The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Bill Nemitz http://www.pressherald.com Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.6 Bill Nemitz: A crash course in life in the fast lane of I-295 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/04/bill-nemitz-a-crash-course-of-life-in-the-fast-lane-of-i-295/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/04/bill-nemitz-a-crash-course-of-life-in-the-fast-lane-of-i-295/#comments Sun, 04 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1118561 They’re out there, right now, breaking the law. And God help anyone who gets in their way.

Drug dealers from away?

Nope.

Phantom voters who cast ballots here, there and everywhere in last month’s election?

Nope.

I’m talking speed demons. Which means, in all likelihood, I’m talking about you.

It all started with an enlightening report in Thursday’s Portland Press Herald by Staff Writer Kate McCormick.

Her analysis showed that crashes on Interstate 295 between Falmouth and Gardiner jumped a whopping 32 percent in 2015 after the state raised the speed limit along that stretch of highway from 65 to 70 mph.

The rolling demolition derby, expected to be even worse this year, was attributed to several factors – more cars on the road and less room between cars, to name a couple.

But as research clearly shows, the most obvious problem here is that increased speed limits are like the minimum bid in an auction – you no sooner set it and everyone flies right past it.

Don’t believe me? Let’s go for a ride.

Early Thursday afternoon, I got on I-295 at its southernmost point – the Maine Turnpike exit toll in Scarborough – and drove the highway’s entire 52-mile length with my cruise control set exactly at the speed limit.

Then, after a quick hot dog at the service plaza in West Gardiner (the nitrates help me focus), I drove all the way back to Scarborough.

All told, 188 vehicles passed me. I, on the other hand, passed two.

Make no mistake about it. This was hazardous duty – starting with Portland, where the speed limit drops from 55 to 50 mph between the Fore River and Tukey’s Bridge.

You didn’t know that? Trust me, you’re far from alone.

Doggedly clinging to my newfound self-righteousness, I realized for the first time why all those little old ladies always look so terrified as they plunk along past downtown Portland at 50 mph.

Cars, pickups and even towering tractor-trailers quickly backed up behind me, all impatiently waiting their turn to lurch left into an already crowded passing lane, zoom past me and lurch back to the right before leaving me in their dust.

And the dirty looks? If I had a nickel for each one, I’d have more than covered the cost of my gas.

North of Portland, where the speed limit suddenly spikes from 50 to 70 mph, I was at least spared the public shaming. But the pedal-to-the-metal parade continued unabated.

A guy in a flatbed tow truck, with a Volvo station wagon on the back, careened by at what must have been at least 78 mph. He went on to pass a gasoline tank truck – the same one that had already passed me.

Watching the tow truck pass the gasoline truck, I thought, “Hmm … one false move and we’re all on tonight’s network news!”

Then there was the sporty black Lexus that appeared out of nowhere in my rear-view mirror near Bowdoinham, approaching at well north of 80 mph.

I thought it was going to hit me when, suddenly, the left blinker went on. I glanced over just in time to see a young woman with a cellphone in her left hand and the steering wheel in her right.

Then the right blinker went on as she cut back in front of me and went on her blurry way.

I gave her points for at least using her turn signal. But then I thought, “Wait a minute … if her left hand held the cellphone to her ear and her right hand was on the wheel, how the hell did she do the blinker?”

Which brings us to the first car I had to pass – a northbound Ford Focus around Brunswick slogging somewhere between 50 and 55 in the 70 mph zone. And I thought I was the slow one.

Again it was a young woman. Again she was gabbing away on her cellphone, oblivious to both me and, I assume, the Wal-Mart tractor-trailer that rumbled by her right after I did.

My point: Driving too far over the speed limit can get you killed. But so can driving too far under it.

This was not news to Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, who told me Friday that the speed limit is theoretically set to reflect how fast 85 percent of the driving public goes on a given stretch of roadway.

That’s why the bulk of I-295 was bumped up to 70 mph in May of 2014, Talbot said. It’s also why state transportation officials are hard at work looking for ways to stem the mayhem that followed.

But even Talbot concedes there’s only so much the state can do.

“We can put up all the signs and flashing lights in the world,” he said. “But at some point, responsibility also rests with the driver.”

Talbot also referred me to the Maine Department of Public Safety, where spokesman Steve McCausland first congratulated me on being the only “old fart” out there on I-295 between 1 and 3 p.m. on Thursday.

(Actually, I wasn’t. The only other driver I passed, heading into a blinding sun just past the Royal River in Yarmouth, was an old fart just like me.)

My question for McCausland: When state police set up a speed trap (I saw one in Topsham), exactly where do they draw the line on when to give chase and when to, shall we say, let it slide?

“There is no number,” replied McCausland, referring to the myth that anything less than 10 mph over the speed limit – wink-wink – won’t trigger the flashing blue lights.

“Troopers use discretion when stopping vehicles,” he said. “That not only concerns the speed a vehicle is traveling, but also whether to issue a summons or a warning.”

Meaning deterrence, when it comes to the single-most ignored law in American society, is in the eye of the deterred.

One last thing about my road trip. Right around the time the 188th vehicle blew my doors off back in Scarborough, a stunning rainbow appeared directly over the highway.

I marveled at the perfect, colorful arch. I took it as a hard-earned reward for my socially responsible driving, my courage in refusing to go with the flow, my good citizenship in the face of so much lawlessness.

Or not. Basking in self-congratulation as the turnpike toll barrier approached, I looked down proudly at my speedometer, stilled glued to 55.

In the 35 mph zone.

Damn that pretty rainbow.

 

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Bill Nemitz: LGBTQ community has a place in Portland to call its own http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/01/bill-nemitz-lgbtq-community-has-a-place-to-call-its-own/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/12/01/bill-nemitz-lgbtq-community-has-a-place-to-call-its-own/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1117187 Ed Gardner admits he was a little worried. As the owner of Ocean Gate, a sprawling office building and plaza in the heart of downtown Portland, you don’t roll out the red carpet for Maine’s LGBTQ community without wondering how the rest of your tenants might react to the new neighbors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They divided their long-range plan into two phases.

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

That starts in a big way Friday.

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

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

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

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

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

She offers two responses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll see Maine at its best.

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

 

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Democracy gets messy for students in real time http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/13/democracy-gets-messy-for-students-in-real-time/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/13/democracy-gets-messy-for-students-in-real-time/#comments Sun, 13 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1109397 It’s as real-time a lesson in American democracy as you could imagine: For the second time in the last five presidential elections, the candidate who won the most electoral votes is not the candidate who won the popular vote.

When it’s all said and done, President-elect Donald Trump likely will emerge from last week’s election with 306 electoral votes – well above the 270 needed to move into the White House.

At the same time, as of Saturday afternoon Hillary Clinton claimed more than 60.8 million popular votes – nearly 600,000 more than Trump.

Cue the perennial debate over the Electoral College.

“Oh, all the time,” replied Colby College professor Sandy Maisel when asked Friday if the electoral-popular disconnect has dominated discussion in his politics classes since Tuesday’s shocker of an election. “The kids are all over it.”

They’re far from alone.

“The Electoral College Was Designed to Prevent Trump. You Can Make This Happen,” proclaimed a headline on The Huffington Post on Friday. The attached blog exhorted disgruntled Clinton voters to pressure their states’ electors to go “faithless” when they cast their presidential votes on Dec. 19 and summarily snatch Trump’s victory away from him while there’s still time.

Also known as a pipe dream.

The blog’s author, Douglas Anthony Cooper, bases his dump-Trump claim on a quote from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in the Federalist Papers that under the Electoral College, “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

But alas, Cooper is cherry-picking. In the very next sentence, Hamilton says, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”

A quick scan of the electoral map shows that Trump’s popularity, while not reflective of “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union,” undoubtedly extends far beyond that of the single-state rube envisioned by Hamilton.

Which brings us to the real intent behind the Electoral College: To ensure that small-population states, like Maine, do not surrender any and all influence over the presidential election to big-population states, like New York or California.

How so? By allocating electoral votes based on the size of each state’s congressional delegation – including the two Senate seats each state holds regardless of its population size.

Thus a single voter in Maine, where four electors represent a population of 1.3 million, enjoys more than twice as much influence over the election than an individual voter in California, where 55 electors represent a population of 38.8 million.

Add to that the fact that Maine, along with Nebraska, splits two of its electoral votes by congressional district and you get last week’s outcome here: Voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District awarded a single electoral vote for Trump, while voters in the 1st Congressional District did likewise for Clinton.

Maine’s other two electoral votes, representing the statewide winner, went to Clinton.

Back we go to Maisel’s classroom, where many students last week still had trouble getting their heads around the fact that for the fifth time in U.S. history – and the second time in the last five presidential elections (see Bush vs. Gore) – the president-elect did not win the national popular vote.

What does Maisel, who chairs Colby’s government department, tell these inquiring young minds?

“I talk a lot about the fact that democracy means rule of the people,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily any particular set of electoral rules.”

He also talks about what it would take to do away with the Electoral College: a constitutional amendment approved first by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress and then ratified by three-quarters of the country’s state legislatures.

“The consensus (in his classes) is to change it,” Maisel said. “But they don’t go to the next step of how to do it. They just go to the straight popular vote.”

Constitutional hurdles aside, even a straight popular vote would face its own challenges in an election as close as last week’s.

“We’d have to have a recount, because (Clinton’s) margin is like one or two votes per precinct,” noted Maisel. “Until we get to all computerized voting and feel that’s secure, is (election by popular vote) necessarily better?”

Then there’s the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which participating states would award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how each state voted.

Ten states, with a cumulative 165 electoral votes, so far have signed onto the compact. It won’t become effective, however, until it encompasses enough states to award at least 270 electoral votes – the majority needed to elect a president.

Maine has not joined the compact. But California, with its whopping 55 electoral votes, has.

Now imagine for a moment you’re from California and your presidential candidate wins the state in a landslide. Yet at the same time, the other candidate ekes out a plurality of the national vote.

So what happens under the compact? All of California’s 55 electoral votes go to the candidate who just got trounced in California.

Tell us, California voter, how’s that going to make you feel?

“I have sort of a fundamental disagreement with a major reform of our system done purposely in a way to avoid what the Constitution says,” said Maisel. “And that’s precisely what (the compact) is.”

When it comes to fairness, Maisel thinks Maine actually does it better than most. By splitting its electoral votes 3-to-1 for the first time since 1828 (of Maine’s nine electoral votes that year, eight went to John Quincy Adams and one went to the winner, Andrew Jackson), Trump supporters in the northern half of the state came away assured that their voices were heard.

That brings us to one last proposal being bandied about: Do away with the actual electors and award each state’s electoral votes in direct proportion, down to the nearest one-thousandth, to that state’s popular vote.

Meaning, based on Maine’s presidential breakdown in this election, 1.92 of our electoral votes would have gone to Clinton, 1.8 to Trump, 0.8 to Libertarian Gary Johnson and 0.08 to the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

“You get rid of the people who are electors. You just do it automatically,” Maisel said. “So that system, it seems to me, reflects the popular vote (while simultaneously) it gives a little bit more influence to the (smaller) state” like Maine.

It also eliminates the possibility of the “faithless elector” who, after pledging to vote for one candidate, abstains or switches at the last minute to another. Where, fellow citizens, is the democracy in that?

Last week, between digesting the election results and digressing with his bewildered students into the complexities of the Electoral College, Maisel sat down and banged out a blog for the Oxford University Press.

Unlike many in the last few days, he did not challenge the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election.

Nor did he demand that the majority of electors, having pledged to cast their vote for Trump next month, now pull the rug out from under him because … why?

So what was his message?

“That the most important thing in this election was Hillary’s concession speech,” Maisel replied.

Class dismissed.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Podcast: The election is over. What does it mean? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/11/podcast-election-results/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/11/podcast-election-results/#comments Fri, 11 Nov 2016 17:31:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1108508 Portland Press Herald Columnists Bill Nemitz, Cynthia Dill, Alan Caron and Editorial Page Editor Greg Kesich discuss the election results. What do they mean? Where do things go from here?

Subscribe to the Portland Press Herald Podcast on iTunes

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Bill Nemitz: Can President Trump unite us, or will divisions grow wider? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/10/bill-nemitz-its-up-to-trump-to-make-a-pitch-for-civility/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/10/bill-nemitz-its-up-to-trump-to-make-a-pitch-for-civility/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1107659 Way back in 2004, just after he lost his second straight start against the New York Yankees, Red Sox pitching ace Pedro Martinez uttered a quote that perfectly captured a painful moment in New England sports history.

“They beat me,” Martinez said. “They’re that good right now. They’re that hot. I just tip my hat and call the Yankees my daddy.”

Early Wednesday morning, against almost all expectations, prognostications and, yes, hallucinations, President-elect Donald J. Trump became our daddy.

The Red Sox, of course, went on to win four straight from the Yankees in the American League Championship Series en route to their first World Series title in 86 years.

There will be no such reversal of Tuesday’s stunning presidential election. For the next four years, love him or despise him, Trump will sit atop the pinnacle of power over the free world.

Will he somehow unite us, as he promised in his victory speech?

Or are the wounds from this campaign too raw, the divisions too deep, for the American electorate to move forward as one into a future as unplanned as it is unpredictable?

And where does this election for the ages leave Maine?

That last one is easy: We’re as divided as we’ve ever been.

Trump won big in the north and central regions, while Hillary Clinton won big along the southern coast and midcoast.

Democrat Chellie Pingree cruised to an easy re-election to Congress in the 1st District, while in the 2nd District, Republican Bruce Poliquin did the same.

Despite Democratic gains in both chambers, our Legislature remains divided between a Democratic-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate.

We raised the state’s minimum wage and adopted ranked-choice voting. Yet at the same time, we voted no on mandatory background checks for private gun sales.

And we’re still too close to call on legalizing marijuana and raising taxes to increase school funding.

Wednesday afternoon, I asked a sleep-deprived Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, for his thoughts on Tuesday’s vote and its impact on the deepening divide between the two Maines.

Why Katz?

Two reasons.

First, in an op-ed published in this newspaper back in August, he denounced Trump for “his cruel and bitter ideas” and declared him “not fit to be president.”

Second, despite breaking ranks so publicly with his party on its presidential nominee, Katz just won re-election to his fourth Senate term with a whopping 77 percent of the vote – the highest majority for any contested Senate seat.

So what say Katz now about the man who just turned the press, the pollsters and the pundits on their collective ear?

“He is the president-elect and he is now my president,” Katz said. “But I am worried about the direction he may attempt to take us based on what he himself has said.”

Katz isn’t the only one.

Clinton, on her way to claiming three of Maine’s four electoral votes, won 76 percent of the vote in Portland to just 18 percent for Trump.

Thus it should come as no surprise that two young women planted themselves in the middle of Monument Square during Wednesday’s lunch hour with a large sign offering “Free Hugs” to anyone in need of a little consolation.

Katz said Trump’s win strongly reminds him of Gov. Paul LePage’s first victory, in 2010.

In both cases, he noted, a male, Republican outsider known for his jagged edges ran against a female Democrat with a long record of public service. In both cases, the woman sought to become the first female elected to an executive office.

Like Hillary Clinton, former House Speaker Libby Mitchell did not benefit from her lengthy government resume. Rather, it became her biggest liability.

“Particularly in the last month or so, Trump’s most effective argument was that (Clinton) has been part of the establishment for 30 years. She can’t be a change agent,” Katz said. “And that was so reminiscent of Libby Mitchell’s run, why Libby couldn’t win. Not that she wasn’t a fine person, but she could not be a credible spokesperson for change because she has been there for so many years.”

Now, Maine waits to see if history repeats itself even further.

Will Trump follow in the footsteps of LePage, worshipped by his base and detested by many outside it as he makes headline after headline for all the wrong reasons?

Or could Trump the bomb thrower suddenly morph into a saner, softer version of himself – no longer prone to the politics of outrage because he no longer needs to whip up his followers into an over-performing frenzy?

“I’m an eternal optimist,” Katz said gamely. “I’m optimistic he will understand that the job of running for office as an outsider, which he excelled in, is very different from the job of governing. We collectively will hope that he grows into that role.”

Closer to home lurks another worry: Might LePage, who boasts that he was Donald Trump before Donald Trump, take this election as a mandate to drive an even deeper wedge between the two Maines?

“Exactly,” Katz replied. “I’m afraid that might be exactly right.”

From where Katz sits, the current state of the body politic is no longer about political parties. While both the Republicans and Democrats, here in Maine and nationally, go through what he calls “an identity crisis,” Trump supporters clamor for refuge amid the cross-currents of globalization and other forces far beyond their control.

What Trump calls “this movement,” however repulsive it may sometimes look and sound, is at its core a demand by half of Maine, indeed half of America, that someone, anyone, speak for them for a change.

Is Donald Trump that someone? Can he successfully govern as that someone?

We’ll see.

But as the two Maines reverberate from this election for the ages, what was once unthinkable is now a newly carved milestone in U.S. history.

Donald Trump, heaven help him, is here to stay.

He’s America’s daddy now.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: Grandson, I’m hoping yours will be a better world http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/06/bill-nemitz-grandson-happy-days-can-be-here-again-if-hope-for-a-better-tomorrow-may-rest-in-our-grandchildren/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/11/06/bill-nemitz-grandson-happy-days-can-be-here-again-if-hope-for-a-better-tomorrow-may-rest-in-our-grandchildren/#comments Sun, 06 Nov 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1105480 My dear little Gus,

I wish that you, my one and only grandchild, were old enough for us to talk man-to-man about all of this. Right now. While it’s happening. With history watching our every move.

But we can’t. You’re not even 9 months old, that ever-present smile on your perfect face proof positive that in your world, all is well.

You’re warm. You’re fed. You’re surrounded by people who melt at the mere sight of you and shower you with love.

It may not always be this way.

I have a terrible feeling that one day, your horizons broader, you’ll look around and see a world that is broken. A place where hatred and mistrust rule the day and no one, at least no sane person, dares speak his mind for fear of inciting the nearest mob.

“Was it always like this?” you’ll ask. “Were people always this angry and afraid?”

“No,” I’ll assure you. “A long, long time ago, things were different.”

I’ll tell you about how, way back in 1960, I was a 6-year-old kid growing up in a place where the Kennedy and Nixon campaigns had trailers sitting side by side in the middle of my hometown’s square.

Smiling volunteers from both camps would cheerfully drown us kids with bumper stickers, political buttons and little candidate cards with JFK and that other guy beaming back at us in glossy black-and-white.

We’d stick the pins to our jackets (one on the left, the other on the right), plaster the conflicting stickers on our bike fenders and clothespin the cards to our spokes, delighting in the clickety-clack of “Kennedy-Nixon-Kennedy-Nixon-Kennedy-Nixon …” as we tore up and down the sidewalks in sweet, Cold War oblivion.

I’ll tell you how later, as I teetered between adolescence and adulthood, I grew my hair long and patched my tattered jeans and argued passionately with my dad, your great-grandfather, about whether Richard Nixon was in fact a crook and whether the Domino Theory was a crock and whether the great United States of America was truly coming apart at the seams.

But then one day, one of my dad’s conservative friends asked him why he didn’t sit me down, get out the scissors and cut off that hippie ponytail of mine.

Dad calmly shook his head and replied, “I have far more important things to argue with my son about than the length of his hair.” And with that, amid all the upheaval, I knew deep down everything would be all right.

I’ll tell you how I became a journalist and before long found myself caught up in the rough-and-tumble of local, state and federal politics.

I learned early on how nasty politicians could get with one another. I also learned that when it really mattered, when something truly important was at stake, the tallest among them always managed to stand up straight, look their opponents square in the eye and get the job done.

I’ll tell you how one awful day in September 2001, evil descended from the clear blue sky, crashing into skyscrapers filled with innocent people of every race, every religion, every political stripe, every sexual orientation, every age, every hope and aspiration.

Never in my life had I witnessed such pain as the day I looked down from the press box during the memorial at Yankee Stadium onto a sobbing mother and her fatherless children, clinging to one another for dear life.

And as I rode the jam-packed subway back to my hotel late that afternoon, never in my life had I felt like this entire country was more unified, more determined to stand together against those who would tear us apart.

I’ll tell you how we went to war and ever so slowly, that resolve began to erode. How during the same period, our economy collapsed and a sense of hopelessness and despair set in.

At first, we blamed the banks, the politicians, the lobbyists, the whole damn system. But the system deftly deflected all that righteous indignation until, finally, we began to blame each other.

I’ll tell you how the news business, my lifeblood, changed. How newspapers began to decline and suddenly all the people on the right drifted to one cable TV channel and all the people on the left drifted to another – and thus neither could see what the other side saw, or hear what the other side heard.

On top of that came the explosion of the internet, where propaganda masqueraded as the truth and facts lay buried under gigabytes of real-sounding fiction. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, the silos only grew higher.

Eventually, we agreed on nothing. Immigrants, guns, poverty, welfare, homes foreclosed, factories shuttered, jobs lost – all became the markers by which we defined us versus them, liberals versus conservatives, natives versus newcomers, the haves versus the have-nots.

I’ll tell you how things came to a head right now, in the fall of 2016. How we went into an election divided by race, by geography, by educational background and by gender until it soon became clear that Election Day would bring no resolution after all.

It was supposed to be no contest. But even as I write this, my little Gus, I cannot say with certainty who will emerge victorious from this sorry spectacle.

But I can tell you this: Whoever wins, the fighting will rage on. The anger, as the pundits like to say, is “baked into” the body politic. The wounds, many fear, will never heal.

I know that sounds terribly pessimistic. But even as I close my eyes and picture you as a young man, I still hold out hope.

Sooner than I’d like, this will be your world. A cursed mess, to be sure, but nothing that can’t be salvaged, repaired, coaxed back from this brink of bitterness and acrimony.

My Lord, you’re so tiny now. You – and millions like you – have not a clue what awaits as you climb out of your newborn bliss and rub your eyes at the enormity of it all.

Yet in you I place my faith. And for you I now pray.

I pray that you will come to know compassion.

I pray that you will embrace not only those who agree with you, but also those who differ.

I pray that you will learn patience and humility and, above all, the power of love over hate.

I pray that you’ll learn from our mistakes.

Sleep tight, little guy. And hold on tight to your dreams.

All my love,

Gramp

 

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Bill Nemitz: Senators’ double-dipping saga is politics at its worst http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/30/nemitz-senators-double-dipping-saga-is-politics-at-its-worst/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/30/nemitz-senators-double-dipping-saga-is-politics-at-its-worst/#comments Sun, 30 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1102081 Funny thing about partisan grenades tossed across the Great Political Divide in the eleventh hour of election season: Sometimes they blow up in your face.

Such was the case last week for two Democrats in the Maine Senate – Sen. Justin Alfond, the Senate minority leader from Portland, and Sen. John Patrick of Rumford.

It all began dramatically enough.

On Monday, Alfond and Patrick called a news conference to allege that two of their Republican colleagues – Sen. Andre Cushing of Hampden and Sen. Ron Collins of Wells – essentially had ripped off Maine taxpayers by double-dipping on reimbursements for legislative expenses.

Specifically, they cited the fact that Cushing paid for $3,100 in travel expenses with money from Respect Maine, his political action committee, only to personally ask for and receive the same amount in reimbursement from the Legislature’s expense fund.

Collins, they also announced, prepaid $2,400 for lodging at the Senator Inn in Augusta with leftover campaign funds and then collected the same amount in reimbursement via his $38-per-day legislative allowance for housing.

Fumed Patrick at Monday’s press gathering, “Fraud is fraud, and when there’s potential fraud, we should just look at it.”

Agreed Alfond, “If this doesn’t spell fraud, I don’t know what does.”

Actually, it spells pre-election “hit job.” And by the time the smoke cleared, that charge of fraud was in tatters.

After several hours of deliberations on Thursday, the Senate’s Conduct and Ethics Committee tabled the Democrats’ formal request for an investigation of Cushing because the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices already is looking into his case.

That probe, along with the whopper of a lawsuit Cushing’s sister recently filed against him for allegedly misappropriating more than a $1 million in family trust funds, will take far beyond Election Day to sort out. Put more simply, when it comes to political migraines, Cushing is currently in a league all his own.

Not so for Collins. In his case, the Senate ethics committee voted, 4-1, that the three-term senator from Wells had in fact done nothing wrong.

State law, after all, allows the use of leftover campaign funds for legislative expenses. And Collins’ attorney, former lawmaker Josh Tardy, provided ample documentation showing that Collins still ended up spending almost twice as much on legitimate lodging expenses than he got back in reimbursements.

Meaning Collins did not, as his accusers suggested, fraudulently turn his hotel expenses into a net personal profit. Nor did he break any law.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Plenty.

For starters, Patrick, the actual complainant against the two Republicans, was a no-show at Thursday’s hearing due to a scheduling conflict.

That left Alfond to forge ahead. Only under questioning by the ethics committee did he reveal that the Democrats’ research into possible double dipping began and ended with four senators: Cushing, Collins, Alfond himself and Sen. Dawn Hill, D-York, the assistant minority leader.

Talk about convenient. The two Democrats chosen for scrutiny are already known to be clean as a whistle, while the two Republicans include one with a dark cloud already over his head and another who, surprise, turned on the news Monday evening to hear himself being labeled a fraud.

“I was very troubled when I first heard about this,” Collins, who is running for re-election to his fourth term representing Senate District 34, told the ethics committee in its first-ever gathering since its formation in 1989. “I’ve striven for the 14 years that I’ve been a legislator up here in Augusta to always do the best job I possibly could with integrity and honesty – to be honest, straightforward and always transparent with anything I always do.”

If he sounded like a man who’d just been sucker-punched, that’s because he was.

So, dear Democrats, why not (ahem) broaden the search a bit before stepping up to the microphones?

Why not, rather than cherry-pick the two Democratic Senate leaders, randomly choose a couple of fellow Dems for scrutiny and let the chips fall where they may?

Better yet, why not focus on a murky policy – which the ethics committee recommended in another 4-1 vote that the next Legislature do – rather than arbitrarily throw a Republican like Collins under the bus?

Cue the “they do it, too” defense. In a lengthy interview on Friday, Alfond claimed more than once that the Maine Republican Party, at the behest of Senate President Michael Thibodeau, had no problem filing an unfair ethics complaint against a Democrat challenging Thibodeau’s bid for re-election.

“The idea that this is being played for politics – we are partisans,” Alfond said. “We are people who play politics. That is our job. That is what we do as elected officials. That’s what we do.”

All-righty then. Give that man an “A” for candor.

Then there’s the timing of this whole brouhaha. Considering that the Collins reimbursement saga dates all the way back to 2014, it’s hard not to sympathize when he cries foul over a sneak attack launched a mere two weeks before the election.

To which Alfond replied that it all started a couple of weeks ago, when news broke that Cushing’s sister had followed up her lawsuit by filing a complaint to the state ethics commission about her brother’s PAC dealings.

“This is the research that both parties do in order to … get the voters, the taxpayers, Mainers all understanding the whole picture,” Alfond said.

Uh-uh. Witness the news release Alfond’s office put out after Thursday’s hearing: It claimed victory for the committee’s vote to revisit the reimbursement policy and included a quote once again lambasting Collins by Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lone vote against him on the committee.

What the release didn’t set straight was that Collins didn’t commit fraud on the taxpayers of Maine after all.

“That was a mistake,” Alfond conceded, looking back on Monday’s press conference. “There is no way … that Ron Collins was committing fraud.”

Eureka.

What makes last week’s dust-up so unfortunate is that at its core, a legitimate public policy issue cried out for bipartisan attention.

But that was all but drowned out by over-the-top mudslinging against a lawmaker who thought he was following the rules. A guy who, however unfairly, will be remembered by many on Nov. 8 as some kind of scam artist.

But hey, it’s all politics. Right?

Right. But that doesn’t make this ambush any less wrong.

Postscript: To the 200 or so readers who sent cards and emailed me after last Sunday’s column on my and my wife’s dearly departed dog, Fairbanks, thank you one and all. Your kind words, along with touching stories of your own four-legged friends, have lightened our heavy hearts.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Stung by bad trade, seller still sticks to his guns against Question 3 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/28/bill-nemitz-stung-by-bad-trade-seller-still-sticks-to-his-guns-against-question-3/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/28/bill-nemitz-stung-by-bad-trade-seller-still-sticks-to-his-guns-against-question-3/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1101084 File it under gun trades gone bad.

“Well, I just had ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) at my door,” wrote a guy named Will last month in a post to the Gun Owners of Maine Facebook page. “One of the guns I traded to another person on Facebook was recovered (by police) and traced back to me. The gun I received in trade for it was apparently stolen. Looks like I’m out a gun.”

He went on to warn, “I want to remind people. Do your due diligence before any trade or sale. I googled this guy’s name. I checked with Facebook, talked with him a bit beforehand. He seemed like a good guy. But I don’t have access to a NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) system so I could only get so much information. Unfortunately for me that was not enough.”

You won’t see Will’s last name here because, according to Rumford police Capt. Daniel Garbarini, fully identifying him could significantly compromise an ongoing criminal investigation.

But this much is clear: However unwittingly, Will has become the poster boy for Question 3, the proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot that would expand mandatory federal background checks to private gun sales and transfers in Maine, with certain exceptions.

Will’s Facebook post, which has since been deleted, was captured recently by Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, the group working to pass Question 3.

Now, let’s be clear here. Will has not been charged with any crime relating to his gun trade and has cooperated fully with federal and local law enforcement officials in their criminal probe.

Still, as Capt. Garbarini said in an interview Thursday, “I think there are some takeaways for him out of it – and probably for anyone who could learn from what he experienced moving forward.”

Which brings us back to Question 3.

In a lengthy exchange of messages on Facebook this week, Will told me most of his private gun transactions – all of which are currently exempt from mandatory background checks – involve family members or friends he’s known for a long time.

When he does business with a stranger, he said, he keeps meticulous records and does his own research – primarily via Google and social media – before sealing the deal.

“I’ve turned people down because they were charged with shoplifting,” Will said. “I’ve turned people down who had been charged with assault. I’ve turned people down who had ANY drug charge including marijuana. I’ve turned people down just because I didn’t like how they spoke. Their attitude seeming off.”

So why not add federal background checks to his to-do list?

Because, as he put it, a federal background check “only works if the person was a criminal before the deal happened.”

And because, he insisted, he’s perfectly capable of weeding out the convicted felons – who are legally prohibited from owning firearms – on his own.

“In almost every instance of arrest, there is a name published in the paper,” Will said. “It doesn’t mean they were convicted but to me that’s enough for me to feel confident.”

Let’s replay that.

He forgoes background checks because they catch only existing criminals. Which is precisely what they’re designed to do.

And rather than utilize a federal database that contains the names of countless convicted felons nationwide and has stopped sales to bad actors 2.4 million times and counting since 1998, Will relies on what may or may not have been reported in “the paper.”

That’s not due diligence. That’s wishful thinking.

Will said he’d have no problem doing background checks if the other party to a sale or trade insisted on one. In fact, he said, he’s passed five background checks himself just this year.

Nor would it be such a big deal, Will said, if he didn’t have to go to one of Maine’s approximately 1,000 federal firearms licensees to have a background check performed and pay what the proposed law describes as “a reasonable fee” for the service.

“If I could run a background check on someone using my cellphone at my convenience whether it be 2 p.m. or 2 a.m. (in a) McDonald’s parking lot, library, wherever I want, then sure … I would run a background every time,” he wrote. “But having to arrange a time where we both can meet at a (licensed gun) shop that is open during a time that works for both parties can be difficult.”

Understood. But how would he feel if he were to learn that a gun he’d traded away was used in a crime?

Or, worse yet, what if an undetected felon used his gun to shoot someone in a situation not involving self-defense?

“For lack of a better term I would feel like (expletive),” Will replied. “But it wouldn’t change my views. A background check will not stop someone who is out to do bodily harm. They will do it one way or another.”

To which I replied, “As for criminals being criminals, you’re right. No law will stop all of them all of the time. But to use that as an argument for no law strikes me as total surrender to the criminals.”

He didn’t respond. End of conversation.

Without a name, which police are loath to release at this point, there’s no way to officially determine the criminal status of the guy who got Will’s gun.

For what it’s worth, Will now claims that “this was a person who had not been convicted for anything other than minor offenses up until that point.”

This from the guy who boasted earlier that he can spot such transgressions from the comfort of his own keyboard.

What’s more, Will said, “there is no list of stolen guns for dealers to reference.”

Actually, hotgunz.com maintains an ever-growing database of weapons reported stolen, including a half-dozen currently from the Rumford area alone.

And as Capt. Garbarini noted, a chat with your local police can go a long way in determining whether a firearm is stolen before you buy it or accept it in trade.

But there’s a bigger picture to consider here with Election Day less than two weeks away.

Gun transactions involving licensed dealers already require federal background checks. In fact, according to FBI data, 5,501 of those checks prevented guns from getting into the wrong hands here in Maine from 1998 to 2014.

Not so for stranger-to-stranger hook-ups like Will’s. Haphazard Google searches notwithstanding, they go down every day all over Maine with no questions asked.

Why not?

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: A personal ode to the Best Dog Ever http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/23/bill-nemitz-a-personal-ode-to-the-best-dog-ever/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/23/bill-nemitz-a-personal-ode-to-the-best-dog-ever/#comments Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1098631 It was, among daily life’s many rituals, my favorite.

I’d pull into the driveway at the end of a long day.

Fairbanks, the Best Dog Ever, would jump up and stand by the porch steps, his face one big smile, his tail wagging like there was no tomorrow.

I’d come down the walk, stop in my tracks and say, “C’mon, Banks!”

Bolting down the steps, he’d sprint directly toward me, veering off at the last second into a wide circle – past the miniature Japanese maple, out to the driveway, around through the hostas and back up onto the porch, where he’d crouch like a coiled spring, tongue out, tail still wagging …

“C’mon, Banks!” I’d repeat. And we’d do it all over again … and again … and again …

I thought about those glorious homecomings with tears in my eyes Monday as I lifted Fairbanks up from the driveway and onto the towels my wife, Andrea, had spread across the back of the car.

His eyes clouded by cataracts, his hearing all but gone, his fluffy tail motionless between his arthritic hind legs, Bankster looked back up at me and, I swear, one last time he smiled.

He came into our lives 13 years ago, rescued at the last minute from a kill shelter in Alabama by The Golden Retriever Rescue Lifeline and trucked all the way to Maine along with more than a dozen other equally lucky pups.

I’d just written about the good people who run the rescue program, and Andy and I went to the park-and-ride lot in Biddeford to watch the offloading.

It was love at first sight. Fairbanks came down the ramp and sidled up next to Andy, who melted on the spot.

The next thing I knew, I was writing a check for the adoption fee. And just like that, all of our lives took a turn for the better.

If you’ve never had a dog, you may not get how a non-human can become part of a family. If you have, then perhaps you’ll understand.

Fairbanks was more than just a friendly dog. He was, to us and to so many who crossed his path over his long life, an actual friend.

Some might remember when I last wrote about him just over four years ago.

Back when he was a local celebrity.

Andy managed an upscale clothing boutique on Middle Street at the time and, rather than leave Bankster alone at home all day, she began bringing him to work.

Sitting there in the display window, at eye level with whoever passed by, he proudly served for more than a year as the Old Port’s therapy dog. To this day, people tell us how their daily “Fairbanks fix” made their workaday lives a little less wearisome, their burdens a little bit lighter.

“So handsome,” wrote one of many admirers on his “Friends of Fairbanks” Facebook page. “You light up my workday. Thanks, Fairbanks.”

Andy eventually changed jobs and, alas, Fairbanks lost his window on the world. His fans were crushed.

Still, life went on. We adopted another rescue dog, Sofie, to keep Bankster company during the day. And we tried mightily not to notice time’s inevitable advance.

His end-of-the-day welcomes slowed from four loops around the driveway to three, then two, then one … until finally he stayed put on the porch and gamely waved with his tail.

He slept more and, when he did play, moved more gingerly. His 4-mile walks shrank steadily until anything over a half-mile was likely to leave him lame for a day or two.

His facial hair turned gray.

But his spirit, dare I say his love, never wavered.

Last year, as I spent most of my time sick in bed, Fairbanks sensed something was wrong. Tail wagging, he’d stare into my eyes for what seemed like hours, as if to say, “We’ve got this. Things will get better.”

And they did. At least for me.

They say golden retrievers have an average lifespan of 11 or 12 years. Yet even as Fairbanks limped past 14, Andrea and I had trouble accepting that this gift, this once-scrawny little guy with the outsized grin, could ever stop warming the world around him.

But as we Googled “dog end of life” and scanned all the checklists on “when to know it’s time,” the evidence slowly mounted: Night wandering? Check. Loss of vision and hearing? Check. Inability to climb stairs? Check. Increasing incontinence? Check. Weight loss? Check …

Then it was Monday. From the moment we awoke, the 3:15 p.m. veterinarian appointment hung heavy over the day until finally, as the clock hit 3, I took a deep breath, hooked the leash onto Fairbanks’ collar and said, my own throat tightening, “C’mon, Banks. Time to go.”

Our veterinarian could not have been kinder. She examined Fairbanks, asked us about this and that, and gently assured us that, yes, we were making the right decision.

Upon hearing the words, I suddenly felt panicky. I wanted to scoop him up, run out to the car and make a beeline for home, where everything would be perfect again and Bankster would run to his heart’s content.

Instead, I held his front paw and watched as the vet administered the sedative and left us all alone for a few minutes.

Our tears flowing freely, Andy and I hugged and petted the dog of our dreams. Then he kissed us each on the chin one last time, lay down and, ever so slowly, drifted off to sleep.

Only then did I realize I still had my slippers on.

Only as I got in the car and closed the door did I fully grasp how attached we’d become to that furry bundle of pure, unadulterated friendship.

Only now, as Sofie and I sit here amid the silence, do I appreciate how much a dog can fill an old house – and beyond – with his simple presence.

Time surely will heal all of that.

Still, as I look over at the corner of the living room and spot a Fairbanks fur ball hiding in the shadow, I’d give anything for one more sunny afternoon, one more welcome home, one more wag of that brilliant tail.

Goodbye, Bankster. May you run in peace.

 

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Bill Nemitz: No grave concerns about integrity of Maine’s upcoming election http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/20/bill-nemitz-no-grave-concerns-about-maines-upcoming-election/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/20/bill-nemitz-no-grave-concerns-about-maines-upcoming-election/#comments Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1097075 I’m thinking about swinging through the cemetery near my house on Election Day to see if anyone needs a ride to the polls.

Sounds crazy?

Not as crazy as this:

“I am not confident we’re going to have a clean election in Maine,” Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday during his weekly chat with WVOM radio. “Will people from the cemetery be voting? Yes, all around the country.”

Don’t bother asking for evidence.

There is none.

Don’t bother pointing out to LePage, as more than one headline writer has already, that he was elected twice via the same system he now declares unclean.

LePage, we all know by now, is a stranger to irony.

And don’t assume LePage’s words, echoing those of his maniacal messiah, Donald Trump, are not a threat to the democratic process.

If this election has taught us one thing, it’s that a frightening number of Americans will believe anything.

“This allegation of widespread election fraud is just absolutely irresponsible,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Wednesday in an interview.

It’s also getting old.

For the better part of a decade, Republicans far and wide have tried with some success to erect as many barriers as they can between the American voter and the ballot box.

Here in Maine, for example, LePage & Company passed a law back in June of 2011 that did away with same-day voter registration. It set a deadline of two business days before an election – meaning, for Tuesday elections, the close of business the previous Thursday – for people to get on the voter rolls.

That November, Mainers pushed back hard. A people’s veto of the measure passed by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent.

Why the lopsided outcome?

Because a majority of Mainers believe in making it as easy as possible to vote. And because back then, just like now, Republican claims that our electoral system is rife with corruption have no basis in truth.

Thus it comes as no surprise that Politifact on Monday gave its worst “pants on fire” rating to Trump’s claim that the country is beset with “widespread voter fraud.”

“More people are struck by lightning or attacked by sharks than are accused of voter fraud,” Politifact found.

Does that mean our system is perfect? Of course not.

In a 2012 study titled “Inaccurate, Costly and Inefficient: Evidence that American Voter Registration Needs an Upgrade,” the Pew Center on the States found much room for improvement when it comes to registrations that are no longer valid or accurate (24 million), names of deceased citizens still on the voter rolls (1.8 million) and people who are registered in more than one state (2.75 million).

“These findings underscore the need for states to improve accuracy, cost-effectiveness and efficiency” in their elections, Pew concluded.

What Pew didn’t allege, however, is that any of those shortcomings have led to actual voter fraud.

In fact, Justin Levitt, an election fraud expert and professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, did an exhaustive study two years ago of crooked-electioneering claims throughout the United States.

Levitt unearthed 31 credible allegations of voter fraud from 2000 to 2014 – out of more than a billion votes cast.

So much for “widespread” skullduggery.

That mirrors an “investigation” back in 2011 by then-Secretary of State Charlie Summers. He launched it at the behest of then-Maine Republican Party state Chairman Charlie Webster, who claimed more than 200 out-of-state students in the University of Maine System had voted here illegally.

The number of students found by Summers to have actually committed voter fraud? Not a one.

But back to the dead people.

According to Secretary of State Dunlap, the Social Security Administration automatically alerts the state whenever a Maine citizen dies. The information goes first to the Department of Motor Vehicles and, in turn, to the state’s Central Voter Registration System.

Typically, Dunlap said, that prompts the removal of a person’s name from the voting list within a month of his or her death.

Beyond that, many of Maine’s 503 municipal clerks take their own steps to keep their lists up to date. In my hometown of Buxton, Town Clerk John Myers told me his staff checks the newspaper obituaries daily to see if any local folk have passed away and therefore shouldn’t be showing up on Election Day.

In other words, LePage’s claim that “people from the cemetery” will vote on Election Day is 100 percent, Grade-A baloney.

As is his other assertion this week that “there are counties in this country that get more votes than there are citizens in their county. So what’s that tell you?”

It tells us, once again, that Maine’s chief executive has no clue how idiotic he often sounds. And that he has zero respect for the intelligence and integrity of election workers who will spend long hours come Nov. 8 ensuring that our democracy works the way our Founding Fathers intended.

Here in Maine, with 10 or more of those good citizens serving at each of more than 600 polling places, that translates into well over 6,000 people. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats, some are independents, but all are driven by a shared belief in the process.

To call our elections rigged, without a scintilla of evidence to back it up, is to call these people incompetent at best and complicit at worst.

They deserve far better from the Republican nominee for president, from Maine’s governor and from the many other bomb throwers now feeding this frenzy.

Truth be told, they’re owed an apology.

As for those who blindly agree with Trump and LePage that the fix is in, you’re missing completely what’s motivating these two bozos as Election Day draws near.

Trump, facing all-but-certain defeat in 19 days, is pre-emptively soothing his gargantuan ego. Incapable of looking in the mirror and seeing the loser that he soon will be, he reflexively blames the system that got him this far.

And LePage?

Dunlap has a theory on what prompted the governor’s crazy talk on Tuesday. Around the same time LePage was calling in to WVOM, Dunlap noted, his administration was rocked by a report from the state auditor that the welfare cops at Department of Health and Human Services had “improperly managed” some $13 million in federal funds for needy children and families.

“How do you address that?” Dunlap mused. “You threaten a zombie apocalypse.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

Twitter: BillNemitz

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Bill Nemitz: In realm of verbal gaffes, LePage is an authority http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/16/bill-nemitz-governor-its-best-to-remain-silent-and-just-be-thought-a-fool/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/16/bill-nemitz-governor-its-best-to-remain-silent-and-just-be-thought-a-fool/#comments Sun, 16 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1095423 Dear Governor LePage,

Darn. It took you almost six years, but you finally uncovered the media’s secret weapon.

“I think that you all live in a world of words,” you told a roomful of reporters Wednesday, explaining why you have no respect for those of us who make a living hanging on your every word.

Including the word “authoritarian.” That’s the one you used during your weekly chat with WVOM radio Tuesday to describe the kind of power America needs from your hero, Donald Trump.

I know, Governor, it turns out “authoritarian” was the wrong word. As you pointed out during your news conference the next day, you meant to say “authoritative.”

Geez, words can sure be confusing, can’t they, Big Guy?

“Authoritarian,” according to Merriam-Webster, means “of, relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority.”

Or, if you prefer the secondary definition, “of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader … not constitutionally responsible to the people.”

I kind of like the latter. Makes me think of Donald Trump. Or maybe Adolf Hitler.

And someone out there in cyberspace apparently agrees: While I checked out “authoritarian” on Merriam-Webster’s website, wouldn’t you know that a video ad for Trump/Pence 2016 popped up to the far right!

In other words, Governor, you had it right the first time. Trump, without a doubt, is as authoritarian as they come.

But after that characterization landed you on CNN (again), you called in the press – the same people with whom you recently vowed never to speak again – and backpedaled to the word “authoritative.”

“Authoritative” means “having or proceeding from authority: official” and “clearly accurate or knowledgeable.”

Or, secondarily, it means “dictatorial.” Hmmm…

Moving on, you called your word mixup a “big error.” Then, a bit later, you called President Obama an “autocrat” and a “dictator.”

Back we go to Merriam-Webster, which defines “autocrat” as “a person who rules with total power,” and “dictator” as “a person who rules a country with total authority and often in a cruel or brutal way.”

So let’s see if we have this straight, Governor.

Contrary to what you said previously, Donald Trump is not an authoritarian. But he is authoritative, which Merriam-Webster tells us is synonymous with “authoritarian” and “dictatorial.”

President Obama, on the other hand, is a dictator and an autocrat, which Merriam Webster relates to “authoritarian.”

Help us here, Governor. We beseech you. (Sorry. That’s synonymous with “beg.”)

As you explained to all those word people, “If you look at the entire context, unless you’re a moron … you would clearly understand that I was criticizing Obama and I was lighthearted on Trump.”

Shoot, I guess that makes me a moron. Watching your 33-minute news conference left me thinking you shouldn’t leave the Blaine House without a mini-dictionary in your back pocket.

But back to your bromance with Trump.

You told the State House scribes that, unlike Obama, The Donald “does not have to go behind closed doors with community activists to get things done, and to hurt American people.”

Couldn’t agree more, Governor. If elected on Nov. 8, Donald Trump is fully prepared to hurt the American people right out in the open!

Say what? That’s not what you meant?

My bad. I slipped right back into that trap of paying close attention to what you actually say. It’s what they train us to do in the word business.

You see, Governor, that’s the difference between people like us, who communicate for a living, and people like you, who flail away at the English language like it’s a syntax-stuffed piñata.

From where we sit, words matter. Good or bad, pedestrian or incendiary, they’re indispensable to the functioning of a free society.

Use them well and they can raise people up. Use them poorly and they can drag us all into the gutter.

But from where you sit, words are of little consequence.

Choose the wrong one, as you do so persistently, and the entire state of Maine suffers.

And when that gets you in hot water, as it so often does, we’re the ones to blame.

We’re the ones who failed to navigate our way through your malapropisms to get at what’s really going on inside that stunningly addled head of yours.

I can hear you now the next time you cross paths with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, one of many Republicans who loudly (and rightfully) denounced the misogynistic comments Trump uttered aboard the “Access Hollywood” boy bus.

You’ll tell Collins the press got it all wrong. That you were taken out of context when you said her Trump smackdown “is not what we, the people who elected her, expect of her.”

Except, of course, that’s exactly what you said.

You also said the press portrays you as “about the biggest dumbass on the face of the earth.”

Your words, Governor. Not ours.

You complained that “the children of the Greatest Generation have sold the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation down the tubes.”

Last time I checked, Big Guy, you were 68. That puts you right smack at the front of the Baby Boom generation, which was begotten by the Greatest Generation.

So when you lambaste “the children of the Greatest Generation,” you do know you’re talking about yourself, right? Or are we word people once again putting words in your mouth?

One of the word people you called in Wednesday asked you for your thoughts about Donald Trump’s policies. Your words: “I don’t know about them. I am just campaigning.”

Campaigning on what? Donald Trump’s way with women? Do you ever actually take a moment to listen to yourself?

I will give you this, though, Governor.

Among your many rants last week, you counted yourself among the “little peons” who elect “the people inside the Beltway in Washington.”

Interesting word choice. “Peon,” according to the dictionary, means “a person who is not very important to a society.”

Way to go, Big Guy. You nailed that one.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Meet the Trump fan who posted a racy fake photo of Hillary http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/09/bill-nemitz-meet-brad-littlefield-a-deplorable-for-trump-personified/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/09/bill-nemitz-meet-brad-littlefield-a-deplorable-for-trump-personified/#comments Sun, 09 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1091908 So you think this presidential campaign can’t get any more disgusting than Donald Trump bragging about impulsively grabbing attractive women by the crotch?

Meet Brad Littlefield of Sanford. He likes to dress up Hillary Clinton in a skimpy bathing suit.

“I dunno, she looks kinda hot here! … just sayin! … bahahahaha!” chortled Littlefield, a former Sanford city councilor, in a recent Internet post.

Littlefield’s pièce de resistance: A Photoshopped image of a smiling Clinton atop the semi-nude body of a woman wearing an extremely revealing red-and-white thong with blue neck straps that barely cover her breasts.

It was right there on the “Mainers for Trump/Pence 2016” Facebook page until the wee hours of Saturday morning. That’s when Littlefield, upon seeing the message I sent him inquiring about it, hit the “delete” button.

But, by gosh, he’s still proud of it.

“The post was rhetorical,” he wrote in a series of back-and-forth messages later in the morning. “I am offended by Hillary’s behaviour toward this country.”

Rhetorical? How exactly can a doctored photo of the Democratic nominee for president be rhetorical?

“Perhaps ‘satire’ is a better term,” Littlefield wrote.

I don’t know. I was kind of leaning toward “misogynistic.”

To be clear, “Mainers for Trump/Pence 2016” is not the Trump campaign’s official Maine Facebook page.

That was emphasized Saturday by Trump campaign State Director Christie-Lee McNally, who also noted that Littlefield “is not working for me or on the campaign.”

Try telling Littlefield that.

He introduces himself on his own Facebook page, right under the sign “Deplorables for Trump 2016,” as “Team Trump Maine, Co-coordinating the get out to vote volunteers for Maine’s 1st Congressional Dist.”

Meaning?

“I am unpaid and have been working with MeGOP to coordinate volunteers for CD#1,” Littlefield wrote. “I was placed on a committee … to organize the volunteers … by the Me GOP… in June.”

His point person in Augusta?

“Joe Turcotte,” replied Littlefield, referring to the Maine Republican Party’s political director. (My email to Turcotte requesting comment received no response.)

To which Jason Savage, the Maine party’s executive director, replied in an interview, “Brad, early on, was involved with the Trump campaign. Brad has no formal or informal position with the Maine Republican Party.”

As for the screen-grabbed image of Clinton, which I sent him via email, Savage responded, “That post is reprehensible. It’s not coming from the Maine Republican Party. We’re not going to sit here and try to defend every single thing that one of 12,000 people who are out there posts on Facebook.”

Fair enough.

Still, Littlefield’s message, as well as the platform from which he launched it, is clearly a sign of these woebegone times. Not to mention a reflection of the Trump campaign’s Maine organization – or the lack thereof.

Consider: The Maine campaign’s official Facebook page, “Maine for Donald Trump@TrumpMaine,” has thus far attracted only 58 “likes.”

Littlefield’s renegade page, on the other hand, boasted as of Saturday 1,296 “members” – people who actually have taken the time to join up and be publicly counted.

Thus Littlefield’s sexist bile, which puts him in lockstep with the now-reeling Trump, appears to have a much wider audience than whatever the Maine campaign has managed to put out there.

Littlefield last served on the Sanford City Council in 2013. He blames the media, of course, for all that ails Trump’s candidacy as it approaches meltdown with Election Day weeks away.

Referring to Friday’s release of audio and video showing the depth of Trump’s depravity toward women, Littlefield wrote, “Apparently Trump is so bad the press has to reach back 11 years to find something in his background … pleeeease.”

So, just for the record, how might Littlefield feel if some online troll did to one of his two adult daughters what he did to Hillary Clinton?

“I would counsel my daughter BEFORE she entered politics that everything is on the table,” he replied.

Right. And if some crackpot virtually defiled her for all the world to see, that would be fair game in Littlefield’s book.

So much for conservative family values.

One more question for Littlefield: If there’s really nothing wrong with the photo of Clinton, why did he so hurriedly take it down while the rest of the world slept on Saturday?

“SOME took it literally,” he replied. “I removed it for that reason.”

Huh? How else might one take it?

“I am reminded of a story about a blind person who walks into a room and the mantle is at chin level,” Littlefield continued. “When he questions the location of the mantle … the room attendant said … ‘the world is not going to pad its corners for you.’ ”

Well, that certainly clarifies things. And how exactly was this man ever elected to the Sanford City Council?

In distancing himself from Littlefield, the Republican Party’s Savage cautioned that “he is one guy with a platform.”

At the same time, Savage noted, the Maine Republican Party includes “a lot of really good, caring concerned people.”

No argument there.

But here’s the problem. Thanks in no small part to Trump, not to mention the Republican Party that put him at the top of its ticket, blowhards like Littlefield have been inflated beyond all reason.

They rail, as Littlefield did, against “Hillary Clinton’s offensive behaviour ie untruthfulness about her emails, her email server, her cover-up of her untruthfulness … and Benghazi.”

Then, out of the blue, they post a picture of her half-naked.

They laud Trump as a political messiah who, while exhibiting neither a shred of knowledge nor a sliver of an actual plan, will somehow Make America Great Again.

Then, when he’s exposed once and for all for the male chauvinist pig he truly is, they unleash their ire on the messengers.

They proudly post signs like “Deplorables for Trump” – Littlefield offered to send me one once the latest shipment comes in – to push back on Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment of a few weeks ago.

Yet while doing so, they fail to see how pitch-perfectly they’re proving Clinton’s point.

We’ll never know for sure just how closely Littlefield was tied to the Trump campaign and the Maine Republican Party before they so summarily gave him the heave-ho this weekend.

But like it or not, they own the guy.

Upon hearing that Savage had disavowed any connection between the party and his Trumplike approach to political activism, Littlefield replied, “Guess I will need to ask them to stop asking me for help LOL.”

Or he could just crawl back under his rock.

 

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Bill Nemitz: In Haiti, shelter needed from yet another storm http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/06/bill-nemitz-shelter-needed-from-yet-another-storm/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/06/bill-nemitz-shelter-needed-from-yet-another-storm/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1089491 Not Haiti. Not again.

“Good Lord, as if we don’t have enough to deal with,” the Rev. Marc Boisvert, a native of Lewiston, said in a telephone interview Thursday morning. “Then this thing happens.”

He meant Hurricane Matthew, which on Wednesday hammered the city of Les Cayes on the southern peninsula of Haiti.

Ten miles outside Les Cayes sits Pwoje Espwa Sud, Creole for “Project Hope South.” An orphanage founded by Boisvert in 1998, it’s long been heaven on earth to 350 Haitian children rescued from life on the streets in the Western Hemisphere’s most impoverished nation.

No longer.

Packing winds of 145 mph and rain measured in feet rather than inches, the center of the hurricane passed directly over them.

“No one was hurt, which was a miracle in itself,” Boisvert said.

But the damage is catastrophic.

Pwoje Espwa last made headlines in the Portland Press Herald back in 2010, when the treasure-salvage ship Sea Hunter sailed there from Portland laden with donated items from Maine.

Haiti had just been hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, centered 100 miles east of Les Cayes. Damage to the city was minimal, but tens of thousands of Haitians had migrated there from the devastated capital of Port au Prince.

The “human tsunami,” as Boisvert called it, left the orphanage and surrounding area desperate for the 200 tons of food, clothing and medical supplies transported all the way from Portland Harbor by the Sea Hunter’s determined crew and volunteers.

I went along for that ride and spent a memorable two days at the orphanage. Known locally as Villaj Espwa, or “Hope Village,” the impeccably maintained, 125-acre campus boasted close to two dozen small dormitories, three schools, small vegetable gardens – all lit up by the smiles and laughter of kids reveling in what little they had.

Boisvert, a Roman Catholic priest who began his ministry in Maine, established the orphanage after serving as a chaplain for the military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. A French speaker, he often provided translation for Haitian refugees after they’d been plucked from their sinking boats or rafts by the U.S. Coast Guard and dropped off at Guantanamo.

The refugees’ horror stories prompted Boisvert to travel to Haiti in 1997 to witness firsthand the abject poverty, widespread disease and, worst of all, children left by fate to fend for themselves. He wondered: Could life in Haiti really be as bad as they described?

In fact, it was worse.

Transformed by the experience, Boisvert sold everything he had, created Pwoje Espwa and never looked back.

“This is God’s work,” he told me back in 2010. “This is what God wants me to do.”

Boisvert is in Florida now on the tail end of a months-long fundraising trip that included a visit to Maine at the end of August.

He’s scheduled to return to the orphanage for the winter later this month.

Thursday morning, after watching helplessly from afar as the Category 4 hurricane’s eye passed directly over Les Cayes, Boisvert made brief telephone contact with the orphanage’s assistant director.

As the storm approached, the staff moved all the boys, along with their mattresses and whatever else they could carry, from their metal-roofed houses to the sturdier, two-story primary school.

There the children stayed, huddled safely behind the thick walls and plywood-covered windows while the lethal debris flew around outside.

The hurricane tore the roofs off all 16 of the male housing units. The girls’ dorms, all domed structures, remain intact.

“The boys’ housing is gone. The secondary school is gone,” Boisvert said. “The kids are now living in the primary school, which means there will be no school for the foreseeable future.”

That’s a big deal. In addition to the orphanage population, Pwoje Espwa provides schooling for 1,300 children throughout the region. Until now.

But schooling can wait. Right now, it’s a matter of basic survival.

Fortunately for the children, a shipment of fortified rice packets arrived just over a week ago. So they’ll be fed, at least for the time being.

The orphanage’s neighbors, including 200 people who took refuge just before the hurricane in the orphanage’s preschool building, pose a much bigger challenge.

Virtually everyone lost their gardens and their livestock, Boisvert said, and in the past 24 hours the crowd squeezed into the preschool already had swelled to about 400.

Many more will follow as hunger deepens, forcing the orphanage staff to strike a delicate balance between the kids’ needs and those of the surrounding community.

“The problem is if we don’t give out any food, we could have a riot on our hands,” Boisvert said. “People are desperate.”

As for rebuilding, where to begin?

A collapsed bridge on the lone route to Port au Prince has left much of Haiti’s southwestern peninsula inaccessible by land. Even the road from Pwoje Espwa to nearby Les Cayes is impassible.

So, as always, Boisvert and his fellow lifesavers make do with what they have. Starting with nine metal shipping containers, which made their way from the Sea Hunter to the orphanage – via small fishing boats and ramshackle trucks – in the final stages of the 2010 relief operation.

“We were thinking about building something with them,” Boisvert said. “I think at this point they’re probably going to be used for housing some people.”

There will be no mercy ship from Maine this time around. Still, Boisvert hopes and prays that his home state’s generosity once again will flow south.

Care to donate? Go to www.freethekids.org, the website for Pwoje Espwa’s fundraising arm in the United States, and click on the hurricane relief link.

And if you’re wondering what difference it will make, consider that only a week ago, Pwoje Espwa welcomed in 40 new kids. All are under the age of 6.

Boisvert will get back there one way or another. But while most of the East Coast breathes a sigh of relief that Matthew won’t come anywhere near us after all, the good father can only pray and anxiously await the next call from his sleep-deprived assistant director.

“I could feel the crushing sadness in his voice as he had a chance to walk around the campus and see the damage that was done,” Boisvert said. “It’s disheartening, you know?”

We can only imagine.

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Bill Nemitz: Ranked-choice voting would be Maine’s smart choice http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/02/bill-nemitz-its-time-to-pull-rank-on-status-quo-voting/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/10/02/bill-nemitz-its-time-to-pull-rank-on-status-quo-voting/#comments Sun, 02 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1084845 A question for Maine voters as we head into the homestretch of Election 2016:

Are you really as dimwitted as some people seem to think you are?

No, this is not a column about Donald Trump. Or, for that matter, Gov. Paul LePage.

This is about ranked-choice voting. A new way of doing statewide elections that, despite those who think it exceeds most Mainers’ intellectual capacity, ain’t exactly rocket science.

“It really is just a runoff system,” said Dick Woodbury, chairman of the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting. “We’re doing exactly what a runoff would do – it’s just that we’re doing it in a really cost-efficient way. Without delaying the outcome, without all the more negative campaigning, without having to constantly reopen the polls.”

For those who’ve yet to take a close look at the ballot for the Nov. 8 election, welcome to Question 5: “Do you want to allow voters to rank their choices of candidates in elections for U.S. Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senate, and State Representative, and to have ballots counted at the state level in multiple rounds in which last-place candidates are eliminated until a candidate wins by majority?”

In a recent Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, 48 percent of likely voters surveyed said they support the new voting system.

At the same time, 29 percent said they will vote against it and 23 percent said they were still undecided.

Meaning it’s too soon for pro-Question 5 folks like Woodbury to start celebrating, but it’s entirely possible that Maine soon may lead the nation out of the political gutter and back toward, dare we say, a new era of electoral consensus.

Vocal opponents – only a handful have surfaced so far – say that first and foremost, ranked-choice voting is too complex, with too many moving parts for the typical Mainer to comprehend.

Seriously?

Picture a ballot with, say four candidates running for governor. Next to each are ovals marked “1st choice,” “2nd choice,” “3rd choice” and “4th choice.”

Under the ranked-choice system, you fill in the ovals accordingly – as many or few as you like – and then turn in your ballot just like you always have.

Once the polls close, the ballots are counted. If someone emerges with 50-percent-plus-one of the vote, strike up the music and drop the balloons. It’s over.

But if none of the four candidates receives a majority vote, the ranked-choice system kicks in.

How so?

First, the last-place finisher is knocked out of contention. At the same time, the second-choice selections on that candidate’s ballots are added respectively to the totals for the remaining candidates.

If that pushes one of the remaining candidates above 50 percent, it’s balloon time.

If not, the process is repeated until someone achieves a majority.

Bottom line, the winner reflects the wishes of the broader electorate, not just his or her hard-core political base.

And how might that nudge us closer to, as the Founding Fathers once put it, “a more perfect union”?

No more carping for the next two, four or six years about how the majority of Maine has been hijacked by a minority of voters.

No more campaign strategies based solely on dividing and conquering – and to hell with the 60 percent or more of voters who crave a less negative, more moderate message.

No more “spoiler” candidates who change the course of history with their minuscule share of the vote.

No more “strategic voting” by those who now feel forced to abandon their true favorite and use their ballot as a defensive weapon against the candidate they fear the most.

And, perhaps most important, better governance by elected officials who know that their re-election will hinge not on how much red meat they toss to their most rabid supporters, but on how well they represent their entire constituency.

Controversial? You bet – especially to those with a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

Woodbury divides the opposition into two camps – those who know they couldn’t come close to a majority under any voting scenario, and those “political operatives” who have turned the current mess into a self-serving science.

“They know how to do negative advertising, they know how to target, they know how to take data and help people succeed,” he said. “They know how to manipulate the system, and they’re wary of changing it.”

And so they warn that ranked-choice voting is “too complicated.” Ask yourself again, fellow voter, are you really as thick between the ears as the political elite make you out to be?

Recently, Woodbury tried the ranked-choice concept out at his 11-year-old nephew’s birthday party. He listed various menu items – hot dog, hamburger, pickles  – on the “ballot” before handing it over to his nephew with no instructions whatsoever on how to conduct the “election.”

“He explained it perfectly,” Woodbury recalled with a proud-uncle smile.

There are, to be sure, potential hurdles to consider here.

Attorney General Janet Mills opined this year that ranked-choice voting might run afoul of the Maine Constitution.

Fine. If the courts agree with Mills, there’s plenty of time to pass a constitutional amendment before ranked-choice voting kicks in in 2018.

Critics have said ranked-choice voting will push the state’s cost for an election from just under $250,000 to just over $900,000.

Question: If the current administration can blow almost half a million bucks on a Medicaid “study” that turned out to be plagiarized, why can’t Maine invest roughly the same amount in an election system that might actually prevent such mismanagement in the first place?

But enough naysaying. In his travels around the state promoting Question 5, Woodbury has been struck by how open so many Mainers are to a new way of exercising our democracy.

“I’ve never seen a referendum campaign that has drawn support from across the political spectrum to the degree that this one has,” he noted.

Meaning?

“A lot of people get the problem,” Woodbury said. “An awful lot of thoughtful people have come to the conclusion that we really do need a system that better addresses that now-very-common phenomenon of multi-candidate races.”

In other words, a choice more people can live with.

It’s that simple.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Think things can’t get stranger at the State House? Meet the Rev. Steven Craft http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/29/bill-nemitz-making-sense-of-a-ministers-maine-visit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/29/bill-nemitz-making-sense-of-a-ministers-maine-visit/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1080489 He’s been called just about everything in the book since he took office in 2011. But on Wednesday, one day after The Washington Post called for his resignation, Gov. Paul LePage earned himself a new nickname:

Maine’s official nut magnet.

“I don’t know your governor from Adam,” began the Rev. Steven Craft, head of Christian Citizenship Ministries Inc., at a State House news conference Wednesday that was, if nothing else, entertaining.

“Never met the man,” Craft continued. “Don’t know anything about him.”

But that didn’t stop the good reverend from traveling to Maine from New Jersey to … well, that’s where things get weird. I’ve watched the 40-minute presentation twice on Facebook, and I still can’t figure out what the guy was talking about.

Let’s rewind.

On Tuesday, one day after LePage publicly forked over his now infamous three-ring binder chock-full of alleged drug dealers and accounts of their misdeeds, a fellow named Hal Shurtleff put out an announcement headlined “Black Minister to Hold Press Conference at the State House to Defend Governor LePage.”

Shurtleff is with Camp Constitution, which exists “to enhance understanding of our Judeo-Christian moral heritage, our American heritage of courage and ingenuity, including the genius of our United States Constitution.”

(Sorry, Muslims and others outside the Judeo-Christian tent. No campsites for you.)

Shurtleff promised that the “black minister” would defend LePage from an ever-widening chorus of criticism for his repeated claims that Maine’s opioid crisis is the work of black and Hispanic drug dealers from away. This despite the fact that more than half the accused pushers in LePage’s now infamous bad-guy scrapbook – a cry for help if ever there was one – are neither black nor Hispanic.

The Rev. Craft’s other objective, Shurtleff promised, would be to call out the media for “playing the race card” against LePage.

Enter the Rev. Craft.

He’s 72, says he himself is a former heroin addict, and is blessed with an extraordinary ability to confuse the hell out of people.

Craft started by recalling a recent evening when he saw a national news report on LePage. Like so many others, the story highlighted the governor’s myopic fixation on blacks and Hispanics at a time when most Mainers wish he’d quit looking at the state’s drug crisis though race-tinted glasses.

“And the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, ‘Write a letter on Christian Citizenship Ministries letterhead and send it to Gov. LePage expressing to him that many things he said you agree with,'” recalled Craft.

So that’s what Craft did, official letterhead and all. He then got a note back from a LePage staffer thanking him for his “kind words.”

“But (LePage) hasn’t contacted me,” Craft said. “Not even with a ‘thank you’.”

Enter Craft’s good friend Shurtleff, from Camp Constitution, who attended the media briefing but barely said a word.

“Then Hal Shurtleff said, ‘You know what, man? We need to do a press conference to bring some clarity and balance to this thing,'” recalled Craft. “That’s the only reason I’m up here.”

Craft went on to say he wouldn’t have come in January because it’s so cold and black people hate the cold, which by the way is why Maine is so overwhelmingly white …

But we digress.

Back to the race card, which Craft got around to after invoking the Gospel According to John’s parable of how Jesus rescued the adulteress from an angry mob and told the mobsters that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. Apparently Craft sees himself as Jesus, LePage as the adulteress and the rest of us as the angry mob.

Darn, digressed again. Right, the race card.

Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle, in a valiant attempt to bring some sanity to the proceeding, asked Craft why the issue of race “is germane at all” to Maine’s drug problem.

“You’re right, Scott. It shouldn’t have been an issue,” replied Craft. “(LePage) was wrong by opening his mouth. … He played the race card. He did do that. But at the same time, being fair about the thing, the man said, ‘I was wrong and forgive me.’ So why is the thing still a controversy?”

Umm … maybe because the Rev. Craft came all the way to Maine to talk about it?

And so it went, a 40-minute session that was, at the very least, 39 minutes too long.

Craft actually claimed at several points that LePage has apologized for dragging race into the discussion, admitted his error and begged for forgiveness.

Not true, pointed out a reporter in the crowd.

“Did he clarify the wrong or is he still holding fast to a principle that it wasn’t wrong?” asked Craft. “That’s the answer I’d like to find out. I don’t know. You see what I’m saying?”

Nope.

On the contents of the governor’s scrapbook and LePage’s now-disproven claim that 90 percent of its occupants are black or Hispanic, Craft opined, “He was wrong. So you got him there. It wasn’t 90 (percent). ACLU (of Maine) says it was 40. So I’m asking you, where are the other 99? Does that make sense?”

Sorry, Rev. Lost us again.

Then there was Craft’s message for LePage, the man he purportedly came here to defend: “Man, stop having diarrhea of the mouth! Think before you shoot off at your mouth and you won’t have these controversies!”

OK, now that made sense.

Worth noting here is that neither LePage nor anyone on his staff came within barking distance of this carnival. Which is a good thing for them, considering how badly it backfired.

Still, there’s an important message behind this out-of-nowhere visit by a preacher who knows not of what he speaks and a constitutional camper who knows dry kindling when he sees it.

For those who don’t believe LePage’s antics have hurt this state’s image far beyond its borders, look no farther than Craft and Shurtleff and others out there on the fringes who now view Maine as the nation’s number one destination for lunacy.

And where, pray tell, might they get such an idea?

Easy.

They saw it in The Washington Post.

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Bill Nemitz: Her next text may be a lifeline http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/18/bill-nemitz-her-next-text-may-be-a-lifeline/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/18/bill-nemitz-her-next-text-may-be-a-lifeline/#comments Sun, 18 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1064394 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 DoSomething.org 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, crisistextline.org, 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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Bill Nemitz: Maine Med sees room for improving ‘patient experience’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/16/bill-nemitz-maine-med-acknowledges-room-for-improved-patient-care/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/16/bill-nemitz-maine-med-acknowledges-room-for-improved-patient-care/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1061215 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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Bill Nemitz: One-woman show about Margaret Chase Smith is just what we need http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/04/civility-of-margaret-chase-smith-to-be-revived-just-when-we-need-it-most/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/04/civility-of-margaret-chase-smith-to-be-revived-just-when-we-need-it-most/#comments Sun, 04 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1043545 It’s an oft-heard lament these days: Where is the late Margaret Chase Smith when we need her most?

Despair no longer. Next month, at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, Maine’s matriarch for civility in politics will bring an hour or so of calm to the calamity of 2016.

“I think I know her in ways maybe other people don’t,” said Sally Jones, also known as Smith’s theatrical reincarnation, over a cup of coffee last week in the sun-splashed breakfast nook of her Norway home.

Know her? Give Sally Jones a few hours to put on her makeup, get her hair done just right, don the proper attire and warm up that unmistakable central Maine accent and something remarkable happens. Jones, 75, doesn’t just look and sound like the woman from Skowhegan who once schooled the entire nation on how to singlehandedly take on a demagogue – and win.

She becomes her.

Sally Jones in character as Margaret Chase Smith (Photo courtesy of Sally Jones)

Sally Jones in character as Margaret Chase Smith (Photo courtesy of Sally Jones)

“Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington,” a one-woman play by Maine playwright Linda Britt, first debuted in 2009 in Lewiston and has since been performed over 30 times by Jones in small theaters all over Maine.

She thought her most recent appearances two years ago would be her last. A retired high school English and drama teacher who still acts, directs and produces a variety of theatrical productions, Jones is one busy woman.

Besides, it gets lonely when you finish a show and the cast party consists of … well, you.

But then the Cosmopolitan Club of Bath and the Chocolate Church Arts Center, both of which will benefit from next month’s show, came calling.

“I think people are hungry for civility. They’re hungry to see people able to work together,” said Phyllis Bailey, a member of the all-women Cosmopolitan Club’s board of directors who talked Jones into a one-performance revival on Sunday, Oct, 9, at 2 p.m. (For tickets, go to chocolatechurcharts.org or call 442-8455.)

Of course, added Bailey, there’s also plenty of current-day application for Smith’s famous “Declaration of Conscience” in 1950 against the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin – a speech that set the stage for McCarthy’s formal censure by the U.S. Senate four years later.

“At a time when it wasn’t very secure to do so – (Smith) was the only woman in the Senate – she stood up to someone who was being very indiscriminately destructive with his accusations against other people,” said Bailey.

Sound familiar? More on that in a minute.

So convincing is Jones as Smith that unexpected things happen as she first tells her life story and then, still in character, opens a question-and-answer session with her audience with the simple request: “I’m at a disadvantage. You know me but I don’t know you. So I would like you to tell me when our paths have crossed.”

At her first-ever performance in Lewiston back in 2009, then-Mayor Larry Gilbert stood up and introduced himself.

“Oh,” replied the senator. “How nice to see you, Larry.”

“I went to your funeral,” deadpanned Gilbert.

“Everybody cracked up, including me,” recalled Jones. “And I thought, ‘This is my first time improvising in character.’ ”

Without missing a beat, the senator asked Hizzoner, “How did I look?”

At other times, however, the audience connection has been no laughing matter.

There was the woman who lingered after a show in Gardiner until everyone had left and then approached the senator to quietly remind her, “I was once your secretary.”

An older man with an accent proudly approached a stage in Lewiston and recalled for the senator how he’d come to the United States long ago to learn to be a doctor, how his visa had expired, how she’d helped him avoid returning to a country that “was not a good place to be,” how he’d later brought his parents and brothers and sisters over and how they were now all doctors and college professors, contributing mightily to American society.

“And so,” the doctor said, “I just came to thank you.”

An elderly widow, also with a bit of an accent, rose from the second row in South Paris, slowly squeezed her way past her seatmates, actually came up onto the stage and took the senator’s hand in her own.

“I was a German war bride,” the woman said. “And after the war, my husband came home and I wasn’t allowed to. And you brought me here. And I just want to thank you for this wonderful country that I’ve been able to live in.”

As she made her way back to her seat, the woman embraced every person in her row. Looking out from the stage, Jones watched many in the audience wiping tears from their eyes.

Ah, but just around the corner from the poignant past lurks the irksome present. The implicit ground rule – that Mrs. Smith can only discuss the world she knew – begs to be broken.

“What do you think of Sarah Palin?” asked one audience member back in 2012.

Dramatic pause.

“One of the things that I always did is I studied all issues before I voted,” the senator finally replied graciously. “And I don’t feel I’ve studied her as much as I could.”

Artful dodge. What exactly was she trying to avoid?

“Being on the internet,” replied Jones.

Meaning, she explained, the last thing she’d ever want is to see is a viral YouTube video showing the spitting image of Margaret Chase Smith, who died in 1995 at the age of 97, offering a lesson in civil discourse to Sarah Palin … or now Donald Trump … or, for that matter, Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

“Because she would have studied everything,” said Jones. “And if she thought her country was in trouble, then she would speak out. But how do I know? How do we know? We can surmise, but we can’t say for sure.”

Of course, today’s political climate is hot and only going to get hotter. And while Jones is loath to disclose how she feels about the headlines competing for the top of Page 1 lately, she knows it will be harder than ever this time to resist that tug-of-war between Maine’s history and its future.

So she has a plan.

Rather than let us drag her forward, she just might take us back. Make way for Sen. Margaret Chase Smith …

“I was new in the Senate, but there were things going on that were making me highly uncomfortable,” she said in that hauntingly familiar voice. “Mr. McCarthy, Joseph McCarthy, was making accusations and he had … no … evidence! And the cornerstone of our country, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights … were under attack and no one would say anything. Can you imagine?”

Yes, Madam Senator. Yes we can.

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Bill Nemitz: Maine’s legislative races turn into a referendum on LePage http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/01/bill-nemitz-maines-legislative-races-turn-into-a-referendum-on-lepage/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/09/01/bill-nemitz-maines-legislative-races-turn-into-a-referendum-on-lepage/#comments Thu, 01 Sep 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1038828 So there you have it, voters. Maine has another referendum on its hands.

It won’t resemble the six questions already on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot. No, this question will hang like a guillotine over every Republican running for a seat in the 128th Maine Legislature:

Where do you stand on Gov. Paul LePage?

Earlier this week, it appeared the Legislature was headed for a long-overdue day of reckoning with LePage over his now-infamous fixation on the ethnicity of Maine’s drug dealers, along with his even more notorious, obscenity-laden voice mail diatribe against state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.

Leaders across the political spectrum quickly agreed that “corrective action” was needed. Some Republicans in the Senate went so far as to say that LePage’s latest assault on Maine’s heart and soul required at least some form of official sanction by the people’s representatives in Augusta.

Then, on Tuesday evening, House Republicans met privately to discuss the possibility of a special session to consider such action – the Legislature can call itself into such a session only if majorities of the Democratic and Republican caucuses from both the House and Senate agreed to convene.

It appeared the other three caucuses were ready to roll. But then the House Republicans, in the heat of the moment, wilted.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette told reporters that LePage’s apology, issued earlier that day, was good enough for him. Besides, he said with a straight face, shouldn’t we all be focused on the positive things that have taken place under the LePage administration?

“It’s not up to me to be a psychiatrist and psychoanalyze the governor,” Fredette said.

Nobody’s asking him to do that – although he’s apparently one of the few people in Maine and beyond who hasn’t over the past several days.

Rather, Fredette’s job – much like that of his Republican counterpart, Senate President Michael Thibodeau of Winterport – is to weigh his loyalty to LePage against his leadership duty to his party and gauge how big a shadow the governor now casts over the legislative landscape with Election Day just 68 days away.

Here’s a hint: It’s huge.

So huge that some Republicans in moderate districts, most notably Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough, will have no reservations whatsoever about denouncing LePage as the embarrassment he so clearly has become.

“What I do not know is whether it is due to substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance,” Volk posted on her Facebook page Sunday. “Some sort of censure would seem appropriate and I would welcome the ability to go on the record with a vote.”

Volk’s words no doubt came from the heart. At the same time, it’s clear that the more distance she puts between herself and LePage over the coming 10 weeks, the better her chances for re-election.

The same goes for any other Republican now out there knocking on doors in a tight legislative race. As Senate President Thibodeau put it when asked about Volk’s bold move, “She’s not on an island here.”

Contrasted with Volk’s gumption, what makes the House Republicans’ punt so distasteful is that it reeks of plain old partisan obstructionism.

Let’s say they’d agreed to a special session with the stated goal of slapping LePage with a formal censure.

Before Republicans could holler “Point of order!” the proceeding might have morphed into a vote by the Democratic majority to impeach LePage – assuming the Gattine voice mail met the requisite “misdemeanor” as stated in the Maine Constitution.

Then it would be up to the Senate to actually try and convict LePage by a two-thirds vote – no easy feat considering that Republican senators outnumber Democrats 20-15.

Put more simply, LePage likely would have survived a special session with a formal slap on the wrist.

Historic? To be sure.

Humiliating? At least to the extent that this governor can feel humiliation.

But it would have been over – at least until the next gubernatorial eruption. And each and every Republican incumbent on the ballot could have pointed to the censure and said, “See? I was horrified too! And my vote shows it!”

Now all they’ve got is, “Well … um … he did apologize. And lookee here, have I showed you Maine’s latest batch of welfare reforms?”

If these were normal times, Fredette would have a point when he insists, as he did Tuesday, that “we need to be talking about the issues so that the voters clearly understand what are the differences between Republicans and the Democrats.”

But these are not normal times. A national consensus is emerging that Maine’s chief executive is mentally unbalanced, unfit to hold higher office and in serious need of professional help.

At the same time, Maine and its voters have become a punch line for electing him not once, but twice.

(“How come he gets voted into office?” Dotun Adebayo, a radio host with the BBC, asked me during an interview over the weekend. My reply, which ranged from the variables of three-way elections to the conservative bump from the 2014 bear referendum, suddenly felt so wanting.)

The stark reality as we rush headlong toward this election is that when it comes to Maine politics, every discussion will begin and end with Paul LePage.

The liberals didn’t cause this sudden turn of events. Nor did the media or the countless other perceived antagonists in the governor’s personal house of horrors.

No, Paul LePage is now the dominant issue in this legislative election for no reason other than Paul LePage. His mouth. His words. His bile.

That’s worth keeping in mind when a House Republican incumbent comes knocking on the porch door in the next few weeks and, should he or she dare, asks what’s on your mind.

“Where do you stand on LePage?” you might reply.

“Oh, I think what he did was disgraceful,” they’ll all say with furrowed brow. “A sad day for the entire state of Maine!”

Then look them in the eye and ask, “So what did you do about it?”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: LePage, just stick to shooting off your mouth http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/bill-nemitz-lepage-just-stick-to-shooting-off-your-mouth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/bill-nemitz-lepage-just-stick-to-shooting-off-your-mouth/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1033165 Dear Governor LePage,

Look at you! Getting all historical on us!

Not to mention hysterical.

I’ve got to tell you, Big Guy, I thought the days you could surprise us with your special brand of crazy were long gone.

From the ladies with chemically induced “little beards” to the invasion of the “ziki flies,” from a political opponent’s “black heart” to our “Gestapo”-like Internal Revenue Service, I counted myself among the many Mainers who have developed an immunity of sorts to your endless litany of fluffernutters.

The shrinks undoubtedly would call this a defense mechanism, a way to keep ourselves from going stark raving mad between now and that glorious day you leave office.

But now you want to go dueling.

With pistols.

And you want to shoot your opponent – state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook – “right between the eyes.”

Go see if your powder is dry while I see if I have this story straight.

On Thursday, one day after you threw another tantrum at a town meeting about all those black and Hispanic drug dealers whose photos you keep in a weird personal scrapbook, you got into spat with a few reporters about critics who reportedly have referred to you as a racist.

Gattine’s name came up, although to date there’s no hard evidence out there that he actually has called you a racist.

No matter. Within minutes, you were on your phone leaving Gattine a voice mail so raunchy that … well … let’s just say if the nuns still could get their hands on you, you’d be speaking in soap bubbles until Labor Day.

Then what did you do? You challenged Gattine to make the message public!

Which he did. And so there the raw recording now sits on the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram website, racking up more clicks than a nude photo of Melania Trump.

I’ve got to hand it to you, Governor. For a guy who hates these newspapers, you sure know how to drive up those page views.

But back to the duel.

You’d no sooner stomped away from those reporters to go have lunch – telling them, paradoxically, “You make me so sick!” – than you summoned them back for a 30-minute chat inside the Blaine House.

There, you said you wished it was 1825 again “and we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between (Gattine’s) eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”

Point of information, Governor?

Alexander Hamilton was fatally shot by Aaron Burr in 1804, not 1825.

(Interesting that you should pick 1825, though. It marked the end of the “Era of Good Feelings,” an eight-year stretch during which partisan rancor was at a low ebb under the administration of President James Monroe.)

But back to the issue at hand: Considering that you’re publicly itching for a duel, and that you also warned Gattine in that voice mail, “I am after you,” you’ve now managed to stir more than a few Mainers out of their self-protective slumber. Some even think you’ve committed a crime this time.

They may have a point. Maine state law defines criminal threatening, a Class D crime, as “intentionally or knowingly plac(ing) another person in fear of imminent bodily injury.”

The threat “I am after you” followed by fantasies of an old-fashioned pistol shot between the eyes?

Yeah, I can see that might make someone weak in the knees, especially a “little son-of-a-bitch, socialist (expletive)” Democrat from southern Maine. Your words, Governor, not mine.

Still, for all the hoopla you’ve generated – CNN, Politico, that obsessive Rachel Maddow on MSNBC – we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we, sir?

You’ve grumbled in the past about assassinating legislators from Lewiston, bombing the Press Herald and shooting a political cartoonist from the Bangor Daily News.

Heck, you even once said you were “about ready to punch” then-Maine Public Broadcasting Network reporter A.J. Higgins, who shrugged it off and went on about his business.

Gattine, much to his credit, appears to be doing the same.

“Obviously that message is upsetting, inappropriate and uncalled for,” Gattine told Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle. “It’s hard to believe it’s from the governor of the state of Maine, but … we need to stay focused on the drug problem we are facing here in Maine and cannot allow this story to be about the governor’s inappropriate and vulgar behaviors.”

Bummer, huh, Big Guy? Looks like no duel after all.

By Friday, in fact, you were in full retreat – or what passes for it in LePage Land.

You apologized to “the people of Maine” for your potty mouth. (Can’t you just see all those chortling young kids from Kittery to Fort Kent, playing that voice mail over and over and over on their smartphones while their parents throw up their hands in despair?)

But you offered no such apology to Gattine, who’s sticking to his guns (no, sir, he’s never dueled) that he didn’t, nor would he ever, call you a racist in the first place.

In fact, at a press gathering on Friday, you doubled down on Gattine, claiming that the voice mail was “intended for his ears and his ears only” and that “he chose to put it on the Portland Press Herald.”

Let’s go back to the tape, Governor. The part in which you say, “I want you to record this and make it public.” Ring a bell?

I watched the whole 36-minute video of Friday’s press conference and I’ve got to say, Big Guy, there were times when I swore you were channeling the late Richard M. Nixon in those dark, final days of his failed presidency.

The way you railed about how all those legislators upstairs are out to get you, the way you fumbled through your drug-dealer scrapbook as if it held the answers to all life’s difficult questions, I half-expected the ghost of Alexander Haig to walk in and order the room cleared in the name of national security!

But alas, you won’t quit like Nixon did, will you?

Nor will you take any responsibility for this latest mess, starting with an honest answer to this most basic of questions: Why does the race of all those drug dealers matter in the first place?

You mention it repeatedly, you told reporters, “because it’s a fact.”

Actually, Big Guy, it isn’t. But grab ahold of this fact:

A modern-day cellphone has a much wider range than a 19th-century dueling pistol.

And the entire country can hear you now.

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Bill Nemitz: Maine’s voter guide offers political influence – for just $500 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/bill-nemitz-political-influence-for-the-price-of-a-few-rolls-of-stamps/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/25/bill-nemitz-political-influence-for-the-price-of-a-few-rolls-of-stamps/#comments Thu, 25 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1028705 Citizens! Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap invites you to be heard!

The “Citizen’s Guide to the Referendum Election” soon will go to press, and Dunlap recently issued a reminder that you’d think would be too good for political activists to refuse.

For a paltry $500, proponents and opponents of the six questions appearing on this fall’s statewide ballot can have a published word – actually, as many as 300 words – with Maine voters on whether to legalize marijuana, increase funding for education, expand firearm background checks, raise the minimum wage, institute ranked-choice voting or approve a $100 million infrastructure bond issue.

Such a deal?

“Not many people take advantage of it,” Dunlap conceded in an interview.

Not many indeed.

By law, the state’s voter guide must accommodate a maximum of three comments for and three against each question on the ballot – meaning this year there’s room for 36 people or organizations to sound off on why this or that question should pass or fail.

As of Wednesday, however, the secretary of state’s Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions had received just one – a plea to vote for Question 2 from Citizens who Support Maine’s Public Schools.

A little background:

The public comment sections in the voter guide have been around since 2006, when the Maine Legislature decided that simply listing the boilerplate information on each referendum wasn’t enough.

Lawmakers agreed that voters needed some context, some guidance, some back-and-forth debate to jump start their critical thinking before they grabbed their ballots and headed into the booths.

Or not.

Of the 42 questions that have appeared on the ballot since 2008, only five have attracted any public comment whatsoever.

That could mean one of two things: Either very few political organizers see much value in making their pitch in the voter guide, which is available before elections at every town hall and public library in Maine, and on the secretary of state’s website.

Or, in this age of Twitter, Facebook, mass emails and other forms of highly targeted, speed-of-light campaigning, many of today’s messaging wunderkinds don’t even know the voter guide exists.

Either way, the secretary of state thinks they’re missing out on a golden opportunity for “the price of a few rolls of stamps.”

“Yeah, this is 500 bucks,” Dunlap said, noting that the money goes to cover printing costs and to “weed out the frivolous ones.”

But in exchange for that money, he continued, “you’re going to reach thousands upon thousands upon thousands of voters. Because people do turn to this. They look for it.”

Go ahead and chuckle. But first answer this question honestly: Before you began reading this, could you rattle off the six questions that you’ll be asked to answer when you head out to vote on Nov. 8?

And since we’re on the subject, when was the last time you stood there in the voting booth, reading and rereading a referendum question and telling yourself, “Geez, I wish I’d taken the time to look into this sooner …”

You’re far from alone.

“Even in the modern information age, there are still people – and plenty of them – they still don’t get a newspaper, they don’t have a television, they don’t have a computer,” Dunlap said. “And they walk into a polling place with absolutely no knowledge of what’s on the ballot.”

And voter guide readers? Also known as the most engaged citizens on Earth?

“They’re looking for the information,” Dunlap noted. “They’re a highly motivated voter. They want to know a little bit more about what’s on the ballot. So they go down to the library, they go down to city hall, they find the voter guide and they start looking at the language and these advocacy pieces that tell them why somebody thinks they should vote for this and why somebody thinks they shouldn’t.”

Better yet, for anyone looking to snag their vote, some voter guide readers peruse the public comments literally seconds before they actually receive their ballots. Can there be a more strategic time to make a strong impression?

The good news, for those average folk with the money and inclination to weigh in – not to mention those highly paid political consultants still asleep at the switch – is that there’s still time.

The Secretary of State’s Office will accept public comments until the end of business on Tuesday. If you’re one of the first three in favor or opposed to whichever question rattles your cage, you’re in.

The rules? Pretty simple.

You must be for or against the question. Nobody wants to waste their precious time on a fence straddler.

You message must be “in plain English.”

That 300-word limit is firm. “Spend some time reading Hemingway,” Dunlap advised. “Learn how to keep things tight.”

Be forewarned that “no grammatical, spelling or textual changes will be made,” so don’t go blaming the secretary of state for your dangling prepositions or mixed metaphors.

That said, your comment cannot contain any “obscene, profane or defamatory language,” “incite or advocate hatred, abuse or violence toward any individual or group,” or “contain any language which may not be circulated through the mails.”

Just out of curiosity, exactly what kind of language “may not be circulated through the mails?”

“I can’t really define what that would mean,” Dunlap replied. “And if I could, you couldn’t print it.”

Finally, be advised that nothing in the rules protects you from criminal or civil liability should your words defame someone or otherwise get you into legal hot water.

Translation: This is a state publication, for crying out loud, not some anonymous internet chat room.

Is it worth it? That’s for you to decide.

But know this: Of the 10 public comments submitted on those five referenda since 2008, eight have turned out to be on the winning side.

Coincidence? Perhaps … or perhaps enough people actually read those mini-treatises and were persuaded.

So go ahead, make a little Maine electoral history. Or at least take pride in knowing you tried.

“As long as it follows the guidelines, I don’t care how coherent it is,” Dunlap said. “That’s their problem.”

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: Leaks sink what’s left of LePage’s credibility http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/21/bill-nemitz-lepages-leaks-sink-whats-left-of-his-credibility/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/21/bill-nemitz-lepages-leaks-sink-whats-left-of-his-credibility/#comments Sun, 21 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1023084 Fair warning to anyone whose confidential information may be on file with the state of Maine: Stay on the good side of Gov. Paul LePage.

Last week, amid one of his chronic tirades against Maine’s immigrants and refugees, LePage did an interview with the Boston Herald – his apparent go-to newspaper when he wants to spout off without any of those troublesome follow-up questions.

The source of his ire: Adnan Fazeli, the Iranian refugee who became radicalized after moving to Maine in 2009, left his home in Freeport to go off and fight with the Islamic State in Syria in 2013, and died in battle with the Lebanese army in early 2015.

(All of which LePage learned about from a story on the front page of Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald. A newspaper he insists he never reads.)

That LePage would be upset at the news of a jihadist springing from our midst came as no surprise. Many shared his sentiment.

But here’s where it got ominous: The Herald, citing only “Maine officials,” reported that Fazeli “was on food stamps and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for at least four years until 2013.”

“LePage said he is now calling for a review of all such benefits in his state,” the Herald continued. “He also said Fazeli’s wife is no longer in Maine.”

Let’s turn now to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 7, Part 272.1, which clearly states that those with legal access to information on food stamp recipients “must adequately protect the information against unauthorized disclosure to persons or for purposes not specified in this section.”

Now, I’m no lawyer, but I’d be willing to bet that a politically charged leak to the Boston Herald falls way outside the tightly limited disclosures (to state bureaucrats, law enforcement and immigration officials) permitted under the federal code.

And while LePage denied through his spokesman on Friday that he whispered said leak into the Herald’s ear, the governor expressed no dismay whatsoever that “Maine officials,” on his watch, clearly broke the law by posthumously outing Fazeli.

(Of course, LePage had no problem telling the world that Fazeli’s widow and three children – who, wink-wink, must have been on welfare too – no longer reside in Maine.)

Before LePage lets himself off the hook so easily, however, it’s worth noting that he became at least a de facto party to this federal violation the moment he invoked Fazeli as his newfound reason for instructing the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to “look at our welfare rolls closer.”

“This is very embarrassing to the state of Maine, and I point the finger at (President Obama) and say, ‘How did this happen?’ ” LePage told the Herald. “If the federal government doesn’t do their job, we don’t know what we’re getting.”

(Not to nitpick, but he had the wrong president. When Fazeli arrived in the United States in 2008, George W. Bush occupied the White House.)

The point here is not to defend Fazeli, who pretty much got what he deserved after he decided to take up arms with a band of lunatics bent on destroying civilization as we know it.

Rather, by ignoring the fact that legal confidentiality was violated in this case and then using it to further his own anti-immigrant agenda, LePage has sent a chilling message to anyone who might rub him the wrong way personally, politically or philosophically: State government has private information on you. And you never know when, or how, it just might become public.

Ditto for Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who picked up where LePage left off on Wednesday when she told WCSH that her department is already hard at work rooting out welfare fraud in Maine’s immigrant community.

“There are certainly a number of cases, investigations underway right now, that involve welfare fraud and abuse, that pertain to immigrants, that we are going to continue to devote the necessary resources to guard against the misuse of taxpayer dollars, that in several cases include concerns around criminal activity and terrorism,” Mayhew told the TV station.

Now suppose for a moment that I was to write a column about, say, my “concerns” that senior members of the LePage administration routinely get plastered after work and then drive home drunk.

The appropriate response? How dare I say that! If I’m going to make such a serious allegation, I’d darn well better back it up with some specifics!

Which is why neither I, nor any of my colleagues here at the Maine Sunday Telegram, would ever do such a thing.

Not so for Mayhew. She drops the word “terrorism” like a ticking time bomb at the end of her rambling quote, knowing full well that’s the one word many in her audience will remember – along with, of course, the aforementioned “welfare fraud” and “immigrants.”

Evidence? It’s, ahem, confidential. (At least until it isn’t.)

Accountability? Hey, it’s television. People will remember what was said long after they’ve forgotten who said it.

Compassion for the least fortunate among us? Sure, as long as they don’t have hard-to-pronounce surnames.

Click on the reader comments beneath the online version of this column and I guarantee you’ll find a pack of LePage apologists whining that I can’t seem to sit down at the keyboard lately without zeroing in on the governor or those aligned with him.

You’re damn right I can’t.

Maine is stuck with Paul LePage for another two-plus years. Mary Mayhew has made no secret of her interest in taking his place.

Both have a sworn duty to uphold the law as they go about their official business. Instead, they raise nary an eyebrow while the law gets sucker-punched in the name of political opportunism.

Both have a moral obligation to treat all Maine residents equally, regardless of skin color, ethnic origin or time spent living here.

Instead, to an incessant far-right drumbeat, they single out immigrants and refugees with not-so-subtle undertones of suspicion and contempt.

Both, by virtue of their lofty titles, would have us regard them as leaders.

They’re nothing of the sort.

And as they now turn their blind eyes and deaf ears to the notion of personal privacy, their shame has reached new depths.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Fazeli’s family deserve our thanks for alerting authorities http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/18/bill-nemitz-informants-on-fazeli-didnt-need-browbeating/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/18/bill-nemitz-informants-on-fazeli-didnt-need-browbeating/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1019171 The next time someone says we need to start pounding on the doors of our immigrant communities to “find out what the hell is going on,” remind them of Adnan Fazeli.

Fazeli, 38, died on a battlefield in Lebanon last year after leaving his home and family in Freeport to become a fighter for the Islamic State in Syria.

As reported in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald, he came to the United States in 2008, became radicalized after moving to Portland from Philadelphia in 2009 and, as time passed, became increasingly isolated from his family and the local immigrant community before suddenly hopping on a plane for the Middle East in August of 2013.

And how do we know all of this now?

Because those closest to him called the FBI, that’s how.

A federal government affidavit, obtained by Press Herald staff writer Scott Dolan, identifies them only as “CI 1,” “CI 2,” “CI 3” and “CI 4.” (“CI” is shorthand for “Cooperating Individual.”)

But a close reading of the document leaves little doubt that some if not all of them were closely connected to Fazeli during the roughly four years he spent with his wife and children first in Portland, then in Westbrook and finally in Freeport.

As Ebrahim Fazeli, Adnan Fazeli’s nephew, told staff writer Megan Doyle, “Our family were the ones that initiated this investigation. We did it long before all these terrorist organizations were in the news.”

It’s a murky world, to be sure. Maine State Police Detective George Loder, acting as a member of an FBI task force, noted in the affidavit that the FBI paid three of the four informants for their information on Adnan Fazeli.

But this much is clear: Without that information, it’s highly doubtful Fazeli would have been so much as a blip on the FBI’s radar screen a full 17 months before he was killed in a battle with the Lebanese army on Jan. 23, 2015.

Noted Loder in the affidavit, “On August 23, 2013, CI 1 told a local FBI agent that CI 1 believed an individual named ‘Abu Nawaf’ (an alias used by Adnan Fazeli) had converted from a Shia to a Sunni Muslim. CI 1 reported further that Nawaf was an Iranian national then residing in Freeport, Maine, and had recently grown a beard and had become very religious …

“CI 1 had overheard Nawaf expressing anti-American rhetoric while at an Iraqi market in Portland, Maine, where Nawaf was known to associate.”

The tips kept coming: “CI 2” told the FBI that Fazeli “at some point changed and became very angry.”

“CI 3” provided Fazeli’s back story from Iran to the United States, where he “did not adapt well” and eventually became radicalized.

“CI 4” provided details of that radicalization, from Fazeli’s conversion to Wahhabism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, to his penchant for watching Islamic videos on YouTube.

The good news for Maine is that Fazeli took his anger elsewhere. Ten days before the FBI’s first interview with “CI 1,” Fazeli boarded a Lufthansa flight from Boston to Frankfurt, continued on to Istanbul and never returned.

But what if he had stayed in Maine?

What if, rather than join the fight over there, he’d resolved instead to start one of his own right here in the belly of what he perceived to be the American beast?

Suddenly those “cooperating individuals” would no longer just be helpful sources in solving a puzzle that self-destructed halfway around the world – and thankfully, according to the FBI, left no co-conspirators back in Maine picking up where he left off.

No, with Fazeli still in our midst, our very lives might depend on those informants’ willingness to step forward and sound the alarm.

So with that in mind, what’s the buzz in the wake of Tuesday’s stunning headline?

With painful predictability, both Gov. Paul LePage and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin reflexively went after President Obama, claiming that Fazeli is the latest example of an immigration system that LePage called an “utter failure.”

What neither acknowledged is that no system, short of an outright ban on all immigration, can account for the individual who goes off the deep end only after arriving here and deciding for whatever reason – too much time alone on the internet? – that America is the enemy after all.

Nor does a tighter border (or higher wall) protect us from the terrorist who is actually born here and enjoys all the rights and privileges of a U.S. citizen before he turns on his own country. (See: Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen.)

Our only protection against those threats is advance warning. And our only hope for such warning begins and ends with the eyes and ears of those who realize, before anyone else, that something’s not quite right with an Omar Mateen or … an Adnan Fazeli.

More than once in recent months, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has called for monitoring mosques throughout this country and, if necessary, shutting some down altogether.

Speaking in Ohio just this week, Trump called for a Commission on Radical Islam that would develop “new protocols” for law enforcement officials as they go about investigating possible terrorist threats.

That may be red meat for the xenophobic masses. But if you’re a new arrival to this country, wondering nervously whether you should drop a dime on a suspicious countryman and thus invite law enforcement into your life, it translates into four easily understood words: Keep your mouth shut.

Ebrahim Fazeli showed no such compunction when, upon learning that his unhinged uncle had gone off to fight with ISIS, he picked up the phone and called federal authorities.

Nor did Adnan Fazeli’s brother, Portland physician Jabbar Fazeli, who told the Bangor Daily News that he too alerted authorities about his brother. He finally decided to go public, Dr. Fazeli said, as a “lesson” to future immigrants with information worth sharing.

That takes courage.

It takes integrity.

And now more than ever, it deserves our heartfelt thanks.

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Bill Nemitz: Feeling cleansed by the Perseid meteor shower http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/14/bill-nemitz-feeling-cleansed-by-the-perseid-meteor-shower/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/14/bill-nemitz-feeling-cleansed-by-the-perseid-meteor-shower/#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1013570 Where better to look, in this summer of our discontent, than to the heavens?

“It’s just you and the universe. That’s the nice thing about it,” said Eric Harrison in the wee hours Friday as the stars passed – some more quickly than others – over a grassy hilltop in Kennebunk.

Harrison is a proud member of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England, which operates an observatory up a long dirt road off Alewive Road just inside the Kennebunk-Lyman town line.

It’s the perfect place for an extraterrestrial light show.

It all started with the realization last week, somewhere between Hillary Clinton’s latest emails and Donald Trump’s latest call to arms, that I needed a break.

Not just an hour or two with the TV off and the laptop shut tight. No sir, I wanted something totally different, something as far away from American politics as I could get, something truly out of this world.

Something like … the Perseid meteor shower.

I’d read about it for days – how this year’s shower was supposed to be the best since 2009, how the activity would peak with between 100 and 200 meteors per minute just before dawn on Friday, how all you needed were clear skies, a pair of eyes and a blanket to stretch out on and catch the greatest show not on Earth.

So many times I’d resolved to do this kind of thing, only to whack the alarm and go back to sleep. But not this time.

The alarm went off at 2:15.

By 2:30, I was in the car with my ever-accommodating wife, Andrea, who cheerfully agreed to come along on a work night.

By 2:55, we’d found the dirt road and spread out the blanket when …

“There’s one!” Andy exclaimed, pointing directly overhead.

“There’s another,” I said seconds later, this one off to the north.

OK, so it wasn’t exactly the Fourth of July.

It was better.

One after another after another, the streaks of light scratched the dark sky, most leaving a luminescent trail of ionized gas in their wakes.

Want to feel small?

Lie on your back and look at the night sky for an hour or two. Let your eyes adjust to the dark until you realize that the whitish haze behind the brightest stars is actually billions of more stars.

Then watch as dozens of fireballs, burning at up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, criss-cross the universe – or what little of it we can see – like tracer bullets with no gun or target.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” I told Andy as we soaked it all in. “Never.”

Enter Harrison, the last holdout from a meteor-watching party that had broken up just an hour earlier.

Ten years ago, Harrison underwent transplants of both his kidney and liver. Just over two years ago, he survived three heart attacks. Not long after that, his girlfriend passed away.

Thus it should come as no surprise that Harrison rejoined the astronomical society a year and a half ago after a prolonged absence, or that he comes to this hilltop every chance he gets.

“It’s my therapy,” he said. “It changes your perspective.”

Harrison, who also enjoys scuba diving (with its near-zero gravity), thinks we’d all do well to get out more after dark.

“People just don’t see it,” he said as we craned our necks (“There’s one! … There’s one!”) skyward. “They live their lives and they turn on their TVs and they’re disconnected from the night sky.”

Or they just don’t bother to look up.

Not long ago, Harrison and a few other society members set up their telescopes outside a bar at a local beach late one night and invited the late-night crowd to come have a look-see.

As one tipsy gent peered at a double star 400 light years away, Harrison tried to put it all in perspective.

“When that light left there,” he said, “we had the Jamestown Colony down here.”

Blew the guy away.

“Oh wow,” the stargazer replied in awe. “I’ve gotta stop smoking weed tonight!”

Behind the razzle-dazzle, it gets even more enchanting.

The Perseid meteor shower gets its name from the constellation Perseus, but that’s only because that’s the point in the sky from which the meteors seem to radiate.

In fact, they come from the comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun every 133 years and leaves a trail of space debris in its wake. When Earth’s orbit crosses that wake each August, the meteors hit our atmosphere about 60 miles up and the fun begins.

What makes this year better than most is that fact that Jupiter’s alignment put an extra gravitational pull on the debris field, putting it more directly in the path of Earth.

In others words, the meteor shower isn’t passing over us. We’re colliding with it at about 132,000 mph.

Want to hear something even more astounding? I just went at least an hour without thinking about Donald Trump.

But since we’re on the topic, Harrison has an interesting take on all this “Make America Great Again” business that’s been clogging up our earthly atmosphere all these months.

He points to New Horizons, the NASA reconnaissance mission that just over a year ago passed within less than 8,000 miles of Pluto; Juno, the NASA spacecraft now orbiting Jupiter; the James Webb Space Telescope that will lift off in 2018 and provide NASA unprecedented direct imaging of planets in faraway solar systems; the OSIRIS-REx launch next month that will collect an asteroid sample and ferry it back to Earth.

How, fellow Americans, can we pull off miracles like that and not be great already?

“This is revolutionary,” Harrison said. “This is like when Galileo first lifted his telescope.”

But back, if only for a few more blissful minutes, to the meteor shower.

At times they seemed so close you could reach up and touch them. Other times they appeared far off on the horizon – I found myself hoping some other lucky souls were out there, flat on their backs, staring straight up at those.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to witness such a spectacle and still think it’s all about us.

“It’s a gift, brother,” said Harrison, eyes still on the sky. “It’s a gift.”

Amen to that.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Collins eclipses colleagues with courageous disavowal of Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/10/collins-eclipses-colleagues-with-courageous-disavowal-of-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/10/collins-eclipses-colleagues-with-courageous-disavowal-of-trump/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1007962 Discarding Donald Trump was the easy part. Breaking ranks with her beloved and beleaguered Republican Party, not so much.

“Some will say that as a Republican I have an obligation to support my party’s nominee,” Sen. Susan Collins wrote in a widely acclaimed op-ed for The Washington Post on Monday. “I have thought long and hard about that, for being a Republican is part of what defines me as a person.”

Meaning the decision by Maine’s senior senator to denounce The Donald, simple as it may have seemed, was in fact complicated. Not because of the clown prince atop the Republican ticket, but rather because of the party that Collins cherishes for its past even as it careens toward an anything-but-certain future.

“I revere the history of my party, most particularly the value it has always placed on the worth and dignity of the individual,” Collins wrote. “It is because of Mr. Trump’s inability and unwillingness to honor that legacy that I am unable to support his candidacy.”

Good for her.

Sure, it took awhile. And yes, Collins happens to be dumping Trump amid his post-convention nosedive in the polls.

Still, to do what Collins did three months before Election Day demonstrates far more courage than the vast majority of her tongue-tied Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill. (We’re looking at you, Rep. Bruce Poliquin.)

Some already have likened Collins’ words this week to the legendary Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s famous “Declaration of Conscience” repudiation of the red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy back in 1950.

Perhaps. Although in this case, a better banner might be “Only the Lonely.”

Left unsaid in Collins’ Trump disavowal was the glaring reality that Trump did not plant himself atop the Republican ticket. Republican voters, however one might define them these days, put him there. With an exclamation point.

Those same Republican loyalists, many attracted in recent years by social and economic dog whistles that put short-term electoral harvests ahead of long-term grassroots cultivation, no longer look so kindly on the likes of Collins.

A moderate woman (strike one) from the Northeast (strike two) who can’t stand Donald Trump and (strike three) isn’t afraid to say it?

It’s a testament to her political prowess that Collins still has a spot on the Republican roster.

Consider: Last Thursday, Republican voters in Tennessee held a primary to nominate a replacement for outgoing U.S. Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher.

The ballot in the deeply conservative district was jampacked with 13 Republican candidates. Not one of them – I repeat, not one – was a woman.

Consider: According to a recent story in Politico, of the 308 Republican congressional districts that have held primaries this year, only 26 have nominated women.

That’s 8 percent female representation, almost mirroring the 9 percent (down from 11 percent in 2006) in the current House Republican Conference. Meanwhile, women represent 33 percent of the House Democratic Caucus.

Consider: A 2015 report by the Pew Research Center showed that Americans who self-identify as Democrats hold an 80-11 percent advantage over Republicans among blacks, a 65-23 percent advantage among Asian Americans and a 56-26 percent advantage among Hispanics.

Republicans, on the other hand, hold a 49-40 percent advantage among whites, including a 54-33 percent lead among white men who have not completed college.

In short, as the country grows more diverse, so does the Democratic Party. The Republican Party, meanwhile, stagnates.

Collins can at least find consolation in the fact that here in Maine, she’s as popular as ever. But therein lurks an irony: Her success flows not from her party, but from the entire spectrum of Maine’s electorate.

In a recent Maine Sunday Telegram poll of more than 600 Maine voters conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, a whopping 73 percent said they had a favorable view of Collins.

Break down a number like that and you’d typically see it skew higher with a politician’s own party, start to erode with unenrolled voters and plummet within the opposition party.

Not so with Collins.

Among those identifying as Republicans, 74 percent had a favorable impression of Collins, while 14 percent viewed her unfavorably.

Democrats, at 71 favorable and 14 percent unfavorable, voiced an almost identical opinion.

Independents held Collins in even higher regard, with 77 percent favorable and only 8 percent unfavorable.

Talk about a double life.

Here in Maine, Collins will be a U.S. senator essentially for as long as she wants to be. The fact that she’s a lifelong Republican is overshadowed by the bigger fact that Mainers of every stripe like who she is, what she does and how she goes about doing it.

Yet out there in the Republican hinterlands, has she become an endangered species?

She stands almost alone among mostly white men who inexplicably cower before the likes of Donald Trump, unable to endorse him yet terrified of invoking the wrath of his Twitter thumb.

Collins, with her 832-word takedown of Trump, suddenly makes them all look so small.

You want paralysis? The day after Collins, Maine’s highest-ranking Republican, stood tall against the man who would hijack her party, Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett put out a statement that tiptoed around any mention of Collins or Trump.

“We are blessed with a broad, open-minded party representing myriad views on specific issues and candidates,” Bennett said. “I have always encouraged our activists to work hard for those Republican candidates they support, and not work against those they don’t support. This is the best way to give our party the definition desired.”

Donald Trump represents the “definition desired” by today’s Maine Republican Party? Did that conclusion come with one of those semicolon winks attached?

Reached by telephone late Tuesday after a day filled with media interviews (she insists she never thought she’d create such a stir), Collins confirmed that no, this was by no means easy.

“Five generations of my family have served in public office as Republicans,” she said. “This is part of my DNA.”

But the woman who proudly organized the Senate’s tripartisan Common Sense Coalition (Maine independent Sen. Angus King also is a member) brushed away the notion that when the smoke shrouding the Republican Party clears after Nov. 8, she’ll be on the outside looking in.

“I’m hard to count out,” said Collins. “If nothing else, I am very persistent. I just don’t give up.”

Monday evening, moments before The Washington Post posted her op-ed online, Collins placed a call to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. He didn’t answer.

“So I left him a voicemail telling him what I was going to do because I didn’t want him to read about it,” Collins said. “I was just trying to be courteous.”

And?

“He called back with an incredibly nice message,” Collins said. “It was really a lovely message.”

He probably envies her.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Dear Donald, prepare to enter a city so different from you http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/04/bill-nemitz-dear-donald-prepare-to-enter-a-city-so-different-from-you/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/04/bill-nemitz-dear-donald-prepare-to-enter-a-city-so-different-from-you/#comments Thu, 04 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=998095 Dear Donald Trump,

Seriously? You’re on your way to Portland?

A few nagging questions on this glorious August morning as your Trump Train sputters its way toward this afternoon’s rally at Merrill Auditorium:

First, why Maine?

I know, I know. Maine’s four electoral votes are allocated in such a way that you could conceivably pick up one if you win the popular vote up north in our 2nd Congressional District.

That’s one electoral vote. Out of 270 you need to win the presidency.

And you’re the guy who likes to think big?

Next question. Why Portland?

Portland, as your buddy Gov. Paul LePage will be the first to tell you, is not your kind of town.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fabulous enough. Honestly, you could walk through the Old Port and your flaming-orange hair really wouldn’t create all that big of a stir – people would assume either that you’re an aging local dandy in dire need of a good stylist, or you’re one of those spray-tanned tourists scurrying back to the cruise ship before the dinner buffet gets cold.

No sir, Mr. Trump, it’s not your looks. It’s your politics. They just don’t fit well here.

You want to keep Muslims out.

For years, Portland has welcomed Muslims in by the thousands, with open arms, from some of the worst hellholes on Earth. And get this, the longer they’re here, the more attractive this little piece of paradise becomes.

You like to divide and conquer.

Portland likes to unite and, when conflict arises, settle it through consensus.

Sure, other parts of Maine think consensus is for communists. But there’s a lot to be said about a place where real, honest debate solves real problems and the rest of the squawking is left to the sea gulls.

You think we’re doomed and that only you can save us.

Thirty or 40 years ago, Portland was just another dying seaport, its waterfront buildings empty and derelict, its future bleak.

Look out the window of your Trump jet as you fly in today. Look at the jewel this city has become. That’s called a community, Mr. Trump. Inspired and built not by one set of hands, but by many.

You specialize in scaring the bejesus out of people.

On Wednesday, this newspaper and various law enforcement agencies received two emails threatening local police, who later arrested a suspect without incident and continue to investigate.

I fully expect you to exploit the hell out of this unsettling story later today. I’m also waiting to hear you embellish it far beyond what is actually known.

But you will offer nothing resembling a constructive way forward. If you leave Maine stewing in your own special blend of Trump Terror, that will be good enough for you.

You don’t like to be challenged.

Portland, on the other hand, has a long, proud history of speaking truth to power.

Look a few blocks up Congress Street to Monument Square starting at 2 p.m. today. There, you’ll find a throng of local folk who said, in a half-page ad in Wednesday’s newspaper, that you are “unfit and unqualified to be President of this great country.”

They promise to bear “silent witness” against you. I suspect others won’t be so polite.

Which brings me to my next and final question: Why Merrill Auditorium?

Typically, your rallies are held inside spacious, open-floor facilities where hecklers don’t stand a chance. The moment they open their mouths, they disappear inside a scrum of security and your chanting supporters. Then, just like that, they’re gone.

Not so with Merrill Auditorium. It features long rows of seats, with precious little maneuvering room in between.

I mention this because I seriously doubt that all of the folks who file into the auditorium today will be there to sing your praises. There will be rabble-rousers.

Unlike most other places, however, your security folks are going to have a heckuva time getting to them, let alone getting them “the hell outta here.”

Brace yourself, Mr. Trump. Brace yourself.

As I ponder all of this, your campaign appears once again on the verge of a full meltdown.

There’s talk of an “intervention” by party leaders, campaign advisers and members of your family sometime this weekend to try and impress upon you that the general election is here and it’s time to focus, focus, focus …

You, meanwhile, continue to spew in all the wrong directions.

Gold Star families, of which Maine has its share, recoiled in horror this week as you beat up, day after day after day, on the poor (and not so helpless) parents of the late, great Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan.

Military veterans – Did you know Maine has one of the highest per-capita veteran populations in the nation? – shook their heads in disgust at your acceptance of another man’s Purple Heart this week with the quip, “I always wanted to get the Purple Heart. This was much easier.”

And as of Tuesday, you henceforth have a problem with crying infants showing up at your rallies. What, too much competition?

Nobody knows for sure what will happen when you touch down here this afternoon. But given the timing of it all, Mr. Trump, we’re all in full daydream.

I close my eyes and see more than a few Gold Star mothers squeezing their way into Merrill Auditorium and then, one after another, standing up and staring you down.

I see a platoon or two of proud Maine veterans showing up in uniform and rising in rock-solid formation with their backs to you – the only salute you’ll ever truly deserve.

I hear crying babies, lots of crying babies, offering their full-throated, spot-on imitations of the man who would be Crybaby in Chief.

But mostly I see a city that sees right through you, a city that didn’t invite you, a city that will bid you good riddance the moment you are gone.

Welcome to Portland, Mr. Trump.

Why are you here?

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Bill Nemitz: Progressive, take note: The older I get, the better I drive http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/bill-nemitz-progressive-take-note-the-older-i-get-the-better-i-drive/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/24/bill-nemitz-progressive-take-note-the-older-i-get-the-better-i-drive/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=983335 Call me old and cranky, but I’m ready to throttle Progressive Corp. and its persistent quest to raise auto insurance premiums for Maine drivers of a certain age.

Why? Because, as I prepare to turn 62 this week, I’m a better driver than I’ve ever been, that’s why.

And because when I turn 65 three years hence, the last thing I’ll be in the mood to do is feed the insurance industry’s need for greed.

More on all of that in a minute. First, a bumpy trip down Memory Lane.

Back when I was 16, less than a month after I’d secured my driver’s license, my buddy Rich and I headed up Route 128 in suburban Boston to play our guitars for a folk-singing group and, more importantly, put the moves on a couple of girl singers who had caught our eye.

Yapping away as we left the highway, I took a turn a tad wide and … Boom! … my mom’s station wagon suddenly lurched up on the right side and came crashing back down before careening across the pavement and off into a grassy median strip.

I sat there, stunned. Rich jumped out.

“Looks OK!” he called out, motioning for me to back up. “No, really! It’s fine! C’mon! You’re OK! Nice and slow, now! Easy… easy …”

That’s when the right front wheel fell off.

So much for the double date.

A couple of months later, I was back behind the same wheel (bless my merciful parents) with six friends crammed inside the car, en route to Rich’s house for an evening of fun and frolic.

Again, I had my guitar. Again, I was hopelessly in love – this time with one of my female passengers, only she didn’t know it yet. And again, trouble lurked around the next corner.

Today we call it black ice. Back then it was just a friction-free stretch of back road-turned-skating rink, with dense woods on either side.

The car slid sideways to the right. Miraculously, I managed to pull it out.

Then it slid to the left. This time, I could only holler for everyone to get down as we plowed through the snowbank and descended into the blackness.

Two mammoth trees suddenly appeared in the headlights – the distance between them about a foot narrower than the AMC Matador wagon.

I steered between them anyway – to this day I can hear the crunching sound. In stereo.

Next came a smaller tree. It was dead ahead of us. And then it wasn’t.

I remember finally coming to a stop, turning off the engine and praying to God that no one was hurt. God answered my prayers.

A police officer arrived, summoned by a nearby homeowner who heard the crash. A surprisingly sympathetic young guy who had trouble even standing upright on the slick roadway, the cop reached for his radio and immediately put in an emergency call for sand.

Then Rich showed up in his mother’s station wagon to ferry my traumatized passengers the few remaining miles to his house. Coming from the other direction, he hit the ice just like I did and nearly took out the police cruiser.

“What’s happening?” Rich exclaimed, wide-eyed, as he bounced out of his car and almost fell into the cop’s arms.

Then, after 20 or 30 agonizingly long minutes, my dad’s Toyota Corona slowly came into view.

He got out and stared at my mom’s station wagon, now being coaxed out of the woods by a tow truck with at least 100 feet of winch cable.

I tried to point out how I’d managed to steer between the two biggest trees, but the look on Dad’s face told me I might as well have been talking to the trees.

Heck, even the young police officer tried to stick up for me.

“Sir,” he told my dad, “the road’s impassable. I just called for some sand. We’ve had a number of accidents here in the last – ”

My dad shot him a glare and held up his hand.

“Thank you, officer,” he said icily. “But I’ll be the judge as to whether my son was driving safely tonight.”

The cop and I looked at each other. “Please,” I implored with my eyes, “take me with you.”

Looking back over all those decades, I know now that my father was both frightened and angry – frightened that I’d come so close to killing myself (or someone else), and angry that, thanks to his 16-year-old Mario Andretti, his insurance rates were about to skyrocket. Again.

I also know that back then, loath as I may have been to admit it, I was one dangerous driver. Not reckless, mind you, but dangerous nonetheless in my lack of experience, my willingness to be distracted, my inability to adjust to the conditions around me.

Not so these days.

These days, I’m constantly on the lookout for, well, younger versions of me. And I see them everywhere – not too long ago, one came flying around a corner toward me on Route 112 completely on my side of the road.

I swerved into what should have been his lane to avoid a head-on collision. Then he looked up at the last second (that’s right, a texter) and instinctively swerved back into his lane, forcing me to swerve back into my lane.

Our side mirrors missed by inches. I pulled over to collect myself. He never even hit his brakes.

These days, when it comes to my driving speed, the only person who complains is my dear wife.

“Um … can’t you go a little faster?” she asks patiently as the cars line up bumper-to-bumper behind us.

“No can do,” I reply with a smile. “I’m already doing 38 and the speed limit is 35. We’re flying!”

I tell you all of this to demonstrate just how regressive Progressive was when it suggested to the Maine Bureau of Insurance last month that Mainers should pay, say, 6 percent more for auto insurance simply because they go from being 64 to 65.

Citing a state law that prohibits such a thing, the bureau nixed that request. But now Progressive plans to be back in August, seeking to gouge those 65 and over who are new customers and thus technically aren’t being subjected to a premium “increase.”

“Auto insurance companies should not be able to penalize seniors simply because they are getting older,” protested state Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, who announced last week that he’ll submit legislation to clarify the existing statute and put the brakes on this insult to our intelligence.

Good for Beck, a young man clearly on the move. He just turned 30, has already served four terms in the House and is running for the Maine Senate.

I wonder if he needs a driver.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Burned by plagiarism? Let Gov. LePage be your fixer http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/20/bill-nemitz-burned-by-plagiarism-let-gov-lepage-be-your-fixer/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/20/bill-nemitz-burned-by-plagiarism-let-gov-lepage-be-your-fixer/#comments Wed, 20 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=977575 Where is Gov. Paul LePage when Donald Trump needs him most?

Halfway through the four-day Republican National Convention, the newly minted presidential nominee finds himself embroiled in, of all things, a plagiarism scandal.

Trump’s wife, Melania, had no sooner wowed the convention Monday night with words of praise for her spouse when the Twitterverse exploded with incontrovertible evidence that some of those same phrases were first uttered eight years ago by Michelle Obama to describe her husband.

That’s right, the person who Trump & Co. now most love to hate, in addition to Hillary Clinton. Go figure.

Did Melania do it on her own? Doubtful.

Did her speechwriters, referred to by Republican pundit Mike Murphy as “the campaign speechwriting team of Xerox and Konica,” get a little lazy? Bet on it.

More importantly, with his own wife now getting scorched by his latest campaign conflagration, what’s The Donald going to do about it?

Enter Paul LePage. He’s got experience at this kind of thing.

Remember back in 2014, when the LePage administration had its hopes for major Medicaid reform pinned squarely on a contract, valued at just under $1 million, with The Alexander Group?

Conservatives at the time lauded Gary Alexander, the firm’s founder, as a guru at slashing states’ health-care costs by amazing – seriously, folks, we’re talking amazing here – amounts of money without hurting anyone. Except, of course, all those freeloaders who had no business getting government help in the first place.

Then came one of Alexander’s long-awaited reports and, not long after that, the discovery by a plagiarism expert at Dalhousie University that significant chunks of the report had been lifted verbatim from a variety of other sources.

So what did LePage do about it?

Well, he stopped payment on roughly half of the $925,000 yet to be collected by Alexander and his cronies, although he let them keep the half they’d already pocketed.

His administration kept using some of Alexander’s discredited projections, which later proved (no surprise) to be spectacularly off target.

But hey, at least LePage admitted the obvious: He canceled the remainder of the Alexander Group contract and declared, “I am not happy about this.”

(This after Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew earlier chastised Democrats and the media for choosing “to politicize punctuation over policy.”)

Which brings us back to Mrs. Trump, who we can only assume is either mortified that she got caught cribbing or ready to behead the genius who thought her national rollout might be an opportune time for her to channel Michelle Obama.

After several early-Tuesday-morning stumbles, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort stepped up to the microphones in Cleveland and essentially denied reality.

“There’s no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Manafort declared. He then went on (a la Mary Mayhew) to falsely blame the media and Hillary Clinton for going after poor Melania because, get this, Mrs. Trump apparently is the kind of woman who “threatens” the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Trump, meanwhile, refused to even acknowledge a problem in his early morning Tweet: “It was truly an honor to introduce my wife, Melania. Her speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible. Very proud!”

At least he got the “incredible” part right.

Back to LePage, who had planned to go to Cleveland as a Trump supporter but backed out two weeks ago.

“If I felt that he needed me there, I’d have gone,” LePage told WVOM radio hosts George Hale and Ric Tyler at the time.

Little did LePage know.

Had he been there this week, the governor could have gone knocking urgently on the door to Trump’s inner circle. Check that – he could have worked through his buddy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, rather than risk hearing someone from Team Trump respond, “LePage? LePage who?”

His message: Denial is not an option here. Lop off a head or two and move on – you’d be amazed how quickly modern-day Republicans forget anything that clashes with their perception of the way life should be.

Of course, that strategy was easy for LePage. He simply had to give the heave-ho to Alexander, who has since repackaged himself as one of two partners atop Velum Health, which, according to its website, “works with commercial and government entities to significantly lower health care costs without sacrificing services for the consumers and beneficiaries.”

Trump, on the other hand, finds his own wife at the middle of this completely avoidable maelstrom.

A wife who hasn’t exactly been jumping at the chance to speak on her husband’s behalf in the first place.

A wife whose plagiarism was matched only by her prescience when she also said Monday evening, “There will be good times and hard times and unexpected turns – it would not be a Trump contest without excitement and drama.”

Indeed.

So why not nip this blossoming drama in the bud? Why not announce that some previously unknown flunky just received his walking papers for embarrassing the one person in Trump’s universe, beyond The Donald himself, you least want to offend?

Why not – and I honestly can’t believe I’m saying this right now – pull a page from the LePage playbook, admit the error and move on?

Back when he announced his endorsement of Trump on Howie Carr’s radio show in February, LePage noted that he and Trump are “cut from the same cloth” and that with his buddy Christie recently out of the presidential race, it only made sense to line up behind the one presidential hopeful who can’t seem to walk across a room without stepping in it.

“I was Donald Trump before Donald Trump,” LePage boasted.

He can say that again.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: In a crisis, Donald Trump could panic – or freeze http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/will-donald-trump-panic-under-pressure/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/17/will-donald-trump-panic-under-pressure/#comments Sun, 17 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=973552 What would be worse in the White House, a crazy man or a coward?

The question came to mind last week after U.S. Sen. Angus King announced he’ll vote for Hillary Clinton come November.

King’s primary reason, as he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo: Unlike Clinton, Republican Donald Trump lacks the “judgment and temperament” needed to be president, as well as the “kind of coolness” required when time is of the essence and there’s no substitute for thoughtful, courageous leadership.

King cited, as an example, a ride he took recently on the National Airborne Operations Center, also known as the “Doomsday Plane,” designed to provide mobile command and control in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

On the drill, which included an Air Force officer playing the role of the president, a tracking device depicted the launch of enemy missiles while a clock showed 28 minutes and counting.

“That was the time the president had to make a decision,” King recalled. “What got me – it was almost physical – was that in that situation, there’s only one person. There’s no checks and balances, there’s no Congress, there’s no Supreme Court, there’s no consultation. There’s one person making a decision about the future of civilization.”

King’s conclusion: With information pouring in from all over creation (Are they really missiles? Could they be something else?) and precious little time to digest it, Trump is not “somebody I would be comfortable with.”

In other words, Trump very well might make a rash decision we might all later regret – assuming we were all still around to regret it.

But here’s another scenario: Faced with a hugely dangerous situation, the kind that demands equal applications of calm and courage, Trump panics. He freezes. He shuts down.

Impossible?

Once, and only once, during his 13-month campaign have we seen Donald Trump in a truly unguarded moment. A moment when something not only unexpected happened, but something downright scary.

It happened on March 12 at a rally in Dayton, Ohio. As Trump spoke to a cheering crowd inside an airport hangar, a lone man leaped over a barricade and rushed toward the stage before being tackled and carted off by alert Secret Service agents.

Trump, who never saw the guy coming, was alerted by crowd members immediately in front of him.

Panic in his eyes, he lurched to his right, saw the scrum already underway, grabbed hold of one of the four agents who quickly surrounded him and, upon receiving the all clear, shakily turned back toward the microphone.

His face glimmered with sweat. He grabbed the lectern with both hands as if to steady himself, then turned and walked away to watch as the Secret Service dragged the miscreant across the tarmac.

Returning to the lectern, arms extended with both thumbs up, still perspiring, Trump told the front row: “Thank you for the warning. I was ready for him, but it’s much easier if the cops do it, don’t we agree?”

To be clear, this was not just a routine hiccup on the campaign trail. Trump had good reason to be startled the second those people in front of him began screaming and pointing at something not good unfolding behind him.

What made it such a defining moment, though, was Trump’s painfully futile attempt to keep playing the tough guy, to keep up that pugilistic façade, even after he’d clearly just had the daylights scared out of him for all the world to see.

Was he really “ready” for that fence jumper? Not a chance.

In that split-second, fight-or-flight moment, Trump chose flight.

And then, only after the stage was secure and his assailant was safely in handcuffs, did he oh-so-bravely insist he’d been prepared all along to fight.

Talk of fighting – against ISIS, against Hillary Clinton, against immigrants, against the “establishment” – will fill the air this week as Trump descends on Cleveland to finally accept the Republican nomination for president.

But to mistake all of that for courage, when it comes to the Republican standard-bearer, is to willfully ignore the obvious.

Donald Trump is not a brave man.

He may bluster like one, shake his fists like one, call out world leaders and entire segments of the American population like one. But all of that comes from the safety of the podium, buffered by a crowd that greets any sign of adversity with the mindless chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”

Back Trump into a corner, put him in a situation that demands, as King put it, a certain “kind of coolness,” and the man goes to pieces.

Last week, just before King threw his hat into the ring for Hillary Clinton, a group of esteemed American historians launched a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/historiansondonaldtrump/) to explain why, to a man and woman, they think a President Donald Trump would be a disastrous thing.

Leading the “Historians on Donald Trump” charge was none other than David McCullough, a summer resident of Camden, who twice won the Pulitzer Prize for his biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman. He’s also a deserved recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award this country has to offer.

Trump, says the normally apolitical McCullough, “is unwise, he is plainly unprepared, unqualified and, it often seems, unhinged. How could we possibly put our future in the hands of such a man?”

My gut tells me we won’t.

And my guess – my fervent hope – is that as November draws near, events will conspire to unmask Trump once and for all.

It could come during a debate when there’s no cheering crowd to obscure the sight of Trump, like a deer in the headlights, paralyzed by the simplest of foreign policy questions. (“Turkey? They love me over there. They think I’m terrific!”)

It could come when his tanking poll numbers prompt him to quit rather than suffer a humiliating defeat – the one thing that seems to scare him above all else.

It could come when the avalanche of opposition TV ads, all starring The Donald, slowly drown him in his own cauldron of cowardice masquerading as courage.

Angus King is right. Donald Trump indeed lacks the judgment and temperament to hold the future of the planet in his own two hands.

He also lacks the guts.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Credit LePage for putting foot down on domestic abuse http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/bill-nemitz-credit-lepage-for-putting-foot-down-on-domestic-abuse/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/07/03/bill-nemitz-credit-lepage-for-putting-foot-down-on-domestic-abuse/#comments Sun, 03 Jul 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=953549 Nothing takes the tough out of a “tough guy” like an ankle bracelet.

Gov. Paul LePage took a big step toward saving Maine lives last week when he called for statewide use of electronic monitoring devices to keep domestic abusers away from their victims.

“You can say you’re violating their rights,” LePage said during a State House news conference called by the state’s Domestic Abuse Homicide Review Panel. “Maybe so. But I believe in taking the safe approach because dead people have no rights. They lost them.”

LePage, picking up where a gubernatorial task force left off in 2013, wants to expand four pilot programs now operating in Somerset, Kennebec, Sagadahoc and Cumberland counties. There, ankle bracelets are currently used to track high-risk defendants accused of domestic assault as they await trial or, in a few cases, as a condition of their probation.

If the governor has his way, the GPS-transmitting bracelets will be slapped not only on those charged with domestic violence, but also on anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order.

That’s a lot of people. And while there’s no question LePage’s heart is in the right place as he advocates for domestic abuse victims, he’ll likely need to reel it in a bit before his proposed legislation becomes law next year.

“You want the violation of electronic monitoring to be treated as the number one emergency by law enforcement at that moment,” said Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, in an interview on Friday. “And they absolutely are, at least in Kennebec and Somerset. They can do that because it happens so infrequently.”

Maloney, working with the courts and law enforcement agencies in her two counties, has been using ankle bracelets to keep track of domestic-assault defendants since 2014.

It’s not for everyone, she said.

Like prosecutors all over Maine, Maloney uses the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA) tool to assess the danger posed by someone charged with domestic violence.

On a 0-to-13 point scale, anyone with a score over 7 is considered very high risk and might well spend the entire pretrial period in the county jail.

Someone scoring over 4, on the other hand, is typically given the option of wearing an ankle bracelet – and paying the $8-per-day cost for the device – in lieu of a sky-high bail.

It works. So far, with the exception of one false alarm, not one monitored defendant in Kennebec or Somerset counties has dared cross into the “exclusion zone” established for the victim.

(Should that happen, an alert is immediately sent to the dispatcher. The first responding police officer heads posthaste to the victim’s location, while other officers set out in pursuit of the violator.)

So why not require that every alleged abuser wear a bracelet as a condition of bail or, for that matter, a protection order?

Because, replied Maloney, “I don’t want it watered down. We do have cases where it’s not appropriate.”

She has a point.

As of Friday, three defendants in Somerset County were going about their business with bracelets affixed to their ankles. At times, according to Teresa Brown, the county’s community corrections supervisor, the number has risen as high as nine.

Multiply that by 10 or even 100 – there were more than 5,000 reported domestic assaults in Maine in 2014 – and you place a significantly bigger burden on law enforcement. And with that, factoring in the inevitable increase in false alarms, you run the risk of slower response times.

At the same time, the lower the threshold for requiring the bracelet, the higher the likelihood of a successful constitutional challenge based on the Fifth Amendment right to due process.

Still, LePage is spot-on in his desire to take this tool, first recommended three years ago by the Governor’s Task Force to Reduce Domestic Violence Through Technology, and start applying it wherever technologically possible in Maine.

Diane Rosenfeld, a lecturer of law and director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, said in an email last week that that’s a good thing because “domestic violence homicide is so predictable as to be preventable.”

“I applaud Maine for its recent commitment to take threats to women’s lives seriously,” Rosenfeld said.

“GPS monitoring for high-risk domestic abusers is an extremely effective tool for protecting victims from the escalating violence of their abusers. The best results nationally have been where GPS is used in conjunction with a coordinated community response team that represents law enforcement, advocacy support groups, probation officers, batterer intervention counselors and others. High-risk teams monitor cases to ensure offender containment and victim safety. Most importantly, they have saved families from unnecessary and predictable tragedies.”

Lest we forget, after all, the Domestic Homicide Review Panel held its press conference on Thursday to call attention to the fact that 24 of Maine’s 46 homicides in 2014 and 2015 involved domestic violence.

Whenever one of those deaths occurs within her jurisdiction, Maloney immediately checks to see if her office had any previous contact with the victim pertaining to domestic abuse. So far, she’s found none.

“Now, that’s both good and bad,” Maloney said.

The good is that once a victim, typically a woman, makes herself known to authorities, the system has so far managed to prevent her from becoming the next murder statistic.

The bad is that to date, victims in Maloney’s district didn’t seek help while there was still time.

“That’s the most important message,” Maloney said. “No matter what he says to you, no matter what manipulative message is being conveyed, the truth is if you come forward, we’re able to keep you safe. But if you don’t come forward, we can’t.”

And if the victim, for whatever reason, can’t come forward?

That’s where the rest of us come in.

It’s no mystery why ankle bracelets work so well: As long as the would-be perpetrator knows someone is “watching,” he’s powerless. Only when he’s alone with his victim, drowning in his delusions of dominance, does he fancy himself king of his universe.

So on this holiday weekend (and beyond), as the alcohol flows and the domestic nerves occasionally fray, it behooves us all to keep our eyes and ears open.

And yes, if we see something that doesn’t look quite right, it’s time we opened our mouths and sent Maine’s “tough guys” the same message, loud and clear, that those little GPS transmitters do.

We’re watching you.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Trump campaign rally in Bangor is gonna be huge http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/29/bill-nemitz-trump-rally-in-bangor-is-gonna-be-huge/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/29/bill-nemitz-trump-rally-in-bangor-is-gonna-be-huge/#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=947057 A sneak preview of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s visit this afternoon to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor …

Hello, Bangor, Maine! Great city … great city. Portland? Not so much. But Bangor? I love you people. I mean it. You’re terrific!

So I want to thank my good friend Governor Paul LePage for being here today. That’s right … c’mon up here, Paul. This guy is my kind of people, don’t you agree?

(Wild applause.)

In fact … in fact … I might just have to steal Governor LePage from you once I start putting together my Trump administration. I have big plans for this guy, I’m telling you, big plans.

Tell me if I’m wrong, but I’m thinking Paul LePage would make an excellent Secretary of Discount Shopping, don’t you agree? Am I right? I mean not everyone can afford Trump wine and Trump steaks, and if my buddy Paul knows one thing, it’s how to Make America Great Again on the cheap. So whaddya say, Paul? You on board?

(LePage salutes and takes a deep bow. The crowd roars.)

So I’m driving in here this afternoon and I see this huge, I mean huge, statue of Paul Bunyan sitting there outside and I’m thinking these people up here in Maine, they have a lot in common with me. They like to think big, am I right?

Now, we recently hired a campaign researcher and he tells me that unfortunately, there’s more to this Paul Bunyan guy than he let on back in the day. And if it weren’t for me, Donald Trump, you people would go right on thinking Paul Bunyan is some kind of All-American hero like John Wayne or Ronald Reagan or me, Donald Trump.

Well, folks, here’s the real deal. My campaign has it on good authority that Paul Bunyan was not born here in Maine.

(The audience gasps. In the back, a few people start to boo. Trump holds up both hands.)

No, no. It’s true. And he wasn’t born in Minnesota or Michigan, either.

(More booing.)

The truth is … the truth is … that Paul Bunyan snuck over the Canadian border when he was a 10-year-old kid and passed himself off for a couple of years as a high school varsity basketball player at, what was it here, Valley High School in Bingham. Then he got so big that the other schools finally got suspicious and demanded to see his birth certificate. That’s when they found out he was an illegal … French … Canadian … alien!

(The crowd lapses into stunned silence. “No!” calls a teenage girl high in the VIP section.)

So what does Bunyan do? He heads for the woods and starts chopping down trees with one swing, using logs for toothpicks and rescuing little babies from floods until everyone forgets about the birth certificate and starts treating him like some kind of hero. Kind of like Obama, only Bunyan’s a white guy, which is a good thing because he’s in Maine and big black guys don’t go over too well up here in Maine because all they do is impregnate white girls – am I right, Governor LePage?

(LePage, nodding emphatically, gives a thumbs-up. Trump reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out a sheet of paper and waves it in the air.)

I have it right here, folks. The birth certificate. Paul Bunyan was born Lucky LaChance in St.-Joseph-de-Beauce, Quebec. My people are handing out copies as I speak.

(Murmurs ripple through the audience as copies of the birth certificate, stamped “100 percent authentic,” circulate throughout the auditorium. Reporters in the press pen hunch over their laptops, furiously Googling “Paul Bunyan” and “St.-Joseph-de-Beauce.”)

So it looks like we’re going to need another wall. But because the Canadians, to the best of my knowledge, are not all rapists and murderers like the Mexicans, I’m not going to make them build it.

I’m told you have fabulous forests right here in Maine, I mean fabulous. So what we’re going to do … what we’re going to do … is take down a bunch of those trees – starting with the state and federal parks because the timber there is absolutely terrific, absolutely terrific – and put you people to work putting up your own log wall between Maine and Canada.

And I’m not just talking any wall, folks. I’m talking a wall so tall that not even Paul Bunyan can get over it!

(A small disturbance breaks out in a far corner of the auditorium. The crowd begins to chant, “Trump! Trump! Trump!”)

Oh, boy. Look what we got now. My people told me they might be busing the Crooked Hillary crowd up from Portland and sure enough … GET ‘EM OUTTA HERE! Don’t hurt them, now, they’re Mainers too …

Say what? I stand corrected. Governor LePage tells me Portland is actually in Northern Massachusetts, which just goes to show that even Donald Trump learns something new every day … Yeah, right. I love you too, Portland. GET ‘EM OUTTA HERE!

So what was I talking about? Oh yeah, golf.

So I’m flying up here in my Trump jet and I’m looking down at all of your terrific trees and your fantastic coastline and I’m saying to myself … because I’m really the only person I like to listen to … I’m saying, “Why don’t they have more golf courses up here?”

Now, if you’re a conventional thinker – meaning if you’re a loser – you’re going to say it’s because Maine is too cold to support a year-round golf industry.

But if you believe in global warming like I do – meaning if you look at something catastrophic and instinctively find ways to make money off it – you know that it won’t be long before Maine is the new South Carolina, that I can tell you.

So here’s my promise to you, Bangor. If Scotland can get a new, fabulous, first-class Trump golf resort, so can you!

(The crowd rises to its feet, cheering.)

If Arizona and Texas can get a wall, so can you!

(“Make America Great” hats wave in the air.)

If Donald Trump can handle the truth about Paul Bunyan, then so can you!

(“Trump! Trump! Trump!”)

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! God bless you, Maine, and God bless Donald Trump!

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: First lady serves up a reason to raise wages http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/bill-nemitz-first-lady-serves-up-a-reason-to-raise-wages/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/26/bill-nemitz-first-lady-serves-up-a-reason-to-raise-wages/#comments Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=943106 Hard times have come a knockin’ at the Blaine House door.

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

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

A couple of points worth making here.

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

Any restaurant in Maine would be lucky to have her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who exactly are these people?

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

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

Retirement? Once again, forget about it.

And what about those restaurant servers?

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

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

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

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

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

It truly is all about the money.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Assault rifle owners have some growing up to do http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/16/bill-nemitz-assault-rifle-owners-have-some-growing-up-to-do/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/16/bill-nemitz-assault-rifle-owners-have-some-growing-up-to-do/#comments Thu, 16 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=929337 Back when I was a kid, my buddies and I loved to play “Combat!”

We took the name from the ABC series starring Vic Morrow as Sgt. Chip Saunders and Rick Jason as 2nd Lt. Gil Hanley.

They led their seasoned squad of soldiers across the battlefields of World War II with grit, courage and, when necessary, quiet heroism.

We darted behind trees and rocks in our backyards.

They used M1 semi-automatic rifles and M1A1 Thompson submachine guns, or “Tommy guns,” to cut down the dastardly Germans.

We used pieces of wood. And to make it more realistic, each of us spent hours honing our own “FFFFFTTT” – that spitty, exhaling sound that, to us at least, perfectly mimicked the deadly discharge of rapid fire.

Sure, it was fantasy, but it was our fantasy.

And, sure, we eventually outgrew it.

What happened in Orlando early Sunday morning was no fantasy.

Yet another national tragedy was brought to us by a madman with an assault rifle – killing 49, wounding more than 50 and reigniting the debate between those of us who think these firearms in the hands of civilians are nothing short of insanity and those who worship at the altar of military-style weaponry.

Shotguns or hunting rifles? No problem.

Handguns for target shooting or personal protection? Hey, if that’s what floats your boat, be careful and keep them away from the kids.

But “modern sporting rifles,” as the National Rifle Association so euphemistically calls them? Manufactured and marketed to look like, sound like and feel like the same military hardware most recently used in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Why?

Here’s my theory: Some guys still like to play Army.

Take for example, the Sig Sauer MCX, the rifle used by Omar Mateen inside the Pulse nightclub last weekend.

A recent review of the weapon on the website “thetruthaboutguns.com” notes the Sig Sauer MCX was first developed for the U.S. military’s special forces as a rifle “that’s as quiet as an MP5 (and) as deadly as an AK-47.”

“My biggest concern: would Sig Sauer translate the mil(itary) spec masterpiece into a useful semi-automatic civilian model?” writes reviewer Nick Leghorn. “They certainly started on the right foot …”

Indeed. A 30-second promotional video for the rifle shows a guy dressed in black and wearing wraparound sunglasses, running through a foggy, eerily lit set firing at what vaguely appear to be human targets.

“Shooter, make ready,” the narrator intones as the gunman springs into action. “The Sig MCX is here, and it’s unlike anything you’ve seen or heard … It’s the start of a new era.”

In another video, then-Sig Sauer President Kevin Brittingham explains, “The Sig MCX was designed to meet the DOD (Department of Defense) requirement for a weapon that would be as compact as possible, that focused on signature reduction and (was) as quiet as possible.”

And in yet another video, Sig Sauer Defense Program Manager Robby Johnson notes, “All of the employees here respect the military and law enforcement and understand their lives are on the line.”

Let’s set aside the irony that Mateen used his Sig Sauer MCX to shoot a police officer in the head amid Sunday’s carnage. What does any of the company’s hype have to do with a civilian gun owner?

Easy. It fuels the fantasy. It enables grown men, the vast majority of whom haven’t a clue how the horrors of actual combat truly look, sound and smell, to pick up a warlike weapon and squeeze off 10, 20 maybe even 30 rounds of pure, unadulterated daydream.

Take a look at the current crop of firearms classifieds in Uncle Henry’s Weekly Sell or Swap It Guide.

You won’t find many references to the Sig Sauer MCX – it just hit the civilian market in 2015. But you will find plenty of other military-inspired assault rifles, most notably the many variations of the AR-15 now synonymous with mass killings in Newtown, Aurora and San Bernardino.

Reads one Uncle Henry’s ad: “For sale or trade: DPMS AR-15, .223/5.56. iron sights, hard case, will come with one 30-round GI magazine. This is my ‘spare’ AR.”

A “spare” AR-15? As if one isn’t enough?

Then there are those looking to get in on the action.

One advertiser offers a 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokee in exchange for a new AR-15.

Another has a 17-foot Baretta inboard-outboard boat, with trailer, that has a cracked motor block but still runs. Yours in exchange for a Colt AR-15 SP1.

Think about that. A beautiful day on a lake in Maine in exchange for a few minutes of boom, boom, boom and a paper target riddled with bullet holes. Are we having fun yet?

As I write this, Democrats in the U.S. Senate are engaged in a filibuster aimed at getting the Republican majority to move, if only an inch, toward expanded background checks on gun buyers, or at least keeping guns out of the hands of those on the terrorist watch list.

I’ve yet to hear a word about resurrecting the nation’s assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004 and grows more and more faint, like that shooter in the Sig Sauer video, with each passing year.

Meaning all those military-style weapons, with their quick-change, 30-round magazines, will keep multiplying … and multiplying … and multiplying …

And as they do, they will tragically (and legally) fall into the hands of the Omar Mateens, the Adam Lanzas, the James Holmeses and all the other ticking time bombs whose human toll is tied directly to the ferocity of their firepower.

All this because too many Americans, the vast majority of them white men, consider it their God-given right to play with the same types of guns that the real-life soldiers do.

If only they’d just grow up.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Brave artist ready for Portland – love or hate http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/bill-nemitz-brave-artist-ready-for-portland-love-or-hate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/12/bill-nemitz-brave-artist-ready-for-portland-love-or-hate/#comments Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=922606 I don’t know how artists do it.

Month after month, they labor away in the studio, channeling their creative juices into their latest masterpiece. Then comes the day of the big unveiling and inevitably, some killjoy at the back of an otherwise silent crowd says, “What the hell is that?”

“It’s what I do,” Portland sculptor Aaron T Stephan said last week. “I always say I’d be more worried if I created sculpture that everybody likes than if it were one that a few people don’t like.”

Good for him. Because Stephan, commissioned by the city of Portland last week to create a piece of public art for the city’s soon-to-be-overhauled Woodfords Corner intersection, is already getting it in both ears – and he’s yet to come up with so much as a rough sketch.

As City Councilor Ed Suslovic, who voted against the $25,000 expenditure, put it so succinctly during Monday’s council session, “The challenge with public art is always that it is public.”

Here’s the problem: Among Stephan’s existing body of work are two sculptures, one in Farmington and the other in Texas, in which he took clusters of everyday streetlights and reconfigured them into, shall we say, something different.

The Portland Public Art Committee, from whose budget surplus the project will be funded, wants Stephan to come up with something similar for what will eventually be a small plaza in front of the Odd Fellows Hall at Woodfords Corner.

Local reaction to photos of the streetlight sculptures in Farmington and Texas, however, has been mixed at best.

“It seems clear that many in the community are not all that enthused about this cluster of lights,” Councilor Nick Mavodones noted before joining Suslovic on the losing side of a 6-3 vote to proceed with the project.

(He’s right: One Portland Press Herald reader commented the next morning that the light sculptures look like the aftermath of a tornado. Observed another: “This disordered spectacle renders one speechless.”)

Still, it could be worse. Back in 2011, after four years of howling from the business folk in Portland’s Boothby Square, “Tracing the Fore” by Cambridge, Massachusetts, landscape artist Shauna Gillies-Smith was unceremoniously uprooted and sold to a sole bidder for $100. (It was either that or a scrap metal dealer.)

The $135,000 work, composed of aluminum “waves” and a specialized grass that quickly succumbed to weeds, was nicknamed “Sawblades” and “Razorblades” by the 150 petitioners who successfully pleaded with City Hall to get rid of it.

“It definitely was frustrating and disappointing,” Gillies-Smith told The New York Times after her work was run out of town.

Stephan, 42, heard the grumbling last week about his pending streetlight creation. Didn’t faze him a bit.

“I’m totally conscious, especially with a project like this, that it’s certainly riding that line (between widespread acclaim and outright insurrection), which I like a lot,” he said.

He’s not kidding.

Two years ago, as part of his first solo exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art, Stephan included a series of audio recordings from calls he made to pay-per-minute phone-sex lines. But rather than talk about, well, you know, he engaged the women who answered in discussions about art.

“You probably won’t even think it’s art but I think Thomas Kinkade is pretty awesome,” one of the madams told Stephan. “I mean, OK, so it’s on collectors’ plates primarily, but I love the feel, there’s something very homey, and very Norman Rockwell about it.”

The phone calls cost him $3,000.

It’s all part of what drives much of Stephan’s creative spirit when he embarks on a new project: “I’m taking something from that environment and just altering it a little bit and putting it back.”

He did it with “Lift,” an eye-catcher at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in which he created a normal-looking maple table and six chairs – except their legs all rise 20 feet off the ground.

He did it with “Becoming,” a map of the world at Hampden Academy made entirely out of pencils embedded, erasers up, on a white wall.

And now, brave man, he’s about to do it with Woodfords Corner.

How hard can it be?

Just a few weeks ago, two teenagers from San Jose decided during a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Art that people tend to take all this art stuff a bit too seriously. So one took off his Burberry eyeglasses, placed them on the floor in front of a blank wall, and stepped back.

Within minutes, the glasses were surrounded by museum visitors, some with cameras, captivated by the “exhibit.” The two pranksters took pictures of the art lovers taking pictures before the blurry-eyed Burberry owner finally stepped forward and reclaimed his spectacles.

But this is different. Stephan is well aware that whatever he creates for Woodfords Corner will be there (he hopes) for many, many years – long enough for people to perhaps start off hating it and, who knows, grow to love it.

He’ll begin by researching the intersection and, in particular, Odd Fellows Hall, located less than a mile from his studio on Walton Street.

“I’ll ask myself: What’s expected to be here? What would be here? How can I play with that?” Stephan said.

Then he’ll come up with his design, which he’ll share during one, maybe two, public forums planned by the Portland Public Art Committee.

That’s where things could get dicey. Nothing gives an artist like Stephan worse heartburn than the phrase “design by committee.”

“That’s the fine line you have to walk, right?” he said. “I’m certainly considering and listening to and interacting with all the information that’s coming in.

“You kind of learn to deal with it and decide what to listen to and what not to listen to and how to digest that in a way that your voice is still there, your strength is still there.”

In other words, he’ll listen to the naysayers – to a point. But sooner or later, the man’s going to have to close his studio door and get to work.

No butterflies? No sleepless nights worrying that whatever he comes up with, as good as he thinks it might be, will be assailed by the 20,000 critics who drive past it each day?

Hey, the guy’s a public artist. He’s got nerves of steel, right?

Right. But he also has ears.

“Talk to me in a week,” Stephan said.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Sen. Collins, take a stand and disavow Donald Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/08/bill-nemitz-sen-collins-take-a-stand-and-disavow-donald-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/06/08/bill-nemitz-sen-collins-take-a-stand-and-disavow-donald-trump/#comments Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=915620 Define “absolutely unacceptable.”

That was the phrase appropriately chosen by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Monday to describe Donald Trump’s latest descent into the darkness that was once Collins’ Republican Party.

Still, the question lingers: What is Collins going to do about it?

Trump’s claim – that the judge presiding over the Trump University fraud case has a built-in conflict of interest because he’s of Mexican heritage and Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico – is by no means his first major stumble on the road to the Republican nomination in Cleveland next month. Nor, undoubtedly, will it be his last.

But with each gaffe (Trump heaped more fuel on the fire Sunday by speculating that a Muslim judge also would be conflicted by Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the country), you’ve got to wonder how someone like Collins still manages to drag herself out of bed each morning.

Granted, she’s not quite in the same political pickle as, say, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who now finds himself calling Trump’s words “the textbook definition of a racist comment” less than a week after Ryan reluctantly endorsed The Donald for president.

Unlike so many of her colleagues on Capitol Hill, Collins has yet to endorse Trump outright. Instead, she’s said repeatedly that she’ll wait until after the convention to express her presidential preference, that she hopes Trump will clean up his act between now and then, and that she expects, as usual, to support her party heading into the general election.

Now this.

“Donald Trump’s comments on the ethnic heritage and religion of judges are absolutely unacceptable,” Collins said in a written statement. “His statement that Judge (Gonzalo) Curiel could not rule fairly because of his Mexican heritage does not represent our American values. Mr. Trump’s comments demonstrate both a lack of respect for the judicial system and the principle of separation of powers.”

Well said, senator. So well, in fact, that to follow such a clear assessment with down-the-road support for Trump as the nation’s next chief executive would represent the height of hypocrisy – not to mention direct complicity in installing a wack job in the White House.

Collins’ unwillingness to loudly, clearly and permanently disavow Trump sooner rather than later appears rooted in two guiding principles for Maine’s senior senator.

The first is an abiding loyalty to her party.

The second is that when that party appears fractured, the best way to maintain broad support is to remain as noncommittal as possible for as long as the political winds will allow.

Both strategies have served Collins well in the past.

Neither will now.

The party to which she’s devoted her entire adult life is on the brink of collapse.

Seeing the faces of “establishment” Republican leaders these days, as they literally sweat through the latest round of Trump aftershocks, is like watching the flight crew of a jumbo jet after the entire control panel suddenly goes dead. They know they eventually have to land this baby, but they haven’t a clue how they’re going to do it.

As for keeping the base happy, or at least on board, the simple reality for Collins and the few remaining centrist Republicans like her is that this is no longer just another topsy-turvy general election year. It’s a hijacking.

Meaning Collins can’t win.

Her old-school loyalists, if they dare speak up at all, wonder wistfully what’s become of the civility and true conservatism on which they once hoisted the Grand Old Party banner.

The newcomers in the bright red “Make America Great Again” hats, meanwhile, already denounce Collins – whether she backs Trump or not – as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) who’s as bad as the damned Democrats, maybe worse.

“I have news for you Ms Collins ‘We The PEOPLE’ are weary of your kind and no longer have much respect for you or the judges or the lawyers that are part and parcel of the problem in this country,” one reader commented on Tuesday’s Press Herald story on Collins’ remarks. “Even if he is not the ideal candidate, Mr Trump is a breath of fresh air in the stale halls of government. … He speaks for many of us.”

Thus, for all her hedging, Collins has little to gain and a lot to lose by clinging to the delusion, as she implied Tuesday, that all of this is still fixable.

“I do believe in redemption, and I hope that Trump will change,” she said in an interview on WGAN Newsradio.

And what if he does “change”?

Do we then excuse all that he’s said to date as the manipulative hype of a reality TV huckster?

Or are we now past the point of no return? Despite his belated efforts Tuesday to backpedal in the judge brouhaha, is it finally time, in the never-ending offensive that is Donald Trump, to pick a side?

Collins herself acknowledged Tuesday that Trump’s comments about Judge Curiel “are of a different magnitude” and that “this is discouraging because it is so serious in what it says about his world view.”

What it says – and Collins knows this as well as anyone – is that Trump is the Republican Party’s worst nightmare. And it’s high time the party that spawned him, if it’s serious about its future, began standing up to him and stopped quietly enabling him.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham never has stood taller than when he told MSNBC on Tuesday that he could not, and would not, support Trump from this point forward.

“A lot of people want to be loyal to the Republican Party, including me,” Graham said. “But there will come a point in time where we’re going to have to understand that it’s not just about the 2016 race. It’s about the future of our party. I would like to support our nominee – I just can’t.”

See that, Sen. Collins? A loyal Republican, from the Deep South, no less, just announced in no uncertain terms that he’s had it with Donald Trump. And he urged other Republicans to do the same.

To do anything less at this point? To continue to treat this not as a moral imperative but as a political calculation?

That would be absolutely unacceptable.

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Bill Nemitz: Bonny Eagle Robotics Team shoots high, scores http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/bonny-eagle-robotics-team-distinguishes-itself-in-st-louis/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/29/bonny-eagle-robotics-team-distinguishes-itself-in-st-louis/#comments Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=900725 The warehouse sits far back off Main Street in Buxton’s Bar Mills, so out of the way that the high school kids who congregate there – sometimes into the wee hours of the morning – have the place pretty much to themselves.

Which, in this case, is a good thing.

“George and I each put in about 240 hours in the six and a half weeks,” said Jake Moss, a senior at Bonny Eagle High School, sitting next to fellow senior George Mitchell inside the cavernous building last week. “But that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

Welcome to the Bonny Eagle Robotics Team, or BERT Robotics. Also known as our future.

Back in January, just like 3,148 other teams around the world, this eclectic group of 30 kids from all over School Administrative District 6 received a video and a voluminous package of instructions from the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics Competition.

This year’s competition, dubbed “Stronghold,” would go like this: “Two Alliances of three robots each are on a Quest to breach their opponents’ fortifications, weaken their tower with boulders, and capture the opposing tower. Robots score points by breaching opponents’ defenses and scoring boulders through goals in the opposing tower. During the final 20 seconds of the Quest, robots may surround and scale the opposing tower to capture it.”

All-righty then.

Each team had 45 days – not a minute more, not a minute less – to design, build and test its robot.

From scratch.

If it worked, from scaling the defensive “outer works” to shooting “boulders” through the towers’ windows to actually scaling the structures with powerful winches and pulleys, engineering glory awaited.

If it failed, well, there’s always next year.

Founded way back in 1996, BERT Robotics isn’t just an obscure club for science-minded geeks. It’s a kid magnet.

Bonny Eagle High School BERT Robotics Team members Amber Lindberg, left, Jacob Moss and George Mitchell guide their robot "Stein" during the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis.

Bonny Eagle High School BERT Robotics Team members Amber Lindberg, left, Jacob Moss and George Mitchell guide their robot “Stein” during the FIRST Robotics Championship in St. Louis. Courtesy of BERT Robotics

Moss, a team captain who lives in Limington, still remembers his eureka moment: He was a fifth-grader at Hollis Elementary School when the team paid a visit.

“I was like this tall,” Moss recalled, holding his hand 4 feet off the ground. “And there was a robot that was like twice my size, three times my weight and could lift like 200 pounds. And I’m like that’s the coolest thing you could have seen as a kid. Five-foot-long mechanical arms. It was an insanely over-engineered robot, but absolutely fantastic.”

He immediately joined the elementary school’s Lego robotics team. But alas, there was no team in middle school.

“But I waited,” Moss said. “And then freshman year came around and I was like, boom, on the robotics team.”

The program, as the FIRST slogan goes, is about “more than robots.”

It’s about learning to fundraise – BERT Robotics currently boasts 42 sponsors, from aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (for whom BERT Robotics alumnus Clayton Coburn, now a team mentor, works as an engineer) to Low’s Pizza up the street from the warehouse.

It’s about honing marketing skills – the team has a committee dedicated to its website (http://www.bert133.org/#), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/BERT133) and other communications throughout Maine’s fourth largest school district.

It’s even about politicking. When the team approached SAD 6 about financial help – the annual construction, registration and travel costs run well into five figures – the district’s board of directors, bless them, allocated $11,000 this year to help BERT Robotics reach once again for glory.

Which they did.

They spent the fall meeting every Wednesday evening inside the heated warehouse, donated at no cost by Rob Connary, owner of the information technology firm ITS Inc.

Not yet knowing what they’d be asked to build or what it would be required to do, they focused instead on teaching the younger kids the basics of metal working, electronics, computer programming …

Guy stuff? Not in these parts.

“There’s no reason it should be male-oriented,” said Mitchell. “No reason at all.”

Thus we have Amber Lindberg, a sophomore from Standish whose family was so involved with the team (her brother was a captain) when she was in middle school that she had no choice but to tag along “if I ever wanted to see them.”

Upon finally joining herself, Lindberg brought her friends along. Of the eight sophomores currently on the team, five are female.

Equally off-target would be the notion that when it comes to BERT Robotics, only budding young Einsteins need apply.

“We’ve had athletes on the team, we’ve had valedictorians,” said Lindberg. “It’s such a mix.”

“We try to appeal to everyone, agreed Moss. “This year we’ve had a bunch of jazz musicians, field hockey players.”

Perhaps that kind of diversity made all the difference: When this year’s instructions arrived, a debate immediately broke out over what the priority should be – a robot proficient at scoring lots of low-value shots through the ground-level targets, or one that could hit the 7-foot-high openings at the top of the towers and thus rack up more points more quickly.

The shoot-for-the-sky group prevailed.

The first prototype robot was named “Frank.” The second, for actual competition, was christened “Stein.”

Stein, from the start, shot like a stud.

Scooping the inflated, soccer-ball-size “boulders” from the field and auguring them into its pneumatic catapult, the robot used a computer-guided camera to zero in on the target and, presto, boulder after boulder sailed cleanly through the tower.

Honestly, to watch 110-pound Stein in action (BERT 133 in red in a video at https://youtu.be/60nt4VVQwZI) is to witness the robotics equivalent of an NBA three-point shooting contest.

Beginning in early April, with Stein’s CIM motors, boat winch, light sensor, six wheels, radio transmitter and receiver, 550 paracord and Lord knows what else fine-tuned to the hilt, the BERT Robotics team headed out onto the competition circuit.

They finished first in the state of Maine and fourth in New England, more than enough to qualify for the 2016 FIRST World Championship in St. Louis.

Almost the entire team – 27 kids in all – made the trip.

“I always felt bad (in the past) about the kids who got left behind,” explained John DiRenzo, an electrical engineer at The Baker Co. in Sanford who has mentored the team for 19 years. “Wherever we go now, we all go. It’s open to everyone.”

The first challenge in St. Louis was to find two other teams with which BERT Robotics would form its “alliance.” That task fell to senior Jack Cardell of Buxton, who spent hours scouting other robots and interviewing their creators to find just the right human/technical fit for what would amount to a critical, time-sensitive merger.

Much as the robots may all look alike, it turns out they’re not.

“There are a lot of differences,” said Cardell. “And the human element is definitely a big one.”

BERT Robotics emerged from the qualifying rounds seeded first in its division – the first time in its 20-year history the team had ever been seeded first in anything.

From there, the team’s alliance made it to the division finals – one step away from the eight-alliance playoffs that would determine the world champions.

Then, for 40 earth-shattering seconds, Stein’s radio went dead.

“It just kind of sat there for 40 seconds,” said Mitchell. “Didn’t manage to score many points.”

Long pause.

“And we were bested by Team 330 and their alliance … and they moved on to the Einstein Field (the finals) … and now they are the world champions.”

Ouch.

Added Moss, “Before our radio died, we were winning by a 40-point margin. A 40-point margin. And then we lost.”

Moments after the pivotal match ended, the radio somehow blinked back to life on its own. The problem?

“We’ll never know,” said Lindberg.

But hey, let’s hit the reset button here.

By the time the four-day world championship ended, the BERT Robotics team stood at sixth in the world for Offensive Point Ranking – reflecting Stein’s average offensive output over the course of the competition. Overall, the team ranked ninth in the world.

“We argued it before,” said Moss. “But now that the numbers are out, we can definitely say we have one of the best shooters in the world.”

They can’t quite believe it’s over.

Upon graduating next month, Moss will be off to California Polytechnic State University. Mitchell will leave home in Buxton for Clarkson University in New York to study software engineering, while Cardell will attend Southern Maine Community College and dig into computer science.

Lindberg, meanwhile, will welcome a new batch of freshmen.

“One thing I keep telling everyone is no matter how much you give to this team, it’s always going to give back more,” said Moss. “You put in 240 hours of your free time and a lot of your sleep, but you get back meeting kids from around the world and you get back great friends, great experiences, lots of laughs and hands down the best experience you could take away from high school.”

Not bad for a bunch of kids hanging out in a warehouse.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Here’s a slightly shocking idea for ending Gov. LePage’s lies http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/bill-nemitz-heres-an-idea-for-ending-gov-lepages-lies/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/25/bill-nemitz-heres-an-idea-for-ending-gov-lepages-lies/#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=894972 Dear U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

First, our heartfelt apology. If you haven’t already, you’re about to receive a request from our governor, Paul LePage, that you’ll probably dismiss at first glance as some kind of poorly executed high school prank.

It isn’t. You see, Madame AG, our governor is crazy as a loon.

What’s worse, he’s a compulsive liar.

And now he wants you, of all people, to bail him out of his latest whopper.

I know. You’re a busy woman. But please, hear me out. I think you can actually be of assistance here.

The story, in a nutshell, goes like this:

Three weeks ago, at one of his tell-it-like-it-isn’t town hall meetings, LePage regaled the crowd with the tale of a junior at Deering High School in Portland who overdosed on heroin three times in one week and was revived with the lifesaving drug Narcan all three times.

“And the third one, he got up and went to class,” LePage claimed. “He didn’t go to the hospital. He didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it he just came out of it and went to class.”

It never happened. The governor made it up.

This week, under pressure from Portland legislators to man up and apologize for maligning the state’s largest city and one of its high schools, LePage went on public radio and instead dug himself in deeper.

“It turns out it was one shot in the school and two shots outside,” he said, saying he got the story from a school resource officer. “And now they’re denying that. So what we’re going to do is, I’m thinking of calling this afternoon, trying to get ahold of the Attorney General Lynch and ask for her investigative arm to come up and look at the school systems in Maine. … I think it’s time maybe we start investigating our schools.”

Geez, Madame AG, do you really have an “investigative arm” that you can actually detach and dispatch, just like that, to faraway Maine?

Or was LePage referring to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which last time I checked already has offices in Portland and Bangor?

Either way, as Maine Public Radio moderator Jennifer Rooks asked the governor, “What would be the federal issue that they would be looking at?”

“Well, it’s a law enforcement issue,” LePage replied. “I think it’s … it’s not being transparent. I can’t be told … I’m suspect now that I’ve been told there were some drugs in the school and now they’re saying, ‘No, that’s fabricated.’ It’s not fabricated. This is an actual conversation I had. The police chief was even in the room.”

Sounds a little rattled, doesn’t he? It’s what happens when a lie starts to unravel and the compulsive liar, rather than simply fess up, starts to backpedal … and backpedal … until finally he trips over himself and lands in a pile of sentence fragments and sharply conflicting assertions. Not pretty.

But back to LePage’s request that you loan Maine your investigative arm. Honestly, Madame AG, there’s no need for it.

Portland’s acting school superintendent, its police chief, a high school principal and a school resource officer all say Gov. LePage took an anecdote set in a local park – no school, no student – and twisted it into something not rooted in reality.

Trust us, Madame AG, it’s not the first time he’s turned the truth into a pretzel.

As documented by reporter Eric Russell in Tuesday’s Portland Press Herald, LePage once claimed that Maine students had to take a special placement exam before they could apply to The College of William & Mary.

Not true.

He once insisted that a wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle ran on a “little electric motor that turns the blades.”

Wrong again.

He even alleged that Bangor-based author Stephen King, whose love for this state puts LePage to shame, spends most of his time in Florida to avoid paying Maine income taxes.

Lie about Stephen King? Who does that?

So what’s wrong with this guy?

I think he has a textbook case of “pseudologia fantastica,” which is a fancy name for pathological lying.

I came across an article about it in the The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, which describes the core characteristics of pseudologia fantastica, or PF, thusly:

“While the theme of lies can be stereotyped or varied in nature, they are almost always dazzling or fantastical, and often develop into a complicated system of deception. The imaginative fluency of the lies tends to capture public attention, at least in the short term. The lies must keep a certain reference to reality, and though they are often unlikely, they are not beyond the realm of possibility (e.g., ‘I communicate with aliens’). Under close scrutiny the lies can often be easily discredited, and for this reason the lying in PF is frequently noted to be destructive to the liar.”

Now, I’m sure, Madame AG, that you come across pathological liars all the time in your line of work. First as a federal prosecutor and now as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, you can probably spot one of these bozos a mile – or even 600 miles – away.

So rather than investigate Maine’s high schools for surreptitious (not to mention totally fictitious) Narcan resurrections, you could truly help us out here by sending us two simple items from your surplus equipment stockpile:

A portable polygraph machine and an ankle bracelet.

Deering High School, you see, is home to a ton of bright, innovative young minds.

The way I figure it, their top science class could easily retrofit the polygraph for easy attachment to Gov. LePage every time he goes out to speak in public.

At the same time, the kids could run a small electrical current from the polygraph to the ankle bracelet so that every time LePage tells a tall one, he gets zapped. Nothing painful, mind you – just enough to make him reflexively hop off the ground, a silent signal to his audience that he just wandered off into fantasy land.

In a perfect world, Madame AG, Gov. LePage eventually would modify his behavior (like the lab rats do), stick to the truth and stop having to borrow your investigative arm.

But as you and I both know, this is anything but a perfect world.

So we might as well be entertained.

 

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In a year marked by tragedies, Waynflete seniors host ‘play day’ for mental health http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/waynflete-seniors-host-play-day-for-mental-health/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/20/waynflete-seniors-host-play-day-for-mental-health/#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=888276 Every high school class is remembered for something – a state championship, a school play, a prank for the ages. But as next month’s graduation approached, the Waynflete School Class of 2016’s legacy loomed large and burdensome.

“We’re going to remember this for the rest of our lives,” said senior Willy Burdick of Scarborough. “And we should end the year not being the senior class with two suicides that happened in the year, but the senior class that did something about it.”

He sat at a picnic table Monday at Waynflete’s Fore River Fields with fellow senior athletes Nina Moore and Christian Rowe. The wind blew hard across the freshly cut grass, the promise of summer held back by the lingering chill of a cold season that can’t end soon enough.

It happened first on Oct. 31 and again on March 13. Two female students at Waynflete – one a sophomore, the other a junior – took their own lives, the first time in anyone’s memory that suicide has cast its tragic shadow over the private school on Portland’s West End.

By all accounts, the school’s handling of the tragedies has been exemplary. Upon learning of the deaths, and with each family’s permission, administrators posted remarkably open and insightful messages to the student body on the school’s website.

Beyond that, the school consulted with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine to help students channel their grief. For some, that meant sticking as closely as possible to their daily routine; for others, a quiet session away from class with a trusted teacher or counselor to try and navigate the unfathomable.

But kids are kids. And away from the adults, they still talked among themselves. And it was there that these students, especially the seniors, felt the need to do something, anything, to counteract the cloud that threatened to hang over them right up to graduation day and beyond.

So Burdick, brave young man, logged on to the senior class Facebook page.

“I know that I personally have been incredibly affected by these incidents and I want to do something about it,” he wrote back in March. “We have a lot of free time coming up during senior projects and I think that would be a perfect time to research and educate people about suicide and how to prevent it.”

Moore, from Freeport, and Rowe, from South Portland, had been talking to each other about the same thing. Like Burdick, they’re lacrosse players (as was one of the suicide victims).

“There’s a whole stigma around mental health,” said Rowe. “Nina and I were having conversations all the time. I think a lot of students were. But it was really good for Willy to come out and say it. That’s where Nina and I came up with the idea of a lacrosse play day.”

It’s scheduled for Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Fore River Fields, 283 Osgood St., in Portland. And it’s about a lot more than lacrosse or, for that matter, Waynflete.

Suicide has cast its pall over two other local high schools – Falmouth High School and Greely High School in Cumberland – since the beginning of this school year.

Since Moore set up a Facebook page titled “Mental Health Awareness Play Day and Fundraiser,” players from those schools have promised they’ll be there – not for a day of competition, but rather for one of community.

“For me, a lot of it is about bringing mental health out into the light from wherever it is right now,” said Moore. “It’s really important to make it OK to talk about mental illness – just as it is OK to talk about your broken leg or cancer or something like that. It’s an illness and people can’t help that about themselves.”

Sunday’s event aims, if only for a day, to turn the spotlight away from all the pressure of college acceptances and, perish the thought, rejections. Away from the need to be the best, to score the highest, to hit all those marks that adolescents too often silently mistake as measures of their self-worth – until one day they find themselves in a hole too deep to escape.

“I feel like kids are afraid of admitting that they’re struggling,” said Rowe. “Because all that you want to do is look perfect. All society wants to hear is that you’re a success and all they are pushing for is for you to succeed. They’re not willing to accept that you may be having trouble.”

If you’re a teenager reading this right now and nodding your head in agreement, then perhaps there’s a place for you out there on Sunday.

You don’t have to be a lacrosse player. They’ll have Frisbees, Wiffle balls and bats, and other activities to get your heart pumping.

They’ll also have plenty of food and maybe a speaker or two from mental health programs like Family Hope in Scarborough, which helps families and friends help those with mental illness get the help they need.

They’ll even have T-shirts for sale to raise money for suicide prevention – printed on the back are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and five tips to help suicide prevention. (The most poignant: “Love yourself before loving others.”)

What they won’t have is a memorial service. The time for that has passed. This is about looking forward and, as the outgoing leaders of their school, doing everything they can to ensure that what happened during their senior year never happens again.

As of Thursday, the play day’s Facebook page showed that 91 people plan to show up Sunday. Another 49 are listed as “interested.”

“This is one approach to filling in that blank for people who don’t know what to talk about, don’t know what to say, don’t know how to respond,” said Moore. “Here’s one way.”

It’s easy. Just come out and play.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Someone lead the game wardens out of the woods, back to reality http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/bill-nemitz-someone-lead-the-game-wardens-out-of-the-woods/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/bill-nemitz-someone-lead-the-game-wardens-out-of-the-woods/#comments Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=880587 It couldn’t have come at a better time.

Just when I thought my head would explode if I heard one more mention of “presumptive” presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, along came last week’s showdown between the Maine Sunday Telegram and the Maine Warden Service over “North Woods Lawless.”

That was the banner over last Sunday’s riveting story and sidebars by staff writer Colin Woodard about “Operation Red Meat,” a two-year, over-the-top undercover investigation by the warden service in the backwoods of Aroostook County. The headline plays off “North Woods Law,” the Animal Planet TV show that captured the drama – or lack thereof – for the whole world to see.

In the days since the story ran, we’ve had calls by legislators on both sides of the aisle for hearings on who did what and why, followed by full-throated condemnations of Woodard and this newspaper by Gov. Paul LePage and the game wardens, followed by more reports of questionable tactics by the warden service and the undercover agent it’s used, year after year, to reel in the hapless poachers.

So here I sit, still catching my breath from it all.

And I’ve got a few questions:

First and foremost, do Maine’s game wardens know their Alces alces from their Prunus persica?

The former is the scientific name for Maine’s moose. The latter is Latin for the peach.

I ask this because the wardens, in their rather disjointed 2,800-word response to “North Woods Lawless,” acknowledge that they mistook jars of “vegetables” for jars of moose meat while raiding the home of Hope Kelly, the mother of one of the defendants in Operation Red Meat.

As for Ms. Kelly’s claim that they also made off with her prized stock of home-canned peaches, however, the wardens insisted, “At no point did the warden service seize peaches.”

Yet in an evidence photo taken that night by the wardens, right next to a jar of what looks like not-so-red Alces alces is a jar of bright orange Prunus persica.

Go figure.

Why won’t the Maine Warden Service answer the Maine Sunday Telegram’s questions?

For more than six months, reporter Woodard repeatedly has requested interviews with everyone from Col. Joel Wilkinson, commander of the warden service, on down. And the warden service’s terse response to Woodard’s written questions, repeatedly labeling this or that criticism against them “completely inaccurate and untrue,” reads like a heavily sterilized court deposition.

And now they complain, ad nauseam, that their side of the story isn’t being told.

How much did Operation Red Meat cost?

Reasonable people can disagree on whether two years of an undercover agent’s time, along with a raid involving some 30 game wardens and state police backup, was worth the subsequent two arrests and array of non-felony charges against 21 others back in February 2014.

But in order for taxpayers to make that judgment, the least the Maine Warden Service could do is put a price tag on the whole thing. Which they won’t.

Why not?

Why won’t the Maine Warden Service release the emails between game wardens and the “North Woods Law” production company?

This would seem pretty simple: On Nov. 2, 2015, Woodard and the Maine Sunday Telegram submitted a request under the Maine Freedom of Access Act seeking all emails between the wardens and Engel Entertainment, the producers of “North Woods Law.” The Maine Warden Service initially estimated it would take about six hours to fulfill the request.

More than six months later, they still haven’t forked them over.

So even as they thump their chests about enforcing Maine law, let’s not forget that they’re simultaneously breaking it.

Whose side is Maine’s public access ombudsman on?

Her name is Brenda Kielty and her job, according to the state’s website, is “to review complaints about compliance with the Freedom of Access Act and attempt to mediate their resolution.”

According to an endless email chain between the newspapers, the warden service and associated lawyers that now reads like an Abbott and Costello routine, Kielty first got involved in the Freedom of Access dispute on Jan. 20. It’s now May 15, with no resolution in sight.

Suggested question for Ms. Kielty: For an agency that specializes in search and rescue, how hard can it be to find a few emails?

How long is too long for an agent to remain undercover?

William Livezey, the undercover agent at the heart of this and countless other raids, has been scurrying around Maine playing good-old-boy Pennsylvania hunter Bill Fried for at least a dozen years, maybe a lot longer.

It’s hard to fathom, from one investigation to another, that nobody has recognized him. You’ve also got to wonder, after all those years playing a lawbreaker so convincingly, if he still recognizes himself.

What’s with all the beer?

Everywhere Livezey/Fried goes, he seems to have a 12-pack under his arm. He apparently favors Yuengling, which is a clever choice because it’s brewed in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and is not distributed in Maine.

But by all accounts (except, of course, that of the Maine Warden Service), Livezey/Fried does a lot of drinking on the job. Assuming he expenses his, ahem, accessories, might taxpayers be entitled to a look-see at all those years of Yuengling receipts?

And while we’re on the topic of beer, what’s the deal with that garbage can?

According to a story in Friday’s Portland Press Herald, Livezey/Fried once became so drunk during an investigation in York County that he tumbled into a garbage can. Then, according to a target of that operation, he insisted on getting into his car and driving miles to his hotel.

Too bad the “North Woods Law” cameras weren’t rolling for that one. When it comes to reality TV, that’s lightning in a bottle.

Why are 15 pages of a 16-page state policy redacted?

Talk about pure, unadulterated arrogance.

The Maine Sunday Telegram requests a copy of the Maine Warden Service policy on “special investigations” and, upon delivery, virtually the entire thing is blacked out except for some introductory chatter and a few scattered definitions.

And, right at the end, this: “News, Media and Press: Inquiries from the press, news media and other public information outlets will be forwarded to the Augusta office for response by the Colonel, Major or as otherwise directed by the Colonel or Major.”

I’m surprised they didn’t draw in an upraised middle finger.

When is the Maine Warden Service going to stop lying about the Portland Press Herald?

In a statement released Friday evening, warden service spokesman Cpl. John MacDonald claimed that the Press Herald failed to report on the shooting of two New Hampshire police officers early that morning because “they would rather focus on their attempts to smear rather than report on newsworthy events.”

The shootings in Manchester occurred at 2 a.m. Six hours later, at 8:03 a.m., the story was posted on the Press Herald website.

And we’re the ones not telling the truth.

Finally, who spooked the legislators?

Immediately after “North Woods Lawless” broke, lawmakers from both parties promised to pick up where the story left off and start demanding answers to the questions that the Maine Warden Service continues to ignore.

Then LePage opened fire on the newspaper – like nobody saw that coming – and the whole thing took on the specter of yet another political fight that could now sputter to a halt at the edge of Augusta’s great partisan divide.

Let’s hope not.

The only real way to end this thing is to choose the appropriate legislative committee – preferably one with subpoena power – and call in Agent Livezey/Fried and his handlers for a long overdue chat.

They can bring the beer.

Or at least a jar of Prunus persica.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/15/bill-nemitz-someone-lead-the-game-wardens-out-of-the-woods/feed/ 60 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgSun, 15 May 2016 21:24:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A lesson on nepotism and making (wrong) choices in SAD 6 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/12/bill-nemitz-nepotism-and-making-wrong-choices/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/05/12/bill-nemitz-nepotism-and-making-wrong-choices/#comments Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=876795 Question: How do you know when a school district is in deep trouble?

Answer: When its leadership flunks the straight face test.

This was supposed to be the week that those in charge of School Administrative District 6 stopped acting like the dog ate their homework.

By now, Superintendent Frank Sherburne, who hopscotched around the district’s nepotism policy in snagging a job as an ed tech for his 23-year-old son, Zachariah Sherburne, was supposed to finally have been held accountable for his transgressions.

By now, the district’s directors were supposed to have calmed widespread public concerns after Zachariah was charged with having sex with an underage girl in a nearby school district where he also worked at the time.

And, oh yes, the board also was supposed to have explained how Zachariah managed to work for a month last winter in SAD 6 with none of the credentials required by state law.

Finally by now, SAD 6 taxpayers (myself included) were supposed to have some reassurance that those in charge of our sprawling school system, the fourth largest in Maine, at least know how to read.

Which apparently they don’t.

“It is the policy of the MSAD 6 Board not to employ any person who is a member of the family of a Board Member or the Superintendent,” states the district’s nepotism policy.

Let’s start there.

Back when young Zachariah, already working as an ed tech in SAD 55, apparently spoke with his dad about coming to work in SAD 6, Superintendent Sherburne had two possible answers.

Right answer: “Sorry, son, but we have a policy against that.”

Wrong answer: “Hmm … let me see what I can do.”

Frank Sherburne chose the wrong answer.

Then when the superintendent sat down on Jan. 26 with SAD 6 board Chairwoman Rebecca Bowley and Vice Chairman Jacob Stoddard and brought up hiring his son, they had two possible answers.

Right answer: “Sorry, Frank, but we have a policy against that.”

Wrong answer: “Sure, Frank, we’re OK with that.”

They chose the wrong answer.

What’s worse, Bowley and Stoddard failed to inform the rest of the 14-member board of their winking and nodding until April 4. That was a full three weeks after Zachariah, charged with gross sexual assault and sexual abuse of a minor (who became pregnant), resigned from his SAD 6 ed tech position after just over a month on the job.

It gets worse.

Realizing they had a whopper of a public relations problem on their hands, the board then decided to investigate. But rather than bring in an outsider to sort through this mess, they gave the job to their regular counsel – the Portland law firm of Drummond Woodsum.

Think about that. The law firm conducting an inquest in which the potential exists for a variety of the players to have a variety of conflicting interests, already represents everyone involved.

That’s not an investigation. That’s a heavy coat of primer.

Thus we now have this hard-not-to-laugh-at narrative from the three-page “executive summary” of the investigation released following the board’s lengthy closed-door meeting Tuesday evening:

“The Superintendent, as requested by the Chair, checked with Ms. Hicks, the union president, regarding (Zachariah’s) application for employment and she indicated that she was ‘okay’ with (Zachariah) applying for a position as long as, if he received a position, the classroom teacher was comfortable working with the Superintendent’s son.”

Comfortable? Why on earth wouldn’t the classroom teacher be comfortable?

The executive summary continues: “The Superintendent subsequently informed the Buxton Center Elementary School Principal and Assistant Principal that they could consider (Zachariah’s) application, that they should treat him like any other applicant, and that he (the Superintendent) would not play a part in the decision.”

Zachariah, spoiler alert, got the job.

Back to the executive summary: “We found no evidence that the Superintendent was involved in the hiring process, or that the application process or the decision to hire (Zachariah) was influenced by the fact that he is the Superintendent’s son.”

We pause now for our communal forehead slap.

The elder Sherburne, the big boss, discussed his son’s job application with the school board chair … the vice chair … the union president … the school principal … and the assistant principal. Yet according to the in-house investigation, he had absolutely no influence over his kid getting hired?

Even the full board found that hard to swallow, noting in a statement Tuesday that Sherburne in fact violated the nepotism policy by failing to notify all of them, (not just the chair and vice-chair) before his son was hired.

“This decision displayed a lapse in judgment by the Superintendent and he has accepted responsibility for it,” read the board statement.

But then, having barely slapped Sherburne on the wrist, the board ran for cover: “But the Board is convinced that the extraordinary circumstances outlined in the Nepotism Policy existed and that the decisions made by the Superintendent, the Chair and Vice-Chair were made in good faith and with the best interest of the District in mind.”

Under the nepotism policy’s “extraordinary circumstances” exception, a candidate can be hired if it’s “in the best interests of MSAD 6” and if that person “is qualified for the position to which he/she has been or will be assigned.”

But Zachariah Sherburne, without the necessary state authorization (which he also lacked for his other ed tech job in SAD 55), without an official transcript on file with the Maine Department of Education (the one he’d submitted was deemed insufficient), without even a required eight-week temporary card showing that he had applied for a criminal background check (cue the irony alert), clearly was not qualified to be working as an ed tech in SAD 6.

And much as the board might wish otherwise, this debacle isn’t just about who was or was not acting in “good faith.”

It’s about basic competence, or the lack thereof.

And it’s about choosing to adhere to the law, or choosing to ignore it.

Back in March, one day after his son was arrested, Superintendent Sherburne sent out a sternly worded memo to SAD 6 employees emphasizing that it was their responsibility, not the district’s, to stay up to date on their state certifications.

The memo included this telling statement: “The district can no longer allow extensions on allowing proof of a valid certification, license or CHRC (Criminal History Record Check) because the number of non-compliant employees has grown to such an extent that it takes months for the District to become compliant.”

Meaning this thing is far from over.

Zachariah Sherburne, for all his notoriety, appears to be the tip of a much bigger iceberg when it comes to SAD 6 employees working on the edge of – or just outside – the law.

Frank Sherburne, whose own state certification as a superintendent requires that he stay on top of this stuff, still has plenty of explaining to do.

And the SAD 6 board of directors?

They’re only fooling themselves.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Narcan veto override presents Maine lawmakers with a life-or-death choice http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/28/narcan-veto-override-is-a-life-or-death-choice/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/28/narcan-veto-override-is-a-life-or-death-choice/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=856238 Picture yourself with your finger poised over two buttons – a green one that says “yea” and a red one that says “nay.”

Push the green one and someone lying unconscious at death’s door will live.

Push the red one and that person will die.

Your choice.

That choice actually awaits members of the Maine Legislature as they reconvene Friday to slog their way through the many and varied vetoes issued this session by Gov. Paul LePage.

None looms larger than LePage’s veto of L.D. 1547, “An Act to Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride,” or Narcan, for people who have experienced opioid-related drug overdoses.

Choose the “yea” button and override LePage’s veto, as the Senate is widely expected to do, and pharmacists statewide will be allowed to dispense the lifesaving antidote pre-emptively to family members, friends and anyone else who wants to rescue an overdose victim while precious seconds tick away.

Choose the “nay” button against an override, as just enough House Republicans who voted earlier against the bill could do, and at least some of those frantic bystanders will watch helplessly as another Mainer dies from the disease – and, yes, it is a disease – of drug addiction.

Put more simply, those Republicans can fall in behind LePage, who stunned many in Maine and around the nation last week when he opined in his veto letter that “naloxone does not truly save lives; it merely extends them until the next overdose.”

Or they can step back from that hopeless rhetoric, take a deep breath, and consider what’s truly at stake with this simple push of a button.

It’s all reminiscent of the “Milgram experiment,” conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram while Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann was being tried in Jerusalem back in 1961.

The experiment aimed to determine how people from a variety of occupations and backgrounds would respond to an authority figure’s orders (a la Adolf Hitler) to do something they normally might find abhorrent.

In this case, the test centered on a subject’s ability (or not) to comply with an order to administer electrical shocks at increasing voltages to another person hidden away in an adjacent room whenever that person answered incorrectly to a series of word-match questions.

It was, of course, all a setup. There were no shocks, and the screams from the other room, which grew more blood-curdling with each uptick in the voltage, were also staged.

But the people at the electrical button didn’t know that. And at the repeated prodding of the authority figure, even as some laughed nervously and others sweated profusely, an astounding 65 percent of them kept administering the “shocks” up to what they thought was a maximum of 450 volts.

As Milgram later concluded, “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.”

That terrible destructive process, in this case, is drug addiction.

And lest we lose ourselves in the legislative wrangling, L.D. 1547 is by no means a hypothetical exercise: According to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, 272 people died from drug overdoses in Maine in 2015, a stunning 31 percent increase over the previous year.

“I think there’s a great deal of desperation,” said assistant House Democratic leader Sara Gideon of Freeport, the bill’s sponsor, in an interview Wednesday. “If you go out and talk to people, you are hard-pressed to find somebody who hasn’t been touched by this … who doesn’t know somebody in their circle who has experienced either a loved one who is addicted to drugs or who has overdosed.”

So why not help these people?

In LePage’s increasingly dark world, they’re apparently not worth the effort.

As he put it so clumsily in his veto letter last week, “Creating a situation where an addict has a heroin needle in one hand and a shot of naloxone in the other produces a sense of normalcy and security around heroin use that serves only to perpetuate the cycle of addiction.”

He then doubled down Tuesday in a radio interview with WVOM, saying, “I don’t think Narcan saves lives. I think Narcan extends lives.”

If only he’d included the obvious: In cases of lethal overdose, the absence of Narcan ends lives.

To be so devoid of hope, so lacking in compassion, doesn’t just erode LePage’s standing as Maine’s chief executive. It diminishes him as a human being.

Just as standing up to LePage’s ignorance, as Milo Police Chief Damien Pickel did in a recent department Facebook post, is a sign of utmost integrity.

“Your recent veto of LD 1547 . . . only shows how uninformed you are,” Pickel wrote in an open letter to the governor. “By saying (Narcan) ‘does not truly save lives,’ you are being disingenuous and are doing a disservice to those of us who have administered it. It does save lives. It’s not a safety net for the addict that will ‘perpetuate the use of heroin.’ When an addict is overdosing, they lack the skills to administer it themselves. In fact, an addict hates Narcan because it reverses the effects of the opioid and they immediately go into withdrawal.

“You should listen to your police, fire, EMS and medical professionals before you make any further uninformed statements.”

Sorry, Chief, but that ship sailed a long time ago.

The only question now is who still listens to LePage – starting with you Republican lawmakers who, we can only hope, will do some serious soul-searching before you show up for your last day of work on Friday.

Will you be like Milgram’s hapless subjects and obediently push that “nay” button, even as you know deep down that real lives hang in the balance?

Or will you tune out what you’re hearing from the governor’s office and the party leaders who do his bidding and, on this matter of life and death, do the right thing?

So go ahead. Picture someone you know, maybe even someone you love, lying there on the ground.

Green button or red button.

It’s your call.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/28/narcan-veto-override-is-a-life-or-death-choice/feed/ 69 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgThu, 28 Apr 2016 10:59:43 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A time to bear the weight 
of supporting our troops http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/bill-nemitz-a-time-to-bear-the-weight-%e2%80%a8of-supporting-our-troops/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/bill-nemitz-a-time-to-bear-the-weight-%e2%80%a8of-supporting-our-troops/#comments Sun, 24 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=850379 Words cannot begin to describe the burden Ray and Martha Goyet will carry every day of their lives.

High school sweethearts who grew up in Westbrook and then embarked on a life in the military, they looked on with pride as their son, Mark, enlisted in the Marines right out of his Texas high school in 2008.

And then, three years later, they watched in horror as his flag-draped casket came home from Afghanistan.

He’d volunteered for the deployment, his second to a war zone. Two months later, he died from small arms fire during an ambush on his convoy in Helmand Province.

“Civilians read about it, they hear about it, but it’s like in a different life,” said Ray Goyet, who retired last fall after 38 years in the Navy, in a telephone interview on Friday. “It doesn’t impact them.”

The man knows of what he speaks. For the vast majority of Americans, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq required no personal sacrifice, no loss of a loved one, no heavy lifting whatsoever.

Greg Johnson, a Marine veteran determined to keep names like Mark Goyet’s front and center in our collective memory, has a plan to change that.

On Saturday, May 7, Johnson invites civilians far and wide to bring a backpack down to East End Beach in Portland, load it up with however much weight you think you can handle and then set out on the Husky Ruck Memorial 10K around the Eastern Promenade and Back Cove in honor of Mainers who lost their lives while serving in the military.

Why? Two reasons.

One is to spend a few hours feeling the weight, literally, that extended families like the Goyets – “Ninety percent of them are in Greater Portland,” said Ray – continue to bear while the rest of the world shakes off the Iraq and Afghanistan wars like a pair of bad dreams.

The other is to raise money, via the Corporal Mark Goyet Memorial Foundation, for scholarships to benefit military veterans at the University of Southern Maine.

Johnson, who will graduate from USM next month with a degree in criminology, first connected with the Goyets through Johnson’s work with The Summit Project.

Founded in 2013 by Marine Maj. David Cote of Waterville, the project honors 77 members of the military with Maine connections who have died serving their country since 9/11.

Each is commemorated with a rock, engraved with the deceased’s initials, retrieved from a place that was special to that person. Family members, friends and volunteers take the rocks on annual hikes up Mount Katahdin and on other excursions to keep the memories of the fallen alive.

Mark Goyet’s rock, one of The Summit Project’s first, came from a pile accumulated over the years by his grandfather on the family’s property in Westbrook where Mark once played as a young boy.

“Mark’s was the first stone I carried up Katahdin,” explained Johnson, who never met his fellow Marine but still came away wanting to do more in his memory.

Last year, Goyet’s parents created the foundation in Mark’s name to, among other things, help returning veterans pursue their education upon leaving the military.

Upon learning of that, Johnson approached the powers that be at USM with his idea for the ruck – normally a military training exercise, only this one would be for civilians.

Worth noting here is that Military Friendly, a rating service operated by Victory Media Inc., recently named USM one of the top 25 public colleges and universities in the country when it comes to how it treats its student veterans.

It shows.

The USM Foundation has already kicked in $2,500 toward expenses for the Husky Ruck Memorial 10K, according to foundation President George Campbell. What’s more, Campbell said Friday, the university’s scholarship fund will match the total amount raised by the event.

“These (veteran) students are just amazing,” said Campbell. “We’re excited.”

So is Johnson, who deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan during his 10 years as a Marine.

He’s lined up a 30-by-50-foot American flag that flew over both the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, and at Ground Zero in Manhattan to be raised over the start-finish line.

He’s enlisted Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck to serve as keynote speaker.

He’s landed a sponsorship from Student Veterans of America, which will send representatives from Washington, D.C.

He’ll even have The Summit Project’s rocks, including Cpl. Mark Goyet’s, on hand should anyone be looking to add some truly meaningful weight to their rucksack.

What he needs are more Mainers who have long said they “support our troops” but have never exactly broken a sweat doing it. To join the 80-plus who have already registered, or to donate, go to facebook.com/HuskyRuckMemorial10K.

“While this is a race, the emphasis is not on competition,” said Johnson. “The emphasis is about bringing the community here together, challenging yourself, helping people to your left and to your right if you see them struggling, getting everybody through it and carrying forth the legacy that Mark believed in.”

That legacy is embedded in the Gold Star rings that Ray and Martha Goyet now wear in honor of their son.

“He actually had nine months left in his enlistment and he was done. He didn’t have to do any more deployments,” recalled Ray Goyet. “His goal was to use the GI bill to go to school and come back (into the Marines) as an officer.”

But then Mark heard that the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, decimated by casualties from a previous deployment, was looking for volunteers to return with the unit to Afghanistan. And so he stepped forward.

“He said he had brothers who had been killed in action or who had suffered traumatic injuries and he felt he owed it to them,” his father said. “You want to say, ‘No, no, no. You’re done. You’re safe.’ But you can’t argue with that logic. You have to respect that.”

Ray and Martha Goyet will travel here next week from their home in Virginia Beach for the Husky Ruck Memorial 10K. Greg Johnson will be first in line to greet them.

“It’s extremely tough to understand what these families are going through unless you experience it yourself,” Johnson said. “We can imagine, but that’s the best we can do.”

Or we can help shoulder the load.

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/24/bill-nemitz-a-time-to-bear-the-weight-%e2%80%a8of-supporting-our-troops/feed/ 40 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2014/09/Top-Story-Block-Bill-e1412944716710.jpgMon, 25 Apr 2016 10:33:34 +0000
Harvey Lembo’s a sympathetic figure in gun debate, but shouldn’t he be charged? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/bill-nemitz-shouldnt-harvey-lembo-be-charged/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/22/bill-nemitz-shouldnt-harvey-lembo-be-charged/#comments Fri, 22 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=847250 Goodbye handgun. Hello lightning rod.

Since he readied, aimed and fired at a fleeing intruder in his federally subsidized Rockland apartment in September, Harvey Lembo has become a legend in his own time: Tired of burglars coming after his prescription painkillers, he went out and bought himself a gun.

Then, a mere 12 hours later, Lembo used it – plugging Christopher Wildhaber, 45, in the shoulder after he allegedly broke into Lembo’s humble abode and tried to run while Lembo called 911.

We’ll get back to that late-night drama in a minute.

But first, this being about guns and all, a look at the fallout from the shot heard round the Park Place apartment complex:

Stanford Management, which runs the complex, subsequently told Lembo the gun was against property rules and ordered him to give it up or move out.

Lembo sued, with the help of (who else?) the National Rifle Association.

At the same time, the National Rifle Association threw its full weight behind state legislation to prohibit private landlords who accept federal subsidies from restricting tenants’ possession or transport of firearms or ammunition within their rental units. The new law takes effect in July.

Meanwhile, back in court, Lembo’s lawsuit now awaits motions from attorneys on both sides concerning whether presiding Justice William Stokes should recuse himself because, as mayor of Augusta, he was once a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

In short, seven-plus months after Lembo pulled the trigger, that single shot from his 7 mm Russian-made revolver continues to reverberate all over Maine.

Still, going back to that fateful moment, one strikingly simple question remains: Shouldn’t Lembo be charged in the shooting?

No, I’m not kidding. I’m simply reading Chapter 5, Section 104 of the Maine Criminal Code, titled “Use of force in defense of premises.”

It says that “deadly force” is permitted if the person in a dwelling reasonably believes that an intruder “has entered or is attempting to enter the dwelling place or has surreptitiously remained within the dwelling place without a license or privilege to do so … and is committing or is likely to commit some other crime within the dwelling place.”

So far so good for Lembo, who uses a wheelchair to get around. Wildhaber was allegedly in the apartment stealing medications when Lembo awoke, pulled his newly purchased, fully loaded handgun from under his pillow and told Wildhaber to sit on a coffee table while Lembo called the cops.

But the law’s not finished. It goes on to say that a person may use deadly force under the previously described circumstances “only if the person first demands the person against whom such deadly force is to be used to terminate the criminal trespass and the trespasser fails to immediately comply with the demand, unless the person reasonably believes that it would be dangerous to the person or a 3rd person to make the demand.”

Put more simply, before you shoot, you have to say something like “get the hell out of here” and then give the intruder a chance to vamoose.

In a videotaped interview with the Bangor Daily News the day after the shooting, Lembo explained how he’d bought the gun after burglars broke into his home five times in the previous six years in search of his morphine, his OxyContin and other meds. “I’m just a walking drug store,” he said.

He told how he awoke to find the intruder riffling through his pill containers, ordered him to sit still on the coffee table, called 911 and told the dispatcher “If he makes a move, I’m going to shoot him.”

“And she says, ‘No, no. Don’t do that,’ ” Lembo recalled.

He continued, “About that time, he made a bolt for the door. He was going out the back door. And as he did, I turned around and shot him.”

Police later found Wildhaber in woods near the apartment complex. He faces charges of burglary, theft of medication, attempted theft and three counts of refusing to submit to arrest.

Lembo, meanwhile, dug himself in even deeper on that videotape when he explained what was going through his mind as he pulled the trigger.

“I didn’t want to hit him, you, know, where it would kill him. I wanted to hit him, you know, so he’d live,” he said. “I didn’t want him dying on me. So in my mind I had no choice, I had to put a stop to it. Hopefully they will see around town that people are going to stop letting them get away with it and start standing up for themselves and maybe this town will become peaceful again.”

Or maybe it won’t.

For starters, Lembo isn’t just a guy with a gun. He’s a guy with a gun who lives surrounded by a variety of potent opioids, which arguably might impair his judgment at that critical moment when he wraps his finger around the trigger and asks himself, “Now what?”

And on the night in question, by his own admission, Lembo was no longer simply trying to defend himself and his castle when he squeezed that trigger. With the intruder in full flight, Lembo was sending a message: Forget about, as the law puts it, “terminating the criminal trespass.” You break into my apartment, you get shot.

Contacted Thursday, Knox County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said he has not yet decided whether to charge Lembo criminally, noting that his office is still awaiting an “additional piece of information which is not yet available.”

“Once we’re in possession of all the information we need, we can certainly evaluate it all,” Rushlau said.

Of course, charging Lembo with, say, elevated aggravated assault after all that’s transpired would be the hardest of sells to any jury, not to mention the public at large.

Even William Harwood, who filed a brief in Lembo’s civil case on behalf of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, acknowledged in court this week that Lembo emerges as a sympathetic figure in this whole saga.

But the fact remains that Lembo shot a man who was no longer trespassing, but rather was trying to get away.

That’s not defense of one’s premises.

That’s payback.

And like it or not, that’s against Maine law.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: LePage ought to ‘seriously’ rethink run for Senate http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/17/bill-nemitz-lepage-ought-to-seriously-rethink-run-for-senate/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/04/17/bill-nemitz-lepage-ought-to-seriously-rethink-run-for-senate/#comments Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=839501 Dear Governor LePage,

Looking through the headlines last week, I came across one that had your name in it followed by the words “very serious thought.”

OK, I admit it. I’m a sucker for oxymorons.

This particular story chronicled your speech to an Orono business group Tuesday evening, in which you said you were “seriously, seriously giving … very serious thought” to running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Angus King in 2018.

“I believe I’ve outperformed him for the people of the state of Maine as governor,” you said. “And I think I can outperform him in Washington as a senator.”

No offense, Big Guy, but was this speech preceded by a happy hour?

I ask this because you sounded like a guy looking to start a bar fight. And while I’m by no means suggesting that you were somehow, ahem, impaired before you stepped up to that podium, you’re reminding me more and more these days of Butchy, a hockey player I knew in high school who once tried to impress people by downing a few beers, walking into a high school dance and sucker-punching the first unlucky male who crossed his path.

“Why the hell did you do that?” asked an incredulous onlooker.

“Why not?” Butchy replied with a self-satisfied smile.

But back to Angus.

“He ripped us off by $104 million during his eight years as governor – he ripped us off royally, and I can’t wait until 2018 because I’m thinking that’s the guy I’m going after,” you told the business folks.

That part about the $104 million would be big news if anyone had a clue what you were talking about. Apparently you think King got rich off his investment in a wind-power company during his two terms as governor from 1995 to 2003, which simply is not true.

The wind investment, which netted him just under $70,000, came years after he left the Blaine House. And King’s personal wealth, from the sale of an energy conservation firm he founded, was amassed before he was elected governor in the first place.

So I’d remind you to get your facts straight. But I’ve come to believe that facts to you are like ice cubes in a cocktail glass – stir them around long enough and they disappear completely.

Here are a couple of facts: As of today, you’ve been in office 1,929 days. Assuming you hang in there until Jan. 2, 2019, you have 990 days to go.

In other words, you’re just about two-thirds of the way through your stint as governor – a point where most in your position start pondering their legacy, their signature achievements, how their accomplishments on the way out reflect their aspirations on the way in.

And what have you got? Bruised knuckles.

Seriously, Big Guy, I’m sitting here struggling to come up with one shred of evidence that you’ve “outperformed” not just Angus King, but any governor in Maine history. I even went so far as to Google “worst governor in Maine history” and, lo and behold, your name is all over the place. (As the Daily Beast so succinctly put it last summer, “The Idiot Thug Running Maine.”)

Looking ahead to 2018, assuming you’re serious about setting your sights on the Senate, I see three huge problems in your path.

One is your opponent.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed over the years, Governor, but Angus King actually likes Maine. And Maine, for the most part, seems to like him back.

I’ll long remember King’s State of the State speech following the devastating North American Ice Storm of 1998 that left Maine paralyzed and without power for weeks on end. He spoke eloquently and with pride about how his fellow Mainers looked out for one another, how we persevered, how we showed the rest of the world what we’re made of.

You skipped your State of the State this year because you were ticked off with the “socialists” in the Legislature. And since we’re on the topic, when have you ever said you were proud of Maine for anything?

Next up is your record as a businessman-turned-governor who promised to come in and make Maine, as the sign at the turnpike entrance still proclaims, “Open for Business.”

Last week, the Maine Development Foundation and the Maine Economic Growth Council released their annual “Measures of Growth 2016” report. One statistic stood out like a black eye.

Between 2009 and 2014, the report says, Maine’s economy shrank by 1.2 percent. During the same period, the nation’s economy grew by 9.4 percent and New England’s economy grew by 5.4 percent.

Now I’m not suggesting that’s all your fault, Governor. But with more than half of that five-year period occurring on your watch, it’s fair by now to ask what, if anything, you’ve done about it.

You’ve blamed the Democrats in the Legislature. And when that hasn’t worked, you’ve cold-cocked a few fellow Republicans as well.

You’ve moaned constantly about Maine’s high energy costs, even as those in business and industry say that is but one of many challenges they face here.

And speaking of energy, how about that Legislature and the solar-power bill it passed in the final hours of its session late Friday? The bipartisan measure, crafted through painstaking compromise, would add 196 megawatts of solar capacity to the state’s energy portfolio, not to mention 650 jobs and $500 million in investment to Maine’s economy over the next several years.

But you’re going to veto it. I’m sure that will come as good news to the Koch brothers, whose oil money will undoubtedly lubricate your Senate campaign via some oddly named Super PAC like “Dirigo Last Call” or “Mainers Ready to Rumble.”

Which brings us to the most obvious obstacle you face in this whole cockamamie scheme of yours: Assuming you ever made it near the U.S. Senate floor, you wouldn’t last a day.

I refer you to the Senate Rules of Order, Chapter 6, Rule 6.2: “Every member shall confine himself to decorous language in addressing the Senate and shall make no personal or derogatory remark to or about any member.”

And if you ignore all that and, let’s say, tell that liberal clown Sen. Al Franken from Minnesota to “kiss my butt”?

Rule 6.3 D: “If the member refuses to submit to reprimand or continues to be in disorder after reprimand, the President may cause him to be ejected from the Senate for a stated period determined by the President or for such period as may be stated by the Senate upon motion duly adopted.”

Sorry, Big Guy, but you heard that right.

The Senate has bouncers.

 

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Bill Nemitz: In helping Maine’s hungry, George Mitchell remembers his roots http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/20/a-statesman-never-forgot-hunger-or-courage/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/20/a-statesman-never-forgot-hunger-or-courage/#comments Sun, 20 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=821625 You wouldn’t think Lily Pearmain and former Maine Sen. George Mitchell have a whole lot in common.

She’s a 32-year-old mom, struggling to keep her two daughters fed. He’s a world-renowned statesman, a half-century her senior, who’s spent much of his life crosscrossing the planet trying to solve the most intractable of the world’s problems.

Yet there they both were in Brunswick on Wednesday morning, the featured speakers for the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program’s kickoff of its $500,000 expansion to help feed an ever-growing number of hungry Mainers.

Herself a child of poverty, Pearmain has long grown accustomed to the dark side of needing help. If you’re the type who makes snide remarks under your breath in the supermarket checkout aisle while she fumbles with her WIC coupons or swipes her Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program card, here’s a news flash – she hears every word.

“Every time I take that blue EBT card out of my wallet, it’s hard to not feel like I’m back in school lunch line sheepishly handing my blue free-lunch ticket to the lunch lady while the more affluent kids snort and snicker behind my back,” Pearmain told the crowd packed into the food pantry.

Enter the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.

Founded in 1983, its staff and volunteers currently welcome more than 8,500 visitors annually to its food pantry.

Last year alone, they served 47,000 meals in the 40-seat soup kitchen.

And this school year, some 500 kids in Brunswick and seven surrounding communities are getting more to eat thanks to the “backpack program” that sends food home with them over the weekend.

Pearmain first showed up at the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, with her two little girls in tow, just over two years ago. It’s changed their lives, she said.

“Thanks to MCHPP … my children have no clue that as a family, we struggle with food insecurity,” Pearmain told the crowd. “Thanks to MCHPP, we have access to healthy, nutritious food that we otherwise would not. Thanks to MCHPP, my children know how delicious local organic produce tastes.”

But it’s more than just the food. Bring enough people together around something so basic as eradicating hunger and bigger and better things start to happen.

“Thanks to the volunteers, staff and all those who support MCHPP, my children have positive role models to look up to and emulate,” Pearmain said. “Thanks to the people of MCHPP, my children have a sense of community I hadn’t experienced until very recently.”

With that, it was Mitchell’s turn.

The former U.S. senator spoke eloquently of the great divide between “unprecedented and massive amounts of wealth” on the one hand and, on the other, “an unequal distribution of benefits that leaves many in our society in need of the basics of life. And nothing, of course, is more basic than food.”

“Whatever one’s view of the world, of politics or otherwise, we all share a common humanity and, as Americans, a common pride in our society,” Mitchell said. “A society which, I believe, cannot and will not leave anyone, especially children, hungry and without proper nutrition.”

So how did these two, Lily Pearmain and George Mitchell, come to share the lectern on this morning?

Pearmain was asked to speak by Ethan Minton, the program director for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program, a few weeks ago.

Truth be told, she was nervous about it at first. There would be TV cameras. And interviews. And with all of that, more snickering, more judgment.

But then she thought about her daughters. And about her grandmother, who died in December and left her a pin that said, “Buck the Trend.” And so she did.

“I am not a person who keeps my mouth shut,” Pearmain confided.

Mitchell was asked to speak by Karen Parker, the program’s executive director. He jumped at the chance – Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program is one of many such efforts he supports throughout Maine.

A few months back, during a previous visit, Mitchell met Lily Pearmain. They spoke at some length about her struggles, how she had to drop out of Southern Maine Community College but is trying to get back, how she’s working with the Maine Department of Labor’s Career Center, how her universe begins and ends with those two little girls.

“I admire her courage, her fortitude,” Mitchell said as he walked outside for the ceremonial groundbreaking. “She’s had a lot of difficulty in life.”

So, for those who may not realize it, has George Mitchell.

“What comes to my mind is when I left my home in Waterville to go to Bowdoin (College),” Mitchell said.

His family was near destitute at the time. His father, who had left school in only the third or fourth grade, had just been laid off. His mother had no education and could neither read nor write.

“My father, who was not a talkative man, said to me, as we sat at the kitchen table, ‘You’re a smart young boy and I know you’re going to do well. But I want you to look at your mother.'”

The young Mitchell looked over at his mother, who stood by the stove cooking dinner.

“Now look at me,” Mitchell’s father said. “We’re your parents. And don’t you ever forget where you came from.’ ”

Behind him in the distance loomed his prestigious alma mater. Yet here Mitchell stood in the parking lot of an ever-expanding program to feed Maine’s hungry.

“And I’ve never forgotten where I came from,” he said.

The groundbreaking beckoned. No gold- or silver-plated shovels here, mind you, just well-worn spades that looked like they’d been commandeered from someone’s backyard shed.

Lily Pearmain already had hers. Down the line, one last shovel awaited George Mitchell.

Together, the senator and the young mother broke new ground.

 

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Bill Nemitz: A firsthand look at Portland’s nagging homeless problem http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/13/bill-nemitz-a-firsthand-look-at-the-citys-overlooked-homeless-problem/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/13/bill-nemitz-a-firsthand-look-at-the-citys-overlooked-homeless-problem/#comments Sun, 13 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=817517 The alley, just off Franklin Arterial in the heart of the Portland peninsula, has an informal name. But it’s too vulgar to repeat here.

“There’s a little doo-doo over there and a little over here and I got to admit, it’s mine,” cautioned an apologetic Jess, the alley’s lone occupant, as Joe McNally and Kirk Carlsen stepped gingerly over the mud, the soggy mattress, the broken glass and other detritus.

It was early on a brilliantly sunny Tuesday afternoon. Jess was deep into a bottle of Schlitz Bull Ice, an 8.2-percent-alcohol that fogs the brain twice as fast as normal beer. But at least it wasn’t whiskey.

“I’m trying to keep away from the whiskey the best I can,” said Jess.

“All right,” replied McNally. “I hope so.”

“I think it’s been a couple of weeks since I even had one of those shot bottles,” Jess promised.

McNally nodded. “That sounds about right. I don’t know if it’s completely accurate, but it sounds about right. OK, Jess. We’ll swing back down in a bit.”

Jess would likely be dead by now if not for the HOME Team, perhaps the least-known, most-valuable strand in the social safety net of Maine’s largest city.

Directed by McNally since its inception in 2010, the Homeless Outreach & Mobile Engagement program is an outgrowth of the Milestone Foundation on India Street, home to an emergency shelter, detoxification unit and housing program for adults with alcoholism and other addictions.

It’s also, as usual, on financial life support. Unless the Portland City Council follows City Manager Jon Jennings’ recommendation in the coming weeks and steers a relatively meager $73,000 toward the HOME Team in the next fiscal year, life on the streets of downtown Portland – for everyone – soon could get noticeably uglier.

“It is one of the most vital programs that we have in our city,” Jennings said last week. “However long I’m here, I’m going to make sure that we work with them.”

Monday through Saturday, from noon until 8 p.m., the HOME Team’s Ford Transit van meanders virtually unnoticed throughout the Portland peninsula.

With McNally usually at the wheel and an assistant riding shotgun with logbook in hand, the mission is as simple as it is unsavory: Keep a finger on the pulse of Portland’s most downtrodden, a remarkably tight-knit community of mostly adult men with an array of alcoholism, addiction and mental health problems. And when the situation warrants, which it often does, get them off the streets before trouble erupts.

From a practical standpoint, the program is worth its weight in gold. Take, for example, the “police call” that came in to the HOME Team midway through Tuesday’s shift: a man lying unconscious on the sidewalk at Cumberland Avenue and Alder Street.

Upon arrival, McNally and Carlsen saw no flashing lights, no police cruiser, no Medcu unit, no commotion whatsoever. Just a middle-aged man named Hada – McNally and Carlsen knew him well – passed out with two unopened cans of Anheuser-Busch Natty Daddy by his side.

“He’s probably had two, planning on four,” said McNally once they’d safely loaded Hada aboard the van. Securing the two 16-ounce cans of high-octane, foul-smelling brew in a plastic bag, he added, “They should arrest the makers of this stuff the same way they do the drug dealers.”

So, with no police in sight, how was this a “police call”?

“They called us,” McNally replied.

There was a time when a police cruiser would have carted Hada off to the Cumberland County Jail or Medcu would have transported him to a local emergency room – both at a relatively enormous cost to local taxpayers – so he could essentially sleep this one off.

No longer. On this day, the HOME Team quietly transported him to the Milestone Foundation, where he was first led to a shower, then given clean johnnies while his street clothes were washed and dried, then provided a hot meal and finally given one of 43 mattresses for a safe and warm night’s sleep.

With a little luck, Hada might eventually find his way upstairs into Milestone’s 16-bed detox unit. More likely, he’d be back on the street the next morning repeating this cycle all over again.

Either way, the HOME Team would be there.

McNally is well aware that from the outside, some might view him and his fellow team members as enablers. The Milestone Foundation, unlike other social service agencies in Portland, admits all comers regardless of their sobriety level.

But in a world where treatment options are few and life-and-death risks are many, McNally said, the primary goal is simply to keep many of these people alive from one day to the next. From there, he and the rest of the Milestone staff can began to build the trust so critical to actually putting broken lives back together.

“The folks here, we’re not making a great wage,” McNally said. “We’re not here because it’s a great paycheck and all that stuff. We’re not here for all the fame and autographs either. We’re here because we’re doing what no one else can, better than anyone else could. We’re providing hospice care to guys who don’t get care anywhere else. Some of our guys won’t access ERs, they won’t eat at Preble Street (a local soup kitchen), so we’re all that they have.

“So when people say, ‘You let them drink in an alley.’ Yes, we did. Because if not, his schizophrenia is going to be out of control and he’s going to be pacing in front of your apartment swearing his head off. So trust us. Allow us to do our job.”

According to the draft of a recent study by professor Thomas Chalmers McLaughlin of the University of New England’s Social Work Center for Research and Evaluation, the HOME Team averages 34 “encounters” per day with people on the street – putting it on pace, according to McNally, to exceed 10,000 encounters for the fiscal year that ends on June 30.

Many are as simple as the five-minute check-in with a man on a bench near the Hannaford supermarket at Back Cove – a nurse from Mercy Hospital had recognized him as a client and called in to make sure he was all right.

“You OK, Michael?” asked McNally, climbing out of the van.

“Yeah,” replied Michael. “Just waiting for my buddy to get done with the doctor. Then he’s going to bring me to my doctor’s appointment. My sciatica’s killing me.”

Enough said.

An hour later, McNally pulled up to the curb on Preble Street to check on Scott, who not too long ago sustained severe third-degree burns to his lower leg when he passed out on vodka by a campfire “out near the Portland-Westbrook line” and his sneaker melted through to the skin.

A lifetime ago, Scott played bass in a well-known punk rock band. Now, he drinks on the street.

“From rock star to street star,” mused Scott, who in a few hours would show up, far less lucid, at Milestone’s India Street shelter.

“You’re still a superstar in my book,” replied McNally with a smile.

It was music to Scott’s ears.

“I can’t put it into words,” he said. “I love these guys. I love every one of them. I don’t know where I’d be without them. They take good care of us. They treat us like family.”

It’s mutual. A short distance away on Oxford Street, Larry and Barbara – McNally calls her “Babs” – were sharing an afternoon brew when the HOME Team pulled up for a visit.

A couple of years back, Milestone helped Barbara find housing. But she’s long had trouble getting heat and now the hot water is off and she’s not sure how long she’ll be staying put.

But this visit wasn’t all about Barbara. She recently heard that McNally’s mother passed away in January.

“I’m sorry about your mother, Joe,” she said, touching his arm tenderly.

“Thank you,” replied McNally. “That’s very sweet of you. First of the year, she passed. I appreciate that.”

“But she’s watching over you.”

“Yes she is.”

“She’s your guardian angel.”

“Without a doubt.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Babs.”

The compassion that permeates the HOME Team was not lost on City Manager Jennings several years ago when, as president and co-owner of the Portland Red Claws basketball team, he co-chaired a task force on homelessness in Portland. It was then that he first became aware of how much the program contributes to the quality of life in Portland.

“What they do is integral to the fabric of what this community is all about,” said Jennings. “We are a caring and giving community and unfortunately police and fire, just the sheer capacity of what we have to deal with on a daily basis, can’t possibly deal with everything.”

Now, as he prepares his first municipal budget, Jennings is also well aware that the HOME Team saves the city some $60,000 a year in emergency response costs alone.

Add to that another $145,000 in shelter beds and other services provided by Milestone and it becomes clear why Jennings recently overruled a recommendation by the city’s Community Development Block Grant Allocation Committee that the HOME Team receive no funding. Under the committee’s scoring system, it missed the cut by less than a point.

Rather, Jennings proposed that the HOME Team receive just over $54,000 from the city’s $1.79 million in federal community development funds. He then found other municipal money to bring its total allocation to $73,000, roughly half of the HOME Team’s annual operating budget.

It would be easy, since Jennings took the city’s top administrative job last June, to forget all about the HOME Team. Instead, much to his credit, he’s become one of its biggest cheerleaders.

“In many ways I feel a unique responsibility to make sure that those most vulnerable citizens are protected and they’re receiving the kind of service that they so desperately need,” he said.

Citizens like Jess, who last Tuesday, before McNally and Carlsen returned to the alley to pick him up, miraculously made it under his own steam to India Street and checked into the Milestone shelter on his own.

Two years ago, in that same alley, Jess was attacked and left for dead.

“They hit him with a rock in the front of his face, crushed his orbital socket,” said McNally. “Then he fell backward and fractured his skull in back. He was in a coma for close to 40 days – they were not sure he’d live.”

His discharge plan from the hospital read, “To shelter.”

“Back before the attack, his functioning was up here,” said McNally, raising his hand above his head. Lowering it below his knees, he added, “Now, he’s down here.”

Yet there Jess now stood, freshly showered, dressed in his red johnnies for the night, his wool hat perched atop his wet hair, happy as a clam.

Over the next few hours, the HOME Team would bring in dozens more like him, some in need of an arm, some able to go it alone, some coherent, some not so much, some with a ray of hope, some hanging by a thread.

But every last one of them grateful. Once again, against all odds, they’d found their way home.

 

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Bill Nemitz: By backing Donald Trump, voters are playing with fire http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/bill-nemitz-donald-trump-blows-up-the-party/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/03/02/bill-nemitz-donald-trump-blows-up-the-party/#comments Wed, 02 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=811205 Of all the crazy things I did as a kid, none was crazier than the fire tree.

Actually, it was nothing more than a huge stump. It sat in the woods behind my house, far enough away that I and my buddies could tempt fate with a book of matches, a few containers of charcoal lighter fluid and that juvenile conviction – however misguided – that no harm could come to us no matter how reckless our behavior.

The rules were simple: Ignite the stump. Then, taking turns, aim a stream of lighter fluid at it and watch the flame creep back up the stream. Whoever let the flame get closest to his container, without blowing us all to kingdom come, won.

Which brings us to Donald Trump.

As of this morning, the man with the orange hair and the permanent tan is the presumptive nominee to represent the Republican Party – or what’s left of it – on the presidential ballot in November.

Come Saturday, in its own small way, Maine likely will add to the Trump bonfire at Republican caucuses around the state.

Propelling much of that support will be Gov. Paul LePage, who actually opposed Trump quite vigorously at a recent meeting of the Republican Governors Association.

That changed last week, however, after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threw his weight behind Trump. LePage, apparently under the delusion that anyone on the national stage would care, quickly followed Christie’s lead on Friday and predicted Trump could be “one of the greatest presidents if he sits down and puts together a good team.”

And what if he doesn’t? What happens then?

What makes this season of Trump mania so frightening is that it’s fueled not on actual thought, but on the instant gratification of the applause line.

Forget about his supporters’ intelligence. It’s their utter lack of curiosity that’s truly stunning.

Trump promises to build the wall along the Mexican border – and to make the Mexicans pay for it.

He need not explain how.

He promises to prevent Muslims from entering the country.

He need not explain how.

He promises to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.

He need not explain how.

He promises to impose a 35 percent tariff on Ford if it builds cars in Mexico and tries to sell them here.

He need not explain how.

He promises to eradicate ISIS.

Unless “bombing the (expletive) out of them” counts as a serious military strategy, he need not explain how.

He promises to “make America great again.”

He need not explain when it stopped being so.

Despite all this and so much more – Trump’s not-so-convincing repudiation of former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, his use of violent rhetoric against protesters at his rallies, his refusal to discuss his four bankruptcies – his support keeps growing … and growing … and growing …

The conventional wisdom says it’s all the result of deep-seated voter anger. I think it’s more than that.

I think some people, just like me and my buddies all those years ago, simply like playing with fire.

Watching cable TV news these days has grown akin to watching NASCAR on weekends. You can say you appreciate the skill with which all those drivers keep making all those left turns, but deep down all you’re really doing is waiting for the big wreck.

Similarly, people wonder, how far will Donald aim his flamethrower in this speech or that debate? And now that Republican rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have decided they have no choice but to fight fire with fire, how far will they go in scorching him back?

(I just turned up the volume on a Rubio rally on MSNBC. He’s comparing Donald Trump to pro-wrestler-turned-former-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura. I hit the mute button again.)

Lost in all of this is any real thought about exactly what “President Donald Trump” might actually mean. It’s as if his supporters are unwilling (or perhaps unable) to even talk about that – their hopes and dreams beginning and ending with pushing Trump over the finish line on Nov. 8.

Which brings us back to this weekend’s Maine Republican caucuses.

In the past, they’ve been long-winded affairs where people arrive, talk politics, gather by candidate preference, talk a bit more, count heads, maybe talk a bit more and then call it a day.

Not so this year, when all the voting will be done by secret ballot. If you so prefer, you can be in and out in a few minutes without having to discuss anything with anyone.

“People can come, and we hope they’ll stay and participate in the other activities and share camaraderie with fellow Republicans,” explained state Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett recently to the Kennebec Journal. “But if they’re busy and want to get in and go and make their voice heard, you can cast your ballot and depart immediately.”

Here’s my prediction:

Republican turnout will be high.

Trump will do very, very well! Unbelievably well! So well they’ll be using napkins because they ran out of ballots!

And very few of his supporters will stick around to chit-chat because, beyond making American great again, they don’t have a lot to say.

They don’t have to.

Donald Trump, who “tells it like it is” without saying much of anything, is their man.

And he will stay their man until the day it all blows up in their face.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: Susan Collins keeps a level head on Supreme Court issue http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/26/nemitz-collins-keeps-a-level-head-on-supreme-court-issue/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/26/nemitz-collins-keeps-a-level-head-on-supreme-court-issue/#comments Fri, 26 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=808202 It’s been almost 66 years since Maine’s own Sen. Margaret Chase Smith, disgusted by the communist witch hunt being stoked by members of her own Republican Party, stood before the U.S. Senate and delivered her immortal “Declaration of Conscience” speech.

Among her more memorable lines: “I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.”

If only she could see them now.

The Bush family’s decades-long political dynasty is history.

Donald Trump is well on his way to becoming the Republican nominee for president.

And in Smith’s beloved Senate, the Republican majority flat out refuses to even meet with President Obama to discuss the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, let alone commit to its constitutional obligation to help fill it.

Still, just as Maine took pride back then in Smith’s refusal to follow her party down the blackest of holes, so can we today in the woman who now occupies Smith’s seat.

“This is a very serious issue,” Sen. Susan Collins said in a telephone interview Thursday from Washington, D.C. “This isn’t deciding whether this should be National Apple Pie Week.”

These are lonely days for Collins and fellow Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois. Both stand in defiance of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s order that the president’s yet-to-be-named nominee to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia be shunned by all Senate Republicans from now until the November election.

That means no chats with the White House, no courtesy calls on Capitol Hill with any nominee, no hearings, no votes, nothing.

Collins’ response: “For anyone to say, no matter who is sent up by the president as his nominee, that we will not consider that person, does not strike me as consistent with our constitutional obligations.”

In other words, while all but one of her Republican colleagues choose to put election-year politics above one of the most sacred duties conferred upon them by our Founding Fathers, Collins would prefer simply to do her job.

And if that means breaking from the partisan pack and invoking the wrath of a party that can only be described as unhinged, well, it’s not the first time a woman from Maine kept her head while all around her others were losing theirs.

“Is the leadership happy with me right now? Decidedly not,” Collins said. “But they know that there will be other times when I agree with their position. And they also know by now that I just have to do what I think is right.”

Looking back over the last two weeks, it’s hard to imagine a more self-defeating scenario for dealing with Scalia’s death than the one now being employed by McConnell & Company.

First, before Scalia’s body could even be flown back to Washington, D.C., from the Texas resort where he died, McConnell took to the airwaves to insist that Obama had no business nominating a replacement. Echoing that sentiment in short order were Republican senators and presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

Collins, for one, found it all offensive.

“I thought it was a shame … that instead of honoring his life and legacy and extending our condolences (to Scalia’s grieving family), already we were embroiled in a political fight,’ she said. “And I’ll tell you, I heard widespread support for my making that point.”

Now that Scalia has been properly memorialized and laid to rest, the spectacle grows even more bizarre.

Obama, we are told, has no right to nominate a new justice because he’s in the last year of his second term and thus “the people should decide.”

That, as Collins rightfully points out, is not what the Constitution says. And as for the people deciding, isn’t that what they did when they re-elected Obama back in 2012?

Much has also been made of past statements by Democrats, most notably Vice President Joe Biden, who as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1992 said then-President George H.W. Bush should not fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court if one were to arise in the last few months of his term.

(No such vacancy ever occurred. And in the same speech, Biden said he would consider a moderate nominee if Bush were to send one up to the Senate.)

“Democrats as well as Republicans have been guilty of this in the past,” Collins said. “I think we need to get beyond that and back to the institutional roles that the Constitution intends for us to play.”

Collins got a call from Biden this week. Not to twist her arm, but rather just to “touch base.”

And?

“The only point I made was they need to send up a nominee who is in the mainstream, who has impeccable credentials and is a person of integrity with great respect for the Constitution and the rule of law,” Collins said.

Which the White House tried to do by floating the name of Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Nevada Republican who by most accounts met all of those criteria. But less than 48 hours after his name surfaced, Sandoval bowed out Thursday afternoon without offering a reason.

He didn’t have to. The rattling sabers spoke for themselves.

Collins was prepared to meet with Sandoval, as she will with anyone who has the guts to run this gauntlet between now and November.

That doesn’t mean she’ll vote for the person should it come to that, but it does mean she’ll do the job that Maine voters elected her to do.

“I’ve voted for some, I’ve opposed others,” she said. “But it can’t be a reflexive decision that is made before we even know who the candidate is going to be. That is not the way our system should work.”

It’s beyond troubling that we’re in a time when such words, rational as they may sound, are considered political heresy. But hey, Margaret Chase Smith probably had days like these, too.

“I’m sure in a few days the leader will be speaking to me again,” Collins mused.

Let him.

If McConnell thinks Susan Collins is a problem, wait until President Trump nominates Judge Judy.

 

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Bill Nemitz: Forging ahead with icebreaker would profit nation, Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/21/forging-ahead-with-icebreaker-would-profit-nation-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/21/forging-ahead-with-icebreaker-would-profit-nation-maine/#comments Sun, 21 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=805330 What this country needs is a good icebreaker.

Not the kind that gets people talking to one another, although the refusal by many U.S. Senate Republicans to even discuss replacing the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia until after the election demonstrates once again the deep freeze that paralyzes our body politic.

No, today let’s cast off the political metaphors – sort of – and talk about an actual icebreaker.

“To me this is basic governance,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King in an interview from Washington, D.C. “It’s exactly like replacing a bridge on Interstate 95.”

King, along with fellow Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and others who think the United States lags far behind in the race to cash in on the rapidly warming Arctic shipping lanes, recently persuaded President Obama to include $150 million toward a new heavy Coast Guard icebreaker in the 2017 federal budget.

The funds would be used to design a vessel, at an estimated total cost of between $1 billion and $1.4 billion, to pick up where the Coast Guard’s 40-year-old USCGC Polar Star will soon leave off.

The nation’s only heavy icebreaker, which now chases the summer season from the Arctic to the Antarctic each year, is expected to last only until 2023 at the latest. The soonest a new icebreaker could be launched would be 2024 – and that’s if the political process proceeds smoothly.

Which, already, it hasn’t: Obama had no sooner put forward his budget earlier this month than the Republican chairmen for both the House and Senate budget committees announced that they would not even hold customary hearings with White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan to discuss the spending package.

King, while he “regrets” that move, is undaunted.

The icebreaker proposal will still likely go before the commerce and appropriations committees, he said, where he expects it will receive bipartisan support for one rather obvious reason. It makes sense.

Right now, King noted, as rising global temperatures make the Arctic more accessible with each passing year, Russia has four heavy icebreakers plying the Northwest Passage for both its commercial and military interests throughout the region.

The United States has the USCGC Polar Star, brought out of mothballs in 2013 because it was, well, better than nothing.

“They’ve got the equivalent of an interstate,” said King of the Russian icebreaker fleet. “And we’ve got the equivalent of a country road in western York County.”

So why should Mainers care about our country’s ability to get ships from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean via the northern route?

Take a look at a world map.

“The first ports on the East Coast when you go through the Northwest Passage are in Maine,” King noted, adding, “Places that sit astride trade routes prosper.”

King attended the annual Arctic Circle Assembly last October in Reykjavik, Iceland. He was impressed to find more than 2,000 attendees from as far away as China and Singapore – all focused on the emerging potential of the Northwest Passage as an alternative to the Panama Canal when it comes to transoceanic shipping.

(Fun fact: A shipment from China to the East Coast of the United States can arrive as many as 20 days sooner by taking the Northwest Passage than by the traditional Panama Canal route.)

“It’s as if we suddenly discovered the Mediterranean Sea,” King said. “This huge body of water that’s been inaccessible for all of human existence that is suddenly going to be accessible and it’s an extraordinary opportunity for trade.”

It could also be an extraordinary opportunity for Maine shipbuilding.

The USCGC Polar Star was built by Lockheed in Seattle way back in 1976. Thus one can argue that no company currently has a lock on designing and building icebreakers in this country.

So why not Bath Iron Works?

“I think it’s absolutely possible,” said King. “I’m not doing this because I think this is something they ultimately would get, but I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility.”

General Dynamics, Bath Iron Works’ parent company, is playing it cool for now. In a brief prepared statement last week, spokeswoman Lucy Ryan said: “General Dynamics is assessing any information provided by the Coast Guard. We are not going to comment further on our plans for bidding on the program.”

Regardless of who builds it, King said, time is wasting.

“If you’re talking about a ship that takes eight years from planning to building, you need to start now,” he said.

Which brings us back to Congress, where good ideas go to die.

Maybe, before we start asking our elected representatives on Capitol Hill to do their constitutional duty and actually fill that Supreme Court vacancy, we should set the bar at national icebreaker and work our way up.

After all, it’s hard to think of anything less controversial.

It doesn’t involve God or guns, it has nothing to do with Mexico and while it does touch on climate change, the sea lanes are thawing whether we like it or not. The icebreaker will just make them a tad more navigable.

Better yet, by getting behind this project, Congress won’t just be breaking the ice. They will, quite literally, be blazing a path to prosperity.

So, budget hearing or no budget hearing, this thing should have fast track written all over it. Right?

“You don’t sincerely expect me to predict that, do you?” replied King. “My capacity for surprise hasn’t been exhausted. Anything can be bogged down in something, but I sincerely hope this one isn’t.”

Me, too.

Congress, we beg you, build us a new icebreaker.

We’ll even name it the USCGC Filibuster.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Bill Nemitz: With football player charged with sex assaults, Windham dropped the ball http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/19/nemitz-windham-dropped-the-ball/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/02/19/nemitz-windham-dropped-the-ball/#comments Fri, 19 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=804168 The last thing Tyrell Gullatt needed was a pedestal.

Yet there the Windham High School football star stood in December, a finalist for the coveted Frank J. Gaziano Defensive Lineman Award, even as he faced charges of sexually assaulting two young children.

Innocent until proven guilty? Without a doubt.

Better off now that his tarnished name has been elevated to the top echelon of his high-profile sport for all the world to see? Not in the least.

We’ll leave it to our court system to decide whether Gullatt, now 18, is in fact guilty of sexually assaulting two young girls – now ages 5 and 8 – while they were visiting his home with their families in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

But this much is already clear: Windham school officials who nominated Gullatt for the award, with full knowledge that he faced two charges of gross sexual assault at the time, did neither him nor their school any favors by apparently thinking they could celebrate their star athlete on the one hand while he braced himself for a criminal prosecution on the other.

Instead, Principal Chris Howell, Athletic Director Rich Drummond and football Coach Matt Perkins – all of whom wrote letters of recommendation nominating Gullatt for the award – piled all the more public attention onto their hometown hero at the very point in his life when he could have used less.

Talk about dropping the ball.

At its core, this is a troubling story of a high school athlete whose future is at best uncertain: Guilty or not of the serious charges he now faces, life as Gullatt once knew it will never be the same.

But throw in the Gaziano award hoopla – the runner-up trophy, the $1,000 scholarship check and the glory that comes with being named one of the top high school football players in Maine – and suddenly Gullatt becomes the unwitting poster boy for all that is wrong with our sports-centric society.

“What do you want to bet this guy will get a slap on the wrist at the most, be awarded with a college scholarship and a six-figure job when he gets out – all because he was a BMOC (big man on campus),” wrote the first of many readers to comment on a story about Gullatt in Wednesday’s Press Herald.

What’s worse, as the spotlight glares down on Gullatt for all the wrong reasons, so does it now singe his school, his sport and even the legacy of longtime sports booster Frank J. Gaziano, who once said, “Sports is the healthiest thing that can happen to us today.”

All of which brings us to one painfully obvious question: What were school officials in Windham thinking?

When police told them back in November that the felony charges had been filed against Gullatt, why did they not quietly shelve any and all plans to nominate him for the prestigious Gaziano award?

His guilt or innocence notwithstanding, did they honestly think this was a good time to be raising this kid’s profile not just in his community, but across the entire state?

Coach Perkins and Athletic Director Drummond aren’t talking.

But in an interview with the Press Herald on Wednesday, Principal Howell explained his recommendation letter thusly: “I did not have any information that would prevent me from commenting about (Gullatt’s athletic) performance or him as a student at Windham High School.”

That may be true. But Howell needed only to consult with Coach Perkins, who happens to chair the Gaziano selection committee, to learn that this award is about much more than grades and game stats.

As the awards website notes, applicants must first and foremost possess “personal standards and accomplishments which are positive models for others” and “high levels of integrity, honesty and athletic citizenship.”

Is it just me, or would the phrase “two pending felony charges,” had it been scribbled onto the bottom of Gullatt’s otherwise stellar application, have given the selection committee pause?

(Better yet, Windham’s school hierarchy could simply have announced “nomination withdrawn” and left it for the criminal justice system to decide how and when Gullatt should be held publicly accountable for his alleged crimes.)

Little wonder that selection committee member Peter Cloutier blew a gasket this week upon hearing that Drummond and Perkins both knew all about Gullatt’s criminal problems – yet said nothing – while the committee deliberated in December.

“We should have known,” said Cloutier, a retired Class A football official. “We should have been made aware. And I’m terribly upset.”

If I were Cloutier, I’d be even more upset that Perkins wore dual hats as both the selection committee’s chairman and as Gullatt’s head football coach.

Knowing what Perkins knew while allowing his star lineman’s name to advance from nominee to semifinalist to finalist, without so much as a time out, wasn’t just wrong. It was a conflict of interest on steroids.

It’s also enough to make you wonder about the line that separates the player from the program. Could it be that winning this award had as much to do with the reputation of Windham football as it did the resume of Tyrell Gullatt?

But enough sports chatter.

Lost in all the trophy talk is the infinitely more important fact that there are two young girls and their families out there who allege that Gullatt did something terrible to them, something that has nothing to do with football, something that if proven true beyond a reasonable doubt cannot go unpunished.

Until that proof is brought forth, our system of justice demands that we presume Tyrell Gullatt innocent.

But in the meantime, common sense would suggest we escort him off the stage.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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