The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Opinion Mon, 26 Sep 2016 15:46:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Maine Voices: History lesson vindicates students protesting national anthem Mon, 26 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I write in response to the Sept. 15 Associated Press article “High schoolers joining chorus of anthem protesters” (Page A5) that presented the difficulties that school administrators experience when students make visible social protests during the national anthem.

The author mentioned that in 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of public school students in Iowa who had worn black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.

As more students are now making their own decisions about the anthem, and as administrators struggle to respond, I’d like to offer information about the 1969 Iowa decision, Tinker v. Des Moines, and its importance to students.

I interviewed John Tinker, a key plaintiff in this case, in 1990 while researching my book about young people in U.S. history. In 1965, John Tinker, then 15, and his 13-year-old sister, Mary Beth, were part of an Iowa family of war protesters.

John recalled, “I opposed our involvement in Vietnam because it was a war. I didn’t believe that there were good wars and bad wars. I was brought up to value human life and to see war as a defeat.”

His view didn’t win him many friends at school as Vietnam was heating up and other students’ family members were going off to Southeast Asia.

During a 2013 Associated Press interview, Mary Beth Tinker holds a 1968 photo of herself and her brother John, proudly displaying their armbands after the Supreme Court agreed to hear their free-speech case. Manuel Balce Ceneta

During a 2013 Associated Press interview, Mary Beth Tinker holds a 1968 photo of herself and her brother John, proudly displaying their armbands after the Supreme Court agreed to hear their free-speech case. Manuel Balce Ceneta

After attending an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C., John, Mary Beth, their neighbor Chris Eckhardt and about a dozen friends decided to wear black armbands to school as an anti-war protest. On the appointed day John put on a dark suit coat and a tie to show respect for his school, stuffed the armband in his coat pocket and walked out the door.

After homeroom he went into the restroom to pin the armband on, but his hands were trembling too hard. A friend came in and helped him. Nobody noticed the armband until lunch, when students called him “Commie.”

An hour later he was summoned to the principal, who told him to remove the armband. John wouldn’t budge and was sent home. Mary Beth and Chris were also expelled. They stayed out four days, until Christmas break.

During the break, media coverage fueled anger against the Tinkers. One radio talk show host offered to lend a gun to anyone who would shoot John and Mary Beth’s dad.

John recalled, “At night I would lie in my bed wondering, ‘If someone throws a grenade through the window, what will I do? Dive into the closet? Put the mattress over my head?’ ”

Over the holiday break, the Iowa chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union proposed suing the Des Moines school system on the grounds that public school students had been denied their right to free speech under the Constitution’s First Amendment. The protesters returned to school – still wearing black but without the armbands, so they could keep studying.

In April 1966, the protesters’ case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, was heard in federal court. John, Mary Beth and Chris testified.

The Tinkers’ lawyers argued that a hastily passed rule prohibiting armbands – passed only when school officials caught wind of the protest – cut off the students’ right to free speech. The school countered that the rule was necessary to maintain discipline.

The judge sided with the school system. The protesters pushed their case through the courts and argued it before the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall of 1968.

In the spring of 1969, it was announced that the Tinker side had won by a 7-2 majority.

Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, writing for the majority, said, “School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school as well as out of school are persons under our Constitution. In our system, students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the State chooses to communicate. They may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved. … Children do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door.”

The decision still affects students. The Iowa armband case made it clear that school officials can discipline students who disrupt class, or graffiti the halls, or bully classmates, but they can’t stifle political expression.

A student decision to stick one’s neck out to support an unpopular but deeply held principle, especially in the early stages of a public disagreement, is difficult and scary.

I write this only so that young people struggling now with our anthem, and the adults who work with them, will know that they are not alone in history.


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Our View: School changes pave way for Maine teacher shortage Mon, 26 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 School officials throughout Maine are struggling more than ever to fill teaching slots for special education. Foreign language educators are becoming so hard to find that some schools are using software to teach classes instead.

That’s the ground-floor effect of a nationwide teacher shortage that has escalated in recent years and shows few signs of letting up. It’s led to the canceling of courses and put unqualified teachers in classrooms across the country.

In some cases, it’s an indication that the skills used in teaching are simply more valuable elsewhere. College students with a facility for science and math, for example, can find much more lucrative jobs in other fields.

But it is also the cumulative result of a number of changes in education that have left teachers feeling undervalued and overburdened, and looking for a way out. It is a crisis in the making that if not solved will further harm K-12 education in Maine and throughout the country, particularly in poor areas where schools are already struggling.


The shortage, detailed in a recent report by the nonpartisan Learning Policy Institute, comes as school districts are refilling positions cut during the Great Recession. Nationwide, there were 60,000 fewer teachers than needed in 2015, and the report suggests the deficit could reach 100,000 by 2018.

The shortage is fueled largely by the high turnover rate in education. Each year, 8 percent of teachers leave the profession, and teachers themselves are telling us why.

Inadequate school funding means many classrooms have to make do without necessary equipment and supplies, unless teachers buy them with their own money.

Standardized testing takes up too much time, and takes much of the fun and creativity out of teaching. Unions have lost power, and teachers are in some cases being evaluated using questionable metrics.

Students are exhibiting disruptive and even dangerous behaviors at a troubling rate.

A 2013 Washington Post poll found teacher satisfaction declined 23 points in five years, to a 25-year low of 39 percent. More than half of teachers reported feeling “great stress” on the job, up 15 points since 1985.

The institute’s report shows that teachers in Maine feel more autonomy in the classroom and less pressure to “teach to the test” than their counterparts nationwide, a good sign.

But there are still statewide shortages in a number of content areas, including math, science and languages, and the problem is particularly acute in Maine’s poor, rural areas, just as it is across the country.

In areas where shortages are particularly bad, schools are forced to cut programs, increase class sizes and use teachers who are inexperienced or outside of their usual content areas. As a result, the quality of education suffers.


There is little help on the way. Enrollment in teacher preparation programs nationwide dropped by 35 percent from 2009 to 2014, and the number of education degrees awarded in Maine fell to 787 last year, from 1,222 at its peak in 2006-07.

But increasing the number of students who go into teaching won’t do any good if they leave education well before retirement.

The Learning Policy Institute recommends increasing pay and offering loan forgiveness and compensation packages that include housing and child care to attract and retain teachers, who earn 20 percent less than similarly educated college graduates.

Some of those initiatives were part of a teacher preparation program that was suggested by President Obama at the beginning of his first term but quickly dropped. It should be given another opportunity.

There should also be an effort to better prepare principals as well, since they create, for better or worse, the atmosphere in which teachers work.

From what teachers say, that atmosphere has been worsening for years. It’s time to turn it around, and put teachers in a better position to succeed.

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Cynthia Dill: Can Lester Holt make America’s debates great again? Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Join me in giving a big warm thanks to all the parents borrowing $58,440 a year to send their kid to Hofstra University, where an anticipated 100 million viewers will tune in Monday night for the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Only the Super Bowl and the 1983 finale of “M*A*S*H” have hit the 100-million viewer mark on television, so the pressure on Lester “Iron Pants” Holt Jr., the moderator, is huge.

“His nickname is ‘Iron Pants’ because he is in the anchor chair so much,” Lester Holt Sr. said of his son, who didn’t finish college and got his big break taking over the hot seat at NBC Nightly News when Brian Williams, another college dropout, got caught lying about events as a war correspondent in Iraq.

Holt’s iron pants will go well with Clinton’s choke collar and Trump’s loincloth Monday night as these gladiators treat us to 90 minutes of blood sport, euphemistically described as “in-depth discussion of the leading issues facing the nation” by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation that’s been putting on presidential debates since 1988 and creator of the official debate Twitter hashtags #debates and #debates2016 that produce cute little podium emojis just for the occasion.

College students at Hofstra and everywhere may learn some valuable lessons Monday night. Maybe the issue of college affordability and student debt will get some air time between another go-round about Hillary’s email and Donald Trump’s new shiny hotel in Washington.

Mr. Trump, is the $3 million rent you agreed to pay per year to Uncle Sam to lease the 117-year-old postal facility where your shiny new hotel is located on Pennsylvania Avenue a very good deal, a great deal or a beautiful deal?

Is the $120 “Trump Tower” snack sold in the bar – a 1-pound lobster, 8 oysters, 4 clams, 4 shrimp, blue crab cocktail, cocktail sauce, mignonette and old bay aioli – available to go in plastic containers? And to follow up, how many coal miners will this deal put back to work?

Which think tank is more crooked, Mr. Trump, Forbes, that pegs the deficit your economic plan will create at $5.3 trillion, or the Brookings Institution, that calculates a $10 trillion deficit under your plan?

When can we expect you to sue somebody over reports that you paid your personal legal claims with foundation money?

Do you agree with your doctor that your lab results showing a testosterone level of 441 is “astonishingly excellent?”

How artful is the deal you negotiated with Vladimir Putin to keep Russian hackers away from your tax returns?

Nobody thinks Trump is smarter than Clinton or more experienced or prepared. It’s not even debatable. The election is a show for Trump, a stage for him to do his braggadocio schtick. Whether he wins or not, he intends to make himself a profit. Everyone agrees he knows nothing about the intricacies of diplomacy or governance. He’s never created a policy or performed a public service in his life. The leading issue facing the nation is that nobody seems to care.

“Debate Prep” is even a new dumb thing this year – a caricature like everything else.

Trump “is approaching the debate like a Big Man on Campus who thinks his last-minute term paper will be dazzling simply because he wrote it,” the New York Times reported as fact, not opinion.

Does anyone doubt that Hillary Clinton has been studying the facts and research available on every issue that matters to voters?

Imagine if we were able to hear what her plans are to increase economic security for families and solve problems, and then hear a response to her ideas from Trump that doesn’t include name calling.

If Monday night Hillary Clinton can get through her obligatory apology for all the sins committed anywhere by anyone with sufficient contrition, leaving herself enough time to share details of her plans for criminal justice reform, expanded healthcare access, tax policy, clean energy and how ISIS terrorists will be hunted down and killed, while smiling and using her indoor voice, she’ll do very well as long as moderator Lester Holt doesn’t let Trump dumb the whole thing down.

The Republican primary debates were tormenting cockfights that were excruciating to watch, and obviously challenging to moderate, given Trump’s braggadocio. God help us if that is the new norm of political dialogue.

“But the thing that I am most proud of is that he is one of the best human beings you will ever have the opportunity to meet,” the elder Holt said about his son. “He is just a good person, very giving and caring. That’s who he is. The rest is just accomplishments due to talent and opportunity,” he said of the guy who could possibly make America’s debates great again.

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

Twitter: dillesquirew

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Our View: Hillary Clinton is our choice for president Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 You are going to see two candidates on stage Monday in Hempstead, New York, and one of them will be the next president of the United States. We don’t need to watch the debate to make our choice.

In our view, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the most qualified people ever to run for the office, and she easily earns our endorsement. She has both executive branch and legislative experience as well as an expert’s depth of knowledge in both domestic and foreign policy. Electing the first woman president would open millions of doors to millions of women and girls – not just a symbolic victory, but also an actual step forward in the centuries-long struggle for equal rights.

Republican Donald J. Trump is not in Clinton’s league in matters of experience, character, judgment and discipline. But while the candidates may not be close, the polls say that the race is, and that’s why it’s important for voters to take a hard look at the two people on the debate stage.

You don’t have share our opinion of Clinton’s worth to agree with us that Trump’s election would be a disaster for this country. And if you come to that conclusion, you have only one choice, and that is to vote for Clinton for president.

Donald Trump may be the worst major-party candidate in history. He is self-centered, reckless and mean-spirited. He is a salesman who has never sold anything other than himself, and leaves a trail of broken promises, lawsuits and bankruptcies wherever he goes. He is ignorant about government and world affairs but talks as if he knows it all.

And he takes advantage of racial, ethnic and religious tensions to build support for himself. His careless rhetoric has brought nativists and racists out of the shadows and has spread distrust and division. Trump doesn’t have the character or the judgment to be the president of the United States, and in any normal year, his candidacy would be a joke.

But it’s not a joke this year, and that is partly Clinton’s fault.

Her need for secrecy and control led to a completely avoidable email scandal, which may end up costing her the presidency.

She didn’t need to rejoin the Clinton Foundation board when she left the State Department, and she should have anticipated the negative reaction that decision caused. Even her supporters at times wonder what she’s thinking.

But her negative image is not entirely her fault. Over the decades she has been the center of many false scandals. She’s been accused of murdering her law partner and perpetrating a plot to have the government seize control of the internet. Some of these charges are laughable, but their sheer number creates an impression that there must be something behind them. Clinton also faces a double standard under which any misstatement or elision by her is branded a lie, while the same people laugh when her male opponent does much worse.

Clinton has flaws, but they do not come close to Trump’s, which will force some voters to make a difficult choice.

There will be two candidates on the stage but four on the ballot, and some Mainers will look at the minor-party candidates as a way to vote “none of the above.” Libertarian Gary Johnson is pulling 12 percent of the Maine vote according to our poll, as opposed to 8 percent nationally. Green Party nominee Jill Stein is pulling 3 percent in our Maine poll.

Some of these are protest votes from people who are disgusted by the state of politics in 2016, but the voting booth is not a suggestion box. It’s either Clinton or Trump who will be standing on the Capitol steps next January.

Republicans who can’t stand the idea of helping put Donald Trump in the White House have only one choice, and it’s to swallow hard and vote for Hillary Clinton. Not because they think she would be a good president but because they know Trump would be much, much worse.

And Bernie Sanders supporters who say they could never bring themselves to vote for Clinton have to acknowledge that if they don’t, they will be helping elect someone antithetical to Sanders’ progressive agenda. That will be just as true if they vote for a third-party candidate or leave their ballot blank as if they fill in the oval next to Trump’s name.

There will be a time for them to protest Clinton, but it begins Nov. 9, the day after Election Day, not Nov. 8.

The next president will be on the stage Monday night, and Mainers should use their vote to make sure that it’s not Trump.

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Maine Voices: Arctic opportunities exist in Maine right now Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine’s opportunities in the Arctic and North Atlantic are real and exist today.

Communities in the North Atlantic share many economic and cultural similarities. The same fish species that have been harvested for centuries in the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine, such as cod and haddock, sustain commercial fisheries throughout the region. While the geography is vast, communities are small, leading to a common business culture that relies heavily on personal interaction and trust.

Maine’s opportunities in this region are not dependent on the demise of Arctic sea ice, with all its dire consequences for its inhabitants and the world, or even the opening of new Arctic shipping routes, which likely won’t be viable for many years

Rather, we have real opportunities that are available today. Those opportunities are not based on our proximity to the Arctic but rather on our connectivity to the North Atlantic region through relationships. Eimskip and the Maine Port Authority, for example, are working together to develop statewide opportunities through the Port of Portland.

Primary among these opportunities is the potential for establishing mutually beneficial trading relationships and cultural and educational exchanges.

The University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute has been undertaking glacial core samplings in the Arctic for more than four decades. The Maine Maritime Academy is working with the International Maritime Organization to provide ice navigation training for the Arctic. Bigelow Laboratory has recently founded the Centre for Venture Research on the Opening Arctic Ocean. Also, universities have established exchanges in the region, including the newly formed North Atlantic Education Consortium, led by the University of Southern Maine.

Our connections to the region have been fostered by Eimskip’s decision in 2013 to make Portland its logistical hub for North America.

The Icelandic steamship line provides Maine businesses with access to its trade network in the North Atlantic. The service gives Maine exporters and importers direct connection to a market of 330 million in Scandanavia and the rest of northern Europe. Eimskip has agents throughout the region who can help Maine companies develop trading partners.

Eimskip’s arrival in Maine has changed the state’s relationship with its neighbors in the North Atlantic and has opened entirely new markets and resources to the state, both for exports and imports, some of these in markets that were long ago mainstays of the Maine economy.

Because Eimskip is the premier carrier of refrigerated cargo in the North Atlantic, one immediate benefit of their arrival has been access to the rich, sustainable fisheries resources in the region for Maine processors and distributors. We can now source haddock from Norway, cod from Iceland, salmon from the Faroe Islands, and halibut and shrimp from Greenland and Newfoundland, for example. When you see “Frozen-At-Sea” or “FAS” haddock at Hannaford, it is likely imported from northern Norway on Eimskip vessels into the Port of Portland and is long-line fished, a method of fishing that is more sustainable than trawled.

We have also found expanded and new markets for Maine products, like blueberries, frozen processed lobster, and potato products. Because Iceland is an island nation, it imports virtually everything it consumes. This is similar to other niche markets in the Arctic and High North, such as Greenland, which is now part of Eimskip’s network.

Those consumables – including everything from household products to produce to automobiles and boats – are principally sourced from the United States or Europe. Many come through the terminal in Portland.

The Arctic community has taken notice of Maine’s increased engagement. The Arctic Council is holding six committee meetings, culminating in a meeting of Senior Arctic Officials, in Portland from Oct. 4 to Oct. 6, the first time such meetings are being held in the United States outside of Alaska and Washington, D.C. The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that provides a means for promoting cooperation among Arctic nations. This is Maine’s first chance to join in policy discussions about a region that has become a focus of global attention. You can learn more about these meetings and associated events at www.

Maine businesses and institutions should not wait for some unknown future before working to develop relationships in the region. Eimskip has given us the means to develop trading relationships in an area where we share a lot in common. We have much we can learn from our partners to the north. The opportunity is real. The opportunity is now. Our opportunity is to establish the enduring relationships in this region that will benefit Maine for generations to come.


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Commentary: Profanity’s getting a bad rap Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 I always seasoned my vocabulary with as many four-letter words as 50-cent ones, at least until my first child was born two years ago. That’s when I found myself – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit it – watching my language. Something deep in my subconscious told me that profanity might harm him in some way, that even a fleeting expletive, like a curse word uttered while stumbling over a child gate, could do lasting damage.

Because I was not only a new parent but also a cognitive scientist specializing in language, I decided to investigate the issue.

And I’m happy to report that, nowadays, if I drop an f-bomb in front of my kid, I don’t sweat it.

My deep-seated concern about profanity was the product of social conditioning. Through instruction and occasional punishment, we learn the lesson that certain words are bad for young minds. Our institutions reinforce that message. The Federal Communications Commission bans profanity on television and radio between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. The Motion Picture Association of America considers “strong language” when it rates new films.

Although police officers rarely enforce legal codes that prohibit public obscenity, adults caught swearing in front of children may find themselves in trouble. A woman named Danielle Wolf, for example, was arrested in a South Carolina supermarket for telling her husband, “Stop squishing the (obscenity) bread!” in front of her children. University of California at Riverside graduate student Elizabeth Venable was cited for using the same word (not “bread”) in front of families with small children at John Wayne Airport.

I’ve heard several theories for why swearing around kids is wrong. (I should be clear that I’m not talking about swearing at kids; verbal abuse is known to be psychologically damaging.) And these explanations don’t all revolve around etiquette or social norms. Some, like the American Academy of Pediatrics, argue that exposure to profanity is actually dangerous because it encourages aggression or will numb a child’s normal emotional reactions.

As far as I know, scientists have never conducted a controlled experiment aimed at uncovering the consequences of swearing in front of children; you can’t ethically justify exposing 5-year-olds to heavy cussing if there’s even the slightest risk of harm. But college students are another story. And we can extrapolate to children from experimental research conducted with adults.

The only profane words that demonstrably cause trouble are slurs. A 2014 study exposed 52 university students (average age: 21 years) to either a slur for homosexuals or a neutral term. Those who saw the slur subsequently thought that less money should go towards AIDS-HIV prevention efforts for “high risk groups.” In another, 61 participants (average age: 23) saw either a homosexual slur or a neutral label. The ones who saw the slur positioned their chairs physically farther away from a person they believed to be homosexual by an average of more than 10 centimeters.

Slurs may have similar or greater effects in children, who are less developed socially and cognitively. Indeed, correlational studies suggest as much. For instance, a study that followed 143 middle school students found that those who reported more exposure to homophobic slurs tended to report feeling less connected to their school lives. They also exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression.

But there’s no similar proof that exposure to ordinary profanity – four-letter words – causes any sort of direct harm: no increased aggression, stunted vocabulary, numbed emotions or anything else.

Of course, parents aren’t holding their tongues solely because they think hearing a bad word will turn their kid into a criminal. They also worry that their kid will turn around and use it. And yet the largest observational study – again we don’t have controlled experiments – found that childhood swearing is largely innocuous. Scientists documented children ages 1 to 12 naturally producing thousands of taboo utterances, and only rarely did they witness negative repercussions. On no occasion did swearing lead to physical violence. Instead, taboo words were used mostly for positive reasons, for instance humor, and mostly were not produced out of anger.

Still, I understand that, science aside, many adults simply don’t like the thought of children using profanity; they think it’s inappropriate, or unseemly or a sign of poor family values. After all, that’s how these adults were indoctrinated as children. A child who uses strong language may therefore risk punishment, among other negative reactions, at the hands of adults who don’t tolerate it.

So here’s the dilemma. Although there’s no evidence that either hearing or using run-of-the-mill profane words causes harm to children, a child who wanders out into the world with a mouth like a sailor could still cause harm to his reputation – and that of his parents.

I’ve come up with a compromise solution. I don’t censor myself because I know my child won’t suffer cognitive or emotional damage; and I don’t try to stop him from parroting me, in large part because I’m not delusional enough to think that would work.

But when I happen to swear around my kid, I provide some coaching. I engage him in an honest dialogue about why some words are OK in some places, but not others. Even a 2-year-old can understand that the f-word can be muttered consequence-free at home but might lead to a negative reaction when screamed in the supermarket.

Although my son might not achieve lapse-free tailoring of his language right away, context-sensitivity is not beyond a child’s reach. He’s already learning that some activities are appropriate in the bathroom or the doctor’s office, but not the schoolyard or classroom.

Through coaching, parents can help children develop a healthy relationship with their native tongue, including the parts that allow them to communicate their strongest emotions.

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Maine Observer: Dog teaches cat owner some new tricks Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 My husband and I have always had cats, but now that we are semi-retired and our cats have all died, our daughter decided that we should have a dog. She even found one for us among her schoolteacher friends, and suddenly we are owners of a 7-year-old black Lab named Breezy.

This may seem remarkable, but actually our last cats came from our children, who moved around a lot and had to instantly pass on the cats they loved to a good home – that is, our home. Now, in the mornings I walk the dog around our neighborhood and have discovered things I would never had noticed before:

The bird that seems to be saying “bree-zee, bree-zee” (or is it saying, “fee-bee, fee-bee?”); the drains, those dark holes near the road, which exhibit the most interesting smells that make you wonder what creature makes its home there; the special grass that smells so delightful that Breezy must roll in it and get it all over her body.

I have made the acquaintance of a large number of dogs in our neighborhood: Chalee, the beautiful, white, soulful, large dog who plods along the street; the little yappy dog who screams at us when we pass her house; the beautiful blonde dogs next door who look like their owner, to name a few. Oh, and, of course, the owners of the dogs who share their treats with Breezy when she begs beneath their treat bags.

And then there are the walks on Kennebunk beach in the evening. Breezy gets to the beach and races to the water.

She jumps the waves and seems to express my love of living near the ocean. Admittedly, we have to rinse and dry her off when we get home, but the cold water doesn’t bother her and she never gets tired of her plunge.

My friend recently said, “Whenever I see your beautiful dog, I think about how wonderful she is and rejoice that I don’t have a dog.”

My response was, “Oh, what we do for love.” But it isn’t just that I love my husband and daughter. I also love and am loved by this new creature in my life, Breezy, the big black Lab.

— Special to the Telegram

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Another View: Rep. John Martin wrong about referendum’s limits on gun repair Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In his guest editorial published in this paper (Sept. 18), Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, makes a brazenly false assertion about Question 3, the measure that would extend the current background check law to all gun sales.

Martin claims that dropping off a gun at a repair shop would require a background check under the new law.

I’ll bet gunsmiths who read Martin’s assertion cringe – not because they fear Martin’s scenario, but because Martin gets the law wrong.

Gun repair shops are required to have federal firearms licenses, and under federal law, these licenses have specific exemptions from background check requirements when repairing guns. A longtime lawmaker like Martin should be more than able to correctly read Question 3, but his effort to confuse voters is in perfect keeping with the gun lobby’s continued campaign to defeat common-sense legislation that has widespread support. Question 3 does nothing to change the process of getting a gun repaired. Simply put, Martin is wrong.

When it comes to referendum questions, attempts to confuse voters are nothing new. In the case of expanded background checks, opponents have driven off the cliff of reason.

They’ve claimed it will prevent them from hiring a babysitter; they’ve claimed it will prevent them from giving a gun to their son or daughter; they’ve even claimed it will hamstring efforts to fight off ISIS.

All of these claims are farce. Martin’s example is just the latest.

Let’s talk about the facts. Eighteen states have already adopted expanded background checks similar to what Maine voters will consider this November.

Of all the wild sky-is-falling scenarios opponents have concocted, the truth is that background checks are stopping dangerous people from getting guns without causing law-abiding citizens trouble.

Like other firearm enthusiasts, I’m quite familiar with the current background check system that has been in place since 1998. It has worked relatively well and has prevented more than 5,500 gun sales to dangerous people in Maine – felons, domestic-violence perpetrators and the severely mentally ill.

Unfortunately, a blind spot exists in the system. The same dangerous person who fails the check at L.L. Bean or at the gun shop can walk out, find a gun for sale online or in the classifieds and buy it with no background check and no questions asked.

Question 3 will close that loophole.

Background checks work. They are the most effective way to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on guns.

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Alan Caron: PUC favors conglomerates over Mainers building energy independence Sun, 25 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Gov. Paul LePage’s Public Utilities Commission has issued two of its most significant decisions over the last few months. Both dutifully reflected LePage’s incomprehensible energy strategies, favoring out-of-state fossil fuels conglomerates over Mainers trying to build energy independence.

None of it should come as a surprise, since LePage appointed all three PUC commissioners and he rarely appoints people who don’t follow orders.

The two decisions share this similarity: Both will cost you a lot more money, in the long run.

The first decision was to get behind a plan that would force electricity ratepayers to pay for new natural gas pipelines. The other would eventually eliminate support for homeowners and small businesses that install solar panels. Supporting new pipelines will cost ratepayers as much as a billion dollars. Supporting the growth of solar, by comparison, costs peanuts.

LePage loyalists, like House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, hailed the gas line decision. Industry lobbyists also raised their glasses in celebration. And why shouldn’t they? If pipelines are built, the charges will be buried in your electric bill. And while gas is flowing in, your dollars will be flowing out for decades to come.

After studying the issue for two years, the PUC’s professional staff unanimously warned against this vote. New pipelines aren’t needed, they said. Natural gas prices are lower than they were 10 years ago. A new billion dollar pipeline is already in construction and 60 percent completed. And warming winters are reducing demand.

The PUC wasn’t listening and didn’t care. What they obviously do care about is sustaining Maine’s dependency on fossil fuels that are produced elsewhere and shipped to us here, after a short stop on Wall Street.

As the Conservation Law Foundation put it, “the fossil fuel industry hoodwinked the PUC into gambling $1 billion dollars of Mainer’s hard-earned money on a massive new gas pipeline.”

The PUC chairman explained the commission’s decision by arguing that New England needs more big energy projects to keep the cost of future power down. This is, of course, the same logic that the state has employed for decades. Build more centralized facilities and the cost will be “too cheap to meter.” If that approach had worked, the governor wouldn’t be complaining about high energy costs all the time.

Then the PUC made matters worse. In another decision, they hardened Maine’s opposition to locally-grown solar power that delivers, over time, not only lower overall prices but also energy independence and reductions in climate changing pollution.

That vote ignored the conclusions of another two-year study, commissioned by the PUC, that found that solar power is a far better investment for Mainers than pipelines, since it has a better payback and produces lower costs to consumers.

Apparently, the commission believes that when it comes to building tomorrow’s energy sources, it’s better to help the big guys out of state than the little guys here.

This is no small matter. By some estimates, Mainers now send about five billion dollars a year to gas and oil conglomerates around the world. If we can begin to produce more energy here, controlled by small producers and homeowners, powering not only homes and businesses, but tomorrow’s electric cars, we can reduce that outflow of money and reinvest the savings in our communities and in building the economy.

But those kinds of decisions don’t help LePage’s buddies in big business. So the PUC followed LePage’s illogic to its absurd and contradictory conclusion. The LePage/PUC view on lowering energy costs can be described this way: if big companies are involved, we should offer the moon. But if smaller producers based in Maine are involved, they should simply be mooned.

LePage has been complaining, this week, that the Legislature hasn’t followed his ‘lead’ on energy. Why should he be surprised? We already have the lowest energy costs in New England. Why should we further underwrite big companies that build pipelines and transmissions lines at our expense?

Here’s an alternative approach. Let’s stop thinking about big new facilities and big energy projects that deliver power from somewhere else. Instead, let’s get behind hundreds of small micro-producers here. Owned by Maine people. Built with their own money, with modest support from ratepayers. In other words, let’s think about shrinking the energy oligarchies and growing an energy republic.

People who talk about corruption and abuse of power in government spend too much time looking in the wrong places. The big fraud and abuse isn’t going to welfare cheats, it’s going out the back door to well-heeled and well-connected companies that are taking Mainers for a ride.

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:

]]> 29, 24 Sep 2016 22:02:23 +0000
Garrison Keillor: What is going on here anyway? Sat, 24 Sep 2016 08:00:30 +0000 I know, it seems outrageous, but it’s getting a lot of attention on some very respectable Web pages – which mainstream media won’t mention:
Donald Trump was not born in Queens,
He was born in the Philippines,
In a hotel in downtown Manila.
Where his hair turned bright vanilla
Due to vitamin deficiencies.
His mom and dad were Celanese
And left him with Franciscan nuns
At the age of 14 months.
Adopted on the third of June
By a real estate tycoon
Who took the little boy away
To a mansion in the USA
Bestowing on him great largesse
And naturalized him more or less.
The record of his nativity
Is kept under lock and key
With his tax returns, the MRIs
Showing what’s behind his eyes
Including, according to rumor,
A diverticulated tumor.
I hope it isn’t true, although
It comes from folks who ought to know.

A WEEK AGO, a panhandler in Times Square sat holding a sign, “Give me a dollar or I’ll vote for Trump,” and people laughed and reached into their pockets. His bucket overflowed. He stuffed the bills into his jacket, and other panhandlers looked at him with admiration. The man could’ve sold franchises and retired to Palm Beach.

The panhandler knows what every New Yorker knows, which is that the biggest con job since the Trojan horse is taking place in our midst. Millions of Americans are planning to cast their votes for a man who has lived his life contrary to all of their most cherished values. They are respectful, honest, generous, loyal, modest, church-going people with no Mafia connections and good credit records who try not to spout off about things they know nothing about.

His followers out on the prairie were brought up to be wary of slick-talking New Yorkers and here they are, falling right into line behind the biggest braggart ever to hit the sawdust trail. It’s going to be an education for them, watching him cut taxes while expanding the military and building a wall and deporting 11 million people.

In America, you can’t send gendarmes through the streets to round up people in trucks and load them on boxcars and ship them away. There is a judicial process. Lawyers are involved. People have certain rights.

His boast after the Manhattan pressure-cooker bombing last Saturday night was revelatory. “I called it!” he cried on Fox, as he had after the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shootings. It would’ve been classier for him to have congratulated New York’s Finest, but instead he took it as a personal coup.

What the bombing showed was the courage and smarts of the NYPD, arriving on the scene in time to defuse a second bomb, identify the suspect and track him down Monday morning. “We’ve got to be very, very tough,” cried the candidate out in Colorado, but back in New York, the work was being done by men who know how to do it.

Ah, chutzpah! There was once a mayor of New York who overruled the NYPD and the Secret Service and put the city’s Emergency Command Center on the 23rd floor of the World Trade Center, and whose emergency plan for the towers led to massive confusion and miscommunication, some desperate people directed to climb up, others told to stay put, as the mayor stood in the streets below and urged residents to be calm, and thereby became a national hero and started his own security consulting company.

This is like the captain of the Titanic, had he survived, writing a book called “The Art of Navigation.” The mayor is now a close Trump adviser.
Trump is a man whom few Republicans would care to invite into their homes. So what’s going on here? An epidemic of hippocampus poisoning from bad enzymes in cheap beers?

The man is a fraud, a tax cheat, a compulsive liar, a clueless playboy, and his presidency would be an unmitigated disaster for the country. If you would make us the laughingstock of the world just to irk your liberal sister-in-law, you are someone who should not be allowed to come within five hundred yards of an elementary school.

The success of Trump will show our children the exact value of education, which is: not that much. It will mean that fact-based journalism has very little bearing in America and a Manila-born Celanese child can aspire to the highest office in the land. So here’s a dollar in the beggar’s hat. Good luck to democracy. Hang in there.

]]> 117, 24 Sep 2016 17:42:59 +0000
Another View: White House tolerates atrocities in Syria Sat, 24 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The Washington Post

Even by the blood-drenched standards of Syria, the attack on a United Nations humanitarian relief convoy near Aleppo on Monday was horrific – and criminal. Aid workers say trucks that carried desperately needed aid for the rebel-held side of the city, along with a warehouse, were repeatedly bombed, killing at least 20 people. Senior U.S. officials said there were “strong indications” the attack came from the air and that either Russian or Syrian planes were responsible.

Red Cross and U.N. officials rightly demanded an investigation and suggested the attack was a war crime. “There has been a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross. A logical U.S. response would have been to ask for an immediate meeting of the U.N. Security Council – like the one Russia demanded Saturday, after the mistaken bombing of a Syrian army camp by planes from the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State.

There was no such summons. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that the cease-fire the attack had so gruesomely violated was “not dead” – and called for more talks with Russia. “There was still an imperative” to pursue “the arrangement reached last week in Geneva between the United States and Russia,”read a State Department statement.

Kerry’s optimism was at odds with that of the Syrian and Russian governments: The former declared the cease-fire over, and the latter said its prospects were “very weak.” His optimism also showed a shocking tolerance for atrocities committed by forces with which the United States is proposing to ally itself. The Obama administration pledged that if the truce held for seven days and humanitarian supplies were delivered, it would join with Russia in launching airstrikes against Syrian rebel forces deemed to be “terrorists.”

It is hard to conceive of a more definitive trashing of the agreement than Monday’s attack. When the convoy departed for Aleppo, “notification . . . had been provided to all parties to the conflict, and the convoy was clearly marked as humanitarian,”said U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien. Yet as the trucks were being unloaded, “the place turned into hell, and fighter jets were in the sky,” said the White Helmets civil defense group’s Aleppo director in a video.

Predictably, Russian and Syrian officials denied their planes were involved – just as they have brushed off the well-documented reports of their air attacks on hospitals, food stores and other civilian targets. That only makes the offense – and the danger of the Kerry deal – greater. After all, the United States acknowledged the mistaken attack Saturday, which hit a military target. What will the State Department say when, after joining forces with Russia, there is another bombing of civilians or international aid workers for which Russia denies responsibility?

The administration’s evident willingness to overlook war crimes in its zeal to collaborate with Vladimir Putin was perhaps best explained by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson: The Kerry-Russia deal, he said, “is the only show in town.” That’s because President Obama has refused to allow other options, such as a U.S.-defended safe zone for civilians or military action to ground the Syrian air force. With no other cards, Kerry is still pleading for cooperation from those who bombed the Red Cross.

]]> 3, 23 Sep 2016 20:00:39 +0000
Strong UMaine enrollment shows our best-kept secret is getting out Sat, 24 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As someone who is very active within the southern Maine business community, I welcome the University of Maine’s recent news about its increased enrollment, including the successful recruitment of out-of-state students, detailed in Noel Gallagher’s Sept. 12 story, “Fewer students overall at UMaine System, but more from outside.”

This promising response from so many qualified prospective students, who have by now settled into their first year at the state’s flagship university, will benefit the entire state.

UMaine has demonstrated its commitment to making higher education affordable for Maine students, and with this action, has brought some of the best and brightest to Maine from other states – future leaders, community supporters and tomorrow’s workforce.

For four years, the majority of these students will live and work in Maine while pursuing their academic interests, and we will benefit in return. They all will have opportunities to be active participants in helping to achieve UMaine’s statewide mission by being engaged in our communities in a range of activities – from research fieldwork and service learning projects to internships, student teaching and volunteering.

These young leaders have the opportunity to plug in to UMaine’s extensive partnerships throughout the state and help meet the needs of businesses and government and nonprofit agencies, while gaining hands-on experience that can be turned into lifelong knowledge and understanding.

When they graduate, many of these students will choose to stay in Maine, fulfilling the needs of employers, both large and small, and drive our economy forward. All of this has the potential to make a deep and positive impact on Maine’s future.

UMaine’s commitment to providing a high-quality education at an affordable price resonates with students and their families, and the university is to be applauded for its innovative, forward-thinking leadership in meeting the needs of the state, while also addressing fiscal concerns.

It is no easy task, and there is much work left to be done. It has required innovative thinking about academic programming, staffing and budgets, both in Orono and in public higher education statewide.

The University of Maine continues to invest in financial aid in order to better compete with out-of-state universities to keep and attract talented students. And the university is focused on helping students manage the costs of higher education once they arrive in Orono through innovative initiatives such as Think 30, which offers year-round scheduling to facilitate graduation in four years, and the Textbook Alternative Program, in which faculty replace costly textbooks with open-access online and other less-expensive materials.

UMaine is also forming partnerships with the other University of Maine System campuses to ensure that all qualified Maine citizens have access to affordable degree programs. Looking forward, we know that it will require even greater focus and determination to succeed in the increasingly competitive higher education environment.

Toward this end, it is well worth noting that the University of Maine System has not raised the tuition rate for Maine students for six consecutive years. What’s more, the seven campuses are collaborating at an unprecedented level through the chancellor’s and the board of trustees’ One University initiative.

The recent announcement of a primary partnership between UMaine and the University of Maine at Machias is another example of practical, outside-the-box thinking at the flagship and its sister campus. The system’s strategic initiatives have the potential to be truly transformative for Maine’s future and are deserving of our support and engagement.

Students at UMaine will discover what I and more than 107,000 alumni have experienced – the best opportunity for securing your future is right in your own backyard.

For years, those of us who benefited from a UMaine education and know the quality of a University of Maine degree have said that the University of Maine is the best-kept secret in New England.

It now appears that the secret is out. That’s great for students and Maine businesses – and very good for the state of Maine.

]]> 3, 23 Sep 2016 22:26:35 +0000
Port City Post: Blocks from New York City bomb, the blast rattles sensibilities Sat, 24 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Sleeping in my own bed last night in the middle of Portland felt like a night in the deep woods compared to the three previous nights in my hotel in New York City.

The sounds of sirens and ambulances are normal in the heart of the largest city in the United States, but this past weekend, the level of background din was elevated because of the explosion on 23rd Street – which, for me and my fellow travelers, was just three blocks from where we were eating and on the same street as our hotel.

There was a sound. Yes. A sound that could have been heavy construction or the sound of a gas main exploding or just some garden-variety New York City blast related to anything.

Because of construction work that I assume is scheduled to be completed in two-thousand-never, New York these days is a maze of building sites, security fences, cranes, traffic barricades and pedestrians.

Three of the four of us at our table paused to acknowledge the noise and then kept talking, laughing and eating. I remember glancing over at the next table just to see if they had heard what I heard – a rare moment in a big city when you connect with strangers without needing something from them.

They’d heard what I’d heard but, like us, were not alarmed.

This beautiful September evening was the first night of three during our semi-annual trade show trip to New York City.

When people recall important events in their life, they often talk about how the time “felt” to them. You might hear, “It felt like it was happening in slow motion.”

According to studies, it’s not that time slows down, it’s that we remember what happened in slow motion. The theory is that during times of extreme stress, our brains record denser or richer memories.

As well, new memories are said to be recorded in our brains in a more meaningful way. For example, kids remember their summers as long drawn-out stretches of time because they are laying down new memories, whereas adults remember their summers as brief pauses in a speeding comet.

A theory that makes more sense to me – one suggested by Steve Taylor, a lecturer in psychology at a university in England – is that during unusual experiences, like sitting at an outside café four blocks from an explosion, distorted time perception is the result of the “dissolution of our normal ‘self-system.’ ” We are used to experiencing life one way, and suddenly an event forces us to experience the world and ourselves in a completely different way.

It was new, it was different and it was scary. And the time between the mysterious sound and the moment that we realized that something bad had happened seemed very long.

Police cars, fire engines, motorcycles and an enormous white van, which I assume was the bomb squad, sped by our tiny table of four. For just a second I believed it was a motorcade. It was the Big Apple, after all.

When we could not deny that something bad had happened, I said, without thinking, “I want to go home.” I sat on my hands, waiting for the end of this part of our evening.

Our student friend, Alyse, on the other hand, was as calm as any veteran New Yorker. Her comment was not “I want to go home.” It was “I’m surprised we are not on lockdown.” By “we,” she meant her school. This 20-year-old had grown up in the decade of lockdowns.

My sister took action right away by telling us what we were doing next: We would walk Alyse back to her dorm, just a few blocks away. Then she and our friend and employee, Erika, would walk with me (the only one not staying in that area) until I could find a cab. Then the two of them would walk back to their hotel, located just two blocks from the explosion.

As we all walked in the opposite direction of the blast, we ran directly into another police barricade. I asked one officer why they were there, and he said that there had been another bomb threat. Instead of feeling panicked, I took comfort in the fact that there were hundreds of people around me. We couldn’t all be making the wrong decision.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, who was not young enough to be in a stroller was on their phones madly scrolling for answers. I wondered what it must look like from the sky, and then my sister hugged me and threw me into a cab.

Lucky. We were just lucky.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

]]> 1, 23 Sep 2016 19:44:53 +0000
Commentary: Question 3 is too broadly written, Windham lawmaker says Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 WINDHAM — What I love most about Maine is its citizens. Through my work in the Legislature, my community involvement and my network of friends, I can say that Mainers exhibit all the best qualities in a wholehearted manner. We’re proud of our modesty and morality, but unfortunately that’s being preyed upon by out-of-state, big-money opportunists intent on hijacking our citizen referendum process and wreaking havoc on our rights and heritage.

When laws are created by the Legislature and sometimes, through the initiative process, by our citizens, the goal should be relevancy to our culture, history and convictions. Michael Bloomberg’s universal background check initiative is far more expansive than requiring a National Instant Criminal Background Check System check to purchase a firearm.

Rather, it redefines transfers to include commonplace Maine activities like loaning a firearm to a friend to hunt with, storing firearms with a neighbor while you’re out of town or sighting in a rifle with your buddy at a gravel pit should both of you touch the firearm.

The proponents of Question 3 would like to keep you focused on “closing the gun show loophole” or regulating private sales in classified publications such as Uncle Henry’s. If that’s the intent, why open up the definition of “transfer” so broadly in revising statutes – writing law – for the ballot?

As well intentioned as it may seem to shut off sales without background checks, there is so much more to be considered in voting on this initiative. Bills that are too broadly written to address a particular issue often collapse under their own weight, and this should be the fate of Question 3.

For years, my friend loaned me a deer rifle for the season. With that came the opportunity to hunt and the responsibility to clean it and lock it up safely when not in use so I could return the firearm in December. Finally, last year I purchased that rifle from him through a private sale. Under Question 3, these commonplace activities would not be allowed.

Before this deer rifle was loaned and sold, my friend and I had been through multiple background checks over the years to purchase new firearms. We both possess Maine concealed-weapons permits, so we’ve been vetted by local law enforcement to carry firearms. We know this about one another. These types of reasonable transfers and other activities that are legal today would put two law-abiding Mainers in very hot water should Question 3 pass.

Most Mainers I know will begrudgingly cough up the cash and navigate the obstacles to comply with the new laws. Some might unintentionally make a mistake because Question 3 broadly defines how one could transfer a firearm and covers much more than sales.

We all know that none of this will actually matter to criminals intent on buying a firearm. They’re already bypassing the system and will continue to do so through the black market, straw purchases including those made by family members, lying on the Form 4473 (i.e., background check) and theft.

I don’t know honest people who participate in the aforementioned illegal activities, and we already have laws that ban people like felons and some sufferers of mental illness from buying firearms. I can only surmise that this referendum, as written, unjustifiably would have the biggest impact on law-abiding Mainers who own firearms.

It’s hard for me to see how restricting Mainers’ rights and spoiling our heritage will make a billionaire New Yorker with professional bodyguards safer, although I’m not sure this is the motivation. Should Question 3 pass, the loss of our rights will simply become a pawn in justifying a broader national gun control agenda.

One of the primary reasons my wife and I live in Maine is that it’s one of the safest places to live in our country. Again this year, Maine has been rated by the financial news and opinion website 24/7 Wall St. as the most peaceful state in our nation. As a state legislator, my commitment is to keep it that way.

Bloomberg’s universal background check initiative is unnecessary and even worse, it seriously infringes upon the rights of decent Maine people. Question 3 promises to make traditionally lawful acts criminal.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary was changed at 8:10 p.m. Sept. 23 to clarify a statement in the fourth paragraph regarding the impact of Question 3 on private firearms sales.

]]> 109 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 20:15:07 +0000
Our View: Though parity is far off, engineering gender gap narrows at University of Maine Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Of all of the science, technology, engineering and math fields, engineering is one where women have long been underrepresented, and that remains true even today – nationally, just 20 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering went to women in 2015. But the University of Maine is among the schools in the U.S. where women students are swiftly gaining ground, according to a recent Washington Post analysis.

The gender gap in engineering contrasts with figures on women students in other STEM fields: Over half of biology and chemistry majors are women, as are 45 percent of math and statistics majors. What keeps women from majoring in engineering? Frequently mentioned as obstacles are factors such as discomfort at being outnumbered in class, lack of confidence in their abilities, a dearth of role models in the field and bias on the part of classmates and even professors.

But women are breaking barriers at several of the nation’s top colleges and universities, the Post found. In 2015, over half of the bachelor’s degrees in engineering at MIT went to women; the same was true at Dartmouth College this year.

The University of Maine doesn’t stand out in terms of the percentage of women in its nationally prominent engineering program. UMaine has reason, though, to be proud of how fast things are changing there.

Women made up 20.4 percent of UMaine’s engineering graduates in 2015 – an increase of 9.2 percent over 2010 and the second-largest five-year gain of the 90 public programs analyzed by the Post. (The University of Connecticut, with a 9.3 percent 2010-2015 gain, was at the head of the pack.)

Private schools have an advantage over public ones as they try to diversify engineering classes, the Post said. They have far lower enrollment, which means that smaller gains in the number of women in a class are more likely to tip the balance. And these institutions attract huge pools of qualified applicants who have the educational background – and possibly the attitude – to brush off snubs that might intimidate other young women.

But while public institutions have been moving more slowly toward parity, they’ve discovered effective ways to get there: focusing on the impact of research on humanity, for example, as opposed to “just doing science to do science,” in the words of University of Virginia engineering researcher Pam Norris.

This strategy dovetails well with the findings of a first-of-its-kind federal study, released earlier this year, which concluded that eighth-grade girls are better than boys at thinking through problems and using technology to solve them. Let’s hope that by the time these girls are considering higher education, they’ll feel more welcome in engineering classrooms in Maine and around the nation.

]]> 12, 22 Sep 2016 22:54:57 +0000
Another View: Heroic act doesn’t ease concerns about use of lethal force by police Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Police officers routinely display selfless, life-saving heroism. That was apparent last Saturday night at a mall in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where off-duty officer Jason Falconer confronted and shot to death Dahir Adan after the 22-year-old had stabbed 10 people. Falconer was widely and deservedly praised for acting quickly to save lives.

But one can revere this heroism while still having profound reservations about a police culture that seems far too tolerant of – and too quick to defend – the use of lethal force against unarmed people, often African-Americans.

Another example came last Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when police Officer Betty Shelby fatally shot Terence Crutcher, 40, who was unarmed and standing by his vehicle. In videos released Monday, there is no evidence that Crutcher was behaving in a threatening way. (Shelby will be charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting, the Tulsa County district attorney announced Thursday.)

It was impossible not to think of the wrenching videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, men killed by police in Minnesota and Louisiana, respectively, in early July. The reaction of Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, to video of an officer calling him a “bad dude” before he was shot was unforgettable.

“The big bad dude was my twin brother. That big bad dude was a father,” she said. “That big bad dude was a son. That big bad dude was enrolled at Tulsa Community College, just wanting to make us proud. That big bad dude loved God. That big bad dude was at church singing with all of his flaws, every week. That big bad dude, that’s who he was.”

Now he’s dead – for no reason at all.

]]> 0 Thu, 22 Sep 2016 20:31:23 +0000
M.D. Harmon: Fighting terrorism first means clearly identifying the enemy Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Gee, it’s a really good thing we can count on gun-free-zone signs to protect us in public places.

Why, otherwise we’d live in a country where a crazed man shouting the name of Allah and asking potential victims if they were Muslims could stab nine people in a shopping mall before he could be shot and killed by an armed firearms enthusiast.

Oh, wait – we do live in a country like that.

Once again, a good guy with a gun stopped a bad guy with a weapon in a place where police were nowhere to be seen when a potentially deadly rampage took place.

The guy with the gun was an off-duty cop? Well, kind of. Jason Falconer reportedly works a shift every other month or so for a local department, but more importantly, he is a National Rifle Association-certified rifle instructor and competitive shooter who owns a range and training facility, Tactical Advantage LLC, which specializes in training concealed-carry permit holders.

It’s just like those unsavory NRA people to bring guns to places where they weren’t invited. The mall where Somali immigrant Dahir Adan decided to carve up some shoppers (including a 15-year-old girl) had a sign prohibiting firearms, but Falconer’s very part-time police status probably allowed it, anyway.

Meanwhile, police shot and wounded Afghan native and naturalized citizen Ahmad Khan Rahami, who had planted bombs in New York and New Jersey (two exploded, wounding 29 people).

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said we were engaged in “a war of narratives” with jihadism, leading one wag to create this Churchillian-themed exhortation: “We will fight them in the subparagraphs, we will fight them in the clauses, we will fight them in the footnotes, and we will never surrender!”

But if Seaside Park, New Jersey, and St. Cloud, Minnesota, aren’t safe from terror attacks, neither are Portland, Maine, or Portsmouth, New Hampshire – or anywhere at all.

As analysts often note, terror “isn’t an enemy, it’s a tactic,” typically adopted by less powerful people or groups driven by fanaticism or hatred to attack more powerful individuals, institutions or nations.

The effectiveness of terror lies not so much in its decisiveness in producing immediate results (although the spark that brought all of Europe to ruin in World War I was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by an anarchist in 1914) as it does in its ability to bring about a long-term attrition of the target’s will to resist.

It is a strike not against centers of power but against morale, using fear to reduce opposition to the terrorists’ agenda over a longer period of time. Is it successful? Well, when was the last time you saw a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad?

And what makes it so hard to defeat – and ensures that it will not vanish from the world any time soon – is that it requires only minimal resources and willing agents to use them, of whom there does not seem to be a shortage.

Learning that Rahami’s father warned the FBI about his son without any action being taken is one more piece of evidence that we are not yet serious about fighting terrorism, a fight in which the first step must be to identify the enemy clearly and without illusions.

James Woolsey, the Clinton administration’s CIA director, said Monday that “as long as we have to talk about things in a politically correct way and we can’t say that it’s Islamic terror … we are causing ourselves a massive amount of trouble. There’s virtually nothing that’s worse than political correctness if you’re trying to understand what’s going on in something like a movement like radical Islam.”

Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, who successfully prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombers in 1993, was on the same wavelength on National Review Online on Monday: “Here is reality: The enemy that unifies the terrorist siege against the U.S., Israel, and the West is Islamic supremacist ideology, which aims to bring the world under sharia dominion.”

McCarthy said that there is, in fact, no such thing as a “homegrown terrorist.”

As he noted in another column, this time on the PJ Media website Wednesday, “lone wolves” almost always display a history of “extensive connections to other Islamic extremists, radical mosques, and (on not rare occasions) jihadist training facilities … The wolves are members of the pack, and that’s why they are the antithesis of ‘lone’ actors.”

Failing to recognize those global ideological associations (which also serve as support and recruiting networks), presumably to keep from being falsely criticized for “hating all Muslims,” is what is keeping us from acting effectively to counter their adherents, McCarthy says.

But since nonconforming Muslims are just as much jihadist targets as anyone else, the fight against radical Islam is a fight to protect them, too.

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

]]> 20, 22 Sep 2016 20:34:43 +0000
Technology offers solution to problem of unequal access to justice Fri, 23 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Most individuals and small businesses don’t have access to affordable legal assistance. The problem is not that we don’t have enough lawyers; rather, there is a gap between what lawyers must charge and what clients can pay. This gap and the resulting tension is not sustainable – either for society or for the legal profession.

While this problem is compelling for business clients needing assistance with legal matters, it has reached the crisis level for low- and middle-income people who face well-defined legal issues in areas such as family law, landlord-tenant disputes and immigration.

Maine has acutely felt the effects of the access to justice gap; for example, 74 percent of the parties in state district court family law matters are forced to represent themselves.

The mission of the University of Maine School of Law Apps for Justice Project is to model how technology can be used to bridge this gap. Launched early this year and funded with a grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, the Apps for Justice Project uses the powerful Neota Logic platform – the same platform that is used by multinational firms to routinize complex regulatory compliance issues – to develop and create practical, technology-based legal expert systems in the form of applications, or apps.

These apps provide guidance, information and action plans that enable low- and moderate-income Mainers to effectively address their specific civil legal problems, either alone or with the help of affordable counsel. In designing these apps, we endeavored to mirror the problem-solving process lawyers follow: the application of abstract principles to specific cases, beginning with diagnosis, proceeding to inference, and then to treatment.

To illustrate, a tenant with a rental problem is guided through a series of questions to diagnose their specific legal situation. With this information, the expert system identifies the problem (for example, a bedbug infestation) and then makes an inference that the landlord may be violating the law.

This inference is then matched to an action plan in the form of a personalized script to be used by the tenant to call the landlord and ask for help. The user is then provided with a follow-up demand letter addressed to the landlord, setting forth the tenant’s legal right to a pest-free home and reiterating the request to exterminate. If these actions do not resolve the tenant’s problem, the action plan directs the user to contact information for the relevant code enforcement officer, and a script to help the tenant make the call.

After integrating expert systems with accepted principles of legal analysis, our next step in app development was to incorporate learning from the fields of design and psychology by using thematic imagery and easily comprehended text in order to increase user engagement and improve the app’s usability. Our apps also address the mental state users find themselves in when facing a traumatic event such as a housing crisis or a divorce: compromised self-worth and dignity, leading to enervation and inaction.

Drawing on literature from the fields of public health, behavioral economics, cognitive psychology and sociology, our apps use affirming language that acknowledges the users’ trauma, and then offer stress management exercises to mitigate its effects.

We do not contend that technology-based expert systems will be a quick and comprehensive fix to the access to justice crisis in Maine; expert systems are time-consuming to both develop and maintain. They do, however, allow the scaling of guidance and information about solutions to legal problems, so that any individual with a well-defined legal problem and a smartphone or computer can get the help they need.

The positive response our apps have received during our testing phase attests that designed well, legal expert systems can offer a new paradigm for both law practice and self-help assistance. Expert legal systems can offer business lawyers and those who represent individuals the opportunity for increased efficiencies, allowing the provision of legal services to a greater number of clients at a lower-cost, without sacrificing quality or attention.

For low- and moderate-income Mainers who cannot afford any level of professional legal assistance, expert systems can be an additional element of Maine’s access to justice strategy.

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Dana Milbank: Wells Fargo and its arrogant CEO ought to file for moral bankruptcy Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The 2008 financial collapse was eight years ago this month – and the big banks are back to their old shenanigans.

Venerable Wells Fargo has engaged in behavior that would have made a robber baron blush: It pressured low-wage workers with unrealistic sales targets, so these workers created 2 million bogus accounts over five years, causing customers to be hit with fees and damage to their credit ratings. Some 5,300 workers have been fired and $185 million in penalties assessed to the bank, but not a single high-level executive has been sacked or even forced to give back the tens of millions of dollars in pay earned based on the fraud.

When Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf sat before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, he represented a bank too big to fail, too sprawling to manage and too arrogant to own up to its failures.

Can’t Wells Fargo take back some of the executive payouts?

“I’m not an expert in compensation,” Stumpf said.

Would he commit to investigate whether the fraud began in earlier years?

“I can’t tell you that today.”

Did he learn about the fraud before reading about it in the Los Angeles Times?

“I don’t remember the exact time frame.”

Stumpf informed the senators that what Wells Fargo did “was not a scam,” disputed that “this is a massive fraud” and said he had no idea “why people did this.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., encouraged Stumpf to “make certain that the employees are not the scapegoat for behavior at higher levels.”

Stumpf repeated that “the 5,300, for whatever reason, they were dishonest, and I’m not scapegoating.”

If high-level bankers didn’t go to prison for the subprime hijinks that caused the 2008 crash, it’s a safe bet that none will in the Wells Fargo scandal, either. But if arrogance were a criminal offense, Stumpf would be looking at a life sentence.

The bank’s fraud, and the executive’s insolence, may have one salutary result: It takes off the agenda any plan to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the post-2008 regulatory creations and a top target of Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. The Los Angeles city attorney and the Los Angeles Times may deserve more credit for exposing the wrongdoing, but the audacity at Wells Fargo shows that the industry isn’t about to police itself.

Stumpf also managed to create rare bipartisan unity on the Banking Committee – in condemnation of his actions. Dean Heller, R-Nev., compared him to Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes,” Robert Menendez, D-N.J., called the actions “despicable,” and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., told Stumpf: “This isn’t cross-selling, this is fraud.”

Populist firebrand Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said the Wells Fargo chief should resign, return his payouts and be subject to criminal investigations. “If one of your tellers took a handful of $20 bills out of the crash drawer, they’d probably be looking at criminal charges for theft,” she said. But “you kept your job, you kept your multimillion-dollar bonuses and you went on television to blame thousands of $12-an-hour employees who were just trying to meet cross-sell quotas that made you rich.”

Stumpf offered obligatory statements of remorse (“I am deeply sorry that we’ve failed to fulfill on our responsibility. … I accept full responsibility for all unethical sales practices. … We should have done more, sooner”).

But how is it fair for executives to take home millions after thousands of workers defrauded customers?

“It’s a good question,” Stumpf allowed.

Answers, however, were hard to come by. Would he recommend taking back some of the $125 million payout to the head of the division that committed the fraud?

“I’m not on the human resources and compensation committee.”

Was she at least fired over this?

“No, Carrie (Tolstedt) chose to retire.”

Half a dozen times, Stumpf repeated that the 5,300 workers fired were only 1 percent of his workforce – much like an airline executive arguing after a plane crash that 99 percent of his planes landed safely.

A fraud involving only 5,300 people? “Every time you say that, you give ammunition to the folks who want to break up the big banks,” Jon Tester, D-Mont., told him.

And here’s more ammo: Stumpf, who presided over the whole thing, took home $19.3 million last year.

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

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Resist the urge to fast-track the Narrow Gauge through Gray Meadow Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 CUMBERLAND — My name is Karen Herold, and I live in Cumberland near the border with the town of Gray. A Monday Portland Press Herald article, “Narrow Gauge Railroad’s move to Gray on touchy track,” failed to address several important concerns raised by the project.

As a cross-country skier and a trail runner, I’ve traveled on the route of the old interurban railway and have thought how wonderful it must have been to ride a trolley to Lewiston or Portland. I’ve explored the right of way that runs through my town and tried to follow the pieces of the route in Gray. I admire the project proponents’ ambitious effort to showcase this trolley line and the Narrow Gauge Railroad.

However, the project’s proposed location is the Gray Meadow, a highly valuable natural resource protected by the Shoreland Zoning Act and the Natural Resources Protection Act. This large wetland is a major floodwater holding area, helping to prevent flooding of nearby areas. It’s also a mapped, state-designated significant wildlife habitat for inland waterfowl and wading birds.

The meadow is a stop on the Maine Birding Trail. Eighty-three species of birds have been observed at the meadow. There are 35 species of greatest conservation need, such as the sora and the American bittern, and 16 state-listed species of special concern, such as the declining great blue heron.

The meadow provides breeding habitat for bitterns, rails, waterfowl and songbirds. It also includes habitat for one state-designated endangered species (the New England cottontail rabbit) and may contain habitat for another (the least bittern).

Earlier this year, the Legislature rejected a measure proposed by railway proponents that would have created exemptions in our environmental protection laws for the project. The Legislature’s opposition to the bill sent a clear signal to the railway supporters that they should make a different plan for the historic trolley line that does not repeat the environmental mistakes of the past.

At the hearing on the bill, a representative of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection expressed concerns that passage of the legislation would set a precedent for future exemptions on similar projects. As the Environment and Natural Resources Committee discussed the bill, it became clear that the project would also need approval under Maine’s Endangered Species Act and would need to receive permit approval from the federal Army Corps of Engineers.

I am a student of natural history and a bird watcher. Traveling into Gray on Route 100, one could think that’s just a plain of cattails next to the road. However, that seemingly simple plain is a complex marsh ecosystem that supports wildlife and regulates and purifies water flows.

When the rains are heavy, I watch the water levels creep up to the roadbed. I know that every nearby building and parking lot and every bit of vegetation cut next to the marsh decreases the ability of the wetland to support wildlife and temper flooding.

In the past, our ancestors altered land with little concern for the effects of their actions beyond the immediate objective of the work. They drained swamps for pasture, cut trees to the waterline for lumber and dumped waste oil into the ground because it was convenient.

In 1914, the developers of the interurban railway built a causeway right through the Gray Meadow. They probably didn’t understand the impact their construction would have on flood control and wildlife habitat.

However, advancing science revealed the ingenious and complicated functions of wetlands and their importance in sheltering wildlife and regulating water flows. Ecology taught us the particular vulnerability wetlands have to disturbance. After so many years of land alterations, we wised up.

Legislators concluded that so many wetlands had been lost and degraded that controls were necessary. The Legislature enacted the Natural Resources Protection Act and the Shoreland Zoning Act, and every project since then has had to comply with the rules.

It’s easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of the historic trolley line, and it’s understandable to want to bring a piece of it back to its original route. However, we now know a lot of science that we didn’t know when the line was built. We now know the damage caused by building structures and clearing vegetation next to wetlands.

We now have minimal, common-sense setbacks and vegetation clearing restrictions for all projects near wetlands. Since the discontinuation of the railroad many years ago, nature has restored the Gray Meadow to its previous splendor. Let’s learn from our earlier mistakes and locate the project in a more environmentally friendly and suitable location.

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Commentary: For Maine’s seniors, housing-health care link may be lifesaver Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As we head into the final stretch of the presidential campaign, one critical issue has largely been absent from the political discourse: the aging of the U.S. population and its implications for health care, housing and retirement security. As explained in a recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Senior Health and Housing Task Force, the United States is unprepared for the demographic transformation now underway.

Over the next decade, the number of Americans aged 65 and above will increase by 18 million. By 2030, more than one in five Americans will be a senior, a record high. Those aged 85 and above represent one of the nation’s fasting-growing demographic groups.

Maine is at the forefront of this aging trend. Mainers have a higher median age (43.5) than the residents of any other state. At 17 percent, the state is currently home to the second highest proportion of residents over age 65, right behind Florida. In the coming years, the senior population of Maine will grow significantly.

A key challenge is to ensure that Maine’s seniors have access to affordable housing. While most older adults in the state own their homes, incomes decline significantly as people age, a situation that will affect the thousands of seniors who still hold mortgages and pay property taxes. Without a significant increase in the supply of rental homes affordable to Maine’s lowest-income seniors, the current shortage of such homes will also widen as the older adult population expands and some senior homeowners downsize into rental housing.

National surveys show that an overwhelming majority of older adults will seek to “age in place” in their own homes and communities. Yet most homes lack the design features like “no-step” entrances, extra-wide hallways and doors and accessible switches and outlets that can help ensure safe and independent living by seniors.

In Maine, the housing stock is quite old: Approximately 31 percent of all housing units were built before 1950. As in most states, many communities in Maine lack support services such as transportation and easy access to health care that can enable aging in place. These challenges are compounded by Maine’s largely rural character.

As the Bipartisan Policy Center’s report points out, about 70 percent of those who reach age 65 will eventually need help with bathing, food preparation, dressing and medication management – assistance that is referred to as long-term services and supports. Medicare does not cover long-term services and supports, though they can be very expensive and impose a significant hardship on family caregivers. At the same time, more than two-thirds of Medicare fee-for-service beneficiaries suffer from multiple chronic conditions, accounting for 93 percent of Medicare spending.

In light of these facts, a key premise of the BPC’s report is that a far greater integration of the nation’s housing and health care systems is essential. More tightly linking health care with the home can help manage chronic disease, improve the physical and mental health of seniors, and provide greater opportunities for older adults to age in place.

Better connecting housing with health care also has the potential to reduce overall health care costs. Vermont’s Support and Services at Home program, run by housing provider Cathedral Square, is demonstrating that combining supportive services for seniors with housing can slow the rate of growth of Medicare spending. Other supportive housing programs for seniors are also showing promising results.

Another key need is to reduce the number of falls by seniors. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths among older adults, and most falls occur in the home.

Falls by older adults also account for over $30 billion in annual health care costs. A greater focus on fall prevention throughout the health care system, a key recommendation of the BPC report, holds great potential to help seniors remain at home and lead healthier lives while reducing costs.

On Friday, independent Maine U.S. Sen. Angus King and a group of national experts and local leaders will assemble at a public forum in Portland to discuss how to better connect housing and health care to support our state’s seniors. With Maine’s senior population, already large, on the cusp of a major expansion, there are few issues as important for the future of our people and our state.

]]> 0 Wed, 21 Sep 2016 18:17:12 +0000
Our View: Drug companies still on the wrong side of opioid battle Thu, 22 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 State legislatures trying desperately to get their hands around a deadly nationwide opioid epidemic are fighting the powerful forces of addiction and the economic realities of the drug trade. But that’s not all.

As outlined in a recent report from the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, the pharmaceutical companies that helped create the epidemic are using their considerable clout to halt or weaken measures aimed at ending it. Overburdened legislators and opponents are proving little match for the companies’ money and tactics, despite the companies’ clear history of putting profits over public health.

From 2006 to 2015, manufacturers of prescription painkillers spent more than $880 million nationwide on lobbying and campaign contributions, more than 200 times the amount spent by opponents. The drugmakers employed an annual average of 1,350 lobbyists spread throughout the country, compared to the eight working on behalf of their opponents.

The money was spent in all 50 states against measures designed to stop the overprescription of painkillers, such as limiting the size of initial prescriptions to new patients and establishing strong prescription monitoring systems.

The companies’ obscene profits were also used to fund organizations that overstate the prevalence of chronic pain and the effectiveness of opioid pain medication in treating it, refocusing the debate on the sufferers of that condition, and away from the overdoses and rampant addiction linked to OxyContin, Vicodin and other medications like them.

If that doesn’t sound familiar, it should. It was these same companies pushing a similar narrative two decades ago that set off an explosion in painkiller prescriptions, convincing doctors and patients that these heavy drugs were necessary for relatively minor ailments.

In its drive to gain market share, Purdue Pharma, which produces OxyContin, misled the public about the drug’s risk of addiction.

In addition, according to a Los Angeles Times report, the company lied when it said that OxyContin would relieve pain for 12 hours – Purdue Pharma’s chief marketing claim and an assertion that gave OxyContin an advantage over its competitors. (The company also frequently looked the other way when it realized that so-called “pill mills” were selling extraordinary numbers of pills, many of which ended up in the hands of drug gangs.)

Purdue Pharma eventually was made to pay more than $600 million in fines for some of its misleading statements, but the harm had been done.

Sales of prescription opioids quadrupled from 1999 to 2010. Last year, 227 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers were written, one for 9 out of every 10 Americans, providing companies with $9.6 billion in sales. Purdue Pharma accounted for $2.4 billion of that total.

Now the industry is using that money to make sure the prescriptions don’t stop, and Maine is not immune.

To their credit, Gov. LePage and Maine lawmakers have created a strong monitoring system and initiated solid restrictions on prescriptions.

But last year, the Legislature passed an industry-drafted bill to require health insurance coverage for abuse-deterrent pills, a feature that is not as beneficial as it sounds.

Experts have questioned the effectiveness of abuse deterrents in stemming addiction, and the law will have the effect of extending patent protections for manufacturers, ensuring that they’ll profit well into the future, but lawmakers here and elsewhere have been sold on the industry’s questionable claims and slickly produced but slanted studies.

Those are the kinds of stories you can tell with billions of dollars in profits. But with four out of five new heroin users turning to the drug after abusing prescription pain medications, we can’t afford to listen anymore.

]]> 3, 21 Sep 2016 22:48:16 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Let Trump know that nothing hurts like the truth we’ve come to realize Wed, 21 Sep 2016 10:00:44 +0000 ‘I know you are, but what am I?”

Maybe you remember that one from the schoolyard. It was one of those unanswerable taunts – “I’m rubber, you’re glue” was another – widely favored by smart-alecky kids, a bit of verbal judo that took an attacker’s thrust and turned it back against her.

“I know you are, but what am I?”

Most of us outgrew the riposte about the same time we outgrew passing notes in class. Apparently, Donald Trump never did. Far from leaving it behind, he has honed it into a potent political tool perfect for this era of post-factual lassitude and cognitive dissonance. As Campaign 2016 grinds toward a reckoning, we are seeing that tool employed with breathtaking shamelessness.

It works like this: Whatever Trump is called or accused of, he turns it back on the accuser. Did you ever see that scene in “The Equalizer” where a bad guy points a gun at Denzel Washington and, faster than the eye can follow, Denzel snatches the gun and points it back at him?

It’s something like that, except with words.

So the man who claims that he’s always opposed the Iraq war (even though he didn’t), the man who said the election is rigged, (even though it isn’t), the man who told us Barack Obama founded the Islamic State (even though – duh! – he didn’t), the man whose PolitiFact scorecard rules over 80 percent of his rated statements as half-truths and untruths … that man complains that Hillary Clinton is “a world-class liar.”

And the man whose idea of releasing medical information is a brief note from his doctor so loopy, imprecise and filled with wild, extravagant claims (Trump “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency”) that one doctor dubs it “medically illiterate” … that man tells us it’s the mysteries of Hillary Clinton’s health we ought to be concerned about.

And the man who said a judge was unfit to judge because he is of Mexican heritage, the man who wants a ban on Muslim immigration, the man who retweets racists and anti-Semites, the man who is openly beloved by white supremacists to the point that former Klansman David Duke seems about ready to kiss him on the lips … that man condemns Hillary Clinton as “a bigot.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but having Donald Trump lecture you about bigotry, transparency or truth is rather like having Kanye West tell you to stop behaving like a jackass.

In psychology, they have this phenomenon called projection.

The Cambridge Dictionary of Psychology defines it as a “primitive defense mechanism” that involves “the unconscious warding off of negative experiences or emotions by denying an experience, perceiving it in another person and then seeing that negative experience as being directed back at the projector.”

Which sounds like what we’re seeing here, except there is nothing “unconscious” about it.

No, this is calculated, born of a conviction that there really is a sucker born every minute – and that an alarming proportion of them vote in American elections.

So the challenge here is simple:

What will we say in response?

How will we answer this insult to our intelligence?

Or are we too sick of it all to care?

One has a sense of an electorate pummeled into emotional submission.

Which is hardly surprising. It’s been a long, dispiriting campaign largely bereft of ideas, proposals and uplift.

But it is important to remember that November will be a moment of truth in more ways than one.

Indeed, November will answer a critical question.

You say Trump is an ignorant narcissist unfit for the White House? Yes, we know he is.

But what are we?

]]> 47, 20 Sep 2016 20:16:27 +0000
Maine Voices: Minimum-wage hike would hurt Maine Wed, 21 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Maine voters face an Election Day decision that is perhaps as significant as Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton: whether to raise the state’s minimum wage by 60 percent to $12 an hour – a proposal that would apply to every town without regard to local economic conditions.

Proponents such as the labor union-backed National Employment Law Project argue that big businesses – not mom-and-pop businesses – would be most affected by the 60 percent wage hike. The NELP goes as far as to say that the Maine proposal “would level the playing field for small businesses.”

But the NELP’s analysis is flawed because it looks only at the state’s retail industry and doesn’t bother to isolate those businesses that would actually be affected by the new law. A more careful analysis of Census Bureau data across all the state’s industries finds that the majority of businesses affected by a $12 minimum wage have fewer than 100 employees, and 42 percent have fewer than 50 employees.

The disproportionate impact of the proposal on the state’s small businesses is just one reason that Mainers would be wise to reject it at the ballot box this November.

The NELP and its allies contend, “There is no evidence that transitioning to higher (minimum) wages has hurt small businesses … .” Tell that to the numerous small businesses in New York state and elsewhere that have had to lay off staff, reduce hours or close entirely because of the increased labor costs associated with dramatic starter wage increases. Most recently, the Del Rio Diner in Brooklyn closed after 40 years in business as a consequence of New York’s dramatic wage hike. (These and other stories can be found on

What does this mean for Maine? Economists at Trinity and Miami universities followed the methodology of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 500,000 jobs would be lost nationally at a $10.10 minimum wage, and concluded that roughly 3,800 jobs would be lost in Maine at a $12-an-hour minimum wage.

This figure is conservative, as it doesn’t account for the impact of the extreme increase in the tipped minimum wage. The brunt of this job loss would fall on women, young employees and vulnerable employees whose skills don’t justify the increased labor costs.

But maybe these lost job opportunities are just a necessary price to pay for raising incomes of other employees. One advocate, Sarah Austin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, wrote in these pages last week that “a $12 minimum wage would lift wages for one in three working Mainers, putting economic security in reach for tens of thousands of Mainers … .”

It sounds nice, but MECEP’s analysis simply counts up the number of employees in Maine earning less than $12 an hour without taking into account the associated reduction of jobs that the best academic research – including a recent review by a visiting scholar with the San Francisco Federal Reserve – indicates is part and parcel of wage hikes.

By MECEP’s logic, why not raise the minimum wage to $20 or $30 an hour to raise wages for thousands more? The answer, of course, is that it would devastate employers and the state’s economy.

When Maine voters hear about these and other consequences, their support for the minimum-wage proposal plummets. The Employment Policies Institute used Google’s Consumer Survey tool to poll Mainers and found that while a plurality support the proposal at first, when the consequences of job loss and small-business closures are explained, this support flips and opposition exceeds support.

Proponents may try to explain away these consequences by pointing to the Maine Small Business Coalition, a group of pro-wage hike small businesses created by the Maine People’s Alliance.

But a closer look at the coalition’s members indicates that they might not be the best authority on the economic realities of a dramatic starter wage increase. For instance, the list includes numerous businesses that appear to have no employees other than the business owner, and are thus unaffected by a wage hike.

For many small businesses, a dramatic increase to their entry-level and second-tier labor costs would force them to reduce job opportunities, hurting employees, customers and local economies. Labor-backed groups are trying to promote the feel-good fiction that it’s big business that will be affected. Maine voters should look through this and see the non-fiction horror of dramatic minimum-wage increases.


]]> 41, 21 Sep 2016 12:44:54 +0000
Our View: To stop cycle of failure, help Maine’s youngest learners Wed, 21 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When the phrase “doesn’t play well with others” shows up on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker, it’s meant to be funny. But when preschool children are described that way, it’s a serious situation: These children can end up being kicked out of preschool and child care programs, losing out on services with proven links to later academic achievement.

The need for early intervention is made abundantly clear by the results of a survey from the Maine Children’s Growth Council, commissioned by the Legislature and conducted earlier this year.

So-called “challenging behaviors” – including hitting, pushing and biting – are ubiquitous in Maine child care centers and preschools, occurring in 92 percent of prekindergarten classrooms, according to the study. What’s more, over 10 percent of Maine’s preschool teachers and care providers have expelled children as young as 3 for challenging behavior.

There are generally few good options for preschoolers who’ve been expelled, researchers found. Either their parents can’t find another provider, or the children wind up in settings that aren’t regulated by the state.

So children with a history of problem behavior – many of whom come from families dealing with issues like substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness – miss out on the support that a well-run program can provide.

And kindergartners who lag their peers in social skills like listening and sharing are more likely to drop out of school, get in trouble with the law and struggle to find work as young adults, according to a research team from Penn State and Duke universities.

Is there a way to stop this negative cycle before it starts? Connecticut has been pioneering a program that has shown signs of success. State-funded mental health consultants are sent to any child care program or preschool that requests them. There, providers are trained in techniques to help calm a classroom and coached in connecting with parents to address the source of the challenging behavior.

Such innovative interventions have drawn the interest of state Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, who requested the Maine study; she’s working on a policy to combat expulsions and hopes to have the proposal ready by the next legislative session.

Meanwhile, the study results should be a lesson for us all: Providing more support for Maine providers, teachers and families is essential to getting our youngest learners the help they need before they fall behind and stay there.

]]> 7, 20 Sep 2016 23:10:10 +0000
Commentary: No defense for Navy shipbuilder subcontracting with China Wed, 21 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Senior executives from a major U.S. defense contractor toured China last month as part of their search for a foreign company to build a dry dock for U.S. Navy ships, with the help of the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The trip raised eyebrows both inside the Pentagon and among experts who don’t believe a Chinese company should be involved in U.S. military-related projects.

The company, Ingalls Shipbuilding, is a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, which advertises itself as “America’s largest military shipbuilding company” and has built more U.S. Navy ships than any other military shipbuilder. Ingalls is based in Mississippi.

The problem is, it needs a new dry dock to build ships there and says there are no American companies that can do it. So Ingalls is looking abroad for help.

Last month, senior Ingalls executives traveled to China for two weeks to visit several different ports. They also met with officials at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai, a meeting facilitated by a very powerful Mississippi lawmaker.

“The staff of Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has requested that Consulate Shanghai meet with a Mississippi constituent company Ingalls Shipbuilding,” wrote an official from the State Department’s legislative affairs bureau in a July 19 email I obtained. “The constituent is looking for a new Chinese vendor to build a new drydock for their shipbuilding company. They would like advice from the Consulate to walk them through how to do business in China.”

Ingalls executives met with U.S. officials in Shanghai, including Cameron Werker, the principal commercial officer at the consulate.

In a follow-up email, Werker said Ingalls executives were planning to visit seven ports in China. The company has already conducted technical evaluations of proposals, and “China is the leading candidate,” Werker wrote. The other candidates are South Korea and Japan.

Ingalls’ only client is the U.S. Navy, according to Werker. He wrote that the plan is to build ships to about 50,000 tons in Mississippi and then float them out to the dry dock for adding another 20,000 tons of exterior work. The dock would then be used for “launch and retrieve.”

After the Ingalls executives left China, the defense liaison officer in Shanghai, Steve Angel, alerted the Pentagon, the Navy and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing about the trip.

Larry Ferguson, China country director for the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s policy shop, replied to Angel’s email: “I think it’s fair to say we’ll want to do some fact finding.”

The Pentagon declined to comment about whether it has concerns about a Chinese shipbuilding company potentially building a dry dock that will then be used to build and maintain U.S. Navy ships.

“As many other shipyards in America, including those that also build Navy ships, have done in the last decade when needing to replace a large dry dock, Ingalls Shipbuilding is looking across the world market for a solution,” said Ingalls spokesman Bill Glenn. “Since no decision has been made, it is premature to discuss this effort further.”

Chris Gallegos, a spokesman for Cochran, told me that the senator’s office didn’t actually lobby for Ingalls to get meetings with U.S. officials in China, but only forwarded a request for a point of contact at the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai from Ingalls to the State Department.

As for whether there is a security concern about having a Chinese company help build U.S. Navy ships, Gallegos said, “Senator Cochran expects all security precautions to be in place to protect U.S. national security.”

According to its public filings, Huntington Ingalls spent $4.8 million on lobbying in 2015. One of Huntington Ingalls’ in-house lobbyists, Carolyn Apostolou, spent 26 years as a professional staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee before joining Huntington Ingalls in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets project. Gallegos said Ingalls employees have also supported Cochran financially.

Since Chinese companies are closely tied to the government, this could be a problem. “Any time you have an entity like that working on U.S. military systems, common sense tells you there’s likely a security risk,” said Michael Auslin, Asia scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Chinese government could use the project to implant surreptitious recording devices or other surveillance equipment near where sensitive U.S. Navy operations are ongoing, he said. U.S. intelligence agencies suspect that China uses projects of its largest telecom company, Huawei, as a means of spying on foreign countries.

Moreover, the Ingalls project would be a boon to the Chinese defense industry at the expense of the defense industry of U.S. allies. The money coming from the U.S. taxpayer because the U.S. government is Ingalls’ only client, he said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to go with an ally like Japan or South Korea?” Auslin said. “In an environment like this, you are basically subsidizing the Chinese defense sector.”

It’s a shame the United States can’t handle 21st-century shipbuilding with its own domestic industry.

But if U.S. defense contractors have to go abroad, they might want to think twice before subcontracting to America’s biggest naval competitor. It’s either a security risk or an economic subsidy that could better benefit an allied country. Either way, it’s a bad idea.


]]> 5 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 20:26:29 +0000
Another View: Snowden doesn’t merit a pardon, but he has earned a plea deal Wed, 21 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The recent release of a movie lionizing the exploits of government document leaker Edward Snowden is expected to bolster his supporters’ campaign for a presidential pardon. Not coincidentally, members of the House Intelligence Committee just released the executive summary of a report condemning the damage the leaks did to U.S. security. The committee members, Democrats and Republicans alike, also sent President Obama a letter opposing a pardon for Snowden.

Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who in 2013 leaked huge amounts of information about NSA snooping on Americans and foreigners, has been hiding out in Russia. If he returns home, he faces charges of theft and espionage. He doesn’t deserve a pardon. But the government should negotiate a plea deal that allows him to come home. The government’s refusal to deal with him merely enhances the cult of personality.

The government security apparatus and those responsible for it love to vilify Snowden, partly because their indignation deflects attention from the violations of civil liberties that he exposed. Snowden was a whistleblower, not a traitor.

Our government, especially the military and security agencies, cultivate a culture of secrecy to cover up their mistakes and keep the public in the dark. The House Intelligence Committee prepared a 36-page synopsis on the damage Snowden’s leaks purportedly caused but released only a three-page executive summary, calling the rest classified. See what we mean?

In its letter to Obama, the House members said Snowden had “lawful avenues to express legal, moral or ethical qualms with U.S. intelligence activities.” That’s an exaggeration. Since 9/11, the government has done much to thwart people who asked too many questions.

Perhaps the government should bring Snowden home and see what suggestions he has for improving intelligence activities without violating Americans’ constitutional rights.

]]> 0 Tue, 20 Sep 2016 20:54:54 +0000
Charles Lawton: ‘Simple’ reforms will only add to Maine’s property tax confusion Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In the woods behind my home, there is a stone labyrinth modeled after those found in medieval cathedrals such as at Chartres. Often when I feel particularly confused, I go out and walk it. I always know where I’m going, but I never know what I’ll find.

So it is as I plod slowly through the full value tax rate data recently released by Maine Revenue Services: the total dollar value of the property tax commitments made by local officials to fund their 2014 budgets, taken as a percentage of the 2016 state valuation. (See last week’s column for more details.)

To provide some structure, I listed the 490 municipalities by full value tax rate in descending order and – following the model generally used for analyzing income distribution – divided them into groups of 98 (the highest-taxed 20 percent to the lowest-taxed 20 percent).

Scanning the five groups of communities, three patterns emerge:

 First, the size of the tax base is not particularly important in distinguishing among communities. The highest-taxed group does have an average tax base of $411 million. But if Portland (whose tax base exceeds $8 billion) is excluded, the group’s average tax base drops to $331 million.

With this exclusion, the lowest-taxed group has the highest average tax base – $363 million – and the other four groups have average tax bases of $280 million to $330 million. Interestingly, each group includes at least seven communities with a tax base of $900 million or more.

Second, tax commitment (how much communities spend) is clearly and obviously related to tax rate. The unweighted average tax rate for the highest-taxed 20 percent was $20.73 per $1,000 assessed valuation. This rate fell for each group down to $7.86 per $1,000 for the lowest-taxed group.

Third, growth in tax base was equally significant in distinguishing among the groups. Between 2006 and 2014, the lowest-taxed 20 percent of communities had an unweighted average increase in state valuation of 48 percent, compared to an increase in state valuation of 25 percent for the highest-taxed group over the same period.

What do all these facts mean in practical terms?

First, Maine’s traditional urban centers – Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, Biddeford, Brunswick, Auburn, Augusta, Sanford, Bath, Belfast, Brewer, Waterville, Rumford, Presque Isle – struggle with relatively slowly growing tax bases and continuing high levels of demand for services.

Second, a group of coastal communities (York, Wells, Kennebunkport, Mount Desert, Harpswell, Bar Harbor, Ogunquit, Boothbay) and small plantations (Coplin, Lincoln, Nashville, Magalloway, West Forks and others) have enjoyed rapid increases in property values with little accompanying increase in demand for services.

Third, a relatively large group of suburban communities – Scarborough, Windham, Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Falmouth, Kennebunk, Raymond, Buxton, Eliot – have managed both growing demand for services and rising property values in such a way as to keep relative property taxes low compared to other communities and the state average.

Finally, Portland, on the basis of its size, complexity and importance as an economic growth engine for the state as a whole, must be treated as its own category.

To my mind, the initial conclusion from this brief foray into the structure of our state’s fiscal system is that if we are to address property tax reform in any meaningful way, we must embrace the complexity.

We must resist the simple, one-size-fits-all solution that will both waste money trying to address different problems with a single policy and add to the confusion and conflict that already makes even discussing tax reform so difficult. Instead, we must look to understand more deeply the different characters and needs of our wide variety of local governments and find ways to address the needs of each separately.

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

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Another View: Neuroscience proves something that moms have always known Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Scientists have proved that it’s not just what you say that matters, but it’s how you say it. Interestingly enough, though, their proof wasn’t the result of examining human beings, but dogs.

Researchers in Hungary have confirmed through studies that dogs not only obey commands, but that they understand tone and content. Hungarian researchers scanned the brains of dogs to find out what parts of their brains they use while listening to a trainer or owner.

Their findings revealed that canines use the left hemisphere to process words, and the right hemisphere to process intonation. That’s exactly like people’s brains.

Also fascinating is that the study showed that if a person’s intonation and remarks to a dog were both positive, then what was registered in the dog’s brain is praise. The dog’s brain did not register the same effect if a trainer spoke to the animal in babble but an encouraging voice, or if a trainer’s words meant something, but he spoke in a neutral voice. So we are talking about pretty sophisticated processing.

The findings, published in the journal Science, underscore what mothers have been telling their children for decades: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Lead researcher Attila Andics, a neuroscientist at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, said that “(d)ogs brains care about both what we say and how we say it. Praise can work as a reward only if both word meaning and intonation match.”

So the next time you speak to your canine buddy, watch what you say and how you say it. This study proves that most dogs are more nuanced and subtle listeners than many politicians and political commentators.

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Kathleen Parker: The birther movement was racist to its core, and Trump led the charge Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 At long last, Donald Trump has set himself free.

At a highly choreographed event last Friday, the Republican candidate for president of the United States finally issued his verdict on the birthright of our two-term president, who, it turns out, is a real American!

“Barack Obama was born in the United States, period,” Trump intoned to the great relief of no one.

Well, howdy-do. Welcome to planet Earth, son.

But Trump’s announcement was merely a curtain call on a theatrical production otherwise known as Free Publicity for Trump. For the preceding 24 hours, Trump had gleefully baited and dragged the media through Con Man’s Swamp, first refusing to answer the question posed by The Washington Post’s Robert Costa about whether Trump still thought Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., then building suspense Friday morning that he would make a “big announcement.”

As reporters drummed their fingers and cameramen shifted their feet, Trump dilly-dallied, finally arriving late to the venue, which happened to be his very own new hotel in Washington. Awaiting him on the dais was a gathering of war heroes, who spent 20 minutes extolling Trump’s virtues, many of which one has never before associated with the nominee – his intellectual curiosity, his great temperament and his raw intelligence.

Only Trump could believe such things about himself – and he obviously did. He beamed like a boy with a brand-new toy.

Now, I don’t doubt that those on the stage sincerely support the Republican candidate. And nothing I say about Trump is intended to reflect on these extraordinary Americans, especially not on Michael Thornton, a retired Navy SEAL, whom I single out because he happens to be a friend. I commend his remarkable story to anyone seeking perspective and inspiration.

My heart sank just a little when I saw Mike standing behind Trump, even though I’m aware that it’s difficult for many battlefield veterans, especially those from the Vietnam era, to find a Clinton acceptable as commander in chief. Although no American women engaged in direct combat in Vietnam, thereby eliminating any expectation that Hillary should have served (we were saner then), she still bears the burden of Benghazi, justified or not. But Bill Clinton dodged the draft, while 58,000 members of his generation fought and died. To many Trump-supporting veterans, once a twofer always a twofer.

Seeing Trump wedged among men who had served heroically, several of whom risked their own lives to save others, had an effect more minimizing than elevating. Trump avoided the draft, too, with a doctor’s excuse, often available to sons of the rich, and otherwise isn’t qualified to stand shoulder to shoulder with Medal of Honor recipients.

As I watched them dutifully take turns saluting Trump, I recalled something I had read several years ago about heroes. It was a column by military scribe W. Thomas Smith Jr., who was writing about Thornton and three other MoH recipients. Smith, also a vet, was describing what it takes to be a hero – and those characteristics that would be antithetical to the heroic impulse.

He wrote: “Selfish men, bullies, and braggarts don’t perform well in battle. And those believing in their own extraordinariness rarely if ever accomplish feats worthy of the MoH.”


Obviously, the commander in chief doesn’t necessarily have to have participated in war to be effective. Nor will he or she ever physically act in war once elected, except in movies. But it does seem that qualities, values and virtues that we expect from our military troops and commanders – and that we recognize in our heroes – are no longer required of our political leaders.

In making his announcement, Trump also repeated two familiar refrains that are factually false. One, that Hillary Clinton first raised the question of Obama’s birthright. Even though it was raised by at least one of her supporters in 2008, it was Trump who, for years, led the birther movement and then used the notoriety to launch his campaign.

Trump also said that, thanks to him, Obama was forced to provide his birth certificate. Wrong again. And, by the way, does anyone think that the Clinton machine wouldn’t have produced contrary evidence of Obama’s citizenship had it existed?

It’s good that Trump has finally owned up, if way too late to make any difference. But one should keep in mind that the birther movement was racist to its core. And the man who would be president led the charge.

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

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Our View: South Portland High takes right step by banning dances Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Dances were becoming a problem at South Portland High School. About 500 students would typically show up for the events, many under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

City police reported a significant demand for their services before, during and after the dances, as officers tried to protect young people from the consequences of their dangerous choices. The right policy to keep the dances safe eluded school officials until they got some advice from the police chief and the officer who works in the school.

“They told us, ‘Don’t have dances,’ ” said South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin. And that’s what the school will do this year.

With the exception of the Homecoming Dance and the Senior Prom, the high school will go dance free, and school officials are taking some heat in the community. Some feel the policy punishes the many for the crimes of a few. Others argue that it just disperses problem behavior without really doing anything about it.

But the school is doing the right thing. Like the opioid epidemic, teen drinking is a serious problem that kills young people and carries lifelong consequences. It’s extremely important for adults to act decisively when they see a drinking or drug culture develop around a school event, and that’s what appeared to be happening at school dances. Police data show that over the past three years, 40 percent of the alcohol-related incidents involving juveniles occurred on dance nights – just five nights a year.

During the same period, 80 percent of juvenile drug incidents took place on dance nights. That’s no coincidence – it’s evidence that the event itself was changing students’ behavior.

Kunin points out that this is not a local problem. It’s a problem in high schools all over Maine, and other schools should pay attention to what South Portland is doing.

Young people see drinking as a rite of passage, a way to take risks and show that they’ve entered the adult world. It’s also dangerous.

Every year, about 5,000 Americans under age 21 die as a result of alcohol. About half are killed in drunken-driving crashes, while the rest are lost to homicide, suicide and accidental falls, drowning and burns.

There are other, more subtle consequences. Alcohol abuse can lead to depression and other mental illnesses. Teenagers who drink are more likely to become adult alcoholics.

All high schools should consider whether traditions like school dances are creating a circumstance where young people feel that they are expected to drink or take drugs to fit in.

If so, canceling dances, as they did in South Portland, makes a lot of sense.

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Maine Voices: Ranked-choice voting worked in Portland and will work in Maine Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 If approved by Maine voters in November, Question 5 would change the way we elect Maine’s leaders, giving voters the power to rank candidates.

If, like us, you’ve grown tired of negative and extreme politics, then ranked-choice voting is for you. In our view, it represents the best opportunity to reduce some of the negativity in campaigns and to increase the likelihood of electing candidates who can bring people together to find common ground and get things done. That’s good for Maine.

Neither of us intended to become experts on election reform, but we did in 2009 and 2010 as part of the Portland Charter Commission, which evaluated whether Portland should have an elected mayor, and if so, how the mayor should be elected.

For almost six months, we reviewed research, heard testimony, asked tough questions and engaged in vigorous debate about various voting methods commonly used across the United States. Initially, we were skeptical about ranked-choice voting, but by the time our work was completed, most of us agreed that ranked-choice voting was the best way to ensure a candidate would be elected with a majority. And it turns out we were right.

Here is what we learned, and what we experienced:

 Ranked-choice voting is efficient. It works just like actual runoff elections without the cost and delay, and without the decline in voter participation.

It is also the only runoff system that allows the men and women of the U.S. armed forces serving overseas, as well as absentee voters, to fully participate in electing our leaders. Ranked-choice voting maximized the number of Portland voters able to participate in electing our city’s mayor on a majority basis with one ballot, and one election. In fact, Portland’s turnout was 40 percent higher than expected in 2011, its first year in use.

• Ranked-choice voting eliminates the spoiler effect. In today’s elections, when there are multiple candidates, a vote for one candidate can actually help elect a candidate who is opposed by a majority of voters. So voters often vote strategically for the candidate they don’t like as much, the “lesser of two evils,” to reduce the risk that their least favorite candidate gets elected.

In Portland’s mayoral elections, that no longer happens. Voters can rank the candidates they like best, secure in knowing that if their favorite candidate can’t win, their vote won’t be wasted – it will always count for the candidate they ranked highest among those still competing.

• Ranked-choice voting encourages civility. Out of 15 candidates in 2011, Michael Brennan was elected mayor of Portland with 56 percent of the vote because ranked-choice voting worked.

That campaign was defined by greater civility, with candidates reaching out to more voters and asking to be their first, second and even third choices. Candidates knew that running a negative campaign could backfire, costing them a majority coalition and preventing them from winning.

• Ranked-choice voting is easy to use. In 2015, Ethan Strimling was elected mayor of Portland on the first ballot with an outright majority. While the race was portrayed by the media as a two-way race, more than 80 percent of voters chose to rank at least two candidates.

That’s because Portland voters like having the opportunity to express their opinions about more than one candidate. And they don’t find it confusing, either. More than 98 percent of voters reported that they had no trouble with the ballot. The error rate on ballots in 2011, which involved 15 candidates, was also remarkably low.

Some opponents of ranked-choice voting may try to misrepresent the facts about its results in the city of Portland. But the fact is that ranked-choice voting worked in Portland. It resulted in a winning candidate elected by a majority of the votes – even when 15 people were on the ballot – and Portland voters were neither confused nor deterred from voting. On the contrary: Participation was higher than ever.

The bottom line is that ranked-choice voting is widely accepted to be a better system that captures truer voter preferences. It eliminates vote splitting, removes the effect of spoiler candidates and gives voters more voice in electing their leaders.

Ranked-choice voting is also nonpartisan. Very simply: No political party is helped, or hurt. The only winner is our state, to the extent that ranked-choice voting results in the election of officials who more closely reflect the views of Maine voters.

Overall, ranked-choice voting has been a good fit for Portland, and for the same reasons, it will be a good fit for Maine.

So, if you yearn for greater civility and a retreat from extremism in our politics, please join us in November in voting “yes” on Question 5.


]]> 68, 19 Sep 2016 23:51:10 +0000
Our View: LePage administration’s secrecy stalls Riverview fix Mon, 19 Sep 2016 08:00:27 +0000 It’s been hard for the Department of Health and Human Services, legislators and mental-health advocates to find common ground on a solution to the problems at the state’s main mental hospital. But finally, after more than two years, everyone is close to agreeing on the best path forward for Riverview Psychiatric Recovery Center and its patients.

Unfortunately, the only thing standing in the way of progress is the same thing that has mucked up the works in Augusta on so many other issues – the LePage administration’s unwillingness to treat skeptical stakeholders as anything but enemies.

The latest example involves the department’s plan to build a 21-bed “secure forensic rehabilitation facility” adjacent to Riverview to treat certain mentally ill patients who have committed crimes.

This particular plan surfaced last month with little articulation from the state, raising questions from everyone interested in the future of Riverview. Five weeks later, not much more is known, as the DHHS and the governor’s office have stonewalled local legislators and refused to provide more detailed answers to the press.

That’s unfortunate, because interested parties who have criticized the governor in the past – on Riverview as well as other issues – are open to the latest proposal.

Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, the Democratic chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said such a facility “in all likelihood … is the kind of thing we need to do.” The Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has been critical of the administration’s prior plans for Riverview, supports the administration’s general concept, too, as does Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who said it “seems like a good idea.”

But they and many others also have legitimate concerns about the building, which as a privately run facility would represent a significant departure for how Maine cares for mentally ill residents who have committed crimes.

The first of those concerns is who will operate the facility, how the operator will be selected, and how oversight will be handled.

There are questions, too, about how the sometimes-competing factors of care and security will be balanced.

Also unanswered is where the state will find the $3 million to $5 million to build the facility – beyond the generalities offered by the department – and how the use of those funds and future operating costs will affect Riverview and other aspects of state-funded mental health care.

There is no reason to withhold this information other than to head off criticism or to punish past critics. In any case, it is part of a pattern for the administration, which frequently ignores requests for information from media, advocates, and even legislators.

Unfortunately, the Legislature does not have final say over this proposal, as it did over a previous underbaked plan for a 50-bed facility that was summarily rejected.

The last hope for transparency is the Augusta Planning Board, which needs answers to some of these questions in order to approve the new building. The board voted to table the matter last week after getting no help from a state consultant who could not provide any more information than was provided in the state’s 184-page application, which only covered engineering aspects such as site plans and wastewater drainage.

It appears the administration may be forced to reveal whatever it is holding back, but it is a shame that it has come to that. Such an important decision benefits from multiple viewpoints and separate checks and balances.

That’s the basis for good government, something the LePage administration has never bothered to learn.

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Maine Voices: Thanks to Maine Ethics Commission, party’s over for rule-bending fundraisers Mon, 19 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Last May, I received a paid direct mail advertisement on my doorstep urging me to vote for state Rep. Ben Chipman in the Democratic Maine Senate primary.

At first, it looked like a political advertisement like any other, with a nice picture of the candidate, a list of his endorsements, etc.

But two things made this advertisement different.

First, it didn’t have the usual “paid for by” disclaimer that you usually see on political mailings. Second, one side of the mailer mentioned the time and location of two events where voters could meet the candidate face to face.

After a few phone calls to the Maine Ethics Commission, I discovered something surprising to me as a voter but apparently well known to Maine’s political class.

Because this mailing mentioned a “meet the candidate” house party, it was exempt from most campaign finance regulations and reporting requirements.

You see, buried deep in the Maine Clean Election Act is a provision known as the “house party loophole.”

Under this exception, the host of a house party can spend up to $250 on food, beverages, invitations and the like without having to report their spending – and, importantly, without having their expenditures count toward the spending limit of the candidate they’re backing.

The idea, as it was explained to me, was to make sure that a volunteer can invite friends and neighbors over to meet a candidate and not have to deal with complicated campaign finance reporting.

However, because the law neither limits the number of people who can “host” any given party nor defines what it means to be a “host,” Chipman interpreted it as allowing him to collect an unlimited number of undisclosed $250 checks to pay for direct mail advertising without counting the spending against the expenditure limit he agreed to in exchange for taxpayer financing of his campaign.

As long as his advertisement made some mention of a house party, Chipman argued, he could privately raise as much money as he wanted and still run “clean.”

And after several weeks of debate and a narrow 3-2 vote last June, the Ethics Commission decided that the law was sufficiently vague to allow Chipman’s fundraising.

Why does all this matter? It’s not like one paid mailer determined the outcome of the election, after all.

It matters because it goes to the heart of why we have a Clean Election law in the first place. Maine voters didn’t pass Clean Elections because we like giving taxpayer handouts to politicians. We did it in exchange for a promise by those candidates not to take big checks from large donors and lobbyists.

And because I as a private citizen filed a complaint, we know that at least one of those donors was in fact a registered lobbyist with active business before the Legislature. Did the lobbyist write that check in return for a favor? I have no evidence of that. Perhaps he was just supporting the candidate he thought would do the best job and it had nothing to do with his client’s interests.

But the whole reason we have public financing is to prevent even the appearance of that kind of corruption. And we require traditionally funded candidates to disclose their donations so that voters have the ability to decide for themselves what they think of a candidate’s donors.

In fairness, Chipman says that he was not the first or only politician to exploit the house party loophole in this way. Perhaps that’s true, but thanks to the swift action of the Maine Ethics Commission, he should be the last.

In response to the complaint I filed in June, the Ethics Commission unanimously passed an emergency rule Aug. 31 that closes the house party loophole. The rule states simply that to qualify to be the host of a house party for a candidate, the party has to actually be on your property.

No more phony hosts writing secret checks. No more parties with dozens of hosts pitching in $250 each to pay for campaign advertising that would otherwise be illegal.

Because of the Ethics Commission’s leadership and swift action, we can once again have confidence that Clean Election candidates are actually running clean. And that’s something we should all applaud.

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Maine Observer: The resounding bellow of being here Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When my brother and I were young, our parents would take us each summer to a new place in the country where we could swim and fish and do vacation-type things.

One of the most fun activities was searching for locations where we could generate and hear loud and resounding echoes. We would stand on the shores of lakes or on hillsides or mountaintops, yelling into the void, hoping to hear our voices repeated as our shouts bounced off the landscape.

We’d yell out “Yohhhh-ooooooooooh” or “Ekkkkk-oooooooooooooh” and then wait that anticipatory second to see if our mighty 10-year-old voices could be heard reverberating in a way both magical and inspiring.

Causing an echo to boom out over the area allowed us kids to feel important and powerful. Power is in short supply when you’re a pipsqueak from the suburbs of Long Island, New York. And when we did succeed in finding a good spot, we’d carefully listen and then count how many times our voices bounced around and came back to us. Six or seven echoes around the shore of a lake or off a hillside was thrilling.

In my adult years, I’ve had the privilege of living on a hill overlooking Muscongus Bay, eight miles from Damariscotta, at the end of a road. Our hillside faces east, down to the water – a perfectly situated and very quiet locale for producing echoes across a swath of islands and salt water. It’s so quiet that I’ve occasionally heard the ghostly deep moans of a whistle buoy some 12 miles or so offshore, near Monhegan, and I can sometimes hear the distant whistle of a train going through Newcastle, nine miles away.

It was only this month, however, that I had my greatest echo-producing experience, and it happened at the end of an uphill hike in Baxter State Park, at the stunning location of Chimney Pond. While the pond itself is quite small, it sits directly below the base of the truly imposing Katahdin ridge top, some 2,400 feet higher than the pond and several miles wide. From the pond’s edge you can look up and see the tiny silhouettes of distant hikers crossing the infamous Knife Edge.

When I positioned myself at the shoreline, facing one edge of the ridge top, I let out a huge bellowing “Yohhhhh – oooooohhh,” and was absolutely thrilled to hear an echo traveling from one side of that gigantic mountainous wall across to the other, on and on, for nine fabulous seconds.

Echoes don’t last long. They’re like the ripples on a still pond after you throw a rock out in the center. Is the pond the same afterward? Is the mountain the same after a yell?

For most of us, the evidence of our being here fades like an echo, dying out after a few reverberations, a few generations. We look for a beautiful place to stand, and we give a mighty shout, not knowing how far it will go or for how long, always hoping, however, to show the world that we exist.

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Sep 2016 18:05:03 +0000
Another View: Vote against Question 3 this November Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 As the longest-serving legislator in the history of Maine, you could say I’ve seen it all. I would have thought the same thing until Question 3, a ballot initiative designed to criminalize the private transfer of firearms, reared its head last year.

They call it a universal background check. That means a background check is run every time someone buys or borrows a firearm. Really? Does anyone actually believe criminals will subject themselves to a background check when illegally purchasing a gun? That means the background checks will not be universal. What they will be is a headache for law-abiding gun owners. Just look at this example.

My shotgun isn’t performing as well as it used to and I take it to the shop for repairs. Before that happens, I have to find a local gun store, arrange to meet my gunsmith there and pay for a background check. The same thing must happen after the work is done. Yes, I will have to undergo a background check to take back ownership of my own gun. Never in all my years would I have supported such a law. That doesn’t make any sense.

I have nothing against ballot initiatives. They serve as a valuable asset to our often overburdened democracy. But ballot initiatives are supposed to reflect the will of the people – not the will of a New York City billionaire with money to burn.

And Question 3 is the pet project of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He is the man and the money behind the groups supporting this initiative. And with more than $30 billion to his name, you can bet he’s just getting started.

So far he’s dumped nearly $4 million into this campaign. That’s more money than any candidate raised during the 2014 governor’s race. Money spent to gather signatures, advertise and rally volunteers to champion this initiative that’s meant to make Maine safe. But Maine isn’t Chicago. Innocent, law-abiding citizens aren’t hunkered down at home in fear of shootouts in the streets. We are a strong, mature state with a long, storied tradition of sport shooting, hunting, and self-defense.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my years in the House and Senate, it’s that you should never force law-abiding citizens to relinquish their rights. That the good people of Maine are just that – good people. If we decide to punish one class of citizens for the illegal action of others, then where does it stop?

Take the word of someone who’s been there before – Question 3 will not make Maine any safer. So instead of approving a feel-good measure that criminalizes a perfectly legal activity, vote “no” on Question 3.

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Maine Voices: The ‘malaise’ in Trump’s America Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In July 1979, President Jimmy Carter warned of a “fundamental threat to American democracy … the erosion of our confidence in the future.” Carter identified the source of the nation’s malaise: “Ordinary people are excluded from political power.” He said that the best way to address the problem was a “restoration of American values” through “hard work, strong families and close-knit communities.”

Donald Trump, in his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, referenced “laid-off workers and communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals.” These people, he said, “are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.” His solution is what he called his campaign’s “credo”: “Americanism, not globalism.”

It would seem that Donald Trump has rescued the spirit of Jimmy Carter from the dustbin of history by invoking “the forgotten man” in his doom-and-gloom speech accepting the nomination of the Republican Party for president. Similar outlooks characterized the national mood during the late-19th-century depression, and were resurrected by Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.

Whether “ordinary people” or “the forgotten men and women,” identity politics is at work here.

Identity politics emerged in the late 20th century with the civil rights movement, feminism, the American Indian movement and gay and lesbian campaigning for nondiscrimination laws and, more recently, for marriage equality. The rise of identity politics was in every instance a shared sense of suffering systemic injustice within a society nominally favoring democratic equality but one that nonetheless denied equal rights to members of these various marginalized groups.

In all instances identity politics belies the convenient fiction of an American “melting pot.” Interestingly, the two successful presidential campaigns by Barack Obama were built atop identity politics, building an electoral coalition from heretofore marginalized groups.

But identity politics has taken a new turn. Today’s identity politics is more a reflection of economic status than it is about marginalized groups achieving social acceptance. If there was a turning point in this new development, it was the “Occupy” (Wall Street) movement, which pointed out that 99 percent of the population has been losing ground to the super-rich.

Donald Trump understands this. He says the “system is rigged” to favor the 1 percent upper income bracket, that the rich have gotten a lot richer and the poor have remained poor while the middle class has suffered from stagnant income. White men lacking higher education and suffering from job immobility and lower wages make up the core of Trump’s following. And Trump has vested in them a new form of identity politics: They are the victims of immigrants and women, trade deals and a global economy that they do not understand and that therefore frightens them.

Trump’s forgotten ones may now understand Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech because they are living it. Carter’s malaise, of course, was followed by “morning in America” Ronald Reagan. Reagan preached hope, Carter doom. The tables are reversed in the 2016 election, with speech after speech at the Democratic convention focused on the reasons to feel good about America, while Donald “Trust me” Trump continues to claim the nation “is going down fast.”

Such Trumpian despair is bound to lose support over time. If there is a segment in America that can legitimately claim it promotes a “melting pot,” it is the Democratic Party. The audience at the Democratic convention was reflective of the racial and cultural diversity in America, while the Republican convention audience was largely white.

Demographics favor the Democrats, with non-white, young people, women and well-educated voters strongly in support, while in the past two presidential elections, Republicans lost in large part because of their over dependence on white voters without college degrees, the “forgotten men and women” of America. It is well to remember that since 2011, white and non-white babies have been born in roughly equal numbers; the party that reflects that changing diversity has the brighter future.

It is sad that the forgotten men and women have embraced an authoritarian personality like Trump. By encouraging their identity politics of victimization, Trump has legitimized their resentfulness toward their own nation and its ethnic and racial diversity; and momentarily, at least, blinded them from seeing that their best interests lie with the inclusive and positive policies of the Democratic Party.

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Commentary: The ghost of Richard Nixon Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Richard Nixon is back.

The ghost of the 37th president hovers over Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Both presidential campaigns use the president who resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal in 1974 as the gold standard to show how crooked and dishonest the other is.

Yet both candidates also seem to have a little of the notoriously thin-skinned, conspiratorial and vengeful Nixon in them, presidential historians say, from Trump embracing the “law and order” theme that catapulted Nixon to the White House in 1968 to their utter disdain for the press to political controversies spawned from technology – Nixon’s secret Oval Office tape recorder and Clinton’s private home email server.

“The shadow of Nixon hangs over the campaign,” said David Gergen, who worked under Nixon and former President Bill Clinton. “It’s remarkable how many times we’ve gone back to Nixon to make comparisons over the last few months.”

Just Wednesday, Trump conjured up Nixon anew, saying that Hillary Clinton’s email controversy “is like Watergate, only it’s worse because here our foreign enemies were in a position to hack our most sensitive national security secrets.”

Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine referenced Nixon last Sunday by comparing the cyber hack of the Democratic National Committee to the Watergate break-in and blasting Trump for seemingly encouraging Russia to engage in cyber espionage to unearth some of Clinton’s missing emails.

Nixon “had to resign over an attack on the DNC during a presidential election,” Kaine said on ABC. “This is serious business.”

Trump’s campaign has borrowed liberally from Nixon in terms of policy and personnel. Nixon disciples such as Roger Stone and recently ousted Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes frequently speak with Trump. Ailes is reportedly helping Trump prepare for debates against Clinton.1

Trump also used Nixon’s 1968 Republican National Convention acceptance speech in Miami as inspiration for the 2016 candidate’s convention acceptance address in Cleveland in July, according to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

And Nixon’s law and order message to an America reeling from the Vietnam War, anti-war protests on college campuses, crime and racial unrest in cities in the late 1960s is “pretty much on line with a lot of the issues that are going on today,” Manafort told reporters at a convention breakfast hosted by Bloomberg.

Nixon’s victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey in 1968 marked a comeback for a figure who’d earned a reputation as a hard-edge, sometimes unscrupulous, politician and the unflattering nickname of “Tricky Dick” for his unapologetic style.

After losing the presidential election to John F. Kennedy in 1960, Nixon re-emerged as the “New Nixon” in 1968, softening the sharp elbows he’d wielded as a hard-charging member of the Communist-seeking House Committee on Un-American Activities in the 1940s and a U.S. senator and Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president in the 1950s. He ran as an empathetic candidate yet one who would stand up to lawbreakers.

But once in the White House, parts of the old Nixon resurfaced. He had a vindictive streak toward Washington elites, certain elected officials, journalists and others who he thought were out to get him.

He maintained an enemies list and tried to use the FBI and Internal Revenue Service to investigate those who he felt had wronged him.

Both Trump and Clinton channel some of Nixon’s mean streak, especially when it comes to the press, said Robert Watson, the editor of the “American Presidents” and “American First Ladies” books.

Angry over what he considers unfairly negative coverage, Trump banned some reporters and media outlets from his campaign events. He lifted the ban last week.

As president, he said he would “open up” libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters.

Clinton has shown her dislike for the press by not conducting a news conference in more than 270 days before finally taking questions last week aboard her new campaign plane.

“Hillary’s disdain and her lack of access to press is even beyond Nixon,” Watson said. “But I would say Trump is unprecedented in American history. We have never seen a candidate flat-out making a blacklist of media outlets and reporters he will not talk to. We have never had a major-party candidate simply censor the media and threaten the media. This even goes beyond Nixon.”

Clinton shares another problematic trait with Nixon: trust issues. A recent CNN poll found that only 35 percent of voters consider her honest and trustworthy versus 50 percent for Trump.

“I think it’s unfair to call her Nixonian, but there are some traits that are similar: secretiveness, being a little careful with the truth,” Gergen said. “Trump has done better than anyone would have expected in making the charges stick that she is somehow unethical.”

She could turn that around by adopting another Nixonian trait – reinvention, suggested Gil Troy, a history professor at Montreal’s McGill University.

“Nixon reintroduced himself in 1968 as older, wiser, even-tempered,” said Troy, the author of “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.” “He was well-known in politics and hated, but he was able to reinvent himself and reassure people on the trust issue just enough.”

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Alan Caron: Economic shift leads to anger Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 When you read all the news reports about unemployment shrinking, remember this: Millions of Americans aren’t counted anymore. They’ve stopped looking for jobs. Some became self-employed, out of necessity. Others just faded into the shadows.

The country has a growing economy, but it also has a shrinking number of quality jobs. And the dislocations, fear and anger that result are only going to get worse. A recent report in The Guardian suggests that a “disruptive tidal wave” of automation is upon us that will eliminate another 6 percent of our jobs over the next five years.

While we spend a lot of time blaming trade deals and incompetent politicians for our woes, the silent and underestimated killer of jobs is technology – and now artificial intelligence and robots.

For at least half a century, here in Maine, we’ve been losing jobs that once seemed as though they’d never go away. Our textile and shoe mills succumbed to competition from the south and eventually to Asia. But it wasn’t competition that eliminated the “operator” on your phone. It was technology. It wasn’t competition alone that shrunk the Maine farming sector to a shadow of what it once was; it was the rapid expansion of tractors and other machinery. We lost in-shore fishing jobs to highly efficient trawlers, and forestry jobs to skidders and mechanical harvesters.

In every instance, thousands of jobs were replaced with a hundred people with machines.

And the process is now accelerating, with a new generation of intelligent robots set to take jobs in transportation, logistics and consumer services. If you think that’s all far in the future, look more closely at what Uber, Tesla and Google are doing in just the transportation field. Driverless cars are now being tested in Boston and robotic deliveries elsewhere. That technology will be perfected over the next five years, and it will usher in a wave of chaotic change.

Say goodbye to your favorite cab driver. Then do the same with truck drivers, transit operators and lots of pilots. Apply that same intelligent technology to other sectors, all moving at digital speeds. Now take a hard look at your own job. Are you in a place that can’t be replaced with always-learning technology that remembers everything and never takes time off?

Replacing people with machines is great for Wall Street. But it’s a killer for working people who don’t have the skills or education to stay one step ahead of the wave.

And we’re seeing the effects in our politics every day. Each new election seems to bring new heights of outrage and anger, as we struggle to find someone to blame. Immigrants? Welfare cheats? Politicians? Free traders? Banks and Wall Street? Educated elites? Rigged systems? Big money and the filthy rich?

Working-class men without college degrees, in particular, are living through an earthquake of change that never seems to end. What’s at the bottom of it all is simple math. There aren’t as many good jobs as there once were. And there are too many people looking for those jobs.

Maine has a governor who is a product of that anger. Now we have a presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is a full-throated expression of working-class male anger, particularly among whites.

Some people make the mistake of confusing the symptoms of this anger with its causes. Rising anger isn’t happening because of the politics of rage, or because of the tea party, Trump or Gov. Paul LePage. It’s rising because a way of life is vanishing, and along with it the American nonprofessional middle class.

Politics certainly has played a role, by caving into business interests that wanted to move jobs and profits offshore to avoid paying decent wages and taxes. But this problem is way bigger than politics, which didn’t start it and can’t end it.

Is there anything we can do? You bet. We can stop waiting for the past to return. We can stop wasting our time trying to find culprits and boogiemen to use as punching bags. And we can stop thinking that politics will fix everything.

Then we can try to get our act together, across party and regional lines. We can begin to work together on a broadly shared plan to grow new jobs that can’t be sent offshore or replaced with machines. Jobs that require human ingenuity. That produce quality products that fit the Maine brand. And that are built and sustained here by people who call Maine home and aren’t going to leave.

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

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Cynthia Dill: Clinton’s appeal is her predictability Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 In the spirit of full disclosure, I am sick and tired of this election. My symptoms include nausea, headache and bouts of hysteria, followed by crippling acute depression. It’s been so bad lately I watch the stock market channel on the screen that won’t turn off at the gym while peddling the exercise bike. I’ve even started “The West Wing” from the beginning on Netflix to avoid the ridiculous, hysterical and contagious political “news” coverage.

It’s like an earworm of Disney’s “It’s a Small World,” only worse. According to Colin Powell’s hacked emails this week, we have a basket of deplorable choices. On one hand there is Donald Trump, “international pariah” and “national disgrace,” and on the other there is Hillary Clinton, a woman “with a long track record, unbridled ambition, greedy, not transformational.”

Colin Powell is the media-revered Republican high priest who, it turns out, as secretary of state used a personal computer connected to a private telephone line to send and receive emails to staffers, friends and foreign leaders without having to go through State Department servers, according to NPR.

Remember when Powell convincingly winced at being pulled into the Clinton email story? Don’t pull a guy with his polish – so clean and crisp – into the mud, right? A general with his stature – an Episcopalian, for heaven’s sake – obviously has nothing to do with an email scandal, we assumed. Powell smiles and salutes and the good people believe. Or at least many did until they read his email.

“They are going to (mess) up the legitimate and necessary use of emails with friggin record rules. I saw email more like a telephone than a cable machine,” Powell wrote last year to his business partner Jeffrey Leeds. “Everything HRC touches she kind of screws up with hubris,” he later added.

Email like a telephone? Really? And as an English major and a Congregationalist, I’d gladly take a little hubris over a little (messing) up of the friggin’ rules any day, but getting back to Powell’s critique of Clinton, a long track record and unbridled ambition are qualities every person who runs for president of the United States has, or should have, right?

As for “greedy,” if Clinton thought greed was good, she would be giving three speeches to Goldman Sachs for $675,000 every couple of months instead of running the gantlet for president, therefore keeping her tax returns – and the fact she’s on the antibiotic Levaquin and that her blood pressure is 100/70, her pulse 70 and that she has a total cholesterol level of 189 – to herself, thank you very much.

A “transformational” candidate is in the eye of the beholder. To some, such a person will move the ball up the field in the face of a fierce defensive team. To others the candidate will bungee jump off of Trump Tower.

I happen to agree with Garrison Keillor, the author and radio personality who wrote of ho-hum Clinton in a recent Washington Post column: “What some people see as a relentless quest for power strikes me as the good habits of a serious Methodist. Be steady. Don’t give up. It’s not about you. Work for the night is coming.”

But even assuming that Powell’s characterization of Clinton is correct – that she’s been around the block, she’s ambitious, a capitalist and oh so predictable – she is not an international pariah. The world respects Clinton, and she is not a national disgrace. Clinton served as first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state with distinction, so even if the choice is actually as Powell describes, it’s obvious who should win.

You may not like Clinton because her voice grates on your nerves, her confidence is off-putting and she wears too much makeup. And you might not trust her because she didn’t call a press conference or hold a rally about the fact that she was sick and determined to “power through” it, but when all is said and done, her dirty laundry isn’t out there swinging in the wind with the boxers of Powell, the guy who mansplained she needed to “be careful” about email and then later denied it. Clinton turned over thousands and thousands of emails, and they are professional, written in good English and cheerful when appropriate. There were no surprises about her person that were revealed. Who we see is who we will get.

“I have a great deal of respect for Colin Powell, and I have a lot of sympathy for anyone whose emails become public,” Clinton said recently in response to reporting on his hacked emails. “I’m not going to start discussing someone else’s private emails.”

Boring? Absolutely. Now sit up straight and put your napkin in your lap.

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

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Bill Nemitz: Her next text may be a lifeline Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Every Sunday and Monday at 10 p.m., Barb Childs of Standish sits down at her computer and braces herself.

For two hours, sometimes more, she will field texts from people all over the country – most of them young, most of them in some sort of distress, some even on the verge of suicide.

Childs’ job? First and foremost, keep them typing.

“It is draining, but I like to keep busy,” Childs, 49, said last week. “And I definitely get something out of it, too.”

It’s called Crisis Text Line, a 3-year-old, mostly volunteer operation that grew out of one simple sign of the times: For adolescents, young adults and even some older folks, the text message has replaced the telephone call as the preferred mode of person-to-person communication.

Even when, or perhaps especially when, one of those persons needs help. Not tomorrow or the next day or a week from now, but right this minute.

Based in New York City, Crisis Text Line is the brainchild of Nancy Lublin, who ran a youth outreach program called in 2013 when she and her colleagues began noticing the migration toward texting by young people in need of someone to “talk” to.

Three years later, the nonprofit crisis line – accessible for free on most cellphone carriers simply by texting 741741 – has logged over 22 million texts, raised more than $24 million from the likes of Melinda Gates and Linkedin founder Reid Hoffman, and connected with every area code in the country.

Childs heard about it in July on National Public Radio while driving home from her job with an accounting firm in South Portland.

Already a longtime volunteer with Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine as well as a guardian ad litem for adolescents in need of an advocate in Maine’s court system, Childs went to Crisis Text Line’s website,, to learn more.

That led to a seven-week, 34-hour course to become a volunteer counselor. Since completing the training in August, she now splits her required four hours per week over two nights, never knowing what awaits as she clicks on the next text in the never-ending queue.

The texts, according to data carefully compiled by Crisis Text Line, run the gamut from anxiety and stress to suicide and sexual abuse.

Childs recalls being “on the edge of my seat” when, in the final stages of her training last month, she witnessed her first exchange involving another counselor and a texter who was contemplating suicide.

“It can be scary,” Childs said. “But when a crisis counselor can talk that person down and get them to a place where they’re safe until they can get to see a therapist or talk to somebody else – that’s a good night, that’s a good thing, that’s a good text.”

Counselors always have a supervisor with higher-level training looking over their virtual shoulder, ready to offer advice and even arrange real-time intervention if a texter appears to be in imminent danger.

But the basic guidelines remain the same: Empathize, ask open-ended questions, assume nothing, be supportive rather than judgmental, avoid jumping directly into problem-solving mode.

In short, provide the texter a safe haven to reveal, in due time, whatever prompted him or her to start typing in the first place.

“They don’t want to talk to somebody on the phone,” said Childs. “They don’t want to talk to anybody. But they’re glued to their phones. It’s so easy just to text something in.”

Childs is the mother of three grown children, putting her at the older end of the volunteer spectrum.

It’s an advantage in that often she’s been there and done that. But it can also be a challenge as she suppresses the urge to play Mom.

“It’s like this person’s in crisis and I want to tell her what to do,” she said. “I want to say, ‘Your boyfriend’s abusing you, you need to leave or find help.’ But I can’t do that. They have to come to that decision on their own.”

But here’s a problem she can fix, which is why you’re reading about this today: Recently, Childs asked 20 people if they’d heard of Crisis Text Line.

Despite an ever-growing archive of articles by national news outlets, none had.

“I think if the word got out, it could have an impact on many lives,” she said.

Including more than a few lives right here in Maine.

Crisis Text Line keeps copious data on its daily operations, including comparisons showing which problems are most prevalent by state.

Maine ranks first in the country when it comes to texts involving stress.

It ranks second for both eating disorders and anxiety.

And it ranks fifth nationwide for texts prompted by suicidal thoughts.

And this, if Childs’ perception is correct, is without many Mainers even knowing the crisis line exists.

Childs often visits high schools and middle schools in the course of her guardian ad litem work. She plans to start dropping off material promoting Crisis Text Line with guidance counselors – including tear-off tabs with the 741741 text number so students can quietly grab hold of what could be a desperately needed lifeline.

Beyond that, she’ll keep logging on in the quiet of her living room – more texts involving suicidal thoughts occur on Sunday evening than any other time of the week – spreading her virtual safety net while the rest of the world is glued to a football game or reality TV show.

Sometimes a new text will come in just before quitting time at midnight. Childs has the option of handing an ongoing conversation off to another counselor.

But caring soul that she so clearly is, she much prefers to finish every one she starts.

And when it’s finally over?

“I sign off,” Childs said. “And it’s like, I can breathe.”

For more information on becoming a Crisis Text Line volunteer, click here.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 9:20 a.m. on Sept. 18 to correct Crisis Text Line’s number in the second reference, and on Sept. 19 to correct the spelling of Nancy Lublin’s last name.

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Our View: PUC solar proposal wrong policy, process Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Earlier this year, a stakeholders group showed Maine how government is supposed to work.

Tasked with finding a fair way to expand the state’s solar energy portfolio, representatives of interests that did not agree on much hammered out a compromise plan that would expand capacity while sharing the benefits among all ratepayers. Their ideas were drafted into a bill, and it passed both houses of the Legislature with strong bipartisan support.

Then Gov. LePage and his allies in the Maine House of Representatives showed us how – all too often – government really does work. LePage vetoed the bill, and House Republican leaders made sure that it fell two votes short of the two-thirds required to override, dumping a year’s work out the window.

Now we are seeing the consequences of that vote. The Maine Public Utilities Commission, made up of three LePage appointees, is proposing the phase-out of net energy billing, also known as net metering, the one program Maine has to encourage solar investment.


This is the wrong policy. It creates uncertainty for investors that would kill jobs in the solar industry, a rare bright spot in the Maine economy because of its potential for growth. Slowing solar expansion also means that the dirtiest electric plants will continue to come online in the summer to meet peak demand, contributing to air pollution and the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate.

But not only is this the wrong policy, it’s also the wrong process.

The PUC is treating this about-face as a technical change to the rules and something that it can do on its own. Since the politician who appointed the commissioners has a well-known prejudice against solar energy, this is a problem.

The executive branch has a role to play in developing energy policy, but it should not be the entire show. This issue should go back to the Legislature in January, where representatives of a broad range of Maine people can build on the work that has already been done by the stakeholders group and move the state in the right direction.

The best analysis of the issue is the Value of Solar Study, commissioned by the PUC in 2014 and conducted by an independent consultant. Because solar investment decreases demand for generation and transmission, and because it benefits the environment, the study’s authors concluded that the power it produces would have a value of 33.7 cents per kilowatt-hour, much more than the 7 cents- to 13 cents-per-kwh rate at which solar customers are credited.

If the environmental benefits are not counted, the avoided costs alone would represent a value of 17 cents – still less than the rate at which utilities compensate solar producers. It’s a good deal.

But conversion to solar won’t happen fast enough without the right financial incentives, even though the technology has dramatically come down in price. The insecurity that has come from merely talking about eliminating net metering has already discouraged investment. Slowing solar expansion not only kills jobs, but also hurts all Mainers by forcing them to buy dirtier and more expensive electricity during the summer peak.


Many states accept that logic and have put programs in place to make it easier to finance solar power. New York state, for example, has tax incentives and assistance for low-income customers who install solar, as well as net metering. For renters and others who cannot install solar panels where they live, the state also offers the option of belonging to community solar farms, saving these customers money and reducing demand for power.

New York now has about twice as much solar power as Maine on a per capita basis, and is anxious to bring on more. Massachusetts now produces 10 times more per capita solar power than Maine, and its Legislature passed a renewable energy law this year that will expand it even more.

These are complicated issues, and what’s done in other states may not make sense here. Pushing too far in one direction could have negative consequences elsewhere. But balancing many interests in a policy for the whole state is what the Legislature is for. This is not a one-man job, no matter what the governor thinks.

For the benefit of our environment and our economy, Maine deserves to have a modern solar policy that facilitates more home-grown renewable energy. The Legislature should take back the lead on this issue and make the state government function the right way.

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National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day marks progress, challenges Sat, 17 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 A little over 35 years ago, a small group of men gathered in New York City to take action when no one else knew quite what to do. The men were reacting to the first story published by The New York Times on a disease that usually struck older patients but was killing men as young as 26 – a story with the headline “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.”

It was at this point that Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first AIDS service organization, was created, and the fight was on.

On Sunday, the country recognizes National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day. On this day, people living with HIV, advocates, health care providers and survivors honor that brave group who refused to be silent.

The care and treatment of HIV have changed rapidly over the last 35 years. A diagnosis that was once a death sentence is now a very treatable chronic disease. Life expectancy for people living with HIV has increased with access to better therapy.

A new study, of people receiving care from the Kaiser Permanente health system in California, has found that the average 20-year-old person with HIV can expect to live 53.1 more years. This is an increase of 178 percent over 1996 – just before life-extending antiretroviral drugs became generally available – when a 20-year-old with HIV could expect to live, on average, only 19.1 more years.

People are living longer and aging with HIV. This brings with it complex challenges that intersect with the natural aging process. The medications that have allowed people to live a long life also have unintended consequences of which we are just learning. We are learning how HIV and HIV medications may complicate other aging-associated diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

Thirty-five years have also taken a heavy toll. A cure remains elusive. Thirty-five years into fighting the disease that has devastated our nation in communities both large and small, stigma and discrimination remain problems today. Thirty-five years into advocating, fighting, winning and losing for people living with HIV, a certain degree of complacency has taken hold in many ways.

Today, we honor those who have made defeating HIV their life’s work. Today, we honor the service providers who have been on the front lines. Today, we honor those who have died and those living with HIV who have struggled emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually.

Greater Portland Health, a federally qualified health center with locations in Portland and South Portland, stands ready to provide comprehensive integrated care for patients living with HIV and other infectious diseases. The mission of Greater Portland Health (formerly known as the Portland Community Health Center) is to provide high-quality, patient-centered health care that is accessible, affordable and culturally sensitive.

This spring, the city of Portland approved a budget initiative to reallocate public health resources from the India Street Public Health Clinic to Greater Portland Health, including critical support services offered to uninsured or underinsured people living with HIV.

Although Greater Portland Health provided primary care to people living with HIV before the transfer, the organization is now increasing its efforts to further integrate HIV specialty care and treatment into our practice.

Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders Maine is committed to addressing the challenges facing all older adults. SAGE is working with Greater Portland Health and service providers across the state to train them how to talk to older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults about their health issues.

We are exploring an innovative program to increase capacity and engage and serve LGBT older adults and caregivers that will focus on offering supportive services as well as creating resources and educational programs to help caregivers prepare for their own aging futures.

The new HIV and infectious disease care team at Greater Portland Health will be instrumental in ensuring that all patients living with HIV and other infectious diseases in the community receive the high-quality, comprehensive care they need.


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The humble Farmer: What people pay for a smartphone boggles an old Maine man’s mind Sat, 17 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Because I’m an old man, I often think about doing foolish things.

Almost everyone has a little portable telephone with the internet on it. I have seen what they do.

Although the writing on the screens is too small to read, you can take pictures with these little plastic gizmos, which is what I see my bed-and-breakfast guests doing. They photograph themselves standing before my solar panels or sitting in my Model T and immediately email the pictures to me.

Should Vigeland or The Slipway Restaurant be mentioned at the breakfast table, within seconds someone has a picture of it displayed on the phone in their hand.

It is a wonderful toy with a utilitarian value.

A quick Google informed me that these things are called “smartphones.” I can see why anyone would want one. I could have a rig on it that would tell me if anyone has booked a room and would be able to immediately block out that date so it wouldn’t be double booked by another guest.

I wondered how many people we would have to have at our bed-and-breakfast before I could afford to have one.

So I looked.

Do you believe $3,000 or so for a two-year contract? That’s more than we grossed in our last bed-and-breakfast season.

Then I read: “On the other hand, Sprint is fighting for market share by offering the Palm Pre for a monthly cost of ownership of about $110.”

Where do people get money to own these things? What are people earning that they can pay $1,500 a year for a hand-held computer that will take pictures?

The last year I taught school I think I got around $7,500 – and with a master’s plus 60 graduate hours, I was the highest-paid teacher in the district. So I’m still thinking in prehistoric terms. What in the world can people be earning today that will let them pay $100 a month for a smartphone?

At present our bill for telephone, computer cable, Roku television and electricity (which includes electric heat and a clothes drier that runs constantly) is about $600.

That’s per year. Not per month.

And some people pay twice as much in a year for just a telephone as what I pay in a year – for all of my utilities and electric heat? It boggles an old man’s mind. So it might be awhile before you see me flashing a smartphone. If nothing else, this morning I learned what they call the things.

By the way, do you want to know how to find out more than you want to know about smartphones? Make mention of them on your Facebook page. Last week I posted on my Facebook page one of my radio rants in which I mentioned Viagra. I now see Viagra ads popping up on the side of my screen.

Speak of the devil, and he walks in. Yes. You can tell what people have been Googling by the ads on their computer screens. Should my wife, Marsha, look over my shoulder, she might raise her eyebrows.

Have you given this any thought? Mention racing cars or expensive violins on your Facebook page and that’s what you’re going to see in ads on your computer screen?

Guess what? Every day I’m going to type the words “van Gogh paintings” on my Facebook page. That way, the ads in my sidebar will contain only colorful post-impressionistic paintings.

Because you are obviously interested, here’s the radio rant in which I mentioned Viagra. If you live in Rockland, Maine, or New York City, you might have heard this on last week’s show.

I said, “Here’s a rare email that came my way a while back. The heading was ‘Courier delivered Viagra.’ Yes, it said, ‘Courier delivered Viagra.’ Can you envision in your mind a situation so critical, so pressing, that one would pay extra to have Viagra delivered by courier?

“Imagine, if you will, vague specters, huddled miserably on the front steps. Their faces brighten at the distant drumming of hoofbeats. A dispatch rider, leather bag over his shoulder, gallops into the dooryard. Without dismounting, he throws himself forward in the saddle, extends a clipboard and says, ‘Please sign here.’ ”

And ever since I printed that rant on my Facebook page, Viagra commercials have been popping up on my computer screen.

Even if you never plan to run for office, you have to be careful of what you write and say nowadays. The internet is omniscient and unforgiving. It can and will eagerly regurgitate more of your youthful indiscretions than your Great-Aunt Susan: Everything you have ever done or said is now readily available on your granddaughter’s smartphone.

Should anyone ask, I never said any of the above.

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

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Commentary: Trying to find your passion? Try finding a decent job instead Sat, 17 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Let’s stop telling young people to find their passion and start telling them to find a job. The work you do in the world is not supposed to make a fulfilled individual; it’s supposed to make you an employed individual.

We do a disservice to our young people when we encourage them to believe that the world will reward them financially for something that it didn’t ask for and doesn’t want.

We’ve been telling them since they were toddlers to follow their own paths. Of course they believed it. That these paths often lead to the couch, the mall and the nurse’s office seems not to deter them. They become convinced that eventually they would find not only a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but also nirvana (or at least an early vinyl copy of Nirvana that they could sell on eBay).

We too often tell the impressionable young that if they’re passionate enough about a topic or activity, they’ll be recognized, eventually, for their talents. Yet this is not generally, or even often, the case in actual life. Most people do not make a living by dancing, singing, acting, writing, drawing or designing apps. Most people do not write and direct highly successful films based on their first novels.

Yes, some people do, but even many of the ones who arrive in the spotlight have, or have had, day jobs and regular work. They too have to support themselves between projects unless they marry rich or come from families that own air and mineral rights (and remember that many who appear to have achieved success on their own have instead inherited it).

Instead, most of us will need to show up at a job on a regular basis. Nobody said it’s easy.

One of my favorite young women called me after landing an excellent full-time position in a major city. I was surprised when I heard the lack of enthusiasm in her voice. She’d been a fine undergraduate and had then gone on to train for precisely the field in which she was now employed.

When I asked her what was wrong, she said, “I worked eight hours a day for five days last week.”

“And?” I asked.

“And now I’ll have to do that for the rest of my life.” She sounded shocked. It was exciting to get the job, but having and doing the job? We didn’t necessarily prepare her for that. Where did the passion go?

Let’s put passion in its place, or at least remind ourselves of its origin: The Latin word “pati” meant “suffer,” and that’s why the early church and Mel Gibson referred to “the passion of the Christ.”

Passion was originally synonymous with agony and martyrdom; it was twinned with endurance and fervency. It was something you could not overcome, not something you sought.

Gradually, “passion” became a word people used when discussing any intense desire, meaning that it was associated with sex, which makes sense. But during the last three decades or so, passion has become synonymous with the idea of enthusiasm and eagerness. We’ve gone from believing that passion is something you endure to imagining that a passion is something you indulge and should seek.

Ambition is not passion; affection is not the same as a willingness to suffer affliction.

The ability to do good, fine and useful work does not depend on passion. By definition, passion passes – it must, because it cannot be withstood or else it would consume the one at its center. But we must work for the world to continue, let alone improve.

Work depends on character; it depends on commitment; it depends on self-respect. In “To Be of Use,” poet Marge Piercy writes: “I want to be with people who submerge/ in the task, who go into the fields to harvest/ and work in a row and pass the bags along,” who “move in a common rhythm/ when the food must come in or the fire be put out.”

Let’s remember Piercy’s words ourselves, no matter what our age. Here’s to being part of the common rhythm, the world’s heartbeat, in our work.

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Another View: Obama should take action against Russian hackers Sat, 17 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Less than two months ago, President Obama approved a presidential policy directive spelling out how the federal government would respond to “significant cyber incidents.” In the shadowy world of cyberconflict, this is often a difficult problem: how to identify the source of an attack and respond appropriately. Obama set benchmarks. He defined a significant incident as one that is likely to result in “demonstrable harm” to the national security, economy or foreign relations of the United States, or “to the public confidence, civil liberties, or public health and safety of the American people.”

In recent weeks, according to private security experts and government sources, hackers associated with Russia’s government have carried out high-profile intrusions intended to weaken that public confidence and disrupt the U.S. election campaign. Obama should do something about it.

The most spectacular act was the hack of the Democratic National Committee on the eve of the party’s convention, in which 20,000 embarrassing internal emails were stolen and then made public through WikiLeaks. The leaked emails showed that DNC staffers leaned against Bernie Sanders; party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to quit, and the campaign of Hillary Clinton was damaged, probably as Russia intended. This was followed by an upload this week of internal DNC data such as private phone numbers and email addresses. And in an assault that seems aimed at besmirching Clinton and sowing discord, hackers obtained and released emails from former Secretary of State Colin Powell that maligned her and Republican nominee Donald Trump.

This adds up to a full-blown attempt by Russia to interfere with the U.S. election cycle and weaken public confidence. It probably won’t work – we don’t think Americans are so easily cowed. But it calls for a forceful response. The administration has been hesitating, in part because of fragile negotiations with Moscow over the war in Syria. The FBI probe is not complete, and some senior officials have told The Post’s Ellen Nakashima they want to wait for the results.

Obama ought to put his foot down, and soon. The cyberattacks are of a piece with a larger attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to subvert Western democracies and the ideals of a liberal, rule-based international order. Putin’s broader campaign has included incitement of war in Ukraine, seizure of Crimea, support for right-wing groups and candidates in Europe, and using a tide of war refugees from Syria to create instability.

In responding, Obama must take advantage of the strength of an open society and call out the perpetrators, telling the American people what is happening. Obama does not need to release sensitive intelligence to effectively make the point. Second, Obama should order the preparation of economic sanctions against Russian individuals under an executive order he signed that permits sanctions against people linked to malicious cyber-acts. He must put Russia on notice that such disruptive “active measures,” as the KGB once called them, will not be tolerated. If Putin thinks he can get away with generating fog and doubt, the best answer is to drag him and his dirty tricks into the sunshine.

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Bill Nemitz: Maine Med sees room for improving ‘patient experience’ Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Call it a headline-induced flashback.

This week’s announcement of a $512 million expansion by Maine Medical Center is big news in the hospital industry.

In fact, as reported by Staff Writer Joe Lawlor in Thursday’s Portland Press Herald, the project is one of the largest hospital expansions in the country – aimed not so much at adding more beds as at improving the “patient experience” by greatly expanding the number of private rooms for sick people who could use some time to themselves.

To which I say bravo. Not too long ago, I was one of those people.

It was June of 2015. For the third time in five months, I was an inpatient at Maine Med for treatment of Stage 4 melanoma.

Things were not going well.

Multiple surgeries and radiation procedures, along with three rounds of immunotherapy infusions, had failed to stop the cancer.

Now here I was, stuck in a semi-private room in Maine Med’s Richards Tower, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst while the nurses and technicians came and went with their needles, their pills and their much-needed words of encouragement.

The night before, they’d wheeled in my roommate just hours after he’d undergone major surgery that would forever change his life – and not for the better.

He was a great guy. We introduced ourselves and chatted that morning, comparing notes as patients do in such moments of uncertainty tinged with pain and fear.

Just after lunch, his family and friends began arriving. Wonderful people. All wanting to see him. All crowded into his side of the room to the point where the curtain separating us was pressed right up to the side of my bed.

“Good for him,” I thought amid the din of the half-dozen, maybe more, well-wishers. “That guy needs all the support he can get.”

Then my doctor appeared.

The look on his face, the way he sat on the other side of my bed, told me this would be no routine chat. Bad, I knew deep down, was about to become worse.

I remember hearing “your last CT scan” and “new spots on the liver” and “too numerous to count.”

I remember something about “we’re not giving up yet” and “there’s still the nivo.” He meant nivolumab, the one remaining immunotherapy drug in our quiver. My last hope.

But this much I remember with crystal clarity:

“Be honest with me,” I told him. “If the nivo doesn’t work …”

“Four months?” he said. “Maybe the end of the year?”

He could not have been more compassionate. He repeated his pep talk, patted me on the leg and told me to get some rest.

And then, with more patients to see, more tightropes to walk, he was gone.

I lay there, eyes closed, while the noise a few feet away grew louder … and louder … and louder …

I wanted to scream. I wanted to throw something. I wanted to push the red button and demand that the nurse break up the party and order everyone out.

But I couldn’t do that. This was my problem, not theirs.

Nor could I drown out my thoughts with music on my headphones or cover my ears with a couple of pillows.

So I got up and fled.

Wheeling my IV pole as it drip-dripped fluid into my right arm, I turned right at the doorway and made a beeline for the TV lounge a short distance down the bustling hallway.

The TV blared an afternoon game show. Two women on the couch bickered over whether to change the channel. Nearby, a man and his kids sat around a table gleefully working on a crossword puzzle.

I spotted an empty seat in the corner near the window. I sat down, stared out over Portland and, without warning, began to cry.

Furiously wiping away the tears, praying that no one could see me, I autodialed my wife on my cellphone.

Voicemail. She was at work in a meeting.

I turned back toward the lounge to see my surgeon walk by. He smiled and waved. I flashed what I hoped passed for a smile and waved back.

I called my daughter, a social worker. Thank God she answered.

I told her in a hushed voice what had happened, and she listened long and hard. Then, as she sensed the strain in my voice subsiding, she gently talked me back to my room.

My wife, alerted by my message, arrived minutes later. We held each other tight and wept, even as my roommate’s last visitors quietly tiptoed past the foot of my bed.

I looked at the clock. My son and his wife were due to arrive in 15 minutes.

“I have some difficult news I need to share with them,” I told the nurse, who already knew. “Is there someplace we can go?”

“Yes … well, sort of,” she said.

It was no bigger than a large closet, a “private space” that on this day was so full of extra chairs and other stored items that you could barely step inside, let alone sit down.

My son and daughter-in-law arrived. I told them we needed to talk. I saw the worried looks on their faces as we frantically pulled the extra furniture out of the tiny room until there was enough space to sit.

Then we talked … and hugged … and cried … and talked some more. It felt claustrophobic – four people huddled in this cramped little cubicle weighing the “what is” against the frightening array of “what ifs.”

Turns out my “what if” hasn’t been so scary after all. The nivolumab has worked, my cancer is in partial remission, and my days as an inpatient at Maine Med, God willing, are behind me.

At the same time, I feel nothing short of blessed to have received the level of care I did. In far too many parts of the world, it’s not a matter of how private your hospital bed is, it’s whether you have access to a hospital bed at all.

Still, to those who would look to this week’s news and grumble that private hospital rooms are a luxury, or that they’re trying to turn Maine Med into some sort of five-star hotel, I would say this:

Never in my life have I needed privacy more than I did that day.

And I suspect I’m not alone.


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Restoring the value of work: The case for the $12 minimum wage Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — This November, Maine voters will consider Question 4, an initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage incrementally from the current $7.50 to $12 an hour by 2020. Recent Maine Center for Economic Policy research and analysis found that a $12 minimum wage would lift wages for one in three working Mainers, putting economic security more in reach for tens of thousands of Mainers and their families and creating an economy that works better for everyone.

We all benefit when Mainers’ jobs pay enough to support them and their families, to pay off their debts and to save for college, unexpected expenses and a secure retirement. Right now, too many Maine workers struggle just to pay the rent, buy shoes for their kids and keep warm in the winter because their jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet.

A Mainer working a year-round, full-time job at the current $7.50 minimum wage earns just $15,600 – less than the federal poverty level for a family of two. Adjusted for inflation, Maine’s minimum wage today has less purchasing power than it did in 1968. By 2020, passage of Question 4 will increase wages for 181,000 Maine workers – that’s one in three of all Maine workers – by an average of $3,485 a year.

We all benefit when Mainers’ jobs pay enough for them to afford health care and reliable child care that will make them more productive and dependable workers. When Mainers’ jobs pay enough for them to invest in higher education and earn higher incomes over their lifetimes, it will increase demand for goods and ultimately help to grow our economy. Right now in Maine, too many working Mainers struggle to put gas in their car, let alone afford the college or other specialized training they need to get a better job.

We all benefit when Maine workers’ jobs pay enough to lift them out of poverty and reduce the need for public assistance. The $12 minimum wage will raise pay for the 64 percent of Maine workers (nearly two out of three) who live in households with poverty-level incomes and the 60 percent of Maine workers who live in households with near poverty-level incomes.

Currently, nearly a quarter of all working Mainers receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (formerly food stamps) and other public assistance. Increasing the minimum wage to $12 will reduce public assistance by 6.9 percent, allowing the state to target limited resources toward transitioning more part-timers into full-time work, providing more for services to Mainers who are unable to work and saving taxpayer funds.

We all benefit when Mainers’ jobs pay enough for them to prepare for a secure, dignified retirement. Wage income accounts for nearly 60 percent of seniors’ income in Maine. One in three Mainers age 65 or older who work will get a raise when we increase the minimum wage to $12. Workers who get a raise, especially women, whose lifetime earnings lag those of men, will have more income to save for retirement and increase their lifetime earnings-based Social Security benefits.

We all benefit when Maine kids get a healthy, nurturing start in life. One out of four Maine workers who will get a raise supports at least one child.

Research shows that a $3,000 increase in household income for families currently earning less than $25,000 a year will increase the lifetime earnings for a child in the home age 5 or under by 17 percent. Such a boost in earnings for families with young children will dramatically improve the future prospects for generations of Mainers to come.

Passing Question 4 will help to restore the value of work for tens of thousands of Mainers. It will increase wages for one-third of Maine’s workforce, improving economic security for them and their families. It will make sure that more Maine kids have a healthy, nurturing childhood and grow up to realize their full potential.

Raising the minimum wage to $12 is an important step toward an economy that works for everyone, where all workers receive a fair wage for an honest day’s work and where the promise of the middle class is achievable for all Mainers who work hard.

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Our View: Speak up for freedom as well as for public safety Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has brought renewed attention to the role of the public in helping gather information suggesting a credible terrorist threat. Such reports can spur action that protects the public safety. Unfortunately, they can also be used in ways that violate our constitutional rights. As state officials urge Mainers to speak up in the name of preventing terrorism, we should press them for greater transparency in the name of protecting our civil liberties.

The revival of Maine’s terrorism awareness program was announced Tuesday by state public safety officials, who linked the effort to a recently launched nationwide “see something, say something” initiative. The goal is to have citizens report suspicious behavior to 911 or their local police, who will forward the collected information to the Maine Information and Analysis Center.

One of 78 intelligence-gathering state “fusion centers,” the secretive agency made headlines last September when the Portland Press Herald found that there was little to no information available about the center’s budget, who makes up its staff and what they do. The agency doesn’t present its budget to the Legislature. A three-member oversight panel charged with ensuring that the agency doesn’t overstep its bounds hadn’t met in years.

In the year since the story came out, the advisory panel has met, and it has asked the Maine Information and Analysis Center to submit the results of federal audits of the agency. When the agency anticipates getting the audit results and presenting them for advisory panel review isn’t known. It’s also not clear whether the audits will be released to the public.

Mainers should press for as much transparency as possible on the part of the agency, given the revival of “see something, say something.” It’s the center’s job to thoroughly vet for bias any reports of suspicious activity, and state officials emphasized Tuesday that they’re not asking Mainers to single out people just because they’re of a different race or religion. (We hope this message has also reached Gov. LePage, who’s identified people of color as “the enemy” in combating Maine’s drug addiction epidemic.)

Public disclosure of the federal audit results is also essential to ensuring that the agency isn’t overstepping its mission. Any agency that receives public funding should be willing and able to discuss what it’s using that funding for, so policymakers and the public can weigh in on whether that money is being well spent.

It’s our responsibility as citizens to keep an eye on those charged with protecting us to make sure that we don’t sacrifice freedom for safety. Who watches the watchers? All of us should.

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Another View: Sugar industry co-opted experts, feeding today’s obesity epidemic Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 For half a century, according to an expose published in JAMA Internal Medicine, research that would incriminate sugar as a major factor in coronary heart disease was “debunked” by researchers who were paid to ignore the science in the name of profit. The sugar industry’s internal documents show how corporate influence-peddling led to the obesity epidemic of today.

It began when the Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, co-opted three Harvard scientists who, in turn, published a 1967 study in The New England Journal of Medicine that exonerated sugar but implicated saturated fat as the biggest offender in the standard American diet. It was such an influential study that a decade later, it was used to craft the forerunner of the government’s dietary guidelines.

Saturated fat became the villain, and sugar was able to skate by with only the mildest of rebukes as a possible factor in tooth decay because of its empty calories. Despite a growing body of evidence, sugar was not identified as a major risk factor in coronary heart disease in that 1967 report, though Big Sugar knew that unbiased research would have revealed the links and undermined the industry’s profitability.

Alarmed by the scientific indictment of saturated fats and cholesterol, Americans turned to low-fat, high-sugar foods for consolation. This compromised American health for decades to come. Today, there is little understanding by the public about how toxic sugar consumed in large quantities is to the human body. Sugar is now everywhere and in most processed foods.

The sugar industry would have us believe that it no longer engages in bribery to advance its interests. Even if this were true, five decades of misleading the American people about sugar’s links to heart disease is so unconscionable that it ranks among the worst of corporate misdeeds.

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