The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Bill Nemitz Mon, 27 Jun 2016 12:15:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bill Nemitz: First lady serves up a reason to raise wages Sun, 26 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Hard times have come a knockin’ at the Blaine House door.

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

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

A couple of points worth making here.

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

Any restaurant in Maine would be lucky to have her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So who exactly are these people?

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

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

Retirement? Once again, forget about it.

And what about those restaurant servers?

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

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

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

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

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

It truly is all about the money.


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Bill Nemitz: Assault rifle owners have some growing up to do Thu, 16 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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?


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 “” 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 Sun, 12 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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 Wed, 08 Jun 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.

]]> 78, 08 Jun 2016 08:44:27 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Bonny Eagle Robotics Team shoots high, scores Sun, 29 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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 (, Facebook page ( 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 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.”


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.


]]> 1, 28 May 2016 18:28:03 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Here’s a slightly shocking idea for ending Gov. LePage’s lies Wed, 25 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 201, 25 May 2016 10:03:26 +0000
In a year marked by tragedies, Waynflete seniors host ‘play day’ for mental health Fri, 20 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 13, 20 May 2016 08:51:36 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Someone lead the game wardens out of the woods, back to reality Sun, 15 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 60, 15 May 2016 21:24:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A lesson on nepotism and making (wrong) choices in SAD 6 Thu, 12 May 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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:

]]> 43, 12 May 2016 08:03:46 +0000
Narcan veto override presents Maine lawmakers with a life-or-death choice Thu, 28 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 69, 28 Apr 2016 10:59:43 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A time to bear the weight 
of supporting our troops Sun, 24 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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

“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.


]]> 40, 25 Apr 2016 10:33:34 +0000
Harvey Lembo’s a sympathetic figure in gun debate, but shouldn’t he be charged? Fri, 22 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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:

]]> 213, 22 Apr 2016 08:05:50 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage ought to ‘seriously’ rethink run for Senate Sun, 17 Apr 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 261, 18 Apr 2016 16:22:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In helping Maine’s hungry, George Mitchell remembers his roots Sun, 20 Mar 2016 08:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 37, 21 Mar 2016 08:30:54 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A firsthand look at Portland’s nagging homeless problem Sun, 13 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 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.


]]> 121, 14 Mar 2016 08:27:20 +0000
Bill Nemitz: By backing Donald Trump, voters are playing with fire Wed, 02 Mar 2016 09:00:00 +0000 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:

]]> 219, 02 Mar 2016 08:06:11 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Susan Collins keeps a level head on Supreme Court issue Fri, 26 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 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.”


“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.


]]> 64, 26 Feb 2016 09:01:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Forging ahead with icebreaker would profit nation, Maine Sun, 21 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 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:

]]> 18, 22 Feb 2016 08:38:26 +0000
Bill Nemitz: With football player charged with sex assaults, Windham dropped the ball Fri, 19 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 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:

]]> 50, 19 Feb 2016 10:28:16 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A restless student, a retiring teacher and a lasting bond Sun, 14 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Patrick Conway was a jock.

Gaetano Santa Lucia loved opera.

Conway was an 18-year-old senior at Deering High School, itching to get on with his life.

Lucia was a 65-year-old English teacher on the cusp of retirement.

Yet somewhere, somehow, something clicked.

“His was the first class that went beyond just what I had to do as part of school,” Conway, now 31, recalled in an interview Thursday from his home in Quincy, Massachusetts. “He was a different kind of character.”

Lucia, known to his students as “Doc” because he had a Ph.D. in English literature from Case Western Reserve University, died Jan. 28 at the age of 77.

Gaetano Santa Lucia

Gaetano Santa Lucia

To appreciate his skills as an educator, one need look no further than the two dozen online remembrances stacked up beneath his obituary, most from his long-ago students, first at St. Francis College in Biddeford and later for two decades at Deering in Portland.

“I still remember so many of his assignments … writing a review of the movie ‘Psycho’ and another dissecting the Doors’ ‘Light My Fire,’ ” wrote Daryl Finkelman, now of Deerfield Beach, Florida. “I remember how passionate and animated he got when he described his favorite line from that song, ‘The time to hesitate is through, no time to wallow in the mire.’ ”

But to appreciate Doc Lucia’s staying power as a mentor and friend, we look to Patrick Conway.

He knew from Day One that Doc was different: The coffee maker and day-old doughnuts in the back of the classroom. The opera records that Doc often played during class. The wild black hair. The wilder denunciations of the “confederacy of dunces” who ran the school.

And this: “He was also approaching literature from the angle of what it means to lead a good life, what it means to deal with the world,” Conway said. “That was something that all of a sudden felt like, well, this isn’t just schoolwork anymore. And that kind of stayed with me.”

Upon graduating from Deering in 2003, Conway went to Bates College. There, as he began his sophomore year, he found himself contemplating an English major – and so he called Doc.

“I just started realizing a little more he had had an impact on me and I thought, why not let him know that?” Conway said.

They met for lunch, as they would every two or three months for the next 12 years – mostly at Doc’s favorite Indian restaurant in Biddeford and later, as his health began to fail, at his home in Biddeford Pool.

They’d talk about Conway’s writing, about his post-college work as a criminal investigator for the public defender’s office in Washington, D.C., about his decision to earn his master’s in English from Boston College, about his current job teaching English composition and American literature to male and female prison inmates in Massachusetts.

They’d even talk about Conway’s just-completed crime novel. It’s about a young man who moves to Washington, D.C., in search of purpose and adventure …

“I write quite a bit,” said Conway. “He was always trying to push me with that, to follow my own interests. It’s nice to have someone positively pushing you forward.”

Last week, as he and his wife were headed back to Quincy after visiting with his parents in Portland, it occurred to Conway that he hadn’t heard from Doc in a few months. So he broke with his tradition of calling before visiting, turned off the turnpike and headed for Biddeford Pool.

His knock at the door went unanswered.

Then a neighbor came over and delivered the bad news. Conway introduced himself, and the neighbor instantly recognized his name from Doc’s cellphone – it turned out the neighbor had been a student of Doc’s back in his St. Francis College days.

“We spent the entire afternoon trading stories,” Conway said.

Conway had long worried that Doc’s retirement might be a lonely one – he lived by himself and his family all resided out of state. But as Conway met others up and down the street that afternoon and then noticed the neighborhood flag flying at half-staff, he took comfort.

“They were all huge fans of his,” Conway said. “Doc liked food a lot, and he liked wine a lot. And when you like those two things, people will eventually gravitate toward you.”

Still, gratified as he felt as he left that day that Doc had indeed died a happy man, Conway drove back to Boston knowing he had unfinished business – no, make that a final assignment – to complete.

And so, upon arriving home, the onetime student sat down at his keyboard, pictured his all-time favorite teacher, and began to write …

Gaetano Santa Lucia died last week. That’s a name you might not know. For many years, he was a high school English teacher in Portland, Maine. He was one of the few teachers at the school with a PhD, earning him the nickname “Doc” among his students.

To some, he was a stodgy eccentric. He hated administrative red tape and wasn’t afraid to make his opinion known when he thought higher-ups were acting like a “confederacy of dunces,” or perhaps had become “afflicted by a dangerous and rapidly spreading case of idiocy.” He was short and fat (his words, not mine), walking with a hunch and a severe limp. His sparse black hair often stood in tangent curls, at strange and varying angles.

He taught AP English. He never taught toward the exam, though, instead fixing his efforts upon passing on his love for Dante’s Inferno and the entire Shakespeare folio. He was attentive to his students’ writing, returning back essay drafts with comments, and suggestions, and questions. He didn’t care much for grades, but used them in order to ensure effort, intent upon preparing his students for the rigors of college.

Gaetano Santa Lucia

Gaetano Santa Lucia

He often played opera albums on an old record player during classes. He’d have a pot of coffee brewing in the back of the classroom, sitting out next to a box of day old donuts picked up in the morning from Tony’s Donut Shop. The stained coffeepot and the day-olds left behind a stale smell that became as characteristic of his classroom as the student artwork that hung on its walls.

He enjoyed learning about the lives of his students, pushing them to pursue their own interests. He was full of suggestions for music, and food, and books. Literature was his calling. He preached on its importance, but tried not to impose his opinions. “You don’t have to like everything you read, but try to learn to appreciate what the author is attempting to do,” he’d say. “It’s fine to criticize, but only after you’ve made an honest attempt to understand.”

Often students would ask if he’d ever attempted to write anything of his own, a novel perhaps, or a short story, or a poem. The question was an obvious one. It seemed natural that someone who loved literature in the way that he did would attempt to create it himself. “It takes an organized mind,” he’d answer. “God forgive me, but I’m too scattered.” He mentioned once being moved to write a poem when his mother died, something about the imagery of the funeral procession crossing over a bridge above a river: pooling water easing its way toward the ocean, the black hearse with the coffin inside, the long line of cars. “It wasn’t much good,” he lamented. “It never really worked in the way I wanted.”

I was a student in the last class he taught before retiring. I was eighteen and didn’t much know the effect he was having on me at the time. I contacted him a few years later after I’d decided to major in English, just to thank him for his influence. Since then, for the past twelve years, I’ve met with him every few months for lunch. Almost without fail, we’d eat at a family-run Indian restaurant down in Biddeford, not too far from his home in Biddeford Pool, usually with a good friend of mine who’d been similarly impacted by his class. Each time, I’d leave the restaurant feeling a little better about myself and the world, reenergized by his enthusiasm. He had a way of reminding one about what was important in life: friends and family, good work, good wine, good food, music, and, of course, literature.

A memory that remains vivid comes from my senior year in high school on an early day in spring. It was a day of blue skies and sun, when the snow had finished its melt and the ground had opened up again to breathe. Doc brought in a simple flower for each student, handing them out at the end of class. I remember teasing him for the act. “You’ve gone soft on us, Doc. What’s next, ribbons for our hair?” He joked back that if you can’t appreciate a flower, you can’t appreciate much.

Stopping by home before tennis practice, I tossed the flower aside near my schoolbag and books. While I was gone, my mother saw it and put it in a simple glass vase, placing it on the kitchen table. I came back at the end of the day tired and hungry, happy to have been practicing outside. Making myself a bite to eat, I sat down at the table. The sun was setting, coming in at a slant through the kitchen window. Orange-tinged and brilliant as it descended, its light came through the kitchen and refracted through the little glass vase. Tiny particles of dust, exposed by the sun, floated in suspension above the flower. I think about Doc when I remember the way those tiny particles seemed to dance around the simple flower’s stem and petals in those early days of spring when I was eighteen. If you can’t appreciate a flower, you can’t appreciate much.

Gaetano Santa Lucia died last week. That’s a name you might not know, but I’m glad that I did.


]]> 6, 14 Feb 2016 22:05:21 +0000
Bill Nemitz: In New Hampshire, hunt for a president gets personal Sun, 07 Feb 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Rich Tuite woke up Thursday morning, fed his two horses, turned on the TV news for his three dogs and climbed into his full-size SUV along with his wife, Cindi, to go see Donald Trump.

Now here he stood in downtown Exeter, New Hampshire, smack dab between a small line of protesters and a huge line of Trump supporters outside the historic Exeter Town Hall. The Donald, love him or hate him, was still a good three hours away.

“I’m not testing any waters,” said Tuite, 62, who lives in nearby Kingston and works for a plumbing and heating company. “I’m all for Trump because Trump is a non-politician.”

Might he care to elaborate?

“It’s like owning a horse,” Tuite replied. “Every day is different, but every day is the same. Because every day, you shovel (manure). The next day you go in, you shovel (manure). The next day, it’s different (manure), but it’s the same thing every day. And there’s only one way to make a change. Either you get rid of the horse or you quit shoveling. Well, if you quit shoveling, then the horse is not going to be in a very nice environment. So, the only other way to do it is to get rid of the horse. So, my theory is, get rid of the horse!”

So Trump is … a new horse?

“He’s a different horse,” replied Tuite. “It’s a whole different scene.”

So, at the moment, is New Hampshire.

From last Tuesday, the day after the 2016 Iowa presidential caucuses, until this Tuesday, the day of the New Hampshire primary, the Granite State is a place transformed.

From early morning until well after dark, from the church down the road to the pub on the corner, the presidential wannabes keep coming … and coming … and coming …

And at every stop, the multitudes await. The primary is their pilgrimage and nothing – not the TV ads, not the incessant phone calls, not the doorknob fliers that end up underfoot on the front walk – can replace the visceral rite of cramming into a packed hall for hours on end to see for yourself who’s for real and who isn’t, who’s got a shot (Trump! Trump! Trump!) and who doesn’t (sorry, Jeb).

But with nine Republicans and two Democrats still in the race by week’s end, where does a voter begin?

If the old axiom is true that you don’t vote in the New Hampshire primary without first getting off your duff and actually putting a handshake to that name on the ballot, who merits a look-see? And why?

Hailey LeRoy, 17, is a senior at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. She has autism.

She sat with her mother, Donna, in the front row at a Hillary Clinton get-out-the-vote rally on Wednesday morning at the Derry Boys and Girls Club, waving her hand wildly in the hope she’d get to ask a question.

Suddenly, the former secretary of state was holding the microphone in front of Hailey’s face.

“I am autistic and I am very concerned about going to college,” Hailey said. “I’ve had a lot of transitions and I didn’t even know I could go to high school – they thought I might have to be home-schooled because of all the stress inducers. But anyway, in colleges, they don’t have to follow IEP’s (individualized education programs) and I’m also concerned about a five-year plan, which allows me to spread things out.”

Hillary was impressed. The whole room was impressed.

Long after the applause subsided and Hillary went on at some length about how there’s no reason in the world why a student like Hailey shouldn’t continue on through higher education, Donna LeRoy explained that two of her four children – Hailey and 11-year-old Aiden – have autism.

Which makes Donna, who advocates for her children in their schools while her husband works as a medical computer software technician, a single-issue voter.

“I’ve read (Hillary’s) plans,” Donna said. “Especially her plan for special ed. She’s the only candidate who has one.”

Hailey, who will vote in her first presidential election come November, brought a hand strengthener and soft squeeze ball to Wednesday’s rally. She calls them her “stress toys” and uses them if she starts to feel too anxious. Which, on this day, she didn’t.

After the rally, Hailey and her mother posed for a picture with Hillary, who once again urged Hailey to keep going, keep pursuing her dream of a college degree. A line of women waited not just to meet Hillary, but to congratulate Hailey.

“I’m glad I came with Mom today and was able to share this moment with my mom,” said Hailey. “She’s my hero.”

Republican Ted Cruz is fast becoming the Rev. Canon Dr. Mark A. Pearson’s hero.

Pearson, who lives in Hampstead, is the chief executive officer of the New Creation Healing Center, a Christian-oriented medical facility in Kingston.

A member of his town’s Republican committee, he spent months courting the long parade of Republican candidates before settling on Cruz because the Texas senator’s views on health care went far beyond “a sound bite on repealing Obamacare.”

Standing Tuesday morning outside the packed Crossing Life Church in Windham, where he would soon help introduce Cruz to a decidedly evangelical audience, Pearson insisted that this guy is different – an outsider “who’s been inside enough to know how things work.”

He also sees in Cruz what many others don’t – a compassionate streak.

“I’m a bleeding heart conservative,” said Pearson. “I want somebody who understands that sometimes fewer regulations and less taxation actually does good.”

He’s also grown weary of the Republican “establishment” – a catchphrase in these parts for anyone who isn’t Donald Trump or Ted Cruz.

“I grew up in a small town in New England where Republicanism was the farmer, the shopkeeper, the average person,” said Pearson, whose resume also includes a stint as a radio talk-show host. “We didn’t know where the country club was, never mind be part of it. We weren’t big business, country-club Republicans. We weren’t right wingers. We were small-town folks, almost like Reagan Democrats in a way. That’s how I was raised.”

Jan Lovre-Paul, on the other hand, was raised in the very bosom of the Republican establishment. Her father was U.S. Rep. Harold O. Lovre, who represented South Dakota from 1949 until 1957, when he was knocked out of Congress by a young upstart Democrat named George McGovern.

Lovre-Paul, now 84, can still remember young congressmen gathered around her family dinner table with names like Gerald Ford and Melvin Laird and Henry “Scoop” Jackson.

Little wonder, therefore, that she now found herself attending a Jeb Bush town hall in Hanover with a furrow in her forehead and nervous knot in her stomach. This February finds her beloved Republican Party in full meltdown.

“I just don’t know what to do, I really don’t,” fretted Lovre-Paul after a 90-minute session best remembered for Jeb’s now-infamous “please clap” line. “I really enjoyed listening to him because I felt like he was talking to me and I feel like I can trust him. And I feel like he’s human.”

But he’s no … Donald Trump?

“Trump? Oh God,” Lovre-Paul replied.

She would go no further in her thoughts about the man crushing the New Hampshire Republican primary polls. It simply would not be proper.

But she worries that Jeb is too far down to rebound now. And while she’d vote for, say, a Marco Rubio, it’s worth noting that if Trump were to win the Republican nomination, Lovre-Paul might just do the unthinkable on Nov. 8.

“I probably wouldn’t vote,” she said, as if trying to convince herself. “I probably wouldn’t vote.”

Has that ever happened before?

“Never,” she replied. “Never, never, never, never, never, never, never … ever.”

Richard Roach, a volunteer for Republican Chris Christie, will vote no matter what. Heck, depending on what happens between now and November, there’s even a chance he might still vote for Hillary Clinton.

“I am devoted to the New Hampshire primary process,” declared Roach, 67, moments after Christie delivered a post-Iowa pep talk Tuesday morning to his volunteers at campaign headquarters in Bedford.

Roach, who lives in Hollis, took a tactical approach to this primary election.

First off, his Roman Catholic faith rejected outright any consideration of Donald Trump and his proposed ban on any and all Muslims entering the United States.

Second, no matter how many New Hampshire voters rally around Bernie Sanders come Tuesday, Roach’s political instincts told him Hillary Clinton no doubt will be the Democratic nominee this fall. So there’s no sense wasting his time and energy on that contest.

Third, since he’s an independent and thus can participate in either primary under New Hampshire’s voting laws, Roach figured he could have the most influence (and fun) by choosing a Republican and signing on as a volunteer.

One of Roach’s friends recommended Christie. Roach went and heard the New Jersey governor speak at St. Anselm College in December and was sold. For now.

“I like his sense of humor, his intelligence,” said Roach, who’s retired after 41 years with the Army Corps of Engineers. “I’m charmed by him, I guess is the word.”

So much so that he’s spending the days leading up to the primary ferrying college kids from New Jersey around the back roads of southern New Hampshire so they can hang Christie literature on doors and plant Christie signs on street corners.

Just like he did two years ago for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jean Shaheen in her successful re-election campaign against that Republican interloper Scott Brown from Massachusetts.

“I just got a Christmas card from Shaheen,” said Roach. “Now I’m using some of her old wood to hang up signs for Christie!”

A virtual forest of “Bernie Sanders for President” signs covered every square foot of public space Tuesday afternoon along Main Street in Keene.

The stately Colonial Theatre was full to capacity, and then some, with raucous fans of the Vermont senator widely expected to win big in the Democratic contest come Tuesday.

All of which left Michael Matros of Keene in one big pickle.

“I came here because I like him and it’s a scene,” said Matros, who retired a few years ago as communications director at St. Paul’s School in Concord and now works part time as a writer and editor. “But I’m a little more convinced than I expected to be. He’s so good. He’s just a great speaker.”

Matros’ dilemma: “The women in my family have been for Hillary since forever.”

Meaning if Matros didn’t take off that Bernie sticker on his sweater before he got home – he needed it to get into the theater – he was going to have some serious explaining to do.

It’s a heart-head thing for Matros.

The more he listened to Sanders’ hourlong, no-notes speech about the banks, climate change, free college education, redistribution of wealth, the more inspired he felt.

“I agree with almost everything he says,” said Matros. “I’ve always considered myself a Social Democrat. And I’ve always voted with my heart in the primary. So I should be voting for him.”


“It’s all about electability,” he said. “And I like Hillary. I like her a lot.”

So what’s he going to do?

Matros thought about it for a few seconds.

“I think I’ll probably vote for Hillary,” he finally conceded. “Out of self-preservation.”

Not so for Melissa Devin. Still “feeling the Bern” from the theater, the last thing on her mind was electing the nation’s first female president.

“That doesn’t mean much to me,” said Devin, 46, who lives in North Swanzey and teaches English at both Franklin Pierce College and the Community College of Vermont.

What does mean a lot to Devin is the future that awaits her young daughter. And Bernie, she said, is the only presidential candidate willing to wrestle that future away from “Wall Street, the Koch brothers, Big Pharma, everything.”

“I think middle America really needs to educate themselves,” said Devin. “I think once they hear that it could be an opportunity for everybody to have a free college education, I think more and more people will jump on that bus.”

And what if they do? What if Bernie were to actually get elected president and find himself face-to-face with a Congress that had zero interest in even discussing free college tuition, let alone legislating it?

“We’re just going to have to keep going,” said Devin matter-of-factly. “We have to get out there.

“He’s going to take this. People in New Hampshire love him. He’s going to be the front-runner. And then people (elsewhere) are going to love him and they’re going to be like, ‘Wow, this revolution maybe is happening.’ ”

‘Revolution” is not a word you’re likely to hear tumbling from the lips of Phil Davis, 42, a father of five who lives in Dover and works as a school principal in Portsmouth.

Davis and his 9-year-old son, Isaac, squeezed into the Cara Irish Pub in Dover on Wednesday evening to hear an up-and-coming Marco Rubio explain why he should be the guy to restore some order to this year’s anything but conventional Republican primary race.

“I like his conservative values. I think he’s got a youthful approach,” said Davis.

Perhaps too youthful?

“Thirty-five is all you have to be, right?” he replied with a smile.

Davis and Isaac (his oldest) actually introduced Hillary Clinton at a recent rally at Davis’ school, even had their picture taken with her. But they ducked out before her speech.

Not so with Rubio. This Davis wanted his son to see.

“I used to be a history teacher,” said Davis when asked why he brought Isaac along on this evening. “He loves history. He loves government operations. He’s always asking me about this and that. An opportunity like this only comes by every so often.”

He added with a smile, “When Mom condones it, we’re good.”

Davis, no Donald Trump fan, has cautioned his teachers at school about making off-the-cuff remarks about the guy with the orange hair. You never know, after all, whom a kid’s parents might support and “then it’s my headache.”

Truth be told, however, Trump is Davis’ worst political nightmare.

“You know, early on I said that the party wouldn’t nominate him,” Davis said. “Now I think he’s got the numbers. It scares me. I think he’ll win here.”

That’s music to the ears of Rich Tuite. The manure guy.

His smile is wide enough to connect his mutton-chop sideburns. But don’t let that fool you – Tuite is in no way a happy camper.

“Angry?” he said as the line grew ever longer outside the Exeter Town Hall. “I’m about as angry as you can get.”

How so?

“I get a pay raise, but my paycheck goes down because I’ve now been bumped up two (tax) brackets. Now I’m paying more for less services. My insurance costs have gone way up. I’m getting older. I’m making more money. But my lifestyle pretty much has remained the same, you know?”

Tuite had surgery on his bum knee just over a week ago. He doubts it will let him keep working as a gas and heating technician beyond the end of the year.

Keep working or not, he’s hellbent on keeping his two Bashkir Curly horses and his 23-foot fishing boat – it costs him $200 every time he takes it out. Yet he’s unsure how that happens in a retirement that includes only a small pension and no 401(k) to speak of.

“I refuse to let go of what I have now,” Tuite said. “If you don’t have something, then you have nothing.”

Fifty feet away, the protesters began chanting: “One, two, three, four, leave your hatred at the door! Two, four, six, eight, we won’t tolerate your hate!”

They were all in their teens, all students from nearby Phillips Exeter Academy. Tuite, speechless, just shook his head and rolled his eyes before going to join his wife in the Trump line.

Joe Bartkovich, 17, one of the protesters, grew up in Exeter and is a senior at the academy. He’ll turn 18 before November and is torn between Hillary and Bernie, but at the same time he’s utterly dismayed by The Donald.

“I did not think it was the sort of thing that could succeed here,” Bartkovich said, holding tight to his sign that said, “Immigrants are the backbone of this country.”

Still, Bartkovich has watched his share of Trump rallies on television. And beyond the constant “Trump! Trump! Trump!” cheers and the paper-thin campaign rhetoric, he’s noticed something else.

“There are always protesters. There are always people speaking out,” he said. “And that gives me hope.”

Hope is a fast-fading commodity for John Jones, a 75-year-old veteran who long ago spent “11 months, 23 days and nine hours” deployed as a young Green Beret in Vietnam.

Standing in the driving sleet Wednesday morning alongside Route 120 just outside Lebanon, his old green beret still proudly atop his gray-white head, Jones and his fellow Vietnam vet Wilbert Hardy of Norwich, Vermont, were hard at work soliciting honks for Bernie Sanders from the morning rush-hour crowd.

“The reception is incredible,” said Jones over the constant din. “It’s phenomenal.”

So … why Bernie?

“Well, first of all, he’s an honest man,” said Jones. “And he’s a veteran’s friend. And he answers questions, he really does. You ask him what he’s going to do about the climate situation and he goes on at length about what he’s going to do.”

Jones knows a thing or two about the climate. After he hung up his Army uniform, he became an arborist. Spent his whole adult life around trees.

“An anchor rope and a chopping saw,” he said. “That’s all I know.”

Deep down, he also knows that something’s got to change, and fast, if government is ever again going to truly look out for “ordinary slobs like us” like it did back in the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

“Where was Donald? He didn’t go to ‘Nam,” said Jones. “I think his popularity stems from the fact that he’s appealing to those people who got a real kick in the ass and they’re sick and tired of business as usual. But he’s got nothing to offer except Donald. And I think he’s going to flop.”

And Bernie won’t?

“They’re going to say he’s not electable. Well, that’s (bull manure),” said Jones. “He’s plenty electable. He has a way. He’s three times as old as many of these people coming to vote. He’s got young people in this country enthusiastic about what he has to say.”

The sleet was falling harder now, soaking into Jones’ wool sweater and weighing down his huge American flag.

“We’re old guys,” he said, shifting the flag from one shoulder to the other. “We won’t be seeing the likes of him again.”

As he spoke, a tractor-trailer rounded the corner at a nearby stoplight and blared its deafening horn.

Jones raised his work-gloved hand and waved. The smiling driver gave him a thumbs-up and pulled a second time on the horn, long and loud, as he headed on up the highway.

It’s February of an election year.

And New Hampshire, one way or another, will make itself heard.


]]> 92, 10 Feb 2016 08:26:09 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Faith endures among ruins of a razed monastery Sun, 24 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 For modern civilization, the news last week was shocking: Satellite imagery has confirmed that ISIS forces destroyed a 1,400-year-old monastery not long after they took over the city of Mosul in northern Iraq in June 2014.

But for a battalion of Maine soldiers who saw the pictures on TV, blinked, and looked again, this was personal.

“When I first looked at it, I said, ‘No, that can’t be,’ ” said Maj. (Ret.) David Sivret, who served back in 2004-2005 as chaplain for the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion in Mosul. “And then I saw that in fact it was.”

It was called Dair Mar Elia, or St. Elijah’s Monastery. I first saw it in December 2004 while photographer Greg Rec and I were embedded with the 133rd at Forward Operating Base Marez on the outskirts of Mosul.

Then-Sgt. Dan Landers of Bangor, eager to show us the unseen reaches of the sprawling base, had commandeered a Humvee for the afternoon and told us to hop in.

A few minutes down the bumpy dirt road (Landers’ daily running route), we came upon the ancient compound of stone walls, a chapel, a sanctuary and two dozen other rooms.

To walk through them, down the same hallways once used by Chaldean Catholic monks in the late sixth century, was to travel back in time.

I remember commenting on how pristine it all seemed, especially given the immediate surroundings.

Just outside the monastery lay the “boneyard,” a ghostly collection of rusting Iraqi tanks and other military vehicles left over from the 2003 U.S. invasion and, before that, the war between Iraq and Iran.

Beyond that, the fields were still littered with unexploded ordnance – when a grass fire raced through earlier that year, soldiers from the 133rd had watched from their rooftops as mortars went off willy-nilly. “It was like fireworks out there for an entire day,” chortled Landers.

But the monastery, this tiny oasis of tranquility, looked like a national park. And credit for that, lo and behold, went directly to the soldiers from Maine.

Prior to the 133rd’s arrival in March 2004, Forward Operating Base Marez was home to the 101st Airborne Division, which took control of the area following the 2003 invasion.

Either those soldiers had no idea of the historical significance of the monastery ruins or they simply didn’t care, but before long the place looked more like an adolescent hangout than a centuries-old shrine.

Litter filled the courtyard. The 101st’s “screaming eagle” and other graffiti covered the stone walls. A medieval cistern was now a trash hopper.

Then one day on the other side of Mosul, a group of Chaldean Catholic religious leaders came knocking on the door of Task Force Olympia, the headquarters for all U.S. military operations across northern Iraq.

“They wanted to come visit the monastery. It was a very important site to them,” recalled Col. (Ret.) John Jansen of Manchester, who went to Iraq as commanding officer of the 133rd but ended up overseeing engineering operations for the entire task force. “So we went down to look at the site.”

Horrified at what they saw, Jansen and the other senior officers knew something had to be done – and fast – before they invited in the local clergy.

Enter the 133rd.

“It was a pretty hot mission,” recalled Jansen last week, referring to the high priority placed on getting the job done quickly and well. “And we took a lot of pride in doing that. I remember actually my boss coming up to me and thanking me and saying what a great job the guys had done. And it became more meaningful for a lot of folks what that was down there.”

Echoed Sivret, the chaplain: “I’d take time. The chaplain’s assistant and I, we’d go down and walk the grounds. Even in a war, it was a peaceful area in which we could go and think and pray.”

The cleanup changed everything. Through the rest of the Iraq war, the monastery became a place where chaplains led troops on tours, where they gathered for services on Christmas Eve and at sunrise on Easter. It became, once again, sacred ground.

Built by St. Elijah, an Assyrian Christian monk, around 590 A.D., the monastery served for centuries as a pilgrimage destination for the Chaldean Catholics throughout the Mideast.

So devoted were its monks to their faith that when they refused to convert to Islam in 1743, some 150 of them were executed en masse under orders from a Persian general.

But even as the place deteriorated into ruins, the Chaldean church kept quiet watch over it until, in the 1970s, it became part of a base for the Iraqi Republican Guard. Then in 2003, as modern-day warfare raged all around it, a tank turret took out one of its walls.

Yet through it all, the monastery survived.

For many who stood inside its walls throughout the Iraq war and then watched all of Mosul fall to ISIS just over 18 months ago, it’s been hard not to wonder what became of this place that endured so much for so long.

The answer came this month when The Associated Press asked DigitalGlobe, a satellite imagery company, to retrieve daily images of the site taken throughout the summer of 2014.

Stephen Wood, an imagery analyst and CEO of Allsource Analysis, then took the images and determined that sometime between Aug. 27 and Sept. 28, 2014, the monastery was demolished.

“The stone walls have literally been pulverized,” Wood told the AP.

Gone is the chapel, the sanctuary, the ancient Aramaic inscriptions requesting prayers for those still interred beneath what once were the walls.

Gone are the Greek letters chi and rho – signifying the first two letters of Christ’s name – carved into the stone by the entrance to the chapel.

Gone, like the 100-plus other historical sites and artifacts ravaged by ISIS in its mindless march toward an Islamic caliphate, is another delicate tether connecting humanity’s ancient past to its troubled present.

“It’s irreplaceable,” said Landers, now a first lieutenant with the Maine Army National Guard. “There’s no way we ever get that history back. … These people are just too juvenile and too tribal and too uneducated to ever understand their actions.”

Sivret, who’s retired from both the military and his ministry and now runs a soup kitchen in Calais, finds solace in his belief that while ISIS zealots can commandeer bulldozers and raze an ancient monastery, they can’t touch the faith that built it in the first place.

“And there’s no way they’re ever going to do that,” he said.

Jansen, like so many of his former soldiers, took to Facebook last week to decry the destruction and commemorate the fact that when the time came to show Dair Mar Elia the respect it deserved, the engineers of the 133rd performed their duty ably and with honor.

“We knew that place. We walked it. We had some effort there and it meant something to us,” said Jansen. “And we realized what it meant to a lot of people there. It was really an important thing.”

Late last week, after Jansen posted an article about the monastery’s demise on his Facebook page, an old friend posted a response. He’s an Iraqi army general with whom Jansen once studied at the United States Army War College – and he, too, was distraught at the news.

“Even I am Muslim but I felt so sad and bad for this behavior which is not related to any principles of Islam,” the general wrote. “May God bless us all.”


]]> 41, 23 Jan 2016 17:43:19 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage and Alfond finally work together to get something done Fri, 22 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 It’s way, way too soon to call this a friendship. Maybe more of a January thaw.

But let the record show that in the run-up to Tuesday’s stunning approval of a $3.7 million bill to combat Maine’s exploding drug epidemic, Gov. Paul LePage and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, did something they haven’t done in … well, ever.

They worked closely together.

They found themselves agreeing more than they disagreed.

And with speed not seen under the State House dome for a long, long time, they managed to get something important done with no finger-pointing, no rhetorical bomb throwing, no fuss whatsoever.

“As someone in the Senate said, it was a good day for the Maine Legislature. And it was a good day for Maine’s chief executive,” Alfond said in an interview Wednesday, one day after both chambers unanimously approved the drug bill and LePage quickly signed it into law.

It all began with a textbook case of anger management.

Last month, LePage traveled to Portland to hold a town hall meeting at the University of Southern Maine. Near the end of the increasingly contentious session, his press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, asked all past and current legislators in the audience to stand.

There, far up in the cheap seats, rose Alfond, long one of LePage’s favorite foils when it comes to assigning the blame for all that is wrong with Maine.

“This gentlemen right there,” LePage said, jabbing his finger toward Alfond. “He’s in the second class … he’s in the second class of legislators. He’s willing to sell himself to other people so he can get his way done. That’s not the way Mainers want things to work!”

With that, amid a smattering of boos and catcalls, the forum abruptly ended and LePage departed.

“I was pissed off,” said Alfond, who in the past had been branded a “little spoiled brat” and similar names by LePage – all pointing to the fact that Alfond comes from one of Maine’s wealthiest (and, lest anyone forget, philanthropic) families.

But this time, rather than respond through the media or ignore LePage altogether, Alfond requested a meeting with the governor. No staff, no position papers, no political bases to stoke, just two guys who happen to look at the world very differently meeting face-to-face alone.

LePage, to his credit, said come on down.

“I said, ‘What are you doing?'” Alfond said. “I said, ‘If you want to have a public conversation, let’s have a public conversation. But don’t single me out like that.’ ”


“He agreed that that wasn’t fair.”


So what does one do in such a moment? Faint dead on the spot? Shake hands and head back to the trenches?

“We started talking,” Alfond said. “And it was about the drug crisis.”

LePage, he said, showed him some of what he’d been reading about the challenges surrounding various forms of treatment for opiate and heroin addiction. From there, the conversation progressed into what the executive and legislative branches, working together, might be able to accomplish around the high-priority issue before Maine’s 127th Legislature wraps up its final session later this spring.

“So finally I said, ‘Listen, if I call can I come back in?'” Alfond said. “And he said, ‘Sure. Let’s keep talking.'”

Underlying this sudden détente, of course, was the mutual realization that neither LePage nor the Legislature was likely to achieve significant progress on the drug front by going it alone.

What’s more, sharp disagreements still lingered over how to fund much of the $3.7 million proposal and how to distribute portions of it. The closer they got to a final vote, the more Alfond and other legislative leaders feared that this bill – the first but by no means the last aimed at the life-and-death challenge of drug addiction – might never get off the ground.

Still, as this week approached, everyone kept talking.

The $2.5 million earmarked for treatment – Democrats wanted the money to come from the state’s $21.5 million share of a settlement with Standard and Poor’s dating back to the 2008 financial crisis; Republicans wanted to tap into the Fund for A Healthy Maine – ultimately came (after another chat between Alfond and LePage) from the Medical Use of Marijuana Fund.

Disbursement of anti-drug grants to local police and county jails – LePage bristled at letting the Attorney General’s Office hold the purse strings – was assigned to the Maine Department of Public Safety after Alfond received the governor’s assurance that the funds would in fact go out.

“One percent of one percent of people out there care about this stuff,” Alfond noted. “To everyone else, it’s just minutia. They just want things to get done, get accomplished.”

Which brings us back to Tuesday, a day many expected would end in yet another partisan train wreck.

First, both chambers of the Legislature passed the drug bill. Unanimously.

Then, only hours later, LePage signed it. Quietly.

“I was surprised,” Alfond admitted.

Did he take LePage’s quick signature – the governor could have kept everyone guessing for 10 days – as a sign of goodwill?

“I did,” Alfond replied. “We’d just worked together on something. Everyone put their best foot forward. We all gave and got, and we got a better bill out of it.”

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess.

In an email Thursday, Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, noted that this was the first time Alfond had ever requested a personal meeting in the governor’s office, “so the governor agreed.”

“The governor is always willing to meet with anyone who is interested in discussing good policy that benefits the Maine people and moves our state forward,” Steele wrote. “He is not interested in meeting with politicians seeking favors or playing games.”

Meaning, we can only assume, Alfond and LePage won’t be hitting the golf course anytime soon.

But they’re talking.

And any way you look at it, that’s a good thing.


]]> 19, 22 Jan 2016 08:34:06 +0000
Bill Nemitz: No mere brain cramp, LePage ‘slip-up’ seriously damages Maine Sun, 10 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Even he knew this one was bad. Whether propelled by his own political instinct or pushed out in front of the microphones by his frantic inner circle of advisers, there Gov. Paul LePage stood Friday apologizing (sort of) for possession of a mouth that moves more quickly than his brain.

Or does it?

“I made one slip-up,” LePage told the media assembled in his Cabinet room two days after his now infamous claim that drug dealers named “Dee Money, Smoothy, Shifty” come to Maine from points south, sell their toxic products here and often “impregnate a young, white girl before they leave.”

He now says he meant to say “Maine women.” And since 95 percent of Maine women are white, the governor apparently didn’t understand what all the ensuing fuss was about.

Nor does he grasp why this gaffe, perhaps more than any of the others that have littered his five years in the Blaine House, has done serious damage to Maine both inside and out.

More on that in a minute. First, one telling question that remains unanswered: Why, in the middle of a dissertation at a town hall meeting in Bridgton about Maine’s ongoing heroin crisis, did LePage sidetrack into sex in the first place?

This was more than just a momentary brain cramp. For 12 agonizing seconds, LePage stepped away from Dee Money’s, Smoothie’s and Shifty’s alleged heroin trafficking to note: “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave, which is a real sad thing because then we have another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

LePage later claimed no knowledge of Dee Money’s, Smoothy’s or Shifty’s race.

Baloney. At least two of the aliases belong to black men who in recent months have been arrested in Maine on drug or murder charges. Their photos appeared statewide in this and other newspapers, along with the police reports that LePage claims to study so assiduously.

As for the “white girl” reference, does LePage truly expect us to believe that what started out as “Maine women” in his brain somehow emerged as “white girl” by the time it exited his lips?

Far more logical is the reverse: The phrase “white girl” originated in LePage’s gray matter and proceeded unfiltered to his mouth for all the world to hear. It is, was and always will be what he meant to say in the first place.

Which brings us back to the fallout.

One would think, this being the era of Donald Trump and all, that an inconsequential governor from an out-of-the-way, northern New England state would have a hard time breaking into the national news cycle no matter how outrageous his behavior.

Not so Paul LePage.

From The New York Times to The Washington Post to CNN and MSNBC, LePage was once again here, there and everywhere on Friday.

And with each report on his “white girl” remark came the litany of his past transgressions – telling President Obama to “go to hell,” telling the NAACP to “kiss my butt,” the “Vaseline” reference to former state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to name but a few.

For anyone who truly loves Maine, it’s no longer just embarrassing to see this state’s once proud name reduced to so many national punch lines. It’s agonizing.

It’s also beyond counterproductive: The longer LePage portrays his state as a backwater of ignorance and intolerance, the less attractive Maine appears to the newcomers – of every age, religion and ethnicity – we so desperately need.

Instead, we get this endorsement from the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, described by the Southern Poverty Law center as one of the leading hate websites on the Internet: “Maine Governor Calls Out Black Drug-Dealers for Impregnating ‘Young White Girls’ … Excellent. Hail LePage!”

Perhaps more troubling is the impact of LePage’s comment right here at home.

As readers weighed in last week on coverage of the LePage brouhaha, a striking number claimed the governor was only speaking the truth.

“I’m no fan of LePage, but I saw nothing wrong with what he said,” wrote one reader named “yendor1152.” “It’s happening every day in every town and city throughout Maine. I’ve seen it myself, in Waterville.”

Now I’d be willing to bet that “yendor1152,” whoever he or she is, has never actually watched a heroin deal go down in Waterville. Nor has “yendor1152” been privy to a black drug dealer impregnating a white girl before heading back to Connecticut or New York.

What “yendor1152” has probably seen on occasion is a black man, maybe in the company of a white woman. And who knows, maybe once or twice that woman has been pregnant.

LePage, with his “one slip-up,” has now given “yendor1152” permission to fill in the blanks:

Black man now equals drug dealer.

White girl is no longer black man’s companion; she’s his victim.

And the baby? Without question, a child of mixed race is “another issue we have to deal with down the road.”

In short, if our esteemed governor can live in a world where black men are coming to almost-all-white Maine to poison our veins with drugs and have their way with our women, then why can’t “yendor1152” live in that world, too?

And if LePage can say insemination occurs “half the time” without offering so much as a single statistic to back up his claim, then who’s to say it doesn’t happen every time a young black man dares to take a trip north?

And so the stereotype grows ….

What makes this whole uproar so regrettable is that it was all so avoidable. Had LePage simply stayed on message Wednesday evening in Bridgton, had he focused laser-like on the drugs and not on the sex, Maine would not find itself now mired in one of the ugliest vestiges of the racism that has plagued this country for centuries.

Maine, the way life should be? The longer LePage sullies this state with his unique brand of crazy, the more he reduces that once-proud slogan to a painful paradox.

But hey, what can a man do when, by his own admission, he speaks with no filters?

Easy. Learn how to shut his trap.


]]> 339, 10 Jan 2016 14:46:04 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Out of the spotlight, DHHS cuts away at humane care Wed, 06 Jan 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The last thing Lindsay Lawler’s parents want is for the state to leave her alone.

“It’s a safety concern,” said Rob Lawler, 72, Lindsay’s father, in a moment of understatement as he stood outside a packed hearing room in Augusta on Tuesday morning.

Inside, aging parents like the Lawlers waited patiently to speak to a hearing officer from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The singular message: Their adult children – all with severe intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and countless other debilitating conditions – will be left directly in harm’s way if a rule change now making its way through the state’s regulatory pipeline is approved sometime in the next few months.

It’s called, ironically, the Supporting Individual Success rate-setting initiative, a new approach to assessing the needs of developmentally disabled adults under the state’s MaineCare program.

According to Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, it will better align people who need help with the services they actually need. That in turn will create a more efficient system that encourages independence and, as Mayhew put it in an interview Tuesday, “guards against attitudes that would inappropriately limit what an individual can do” on his or her own.

Fair enough. Lindsay and hundreds of other Mainers like her, however, need all the help they can get 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year – which is exactly what she’s been receiving since she moved into her group home in Sanford almost two years ago.

No longer.

Neal Meltzer, executive director of Sanford-based Waban Projects, Inc., which operates Lindsay’s group home, recently notified the Lawlers that under the state’s new formula, Lindsay’s 168 hours a week of residential staff support would be reduced by 69 hours per week, or 41 percent.


As her mother, Luann Lawler, 69, testified on Tuesday, those 69 hours spell nothing but danger for the daughter Luann and Rob have protected from one nightmare after another since the day Lindsay was born with severe developmental disabilities 37 years ago.

Without constant staff support, there will be no one to prevent Lindsay from biting her wrists, butting her head, hitting, screaming, destroying property or throwing things when she’s feeling anxious or frustrated.

There will be no one to help her with her hygiene, food preparation, medications. No one to be there when she wakes at all hours during the night and, upon realizing she’s alone, flies into a panic.

“She has to be continually watched so that she will not go outside unassisted and dart into traffic,” said Luann. In addition, “she has a history of attacking strangers in public settings, which is a liability concern.”

Overwrought parents these are not.

As recently as December of 2014, Lindsay’s psychiatrist diagnosed her with autistic spectrum disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, intermittent explosive disorder and sensory integration disorder, compounded by moderate mental retardation.

Noting that Lindsay was “showing evidence of decline,” the psychiatrist added, “Lindsay is not a candidate for independent living, or even partial independence. I am strongly recommending that Lindsay continue to receive her current level of support in her living situation and with 24-hour staffing.”

Lest we dismiss Lindsay as a simple bureaucratic oversight, consider that Meltzer also testified Tuesday. Waban’s executive director told the hearing officer that of the 91 people receiving residential services from his agency, 76 will have their hours reduced under the new Supporting Individual Success system.

He held up photos of five:

Peter, 91, whose diagnosis includes profound mental retardation and a host of other disorders, will see his staffing hours drop from 200 per week (at times he needs two staffers) to 69.

Mariya, 30, has autism with severe mental retardation and takes 30 medications per day. Her hours will decrease from 232 to 99.

Thomas, 54, has autism with severe mental retardation and several other disorders along with a recent diagnosis of melanoma. His hours will drop from 240 to 102.

Jono, 28, has autism, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, mood disorder and severely intrusive behaviors. He gets 210 hours now; he’ll soon get 102.

Dan, 24, has mental retardation, quadriplegic cerebral palsy, seizure disorder and is unable to talk or feed himself. His hours will drop from 141 to 99.

“Sadly, these are just a few examples of individuals whose needs won’t be met,” said Meltzer. “The end result of this will be that since their health and safety will be in imminent danger, we will not be able to continue serving these individuals.”

So what does Commissioner Mayhew say in the face of what by any reasonable measure looks like imminent disaster?

“We are not going to do anything that inappropriately detracts from the services for those individuals,” Mayhew said.

The new system, she said, aims to create a system that is “free from the perverse incentives that may exist from the providers’ perspective.”

Translation: Assume that the providers are somehow getting rich by caring for the neediest among us – which, as any visit to a place like Waban will show you, they are not. Then, after trimming this and cutting that, encourage those who once relied on the services to go it alone in the name of more “independent” living.

And what about those who won’t make it through Day 1?

“If there have been any mistakes made that have not reflected the true needs of the individual, then that assessment needs to be redone or we need to get an ‘extraordinary review’ conducted,” Mayhew replied.

An “extraordinary review” is the first step toward appealing to the state for Qualified Extra Support Service, which theoretically would put Lindsay and all the other high-need individuals back where they need to be when it comes to around-the-clock help. But therein lies another problem.

According to Meltzer, the Department of Health and Human Services has set the staffing qualification standards so high for Qualified Extra Support Service – a minimum three years on the job, for example – that there’s no way providers like Waban, which routinely see annual turnover rates as high as 50 percent, can possibly meet them.

“Do the math. … It’s designed for failure,” agreed Hans Olsen of Kennebunk during a news conference inside the State House welcome center that followed the hearing.

Olsen has two sons, Gunnar, 24, and Ansel, 21, currently under the full-time care of Waban Projects Inc. Both have carbohydrate deficient glycoprotein syndrome, an exceedingly rare metabolic disorder that leaves them unable to bathe or feed themselves, go to the toilet, take medications …

Under the new rate system, Gunnar will see his 24/7 assistance cut by 35 percent. Ansel will lose 55 percent.

As their father spoke quietly on their behalf Tuesday, the State House was abuzz because Gov. Paul LePage had just thrown another bombshell at the Legislature, accusing lawmakers of … whatever.

Occasionally, legislators on the go paused, peeked through the welcome center’s glass door to see what was going on and then, unimpressed, hurried along.

“It’s easy not to see us, but we’re here,” said Olsen. “And while there’s a lot of other things in the news right now, please pay attention to this.”

It’s the least we can do.


]]> 217, 06 Jan 2016 08:27:24 +0000
Bill Nemitz: A Maine soldier who died in World War II is cared for, an ocean away Fri, 25 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 He’s 70 years gone, killed fighting the Germans at the tender age of 22 in the waning months of World War II. But on this Christmas morning, Pfc. Linton Lowell of Portland is by no means forgotten.

“You have no idea what your effort means to us,” Jos and Monique Krick wrote in an email to me from the Netherlands this week. “This is a great Christmas present for us.”

That present is Wayne Smith, 52, of Yarmouth. He’s Lowell’s nephew, and until this week he had no idea that there’s a couple who devoutly tend to his Uncle Linton’s faraway gravesite just outside Margraten, the Netherlands. Nor did he know they’ve spent months trying to connect with any of the fallen soldier’s surviving relatives in Maine.

“That’s so hard to imagine,” Smith said upon first hearing about the Kricks this week. “It gives me goose bumps just to think about it.”

Wayne Smith of Yarmouth applauds the efforts of a Dutch couple who have been tending the grave of his uncle, Pfc. Linton Lowell. “I’m just overwhelmed,” Smith said. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Wayne Smith of Yarmouth applauds the efforts of a Dutch couple who have been tending the grave of his uncle, Pfc. Linton Lowell. “I’m just overwhelmed,” Smith said. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

That they were all born years after Lowell perished on the battlefield is of little consequence to Smith or the Kricks. Decades after he died and was lowered with little fanfare into a grave far from Maine, the young soldier still connects them all with their past, and now, as luck would have it, with one another.

• • • • •

Lowell was 20, the oldest of Wesley and Mary Lowell’s five children, when he enlisted in the Army in December 1942. According to the slivers of Army records scattered across the Internet, he’d worked in the papermaking trade in Maine before being assigned to Charlie Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, for what would undoubtedly be the longest two-plus years of his short life.

He fought in the invasion of Sicily and survived.

For the first time in 70 years, a likeness of Private First Class Linton Lowell of Portland sits by his grave at The Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. A Christmas Day column in the Press Herald by Bill Nemitz connected  Jos and Monique Krick, who volunteer as caretakers for the grave, with Wayne Smith of Yarmouth, Lowell’s nephew. Smith was the proud keeper of a portrait of his uncle, who died fighting the German in World War II, and emailed the Kricks a copy over the weekend.

For the first time in 70 years, a likeness of Private First Class Linton Lowell of Portland sits by his grave at The Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. A Christmas Day column in the Press Herald by Bill Nemitz connected Jos and Monique Krick, who volunteer as caretakers for the grave, with Wayne Smith of Yarmouth, Lowell’s nephew. Smith was the proud keeper of a portrait of his uncle, who died fighting the German in World War II, and emailed the Kricks a copy over the weekend.

He stormed Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy and survived.

He earned a Bronze Star in Belgium for “heroic achievement,” according to a blurb in the Portland Evening Express. Exactly what that achievement entailed, alas, is lost to the passage of time.

Somewhere along the way, he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. Again, the details are unknown.

Then, on March 30, 1945, as the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Big Red One,” battled its way through the infamous Siegfried Line into Germany, Lowell was killed in action. Overwhelmed with dead soldiers and no place to bury them, the Army settled on a site just over the nearby border in Margraten, a small town on the southern tip of the Netherlands.

By the time the war ended, 17,740 American servicemen and women would be laid to rest in what immediately became sacred ground to the Dutch people. Newly liberated from the Nazis by Allied forces, they gratefully opened their homes to the war-weary Americans, even pitched in to help bury the dead soldiers who at one point arrived at a rate of 500 per day.

More than half the solders’ remains eventually were returned home to the United States at the request of the families, but 8,301, including Pfc. Lowell, stayed behind. In 1951, Congress passed an act making the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten their permanent resting place.

The Lowell family held a memorial service for Linton on April 29, 1945, at the Hephzibah Pentecostal Church in Portland. After that, nary a word would be spoken of their devastating loss.

“I think my grandfather probably had close to a nervous breakdown when he got the news of Linton’s passing,” said Wayne, who was born 18 years after his uncle’s death but learned at an early age not to ask for details. “You never spoke about it because my grandfather really never got over it. (Linton) was his eldest son and very clearly his favorite, his cherished, just the light of my grandfather’s eye.”

One exception to the rule of silence came in 1960, when Linton’s younger brother Don, also a World War II veteran, traveled to Europe with his wife and visited his older brother’s grave. From that came the inspiration to commission a portrait of Linton, based on a service photo, to be hung with quiet reverence in the family’s front room – a silent reminder that for some, the war never ended.

• • • • •

After the war, the Dutch people persuaded the American Battle Monuments Commission, which oversees 25 war cemeteries around the globe, to allow them to “adopt” individual graves at Margraten. To this day, they place flowers several times a year by the white-cross headstones, research their soldier’s history and, at least in spirit, consider the fallen warrior a member of their own family.

Every last grave has long been spoken for. The waiting list often numbers over 100 Dutch families, school classes and other groups wishing to show their undying gratitude, so many decades later, for their freedom.

Two years ago, along came the Kricks.

Jos, 58, is a business manager for a heating firm. Monique, 48, works in human resources for a nutrition company. They live 155 miles from Margraten but often travel to the region and, with each trip, have felt the cemetery’s all-too-familiar tug on their heartstrings.

“My grandfather was a harbormaster during WWII and was in the resistance. He had interesting stories about the war during his life,” Jos explained. “For some reason WWII always had our interest.”

Upon hearing in late 2013 that the waiting list was down to six months, the Kricks applied for a gravesite. Then, in May of 2014, word came that Pfc. Linton Lowell’s gravesite – Plot A, Row 1, Grave 14 – had become available and was all theirs.

But who was he? What did he look like? Did he still have family back home in Maine? What little they found via Google didn’t begin to tell the whole story.

“We have been looking for more information about this soldier and his family, but unfortunately the track runs dead. Is it possible to get more information about this soldier through the Portland Press Herald?” the Kricks wrote in their first email several months ago. “We hope you can be of service to us.”

And so it began.

• • • • •

Mary Lowell, Linton’s mother, died in 1982. Wesley, his father, died in 1985. Neither obituary mentions Linton.

Marjorie, Linton’s sister, passed away in 1984. Her twin sister, Marion (Wayne’s mother), died in 2008.

Younger brother Donald died just last year. His twin sister, Dorothy, 90, survives and now lives in Rockland, but her stepson said this week that she remembers little about her brother Linton and politely declined a request for an interview.

But Dorothy did remember one thing: Her nephew, Wayne Smith, showed an interest in his Uncle Linton at one point, maybe even did some research on him. He’d be the one to talk to about Linton.

Wayne Smith, of Yarmouth, has been researching the life of his late uncle, PFC Linton Lowell who was killed during the liberation of  the Netherlands during WWII. A painting of Lowell is the only known likeness.  John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Wayne Smith, of Yarmouth, has been researching the life of his late uncle, PFC Linton Lowell who was killed during the liberation of the Netherlands during WWII. A painting of Lowell is the only known likeness. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

“That would be me,” said Smith, who works for SDIX, a biotechnology firm in Windham, and is the proud keeper of the last two remaining vestiges of his uncle – the portrait that was passed around from one family member to another before it ended up with Smith, and a sturdy bookcase built by Linton just before he joined the Army.

Standing in his kitchen Wednesday evening, the portrait cradled in his hands and the bookcase a few feet away, Smith said he began digging into Uncle Linton’s story a few years ago after he and his wife, Stacey Chase, took her father, also a World War II veteran, on an Honor Flight from Philadelphia to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

But like the Kricks, Smith’s Internet search produced little beyond Lowell’s name, rank and serial number, and a general idea of where he fought and where he died.

Nowhere did Smith learn that even now, an ocean away, a couple was as tethered as he was to this single soldier among thousands. So fixated were the Kricks that whenever they watched a World War II documentary, they’d look hard at the faces of U.S. soldiers and wonder, “Could that be Linton? Or how about that one? Or maybe over there … ?”

Now they’ll know.

Better yet, when framed photos of other soldiers are placed in front of their grave markers on May 4 (The Netherlands’ Memorial Day), the Kricks will no longer be left with just a fresh bouquet of flowers to honor Lowell. At long last – thanks to the modern-day wonder of an instantaneous email with a photo of a painting attached – a face will go with his name.

“We are very curious what Linton looks like,” Jos and Monique wrote upon hearing that a likeness still exists.

“This is an amazing gift,” Smith said of the Kricks’ dedication. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

Today, Christmas Day, there will be introductions via email and top-to-bottom comparisons of who knows what about a soldier who died far too young and much too far from home. Who knows, there may even be a Skype chat.

And while all of that’s going on, all of Maine would do well to pause and raise a glass in memory of Pfc. Linton Lowell, a young man from Portland who fought and died for his country but never quite got the recognition he so richly deserved.

Better late than never.


]]> 29, 28 Dec 2015 12:20:02 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Indifference over deaths of homeless unacceptable Wed, 23 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 There was a time when the whole community would have sat up and taken notice.

Last Thursday, just as he was rolling out of bed, Mark Swann got a call from Preble Street, the social services agency in Portland over which he presides as executive director.

The news was not good: A longtime Preble Street client with chronic illness had stretched out on a thin mat the night before in the agency’s Resource Center, used to catch the overflow each night from the nearby Oxford Street shelter. When staff tried to awaken him that morning, the man was dead.

Swann made a mental note: Portland’s homeless death toll for the year had just risen from 37 to 38.

Moments later, as he dressed for work, Swann’s phone rang again. Another Preble Street client, also ill for as long as anyone could remember, had just been found on a walking trail near the Eastern Prom. Also dead.

Number 39.

Arriving at work that morning, Swann was struck not by the widespread trauma from two deaths in one night, but by the lack thereof. Most if not all of the 300-plus people packed into the soup kitchen had heard, but in a place where death happens regularly and without warning, it remained business as usual – save the roped-off courtyard to make room for the undertaker.

“A police officer on the scene (at Preble Street) told me he was surprised there weren’t even more deaths. And I found myself agreeing. How awful is that?” Swann asked the crowd that filled Monument Square just after sunset Monday to commemorate all the homeless who have died in Portland this year.

By Monday, the longest night of the year, that number had risen to 43.

It’s easy, as the debates rage on over panhandlers and alcoholics, heroin addicts and highway median dwellers, to blame the down-and-out for the dilemmas that ensnare them.

They choose this most difficult of lifestyles, or so the pretzel logic goes, to avoid all the hard work that goes into being responsible, upstanding citizens.

They come here for the easy life, the handouts, their free ride on the cycle of dependency.

They know a good deal when they see it and, once here, will never, ever leave.

And then they die. Right before our eyes. And still, even as we look the other way, it’s their own damn fault.

Swann normally doesn’t speak at the annual vigil – Monday marked the 21st such gathering. But this year’s total, a record high, coincides with a climate that has grown uglier, less compassionate and angrier than ever when it comes to those who, for reasons that defy the easy sound bite, need help simply to survive.

And so this year, Swann spoke up.

“I’m sick of this,” he said as the candles flickered and rush hour engulfed nearby Congress Street. “These deaths, this broken system of care that barely exists anymore, it’s not just tragic. It’s ridiculous. It’s outrageous. It’s indefensible.”

It’s also avoidable. If Preble Street has proved one thing over the years, it’s that well-integrated services – short- and long-term affordable housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment, employment counseling and training, health care and nutrition – work wonders in getting people off the street and into the mainstream of productive society.

Hack away at those services in the name of fiscal austerity, however, and it’s only a matter of time before the number of vigil candles starts to go up … and up … and up …

Noted Swann: “We need to connect the dots between the numbers of people dying – and the manner in which they’ve died – to public policy. All of us need to do that.

“When a shelter closes because of funding cuts, people will die.

“When addiction treatment services close, people will die.

“When mental health services are dictated by bureaucracy-driven, 15-minute billable units for only those with insurance, then people will die.

“When one of the few remaining apartment buildings in Portland open to poor people is sold to someone who immediately increases the rent above General Assistance limits, then people will die.

“When an out-of-state business can turn 54 units of housing for poor people into upscale hotel rooms because of a loophole in city ordinances, people will die.

“When wheelchair-bound senior citizens languish in our shelters because there are no nursing home beds available to them, people will die.

“All of these things are happening. All of these things are real.”

Some no doubt will deny all of that – and so much more. A news story on the vigil had no sooner been posted on the Press Herald’s website Monday evening when, from the comfort of their own keyboards, the homeless haters joined in full-throated gloat.

Boasted one: “I keep my house temp at 75-80 degrees all winter, around the clock. Nice and toasty.”

Observed another, “It does seem that addiction is used as a badge, or at least an excuse.”

Then there’s the commenter who could truly benefit from a little soul searching – particularly in this season of giving.

In addition to finding people like Swann “shameful,” this person suggested, “Seriously, wouldn’t taking up a collection for bus tickets to Miami be more humane than these useless demonstrations?”

Think about that. A candlelight vigil, four days before Christmas, for 43 fellow humans who died in our shelters and on our streets in the past year. This is a “useless demonstration?”

God bless us. Every one.


]]> 275, 23 Dec 2015 08:22:10 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Anti-Muslim talk in Maine coming from the clueless Wed, 09 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 State Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, is a jihadist’s dream come true.

So is state Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, and, for that matter, a Maine Republican Party that lacks both the good sense and decency to tell the two lawmakers to put a cork in it.

Let’s start with Lockman, a veteran rhetorical bomb-thrower dating all the way back to his infamous 1990 comment that if women are free to terminate pregnancies, then men should be free to rape women.

“At least the rapist’s pursuit of sexual freedom doesn’t (in most cases) result in anyone’s death,” Lockman said at the time.

He apologized for that one. A quarter of a century later.

This time, in the wake of last week’s San Bernardino shootings, it’s any and all Muslims among us who find themselves in Lockman’s cross hairs. Along with what he calls a “left-wing progressive jihad” led by House Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, both of whom have been understandably critical of Lockman and other Republicans for recent Facebook posts that are as juvenile as they are xenophobic.

To wit: Lockman sees nothing wrong with guys like him who have, as he put it, “lumped peace-loving moderate Muslims together with murderous Muslim terrorists.”

In fact, he says, in these troubled times, the “embrace of multiculturalism amounts to a death wish.”

And at the mere suggestion that he broaden his horizons a bit, Lockman instead retreats to his inner teenager.

“Eves cited the example of an Aroostook County legislator several years ago whose posted remarks resulted in ‘diversity training,’ ” Lockman writes. “BRING IT ON, MR. SPEAKER, BRING IT ON! You be the teacher, I be the student. Wahoo!”

Then we have Pierce, who kept it short and to the point by sharing this call to action with his Facebook friends: “How many Americans have to DIE ? Its time to deport all muslims ,. Its them or us ! They can not be trusted !”

And what says the Maine Republican Party, which in the past would at least throw some cold water on this kind of flame-throwing as we head into an election year?

Not a peep. Nada. Not one word.

What, we can only wonder, would Margaret Chase Smith think? And for those grown-up Republicans who have invoked her name so loudly and for so long, why are you now so unwilling to reclaim the party she once so proudly led?

It’s painfully clear, of course, that what’s playing out here in Maine mirrors what’s happening on the national stage. Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump stuns the country with his call to keep all Muslims out, leaving his party paralyzed while emboldening his peanut gallery to redraw the lines between civil discourse and fear mongering, between honest debate and mob speak.

Yet in doing so, Trump & Co. play directly into the long-term strategy of the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS: The more alienated and besieged Muslims in this country feel, the less likely they are to play a vital role in helping to ferret out the truly bad guys (and now women) who do find their way here. After all, if you’re a Muslim American who’s now afraid to venture far from home, why go out of your way to help those who spend all day professing their hatred toward you?

Think this country’s Muslim community hasn’t already helped? Think again.

According to a study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, comprising Duke University, the University of North Carolina and RTI International, members of the Muslim-American community tipped off law enforcement agencies to 54 Muslim-American terrorism suspects and perpetrators between Sept. 11, 2001, and the end of 2013. Government investigations that involved no such American-Muslim help, on the other hand, netted only 52 suspects.

Drilling down deeper, that Muslim adolescent now searching for his or her foothold in this country has a choice: Latch onto the American Dream, or log onto a jihadist website and start down the road toward home-grown radicalization.

The harder people like Trump, Lockman and Pierce beat the drum against all things Islam, the better the chance that young Muslim is going to end up typing “jihad” into the Google search box.

My guess is that Trump is well aware of all this. It’s just that his poll numbers were dipping and he had to toss another grenade into the primary cauldron to refocus the cameras on him and thus re-energize his loyal, blissfully uninformed base.

(My guess is also that if he actually wins the Republican nomination, Trump will start compulsively hugging every Muslim in sight, leaving that same base awash in bewilderment and confusion.)

But up here in Maine, I suspect that Lockman, Pierce and their ilk haven’t a clue what they’re really doing.

At a time when we should reinforce all that is good about this nation, they stomp on it.

At a time that calls for courage and clear thinking, they use the darkest of stereotypes to stoke our most irrational fears.

And at a time when we should all – Muslim Americans included – unite to stop ISIS both here and abroad, they’ve become the terrorists’ most unwitting recruiters.

Wrote Lockman on his Facebook page: “America’s homegrown progressive lunatics, who dominate the Democrat Party, think ‘Islamophobia’ is a bigger threat to America than the jihadists.”

Wrong, Larry.

Beyond the bullets and bombs, your “Islamophobia” is the jihadists’ biggest weapon.


]]> 446, 09 Dec 2015 10:30:01 +0000
Bill Nemitz: As shootings grow routine, so do fear and questioning Sun, 06 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 Thursday afternoon, per order of President Barack Obama and Gov. Paul LePage, I ventured out into the cold rain and lowered the U.S. flag in my yard to half-staff to commemorate the 14 victims of last week’s shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California.

It’s an all too familiar routine, honed over a decade of mourning Maine soldiers lost to war and now American citizens lost to insanity. Yet this time, as I lowered the telescopic flagpole, transferred the flag to the bottom clips and raised it all back up again, a thought occurred to me.

Maybe I should just leave it that way.

Here in Maine, we’ve been lucky. We can debate until the cows come home whether last month’s fatal shooting in Oakland of Amanda Bragg, 30, Michael Muzerolle, 29, and Amy DeRosby, 28, by Herman DeRico, 42 – who then shot and killed himself – qualifies as a “mass murder” under the various and conflicting definitions now being bandied about.

Say what? You’d forgotten about that tragedy already?

So had I. I saw a dot on Maine on a national map of 355 “mass shootings” over the past year and had to look it up. Nobody ordered the flags lowered for those victims.

But at least here in Maine, we’ve been spared so far the Columbine, the Sandy Hook, the Virginia Tech, the Aurora, the Charleston, the Colorado Springs and now the San Bernardino – each an image of unspeakable violence that flows so seamlessly into the flower-filled sidewalks, the rivulets of votive candle wax and the demands that someone do something to end the madness.

Nowhere, however, not even here in Maine, have we been spared the fear.

I’ve long thought it was just my hyperactive imagination that often leaves me asking myself as I walk into a movie theater, a big box store or a supermarket, “What would I do if … ? Would I run? Hide? Attack the attacker, as Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggests, in the hope that enough others will join in that at least some of us might emerge unscathed?”

Truth be told, I have no idea what I’d do. But as of last week, I now know I’m far from the only person who thinks about it.

On the day of the San Bernardino shooting, The New York Times asked its readers, “How often, if ever, do you think about the possibility of a shooting in your daily life?”

“The number of responses was overwhelming,” the Times reported the next day. “More than 5,000 readers wrote to tell us about the anxiety they felt while riding the subway, going to the movies, dropping their children off at school and attending religious services.”

Wrote a teacher from Connecticut of her emergency shelter-in-place drills: “My classroom walls are entirely glass, so I must fit 17 children into a tiny, windowless bathroom (not as broad as my wingspan in any direction), and entertain them quietly (with poetry) until the all-clear. Sheltering takes organized practice; our space is so small each kid has to know exactly where to stand (three on the toilet seat, steadied by floor-bound friends, two on a box, two under a shelf). As the humidity rises, kids draw smiley faces on the fogged-up mirror.”

She tells them it’s all in case a tornado strikes.

At the other end of the spectrum is the young man from San Diego who carries his handgun wherever it’s legally permitted and thus feels “adequately prepared to respond to violent attacks.”

Echoing that strategy on Wednesday was Paul J. Van Blarcum, sheriff of Ulster County in upstate New York.

“In light of recent events that have occurred in the United States and around the world I want to encourage citizens of Ulster County who are licensed to carry a firearm to PLEASE DO SO,” Van Blarcum wrote on his department’s Facebook page.

Let’s set aside the slim-to-none chance an average citizen, armed with a small-caliber handgun and untrained in special weapons and tactics, might have against one or more shooters brandishing the .223-caliber, assault-style rifles used in last week’s attack.

What about the first responders, who do have the necessary firepower and training, storming the scene with no way to tell that this guy with a weapon is OK while that guy with a weapon isn’t? Throw more weaponry into one of these volatile situations and sooner, not later, the wrong person is going to get shot.

Which brings us, ad nauseam, to the questions that overhang this nation like a funeral shroud.

Why are the assault-style weapons, slightly altered to get around bans in some states but still just as lethal, legal for civilian ownership anywhere in this country?

Why, when an overwhelming majority of people here in Maine and around the country favor sensible gun control laws, do so many of our elected officials cower every time the National Rifle Association instructs them via mass email to vote against any and all such measures?

And why, one day after San Bernardino, did the U.S. Senate not only vote against requiring background checks for all gun sales (including all those here in Maine at gun shows and through Uncle Henry’s classifieds), but also said nay to banning gun sales to those who have already earned a spot on the nation’s anti-terrorism No Fly List?

Seriously? You can’t board a plane in or out of this country but you can, once here, buy a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle and armor-piercing ammunition with no questions asked?

I know from past experience that even raising these questions is enough to set off a firestorm of condemnation from those who see the Second Amendment as sacrosanct and any limits whatsoever on it as a step toward tyranny and blah, blah, blah …

But I also know that my flag, once again, is at half-staff through midnight on Monday.

And I know that sometime in the near future, I’ll be directed to go out and lower it again.

And much as I hope and pray otherwise, I suspect that one of these times the carnage won’t be a continent away.

It will be right here in our midst.

And hard as it may be to fathom, we’ll be the ones telling the media horde we never saw it coming.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 403, 07 Dec 2015 08:16:29 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Right-wing Maine must have some wires loose Wed, 02 Dec 2015 09:00:00 +0000 I can’t say I didn’t see it coming. As the sun rose on Giving Tuesday, my email inbox began filling up with pleas, exhortations, winks and nods – all carefully calibrated to ricochet directly off my heart and into my wallet.

The National Parks Conservation Association offered a twofer – for every dollar I donated, one of its board members would match it.

The New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Maryland, sought my help “to make meaningful change in the Catholic Church for LGBT people!”

Then there was Worldreader, which advocates for mobile readers in the developing world and offered me an interview with its Princeton-educated founder, David Risher.

But nobody – and I mean nobody – could match the Giving Tuesday pitch of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the place where Maine’s true conservatives gather to make themselves feel like they’re perfectly sane and it’s the rest of us who are out of our minds.

“In many ways, a think tank is like a super hero,” wrote Matt Gagnon, the center’s CEO, at the top of his appeal. “Sure, we can’t fly and we don’t run around the office in capes, but we do use our power to protect everyday people … like you. Except instead of super villains or mad scientists, we take on the real bad guys – wasteful government, higher taxes, and cronyism.”

Gagnon goes on to sing his organization’s praises: “When politicians let you down, MHPC is there, consistently promoting conservative policies.”

Then, ever so predictably, he comes after me (which I find particularly offensive since he’s simultaneously asking me for money): “When the liberal mainstream media gives in to progressive spin, MHPC is there to counter it with The Maine Wire, our conservative news and opinion service.”

Now I admit it’s been awhile since I visited The Maine Wire. So, in the interest of fairness and balance, I clicked onto the site Tuesday to see what they’ve been up to lately.

Their lead story: “Maine Still Struggling to Improve Business Tax Climate.” Long story short, it’s the Legislature’s fault.

Next up: “New Study: Obamacare Fails to Meet Expectations.” The study was done by George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, which has received tens of millions in funding from the ultraconservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. ‘Nuff said.

Another story, posted twice in case you miss it, isn’t exactly breaking news: “LePage Criticizes President Obama’s Decision to Accept Syrian Refugees.” (Question: Do refugees qualify as “everyday people” in the eyes of the Maine Heritage Policy Center?)

I scrolled on … pausing briefly to note U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s scathing critique of President Obama over the ISIS crisis (to which I can only imagine Obama responding, “Bruce who?”) … when I finally hit something truly groundbreaking – a piece by Liam Sigaud, a “policy analyst” with the Maine Heritage Policy Center.

The headline: “Sigaud: Is Trump Part of Hillary’s Strategy?”

Sigaud, described as “an experienced researcher in the health policy field” with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Maine at Augusta, offers three “interpretations” of Donald Trump’s headline-a-minute candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

The first, he writes, is that the Trump campaign is “little more than a farce designed to indulge his cravings for the media spotlight.”

Fair enough.

The second is that “his candidacy is being driven by his anger at the state of the country, and conviction that he can set it right. His unorthodox campaigning style and off-color remarks are seen as carefully crafted to appeal to the embittered and disillusioned within the Republican fold.”

Again, not outside the realm of possibility.

“But a third alternative remains possible – that Donald Trump is a liberal determined to get Hillary Clinton elected president,” continues Sigaud. “It’s a conclusion based on a few obvious facts.”

Uh-oh. I feel a superhero coming on.

Those facts, according to Sigaud, range from Trump’s complete lack of conservative bona fides – he’s been married three times, once called George W. Bush “evil,” supported an assault-weapons ban and “during an appearance at the Family Leadership Summit in July, he said he wasn’t sure he had ever sought God’s forgiveness and inartfully referred to Communion as ‘my little wine … and my little cracker.'”

Oh yes, and Trump invited Bill and Hillary to his 2005 wedding and once advocated for single-payer health care.

Sigaud’s theory is that Trump will somehow win both the Republican nomination and the general election and “govern as the liberal he is” or, upon getting on the November ballot, drop out before the general election and simply hand the White House over to Hillary.

I swear I’m not making this stuff up. These are Maine’s superheroes talking.

But back to Giving Tuesday.

“With your support, we will defeat the liberal establishment that has held Maine back for decades and save Mainers from a lifetime of welfare dependency,” Gagnon wrote in his email blast.

He might also work on balancing the center’s budget: According to filings with the Internal Revenue Service in 2013, the most recent year available, the center took in revenues totaling $661,260. The same year, it posted $710,251 in expenses – a deficit of $48,991.

Now I’m going to go way out on a limb here and bet $50 that not one dime of that money went to anything remotely resembling a program that actually helps Mainers who are down get back on their feet.

Prove me wrong and I’ll send the check to Maine Heritage Policy Center in a heartbeat.

If I’m right, I expect them to send $50 to Preble Street or some other local agency dedicated to helping the neediest among us survive the oncoming Maine winter.

In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, it’s the least a superhero can do.


]]> 180, 01 Dec 2015 23:47:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: As GOP field bashes Syrians, LePage seems almost sane Sun, 22 Nov 2015 09:00:00 +0000 I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but it finally dawned on me during last week’s national meltdown over the Syrian refugee crisis why Gov. Paul LePage isn’t in there elbowing his way toward the Republican nomination for president.

He’s not crazy enough.

Don’t get me wrong. LePage had no trouble exhibiting his utter ignorance of the Obama administration’s plan to allow 10,000 Syrians into this country next year when he told WCSH-TV: “If you remember 9/11, I think some people came through Maine and they did a lot of damage in New York. I think we’ve got to be very diligent, very on top of this issue.”

Not to mention accurate: Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari, the two hijackers who passed through Portland on the eve of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, were not refugees. Like the other 17 terrorists who forever changed history that day, they had gained entry to the United States through various tourist, business and student visas.

Doesn’t matter. LePage, not surprisingly, has joined 27 other governors – all but one Republicans – in vowing that not one man, woman or child from Syria will set foot in their states if they have any say in the matter.

Why? Because if the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, can attack Paris, France, who’s to say they aren’t plotting at this very moment to do the same thing in South Paris, Maine?

Which brings us back to the many and varied shades of crazy that color this political spectacle.

While LePage had no trouble interchanging refugees with foreign students, tourists, business travelers (as well as the 11 million undocumented U.S. immigrants he’d also like to see tossed across the nearest border), his comments seemed almost tame in comparison to the gaggle of Republicans running for president.

Donald Trump called for a national registry of all Muslims now in this country.

Ben Carson, searching for just the right metaphor for the Syrians running for their lives, settled on “a rabid dog.”

Jeb Bush, bless him, said he’d open the gate for – and only for – the Christians.

Then there was LePage’s best friend forever, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who told a radio interviewer that he would deny entry even to a 5-year-old Syrian orphan.

We’ve already established these people have no shame. My question is, have they no sanity?

For that, thankfully, we can turn to another Mainer – U.S. Sen. Angus King. He spent much of his week telling the country that its post-Paris fears, however justified, are aimed largely at the wrong target.

“The hardest way to get into the country is as a refugee,” said King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview on Friday. “It takes 18 months to two years, extensive vetting.”

In other words, as easy as it may be to imagine an ISIS terrorist slipping first through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees’ vetting process and then sneaking past the State Department’s own rigorous screening, there are far easier ways to penetrate our borders and inflict the kind of mayhem that played out nine days ago on the streets of Paris.

King finds two particularly worrisome.

The first, he said, are people who are radicalized right here in the United States via ISIS’ robust, Internet-based propaganda campaign.

“The FBI is currently doing ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states – that’s public information – and in fact last summer arrested 60 different people for being involved in various plots,” he said. “And I want to emphasize these aren’t necessarily refugees or even Muslims.”

Then there’s the U.S. visa waiver program – an arrangement whereby visitors from 38 other friendly nations can come here with a passport but no visa whatsoever.

Last year, 20 million such entries into the United States were logged – compared to 2,000 fully vetted Syrian refugees who have been admitted here since 2011.

“It sort of points up that this is a misplaced emphasis,” noted King.

The problem with the visa waiver program, King correctly points out, is that it is the product of a time when a wide-open door with friendly allies made complete sense. Not so anymore.

“The visa waiver program is only as good as the weakest link. There are 38 countries involved and if they aren’t diligent in their policies of admission and their border control and their security situation, then we’re vulnerable,” King said. “That to me is where we really need to look.”

This is the debate we should be having, not whether a 5-year-old who’s already lost everything but his own life is somehow a threat to our national security.

Or whether refugees are like rabid dogs.

Or whether there’s any connection whatsoever between those who blew up the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and those still imperiled by the aftershocks of that awful day.

So is this what it’s come to, fellow Mainers? Must we spend the coming months heaping our fears onto the already overburdened Syrian refugees, most of them women and children?

I say we’re better than that. And our Republican “leaders” notwithstanding, our history as a nation tells us we’re braver than that.

“There’s no 100 percent guarantee. There never can be,” said King. “If you want a 100 percent guarantee, then you’re basically not going to let anyone in your country ever under any circumstances. There is a country like that. It’s called North Korea. And I don’t think that’s a country we’d want to live in.”

Unless you’re truly crazy.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 147, 21 Nov 2015 23:36:19 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage’s silence says it all about wimping out Sun, 15 Nov 2015 09:00:00 +0000 Dear Gov. LePage,

So I spent most of the day Thursday on my computer watching the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee pick apart your role in last June’s firing of House Speaker Mark Eves as president of the Good Will-Hinckley school. But I’m left with one nagging question that you, and only you, can answer:

Isn’t it about time you man up?

As last week’s marathon session droned on, I so hoped you’d shock us all and do one of your trademark outta-my-way cameo appearances to set the record straight on what you said to whom and when. But in the end you wimped out completely, didn’t you, Big Guy?

Rather than take the committee’s questions like the tough-talking leader you purport to be, you dispatched your senior policy adviser, Aaron Chadbourne, your legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery, and your former interim education commissioner, Tom Desjardin, to backpedal the executive branch away from this scandal that some believe constitutes grounds for impeachment.

We’ll get to their not-so-riveting testimony in a minute.

But first, just out of curiosity, exactly where were you hiding the whole day through? Under your desk? Behind your cheerleaders and their synchronized pompoms on Twitter? Pulling down the storm windows on the Blaine House?

Sure, I know you weren’t subpoenaed like Chadbourne and Montgomery were. But the committee was dealing with a very simple question here: Did you or did you not threaten to withhold $530,000 in state funding unless Good Will-Hinckley fired the newly hired Eves because, in your view, he was a “hack” who had no business running the private, nonprofit organization?

Simple question, right? So simple that you had no problem answering it for the media on June 30, when you said, “Yeah, I did. If I could, I would. Absolutely. Why wouldn’t I? Tell me why I wouldn’t take the taxpayer money to prevent somebody to go into a school and destroy it.”

Well, Governor, some might say because you’re not the boss of them. But judging by how quickly the Good Will-Hinckley board caved to your demand, apparently its members tremble at the mere mention of your name.

In fact, emissaries from your administration simply had to utter the word “support” – as in “the Big Guy doesn’t support your decision to hire Mark Eves” – and, just like that, the Good Will-Hinckley board gave its newly hired president the heave-ho before he’d worked a single day.

Which brings us back to that testimony.

Montgomery, your lawyer, insisted she knew next to nothing about your plans to pull the $530,000 in funding from the school. Chadbourne and Desjardin both claimed with straight faces that when they told Good Will-Hinckley officials that hiring Eves would cost the school your “support,” they weren’t necessarily talking (gasp) about the money.

My favorite quote came from Chadbourne, upon being informed that Good Will-Hinckley board Chairman Jack Moore (along with everyone else who heard the threats) came away with no doubt whatsoever that money was exactly what was being discussed.

Testified Chadbourne, “I’m not going to dispute any conclusions that (Moore) drew from our conversation.”

(Maybe it’s just me, Governor, but Chadbourne sounds a lot like the wide-eyed mob enforcer who tells the judge, “All due respect, Your Honor, I never said I was going to break the plaintiff’s legs. I simply said he might have difficulty walking his daughter down the aisle at her impending wedding. Which, of course, would be very unfortunate for all concerned …”)

What made Thursday’s rhetorical gymnastics so galling is that it centered on a question that’s already been answered. Truth be told, all of Maine already knows you threatened to withhold the Good Will-Hinckley funds unless Eves was fired.

And how do we know it? Because, Big Guy, you yourself said so last June – before presumably smarter minds got to you and said, “Um, Governor, we might want to work on our messaging here. You may be the most powerful man in the land, sir, but perception of extortion is a pretty powerful thing too … ”

Since then, it’s been nothing but the same old whining (Witch hunt! Media! Democrats!), character assassination (Eves is unqualified!) and paranoia (Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, is out to get me because he wants my job!) that you display whenever your runaway rage propels you into a corner from which there is no easy escape.

So here we sit yet again, an entire state reeling from a guy who does and says whatever he damn well pleases one minute, only to disappear the next until the aftershocks subside.

As I’m sure you already know, Governor, the consensus around the State House seems to be that any impeachment effort launched by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives will die in the Republican-controlled state Senate, assuming it gets that far.

In other words, it looks like you’re going to get away with this one. Again.

So why not do the right thing just this once?

Rather than replace the word “money” with the word “support” and proclaim yourself innocent of any and all wrongdoing, why not call back the media, pick up where you left off last June and say, “Yeah, I threatened to withhold the $530,000. And here’s why …”

Or better yet, ask the Government Oversight Committee to reconvene, raise your right hand, and do the same thing under oath.

It’s called manning up, Big Guy.

You got a problem with that?


]]> 275, 16 Nov 2015 08:23:40 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Why LePage’s drug war is hopeless Sun, 08 Nov 2015 09:00:00 +0000 We all know by now that when Gov. Paul LePage makes an unannounced visit to a legislative committee, the whole state of Maine best sit up and take notice.

Still, the Big Guy’s message on Thursday to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee sounded less like Maine’s chief executive getting all gubernatorial and more like Joe Pesci auditioning for a sequel to “Goodfellas.”

“You can agree, disagree, it makes no difference, but every day you’re going to see more dead people,” LePage told the rapt committee. “Every day you’re going to see more guys like ‘Smooth,’ ‘AK’ and ‘PK’ and ‘Scummy’ and ‘Shifty’ coming up from Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania. It’s going to continue.”

Unless, LePage said, the lawmakers come up with the dough to pay for 10 more agents for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, along with more drug prosecutors and judges.

And if they don’t?

“You either work with me and give me some agents,” warned LePage, “or I will call the Guard up.”

As in the Maine National Guard. Men and women in desert camouflage versus an endless parade of gun-toting heroin peddlers. So long, Operation Iraqi Freedom. Hello, Operation Hoodie.

Turns out “Smooth,” according to Portland Press Herald State House reporter Steve Mistler, is one Dionhaywood “Smooth” Blackwell, 31, of New Haven, Connecticut. He was arrested in Bangor on Sept. 11 and charged with felony drug trafficking. The other names the governor mentioned were, wrote Mistler, “presumably fictitious.”

Now, let’s make no mistake about it: Maine, like the rest of New England, has a serious heroin epidemic on its hands. The question before the legislative committee last week was what to do about it.

LePage would have us believe that it’s a supply-side issue: Cut off the flow of heroin coming into Maine and, just like that, the problem goes away.

Except it doesn’t.

If he learned one thing while earning his MBA at the University of Maine all those years ago, you’d think LePage would grasp the inextricable relationship between supply and demand.

In this case, demand comes from the thousands of Mainers now tragically addicted to cheap, readily available heroin. They couldn’t care less whether it comes from “Smooth” or “Shifty” or, once those lowlifes have been thrown in the slammer, whoever is recruited overnight to replace them and keep the drugs flowing north.

Yet LePage, in his zeal to now turn Maine’s war on drugs into an actual military operation, brings nothing to the table when it comes to helping addicted Mainers – his constituents – rid themselves of the scourge that heroin has become in recent years.

While the death toll from heroin overdoses rises alarmingly in urban and rural areas alike, funding for addiction treatment and prevention plummets.

While LePage quite accurately predicts that we will see more dead people in the months and years ahead, he deludes himself into thinking that as commander in chief he can simply make it all go away – this time with soldiers.

While smart people in and out of state government grapple with the complexities of Maine’s drug dilemma, LePage once again elbows his way to the front of the room, the quintessential man without a plan, brimming with names he just made up and threats he cannot fulfill.

If only, rather than waste lawmakers’ time on Thursday, LePage had taken a ride down to Scarborough.

There, he could have learned more about the Scarborough Police Department’s 2-month-old “Operation Hope” – proof positive that effective law enforcement means more than just rounding up the bad guys and tossing them in jail.

The program couldn’t be more simple: If you’re addicted to heroin and reached the end of your rope, you knock on the door of the Scarborough Police Department and simply ask for help. You can even surrender your drugs and paraphernalia on the spot, no questions asked.

From there, an officer and a recovery volunteer will steer you toward help ranging from short-term detox to a 30-day treatment program. So far, 39 addicts have received long-term treatment in six different states, many by way of donated “scholarship” beds because they lack the insurance or other funds to pay for it.

“Enforcement alone isn’t going to resolve this (heroin) issue,” said Officer John Gill, who spearheads the program with the full blessing of Police Chief Robbie Moulton.

“We’re not arresting our way out of this. By addressing the treatment portion and getting people into treatment programs to get well, that’s going to reduce demand.”

Operation Hope, modeled after a program in Gloucester, Massachusetts, has drawn addicts from Lebanon to as far north as Garland. Gill has no doubt that if other police departments in Maine were to start opening their doors to addicts, they’d get the same response.

“The biggest factor is shame,” he said. “They are ashamed of what they have become. For them to walk into a police station and ask for help, they’ve hit rock bottom.”

Operation Hope’s biggest challenge, of course, is sustainability – it receives nary a nickel of taxpayer support. While you’re more than welcome to log onto and make a donation to help defray travel costs for an addict traveling out of state for treatment (there simply aren’t enough beds in Maine), the simple truth is that we as a state are dropping the ball here.

So perhaps this is a good time to ask ourselves: Do we really want to be known as the state where the good men and women of the National Guard move out with mugshots of “AK,” “PK,” “Scummy” and “Shifty” taped to their dashboards?

Or might we better fight this battle first and foremost by taking care of our own – before they become just another statistic?

Put another way, if not for Operation Hope, where would those 39 addicts be today?

Noted Gill, “At least they’ll have an opportunity to stay alive.”


]]> 242, 07 Nov 2015 18:11:16 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Self-appointed guardians of voting integrity just aim to intimidate Thu, 05 Nov 2015 09:00:00 +0000 Call it the new “open carry.” Mysterious men and women hanging out at polling places with video cameras.

They scattered among Maine polling places like so many Second Amendment sentinels on Tuesday, some with their constitutional game faces on, others looking ever so smug as they readied, aimed and shot their endless video clips of every citizen who dared sign a petition calling for a referendum on universal gun-sale background checks in Maine.

They asked for names.

They asked for addresses.

When asked why they were asking, those willing to speak at all said it was to protect the integrity of the voting process.

I’m almost afraid to ask this – what with all the pointing and shooting going on – but can these people get any weirder?

This much we know, thanks to the sleuthing of reporters who thought when they headed out Tuesday morning that the only thing remotely suspenseful about this off-year election was whether Portland Mayor-elect Ethan Strimling’s can’t-lose smile would push him over the 50 percent mark and thus eliminate the need for an instant runoff against incumbent Michael Brennan. (The smile won.)

But then along came Project Dirigo Petition Integrity Program, a ragtag group of video-toting observers who grabbed chairs at some (but by no means all) polls and aimed their lenses squarely at Maine Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, the state chapter of a group formed after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Its goal is to collect the necessary 61,000 signatures to force a statewide vote next year requiring background checks on all gun sales throughout Maine except for those between family members.

Project Dirigo hasn’t registered as a political action committee or otherwise made its underlying philosophy publicly known. But I’ll bet you my company-owned, video-equipped iPhone (sorry, boss) that they see this petition drive as the first step in a conspiracy to take their guns away and give them en masse as a farewell gift to President Obama when he leaves office a year from this January.

But back to the videos.

Shane Belanger, a volunteer with Project Dirigo and founder of the Maine Open Carry Association, told the Portland Press Herald while taping at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland on Tuesday that lawyers would look at his hours of footage when the election was over. Beyond that, he seemed strikingly unsure what they’d do with it.

“This is all about making sure the petition process is fair and transparent,” Belanger said.

Uh-huh. Kind of like the National Football League’s instant replay – except in this case there’s nothing to replay because all people are doing is signing their names to a piece of damn paper!

Which brings us to the real reason – actually, I can think of two – that the video brigade was out there Tuesday.

The first, and most obvious, is pure intimidation.

More than a few voters told reporters Tuesday that the video cameras, not to mention the name-and-address questions, hovering over the petition tables were enough to make them think twice about bothering to sign the background-check petition at all.

That’s not protecting the democratic process. That’s vandalizing it.

And while it may be legal for now – state Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, is considering legislation that might soon render it otherwise – these self-appointed protectors of the republic spent the day at the polls with one, and only one, interest in mind: protecting their precious guns from Obama.

The second motive behind the videos, which we can only hope fell flat, was the possibility of bagging a gotcha moment.

I must say I laughed out loud Tuesday morning when I logged onto the Press Herald website and there was Willy Ritch, communications director for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, not-so-discreetly signing the background-check petition while Belanger’s video captured the sheer democracy of it all.

Ritch later admitted to feeling “a little uncomfortable” being recorded. “I wondered what they were going to do with the video,” he said.

Not an unreasonable concern when you’re the mouthpiece for a liberal congresswoman from Maine. But Ritch, well versed in such matters, kept his cool throughout.

Still, what if someone else decided the video camera or the insinuation behind the questioning was too much of an insult to the sanctity of Election Day? What if that voter let Belanger or one of his comrades have it about their crazy infatuation for guns, their myopic interpretation of the Second Amendment, their blindness to the mass shootings that play out with mind-numbing regularity in our schools, our movie theaters, our malls, our workplaces …?

Might that citizen’s anti-gun tirade, captured up close and personal on a Project Dirigo video, not provide perfect fodder for the next “save our guns” TV ad campaign?

I thought long and hard about the freak-out factor as I made my way to the Buxton polls late Tuesday afternoon.

I decided that if a Project Dirigo videographer got in my face, I’d tell him, “My name? Elmer Fudd. Big gun guy. Always shooting myself in the foot.”

But alas, no Project Dirigo. No camera in my face. Just a very vigilant young man with a background-check petition who’d received updates all day via his cellphone about the video invasions underway elsewhere around the state.

“It’s crazy,” he said, his forehead furrowed with worry.

I should have got him on tape.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

]]> 371, 05 Nov 2015 07:56:00 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Savor time because it waits for no one Sun, 01 Nov 2015 08:00:00 +0000 This is the weekend we mess with time – and I’m loving every minute of it.

One second, just before turning in Saturday night, it was 11:03 p.m. The next, with objection from no one, it was 10:03. A bonus hour added to our lives, at least for now, to do with as we please.

As you can see, I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately.

I had way too much of it on my hands over the summer as I lay in bed, waylaid by the myriad maladies that may or may not have stemmed directly from the advanced case of melanoma that came knocking at my life’s door last January.

The frequent dizzy spells that kept me from driving and, on some days, even getting out of bed? Still not sure what caused them, but thank God for the steroid that finally made them stop.

The vertebrae fractures up and down my spine that came on without warning – I’ll never forget that one in the shower – and left me feeling like a slowly collapsing house of cards? Four times, surgery came to the rescue.

The endless itching brought on by my biweekly infusions of cancer-fighting Nivolumab? Turns out there’s a pill for that. In fact, as I survey the table next to my bed, I realize there’s a pill for just about everything.

Except for time, which in reality answers to no pill, no human intervention. Our biannual “daylight savings” delusion notwithstanding, it moves at its own inexorable pace, oblivious to our most fervent hopes, our darkest fears and those hedge bets we so euphemistically call our “plans for the future.”

Back in January, as I watched my time frame narrow before my eyes, my only real “plan” was to take one more ride in my boat. It’s a wooden, 1957 Lyman and at the time it was being masterfully restored up in the central Maine town of Wayne by Chris Cushman, owner of Androscoggin Wooden Boat Works.

I collected the boat – rechristened “Keep Punchin'” – in June. But then, too sick or weak to go outside and look at it, let alone take it out on the water, I lay there wondering if it all had been a fool’s errand, a mission impossible.

Then, just over a month ago, along came a good day. My wife, two sons and two old friends converged down at the landing on the Saco River and for three glorious hours, with the foliage reflecting off the glassy water and the sunlight gleaming off the freshly varnished mahogany deck, time seemed to stand still.

Now, emboldened by my boat ride, I have another plan. I say this fully aware that, as my cancer doc occasionally cautions me, “This is a very unpredictable cancer. Anything can happen at any time.”

Got it. But at the same time, get this: On or about March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, my son Eric and his beautiful wife, Jung, are due to welcome into the world a baby boy. He will be my first grandchild.

And I plan to make his acquaintance.

That’s 137 days from now. Days when the sun will rise late and set early. Days when the yard, now still clinging to the last vestiges of fall color, will surrender to the endless layers of ice and snow.

“Yes, you can use your snowblower,” my back doctor told me on Friday. “As long as you use it and don’t fight with it. Once you start fighting it, that’s when you’ll get into trouble!”

So here I sit, propped up against what I’ve come to call “Pillow Mountain,” once again banging away at the keyboard without a clue what lies ahead.

Some people, bless them every one, have a problem with that. Like the guy who emailed me after my column reappeared recently, “Just when I thought you went to the great beyond you rear your ugly head.”

“Modern medicine,” I wrote back. “Must drive you nuts.”

As for me, I don’t have time for all that negativity. I’ll wake up this morning grateful for that extra hour of sleep – if that’s what it really was. And I’ll shake my head in mock amazement this afternoon as the shadows lengthen far ahead of their time.

Last Wednesday, just before the remnants of Hurricane Patricia hit, Eric and I hooked the boat and trailer up to the pickup and hurried it over to a storage warehouse in Portland. There it will stay, safe and secure, for the winter.

“We want to have everything out of here by May 1,” the manager reminded me after we covered the boat and I handed him the check.

I almost started to explain how I might be the one to pick up the boat or, depending on how things go, it could be someone else. But then I stopped myself, saying only, “Will do.”

Time will tell.

But I plan to take my grandson for a boat ride.


]]> 44, 31 Oct 2015 18:57:42 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Lottery’s scavenger hunt targets millennials Sun, 25 Oct 2015 07:26:00 +0000 Here’s a Maine State Lottery ad that would get my attention:

Former President George H.W. and first lady Barbara Bush are on one of their occasional visits to Kennebunkport village. Purely on impulse, they stop into a local shop, where George whips out a $5 bill and tells the dumbstruck clerk, “I’ll have one of those scratch tickets up there. How about … let’s see … ‘Escape to Margaritaville!’ ”

Barbara, rolling her eyes, takes the ticket and scratches away the gray waxy stuff. George watches intently. And just like that … cue the steel drums … the Bushes are basking in a $100,000 boatload of margaritas!

Never going to happen?

You’re right.

The Bushes, and I admit I’m speculating here, don’t buy Maine lottery tickets. Nor does just about anyone else in wealthy Kennebunkport, where annual sales for the Maine State Lottery hover at a rock-bottom $6 per person.

For the real lottery action, we need to travel far Down East to the tiny Washington County hamlet of Waite, one of the poorest spots in Maine. There, the lottery machines spit out tickets constantly to the tune of $1,313 per local resident annually – in some cases consuming entire paychecks before they can even be cashed.

This and other startling information came to us last week via an excellent three-part series by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. Written by Dave Sherwood and based on expert analysis by David Just, a Cornell University behavioral economist who has studied lotteries in 39 states, the series illustrated how deeply Maine’s $230 million-per-year lottery has rooted itself into the state’s fiscal bedrock since the lottery’s creation in 1973.

No big surprise there. But what did come as a disturbing reminder after all these decades is just how much of that cash comes from Mainers who can least afford to be goaded by their state government, week after week, into chasing margaritas that rarely if ever materialize.

To wit: Of the 10 towns where Mainers spend the most on lottery tickets, six are in Washington County, the state’s poorest county.

To wit: Scientific Games, the Las Vegas-based firm that holds the $8 million contract to operate Maine’s lottery, doesn’t have to tell us how it goes about doing so. Its entire 285-page marketing plan for Maine’s lottery is shielded behind the label “confidential information.”

To wit: No one in state government knows or seems to much care what impact the lottery might be having on the poorest of Maine’s poor. As state Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, who chairs the legislative committee that nominally oversees the lottery, put it, “They basically run their own business.”

And make no mistake about it, that business is rooted in addiction. The state is addicted to the $50 million that flows annually into its General Fund (the rest of the lottery’s $230 million goes to payouts and expenses), while the daily players are addicted to the paltry prizes designed to keep them coming back and the dream that someday, yessir someday, they’re going to hit the big one.

Sure, there are those in between who see the lottery as harmless fun and can easily afford the occasional $5, $10 or $20 trip down fantasy lane. I pick up their discarded tickets outside my house all the time.

But when Cornell economist Just juxtaposes Maine’s lottery sales data with its unemployment statistics by ZIP code and finds a 10 percent jump in lottery sales for every 1 percent rise in unemployment, you’ve got to wonder how much of that unemployment check is going to milk and peanut butter for the kids.

And since we’re on the subject of government assistance, how can so many in Augusta rail against the “cycle of dependence” created by social assistance programs on the one hand while, on the other, utter not a word against the state-sponsored fleecing of those same people for what little discretionary cash they have left to call their own?

The lottery boosters, of course, insist it’s all fun and games and nobody’s buying tickets with a gun to their head. Still, economic desperation is a powerful thing – and I’ve yet to see anyone smiling as they toss yet another pile of losing scratch tickets (might as well be U.S. currency) into the trash bin down at the corner store.

The point here is not that Maine should abandon its lottery outright – the Good Ship Megabucks has sailed too long and too far for any politician to stop it now.

But for the state to remain so willfully blind for so long to whom The Maine State Lottery hurts the most and how that harm might be mitigated is government at its greediest. Which, as even our most conservative friends would agree, is government at its worst.

And, alas, things are about to get even worse.

According to last week’s series, the Maine Lottery Commission earlier this year hired the Boston firm Fuseideas to come up with a plan to ratchet the Maine State Lottery to “maximum sales and profits.”

One problem: The lottery isn’t so hot among millennials, who apparently don’t understand a lot of the betting lingo and spend too much time with their noses buried in their smartphones to be gumming up their nails with scratch tickets.

The solution: a scavenger hunt.

Advises Fuseideas, “Kick off the ‘Scavenger Hunt’ for a package of lottery tickets and the search for the ‘golden ticket,’ which has an instant prize of $50,000. Maine Lottery would go to towns all over the state where there are Maine Lottery retailers, hiding a package of lottery tickets that may or may not contain a golden or silver ticket somewhere in the town. Clues to the location of the tickets would be given through Maine Lottery’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Once someone finds the tickets, they would take a photo of themselves and post on the Maine Lottery Facebook page in order to be eligible.”

Just imagine. A statewide frenzy of economically deprived Mainers, cellphones at the ready, scouring every nook and cranny from Kittery to Fort Kent until they find that one, ever-elusive $50,000 scratch ticket.

I hope they hide it in Kennebunkport.


]]> 44, 04 Nov 2015 11:27:22 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Just a sign of the times in Lewiston? Not to one mayoral candidate Wed, 21 Oct 2015 08:00:00 +0000 Google was probably the farthest thing from Joe Dunne’s mind this week when he dragged none other than Ho Chi Minh into the red-hot Lewiston mayoral race.

Yet there the headline sat Tuesday morning atop Google’s news feed for Maine, posted by the esteemed Washington Post: ” ‘Don’t vote for Ho Chi Chin’: Maine landlord’s political signs denounced as racist, disgusting.”

Vying for the nation’s attention below it were similar Google alerts from NBC, CBS, ABC …

Welcome to Maine, the way life should be – if not for guys who define “clever” as one part raw racism, one part sheer ignorance, and if you can make it all rhyme, by golly, all the better!

Guys like Joe Dunne.

“(Chin’s) ideas are more socialist and bordering on basically communism so I just did a little parody on that,” Dunne, a well-known local landlord, told the media who flocked to Lewiston on Monday. They’d come to eyeball the signs he’d hung, replete with hammers and sickles, rechristening Democratic candidate Ben Chin as “Ho Chi Chin” and urging the citizenry to “vote for more jobs and not more welfare.”

Ho Chi Chin? Right next to a drawing of Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh? Wasn’t that a tad, ahem, racist?

“I don’t think it’s racist at all,” deadpanned Dunne. “I just thought that it would make a point.”

So does a dunce cap.

At the root of this particular brouhaha is Dunne’s irritation at being branded a slumlord by the Maine People’s Alliance, for which Chin has worked since shortly after he graduated from Bates College in 2005. But this being Lewiston, the drama also comes with plenty of history.

Remember back in 2002 when then-Mayor Laurier Raymond wrote an open letter to the city’s Somali immigrants urging them to tell their friends and relatives to stay away? That led to dueling demonstrations between immigrant advocates and white supremacists, which in turn led to a sizable piece about Lewiston (and, by extension, Maine) in The New York Times.

Then there was the 2012 interview that current Mayor Robert Macdonald gave the BBC in which he told Lewiston immigrants to “come and accept our culture and leave your culture at the door.” Republican Macdonald, a municipal mini-me of Gov. Paul LePage, later claimed he was quoted out of context. Damn those Brits!

More recently, running for a third term against Chin and three other challengers, Macdonald put out a call for legislators willing to create an online registry of local welfare recipients – you know, just to make a point. The idea died from a lack of sanity.

Now we have Dunne, who has long been regarded as a buddy of Macdonald’s, shelling out over $400 for signs so offensive that even some of his commercial tenants asked that he remove them lest their businesses suffer from his cluelessness.

Heck, even Mayor Macdonald got the jitters when he heard about the signs days before they went up.

“I asked (Team Dunne), ‘Please don’t do this,’ and told them it is only going to come back on me and people are going to think I’m responsible for it and I am not,’ ” Hizzoner told the Sun Journal of Lewiston.

Note to Joe Dunne: When Mayor Macdonald tells you you’ve crossed the line, you’re in another solar system.

Which brings us to what could be a turning point for Lewiston, a community that in reality is doing far better than the caricature created every time a Raymond or a Macdonald or a Dunne nominates himself as Maine’s latest resident no-brainer.

In an interview Tuesday, I asked Chin – a third-generation American, by the way – why he stuck around Lewiston after graduating from Bates when so many students pack up and leave without so much as a backward glance?

He talked about how much he likes the city’s rich industrial history, fueled by the hard work of the French-Canadians, the Irish and other waves of immigrants. How there’s a grittiness to Lewiston that testifies not to its industrial decline, but to its determination to press onward. How even now, after all the nasty headlines of the past decade, Lewistonians of different colors and cultures work daily to build bridges, not obliterate them.

“It’s the first place that ever felt like home,” Chin said.

Think about that. Even as his worst opponent publicly compares him to Ho Chi Minh, Chin sings his hometown’s praises in a way the immigrant/welfare haters never have and never will. That may not be Google-worthy, but it sure sounds a lot like leadership.

So let this rough-and-tumble election proceed. If the conventional wisdom is correct, Macdonald will retain enough of his conservative base to finish first or second, but won’t win a majority vote in such a crowded field.

Chin, meanwhile, who’s worked his tail off campaigning since last winter and has clearly benefited from Dunne’s attack (God love all those shocked and indignant Republicans), could well end up the second of the top two, sub-50-percent finishers.

That would set up a runoff election between Macdonald and Chin – and a much-needed battle for Lewiston’s heart and soul.

I’m rooting for Chin.

Maine needs a fresh set of headlines.


]]> 134, 04 Nov 2015 11:30:22 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Good Will-Hinckley drama puts truth about LePage in spotlight Sun, 18 Oct 2015 08:00:00 +0000 Maybe it’s too soon to invoke the name of Col. Nathan Jessup. But then again, maybe he’s already in our midst.

Jessup, you’ll recall, was the Marine colonel with the .50-caliber eyes played by the legendary Jack Nicholson in the 1992 classic film “A Few Good Men.”

Late in the movie, a hostile Jessup is being examined by Navy defense attorney Daniel Kaffee (played with equal skill by Tom Cruise) over Jessup’s role in the death of a young Marine at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At issue: whether Kaffee’s clients, two Marines who attacked and inadvertently killed the victim, were acting on orders from Jessup.

“You want answers?” snarls Jessup.

“I think I’m entitled to them,” replies an indignant Kaffee.

Jessup: “You want answers?”

Kaffee: “I want the truth!”

Jessup: “You can’t handle the truth!”

With that, Jessup embarks on one of the most famous meltdowns in Hollywood history. Only when it’s over, after he’s admitted to issuing the “code red” and he’s being read his rights does the colonel recognize the hole into which he’s dug himself.

“I’m being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I’m being charged with a crime? This is funny, that’s what this is. This is …”

Going for Kaffee’s throat as two military police quickly block his path, Jessup bellows: “I’m going to rip out your eyes and (expletive) in your dead skull! You’ve (expletive) with the wrong Marine!”

I challenge anyone in Maine to watch that clip today and not think of Gov. Paul LePage.

The Big Guy, to be sure, was nowhere in sight last week as the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee rolled up its sleeves and reached into the bucket of extortion involving LePage, the Good Will-Hinckley School and House Speaker Mark Eves.

At issue: whether LePage overstepped his bounds last June when he threatened to withhold $530,000 in state funding for the private school – and effectively put it out of business – unless its board rescinded its recent hiring of Eves as the school’s new president.

Overstepped his bounds? If the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that Paul LePage doesn’t just ignore the lines within which most decent Mainers conduct their lives. He obliterates them every chance he gets, proudly and with a vengeance only Col. Jessup himself could admire.

But in the Eves affair, we have something far more sinister than the many and varied gaffs, insults and injuries to Maine’s reputation inflicted by LePage since he took office.

We have bipartisan agreement – witness Thursday’s 8-3 committee vote, with Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Richard Campbell of Orrington siding with the Democrats – to subpoena LePage’s legal counsel Cynthia Montgomery and senior counsel Adam Chadbourne to find out more about their roles in putting the screws to Good Will-Hinckley.

(Their likely replies: “We’re sorry, Mr. Chairman. We were too busy hiding under the Cabinet Room table during the governor’s ‘venting session’ last June to actually hear what he was saying. Plus, sir, with all those chairs crashing against the walls …”)

We also have at least one LePage enabler, Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, who suggested that Good Will-Hinckley was partially culpable here because it should have known that hiring Eves would tick off the Big Guy. Honest to God, if tiptoeing around accountability were an Olympic sport, Burns would be the next Joan Benoit Samuelson.

We also have the downright stupid – at least let’s hope that’s all it was. Jack Moore, the Good Will-Hinckley board chairman who actually pulled the trapdoor from under Eves, confirmed that he did in fact receive one of LePage’s notorious handwritten notes referring to Eves as a “hack” and ordering his immediate dismissal. And what did Moore do with this crucial piece of evidence?

He threw it away. (Why not at least put it up on eBay to offset the Guv’s anticipated legal bills in the federal lawsuit Eves has brought against him? Starting bid: $400,000.)

And where’s the Big Guy on all of this? Well, let’s see: First and foremost, it’s all the media’s fault. Government Oversight Committee Chairman Katz should recuse himself because he’s “biased” (a word LePage often confuses with “intelligent”). And, as always, this Guv can do no wrong.

All of which makes him the political prototype of Col. Jessup, who regarded the people he and his fellow Marines protected not with dedication and respect but with disdain and the deeply rooted belief that without him “up there on that wall,” the rest of us were toast.

The world is full of Jessups. The problem is they rarely get beyond the din of the local watering hole, let alone spend five years (and counting) in the Blaine House. And lest we forget as this mess drags on, they tend to get crazier the more they’re backed into a corner.

It would be tempting to just get on with it and see if the Legislature has the gumption to take LePage on, mano-a-wacko-mano.

He has, after all, committed extortion. He’s clearly abused his public-sector power in a private-sector vendetta. He’s even left some of his base wondering suspiciously: “Wait a minute. If you get fired before you start work, can you collect unemployment?”

But there’s a process to be followed here. And much to their credit, the majority on the oversight committee plans to follow it because, as Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, put it, “This committee is always stalwart in sticking to get the information.”

Only with that information can the House of Representatives then decide whether LePage’s hit constitutes a “misdemeanor” worthy of impeachment – an action unprecedented in Maine’s otherwise proud history.

And only then can the Maine Senate, where LePage’s Republican loyalists grow quieter by the month, decide whether the Big Guy is still fit to be governor.

I know. A good many of us have been asking that question since the day LePage first took the oath of office.

But the truth is that he’s spent just about every day since then adding fuel to that fire.

The truth is he’s hurt Maine infinitely more than he’s helped it.

The truth is LePage and his minions, long misguided and incompetent, now stand in open defiance of the limitations on their power.

And it’s time Maine handled the truth.


]]> 232, 04 Nov 2015 11:30:39 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Veto says LePage doesn’t trust Maine hunters Fri, 22 May 2015 08:00:00 +0000 Dear Governor LePage,

It’s been too long, hasn’t it, Big Guy?

I know you’ve been busy and, in my own way, so have I. But I’ve followed your exploits all spring and couldn’t let the week end without firing an admittedly out-of-nowhere question your way:

Why don’t you trust Maine hunters?

I’m talking about “An Act to Allow a Moose Permit to Be Transferred to a Family Member” – a seemingly obscure bill passed overwhelmingly and without fuss by both chambers of the Legislature late last month.

The measure’s aim could not have been more true. Sponsored by Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, it would allow someone who wins a moose-hunting permit in the state’s annual lottery to transfer said permit to a deserving family member no later than 30 days before the start of the moose-hunting season.

Why, with only 2,815 permits being awarded this year out of more than 50,000 applicants, would a lucky winner do such a thing?

Well, in this case, as Sen. Miramant explained to me this week, a constituent with a permit has a relative who’s dying of cancer and wanted to bag a moose while there’s still time.

Now, I admit, as someone who’s been grappling with cancer myself lately, that I have a soft spot for anyone looking to counterbalance the latest CT scan with an item on his or her bucket list.

That sentiment was clearly shared by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle when, much to their credit, they gave a thumbs-up to Miramant’s proposal a few weeks ago.

But then the bill landed on your desk. And rather than add your rubber stamp to this piece of compassionate and bipartisan lawmaking, out came your fully loaded veto pen.

You lamented in your veto letter how people often complain “that Maine’s hunting and fishing laws are too complicated and this bill simply compounds this problem by adding yet another wrinkle to our hunting laws.”

Too complicated? A grandson with a permit saying to his dying grandfather, “Here, Grampa, you take it,” is too complicated?

You also noted that some of your constituents “are frustrated that after applying for years, they are never drawn in the moose lottery.”

Cry me a river. I can only imagine how some of these folks must feel about their hard-earned weekly investments in the Maine Lottery.

But here’s the part that stopped me in my tracks, Governor. As you so tactfully put it in your veto message, “This bill … opens up a brand new avenue for families to engage in new schemes concerning the moose lottery to try to game this system in new and innovative ways.”

My first reaction upon reading that was you mistakenly thought this was a welfare bill and thus the phrases “engage in new schemes” and “game the system” were simply your default reaction – kind of like that picture of you with the goofy smile that my computer tosses back at me whenever I punch “Paul LePage” into Google.

But then it hit me. You, the chief executive of the great State of Maine, suffer from STD. Also known as selective trust deficit.

We already know far too well how that applies to welfare recipients: Until they can prove otherwise, their singular reason for existing is to mooch off hardworking Maine taxpayers – many of whom make so little in their low-paying jobs that they’re also welfare recipients.

Smooth-talking guys in suits, on the other hand – and this is where the “selective” part of your disorder comes in – treat Maine like their personal ATM via state-funded reports they plagiarized and shady “job creation” schemes that line only their pockets at the expense of every man, woman and child in Maine. And yet you offer up not so much as a whimper.

Enter the hunters, who have long been considered part of your base – at least until now.

Sen. Miramant tells me his bill is simply an attempt to untie the hands of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock, who told lawmakers through his legislative liaison that he occasionally gets heart-wrenching requests to help make a sportsman’s dream come true.

In this case, an entire family entered the lottery in the hope someone would win a permit and could simply hand it over to their dying loved one. But until now, the law hasn’t given the commissioner the discretion to sign off on such a humanitarian gesture.

So the Legislature gave the commissioner the green light, confident that he will use his good judgment in distinguishing between those permit transfers that are for the right reasons and those that aren’t.

“It was very bipartisan,” Miramant told me. “Republicans and Democrats, all of a sudden everybody felt like they’d worked on something together. It was like you were at a ‘Make a Wish’ thing – you’d just done something really good.”

Hear that, Governor? No nasty accusations about hidden agendas. No political hostage-taking. Nothing but bonhomie in a place that’s seen far too little of such a thing since you took office four-plus years ago.

Then you vetoed it.

And then on Tuesday, the Legislature overrode your veto.


I won’t succumb to the temptation to connect the dots between your life as a street kid in Lewiston and your lingering reluctance to trust so many of your fellow Mainers.

But I will say this, Governor. A big part of leadership is believing in the people you lead, knowing in your gut that when given a chance to do the right thing, that’s exactly what most (if not all) of them will do.

Another sign of a true leader is recognizing that when we lift an individual out of a particular need, we simultaneously lift ourselves as a community, as an entire state.

But that’s not you, is it, Big Guy? As you harrumphed in that veto letter, “It is time we stop legislating for that one exceptional circumstance only to create a whole host of new, unintended consequences; and that is the only thing I see flowing from enactment of this bill.”

That’s not leadership, Governor. That’s the same old anger that’s been your weapon of choice since the day you first took office.

It’s about time it backfired.


]]> 62, 04 Nov 2015 11:27:50 +0000
Bill Nemitz: LePage’s plan to negate rule on nuclear power plants could be radioactive Sun, 26 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 Consider yourselves warned, fellow citizens. Gov. Paul LePage is fiddling around with Maine’s nuclear hot button.

“We anticipated this might provoke a conversation,” noted Patrick Woodcock, director of the Governor’s Energy Office, in an interview on Friday.

He’s talking about L.D. 1313, a bill quietly submitted by the LePage administration that would eliminate a longstanding requirement that any and all proposed nuclear power projects in Maine be put to a statewide referendum.

Under LePage’s new plan, scheduled for a hearing Wednesday at 1 p.m. before the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, voters would no longer have a say on the creation of nuclear power plants with generating capacities of 500 megawatts or less.

(Just so you know, the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant’s Unit 1 reactor – one of three destroyed by Japan’s apocalyptic tsunami in 2011 – had a generating capacity of 460 megawatts.)

Let’s back up a little.

Back in 1987, when the now-defunct Maine Yankee nuclear plant in Wiscasset was still a lightning rod for the state’s highly charged anti-nuclear movement, the Legislature passed a law mandating that future construction of “any nuclear power plant” in Maine “must be submitted to the voters of the State” before any ground is broken.

The 900-megawatt Maine Yankee plant, besieged by structural problems that rendered it unsafe and no longer financially viable, shut down in 1996 and was finally decommissioned in 2005. The shutdown essentially ended decades of debate over what role, if any, nuclear power should play in Maine’s energy portfolio.

Or so we thought.

To be fair, LePage’s out-of-nowhere effort to gut the referendum requirement is not aimed at building another Maine Yankee. Rather, it’s a come-hither wink to what some say is the next generation of nuclear technology – fully assembled “small modular reactors” that can be shipped here, there and everywhere to satisfy a need for electricity without all those sprawling buffer zones and long-distance transmission lines.

“You can put one on the back of a truck,” said Woodcock. “You can transport it by a tractor-trailer.”

Woodcock maintains that as the older, bigger nuclear plants in the Northeast power grid are retired – currently only three remain – the region will need to fill the void without resorting to fossil-fuel generation and a consequent uptick in greenhouse gas emissions. Small modular reactors, or SMRs, could help achieve that goal, he said.

Indeed, the smaller reactors have even attracted the support of the Obama administration, which included them in a recent executive order that government agencies obtain 30 percent of their energy from “alternative” technologies no later than 2025.

But back to Wednesday’s hearing. Considering the complexity and controversy bound to greet any talk of dusting off nuclear generation in Maine, why start with a bill that effectively tells voters they’re being cut out of the process?

Or, as longtime anti-nuclear activist Ray Shadis of Edgecomb put it on Friday, “You don’t start a conversation by throwing a hand grenade in the room.”

Shadis, who currently represents the lone remaining intervenor in the proposed relicensing of New Hampshire’s Seabrook nuclear plant, sees this week’s hearing as “the kind of rudeness we’ve come to expect from Gov. LePage.”

He also thinks the governor is dreaming if he thinks small modular reactors – the brainchildren of a new generation of nuclear engineers working mostly out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – can attract the investment capital needed to put them on the energy radar here in Maine or anywhere else, for that matter.

“It seems smart. It seems 21st century. But it is not,” Shadis said, noting that for all the design work that’s been done on small modular reactors over the past decade or so, they’ve generated virtually no interest on Wall Street.

“The most rabid anti-nuclear crowd are the investors in the market,” Shadis noted. “It takes a long time to realize any return at all. And the entirety of what you invest can turn from an asset to a liability overnight. Why bother risking your money? So they don’t.”

Thus, he said, LePage’s bill at best “is impractical, it’s silly. Out there in the energy world, where people are really trading on this stuff, it will make Maine the laughingstock. It will make us look like patsies.”

Shadis isn’t the only one watching with a raised eyebrow. Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, who co-chairs the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, can’t understand why the LePage administration would start this “conversation” by first erasing voters from the equation.

“I think nuclear power as a political question requires statewide conversation,” Dion said in an interview. “I mean, the fact that we would somehow use a technical standard of megawatts to determine whether constituents or citizens have a voice in deciding on how appropriate that technology might be for the state is an incredibly less candid way to begin that process.”

Don’t get him wrong. Dion sees the role of small-scale nuclear generation as “a legitimate policy question.”

“But this isn’t the way to do it,” he added.

Energy Director Woodcock, who concedes he’s too young to remember the rough-and-tumble days when protesters chained themselves to the fences of Maine Yankee and other nuclear power plants throughout New England, suggests we not look at L.D. 1313 as a curtailment of the public’s role in nuclear policy.

Rather, he said, it’s an acknowledgment that nuclear power is “a very different industry today” that isn’t going to come to a place like Maine if, in addition to a laborious permitting process, it must also wage a political campaign to get its project approved.

“I do believe this is almost clarifying,” said Woodcock. “Actually, what we’re really doing is making (the current statute) consistent with what the Legislature was envisioning when they passed this – that a Maine Yankee-style facility has to go through referendum.”

Actually, what young Woodcock is doing is revising history to suit his boss’s political agenda. When the Legislature said all those years ago that “any nuclear power plant” must have voter approval, it’s a pretty safe bet that it meant any nuclear power plant.

That said, even Woodcock is bracing himself for who, and how many, might show up come Wednesday.

“The legacy of Maine Yankee is going to color this,” he acknowledged. “I think it will provoke a debate.”

If not a political meltdown.

]]> 105, 04 Nov 2015 11:30:30 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Tuition gift for Guard an empty gesture if done on the cheap Fri, 24 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 Some thank-you gift: Maine National Guard soldiers would get free college tuition under a bipartisan bill unveiled this week – provided, of course, that taxpayers don’t actually have to pay for it.

It’s called “An Act To Increase Access to Postsecondary Education for Maine National Guard Members,” and make no mistake about it: No one deserves this piece of legislation more than the men and women who, as they have for generations, represent the best Maine has to offer.

But before we dislocate something while patting ourselves on the back for doing the right thing here, take note of this clause buried deep in the bill: “A state postsecondary education institution shall absorb the reduction in tuition revenues that results from providing (free tuition to eligible National Guard members). The institution may not request additional General Fund appropriations from the Legislature to offset the reduction in tuition.”

Translation: Rather than welcome National Guard soldiers and airmen with open arms into Maine’s public higher education system – complete with taxpayer-funded tuition waivers as a token of our admiration and appreciation for their service – the plan here is essentially to sneak them in the back door and force Maine’s already beleaguered public colleges to pick up the tab.

Which, when you think about it, is typical of modern-day America’s oft-professed “support” for our men and women in the military. From the scandal-ridden Veterans Administration to two recent wars that required precious little shared sacrifice beyond those who actually served or had loved ones in harm’s way, gratitude to the troops these days all too often comes without any messy dollar signs attached.

Flanked by 16 fellow lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette of Newport (himself a lieutenant colonel in the Maine Air National Guard) spoke nothing but the truth Wednesday when he called members of the Maine Guard “exactly the type of people we need and want here in Maine. We should be doing everything in our power to help them.”

Indeed we should. Starting with actually ponying up the money it costs to educate a student in any of the three institutions covered by the bill: the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System and Maine Maritime Academy.

To which Fredette and the bill’s other co-sponsors seem to be responding, “Cost? What cost?”

“To have another body in there, a member of the Maine National Guard, does not cost that institution any money,” said Fredette, drawing on his experiences as a teacher of college courses over the years.

“They don’t have to hire another teacher, they don’t have to have more lights on, they don’t have to heat a room differently,” he said. “To me it’s just another body in the room that I’m teaching to.”

Hear that groaning? It’s Maine’s higher-education bean counters, long attacked from multiple fronts for not having their fiscal houses in order, now searching for an algorithm that accounts for students in camouflage earning associate or bachelor’s degrees while remaining financially invisible.

The problem with the “one more student doesn’t cost more” rationale isn’t just that it’s intellectually dishonest – even Fredette acknowledged that he’s spoken with the heads of the three institutions and “they have a different position on this in terms of funding.”

Equally troubling is that the bill’s proponents haven’t a clue about how many National Guard members would take advantage of the free offer. (The bill requires that all other educational benefits, such as the federal, post-911 GI Bill for soldiers and airmen who have served overseas, be exhausted before the state benefit kicks in.)

Fredette said the University of Maine System projected 50 to 200 takers at an estimated annual cost to the system of $1 million, but added that “may be a little bit of a guesstimate because we won’t know for sure.”

So what if the number turns out to be, say, 500 servicemen and women?

And what if, rather than one extra student per classroom, three or four show up and suddenly the maximum class size is exceeded and there’s a waiting list? Who gets bumped first, the student who paid from his or her own pocket or the soldier who paid nothing?

And what about all those non-classroom administrative costs: student ID, transcript requests, parking permits, to name but a few. Are those, as Fredette put it, not “costing anybody any real money” either?

The point here is not that this bill is a bad idea. In addition to being the right thing to do, it would keep smart, capable young men and women here in Maine rather than sending them to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other states where National Guard soldiers already receive tuition benefits.

But saying they’re giving something to Maine’s guardsmen and women when in fact the lawmakers are passing the price on to the schools – and thus putting the real burden on the students, faculty and staff already there – perpetuates the paper-thin “we support our troops” myth that has dogged our military since the first troops invaded Afghanistan way back in 2001. If support doesn’t mean an occasional opening of taxpayer wallets, then what does it truly mean?

It means this bill could get messy if, as Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Mick Devlin predicted after the news conference, General Fund money to pay for the National Guard tuitions is eventually added to the mix. Imagine Gov. Paul LePage, whose office was at least briefed on the bill, vetoing it because Maine can’t afford any more handouts to … our sons and daughters in uniform?

Better, right now, to stop having it both ways, come up with a credible cost estimate and fund this mandate from the get-go. And in the process, send a clear signal to Maine’s National Guard members that their value to us is more than just rhetorical – it’s as real as the sweat on their faces as they go about the heavy lifting that 99 percent of the American population would just as soon leave to someone else.

Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, who retired in 2013 as command chief master sergeant for the Maine Air National Guard, knows better than most about the sacrifice inherent in military service. He’s co-sponsoring the bill, he said, because “it’s kind of time to put our money where our mouth is.”


Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

]]> 15, 04 Nov 2015 11:27:51 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Trying to get to the bottom of 24-bucket diaper dump Sun, 19 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 Everyone likes a good mystery: a whodunit murder … the perfect bank heist … the wanton dumping of buckets brimming with used diapers in Maine’s otherwise pristine wilderness.

“Several bright orange Home Depot 5-gallon buckets of waste have recently been found dumped at multiple locations on Wilson Stream in Wilton and Temple Stream in Farmington,” posted the Maine Warden Service on its Facebook page last week. “To date, more than 24 buckets have been located. Game Wardens are asking that anyone with information contact local wardens at 1-800-452-4664.”

By “waste,” they mean used adult diapers. And by “information,” they mean clues that could actually lead them to the who, what, when, where and, above all, why behind a crime that has understandably captured the local citizenry’s imagination at the height of the winter runoff season.

What the wardens don’t appear to be getting, however, is any truly useful intel.

Instead, if the close to 200 comments on their Facebook page are any indication, they’re hip-deep in a torrent of suggestions, speculation and, alas, suspicion from folks who don’t take kindly to their waterways being transformed into septic transfer stations.

“Nursing home or similar facility within five miles of dumping,” theorized one poster.

“Someone who has hospice care at their home and doesn’t want to pay for disposal!! Sad!!” offered another.

“Painters usually buy these for mixing paint. That is where I would start checking,” said one, failing to explain what a professional painter would be doing with all those used diapers in the first place. No porta-potties on the job site?

Fretted yet another, “I’m wondering if … this is not something more sinister going on like People in captivity.”

Not since the North Pond Hermit has rural wrongdoing so captured the public imagination.

Beyond the profilers (who also include the token “They get government check guaranteed.”), we have the armchair detectives who clearly take their cues from the last rerun of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

“Go to the Home Depots in that county or online for the local zip codes and ask them for records of all the bucket sales,” suggests one such sleuth. “When you find the specific sales, then you watch the security videos and see who made the purchases. If they paid for them with Credit/Debit, you’ll immediately have a name. If not, that’s the police’s job to find out who they are. Not rocket science.”

“Do DNA testing on the diapers,” instructed a budding pathologist.

Other investigative strategies range from “fingerprints” to nearby residents “with no indoor plumbing or with septic problems” to the all-encompassing “need to do FBI work those orange buckets must mean something.”

Then there’s this voice of reason: “Lay off the crime shows. Running the UPC will only tell you the buckets are from Home Depot. The code is the same at all stores and online. Running DNA would be costly and time consuming. There are currently thousands of rape kits sitting in crime labs because there is no money to process them. As far as fingerprints go, they likely wore gloves. … At least I hope they did since they were handling buckets of waste. Yes, sales that were other than cash could be traced and surveillance footage could be viewed. However, do you realize how many people still pay cash? A lot. It is not uncommon for people to buy a lot of these buckets at one time as they have many legal uses. Also, the person could be buying them at multiple locations as well as online. Perhaps concealed trail cams near the dump sites? Maybe a photo could be obtained?”

Much to ponder there, from the poor guy who innocently bought a dozen buckets at the Home Depot in Waterville (the nearest store, by the way) and now lies awake at night seeing himself on a grainy store security tape, to the sly-as-a-fox perpetrator driving up and down the Maine Turnpike to buy one – and only one – bucket at every Home Depot he passes.

Finally, we have the punishers, who skip all the ruminating and get right to the consequences if (no, make that when) the Diaper Dumper is ever brought to justice and eternal humiliation.

Says one wannabe juror: “I say when caught, the contents should be dumped into (their) homes and made to live with it!!!”

Daydreams another, “I’d love to catch them and bend their fingers way back.”

Predicts yet another, “Now liberals will outlaw 5 gallon pails !!!”

Seriously? Even this is a liberal plot?

It could be worse. Back in 2005, the bus driver for the Dave Matthews Band was crossing a bridge when he impulsively jettisoned 800 gallons of sewage from the vehicle’s holding tank into the Chicago River below.

What driver Stefan Wohl didn’t realize was that at that very moment, the tour boat Chicago’s Little Lady was passing by filled passengers who, as the Chicago Tribune dutifully reported, suddenly found themselves in “a downpour of foul-smelling, brownish-yellow slurry that ruined their clothes and made several of them sick.”

The passengers got refunds. Wohl, upon pleading guilty to reckless conduct and water pollution, got 18 months of probation, 150 hours of community service and a $10,000 fine. And the Chicago Park District got $50,000 from the Dave Matthews Band “to begin the healing process.”

But back to Maine.

Efforts late last week to reach investigating Warden Kris McCabe, who gets my vote for the least lucky law enforcement officer in Maine right about now, were unsuccessful.

But there’s no question the warden service is taking this seriously.

They’ve offered a $500 reward through Operation Game Thief (apparently there’s no reward fund for human waste dumpers) for information that helps them capture and convict whoever’s behind this caper.

Which brings us to one more post from the peanut gallery: “They will probably turn themselves in for $500.00.”

At last. We have a motive.

]]> 10, 04 Nov 2015 11:27:52 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Republicans in Maine Senate just keep turning right Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 The Maine Senate’s ruling GOP is beginning to look like a Gang of Panderers.

Logic would suggest that the Republican majority in the Senate, seeing as it’s in control and all, would by now have stopped playing to its increasingly right-tilting base and instead be actually governing– you know, doing the hard stuff.

But at least a few of them can’t seem to help themselves.

We begin with Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, and “An Act To Establish a 180-day Residency Requirement for Welfare Benefits.”

Presented by Brakey on Wednesday to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, the bill would render MaineCare along with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the state’s food supplement program and local general assistance off limits to anyone who has been in Maine for less than six months. Including, of course, immigrants – although Brakey goes to great lengths to insist they’re not the folks he’s targeting here.

“Anyone arriving in Maine to seek the American Dream – an opportunity to find honest work, put food on the table for their family, and contribute to our Maine economy – should be welcomed with open arms,” Brakey, who co-chairs the committee, said in a prepared statement.

(Just as long as those open arms don’t include a food or housing voucher.)

Brakey goes on to decry Maine as a “welfare magnet,” adding, “We must instead build a strong economic magnet, attracting immigration to Maine because of a vibrant economy with plentiful work opportunities.”

Oh, please.

For starters, even Department of Health and Human Services spokesman David Sorensen conceded this week that only 93 out of 14,000 people on TANF (less than 1 percent) moved to Maine within the last six months.

Then there’s the fact that a similar bill already went belly-up back in 2011 when the Republicans, now the minority in the House, controlled both chambers. If it couldn’t pass then, what makes Brakey think it will now?

And if it does pass, there’s that pesky issue of whether it’s constitutional. Which, the U.S. Supreme Court has twice declared, it is not.

No matter, Brakey told The Associated Press on Tuesday: “I think this is a situation where the courts have it wrong and if it’s something that has to be fought in court again, I think it’s a fight worth having because our welfare system is out of control.”

Not unlike the GOP’s anti-welfare hysteria.

Next up we have Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon Falls and “An Act to Provide Access to Infertility Treatment.”

Sounds straightforward enough – the measure would require insurance companies to cover at least part of the cost of infertility treatments.

Except there are a couple of catches: First, you have to be married. Second, if your infertility stems from a sexually transmitted disease, no insurance benefit for you!

Lest anyone get too excited about these two holier-than-thou stipulations, Mason assured the Insurance and Financial Services Committee on Tuesday that he’ll be happy to take them out if it will help get his bill passed.

“This is the original draft of the bill,” Mason told the committee. “I’m totally willing to do something that fits Maine better, and that is why we have the committee process.”

So why include the married/STD stuff in the first place? A wink and a nod to your religious conservative friends that you haven’t given up on the sanctity of marriage? A disapproving wag of the finger at those who commit the sin of gonorrhea?

Finally, there’s the on-again, off-again effort by Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, to run Maine through the bed of hot coals that just scorched the entire states of Indiana and Arkansas in their disastrous efforts to short-circuit the national same-sex marriage juggernaut.

A beleaguered Burns announced Wednesday that he’s withdrawing “An Act to Enact the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” (somebody sound the redundancy alarm) because we media types and other “opponents” have unfairly cast it in the same light as all-but-identical legislation that last month caused a backlash of biblical proportions in Indiana.

There, you’ll recall, lawmakers passed a bill mandating that state and local governments cannot “substantially burden a person’s right to the exercise of religion” unless it’s “to further a compelling governmental interest” in the least restrictive way possible. Translation: If you make wedding cakes and have a religious problem with homosexuality, you can refuse to make wedding cakes for homosexuals.

That’s when all hell broke loose. Human rights groups, businesses large and small, you name it, saw this for the end run around same-sex marriage that it was. With “Boycott Indiana” fever sweeping the land, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence blamed it all on a “perception problem” and frantically urged Indiana lawmakers to make clear that the bill is not meant to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Around the same time in Arkansas, a similar backlash on a similar law prompted Gov. Asa Hutchinson to perform a similar backpedal quicker than you can say “swimming against a swiftly swirling sociological tide.”

Enter Sen. Burns, who nonetheless forged ahead with his bill with the explicit backing of the entire Republican leadership of the Maine Senate – in the first state to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote, no less – until the protesters were literally gathering outside the State House. By Wednesday, Burns, probably envisioning himself atop the national network news, shifted quickly into reverse.

“Opponents of this bill and some in the media have poisoned the well of public discussion,” Burns complained in a written statement. “They have been guided by an unwillingness to discuss factual information and inaccurate comparisons to the events in Indiana.”

Baloney. What those opponents have done is exercise their democratic right to speak out against a measure that is as duplicitous as it is, in fact, discriminatory.

And for Burns to now claim “inaccurate comparisons’ between his bill and those elsewhere falls somewhere between downright delusional and flat-out fiction: As Press Herald State House staffer Steve Mistler reported this week, 14 of the 16 states where such “religious freedom” bills have been proposed this year recently legalized same-sex marriage.

What makes Burns’, Mason’s and Brakey’s bills so maddening isn’t just that they have no chance of actually passing the Democratic House and thus are an utter waste of the Legislature’s valuable time.

Rather, it’s that they’re so personal, so rooted in judgment of others, so wrapped in the threadbare far-right mantra, “You don’t align with our moral compass, so we’re going to pass a law making your life more difficult. Or at least we’ll raise a ruckus trying, which also makes your life more difficult.”

Pander on, Maine GOP, pander on.

]]> 36, 20 Apr 2015 11:43:47 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Litter reduced at the source, now let’s deal with the slobs Wed, 15 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 I just came back from a long dog walk stuck on an out-of-nowhere question: How hard is it while driving along at, say, 35 miles per hour, to toss a 17-inch-square pizza box out your side window?

Clearly someone had done it – the soggy box stood out like a sore thumb in a litter-filled ditch alongside River Road here in otherwise bucolic Bar Mills.

But if texting while driving is dangerous, then what about littering large? And while texting at least has a purpose, what is the point behind wrestling a box out your window with your free hand when it would be much easier (and safer) to leave it on the floor or slip it behind the front seat until you get home?

My head-scratching reverie was actually prompted by good news: As of today in the city of Portland, polystyrene cups and takeout containers are verboten, done, illegal.

Simultaneously – and further proof to many rural Mainers that Portland is a socialist enclave shackled in political correctness – a 5-cent fee will forthwith be charged for every disposable plastic and paper shopping bag handed out by retailers throughout the city.

Naysayers aside, this is a big leap forward in keeping not only Maine’s largest city clean, but also adjacent Casco Bay. (Tip of the hat to Friends of Casco Bay for serving as the new ordinances’ catalyst.)

But it only addresses half the problem – the many and varied sources of the plastic and polystyrene that make up a big chunk of our 21st century stream of roadside trash. Still getting off the hook are the slobs who actually discard the stuff.

They’re everywhere. And never is their mindless disregard for their surroundings more apparent than mud season, when the snowbanks slowly recede to reveal all the dumping that’s gone on in the dark of winter.

The dogs and I have seen it all the past month or so, including four families’ worth of McDonald’s detritus down by Fountain Road. After walking past it two days in a row, I finally brought along two of those plastic shopping bags and filled them, until one started to split down the side.

“Do Mom and Dad hand out the burgers and shakes and chuck the rest?” I wondered. “Or do they just tell the kids, ‘Eat up and don’t forget to toss out your trash!’ ”

Then there are the drinkers: About 300 yards from their nearest point of purchase, the single-shot liquor bottles start sprouting by the dozens from the snow like so many plastic crocuses.

Right here in front of me I have an empty, pale-blue nip of Pinnacle Strawberry Shortcake Vodka – I plucked it from the sand to see if these things at least have a 5-cent deposit like other Maine beverage containers. They don’t.

The refuse list goes on: from an empty pack of Marlboro Lights (and, scattered for miles, every butt it once held) to Skoal Smokeless Tobacco, from scratched-out lottery tickets to discarded utility bills, from an old pillow down by the cemetery to a 2-foot piece of 2-inch PVC pipe about 100 yards farther up the road. Inexplicably, someone took the pipe the other day and carefully placed it atop the pillow.

Back in 2009, Keep America Beautiful undertook a study of not just the country’s current volume of litter, but also the behavior of the litterers. The 62-year-old nonprofit then compared its findings with those from a similar snapshot back in 1969.

It’s a mixed bag. Plastic litter was up a whopping 165 percent over the four-decade period, while the national tab for annual litter pickup and prevention is now pegged at $11.5 billion.

Overall, though, littering was actually down 61 percent over those 40 years. I attribute that in large part to those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and were fed a steady diet of print and television ads. They lambasted litter for the national scourge it was and exhorted us with that omnipresent jingle, “Please, please don’t be a litterbug, ’cause every litter bit hurts.”

It’s been years since the anti-litter movement had such mass-media status – some say the campaign withered in 1984 when then-New York Mayor Ed Koch launched a campaign to clean up the Big Apple by recasting “litterbugs” as “litterpigs” – the former moniker, Hizzoner explained, did not “truly convey the disgust I have for these people.”

No surprise then, according to Keep America Beautiful, that younger people who have never been taught otherwise “consistently … are more likely to litter” than we older folks and thus “present a clear market segment for focused messaging and campaigns.”

Or, rather than gently persuade litterbugs to change their ways, we could just start busting them.

Under Maine law, casting up to 15 pounds or 27 cubic feet of litter is a civil infraction punishable by a fine between $100 and $500. Get caught doing it from a car and the Secretary of State’s Office will add a penalty point to your driving record.

Like that actually happens?

“It might have,” mused Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap on Tuesday. “But it almost never makes its way to my desk. I get the rusty wheels that really squeak.”

That said, Dunlap was listening to the police radio in his car while driving home the other night when he heard a dispatcher relay a 911 call from an irate motorist who had just witnessed a major trash dump from the car ahead of him and wanted to report an environmental crime in progress.

“He had the license plate number, the vehicle description, everything,” Dunlap recalled. “That was probably the first time I’d ever heard that on the radio.”

So there’s hope.

Maybe Portland’s new ordinances, along with a polystyrene packaging ban and current consideration of a bag ban in Freeport, will rekindle our social conscience like those flaming rivers and mountains of roadside trash did a half century ago.

Maybe more corporations – Starbucks’ new reusable cup comes to mind – will wake up to the fact that environmentally friendly packaging helps their bottom line at the same time it’s protecting our ecosystem.

And maybe those of us who wouldn’t drop so much as a gum wrapper should start speaking up to the 17 percent of Americans who, according to Keep America Beautiful, can’t walk more than 12 paces without dropping their empty, 16-ounce foam coffee cup on the ground.

So let me be the first to sound off. To the greasy-fingered driver who threw out that pizza box on River Road in Bar Mills, did you know those things come in handy whenever you need to catch drippings from a paint can, or make a yard-sale sign, or patch the hole from a broken window (like I’m currently doing)?

Better yet, when you’re done – what’s the word, “repurposing?” – you can even toss those cardboard monstrosities into the nearest recycling container and back they’ll go into the pizza-supply chain.

Trust me, it’ll make you feel better.

It’ll make your – or at least my – neighborhood look better.

And no one will call you a litterpig.

]]> 28, 04 Nov 2015 11:27:55 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Why do so many Mainers want to carry concealed weapons? Fri, 10 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 One day back when I was a young kid, my grandfather was reaching for his hat on the high shelf of the front-hall closet when he felt something next to it. Much to my utter astonishment, he pulled down an unloaded handgun.

“What’s this?” Gramp, a retired Boston cop, asked my father.

“I got it while I was in the service,” Dad replied. “Thought it might be good to keep around.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” replied Gramp, looking around at his growing brood of grandchildren as he slipped the weapon into his pocket.

End of discussion. And never again was there a gun in our household.

All of which is a roundabout way of conceding that I come to the never-ending debate over firearms in Maine from a decidedly non-gun perspective.

Not anti-gun, mind you – I have no quarrel whatsoever with those law-abiding folks who hunt, target shoot, collect weapons or live far enough out in the woods that a firearm provides them an extra layer of security against things that go bump in the night.

Still, this week’s focus on concealed weapons permits in Maine – and in particular, state Sen. Eric Brakey’s, R-Auburn, effort to do away with them altogether – has me flummoxed.

Brakey would have us believe that the issue here is actually about wearing a coat, not packing a pistol. Since it’s already legal in Maine to “open carry” a weapon for all to see, his proposed legislation would, as he put it at Wednesday’s packed hearing, “simply (allow) a legal gun owner to carry, while wearing a jacket, without a permit.”

If only it were that simple.

In reality, what Brakey and those lined up behind him want is for Maine to say the heck with it, if you want to carry a gun, go ahead and carry a gun. And if you want to hide it in your pocket, your waistband, an ankle holster, have at it.

But as you go about trying to avoid shooting yourself in the, whatever, answer me one question: Why?

Why do some people feel the need to lock and load every time they step outside their humble abode, while others don’t?

Now, I’m not talking about people who, say, deposit large amounts of cash at the end their workday and thus have a justifiable fear of being robbed.

Nor do I disagree that there are times – protection from abuse orders come to mind – when a handgun for defensive purposes might determine who lives and who dies.

But I was struck by one of the numbers tossed out in Augusta this week: According to the Maine State Police, 36,000 concealed weapons permits have been issued by the state, including 12,000 to non-residents.

This is in addition to the countless others (really, no one keeps count) handed out by local law enforcement agencies to anyone who is not a felon, is not involved in a domestic violence dispute, has earned a gun safety certificate, is of “good moral character” and answers correctly to a host of other questions required by state law.

Put more simply, tens of thousands of Mainers go about their daily business armed. And if Brakey’s bill passes, you’ve got to think that number will increase by a long shot.

Which brings us back to that “why” question.

Do they carry a concealed weapon because they’re truly afraid that without it, something terrible might happen to them?

If so, they have my sympathy. In the 38 years I’ve lived in Maine, I’ve never – not once – found myself in a situation where I thought, “Darn, if only I had a gun in my inside coat pocket.”

Do they harbor a Walter Mitty-esque fantasy that they’ll one day find themselves in the middle of a mall shooting or terrorist attack and save the day with a single, perfectly aimed shot at the crazed perpetrator?

I’ve had those fantasies, too. But deep down, I know the more guns you introduce to an out-of-control situation like that, the greater the chance that innocent people are going to get hurt.

Does the feel of a gun against their chest or hip or leg – or, for that matter, in their pocketbook – make them feel more powerful in a world that, according to the talking heads on cable news, gets crazier by the day?

Maybe so, although you’ve got to wonder what happens to that feeling the moment you pull out your weapon and actually shoot someone. My guess is it quickly gives way to a sense of helplessness.

Brakey’s bill, with its 96 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle and its support from the LePage administration’s Department of Public Safety, stands a better chance of passage than past failed attempts to make Maine a so-called “constitutional carry” state.

That will mean more armed people walking the streets of Maine, not fewer.

That will mean we know less, not more, about who those folks are and why they feel compelled to be armed.

And yes, with more guns in more pockets, it will mean the risk of civilians shooting other civilians – accidentally, intentionally and everywhere in between – will go up, not down.

That’s why I’m rooting for the likes Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, and Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

Gerzofsky, a member of the criminal justice committee, rightly reminded Brakey that while the Second Amendment allows U.S. citizens to bear arms, it doesn’t protect the right to “hide a gun.”

“That’s what you’re proposing,” Gerzofsky said. “You’re proposing to allow people to hide a gun.”

Sauschuck, who spoke in opposition to Brakey’s bill on behalf of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, told lawmakers he’s turned down 47 requests for concealed weapon permits in the past three years alone.

Observed Sauschuck, “Common sense would say, why wouldn’t you have a permitting process before allowing someone to conceal a firearm in the community?”

Speaking of common sense, I never did find out exactly what happened to that pistol after Gramp left with it that day.

But I know he didn’t keep it.

Gramp, the finest cop I ever met, hated guns.

And he feared nothing.

]]> 692, 04 Nov 2015 11:27:54 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Thank you, you lifted me. And doc says, ‘Liftoff!’ Sun, 05 Apr 2015 08:00:00 +0000 My doctor tells me I’m an astronaut.

As someone who has long dreamed of donning a pressurized suit and going into interplanetary orbit (I know, some of you out there think that’s where I’ve already spent the last couple of decades), I’m not saying actual space travel is in my immediate future.

Rather, we’re talking cutting-edge oncology here: A drug immunotherapy regimen that’s apparently so new it’s never before been tried on someone with my particular cancer profile. Thus, as my doc enthusiastically noted during a recent treatment strategy session, “You’re an astronaut!”

More on my unexpectedly bumpy ride through this medical frontier in a minute. First, I can proceed no further without two words for the entire state of Maine.

Thank you.

To the thousands of you who have taken the time to email, write, leave voicemails, send heartfelt gifts, cook meals for me and my rock-solid wife, Andrea, thank you.

Your thoughts and prayers have meant more than you’ll ever know over the two months since I prematurely announced “I’m back” from my initial diagnosis of Stage 4 melanoma, along with my 12-year-old case of chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL.

And what a two months it has been. Andy and I managed to get in our nine-day visit to St. John in the Virgin Islands, but just after we returned north, things went south.

Three emergency-room visits in early March (including a ride with my new heroes, the crew of Buxton Rescue) led to an 11-day stay at Maine Medical Center.

Major abdominal surgery, a targeted radiation surgery on a lesion in my brain, more zapping of my left armpit, needles, IV drips, the ever-reachable barf bag – fun it was not. Yet without the competence and compassion of Maine Med’s ever-vigilant doctors, nurses and support staff, it would have been a whole lot worse.

Nurse Rebekah knows what I’m talking about: The morning after my surgery, she found me out of bed and under the drug-induced notion that I was in the TV show “Gotham” and I had to get out of this place come hell or high water. Gently tucking me back in, Rebekah persuaded me I wasn’t “Gotham” Police Detective James Gordon after all.

Nurse Maria knows, too: Her four days watching over me ended with a dramatic and utterly unpleasant bout of post-surgical vomiting – but long after her shift had ended, Maria was still there, gently dabbing my neck and forehead with a cold cloth while the physicians figured out what to do next.

Seriously, folks, it’s hard to appreciate how lucky we are to have these living saints in our midst until you feel like your life depends on them. Which, at times, it does.


Now for the good news: I’m upright again, going for daily dog walks and, at long last, ready to reoccupy my perch in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram newsroom.

My treatment – the astronaut regimen – will continue for several months. There may be side effects and setbacks.

But honest to God, how could I watch the Press Herald’s video of an irate former Biddeford mayor Joanne Twomey delivering a jar of Vaseline to Gov. Paul LePage at his state-budget town meeting last week without lamenting, “Low … hanging … fruit.”

Speaking of the Big Guy, I had him batting .500 until his latest run-in with petroleum jelly.

Without a doubt, the Guv blew it big time when he falsely claimed last month that author (and major Maine philanthropist) Stephen King steers clear of legal residence in Maine to avoid paying state income taxes here.

My humble advice to Mr. King: Stop waiting for an apology. Ain’t gonna happen. Instead, we beg you, find a way to work the Governor Growl into your next horror novel – kind of like Cujo only with a flag lapel pin.

LePage absolutely nailed it, on the other hand, with his recent firing of Brig. Gen. James Campbell as commander of the Maine National Guard – this on the same morning Campbell was to present his “State of the Guard” address to a joint session of the Maine Legislature.

Heavy-handed? You bet it was.

But Campbell, widely described inside his own command as a “toxic” leader who derailed many an honorable military career during his 31-month stint atop the Maine Guard, had this coming.

And his failure to come clean with LePage about a shady plan to swap Maine’s much-valued 133rd Engineer Battalion for an out-of-state infantry unit? Well, any soldier worth his combat infantryman’s badge would know you deceive a guy like LePage at your own peril.

So thumbs up for you, Big Guy. Whatever your reasons for shocking Maine’s military establishment, you did the right thing.

Say what? All that radiation has gone to my head?

Maybe so. Or maybe, as I move from what I call the “mechanical” phase of my illness to the “systemic” phase that’s now (I hope) alerting my immune system to those sneaky melanoma cells, I’d rather re-engage with life in Maine than watch it go by from my way-too-comfy recliner.


I’d be deluding myself if I thought the rest of this journey will be a cakewalk. Still, I’ve come to believe in that constant current of positive energy flowing my way from those of you I know in person and those who, while we may not have met face-to-face, nevertheless have become the truest of friends.

I also believe strongly that just as we must occasionally weep, so must we chuckle. I couldn’t help but crack a smile three minutes into a recent MRI when, with my earphones hooked up to the music website Pandora, Bob Dylan started crooning “Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door …”

“Bob, come on,” I thought. “You’re killing me here.”

So here goes nothing. To all of the rest of you out there wrestling with this beast we call cancer, I wish you good luck, good health and, above all, good science.

I’ve learned a ton in a short time about ongoing advances in medical science from my cancer doc, who prefers to stay outside the spotlight on my illness and treatment.

But of all the words of wisdom the good doctor has imparted these past few months, none was as encouraging as his smiling farewell after he declared me an astronaut – my boyhood dream come true – and sent me off for my first two-hour drug infusion.

“Liftoff!” he said.


]]> 43, 07 Apr 2015 17:08:52 +0000
Bill Nemitz: No longer symptom-free, I embark on my battle with cancer Sun, 01 Feb 2015 09:00:00 +0000 Sorry I haven’t been around the last month or so. I got in a fight.

No, it had nothing to do with the Big Guy. In fact, at the very moment Gov. Paul LePage was raising his right hand and taking his second oath of office back on Jan. 7, I was lying on my side at Maine Medical Partners while a surgeon repeatedly poked a needle into my left armpit.

Penance for being a perennial thorn in the Guv’s side it was not.

A late-stage malignancy, unfortunately, it is.

So begins, at long last, my “battle with cancer.”

I’ve actually been a cancer patient for just over 11 years, living all that time under a cloud called chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL. But with the exception of a round of chemotherapy back in 2008, it hasn’t been what I’d call a battle.

Symptom-free virtually the whole time save for the occasional enlarged lymph node, I often felt like an impostor when people referred to me as a “cancer survivor” or referred to my “struggle with cancer” as if I were perpetually knocking on death’s door.

No longer.

Over the course of the last 11 months, one of those enlarged lymph nodes, located just beside my left armpit, grew to the size of a golf ball. What’s worse, it became increasingly painful.

Thus I found myself undergoing a “core biopsy” on the same day I’d hoped to be pounding away at my keyboard on the latest goings-on in Augusta.

And when that biopsy proved inconclusive, the same surgeon checked me into Maine Medical Center and took out the nasty node along with a good number of others in the vicinity.

The verdict: melanoma.

The stage: 4, meaning it’s spread to other parts of my body, including my lung and what appears to be my liver.

The prognosis: Well, let’s just say more than one doc has looked me in the eye these past few weeks and said, “This is not good.”

Which brings us back to that “battle with cancer,” an oft-used phrase that, in my humble opinion, misses the mark.

There’s no doubt that the good doctors – I’m now up to four – have the malignant cells in their sights as they consider treatments that will likely include radiation, additional surgery and drug immunotherapy to halt the spread of the melanoma if not eliminate it altogether. I see that as not-so-simple medical science – either the treatments will work, or they won’t.

The real battle for yours truly, though, is not with the cancer. It’s with myself.

Take fear, for example. It’s there day and night, just waiting for me to project out a month, six months, a year … The more I wander into the uncertain future, the more I succumb to my ever-active imagination and all those things I can neither predict nor control.

The antidote? I’ve found that living in the moment, the right now, works wonders in keeping those fears at bay. Refilling the bird feeders, once a mindless task, is now a welcome ritual that culminates in standing by the kitchen window and smiling out at the cardinals, chickadees, mourning doves and blue jays as they go about the simple act of winter survival.

Then there’s my addiction to the news, which until recently consumed an astounding portion of my day. Rather than toggle compulsively from Huffington Post to Politico to The New York Times and then on to all the Maine news websites, I’ve found unexpected comfort in the quiet act of reading a book. I’ve finished two so far.

One, “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, chronicles the heroic tale of the University of Washington eight-man crew that rowed out of nowhere to victory at Hitler’s 1936 Olympics. Brown focuses in particular on young Joe Rantz, a teenager abandoned by his Depression-era family who went on to wear an Olympic gold medal.

It left me thinking about beating the odds.

The other, “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne, tells the often-heartbreaking story of the Indian wars of the mid-to-late 19th century and, in particular, the rise and fall of the once-proud (and combative) Comanche Indian nation. The narrative revolves around Quanah Parker, one of the last Comanche holdouts, the son of an Indian father and a white-captive mother.

It left me pondering destiny.

Finally, I find myself battling a sense of isolation as I wait for the post-surgery soreness to subside (it has) and go about the many and varied house projects that, for lack of time, have languished for so long. Plastering an old kitchen wall is great physical therapy. Who knew?

But as my dear departed mother used to say, “Everything in moderation.” Too much time alone invites a sense of detachment from the rest of the world that I’m not ready to embrace.

Hence the dozens of phone calls to and from our beloved children, my ever-supportive siblings, my closest and oldest friends. Two buddies from high school came running when they heard the bad news – one, upon hearing that I needed to replace my basement steps, showed up with a ready-made staircase in the back of his pickup.

Then there are you, my faithful readers, many of whom have emailed or called to ask about my absence.

Your concern means more to me than you’ll ever know. Your hope that I’d return validates what for the past 20 years has been the best job a Maine journalist could imagine.

So I’m back.

I can’t yet promise the usual three columns per week as I balance work with the appointments and procedures that already fill my iPhone calendar like the snow piling up at the front doorstep. And my amazing wife, Andrea, and I fully intend to go ahead with a long-planned vacation to the Virgin Islands – if anyone deserves a break from this Maine winter, she does.

But I can tell you this. I’m blessed to live in a place like Maine, to work at a place like the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and to be surrounded by family, friends and colleagues who, worry as they might, buoy me day in and day out with their care packages, their words of encouragement, their thoughts and, last but by no means least, their prayers.

To hell with the cancer.

My battle is for them.

]]> 0, 31 Jan 2015 21:45:38 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Maine jails part empty of inmates or part full? Sun, 04 Jan 2015 09:00:00 +0000 Add this to the many and varied reasons Maine is such a great place to call home: Among all the states in the nation, we have the fewest people per capita behind bars.

It’s buried deep inside “Correctional Populations in the United States, 2013,” a bulletin released last month by the U.S. Department of Justice.

According to the report, Maine incarcerated an estimated 3,800 ne’er-do-wells in state or county lockups in 2013, which translates into 350 people per 100,000 of the state’s population.

How good is that? Well, the average for all 50 states is 830 inmates per 100,000 citizens. And if you check in on places like Louisiana (1,420), Oklahoma (1,300) and Mississippi (1,270), you’ll find those folks lock their criminals away at well over three times the rate we do here.

Part of Maine’s best-in-the-nation status (or worst, depending on which end of the criminal-justice telescope you prefer) could be attributed to who we are. Since we’re the oldest state in the nation, for example, one might surmise that with maturity comes wisdom and with wisdom comes the good sense to refrain from behavior that can land you in the slammer.

Or maybe it’s because Maine is consistently rated the most peaceful state, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s annual U.S. Peace Index. With peace comes serenity and with serenity comes fewer felonies, no?

But most of all, it appears Maine has fewer inmates because, for the last decade or so in particular, we’ve been working with admirable diligence to keep non-dangerous people out of jail.

“I think in Maine, we’ve been much more progressive around criminal justice policy and sentencing practices than we give ourselves credit for,” state Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, said in an interview Friday.

How so?

“I think some of the other states are really punitive,” he said. “They have a philosophy of retribution as opposed to rehabilitation. And whether or not we meet that aspirational goal here in Maine, I think there’s a consensus that (rehabilitation) is the purpose of corrections.”

Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, served in 2004 on Maine’s Commission to Improve the Sentencing, Supervision, Management and Incarceration of Prisoners. The high-powered group of judges, attorneys, lawmakers and other stakeholders in the criminal justice system spent months studying Maine’s penal system and ways to head off what back then was a skyrocketing increase in state and county jail populations.

To this day, Dion said, many of the commission’s 61 recommendations are, at best, works in progress. But a couple have made a real difference.

One is a steady reduction in the number of people – especially those with low incomes – who languish in jail for weeks and months before trial simply because they can’t afford bail. Today, many of those individuals not deemed dangerous are released to the supervision of Maine Pretrial Services, which keeps track of them until their court date.

Noted Dion: “We were paying more than $100 a day to hold someone who could be managed for a few dollars.”

At the post-conviction end of the legal process, Maine now relies increasingly on the “deferred disposition” strategy – again for those whose crime doesn’t translate into a threat to public safety.

Put simply, after the offender pleads guilty to the crime, the judge defers imposition of the sentence for a set amount of time. If the criminal abides by the court’s conditions during that deferral period – often including ongoing treatment of substance-abuse problems – the conviction is then dropped and the offender is free to get on with his or her life.

Dion, now a private attorney, always makes it a point to remind such people how lucky they are.

“When I have a client like that, I go, ‘This is where you get to meet Jesus. You’ve talked to Jesus, now we’re going to meet him,'” he said.

So how is Maine doing with its albeit modest correctional system more than a decade after it resolved to keep things from bursting at the seams?

“We can do better. And I believe we’ve got a system in place that can do better. But it’s going to require funding,” said Joel Merry, sheriff of Sagadahoc County and chairman of the Maine Board of Corrections.

Merry is the first to agree that “there are some people who belong in jail. You need to have jails to keep society safe. We know that.”

But the key to rehabilitation versus simple punishment, he said, is what happens to those people – or not – once the cell door slams shut.

According to census reports submitted each day to the Board of Corrections from Maine’s 14 county jails (the daily head counts were another of the commission’s recommendations), Maine averaged 1,830 county inmates in 2014. Add to that the 2,247 adult inmates in the state correctional system for the just-completed year and you get roughly 4,077 adults currently incarcerated throughout Maine – a noticeable uptick over the approximately 3,800 reported by the feds for 2013.

Why the increase?

From where Merry sits, it begins and ends with money. Maine’s county jail system, while consistently operating above its budgeted capacity of 1,814 inmates per day, actually has 120 empty beds spread out among three of its newer jails because, Merry notes, “we don’t have the money to staff them.”

Nor, Merry said, are Maine taxpayers all that excited these days about rehabilitation programs inside correctional facilities. Propose cutting a high school basketball team from a local school budget and you get a public insurrection, he noted, but take the scalpel to a prison’s drug-abuse or sex-offender program and you’re lucky to get a communal yawn.

“If you want to believe in rehabilitation and getting these people fixed, that is the time to do it – while they’re incarcerated,” Merry said. “But nobody cares. You’re going to lose that argument every time.”

In other words, while Maine leads the nation in not sending people to jail, we’re not sufficiently interested in what happens to the relative few who end up there?

“I would say your assumption is absolutely correct,” Merry said. “We need to do better.”

]]> 0, 03 Jan 2015 20:00:54 +0000
In Case You Missed It: Living with memories of Iraq attack Sun, 21 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 Editor’s note: Ten years ago today, a suicide bomber killed 22 people, including two members of the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion, in an attack on a military base in Mosul, Iraq. Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram Columnist Bill Nemitz and Photographer Greg Rec, who were embedded with the 133rd at the time, recently reconnected with some of the soldiers who survived to talk about the attack and how, a decade later, it continues to affect their lives.

The Rev. David Sivret, who runs a food pantry in Calais, was knocked out by the blast. When he came to, he ministered to the wounded all around him.

The Rev. David Sivret, who runs a food pantry in Calais, was knocked out by the blast. When he came to, he ministered to the wounded all around him. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The Rev. David Sivret sat inside a food pantry he operates in Calais on a recent raw December afternoon, the silence broken only by the ticking of a nearby clock.

“I try to keep as busy as I can – with not as many people around,” said Sivret, the former chaplain for the Maine Army National Guard’s 133rd Engineer Battalion. “If I keep busy, then I don’t have to think about it.”

But today, the shortest day followed by the longest night of the year, will be different.

On this day, Dec. 21, Sivret and hundreds like him will stop, close their eyes and travel back to Mosul, Iraq, back to the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Marez, back to the suicide bomber who in a single instant turned the week before Christmas into a living hell for anyone who bore witness to the attack and its grisly aftermath.

The bomber, dispatched by the terrorist Army of Ansar al-Islam and disguised as an Iraqi National Guard soldier, killed 14 U.S. soldiers, four American civilians and four Iraqi soldiers. Shrapnel from his explosive vest wounded 72 others, including six soldiers from Maine.

The massive explosion would go down as the deadliest single suicide attack on U.S. forces throughout the entire Iraq war. Its aftershocks, both physical and psychological, reverberate to this day.

It was a Tuesday, just four days before Christmas. Holiday decorations and cheery music filled the DFAC, or dining facility, at FOB Marez as soldiers streamed in for lunch, lined up at the food stations manned by civilian contractors and then fanned out among the plastic chairs and tables that could accommodate up to 600 personnel at a time.

Chaplain Sivret, accompanied by Maj. John Nelson, the 133rd’s chief medical officer, hungrily filled his plate with roast beef. Nelson opted for a chili cheese dog. Taking their seats about 20 feet from the food stations, Nelson dug in while Sivret lowered his head to say grace. He looked up just in time to see a bright flash directly behind his buddy.

“This isn’t the white light they talk about, when you die,” Sivret thought to himself as he and Nelson catapulted through the air. Then everything went black.

Harold “Butch” Freeman was seriously wounded in the dining hall bombing. Freeman now mentors young soldiers through the Wounded Warrior Project.

Harold “Butch” Freeman was seriously wounded in the dining hall bombing. Freeman now mentors young soldiers through the Wounded Warrior Project. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Staff Sgt. Harold “Butch” Freeman of Gorham had just filled his tray, grabbed his silverware and was turning to make a wisecrack to a soldier from West Virginia he recognized from lifting weights at the base gym. The next thing Freeman knew, he was flying backward as a wall of smoke and debris, seemingly in slow motion, came directly at him.

Landing on his back, Freeman quickly did a digital inventory: One, two, three … nine, 10 fingers. One, two, three … nine, 10 toes.

“Whew … that was close,” he told himself.

Nearby, Freeman saw a young soldier, gravely wounded, writhing in silence on the cement floor.

“Don’t give up,” Freeman implored the kid. “Hang on! Help is coming!”

But it was too late. Within seconds, the young man lay still.

Freeman tried to get up. Only then did he realize that he was awash in his own blood – the blast had shattered his right femur, ripped through his pelvis and severed an artery. He, too, was well on his way to bleeding out.

Suddenly, Freeman’s entire squad from the 133rd’s Bravo Company – they proudly called themselves the “Black Sheep” – surrounded him. One soldier grabbed a napkin dispenser, emptied it and stuffed the napkins into the gaping hole in Freeman’s thigh. The others got hold of a litter – only weeks earlier, “Doc” Nelson had placed them strategically throughout the DFAC along with emergency first-aid kits – and carried their stricken squad leader to a triage area just outside the mess hall.

“Mother (expletive)! You rotten bastards!” screamed Freeman at whoever had done this to him. “I’m not dying in this (expletive) hole! No way! It’s just not going to happen!”

Back inside, Sivret regained consciousness. The blast had thrown both him and Nelson more than 20 feet through the air. Nelson, who’d already come to, had quickly checked Sivret to see that he was breathing and then moved on to help others.

At Sivret’s side lay a soldier from another unit who, just seconds earlier, had sat quietly eating his lunch next to the chaplain. Now the soldier’s head and shoulders were covered by the tablecloth and his legs were twitching with uncontrolled spasms.

“Oh, my God,” thought Sivret, quickly reaching over to remove the tablecloth. “We’ve got to get this guy some help.”

But one look at the soldier’s upper torso and Sivret knew there was nothing anyone could do.

Slowly, the spasms subsided and Sivret performed the first of what would be many last rites. He couldn’t hear his own prayers – the explosion had ruptured one of his eardrums and seriously damaged the other.


Spc. Kevin Korenkiewicz, a 23-year-old medic, had just finished an early lunch and was walking back to the 133rd’s medical station when the blast shook the earth under his feet. The boom far exceeded that of the mortars and rockets that frequently rained down on the base, prompting Korenkiewicz and two fellow medics to grab all the first-aid bags they could find and sprint back up the hill toward the now-smoking mess hall.

Kevin Korenkiewicz treated wounded soldiers and civilians after the attack. He recently earned his master’s degree as a nurse anesthetist.

Kevin Korenkiewicz treated wounded soldiers and civilians after the attack. He recently earned his master’s degree as a nurse anesthetist. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Rushing inside, they found the place almost pitch dark, the floor slick with blood, food and residue from the plastic explosive, the air thick with cries for help. Near what was left of the chow line, Korenkiewicz spotted a familiar face – Sgt. Lynn Poulin, 47, a member of the 133rd’s welding unit, lying on the floor with a massive head wound.

Someone claimed they’d detected a pulse, but there was nothing Korenkiewicz could do. He swallowed his emotions and moved on to the next victim, a civilian fry line worker with multiple chest wounds.

Just outside the serving area sat large rolls of plastic wrap, normally used by soldiers to seal meals to go. Korenkiewicz grabbed a roll and wrapped it around and around the man’s torso, sealing his wounds while a physician assistant from another unit performed a needle decompression on the man’s chest.

Quickly, they rushed the civilian out to the triage area, where Korenkiewicz heard someone holler for a medic. Another civilian, also near death, needed a breathing tube. Korenkiewicz ran to help and, after helping load that patient aboard an ambulance, performed CPR on him all the way to a combat support hospital at nearby FOB Diamondback, a military airfield little more than a stone’s throw from FOB Marez.

By now, Diamondback, too, was in chaos. Casualties had no sooner begun arriving when the insurgents began shelling the hospital with mortars – at least one landed directly on the fortified roof. Korenkiewicz and other rescuers shielded the wounded the best they could with their own bodies and, between incoming rounds, rushed them into a facility fast surpassing even its mass-casualty capacity.

Butch Freeman, his leg still bleeding, was among them. One of the first wounded to be dispatched from FOB Marez, he now lay on his gurney, warily watching as a soldier approached with an intravenous kit. The young man’s hands were shaking.

Much to Freeman’s relief, a voice nearby said, “Here, let me do that.”

It was Korenkiewicz, whose pine tree shoulder patch matched Freeman’s. He took the needle and gently, skillfully inserted it into Freeman’s forearm.

“We take care of our own,” Korenkiewicz assured his fellow Mainer.

Chaplain Sivret, having done what he could at the mess hall, had also come down to the hospital on two missions: Continue ministering to the wounded and deceased and, when it came to the Maine soldiers, look for those still missing.

Back at FOB Marez, Sgt. 1st Class John Keene, the 133rd’s ranking noncommissioned personnel officer, was hard at work completing the battalion’s “100 percent accountability” – the upward-reporting process by which every soldier’s whereabouts is confirmed as soon as possible following any attack.

John Keene of Auburn works with rare firearms at James D. Julia auctioneers in Fairfield. He is proud of the work he and his 133rd comrades did in Iraq.

John Keene of Auburn works with rare firearms at James D. Julia auctioneers in Fairfield. He is proud of the work he and his 133rd comrades did in Iraq. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Thankfully, the number of missing 133rd soldiers had decreased steadily in the hour or two after the bombing. Still, two names on Keene’s list remained unchecked – Sgt. Poulin and Spc. Tom Dostie, 20, of Somerville.

Keene, following his own training, had driven a deuce-and-a-half (2.5-ton truck) to the dining facility seconds after the explosion for use as a makeshift ambulance. He’d seen the people coming out – some walking, some carried on litters and still others, when the litters ran out, on lunch tables. He’d watched a soldier die right there on the gravel even as his comrades tried desperately to save him.

Now back at his work station, awaiting word from FOB Diamondback on Dostie and Poulin, Keene braced himself for bad news.

For Sivret, this could not have been more personal. Back in Maine, he’d presided over the marriage of Lynn and Jeanne Poulin. He’d gone to Cony High School in Augusta with Mike and Peggy Dostie, Spc. Dostie’s parents.

Now here he was looking for his soldiers, starting with the scores of wounded who by now had overflowed from the hospital’s emergency room into the administrative offices and even the hallways.


Then Sivret made his way from body bag to body bag in the makeshift morgue, Finally, agonizingly, he found one … then the other.

His ears still ringing, his chest aching from two cracked ribs, his knee throbbing from a wayward piece of shrapnel, Sivret closed his eyes, bowed his head and prayed.


Spc. Ron Cyr, a 26-year-old medic, slept right through the attack. He’d completed a 24-hour shift that morning after a sleepless night watching over a patient at the medical station. By noon, following a late breakfast, he was fast asleep in his barracks, just a few hundred yards from the DFAC.

Ron Cyr of Lewiston lost his close friend, Spc. Tom Dostie, in the attack on the base in Mosul. He still struggles with his emotions about the bombing.

Ron Cyr of Lewiston lost his close friend, Spc. Tom Dostie, in the attack on the base in Mosul. He still struggles with his emotions about the bombing. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

The blast blew out one of his windows, knocked a portable heater off its shelf, even moved Cyr’s bunk a few inches across the floor. He remembers none of it.

What he does remember is his “battle buddy,” another medic, bursting in a full hour after the blast, rousting him and yelling, “Ronnie, what are you doing?”

“What are you doing?” Cyr yelled back, shaking away the cobwebs enough to notice his buddy’s uniform was saturated with blood.

“The DFAC got hit,” his buddy said. “And I saw Tommy.”

“What do you mean you saw Tommy?”

“He was … lying down.”

Cyr, still in his physical-training shorts and T-shirt, looked out the doorway and saw the walking wounded – there must have been 40 or 50 of them – scattered inside and outside the 133rd’s aid station. Without donning his fatigues and outer tactical vest, without even grabbing his weapon, he took off to help.

“Tommy?” Cyr thought the whole way. “Tommy … lying down?”

Tommy Dostie might as well have been Ronnie Cyr’s kid brother. They grew up three houses apart on Long Lake in Somerville. Their parents were all close friends, not just from Cony High School but from grade school in Augusta. Tommy? Lying down?

Korenkiewicz, finally back from the hospital at FOB Diamondback, was well aware of the connection. Upon seeing Cyr treating the wounded at the aid station, Korenkiewicz came toward his fellow medic and, without a word, wrapped Cyr in a bear hug.

Hours later, as soldiers gathered in the Olive Branch Chapel for confirmation of their worst fears, Cyr heard the official announcement: Sgt. Lynn Poulin. Killed in action. Spc. Thomas Dostie. Also gone.

Cyr, seated in the rear of the packed chapel, all but blacked out.

He’d been there the day they brought Tommy home from the hospital. He’d babysat Tommy when he was too young to stay home by himself. They’d spent summers fishing together, water-skiing together, training for war together.

The chapel quietly emptied. Cyr, once again exhausted, picked himself out of his chair and stumbled the short distance to his barracks. As darkness fell on FOB Marez, he cried himself back to sleep.


Ron Cyr, now 37, left the military four months after the 133rd returned to Maine in March 2005. He lives in Lewiston with his wife and two sons, works for Maine Properties in Scarborough and, like so many Maine combat veterans, has his good days and his not-so-good days.

Last Veterans Day, Cyr called a country music radio station in Portland – he and the DJ have gotten to know each other – and asked that they play “American Soldier” in memory of Tommy. Walking into work a short time later, he hoped his co-workers wouldn’t notice he’d been crying.

He often has trouble sleeping, struggles with his anger and has sought counseling off and on – more off lately than on. To this day, he can’t get his head around not just Tommy’s death, but an incident that occurred a few days later.

A superior officer in the 133rd had taken it upon himself to investigate the bombing – even as a full-scale Pentagon probe was underway. Noting that Cyr had the same approximate height and build as the bomber, the officer ordered him to play the part: Sit in a plastic chair, directly under the hole in the DFAC, and go into a crouch. Just like the terrorist did seconds before he self-detonated.

Cyr refused, even swore at the officer, and then reported the whole thing to his company commander. Two days later, he was on a plane to Kuwait, where he spent the rest of his deployment washing the outgoing 133rd’s trucks in preparation for their shipment home.

When Dec. 21 rolls around, Cyr is always the first to post on Facebook about Tommy, Lynn Poulin, Spc. Christopher Gelineau of Portland and Sgt. Michael Jones of Unity – the four members of the 133rd who didn’t make it home from Iraq.

Then he heads for Tommy’s grave in Somerville.

“I just sit there and talk to him for a little bit, just wish that he was here,” said Cyr. “I talk to him about fishing – it’s all we used to do, fishing and water-skiing. I sit there for a couple of minutes and say a couple prayers … and that’s about it.”


Butch Freeman, 53, ended his 27-year military career in 2007. His leg wounds have pretty much healed, but he still wages daily battles with post-traumatic stress disorder, his traumatic brain injury, his aversion to crowded places.

When he does find himself in a crowd, he pays no attention whatsoever to people’s faces.

“I’m looking at where their hands are,” Freeman said. “I just want to know what their hands are doing.”

Most importantly, after years of isolating himself in his living room with a bottle of Jack Daniels, Freeman bowed to an ultimatum from his wife, Ora, and sought help through the Wounded Warrior Project. He’s a mentor now to younger soldiers struggling with their return to civilian life.

“I was carried off the battlefield,” Freeman said. “Now it’s my turn to carry someone else.”

He still beats himself up for not “finishing what I started,” for hopscotching from the hospital in Mosul to Army treatment facilities in Balad, Iraq; Germany; and finally the Walter Reed Army Medical Center before arriving back home in Maine almost two months ahead of his men.

Of course, none of them would hold that against him. He knows that, right?

“I know they wouldn’t,” said Freeman. “We’re harder on ourselves than anyone else ever will be.”

Each night, before he tries to sleep, Freeman “secures the perimeter” once, twice, sometimes three times inside his modest home. He’s learned not to fight it – otherwise, he’ll be awake all night.

Upon entering a building, any building, “bang – I do the exits. I always know where the exits are. Some people say, ‘You don’t have to do that.’ Well, yeah, it’s easier for me to do it, get it over with – and you won’t even know I’m doing it.”

Yet for all his demons, he will not surrender.

“I don’t want the 21st of December to define me as a person,” Freeman said. “Yeah, it was a (expletive)-up day. We all know that, man. We know that’s what it was. And will I ever forget it? No. Will I dance with the devil? I dance with him all the time. But you know what? I want to lead. I want to lead a couple times. I don’t want that to define my day, my life, that one thing.”


John Keene retired last summer at the age of 50 as a master sergeant with the Maine Army National Guard. He now lives in Auburn and works as an appraiser of rare weapons for James D. Julia Inc., an auction house in Fairfield.

“I don’t mark the calendar,” Keene said. “I don’t need to. I know when the day is and I always feel it and I always remember. It’s going to be with me for my whole life.”

As proud as he remains to this day of his comrades in the 133rd, so is Keene “exceedingly disappointed in our leadership in Washington.”

Mosul, after all, is now in the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. With the exception of a few infrastructure projects the 133rd’s engineers completed in still-secure Kurdistan, much of the battalion’s footprint in Iraq has been erased.

“It’s all been undone,” said Keene. “The very stuff we built up and helped them with, the bad guys now have. The weapons we put over there, the bad guys have.”

Much of it he blames on the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root, and Blackwater, the notorious private security company, and other corporations that profited immensely from the war. Keene, a by-the-book soldier if ever there was one, now calls them the “merchants of death.”

A longtime student of military history, Keene will spend this Sunday reflecting on how a decade ago military history left its mark – no, its scar – on the entire state of Maine.

“You realize how fragile life is,” said Keene, who’s married with two teenage children. “It’s all about luck. I’d rather be lucky than good. Because you can be good, be the best at what you do, and your luck can be bad and you’re gone.”


Kevin Korenkiewicz, 33, is now a captain with the Maine Army National Guard. At the same time, he’s on the cusp of becoming a nurse anesthetist – he recently earned his master’s degree at the University of New England and, after weeks of intensive study, sat down to take his licensing exam on Friday.

He still recalls leaving the DFAC early that day, forgoing his afternoon to-go snack because he had to use the latrine. Had he lingered just a few minutes, he’d have been standing in the middle of the kill zone.

“It’s a game of inches,” Korenkiewicz said. “Decisions can put you in one place or another and get you hurt … or not.”

He doesn’t struggle with survivor’s guilt, although he thinks “all the time” about Poulin, Dostie and the others who didn’t make it home. Not to mention those who, to varying degrees, brought the war home with them.

“For some people, it’s really damaged their lives,” said Korenkiewicz. “Marriages have been lost. They’re really depressed and they can’t hold jobs, just having difficulty working their way back into society. … While other people take it and look at it as a new lease on life, an opportunity for you to do the best you can. Some people have really done well because of the experience they had. It makes them stronger people. And other people have gone in the other direction.”

How about Korenkiewicz? Is he doing well?

“I am,” he said with a smile.


David Sivret, still a priest but no longer an Army chaplain, retired in 2010 as pastor of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Calais. He increasingly had trouble facing large congregations – a direct offshoot of what was long ago diagnosed as PTSD.

So these days, Sivret, 59, devotes his time, along with three other local veterans, to running the Irene Chadbourne Ecumenical Food Pantry on Main Street in Calais. Last year, they served the equivalent of 34,000 meals. So far this year, their tally exceeds 104,000.

Sivret lives with his wife, Sherry, in nearby Alexander. It’s pin-drop quiet there this time of year and in recent years, when Dec. 21 rolls around, Sivret has climbed aboard his snowmobile and headed deep into the woods, as far away from anyone as he can get.

But today, he just might go to church and pray, not just for those who are gone but also for those still here, “that they get a sense of peace in their life as I pray to get a sense of peace in my life.”

He’ll remember Lynn Poulin’s quiet sense of humor and Tommy Dostie’s passion for small engines.

He’ll remember that soldier sitting next to him who died while he was somehow spared. “I call it a God-cident,” Sivret said. “It wasn’t luck. I was blessed.”

He’ll remember how Christmas came that year after all, as it always does. How his soldiers, many smiling through their tears, went caroling all over FOB Marez that Christmas Eve. How young so many of them looked as they filled the Olive Garden Chapel, candles in hand, for midnight Mass.

His only request now is that the rest of Maine continue to support them. Ten years may seem like enough time to “get over it,” but the good chaplain begs to differ.

“Unless you’ve walked in that person’s boots, don’t judge them,” Sivret said. “Don’t make assumptions. Because you don’t know.”

Again, the food pantry fell silent, but for the clock, tick by tick, marking the passage of time.

“I’ll take it to my grave with me,” Sivret finally said. “It will never be gone.”


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Bill Nemitz: Long Islanders in clear as ballot goof is uncovered Wed, 10 Dec 2014 09:00:00 +0000 Among the eight trios charged with recounting the results of the Maine Senate District 25 election, they were designated “Team A.”

But the A-Team they were not.

“I’d eat my hat if I had one,” said a stunned Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn, who oversees all things electoral in Maine, seconds after the mystery of 21 “phantom ballots” in the southern Maine district dissolved on Tuesday afternoon into one whopper of an “oops.”

Meaning the Debacle of District 25 – or, to be more specific, the tiny town of Long Island – was rooted not in what took place out in Casco Bay as election workers counted the votes for Republican Cathy Manchester and Democrat Cathy Breen late on the night of Nov. 4.

No, sir. The islanders, who correctly insisted they got it right all along, are now and forever off the hook. It was the recounters who goofed, by tallying 21 ballots for Manchester not once, but twice.

Worse yet, Team A’s error enabled the provisional seating of a senator who, in a moment of pure class following Tuesday’s re-recount, immediately stepped away from the chair that now rightfully belongs to Breen.

“I am disappointed at the outcome, but I have full confidence that Sen.-elect Breen will serve our district well,” said Manchester to the packed hearing room, as well as a statewide audience hanging on her every word via a live Internet stream.

Manchester later added, “I do hope that if there’s one thing to come out of this process, (it) is that we find out how that error was made at the recount and take every precaution so that does not happen again.”

Hear, hear.

Tuesday’s five-hour session by the Senate’s seven-member special investigative committee, formed last week to get to the bottom of the District 25 mess, could have been shortened significantly had the committee at the outset simply unlocked the metal box containing the Long Island ballots and started counting. When that finally happened after lunch, it took only minutes to determine that there were 171 voted-upon ballots inside – not the 192 tallied by the recounters back on Nov. 18.

But perhaps it was better that the ah-ha moment – when a Maine Attorney General’s Office detective, wearing rubber gloves, discovered that a lot of ballots presumed to number 50 instead contained only 29 – came only after Flynn provided a morning-long primer in everything from how the ballots are printed and distributed to how they’re recounted, if necessary, in a squeaky-close election.

Maine’s veteran election supervisor explained that in a sizable recount like that in District 25, where close to 23,000 ballots were cast, the work is broken down among small teams – each consisting of a volunteer for each candidate and an official from the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. In this case, Team A included Cumberland County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Rachel Hendrickson for Breen, former Sen. Debra Plowman, R-Hampden, for Manchester and Howard Jones representing the Secretary of State’s Office.

Their job: Recount the 171 ballots tallied, sealed and delivered to the state – in three lots of 50 and one lot of 21 – by the good citizens of Long Island.

Which members of Team A did. Or so they thought.

The problem: After counting Lot A-1, which contained 50 ballots, the recounters proceeded to Lot A-2, the one with only 21 ballots. But somehow, rather than pack up all the Lot A-1 ballots, reseal them and set them aside, someone apparently took Manchester’s 21 votes from Lot A-1 and plunked them on top of Lot A-2.

Thus Lot A-2 grew from 21 to 42 ballots, the total number of Long Island votes grew from 171 to 192 and, most significantly, Manchester picked up 21 extra votes that were never cast – enough to give her an apparent 11-vote win over Breen after other minor wrinkles in the district-wide recount were resolved.

Asked Sen. Bill Diamond, himself a former secretary of state, to Flynn at one point in her testimony, “Are you 100 percent positive that there are 192 ballots in that box?”

“Nine-nine-point-nine-nine-nine out to infinity, yes,” replied Flynn. “I mean, that’s what they arrived at – two people on opposite sides counted those ballots that were in the lots and arrived at the count.”

As a notably upbeat Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap later consoled his mortified deputy, “At least you didn’t say you were 100 percent certain. You left yourself a little bit of window.”

Dunlap, whom Flynn kept apprised by telephone throughout her ordeal, said he was “thrilled” with the outcome because in the end, “the integrity of the process is not in doubt.”

“Hey, I’ll take human error. It happened right there in front of everybody,” Dunlap said. “It was pure human error – and it was a shared human error. It wasn’t our guy, it wasn’t the Republican, it wasn’t the Democrat.”

Fair enough. But it was still a major screw-up requiring Dunlap & Co. to now pick up where the Senate committee so abruptly left off: Sit down with Team A and reconstruct, to the best of their recollection, exactly what happened as they transitioned from one lot of ballots to the other.

Then, as Manchester so poignantly requested, come up with a procedure to prevent that from ever happening again.

At the same time, the secretary of state might send a big thank-you note to Kate Knox, the attorney who represented the Democrats at the recount. Concerned about the conflicting Long Island vote totals, Knox refused to sign off on the recount and thus set the stage for Tuesday’s melodrama.

Beyond that, Tuesday’s drama will no doubt be followed by lots of noise over the next news cycle or two.

The buzz in the hearing room hadn’t even abated before the salvos resumed across the partisan divide: The Democrats claimed vindication for pushing back on the recount results, while Gov. Paul LePage took aim at “liberals (who) falsely accused Republicans of trying to manipulate the election with so-called ‘phantom ballots.’ ”

In other words, with the exception of a Senate that will soon include one less Republican and one more Democrat, not a lot has changed in Augusta – or on Long Island, for that matter.

Anne Donovan, a Long Island election clerk who shook off an incoming nor’easter and schlepped with her colleagues to the State House to face tough questions that never came, perhaps put it best to the State House media.

“Someone owes my town an apology,” Donovan said. “We have a boat to catch.”

Enough said.

Footnote: In last Wednesday’s column, I took issue with Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett’s criticism of calls by Maine Democrats for the investigation into what they at the time called “possible fraud” in the District 25 election. Bennett, in a subsequent telephone conversation, told me his criticism was directed solely at the Democrats’ rhetoric and that he fully supported the Senate investigation.

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