed the right of peaceful picketing.

Few voices rose in protest. America was at war, and if civil liberties had to be trampled to support the war effort than so be it. Congress passed the Espionage Act in 1917 and amended it with the Sedition Act in 1918 to further restrict free speech. Those who raised their voices against the war and conscription, including Socialist Party leader Eugene Debs, were jailed. Big business saw the opportunity to rid themselves of troublesome union leaders; radicals, including members of the International Workers of the World, were especially targeted.

But it wasn’t just the war. In 1917 it was illegal to send information about birth control through the mail, or to speak about birth control publicly. In many states it was illegal for doctors to prescribe birth control for women unless they there was medical necessity.

And forget about abortions. Women of means could generally find a sympathetic doctor to help them, but poor women were sentenced to forced birthing, even if they couldn’t afford to support their growing number of children. And there was no national welfare system, or Obamacare, or public housing to help them out.

I’m struck by the parallels to 2017. Now we have President-elect Donald Trump threatening to sue the media, and conservative billionaires financing lawsuits that bankrupt news outlets, all to create a chilling effect on free speech.

Here in Maine, Gov. LePage threatened to withhold funds from a nonprofit, desperate for funds to serve youth in need, if they hired his political rival as executive director. LePage won that round; free speech lost.

Now conservative Republicans in Congress are falling over themselves to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deprive millions of low-income women and men access to affordable, professional health care and birth control. It feels as if we’re spinning backward in time to the bad old days of 1917. Women’s right to choose not just to end an unwanted pregnancy, but whether to get pregnant at all, is under attack once again.

To ward off despair, I remind myself that the National Woman’s Party sued the District of Columbia over the illegal arrests and imprisonment, and won.

Now, as Trump’s inauguration looms, the Woman’s March on Washington is a signal to him, to his administration, and to Congress that we won’t be silenced, and that we’ll use our free speech rights, our skills, our passion and, ultimately, our votes to prevent them from dismantling the protections that our foremothers – and fathers – fought so hard to achieve.

— Special to the Telegram

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/maine-voices-women-have-fought-this-fight-before/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1137786_nat.women_.party_.0115.jpgA century ago, the National Women's Party went to Washington to protest a government that would not recognize their human rights. It's the same struggle that is going on today.Sat, 14 Jan 2017 13:58:10 +0000
Another View: Crippling fight against climate change won’t help Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/another-view-crippling-fight-against-climate-change-wont-help-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/15/another-view-crippling-fight-against-climate-change-wont-help-maine/#respond Sun, 15 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137813 State Sen. Garrett Mason, in defending the choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency (Maine Voices, Jan. 5), notes that Pruitt remarked that the EPA is an important agency that plays a vital role in protecting our environment, and that he had reached an agreement to enhance water quality of the Illinois River. All well and good. What Sen. Mason neglected to mention was Pruitt’s campaign against the EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide emissions.

The connection between CO2 and the climate changes we are observing is now beyond debate. Nevertheless, Scott Pruitt this year wrote in National Review, “Scientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.”

He sent letters drafted by energy lobbyists, on Oklahoma state stationery, to the EPA and other government agencies. And he led a lawsuit against the EPA to gut the Clean Power Plan.

Given Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to greatly shrink, or even dismantle the EPA, it’s not hard to see why he would pick Mr. Pruitt for the job. Those of us, though, who are concerned about climate change, and the rising sea levels and warming waters we’re observing in Maine, should hope that there are Republican U.S. senators, such as Susan Collins, who will recognize the danger and vote against Scott Pruitt’s confirmation.

Sen. Mason concludes his column with the statement “Most importantly, Scott Pruitt’s leadership at EPA will help Maine.”

That would not be the most important consequence of Pruitt’s confirmation. The termination of national efforts to limit climate change would permanently damage our state, our nation and our world.

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Maine Voices: There’s nothing ‘fake’ about real news written by responsible journalists http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/maine-voices-theres-nothing-fake-about-real-news-written-by-responsible-journalists/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/maine-voices-theres-nothing-fake-about-real-news-written-by-responsible-journalists/#respond Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137536 CAPE ELIZABETH — I hate how people are throwing around the term “fake news.” Technically, there’s no such thing.

There’s news – and then there’s propaganda, rumor, satire, lies, slander, gossip, innuendo, unconfirmed reports, opinion, hearsay, commentary, rhetoric, comedy, hyperbole, send-before-midnight infomercials, “political speech” and tweets.

There’s a difference, and the people who publish the news have traditionally done a crummy job of explaining themselves. News, as practiced for years by “ink-stained wretches” like myself (I worked in five Maine newsrooms and was a national correspondent based in Washington, D.C.) is a meticulously researched, vetted, double-checked, precisely written and edited product.

What you read or watch from a traditional news operation has routinely been reliably sourced, verified and very carefully written, for two main reasons:

 The reporters and editors subscribe to a strict code of ethics.

 They don’t want to be sued. (Publishers frown on that.)

In the typical American newsroom of a mainstream newspaper like the one you’re reading, a reporter will call her sources and write the story that forms from her notes. That draft then goes to the reporter’s editor – in larger newspapers, to another editor or two – before it gets placed on the page. Mistakes like misspellings, unverified assumptions, insertion of opinion or other errors are screened out. Controversial stories get even more stringent review before they see the light of day. And when they make mistakes, journalists admit them and hold themselves accountable.

Here’s how information via Twitter reaches its audience. Somebody types it into their smartphone and hits a button. Done.

Internet-based sites like BuzzFeed are somewhere in the middle. They may have editors on staff, but the whole operation has been seduced by a technology and culture that value speed over accuracy.

Please, dear reader, understand: Just because it lit up our smartphone screen doesn’t mean it’s the truth, the whole truth or anything close to the truth. Toddlers can type. Monkeys can type. All that Twitters is not gold.

We need to all step back and pay closer attention to the stark differences between solidly sourced, carefully reported news and the latest tweet from whoever has the fastest thumbs. Citizens reacting – or overreacting – to unsubstantiated or flatly incorrect information is not a new problem in our society (The Salem witch trials come to mind.), but technology has exacerbated the problem.

Today, every Tom, Dick and Harry with a smartphone can instantly “publish” anything they like, so it’s become everybody’s job to think like an editor, starting with the classic question: “Sez who?”

Who said it? What do they have to gain? What’s their history on this issue? Do they represent one political philosophy or another? Is this information backed up by independent research, or is it opinion disguised as fact? By the way, PUTTING IT IN CAPITAL LETTERS DOESN’T MAKE IT TRUE, EITHER.

There’s no reason why “citizen journalists” – another term I heartily dislike – can’t use the new technology effectively and for the public good, by observing guidance such as the code put forth by the Society of Professional Journalists.

“Though Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media are new to the market, it does not excuse journalists using those platforms from the evolving rules and ethics of journalism,” writes Alex Veeneman, a Chicago-based journalist and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee.

“The Society’s Code of Ethics calls for journalists to seek truth and report it, and that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy. Seek truth and report it presents a two-fold role in the social media age – informing audiences with the most up-to-date information but also using it to get the facts, verifying user generated content and help it tell the most accurate and impartial story possible.”

Earlier this week, National Press Club President Thomas Burr issued a statement on the topic, which said in part:

“With the proliferation of false news stories dotting the internet, it is important for American leaders to discern the difference and not intentionally conflate misleading and fake stories from dogged and investigative news that is fundamental to our country.”

Don’t get me wrong. Journalists are not high priests, free from human failings. But the ones I’ve known try very, very hard to be fair and accurate. To those professionals, words matter, and “fake news” is a dangerous contradiction in terms.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/maine-voices-theres-nothing-fake-about-real-news-written-by-responsible-journalists/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/12/1118269_France-Macedonia-Fakes-Ne2.jpgStories from USA Daily News 24, a fake news site registered in Veles, Macedonia. An Associated Press analysis using web intelligence service Domain Tools shows that USA Daily News 24 is one of roughly 200 U.S.-oriented sites registered in Veles, which has emerged as the unlikely hub for the distribution of disinformation on Facebook. Both stories shown here are bogus.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 21:20:53 +0000
Garrison Keillor: Hanging out down South: I could live in a place like this http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/garrison-keillor-hanging-out-down-south-i-could-live-in-a-place-like-this/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/garrison-keillor-hanging-out-down-south-i-could-live-in-a-place-like-this/#respond Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137540 I’ve been down in South Carolina and Georgia, an old Northern liberal in red states, enjoying a climate like April in January and the hospitality of gracious people, many of whom voted for He Who Does Not Need Intelligence, but they didn’t bring it up so neither did I.

I walked into Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston and a waitress said, “Is there just one of you, sweetheart?” and her voice was like jasmine and teaberry. There was just one of me, though I wished there were two and she was the other one. She showed me to a table – “Have a seat, sweetheart, I’ll be right with you.” Liberal waitpersons up North would no more call you “sweetheart” than they would kiss you on the lips, and if you called one of them “sweetheart” she might hand you your hat. I ordered the fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes and gravy and read a front-page story in the Charleston Post and Courier, and then the waitress brought the food and I dug in and it was luminous, redemptive – all that chicken and gravy could be. If this is what Makes America Great Again, I am all for it.

Charleston was where the ugliness started, what they call the War of Northern Aggression, what I call the War of Criminal Apprehension. I mean, they destroyed government property, they shot at Old Glory.

“A Confederate named Robert E. Lee

“Committed treason quite freely

“And General Grant

“Beat him up cause you can’t

“Attack federal troops – I mean really.”

We won the war because we had a righteous cause and better songs. “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” vs. “I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten” – there’s no comparison. Ours has watchfires in it, flaring lamps, a trumpet, jubilant feet. The old times in the land of cotton were not enjoyed by the people who picked the cotton, but by the ones who sat on the porch with their mint juleps and wrote bad poetry about sunsets and weeping willows.

Like Lee, Republicans are smarter and more daring strategically, but what a sordid cause, that of the Count of Mar-a-Lago, no flaring lamps or trumpet, just glaring looks and Twitter, and it’s reassuring as you wander through Savannah and its 22 squares, most of them with a statue or a fountain, live oak trees draped with Spanish moss, and Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home and her bedroom window looking out at the twin spires of the Cathedral of St. John, to know that in Savannah, the Count got beat, by about 55 to 40 percent.

I sit in The Grey, a cafe in an old Greyhound depot, now serving Georgia oysters and a pork chop with grits and gravy, and a couple stops by my table, Henry and Octavia, who comment on my red socks – her father favored red socks – and, realizing I am not from here, they recommend I visit the old cemetery nearby and the Moon River that Johnny Mercer wrote about, which is not far away and though it is not “wider than a mile” – he only said so to rhyme with “crossing you in style” – it is worth visiting, especially a Geechee-Gullah oystering camp along it. And they sing me a little Gullah tune that goes, “Oh me, how good I feel, I come possession of an automobile. Now I can have chicken and I don’t have to steal because things are coming my way.”

A social encounter inspired by the mere fact of red socks: I thought to myself, “A person could live in a town like this.” I’ve spent time with people whose politics agreed with mine and who were cold fish indeed and now that I’m elderly and have time on my hands, maybe I’d enjoy hanging out with amiable, sweet-talking right-wingers. I’m just saying.

I’m an accidental Democrat anyway, only because my grandma was one. She kept quiet about it, living amongst hard-shell Republicans who believed that FDR was a drunk and there was no Depression and welfare was for shiftless people, but I sat in her kitchen as she baked bread and fried chicken and she said that women are as good as men and deserve to go to college if they can do the work, and black people are as good as whites, and people deserve a living wage, no matter how humble their work, so they can raise a family. I believe in that because she did and because her bread was so good and her fried chicken, too.

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Another View: Reflecting on Obama’s legacy as he leaves office http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/reflecting-on-obamas-legacy-as-he-leaves-office/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/reflecting-on-obamas-legacy-as-he-leaves-office/#respond Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137683 Barack Obama has often spoken of bending the arc of history toward justice. Our 44th president did so in many ways, indeed by his mere presence.

Even after eight years, we too easily forget how historic it truly was for the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas to be elected to our nation’s highest office.

Audaciously, Obama tried to transform the nation – and why not, after his transcendent 2008 campaign of “hope and change” galvanized so many people in America and around the world?

A gifted orator, Obama governed with grace, calm and dignity. He can claim many successes, kept most of his campaign promises and leaves office with his highest approval ratings in at least four years, approaching the outgoing popularity of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. But it turned out that many Americans were not quite as hopeful as he believed, or as ready to change as much as he imagined.

As his presidency ends, the country is changed, but also divided.

Judging Obama’s legacy is more difficult in this venomous political atmosphere. And there’s even more uncertainty because President-elect Donald Trump is vowing to roll back many of Obama’s key initiatives.

Still, fair-minded people should be able to conclude that America is better off now than eight years ago. His accomplishments are all the more remarkable because some people, Trump among them, questioned his legitimacy from the very start and Republicans in Congress consistently sought to block him.

Obama took office four months after the Wall Street crash and during the worst downturn since the Great Depression. He saved the auto industry and helped nurse the economy back to health. The unemployment rate, which hit 10 percent in 2009, is the lowest since the recession, the number of private-sector jobs has grown for 75 straight months and the economy has added more than 15 million jobs since 2010. But as Obama says, more must be done to help the middle class and those left behind.

Obama pushed an ambitious domestic agenda, beyond preventing economic collapse. He vastly expanded health care coverage, though the Affordable Care Act is far from perfect and hasn’t done enough yet to reduce costs. As Trump and Republicans try to repeal Obamacare, it will become clearer how much good it did and how difficult it will be to replace it with something better.

On another generational issue, Obama put the U.S. on course to get serious about global climate change, requiring cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, and signing the historic Paris accords that were adopted in December 2015. Though some of his executive actions have been blocked by the courts, he rightly pushed us toward clean energy and away from fossil fuels.

Our society already was moving toward more tolerance, including LGBT rights. Still, his support — repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military and not defending the Defense of Marriage Act — strengthened the shift. When the U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land in 2015, the White House was bathed in rainbow colors.

Obama, however, was unable to break the deadlock on immigration reform. He used his executive powers to protect young people, but also presided over a record number of deportations. Trump was only too happy to exploit fear and anger on this issue.

In one of his last big initiatives, Obama started to reverse the costly mass incarceration of nonviolent drug criminals that hasn’t made us that much safer, but has devastated families and communities, especially poor ones.

In fighting terror, Obama returned America to its values by banning torture and trying to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Yet he vastly expanded the use of drones, despite civilian casualties. Obama also expanded mass surveillance of Americans (though he later supported reforms) and increased espionage prosecutions of whistleblowers.

While we have had homegrown attacks in Boston, Fort Hood, Orlando and San Bernardino, we have not had a large-scale attack on the homeland by a foreign terrorist group. How many of us would have bet on that eight years ago?

And how many would have wagered there would be no egregious corruption scandals in eight years? Sure, there were mistakes, such as Operation “Fast and Furious” gun sales to drug cartels, the deaths at the U.S. mission in Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service targeting tea party groups.

Obama is a president whose tenure will look better and better as time passes. He was smart and thoughtful, he was able to calmly brush off criticism and he inspired people, especially the young. Americans will learn soon enough how good we had it.

In his farewell speech Tuesday night, Obama spoke of his achievements, but also warned that our democracy is under threat – from lack of economic opportunity, racial divisions, political strife and weakening of common values – and called upon all of us to defend and strengthen it.

If we heed his words, that could be his most lasting legacy.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/reflecting-on-obamas-legacy-as-he-leaves-office/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1137683_AP_Poll_Obama_Legacy_17682.jpgFILE - In this May 1, 2011, file photo, President Barack Obama reads his statement to photographers after making a televised statement on the death of Osama bin Laden from the East Room of the White House in Washington. More than half of Americans view President Barack Obama favorably as he leaves office, a new poll shows, but Americans remain deeply divided over his legacy. Less than half of Americans say they're better off eight years after his election or that Obama brought the country together. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)Fri, 13 Jan 2017 21:06:04 +0000
Commentary: Trump and Congress must act quickly to stabilize insurance markets http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/commentary-trump-and-congress-must-act-quickly-to-stabilize-insurance-markets/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/14/commentary-trump-and-congress-must-act-quickly-to-stabilize-insurance-markets/#respond Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137685 President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly promised voters he will repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Now he and his congressional allies have an obligation to fulfill that promise.

Despite some hysterical claims to the contrary, Congress isn’t going to throw millions of Americans out of coverage. Under Obamacare, most newly insured people have been enrolled in Medicaid, a welfare program, while the bulk of those covered in the troubled exchanges are getting generous taxpayer subsidies. Thus far, at least, congressional leaders appear focused on avoiding further disruption and securing a smooth transition, particularly for those enrolled in the exchanges and Medicaid.

Meanwhile, there is another, more pressing, problem. There are more than 10 million people in the individual market who get no ACA taxpayer subsidies for their insurance yet are being hit with staggering premium increases.

Moreover, there are also about 15 million Americans in the small-group markets – small-business employers and employees – who are likewise facing escalating premiums.

In the Obamacare exchanges, the average increase in the benchmark plan premium will be 25 percent for 2017 in the 39 states using the HealthCare.gov platform, and the exchange deductibles are positively breathtaking. For plans with the lowest premium costs, the so-called bronze plans, the average deductible for single coverage is $6,000 annually, while family coverage climbs to more than $12,000.

Premium subsidies aren’t available for many in the middle class. A single person making more than $47,000 is out of luck for help in offsetting her premium costs. And if she makes roughly $15 an hour, she will likely be ineligible for cost-sharing subsidies.

Trump and Congress are inheriting unstable insurance markets. In droves, millions of Americans expected to sign up in the exchanges have not; middle-class folks, especially young folks, clearly don’t see much value in high-priced insurance with crazy deductibles.

So a larger proportion of older and sicker people, whose claims costs are often higher than their premium contributions, are driving costs higher. And the individual mandate penalty, which is riddled with exemptions, isn’t much of an incentive to buy Obamacare coverage.

There has also been the steep reduction in health plan competition since the inception of the exchanges in 2014. By underpricing the product, perhaps in hopes of federal bailouts, and then failing to recover sufficient revenues, many of the plans have been losing money, and major plans have withdrawn from the exchanges altogether.

The Obama administration’s political remedies to enhance competition in the exchanges have either failed or become another excuse for more taxpayer bailouts. Note the stunning collapse of the co-op program – 18 out of 23 have disappeared from the markets – and the equally important but overlooked dismal performance of the federally sponsored multistate plans administered by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. They enroll just 440,000 people, or 4 percent of the entire exchange population.

The new president and Congress must act decisively to stabilize the insurance markets that exist as well as lay the groundwork for the improved markets they envision. Through a combination of early administrative and legislative actions, they can reduce costs and stabilize the insurance markets. Among the many other provisions to be enacted or implemented, they must do at least the following:

Reduce the costs in the individual and small-group markets by liberalizing insurance rules, particularly the federal benefit and insurance rating rules, which artificially drive up premium costs for young families.

Reduce the costs of employer-sponsored insurance. Administratively, this can be done by liberalizing the “grandfather rules,” thus allowing employers greater flexibility to alter or modify their plans, delaying the employer mandate reporting and penalty requirements. Legislatively, Congress should kill the employer mandate entirely.

Provide individual tax relief for Americans buying health insurance if they do not or cannot get health care coverage through the place of work.

Trump and Congress must move quickly to prevent even greater disruption to the badly damaged health insurance markets. While Obamacare was designed to insure the uninsured, now Obamacare costs threaten to uninsure those who are insured. It’s time to act.

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Another View: Search warrant isn’t a license for police officer to shoot a dog http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/another-view-search-warrant-isnt-a-license-for-police-officer-to-shoot-a-dog/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/another-view-search-warrant-isnt-a-license-for-police-officer-to-shoot-a-dog/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1137011 The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month found in favor of police who broke into a home and killed two dogs. The officers had a search warrant. But a search warrant should not be a death warrant for innocent dogs.

The court tells the story mostly from the perspective of Christof Klein, a Battle Creek, Michigan, police officer, who said he saw a “beware of dog” sign while approaching the house. He said he saw the dogs themselves barking in a window while he and his colleagues approached the home. And yet he broke down the door.

By the time the raid was over, Klein and his colleagues had killed both dogs. Klein said one was moving toward him when he shot her. The other, he said, was barking.

The 6th Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Eric L. Clay, ruled that killing a dog can violate the Fourth Amendment (search, seizure and probable cause), but that in this case, it didn’t. The question, the court said, was whether the dogs presented “an imminent threat to the officer’s safety,” as an “objectively reasonable officer” would have seen it given the circumstances. The judge found that killing the dogs met this standard. He’s wrong.

It is objectively unreasonable to say that a barking dog was a real threat to an armed police officer. That’s not an even match. And, to the extent that the dogs were a threat at all, this threat was created by breaking down the door – threatening the dogs and their territory.

The court should have demanded actual evidence that that was a reasonable decision. Instead, it relied on its own speculation about what might have happened if the officers had taken the time to find a way to protect the dogs – what they should have done.

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Barbara Bush: DeVos should be confirmed secretary of education http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/barbara-bush-devos-should-be-confirmed-secretary-of-education/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/barbara-bush-devos-should-be-confirmed-secretary-of-education/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136954 I am enthusiastically endorsing Betsy DeVos to be our next secretary of education. Mrs. DeVos has a real compassion for children and a proven record of championing reforms to improve literacy and learning in our nation. I am confident that she will provide the leadership we sorely need to raise the bar on education in America and provide better opportunities for our most vulnerable students.

For the past 25 years, I have worked to find solutions to the high illiteracy rate in America. This is one of the most significant problems contributing to the intractable nature of poverty in our country and we need more leaders like Betsy DeVos who understand the stakes involved. Sadly, there are 36 million adults in America today who are either functionally illiterate or have low literacy skills. We need to get serious about promoting proven solutions at the state level that put a premium on ensuring children are proficient readers by the third grade. Research shows that students who are not reading at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma. The economic consequences of poor reading skills will haunt these unfortunate children throughout their lives.

Betsy DeVos has helped pass reforms to drive gains in literacy. The Great Lakes Education Project she founded in Michigan was instrumental in passing a comprehensive reading law last year that provides extra tutoring to struggling students and other intervention strategies to ensure that kids are leaving third grade with the literacy skills they will need to succeed in later grades. Reading is truly the building block of a successful education, and Mrs. DeVos has fought hard to ensure that elected officials in her home state and across the nation are giving literacy its proper attention.

I also believe Mrs. DeVos has the right priorities on important issues such as school choice, early childhood development and accountability in education. I have worked with Mrs. DeVos’ advocacy organizations for years and I know that her commitment to children runs deep. She believes passionately that children should have access to high performing schools regardless of their race, income or zip code. That is why she has fought valiantly to give parents of at-risk children the right to send their kids to charter and private schools when the public school system is letting them down.

The problems in American education are complicated. There are no quick and easy one-size-fits-all fixes. Rather than trying to micromanage our schools with a top-down approach from Washington, D.C., Betsy DeVos will rely on the creative energies of the state laboratories of democracy. Sending more funding and authority over our schools back to the states will empower governors and reformers at the local level to experiment with innovative reforms that ensure our children are obtaining the skills and knowledge they need to compete in the modern economy while measuring success each and every step of the way.

I believe Mrs. DeVos is an educator at heart. She is a woman who has dedicated much of her adult life to fighting some really tough battles on behalf of our nation’s school children, including mentoring children for decades in her home state of Michigan. There are powerful forces in our education system that are resistant to change. Mrs. DeVos has the courage to do the thing for parents and their children.

I know Betsy DeVos is the right woman to help usher in an era of education reforms that can drive significant improvement in student achievement. She has a big heart, a strong backbone and she wants to serve in Washington for only one reason: to make a difference in the lives of America’s school children. We need more people like Mrs. DeVos in our nation’s capital. She is the type of leader and reformer who can bring positive and lasting change to America’s classrooms.

 

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Commentary: Maine Sen. Susan Collins should vote for the Affordable Care Act http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/maine-sen-susan-collins-should-vote-for-the-affordable-care-act/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/maine-sen-susan-collins-should-vote-for-the-affordable-care-act/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136966 CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Health care is a human right, not a luxury. As a medical student, I see what happens when people lack access to care: manageable chronic diseases can turn into life-threatening catastrophes. Unpredictable events – like a car accident or appendicitis – become not only medical emergencies, but financial nightmares.

As a future doctor, I know what will happen if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Mainers will get sicker. Many will go bankrupt. Some will die.

That’s why, on Monday, I traveled to the nation’s capital on behalf of over 4,500 medical students and other future health professionals to urge Congress to repair the ACA – not repeal it. There, I met with a lawmaker some have deemed the “most important person” in the health care debate: Maine’s very own senator, Susan Collins.

Over the last few weeks, Sen. Collins has publicly expressed her reservations, even co-sponsoring an amendment to delay the proposed ACA repeal timeline. When I met with her, she told me she knows how important it is to ensure coverage for Mainers. However, when push came to shove Wednesday evening, Sen. Collins voted in favor of ripping health insurance away from millions.

Perhaps she forgot the numbers. By some estimates, 95,000 Mainers could lose coverage if Congress repeals the ACA without immediate replacement. Over 500,000 Mainers, almost 40 percent of the state, currently have pre-existing conditions; their insurance coverage, no matter where it comes from, could be threatened by an ACA repeal. Amidst the conversations about arcane health policy, it is easy to forget the crux of this debate: Is it acceptable to leave our friends, families and neighbors without the dignity of knowing they can access a doctor when they need one?

For me, this is personal. I come from a family deeply invested in the well-being of Maine communities. My father, Martin, served as majority whip in the state Legislature in the 1980s. My mother, Anne, has worked to restore fisheries and encourage economic development along the coast for over 30 years. My younger sister, Rosamond, spent a summer in college working on Mike Michaud’s gubernatorial campaign. Their examples inspired me to enter medicine. When I finish my training, I want to return to Maine and serve the communities that raised me by keeping Mainers healthy and giving them the opportunity to live to their fullest potential.

Sen. Collins probably had similar aspirations when she first ran for office. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see her contemplating placing Mainers in harm’s way.

I’ve heard from Mainers across the state who depend upon the ACA: lobstermen who got coverage for the first time, a pregnant woman who lost her employee-sponsored insurance and a quadriplegic man living on a fixed income who didn’t qualify for MaineCare.

I heard from obstetrician-gynecologists in Augusta and Biddeford who have seen appointments for pap smears, mammograms and long-acting contraception increase since the ACA and are worried that if it is repealed, Maine women will lose access to these absolutely essential services.

They all agreed that while the ACA isn’t perfect, it’s providing critical protection. A vote to repeal it without a better plan is a vote against Maine.

Ensuring that every Mainer has access to modern medical care is not a radical ask. Every decent society takes care of its citizens in this basic way.

I am concerned that Sen. Collins has lost her moral compass and will sacrifice the lives of the most vulnerable Mainers to curry favor with Republican leadership. I fear she is placing party politics over the well-being of her constituents, and my future patients.

As a medical student and, more importantly, as a Mainer, I would find that morally reprehensible. Sen. Collins herself has said that ACA repeal without replacement would be irresponsible. Doing that in the face of political pressure would display profound cowardice.

Maine deserves a leader who can stand up against her own party when lives are on the line. If Sen. Collins is not willing to display this necessary courage, she has failed us as our representative. We must demand more.

My parents taught me that to be a good Mainer is to look out for my friends and neighbors and to make sure no one is left behind. I’m only asking that Sen. Collins does the same.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/maine-sen-susan-collins-should-vote-for-the-affordable-care-act/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1134712_RTX2HG4F.jpgSen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine, calls conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama a leader of integrity. Attacks on his past are unfair, she states.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 18:55:16 +0000
Maine Voices: Is biomass energy carbon neutral? Not when you look at the facts http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/maine-voices-biomass-energy-carbon-neutral-not-when-you-look-at-the-facts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/maine-voices-biomass-energy-carbon-neutral-not-when-you-look-at-the-facts/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136976 WYTOPITLOCK — Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have proposed an amendment to the Senate clean energy bill that would officially classify biomass energy as “carbon neutral.” This designation would mean that all uses of biomass for energy would be considered to add no net carbon to the atmosphere; thus, they would qualify for renewable energy credits and other favored treatments.

The science, however, does not support such congressional designation. Indeed, 65 scientists with backgrounds in energy, soils, forest ecosystems and climate change sent a letter to the Senate arguing that it is not a good idea to declare all biomass energy as “carbon neutral.” “Legislating scientific facts,” they wrote, “is never a good idea, but is especially bad when the ‘facts’ are incorrect.”

The argument for biomass being carbon neutral assumes that the amount of carbon being emitted by harvesting and burning is balanced by the carbon being sequestered and stored by trees, regardless of what is cut, how it is cut, what is left behind, what is the rate of cutting, what is used for biomass, how much energy goes into processing and transportation or even how efficiently the biomass is used.

These factors, however, can determine whether biomass is part of the solution to global climate change, or part of the problem. Calling biomass “carbon neutral” does not make it so.

Most of the carbon in forest ecosystems is stored in the soil. Recent studies have shown that heavy cutting, especially whole-tree removals that expose or disturb the soil, can lead to soil carbon losses that can last for decades. Those arguing for the carbon neutral status of biomass are not accounting for such ecosystem losses from intensive cutting.

There are no regulations in Maine to prevent such heavy cutting. There are no regulations to prevent landowners from cutting more than growth. And there are no regulations to prevent conversion of extensive areas from mature to immature stands.

It takes decades to grow a mature tree. It takes minutes to burn that same tree. We need to start reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere now. If a landowner cuts heavily on short rotations, the stand, and ultimately the ownership landscape, will not be able to recover the original ecosystem carbon storage even after a century.

If climate change is truly a concern, then the dual goals should be to increase carbon sequestration and reduce carbon emissions. To increase carbon sequestration, it would be better to manage for higher-volume forests with bigger trees. To reduce carbon emissions, it would be better to reduce burning both wood and fossil fuels; but if they are burned, that should be done in the most efficient way.

The biggest market for biomass in Maine is for wood-fired electric generators. Current commercial biomass electric power plants in Maine, are, in general, less than 25 percent efficient – less efficient than fossil fuel electric power generators. The stack emissions of carbon dioxide (as well as pollutants such as aromatic hydrocarbons or particulates) from these biomass electric plants are greater per megawatt of electricity than the emissions from fossil fuel-fired plants, including coal-fired plants.

It is far more efficient to use the heat generated from burning biomass to heat buildings than it is to use it to supply electricity. It is possible to have close to 90 percent efficiency if the wood is burned primarily for heat – with electricity as an added benefit. This dual use is called “co-generation,” or combined heat and power.

Low-grade wood does not have to be burned. There are other possible markets that could be encouraged in Maine, such as cross-laminated timbers, which isolate the wood’s carbon from the atmosphere for decades. These products can replace steel and concrete, which have more embodied energy in production.

Declaring all uses of wood for energy “carbon neutral,” therefore, can reward both climate-unfriendly forest practices and climate-unfriendly biomass burning. But the impacts are also inefficient economically. Burning wood to create electricity is not competitive, unless it’s subsidized. In 2016, Central Maine Power testified that over the last 20 years, biomass power plants in Maine have received $2.6 billion in ratepayer subsidies.

These subsidies haven’t been enough to prevent plants from shutting down anyway. The Maine Legislature voted last year in favor of an additional $13.4 million in subsidies to prevent further biomass energy plant shutdowns. Subsidizing higher-cost electricity will, according to CMP, lead to $23.4 million in higher electricity costs in just the first year. Making the public pay with tax money and higher utility rates adds economic insult to the allowable ecological injuries.

 

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Our View: Video visits won’t solve major challenges at Maine’s county jails http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/our-view-video-visits-wont-solve-major-challenges-at-maines-county-jails/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/our-view-video-visits-wont-solve-major-challenges-at-maines-county-jails/#respond Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136996 Video conferencing is transforming modern life, lowering the geographical barrier to accessing services ranging from higher education to specialized health care. But for people behind bars, the video technology that’s being embraced by a growing number of Maine’s county jails doesn’t go far enough toward maintaining crucial family ties.

Three Maine jails have video visiting in place (Somerset County; Two Bridges Regional, serving Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, and York County), and Maine Public Radio recently reported that three others (Androscoggin, Cumberland and Hancock) are considering adopting the technology.

Two Bridges and York County have eliminated in-person family visits entirely. Inmates are in a separate room in the jail during visits and communicate with their loved ones through video cameras. Somerset still allows in-person visits, but they’re non-contact: Inmates and their loved ones cannot touch and are separated by glass.

The reason for the policy shift? Jail administrators point to the need to stem the steady flow of contraband entering the jails through means as innocuous as a baby’s diaper or a quick kiss. (In a high-profile incident at Two Bridges, an Episcopal priest was convicted of smuggling Suboxone to two inmates; more recently, a Cumberland County inmate died of an overdose of smuggled drugs.) Officials also cite the expenses involved in paying jail staff to supervise visits.

All of these are valid concerns. The number of Mainers struggling to overcome addiction to heroin and other opioids has soared in recent years, and it’s no coincidence that drug arrests and the jail population have increased, too. But eliminating contact visits won’t mitigate the drug crisis that’s filling cells. Achieving that mission calls for investing more money in drug detoxification and medication-assisted addiction treatment by expanding Medicaid eligibility and keeping the Affordable Care Act in place.

Researchers have found that the setup of video visitation terminals – the camera is usually a few inches above the monitor – doesn’t enable the eye contact that lets inmates and their loved ones connect with each other. Good relationships with people on the outside are what help keep inmates focused on rehabilitation and release. And when they get out, as most inmates eventually do, those with strong ties are far less likely to re-offend and end up back in jail, driving up corrections costs (paid for by taxpayers), decades of studies show.

It’s common sense: Someone who has a link to the community will value their place in it enough to want to stay there and become a productive citizen. We all benefit from contact visits – which is reason enough to consider whether the short-term gain of eliminating them is worth the long-term risk.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/13/our-view-video-visits-wont-solve-major-challenges-at-maines-county-jails/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1136996_edipic_1009.jpgCumberland County Jail inmates meet with visitors in 2013 in a special room designed to prevent drug smuggling. Implementing video visitation – as Cumberland and two other Maine counties are now considering – won't mitigate the addiction crisis that's feeding the continuing flow of contraband and keeping jail cells full.Fri, 13 Jan 2017 10:58:46 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Call for L.L. Bean boycott aimed at the wrong target http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/bill-nemitz-wallet-targets-the-wrong-bean/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/bill-nemitz-wallet-targets-the-wrong-bean/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136411 Walk into L.L. Bean’s flagship store in Freeport, head for the hunting section and you’ll find a display rack loaded with bright-colored “Shoot-N-C” targets. A half-dozen go for  $7.50.

I strongly suggest that Grab Your Wallet take a timeout from its boycott of L.L. Bean and pick up a pack.

Maybe then organizers of the anti-Donald Trump website, who aim to bring down the president-elect by telling us where to (and where not to) shop, will learn the art of taking careful aim before they fire.

“If L.L. Bean thinks a part-owner and board member can (personally support Trump) and have it not affect their bottom line, that’s very naïve,” huffed Grab Your Wallet co-founder Shannon Coulter to Press Herald Staff Writer Gillian Graham this week. Coulter lives in San Francisco and works as, wait for it, a “brand strategist.”

The real target of Coulter’s ire? Not L.L. Bean per se but rather Linda Bean, granddaughter of the legendary Leon Leonwood Bean and one of the company’s 10 directors.

Linda Bean, who sells boiled lobsters for a living, found herself in a bit of hot water last week when the Federal Election Commission alleged that she’d contributed $60,000 to a political action committee – $55,000 more than the legal limit.

It appears to be one of those dog-ate-my homework things: The PAC’s chairman, David Jones, said he thought he was running a super PAC, to which Bean could have contributed all she wanted.

Jones has since filed amended reports with the FEC in an effort to straighten things out. But the damage already was done.

Once the words “Trump” and “L.L. Bean” hit the internet, a company that is as assiduously apolitical as it is roundly respected here in its home state suddenly found itself in the cross hairs of Grab Your Wallet.

Formed in October to make Trump pay for his caught-on-tape remarks about assaulting women whenever he pleases, the website now lists 82 companies, many household names, to be shunned until further notice.

Initially (and logically), the group went after companies that directly sell Trump products. Shoes.com, for example, recently stopped selling Ivanka Trump’s line of shoes, which in turn prompted Grab Your Wallet to pull the online shoe retailer off its boycott list.

But then there’s another tier of targets: companies that are, in Grab Your Wallet’s eyes, guilty by association. Thanks to good old Aunt Linda, L.L. Bean now resides on that list.

A couple of things worth noting here.

First, Linda Bean is no wallflower. Four years ago, in the throes of the Republican primary race to boot Barack Obama out of the White House, the longtime backer of conservative causes penned a letter calling the president “HITLERIAN” and predicting that if he won another term, “4 years from now, we may not even have a ballot.”

In other words, as most Mainers have known for decades, the loudest of the Bean clan knows how to get people riled up. In fact, she seems to thrive on it.

Now, when she’s not forecasting the end of the world as we know it, Linda Bean owns and operates Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine, a conglomeration of high-end lobster shacks, vacation rentals and other enterprises.

So why didn’t Grab Your Wallet banish Linda Bean’s Perfect Maine to its no-buy zone?

Because, however more appropriate a target that might have been, it was too small for Grab Your Wallet to hit from all the way out there on the West Coast, that’s why.

L.L. Bean, on the other hand, is huge. It’s nationally known. Slap a target on that brand and, voila, you spawn more headlines and online clicks than black flies in the Allagash on Memorial Day.

But here’s the unfortunate part.

L.L. Bean is a great company.

L.L. Bean treats its workers remarkably well.

L.L. Bean is an exemplary corporate citizen – in the last decade alone, it’s donated upward of $25 million to everything from conservation and education to social services and the arts.

And last but far from least, L.L. Bean treats its customers like royalty.

A case in point: A winter jacket I bought there last month developed a tear in a seam. Before taking it all the way back to Freeport, I called to explore my options and see if they still had the same color and size in stock.

“Oh, you don’t have to come up,” the cheery woman on the phone assured me. “I can take care of that for you right now.”

Three short days later, the new jacket was on my doorstep, complete with a free return-shipping label for the old one. Printed across the top of the invoice: “Sorry for the delay – thank you for waiting.”

Lest I make this newspaper Grab Your Wallet’s next target, let me be crystal clear: Donald Trump’s looming presidency is, on so many levels, a disaster waiting to happen.

But confronting that, indeed combating it when necessary, will require disciplined organization, deep fortitude and, above all, relentless focus.

Scattershot boycotts aimed at fuzzy targets? That’s only a waste of ammunition.

(Urban Outfitters’ parent corporation got booted off the “Shop These Trump-Free Alternatives” list after Grab Your Wallet discovered the CEO had donated not to Trump, but to House Speaker Paul Ryan and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum. Who’s next on the hit list, companies whose stockholders binge-watched “The Apprentice?”)

Sunday evening, understandably worried about the impact Grab Your Wallet might have on his great-grandfather’s “do unto others” legacy, L.L. Bean Executive Board Chairman Shawn Gorman took to Facebook to state what we Mainers knew in the first place.

“L.L. Bean does not endorse political candidates, take positions on political matters, or make political contributions,” Gorman wrote. “Simply put, we stay out of politics. To be included in this boycott campaign is simply misguided.”

Bull’s-eye.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/bill-nemitz-wallet-targets-the-wrong-bean/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgPORTLAND, ME - MAY 15: Images of Portland Press Herald news reporters and columnists, Wednesday, May 15, 2014. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer)Fri, 13 Jan 2017 09:51:35 +0000
Commentary: I can’t support $60 million Portland school bond, City Councilor Ray says http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/commentary-i-cant-support-60-million-portland-school-bond-city-councilor-ray-says/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/commentary-i-cant-support-60-million-portland-school-bond-city-councilor-ray-says/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136415 I am a teacher. I have taught in public schools.

I know that good schools are central to the well-being and prosperity of a community. I also know that here in Portland, we need significant updates at all 17 of our schools.

Passing a narrowly focused $60 million to $70 million bond will not help us to achieve that goal. In fact, it will do the opposite. It will leave the most pressing needs in our school system unmet while raising property taxes, eliminating teaching positions and decreasing municipal services. Here’s why:

While the idea for this bond came from a good place, it is focused on renovating just four elementary buildings. That’s because concerned parents banded together to seek improvements at their children’s neighborhood schools – and those schools have significant needs. But so do many other Portland schools.

A recent systemwide assessment of our school facilities concluded that across the district, we’ll need to make a minimum of $321 million in capital improvements over the next 20 years. These improvements are not optional. They include things like life safety and security upgrades, sanitary waste system overhauls, and foundation repairs. Passing a bond focused on just four schools now will make it impossible to perform these updates without significant cuts to other parts of the school budget.

Let’s talk numbers for a minute. If we pass this bond and don’t cut teachers, ed techs and bus drivers or significantly decrease other city services, property taxes would increase by 30 percent during the first three years of borrowing. That means that a September 2021 tax bill for a property valued at $225,000 would be $6,336. That’s too much for many local taxpayers to pay, especially when we have other options.

There are opportunities for state funding to help defray the costs of updating our schools. The state has a Major Capital School Construction fund for complete school rebuilds or renovations. The state also offers a Revolving Renovation Fund for smaller projects like adding an elevator or upgrading an electrical system. But school renovation projects that have been bonded locally are not eligible for state funding.

So, if we pass a bond for these four schools – two of which would likely receive major capital construction funds – we will be leaving a lot of state money on the table.

Applications for the current round of major capital construction funds are due in April 2017. We’ll know by June of 2018 which of our schools, if any, qualify for the next round of state funding. Some advocates for the four-school bond have said they don’t want to wait that long. That doesn’t make sense.

We can’t have four elementary schools under construction at the same time. We wouldn’t have enough space for our students. Therefore, the construction schedules would need to be staggered.

If we pass this bond in June, construction on the first school wouldn’t begin until spring of 2019 at the earliest. The second school wouldn’t be started until 2020 – two years after we’d know our state funding options. Bonding four schools at once is not just fiscally irresponsible, it’s poor planning. There is a better path forward.

The systemwide assessment that was completed in December includes a 20-year plan to update all 17 of our schools, two additional school facilities, and general district items like the phone system and replacement school buses.

This plan, with its $321 million price tag, covers the essential needs that we must address to ensure that all our schools are safe, healthy, accessible and structurally sound. The $60-$70 million bond currently being debated has never been the right starting point for this conversation. This systemwide survey showing that we have $321 million in capital improvements to complete over the next 20 years is.

This is the way to move forward. If you want to hold your representatives’ feet to the fire on school improvement, this is what you should be demanding. We must implement the 20-year systemwide capital improvement plan to upgrade and maintain all our schools. We must pursue every possible option for state funding. We must invest in our faculty and staff. And we must use local tax dollars wisely over time to make all our schools first-rate facilities.

This approach is equitable and fiscally responsible, and it will get us where we need to go. But it won’t be possible if we ignore the larger picture in favor of a well-intentioned but narrowly focused bond.

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Dana Milbank: Flip-flopper McConnell shifts his principles according to who’s got power http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/dana-milbank-flip-flopper-mcconnell-shifts-his-principles-according-to-whos-got-power/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/dana-milbank-flip-flopper-mcconnell-shifts-his-principles-according-to-whos-got-power/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136422 Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is a tough and wily operator. But he is opposed by an equally relentless and worthy adversary: Mitch McConnell.

Nobody in recent memory has argued so frequently and so passionately against himself as the Kentucky Republican. Oyez, oyez, oyez: Let us hear the case of McConnell v. McConnell.

In November, magnanimous McConnell spoke of restraint: “I think it’s always a mistake to misread your mandate, and frequently new majorities think it’s going to be forever. … We’ve been given a temporary lease on power, if you will.”

That was wise. Republicans won the White House and both chambers of Congress, but the president-elect lost the popular vote by almost 3 million and Republicans lost seats in Congress.

Yet, two months later, McConnell is treating his “temporary lease on power” as if it were St. Edward’s Crown.

He is hurrying through a repeal of Obamacare – using a procedure he once decried as a “power grab” – before Republicans come up with an alternative.

He’s preparing to use the same technique to overhaul the tax code. He is pushing ahead with nine confirmation hearings this week, five on Wednesday alone, the same day the Senate is scheduled to hold dozens of budget votes and President-elect Donald Trump planned a news conference. This will help protect the nominees from public scrutiny – even though most have not yet received the required vetting.

In politics, where you stand often depends on where you sit. If your party doesn’t control the Senate, for example, you’re more likely to value the filibuster. But McConnell’s principles are particularly situational.

Back in 2009, when he was minority leader, McConnell insisted, among other things, that nominees shouldn’t get hearings unless “the Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a committee hearing.”

Now, the OGE director warns that the GOP is rushing through “several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process,” leaving some “with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues.” The director noted that this violates the law.

But McConnell has reversed McConnell. “Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, illustrated McConnell’s reversal by sending him on Monday the same letter McConnell sent Democratic leader Harry Reid in 2009 demanding complete ethics reviews before hearings. Schumer crossed out “Harry” in the salutation and substituted “Mitch.”

Back in 2010, McConnell argued that using the budget process of “reconciliation” to pass Obamacare with a 50-vote majority in the Senate rather than a 60-vote supermajority “would be one of the most brazen single-party power grabs in legislative history.”

So what is McConnell doing now? Using reconciliation to eliminate Obamacare with a 50-vote majority.

Back in 2007, McConnell said that “we can stipulate” that “in the Senate it takes 60 votes on controversial matters.”

Now McConnell has signed on to using the same 50-vote maneuver to enact tax reform.

Back in 2011, McConnell proudly declared that “I voted for the Ryan budget.” But in 2014, when his opponent tried to tie him to the Paul Ryan budget cuts, McConnell’s campaign said that “there is no way to speculate” whether McConnell supported the Ryan budget in 2011.

A year ago, McConnell said he would block consideration of President Obama’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy “until we have a new president.”

Now, when Democrats floated the (improbable) notion that they wouldn’t act on President Trump’s nominee to the same seat, McConnell said that is “something the American people simply will not tolerate.”

McConnell said his position against filling the vacancy last year was so that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice.”

He said the opposite in a years-ago law-review article, when he argued that making “purely political decisions” in considering a Supreme Court nominee isn’t “an acceptable practice.”

In a typical McConnell speech in 2012, he argued that “the unique role of the Senate has been to protect the voice of the minority.”

Now he’s facing pressure from fellow Republicans to eliminate the filibuster, one of the main protections of minority rights in the Senate.

It’s too soon to say who will win this battle, but it promises to be another epic showdown between McConnell and McConnell.

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

danamilbank@washpost.com

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Our View: L.L. Bean boycott would harm the wrong people http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/our-view-l-l-bean-boycott-would-harm-the-wrong-people/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/our-view-l-l-bean-boycott-would-harm-the-wrong-people/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136423 By any measure, L.L. Bean is one of Maine’s top businesses, a major employer that still manufactures its iconic Bean Boot here in the state and gives generously to an array of local nonprofits. It also has on its 10-member board of directors Linda Bean, granddaughter of the company’s founder and a high-profile supporter of conservative causes, including the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

To the people behind the Grab Your Wallet campaign, Linda Bean’s personal political views outweigh any amount of good the company does. We hope anyone considering Grab Your Wallet’s call for a boycott of L.L. Bean comes to a different conclusion.

We are no fan of Linda Bean, whose conservative views come with more than a little hypocrisy and hysteria.

After using public assistance as a single mother before she received her family inheritance, Bean has railed against public assistance. She is staunchly opposed to gay rights and abortion rights. In an open letter released during the 2012 presidential campaign, she made bizarre claims about Barack Obama taking away farmers’ land rights, calling the president “HITLERIAN” and saying he was “closing in very fast to eliminate totally our liberty rights and heritage.”

She has also donated heavily to conservative causes, giving $30,000 to Maine political action committees this year, including one controlled by Gov. Paul LePage. It was a contribution of $60,000, according to the Federal Election Commission, to her own PAC – Making America Great Again LLC – that drew the attention of the Grab Your Wallet campaign.

The campaign, started in October in response to lewd comments Trump made on tape while talking to a reporter from Access Hollywood, has taken aim at retailers that sell Trump products or whose owners support the president-elect. More than 70 companies are now on the boycott list, which is backed by a heavy social media presence.

But just who are they hurting by calling for a boycott?

It certainly isn’t Trump, who has no interest in L.L. Bean whatsoever. Nor is it Linda Bean, who has her inheritance as well as a growing business of her own that is not subject to Grab Your Wallet’s boycott call. She’s held her abhorrent views for decades now, and it is unlikely that pressure from a liberal group will cause her any shame or trepidation.

No, if the boycott has any effect on the company’s bottom line – doubtful as it might be for a company with $1.6 billion in annual sales – it’ll rest more heavily on the remaining nine members of the board, the over 50 family members who have a stake in the business, and the roughly 5,000 company employees – numbers that by themselves show the difficulty of defining any company by one person’s personal views.

It may also have an effect on the company’s charitable giving – $2.1 million in 2016, according to the company, spread among more than 80 organizations, including the Maine Island Trail Association, the Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.

L.L. Bean is a good corporate citizen, one that treats its employers and community with respect, and supports U.S. manufacturing. So by trying to punish one person who supports so many of the wrong things, a boycott would only hurt many others who are doing things the right way.

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Harness racing industry doesn’t get tax subsidies or ignore retired horses http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/maine-voices-harness-racing-industry-doesnt-get-tax-subsidies-or-ignore-retired-horses/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/12/maine-voices-harness-racing-industry-doesnt-get-tax-subsidies-or-ignore-retired-horses/#respond Thu, 12 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136438 GORHAM — In his Jan. 7 Maine Voices column, Robert Fisk declared that the state is “subsidizing … Maine’s harness racing industry.” The truth is that no taxpayer money is going into the harness racing industry.

Fisk states that “an $8.44 million taxpayer subsidy” went into racing in 2015. Again, let’s get it straight: Not a dime of citizens’ tax dollars went into racing. Even the cost of running the Maine State Harness Racing Commission, a state panel, is paid for by the harness racing industry.

The so-called subsidy is actually an agreement worked out among the harness racing industry, financier Shawn Scott and, later, Penn National Gaming to allow a casino into Maine by piggybacking on harness racing. Because the state controls gambling at racetracks and casinos, the money from betting at racetracks and in the casinos funnels through the state government.

The state of Maine takes a huge cut of this money. Each year, 1 percent of the gross revenue from the Hollywood Casino is taken in taxes. In 2015, that was over $4.3 million from the Hollywood Casino alone.

On top of that, the state also takes 39 percent of Hollywood Casino’s net slot revenue in taxes; 4 percent of that goes to the Gambling Control Board and another 10 percent to the Fund for a Healthy Maine. Of the 46 percent of net slot revenue that the state takes from the Oxford Casino, a big chunk goes to public K-12 and higher education. In all, the state General Fund and Gambling Control Board keep nearly $10 million of the over $45 million collected in tax revenue from the two casinos.

In contrast, the harness racing industry received a total of only about $8.4 million in 2015. These funds go to purses, drug testing, the cost of the Harness Racing Commission, support for commercial tracks and off-track betting, administration of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association, retired horse care and promotion.

Unfortunately, a few lawmakers, including Fisk, a former legislator, think the state is entitled to any money that passes through its hands. Once again, casino revenues are not citizen taxpayer dollars. They are from taxes on the casinos, the highest-taxed business in Maine.

Some of the casino profits that are going back to harness racing are added to a fraction of the money bet at tracks and a sum paid by the Maine Sire Stakes horse owners to form the purses that horses race for. This is a small fraction of the total cost of harness racing. Most of the money in harness racing comes from breeders and racehorse owners and goes to farmers, feed dealers, veterinarians, farriers, trainers and drivers.

Fisk goes on to criticize the apparent lack of industry support for unwanted horses that was described in Colin Woodard’s article of Dec. 18. An example of Woodard’s negative slant is a quote by Robyn Cuffey, who stated that horse owners “are not putting a dime” toward the care of retired racehorses.

Cuffey is providing a good service. She is given retired racehorses, retrains them and sells them. Some of the original owners pay for the horse’s care while it is being retrained. Often the retraining is a donated service provided by volunteers.

While this service is helpful, many racehorse owners care for retired horses themselves. I have four retired horses at my farm at the moment. They will live out their lives here. I invite anyone to come and see how they are cared for.

I know other horse owners who keep or pay for retired horses. The racehorse industry in Maine also contributes $5,000 a year for the care of retired racehorses. Very few, if any, racehorses in Maine are sent to slaughter plants in Quebec, as Woodard reported and Fisk repeated.

Fisk would also like to see the “$3 million of the track’s (Scarborough Downs’) annual subsidy” go to the care of retired horses. In 2015, the “subsidy” to Scarborough Downs was just over $1 million; as Woodard reported, Scarborough Downs was allotted $3 million from the casinos that year, but $2 million was earmarked for purses.

While I am sure that Mr. Fisk is genuinely concerned about the care of retired racehorses, he uses factual errors, misrepresentation of facts and blatant sentimentality to bolster his arguments, and in the process, does a real disservice to the many women and men who love and care for racehorses in Maine.

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Portland Press Herald’s One-on-One with Mike Vail, president of Hannaford http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/portland-press-heralds-one-on-one-with-mike-vail-president-hannaford/ Wed, 11 Jan 2017 17:22:58 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1136270

FRIDAY, MARCH 10 at 7:30 a.m.
Portland House of Music and Events

About Like A Boss
The Portland Press Herald presents, Like A Boss, the live Q&A business event series. Our CEO and Publisher, Lisa DeSisto, will meet one-on-one with local CEOs and business leaders for a behind the scenes look at their career paths, the ups and downs of running their businesses and the trends shaping them. Join us to hear insightful, first-hand accounts of the realities of running a business.

RSVP required. Coffee provided by Coffee By Design and donuts provided by Holy Donut.


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Leonard Pitts: Trump’s words don’t reflect what’s in his heart? Wrong – they’re a megaphone http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/leonard-pitts-trumps-words-dont-reflect-whats-in-his-heart-wrong-theyre-a-megaphone/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/leonard-pitts-trumps-words-dont-reflect-whats-in-his-heart-wrong-theyre-a-megaphone/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 11:00:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135957 How about if we let Jesus answer Kellyanne Conway?

Donald Trump’s indefatigable apologist was at it again Monday on CNN, defending her boss against, of all people, Meryl Streep. The 19-time Oscar nominee got under Trump’s famously thin skin with a speech at Sunday night’s Golden Globes.

In it, she chastised him for, among other things, mocking Serge F. Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that causes abnormal muscle development and severely restricted joint movements. Trump, lying as is his wont, has frequently denied what he did, even though the proof is as near as a Google search.

He denied it again while tweeting about Streep. Conway, appearing on CNN, took umbrage when anchor Chris Cuomo expressed skepticism.

“Why don’t you believe him?” she asked. “Why is everything taken at face value? You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”

It bears repeating because even by the standards of Trump World, it’s a humdinger. Don’t listen to what the president-elect says, she says. Go by what’s in his heart.

Jesus saw that one coming 2,000 years ago: “A good man,” he taught, “brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

For those of you playing along at home, that’s Luke 6:45, the Son of God calling shenanigans on the son of Fred, and on Conway’s bizarre insistence that somehow people have – repeatedly – misread his intentions all these months.

Sorry, but if the eyes are windows to the soul, then the mouth is its megaphone, and Trump has used his repeatedly and effectively to tell us what sort of person he is.

So it’s funny, but frankly also chilling, to see Conway scurrying around at this late date, in effect asking America to grade Donald Trump on a curve. Don’t go by what comes out of his mouth?

Seriously?

Seriously!?

She does know this man is about to be president, right? She realizes, doesn’t she, that a president’s words can incite revolution? That they can move the stock market? That they can get people killed?

Yet this woman thinks the problem with Trump’s mouth is the fact that we listen to it. In other words, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Is that to be the message our ambassadors give our foreign friends – and foes – for the next four years?

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. Prime Minister. That’s just Donald. He’s just talkin’.”

Yeah. That’s totally not ridiculous.

To hear Conway tell it, some combination of Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama has been hiding in plain sight all along, except that somehow, Trump’s unruly mouth failed to properly represent Trump’s saintly heart and it’s all your fault, anyway, for believing words and actions have meaning.

The trouble is, inconvenient realities like this one insist on telling a different story. Indeed, the Kovaleski case is the whole tragedy of Donald Trump in microcosm: the scorn, the bullying, the pettiness, the lying, the self-delusion.

In the face of that, Conway’s entreaty to disregard Trump’s mouth and look into Trump’s soul is beyond asinine. Sorry, but Jesus – big surprise – was right.

“The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Trump’s mouth has made it starkly clear what fills his heart.

And, sadly, what does not.

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

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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Our View: Deal would allow both Portland police and protesters to be heard http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/our-view-deal-would-allow-both-portland-police-and-protesters-to-be-heard/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/our-view-deal-would-allow-both-portland-police-and-protesters-to-be-heard/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135972 The Black Lives Matter movement has been fueled by determination to break the silence over injustices against people of color. So it’s fitting that a proposed settlement of charges stemming from a local Black Lives Matter protest last summer will give both police and protesters a chance to speak their piece.

The demonstration – organized by the Portland Racial Justice Congress in response to police shootings of black men – took place the night of July 15. Carrying signs and calling out slogans, the 150 participants marched through the Old Port to Commercial Street, where they blocked a busy section of the street for several hours.

Police said they broke up the protest after some demonstrators climbed on top of a vehicle that was trying to reach the street from one of the wharfs; 17 people were arrested and charged with obstructing a public way and other misdemeanors.

It’s not news that this case will likely be resolved without a trial. Most criminal cases are. But the terms of this deal are unusual: One of the conditions for dropping charges is a mediated meeting where protesters and Portland police officers will talk about the confrontation and how it was handled by law enforcement. (Protesters will also have to pay $200 to defray costs.)

Known as “restorative justice,” the approach gives those affected by an offense a chance to ask questions and explain how they’ve been harmed, while defendants take in the impact of what they’ve done. The goal is for the parties to work together to figure out consequences that are in line with the seriousness of the offense.

If a judge signs off on the deal Jan. 26, Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Ackerman told the Bangor Daily News, this will be the first time that restorative justice has been used in a Maine civil disobedience case.

And it’s a wise decision, given that both restorative justice and Black Lives Matter see the vast shortcomings of our criminal justice system. Restorative justice offers a way to hold offenders accountable and give victims a voice, without resorting to the measures rightly denounced by racial justice activists: punitive sentences that do little but drive up an already sky-high incarceration rate.

The deal is also in line with statements made before the protest: Organizers called for Police Chief Michael Sauschuck to affirm the value of black lives, and urged more transparency and civilian police oversight. Sauschuck said he was committed to racial equity in law enforcement but asked why he didn’t hear about the event until it was too late for a dialogue.

Both sides are trying to be heard – fostering mutual understanding rather than imposing punishment is the right approach to meeting this goal.

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Another View: French ‘right to disconnect’ wouldn’t work in U.S. offices http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/another-view-french-right-to-disconnect-wouldnt-work-in-u-s-offices/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/another-view-french-right-to-disconnect-wouldnt-work-in-u-s-offices/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135994 Americans love to genuflect before the altar of pragmatism, according to the cliche, while the French are said to eschew the pragmatic in favor of a theory for everything. There’s an element of truth to both stereotypes. The latest example of the difference between a French worldview and an Anglo-American one is a law that has just taken effect in France that allows workers to draw the line on employers’ demands after hours.

Because of the law, employers don’t have carte blanche to intrude on their employees’ time after work with their families or expect them to work holidays, during vacations or on weekends.

This new law has been referred to as the “right to disconnect,” but it really boils down to one basic theory about labor according to the French: It should not be necessary for citizens to work all of the time.

Where Americans pride themselves on being available to their employers 24/7 via cellphones and computers, French workers consider this an unacceptable blurring of professional and personal boundaries.

The new law doesn’t completely ban work-related emails after hours, but it makes clear that employers are supposed to come to a mutually beneficial understanding with their employees about how to deal with them.

For the French, this law works. It would be much more problematic in the U.S. workplace. Americans are among the most productive workers on the planet because they are available beyond the prescribed work hours.

To an American who works from 45 to 50 hours a week, this law reeks of the nanny state sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong. So let the French have their uninterrupted down time. Americans thrive on being eternally connected to the job during a never-ending, ever-expanding workday.

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Maine Voices: Trump should follow Reagan’s precedent: Make ‘illegal aliens’ legal http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/maine-voices-trump-should-follow-reagans-precedent-make-illegal-aliens-legal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/maine-voices-trump-should-follow-reagans-precedent-make-illegal-aliens-legal/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135856 President-elect Donald Trump made immigration policy a centerpiece of his campaign, and as he takes office in the coming weeks the issue will undoubtedly remain a top priority for him and for many Americans. With his political party holding both chambers of Congress, as well as a clear interest in immigration reform from the American public, there is the opportunity for the Trump administration to achieve substantive reform of U.S. immigration policy.

During his campaign, the president-elect focused on securing the southern border of the United States by constructing a physical wall. He also advocated for a more aggressive deportation policy for illegal immigrants. Since the election, though, he has suggested that the deportation efforts would focus on individuals with a criminal background, similar to the current policy under President Obama.

There is another option for reducing the population of “illegal aliens”: Make them legal.

This is a bolder, more comprehensive, approach, which has been undertaken in the past. It is worth remembering that in 1986, President Ronald Reagan implemented a sweeping legalization program that resulted in nearly 3 million people becoming legal residents of the United States. He’d said during his 1984 re-election campaign: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally.” It is time again to make a bold move like the one President Reagan made three decades ago.

If President-elect Trump chooses not to deport all of those who are here illegally – just as successive Republican and Democratic administrations have chosen not to do – then our immigration policy should be reformed to allow them to stay with the full protection of the law and the obligation to pay taxes.

A path to citizenship should be provided, allowing those who came here illegally to fully contribute to our society without fear of deportation or unjust treatment. This remedy is especially important for those children who were brought here by their families and are now adults or nearing adulthood.

Deporting them to a country that has never been their home would be cruel. Instead, these “dreamers” should be made full citizens of the United States and be allowed to realize their full potential as human beings.

In addition to providing a path to citizenship for immigrants who are already living in the United States, the Trump administration and the new Congress should also make reforms to encourage talented science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals to come to our country. STEM professionals are in demand throughout the world, and the United States is no exception.

There is a false notion underlying legal immigration that any job that goes to a foreign-born worker is a job lost by a U.S. citizen. In reality, hospitals, universities and technology businesses hire foreign workers because they are in desperate need of their skills.

As an immigration lawyer who works with such institutions across the country, I see this happening every day. While the United States is competing on a global stage for these talented professionals, our government is hamstringing the STEM sector by cutting off the number of H-1B visas granted each year at 85,000. Over the past few years, 200,000 to 300,000 of these work visas have been requested annually by U.S. companies, so two-thirds of requested visas are not granted. That means that talented doctors, computer scientists, drug researchers and engineers are contributing to the economies and scientific gains of other countries – not the United States.

The United States simply cannot afford to lose STEM professionals to other countries, as the global economy will continue to be driven by innovations in science and technology. We need to shift our immigration policy to welcome more STEM workers, and lifting the cap on H-1B visas would be a major step in the right direction.

The new administration has a mandate to fix our immigration system. It can be done – but only if the solutions are smart and compassionate and address the real needs of our communities and businesses.

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Greg Kesich: Checks and balances on president soon to get a major workout http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/greg-kesich-checks-and-balances-on-president-soon-to-get-a-major-workout/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/11/greg-kesich-checks-and-balances-on-president-soon-to-get-a-major-workout/#respond Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135946 Meryl Streep will not be leading the revolution.

It’s nice to know that the multiple award-winning actress used a moment at the Golden Globe Award show this week to voice her opposition to violence, bullying and demeaning portrayals of people with disabilities.

But speaking out against the government won’t exactly get you blacklisted in today’s Hollywood, so criticizing (by inference) the president-elect is a fairly safe move for a beloved liberal. It was an occasion for some social media chatter and not much else.

Susan Collins won’t be leading the revolution either, but she did something this week that was far more subversive than Streep’s comments but didn’t draw anywhere near as much attention.

Collins introduced an amendment with four Republican senators that would delay the repeal of Obamacare for about a month, giving members of Congress more time to come up with an alternative.

It may not sound like much. Putting off a decision until early March is hardly radical when you are talking about repealing a law that is famously thousands of pages long.

But it puts everyone on notice that there are at least five Republican senators who are not comfortable with repealing the law without a replacement in hand, and only three Republican defectors would be needed to stop repeal dead in its tracks.

Collins didn’t win many liberal friends Tuesday when she introduced Sen. Jeff Sessions to the Judiciary Committee as Donald Trump’s nominee to be attorney general. But outrage over Sessions’ appointment should not overshadow the fact that she has launched the most effective defense of the Affordable Care Act that we are likely to see this winter. Delay may save health insurance for millions of people, and could keep the government from defunding Planned Parenthood, something that liberal lions in the Senate are only in a position to talk about.

Collins has made it clear in the past that she is no fan of Obamacare – she never voted for it and has been a consistent advocate for a more market-driven approach to health coverage – but she’s not about to turn a campaign slogan into policy either. Her concern for the 20 million Americans (and 80,000 Mainers) who got coverage because of the reform law stops her from getting sloppy with its repeal.

Which puts her in the vanguard of a revolution of sorts – call it “the checks and balances revolution.”

Ever since Trump’s election, people have compared him to a Third World dictator who would wield power any way he pleased. In response, others have said that America is different. We have institutions that would prevent even a president from grabbing too much power.

We are going to find out if that’s true, but this move by Collins and the others is encouraging.

Any delay to the ACA repeal effort is sure to make the final result better, because the more you think about the issue, the less simple it starts to look.

When you really dig into it, the ACA does a lot of things that most Americans want. After you make it illegal to deny people insurance because they are sick and allow adults under 26 to stay on a parent’s policy, you may have to keep at least some of what makes the critics so mad – like mandating that everyone has to buy a policy – to keep the markets from collapsing into chaos.

Repealing the ACA could turn into a big rebranding operation. Throw some gold paint on it, call it “Trumpcare” and move on.

The president has tremendous power to direct government, but if institutions like the Senate or the courts can stand up to him, he won’t be able to run it like he runs his businesses (into bankruptcy).

The Senate stopped Franklin Roosevelt from packing the Supreme Court in 1937. The Supreme Court forced Nixon to turn over the tapes in 1974. These institutions have been tested before, but we are going to find out if they can still flex their muscles today.

One institution that has not yet found its footing is the Democratic Party.

If A-list celebrities were the only ones allowed to vote, Hillary Clinton would be working on her inaugural address. Donald Trump couldn’t even attract Ralph and Potsie from the “Happy Days” cast and had to settle for Chachi as his celebrity endorser.

But Democrats should remember that while people like Meryl Streep and Bruce Springsteen were warming up the crowds, Trump was filling large venues with people who wanted to hear what he had to say.

Until Democrats can do that, there won’t be any alternative to the Trump agenda.

In the meantime, Collins and the other co-sponsors can do something that no Democrat can, which is slow down the Obamacare repeal and keep insurance coverage for millions of people.

That would be pretty revolutionary.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at www.pressherald.com/podcast.

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

gkesich@pressherald.com

Twitter @gregkesich

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Our View: LePage’s budget proposal is too stuck in the past http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/our-view-lepages-budget-proposal-is-too-stuck-in-the-past/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/our-view-lepages-budget-proposal-is-too-stuck-in-the-past/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135362 Gov. LePage’s biennial budget proposal is about what you would expect to see from someone who has been in office for six years.

Despite a few new wrinkles, like a new school funding formula (details to come) and a promise to overcome his bond phobia in order to pay for road repairs, the budget that was released late Friday evening promised a return to the unfinished battles of the last three legislative sessions, things the governor has wanted for a while but has not been able to get, often because of opposition he faced even inside his own party.

Think of this budget as a greatest hits package, not a new album.

And if the past is any indication, the budget proposal should not be considered an opening bid in a collaborative process. The governor has treated the last two biennial budgets as take-it-or-leave-it propositions and has not been interested in finding common ground. Both had to be passed over his veto.

So unless Gov. LePage has decided that the best way to get things done would be to change his way of doing things, we can expect him to do more heckling than bargaining as legislators try to craft a bipartisan spending plan that is capable of getting two-thirds support in both houses.

As they do, we hope that they will be more focused on the future and not just rehash the ideas of the past.

One nonstarter should be the governor’s pet solution to all problems – cutting taxes on millionaires in the hope that they will generate economic growth.

LePage pushed through significant income tax cuts in his first budget, and the results are in: While the entire country rebounded from the Great Recession, Maine was one of only seven states that did not recover the number of jobs that it had lost when the national economy crashed. Maine had the worst job growth in New England despite having one of the lowest tax rates. Lower taxes did not deliver superior economic growth in comparison with other states that did not raise taxes.

LePage’s tax policy did have an effect: By reducing the ability of the state to meet its responsibilities, it put more pressure on communities and school districts, who in turn put more pressure on property tax payers.

In order to pay for tax cuts like the elimination of the levy on estates valued at more than $5 million, LePage is proposing even deeper cuts to programs for poor families, including eliminating health insurance for parents of kids who qualify for MaineCare. And he wants to eliminate state support for General Assistance, the last resort for the poorest of the poor.

The state is a different place than it was in 2011, when Gov. LePage came to office.

Our population is older and sicker than it was then, and many of the manufacturing companies that anchored communities are gone for good.

The 2017-2018 budget should be looking ahead to find ways to get new businesses to start up and grow, attracting and retaining young people who want to live here and start families.

It should at the very least present a plan for investing in education and human services so that every child has enough to eat and a secure place to live.

Maine can’t afford to spend another two years refighting the same six-year-old battles. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate should find a way to look ahead, with the governor’s participation or without it.

]]> http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/our-view-lepages-budget-proposal-is-too-stuck-in-the-past/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1135362_909838-State-budget-3-pack-.jpgTaxes, education and infrastructure would be part of any budget proposal, but Gov. LePage's latest rehash of unsuccessful ideas shows a lack of forward thinking.Mon, 09 Jan 2017 22:57:13 +0000 Charles Lawton: Sure, all politics are local, but now all economics are, too http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/tip-oneills-advice-still-true-but-now-all-economics-is-local/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/tip-oneills-advice-still-true-but-now-all-economics-is-local/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135368 Back in the 1980s, then-Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously declared: “All politics is local.” This aphorism served as a useful tool for navigating the ideological divide between him and Republican President Reagan, and allowed them to achieve significant advances in, among others, the issues of tax reform and modifications of Social Security.

Today, we face similar challenges in both of those issues as well as others involving health care, international trade and government regulation of economic policy. Today, however, the divide is less between Democrats and Republicans than between globalists and nationalists, and the applicable aphorism that could guide a pragmatic rapprochement between the two sides is: “All economics is local.”

For nationalists, the simple solution to the loss of jobs to international competitors is: “Slap a tariff on the imported product, and keep the jobs here.” The pragmatic response of global producers is: “Build plants in target markets, and import the parts from the most competitive suppliers.” Both Fords and Toyotas become “American” cars and the easily identified “jobs” problem becomes a scattered (and thereby less political) problem of finding the logistical and supply-chain location of a myriad of far smaller and less well-known parts suppliers. In Maine, the phenomenon is manifest in the decline of former well-known legacy paper mills (International Paper, Great Northern Paper) producing advertising flyers and tissue paper sold in the U.S. and the simultaneous strengthening of the local (Westbrook) branch of the international company (Sappi) that uses its invented and patented in Maine “release paper” technology to supply high value design components to global industries ranging from automobiles to shoes and apparel.

A simple-minded nationalist policy to “protect U.S. paper mills” would, in actual application, help some regions of Maine while hurting others. The same effects would apply to virtually every sector of Maine’s economy. We need look no farther than the effects on our largest industry, tourism, of the rising value of the U.S. dollar relative to the Canadian dollar to see the negative consequences of simple, across-the-board solutions applied to complex, interconnected problems.

Equally true is the growing recognition among all Maine businesses that the most serious threat facing our economy is the ever more clearly emerging shortage of workers. Forget about the complex, highly skilled labor force of the future, our first and foremost problem now is simply to replace the workers we have today. According to the most recent projections from the Department of Labor, about 90 percent of the job openings over the next decade will be to fill expected vacancies created by current employees who retire or die. Maine’s overriding economic problem today is talent acquisition.

And therein lies the usefulness of the “all economics is local” aphorism. In the old days, economic development at the local level was largely about real estate – create an industrial park, bring in the utilities and troll for commercial/industrial catches. Today, the central resource is people. Therefore, the key to developing a community is its attractiveness to capable workers. This means creating a range of housing options, quality schools, ease of access to major transportation links, availability of high-speed internet access and a close relationship between businesses and educational enterprises.

And increasingly, these characteristics are within the realm of local policymakers to affect. While many lament the lack of financial support from Augusta and the increasing burden on local property tax payers, municipal leaders in tune with the opportunities for growth in Maine and with their power to make the most of those opportunities have far greater power than they think. Working closely with businesses that are increasingly obsessed with “talent acquisition,” it is increasingly within their power through innovative educational programs, business welcoming regulatory practices and a focus on diversifying zoning and housing policies to make their towns and cities places where the workers Maine’s businesses so desperately need will want to live. While national and state governments are likely to remain mired in the ideological battles of the recent past, cities and towns have the opportunity to appeal to and build on the pragmatic call to action that the election results of 2016 seem to indicate their citizens want.

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

cttlaw3@gmail.com

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Maine Voices: Take sides with the water protectors, in Maine or North Dakota http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/maine-voices-take-sides-with-the-water-protectors-in-maine-or-north-dakota/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/maine-voices-take-sides-with-the-water-protectors-in-maine-or-north-dakota/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135381 “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

– Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

BANGOR — I had to act. When I saw the live Facebook stream of the attack on water protectors near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, I drove out to North Dakota to stand with them.

Seeing rubber bullets, tear gas, concussion grenades, water hoses and high-tech sonic equipment deployed against citizens peacefully protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline reminded me of footage of Selma, Alabama, in 1965, when unarmed peaceful Freedom Riders were brutally attacked by police. I thought America was done with this type of government-led violence, but racism and the power of money still rule.

When I arrived, I spoke with a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who was present for the events of Nov. 20 and 21. He recounted the terrible morning when the National Guard and law enforcement fired rubber bullets and sprayed water on campfires that people were using to stay warm, before turning the hoses on the people themselves. The temperature was below freezing; over 300 people were injured, and 26 were hospitalized with injuries including hypothermia.

Thousands showed up over a two-day period prior to eviction day, Dec. 5. Action training was given, a very sobering training on how to protect oneself and look out for the safety of others during actions taken by authorities, water protectors or both. Trainers shared that all communications were being monitored by authorities and that informants for the oil company and law enforcement were known to be in camp.

A news conference made clear that all actions taken by the Standing Rock Sioux water protectors had been done and would be done in a “peaceful and prayerful” manner, in the words of David Archambault II, spokesperson for the tribe.

The national media didn’t turn out in great numbers to cover Standing Rock until the beginning of December. I had tried in vain in Bangor to get the local ABC and CBS affiliates to run stories, but apparently local stations will run only stories that their national affiliates would run. Where have the mainstream media been? Does the color of one’s skin make a difference? Does the power of money?

On Dec. 4, a group of about 200 veterans led by Wesley Clark Jr. gathered at Cannon Ball, North Dakota, just south of the encampment to hear Iraq veteran and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii thank them for standing in solidarity with the water protectors. When she was finished, Clark emphasized that the Sioux Nation was in charge and the veterans would follow the Sioux Nation’s lead, helping out the people in camp rather than pursuing direct action.

More veterans continued to arrive during the day. A walk was in the works to the area where the barriers and law enforcement on Highway 1806 could be seen when word spread in camp that the easement allowing the pipeline to run under the river had been denied. A great sense of relief and celebration spread throughout the ranks of the veterans and the camp.

How do the actions of our government at Standing Rock apply to Maine? The administration of Gov. LePage is trying to make it easier for mining companies to dig into mountains here in Maine. That will pollute the pristine water in Maine’s lakes and streams.

The actions taken in North Dakota are directly tied to Maine. By standing up for clean water in North Dakota, we stand up for clean water in Maine and other parts of the U.S. If we fail to stand up and speak out for the water protectors, then we are complicit in pulling the triggers that send the rubber bullets or the tear gas into the water protectors.

Martin Luther King Jr. made that very clear. If we do not stand up against the violence against our neighbors, then we condone such violence. If we do not speak out against violence, then our silence speaks loudly for us. So where do you stand? For violence or against violence? For protecting water or polluting water?

In the coming years, water, a necessity of life, will be more valuable than oil. We must stand up for the water protectors and clean water, speak out against violence and take action.

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Abrupt repeal of Obamacare could cause instability, collapse insurance markets http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/abrupt-repeal-of-aca-could-cause-instability-collapse-insurance-markets/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/10/abrupt-repeal-of-aca-could-cause-instability-collapse-insurance-markets/#respond Tue, 10 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1135393 For 30 years, Maine has been at the forefront in addressing problems in the health insurance market that make health insurance unavailable or unaffordable.

Maine governors and state legislators of both parties as well as independents collaborated to devise innovative laws, with varying degrees of success, to help stabilize the health insurance market in Maine and make it fair for consumers and health insurers alike. Nonetheless, this has been difficult due to the relatively small size of the market and the uncertainty about who would purchase policies each year.

As former chief insurance regulators in Maine, we believe that the best form of consumer protection is to ensure that consumers can make informed decisions when purchasing coverage from financially sound companies in a healthy competitive marketplace. The health insurance market, like other markets, seeks a measure of predictability for the firms offering products in those markets. We are concerned that some of the contemplated actions in Washington, D.C., could have terrible consequences for thousands of Maine citizens.

Maine has been a leader in empowering consumers and seeking to create a stable market for insurers. Since 1992, Maine citizens have had protections for pre-existing conditions. However, many Mainers have struggled to buy and keep their health insurance because of cost. The market reforms that Maine and other New England states had already adopted served as the model for the ACA, such as protecting people with pre-existing conditions. The ACA has helped nearly 85,000 Mainers afford health insurance by reducing their monthly premiums (also called advanced premium tax credit) and has helped reduce out-of-pocket expenses like co-insurance and copays through cost-sharing reductions.

The ACA also tried to strengthen the individual health insurance market, which is inherently fragile. Historically, the business risk in the individual health insurance market was driven by the likelihood that only sick people would enroll, along with the regulatory requirements imposed on the market participants. The ACA includes a number of important elements designed to stabilize and shore up the private individual health insurance market.

To ensure that both healthy people and those with medical needs enrolled, the ACA requires everyone to be covered and includes a tax penalty for people who choose not to do so. This mandate is important because insurance pools operate under the law of large numbers and must have healthy people in addition to sick enrollees. The ACA’s requirement for individuals to be insured also helps keep the individual health insurance market predictable for insurers and the risk pool stable. The basic principles of insurance only work if people purchase insurance as a part of a large pool on an ongoing basis – without knowing whether one will need to file a claim this year, next year or ever.

The problem is that the “repeal” approaches under consideration in Washington create uncertainty with negative implications for private health insurance markets, especially the individual market. Knowing the rules enables insurers to assess whether they can be viable in a state or a market. In some states there is already only one statewide insurer; a further loss of insurers means that there would be no private health insurance options. Absent private insurance options, individuals would be responsible for the full cost of their medical care or compelled to rely on public programs. Neither option offers financial security for the individual or the government.

Also, insurers in the individual market and in the exchange marketplaces used several key assumptions based on existing law when they set their premiums for 2017. These assumptions included the individual responsibility requirement and the risk stabilization mechanisms. If Congress were to repeal the law without first replacing it with new provisions that keep people covered and based on sound actuarial analyses, such action would render the assumptions built into 2017 rates for the individual market incorrect and likely contribute to insurer withdrawal.

For insurers staying in a market, an uncertain regulatory environment could impose financial pressure on insurer solvency. These concerns would further destabilize individual markets, possibly resulting in large premium increases, the need for state financial support, and even regulators stepping in to prohibit insurers from enrolling new customers in order to prevent an insolvency.

As we know in Maine from careful study and bipartisan efforts over many years, any changes to the individual health insurance market must be pursued with extreme caution. As former insurance regulators, we are very concerned that abrupt or ill-considered changes to the current system without the careful and considered input of objective actuarial and market analyses could cause the individual health insurance markets to collapse in many states, and in Maine, thousands of Mainers to lose their health coverage.

 

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Maine Voices: Sessions’ record suggests he wouldn’t do justice to women’s rights http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/09/maine-voices-sessions-record-suggests-he-wouldnt-do-justice-to-womens-rights/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/01/09/maine-voices-sessions-record-suggests-he-wouldnt-do-justice-to-womens-rights/#respond Mon, 09 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1134586 AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the nomination of U.S. Sen. Jefferson Sessions to become the 83rd attorney general of the United States.

The hearing comes more than 20 years after John Salvi, a deeply troubled abortion opponent, murdered two staff members and injured five others at two women’s health centers in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Salvi fled and was arrested in Norfolk, Virginia, within 48 hours. His 1994 murder spree was the latest during an 18-month period in which Dr. David Gunn was murdered in Florida (1993); Dr. George Tiller was shot in both arms in Kansas (1993); and Dr. John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard, James Barrett, were shot and killed in Florida (1994). These victims were all abortion providers. (Tiller survived the 1993 attack; he did not survive a subsequent attack in 2009.)

The effect of the Brookline killings on abortion providers was regionwide and immediate. In Maine, the state’s largest provider of abortion care closed his practice. (Later it was revealed that a shot had been fired into the door of the building housing the doctor’s practice and a threatening note pinned above the bullet hole.) Within months of the Brookline violence, three physicians in Maine’s midcoast area followed suit.

In response to the provider crisis, Gov. John McKernan convened a meeting at the Blaine House of abortion providers, including several physicians, and three nonprofit women’s health care providers. The doctors gathered at Maine Family Planning’s Augusta site and were transported to the governor’s residence by state troopers.

At the news conference following the meeting, McKernan encouraged the state attorney general, Michael Carpenter, to find a solution that allowed women safe access to abortion care.

Carpenter’s office provided critical assistance in helping one provider, Maine Family Planning, to locate a safe site in Augusta where since 1996 women have been able to access abortion care and where medical residents from across the state are trained to provide the service.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno founded the National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers and dispatched federal marshals across the nation, wherever credible threats of possible violence were reported.

Twenty-three years later, we have Jeff Sessions as Donald Trump’s nominee to become the U.S. attorney general. Why should Maine women and their families be concerned?

As the very first U.S. senator to come out in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy, Sessions – a lawyer, a former aspirant to the federal bench and now the likely attorney general in a Trump administration – said he wasn’t sure that grabbing a woman by her genitals constituted sexual assault.

As a senator, he has voted against funding for the Violence Against Women Act, has sponsored and supported numerous attempts to limit access to abortion, and has voted to defund abortion providers.

Sessions is a darling of the anti-abortion lobby, having recently served as an honorary co-chair at the 40th anniversary dinner of Americans United for Life.

He has a 0 percent lifetime rating from NARAL, and the John Birch Society rates him among the four most conservative members of the U.S. Senate.

As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, he and his Justice Department will be responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws intended to protect a host of groups who have every reason to fear this man’s ascension to power, including women seeking to access abortion care and the medical professionals who risk their lives to make that care available.

During a time of extreme abortion-related violence, Gov. McKernan – a Republican – and Maine Attorney General Michael Carpenter – a Democrat – joined U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno and set aside whatever political differences they may have had to enforce the law. Judiciary Committee members need to do the same by questioning Sessions closely about his willingness to vigorously enforce the laws meant to protect women and those who serve them.

A strong signal needs to be sent that Sessions and President-elect Trump will be held accountable by those of us in Maine who support a woman’s right to decide her reproductive future, both for their actions – and for their failures to act.

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