Columns – Press Herald Thu, 14 Dec 2017 17:18:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Commentary: Remember victims’ families on 5th anniversary of Sandy Hook Thu, 14 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Five years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, I entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School and witnessed a scene of chaos and death that I had never imagined. The all-too-quaint, closely knit and pastoral community of Newtown, Connecticut, was forever dramatically changed.

Unfortunately, I am frequently reminded of that day. Each new active-shooter incident brings back the memory of those 26 shocking deaths in Sandy Hook School. Of the 20 children killed, four were 7-year-olds and the rest were 6 – all innocent and full of hopes and dreams. Six of the dead were brave and courageous educators trying to do whatever they could to quell the mayhem that began sometime after 9:30 a.m.

My thoughts are always with the victims’ families, who suffered the most on that day and the painful days thereafter. The impact on the families who lost loved ones in a hail of bullets has always been my priority and will continue to be in my thoughts until the day I leave this earth.

Before the shootings, I always felt that schools, hospitals and houses of worship were the institutions most safe from the violence that permeates our communities. As we all know too well now, they are not secure places of peace and tranquility anymore. Changing this has become the phenomenal work of the family members left behind. Their unyielding energy and poise comfort me and the many communities they reach with important messages of reducing gun violence, eliminating bullying, enhancing mental health services and common-sense gun legislation.

The admirable determination of the victims’ families to turn unfathomable tragedy into good must be honored.

The families’ focus and messages inspire me and many others. These societal issues are complex, multifaceted and without simple solutions. The families’ emphasis and outspokenness on these important questions are aimed at making the future for the next generation of elementary school children bright and positive.

We need to redirect energy and efforts to those areas that need specific and affirmative action, especially after experiencing a horrific event. Since Dec. 14, 2012, I have often thought I could be a voice for improvement, advancement and enhancement. I wondered what the future held for me and where I could make improvements to benefit others.

Mental wellness and health became my main focus and motivation, of course stimulated by those 26 families. This led to my collaboration with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and many talented professionals who have dealt with tragic events like Sandy Hook. We developed a guidebook, “Preparing for the Unimaginable,” specifically for first responders should another tragedy befall their community. Unfortunately, vivid scenes of carnage, mayhem and grief have continued to plague our country since the Sandy Hook shootings. Orlando, Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, are a few of the communities that have dealt with the heartache and pain of a mass casualty event like Newtown’s.

Most police officers will not have to handle a traumatic event like the one I experienced. They will respond, however, to routine emergencies that by their nature are unforeseeable, potentially dangerous situations. Regardless of the circumstances, police, fire and emergency medical services must take immediate decisive action to mitigate loss of life, loss of property, injuries and immeasurable psychological damage.

Police responders answer many calls, which, cumulatively, over time will be the equivalent of or exceed just one tragic event. Their health and wellness are no less important. First-responder mental wellness is just starting to gain significant traction within the law enforcement community. As my profession started to closely evaluate the safety of those who keep others safe, a startling fact emerged. More police officers today have their lives ended at their own hand than from an assault on the job.

I knew this instinctively, as did many other police leaders. Here, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association recognized the void and committed to placing as much emphasis on mental health as it does on bulletproof vests and other protective measures, equipment and policies to keep officers safe. It was the first police chiefs association in America to do so and teaches police first responders important lessons and skills to help maintain a positive mental attitude at work and in their private lives.

On Dec. 14, let us honor those who have died tragically, their families and the many first responders. They deserve your concerted effort to make every aspect of living safe and to keep them in your thoughts and prayers.


]]> 0 Wed, 13 Dec 2017 19:18:44 +0000
Commentary: Why did Bannon’s candidate lose in Alabama? Well, geniuses aren’t perfect Thu, 14 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Uncle Henry, you’ve been telling me for months that Steve Bannon is a strategic genius. Can you remind me again why?

“Oh, yes, he is, absolutely. The man gets results. He has 2040 vision. Not bad vision – I realize that sounds like bad vision – but I mean it in the sense that he is thinking 23 years down the road, to the year 2040.”


“He has thrown away the chessboard and is playing the whole game using only his mind! Which is sharp as a Bic pen.”

Is that, like, very sharp?

“He went to Harvard! As he is continually reminding people – the way a smart man who people can tell immediately is smart is forced to do – just constantly name-dropping all the places he went to school.”

Peter King, a Republican congressman from New York, has said Bannon “looks like a disheveled drunk who wandered onto the political stage.”

“That’s all noise.”

So what happened in Alabama?

“Well, he picked a candidate who was a true conservative, Judge Roy Moore, to run against Luther Strange, Jeff Sessions’ hand-picked successor.”


“Yes, that was the name of the man he ran against.”

Is Judge Roy Moore a real judge?

“Well, he used to be before they removed him twice for being a true conservative.”

Conservative how?

“Well, he believed America was greatest in the past.”

That’s – is that what a conservative does now … ?

“Yes, the past was where it was at.”

This doesn’t seem like a good way of appealing to voters from a historically disadvantaged demographic.

“It seems to work on white women just fine.”

But are there not also black women in Alabama?

“Let’s table that for now. Anyway, Steve Bannon, in his wisdom, selected Judge Roy Moore, a man who believed America was greatest in the 1790s, when there were no malls to ban you, and everyone was trying to court 14-year-olds before dying from the complications of a surgery performed with no anesthesia or sterilization whatsoever, and also slavery.”

Wait, are these good things or bad things about Moore?

“I am just telling you the genius of Steve Bannon’s strategy.”

Well, was Moore a good candidate?

“Before the race ended, he was credibly accused of molesting teenage girls.”

And how did Steve Bannon respond?

“He kept him in the race and tried to discredit his accusers using the website”

I see.

“This was his brilliant strategy.”

Did it work?

“It almost did, is the thing.”

I assume people denounced Roy Moore and said they did not want to be associated with him?

“Well, that is complicated. They did at first, but then it looked like he was going to win, and then they came back and said, “Oh, never mind, we’ve evolved on this whole ‘maybe don’t go after children’ issue.” President Trump supported him.”

It seems like it would be a serious problem for the party to do something like that.

“You might think so.”

Does Steve Bannon think so?

“Steve Bannon has a plan that is bigger than any one of us.”

Was it Steve Bannon’s plan that Roy Moore ride to the polls on a horse but, like, very badly?

“That horse did look very uncomfortable.”

If I had to carry a man credibly accused of preying on teenagers to the polls on my back, I would look uncomfortable, too.

“We are getting derailed here from Steve Bannon’s genius.”

He is one?

“Oh yes, if you ignore all evidence to the contrary.”

There is a lot of evidence to the contrary. And now the Republican Party will have a margin in the Senate of … one vote?

“Look, what would you rather believe: that you were snookered into rebuilding your whole party by a man much dumber and more evil than you realized, or that there are levels at play here we cannot possibly comprehend? I know which I’d prefer.”

Correction: This story was updated at 9:03 a.m. on December 14, 2017 to correct Rep. Peter King’s state affiliation.


]]> 0 Thu, 14 Dec 2017 09:05:06 +0000
Greg Kesich: Workplace sexual misconduct is bigger than a few notorious cases Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I don’t want to brag, but I have never taken a picture of my genitals.

I have also never grabbed anyone’s rear end at work, and no one has grabbed mine.

There was a time when I desperately wanted to date a 14-year-old, but that was when I was 13.

So, I do have to admit that there are some things I don’t understand about the wave of sexual misconduct revelations that is sweeping the nation. Like, what took so long?

Did we really need a “historic moment” to know that Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant was violating social norms when he texted out a selfie that showed what’s under his duty belt?

Does anybody else need to hear that most workplaces would consider that a firing offense? If it’s not clear now, let’s get that message out.

And can we retire the use of the term “witch hunt” for the process of exposing powerful men who harassed or assaulted the less powerful people around them?

The thing about witch hunts is, witches don’t really exist. People couldn’t defend themselves against charges that had been hallucinated. What we are living through is disturbing and discouraging, but it’s not mass hysteria. These offenses are real, they are happening all around us, and we all kind of knew it, even if we preferred not to notice.

And my liberal friends need to stop complaining about “due process,” as in “Al Franken was denied due process.”

No, he wasn’t. If Al Franken had been expelled from the Senate or sent to prison, you could say that he had been denied his day in court. But he resigned voluntarily.

That happened after a majority of his Democratic colleagues, including 13 women, plus Republican Susan Collins, said that they didn’t trust him anymore, and he determined, to his credit, that his political toxicity would not be good for the causes he cared about or the people he represented. He could have hung on and let the Ethics Committee investigate the charges. He could have run for re-election, and he may have even won. Why not? Voters have a fairly low estimation of politicians’ character and are more motivated by partisanship than idealism. Instead, though, another one of the 5.5 million residents of Minnesota will fill the seat until the next election. That’s plenty of process.

This “national conversation” on sexual harassment that we are supposed to be having focuses almost entirely on a relatively small number of celebrity offenders, over whom we can sit in judgment without paying much of a cost. It lets the rest of us off the hook, so we don’t have to take on any difficult aspects of our own behavior.

I am just as fearful and awkward about this subject as the next guy. I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I grew up in this culture. I learned very little about sex in school and never talked about it with my parents. For a long time, what I knew about women came from older kids who said things that sound a lot like the monologue that future President Donald Trump delivered to Billy Bush and his crew on the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape.

“I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” Trump is heard saying at one point. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

Not exactly the Gettysburg Address, but it is about the most succinct description that you will find of the phenomenon we have now been forced to acknowledge. “When you’re a star … You can do anything.”

What has changed is not that men are getting in trouble for doing things that used to be OK. It’s that stars are not getting out of trouble for doing things that everyone has always known were wrong.

So, while I can proudly say that I have never used my cellphone for the same purposes as a certain former sheriff, I can’t say that I’ve always been braver than pathetic Billy Bush when someone I wanted to impress took advantage of their star power to say demeaning things.

That might seem like a small sin, but it’s what lets all the other stuff happen. And that’s what we need to talk about.

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

Twitter: gregkesich

]]> 0 Patriquin/Staff Photographer.Wed. July,25, 2012. News room mug shots Greg Kesich. (Photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)Wed, 13 Dec 2017 08:29:28 +0000
Maine Voices: If President Trump will not, our other leaders must take action on climate change Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Two years ago Tuesday, the United States joined nearly 200 hundred nations and reached a historic international agreement in Paris committing to cut pollution to address the global threat of climate change. And, according to scientists, this agreement was not a moment too soon. Here in Maine, we’re already seeing the warming of the Gulf of Maine from climate change, causing lobster, whales and other marine life to migrate north and disrupt the marine ecosystem.

The main source of human- caused global warming – carbon dioxide concentrations – are rising to levels that haven’t been observed in the past 800,000 years. Sixteen of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred in this century. The price tag of extreme weather disasters is already in the billions and is expected to rise. The evidence that we are devastating our climate is as clear as day. From the wildfires that are now devastating Southern California and those that recently ravaged the northern part of that state, to the record-breaking hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas, we have had far too many wake-up calls to ignore the problem.

The Our Health at Risk report by Environment Maine’s parent organization, Environment America, also showed that Portland and South Portland experienced 22 days with elevated smog pollution in 2016, which is exacerbated by warmer days. Rising temperatures will continue to increase the number of dirty-air days, resulting in emergency rooms flooded with kids suffering from asthma attacks and placing stress on our most vulnerable. And according to 100 health experts and scientists who contributed to the U.S. government’s 2016 Climate and Health Assessment, climate change presents a major health risk to every American, from worsening allergy conditions to increasing the spread of infectious diseases.

The solution is to shift away from the dirty sources of energy – coal, oil and gas – that are causing the problem and toward a 100 percent renewable energy future. The good news is that Maine is increasing its consumption of renewable energy. From 2007 to 2016, Maine went from 0 to 16.7 megawatts of energy storage capacity, the 10th-largest increase in the United States.

Yet despite the clear and present danger from unchecked global warming pollution and the benefits of moving toward a 100 percent renewable energy future, the Trump administration is turning its back on climate progress. In 2015, the United States was one of the biggest players in the room. Our country’s leadership on cutting emissions through cleaner energy and cleaner cars helped convince others to join in to tackle the climate crisis.

Now two years later, we’re the odd one out; in fact, we’re the only country on the planet now stepping away from this critical global action. Instead of celebrating the two-year anniversary of the agreement, we’re dismayed at the administration’s decision to exit the agreement and attack common-sense measures to clean up our cars and power plants. This reckless move, which will not be official until 2020, will not and should not stop our lawmakers, businesses and institutions from protecting our health and that of future generations and moving forward on climate progress. As a major world power and historically the largest emitter of global warming emissions, we still have a major obligation and opportunity to cut the pollution that is putting all our communities at risk while leading the charge on a clean energy future that fosters economic growth and opportunity.

We would be wise to reclaim our leadership role in the world. Major economic and political leaders are urging action at every level. Already, 400 global investors and 1,100 U.S. businesses and Fortune 500 companies, from Google to Apple, support the importance of the agreement. The We Are Still In coalition – representing 2,500 leaders from state and local governments, both blue and red, and the business community – has vowed to play its part in reaching the agreement.

So on this two-year anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, we urge our leaders to take action on climate. Our U.S. senators should stand up to President Trump’s backward moves and oppose legislation that would roll back progress on clean cars and renewable energy. They should oppose efforts to weaken clean air protections and slash funding for environmental protection, climate science programs and grants to help local communities prepare for the more intense storms and wildfires ahead. Doing so is necessary to ensuring our standing at the table as a world power and ensuring that we can hand off a cleaner, safer and healthier world to our children and to our grandchildren.

]]> 0, 12 Dec 2017 20:04:38 +0000
Robust campaign against special counsel Robert Mueller snakes through conservative sector Wed, 13 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Some of President Donald Trump’s biggest fans have declared war against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III – and given Trump’s television-watching habits, he’s surely listening.

“Mueller is corrupt. The senior FBI is corrupt. The system is corrupt,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Fox News last week.

“A disgrace to the American justice system,” Fox News host Sean Hannity, a Trump favorite, declared. “The head of the snake.” Mueller has put the country “on the brink of becoming a banana republic,” he charged.

“Mueller poses an existential threat to the Trump presidency,” warned Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend who runs the conservative Newsmax website.

Even the Wall Street Journal published an editorial calling on the special counsel to quit. “Mueller is too conflicted to investigate the FBI and should step down in favor of someone more credible,” the newspaper argued.

Other conservatives, including members of Congress, have joined a chorus of complaints about the special counsel, the FBI and the Justice Department – even though all three are led by Trump appointees.

It all looks and sounds like a concerted campaign to delegitimize Mueller’s investigation, launched in May to look into evidence that Russia tampered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The anti-Mueller campaign isn’t just noisy; it’s dangerous. Gingrich, Hannity and Ruddy are people Trump listens to. Fox News is the channel he watches. Whether or not they persuade the president that he ought to fire Mueller, they are clearly paving the way – by convincing Trump’s political base, the Fox News-watching public, that dismissing the prosecutor would be justified.

A CBS News Poll this month found that Americans overall are evenly divided over whether Mueller’s investigation is fair or politically motivated. But there was a stark partisan split: 81 percent of Republicans said the probe is politically motivated, while only 23 percent of Democrats agreed. That suggests that if Trump fired Mueller, he would get nearly automatic support from his party’s voters.

Despite the high volume, the case against Mueller is thin.

One major talking point is that although the special counsel is a Republican, many of the lawyers he has hired are Democrats. Six of Mueller’s top 15 aides donated money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to Politifact.

Critics have also complained that some of the FBI agents working on the investigation also worked on the 2016 investigation of Clinton’s emails, which they consider a whitewash. Among them, one agent has attracted particular attention: Peter Strzok, who was moved off the team by Mueller after he sent a derisive text message about Trump. GOP members of Congress are particularly angry that they didn’t learn about the incident until months later.

And they have charged that Mueller aide Andrew Weissmann, a career Justice Department official, is biased. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Weissmann attended Hillary Clinton’s election night party in November.

So, yes, the investigation – like every other part of the federal bureaucracy – includes Democrats. There’s no cure for that. Federal regulations prohibit the Justice Department from considering career appointees’ political affiliation.

That didn’t stop House Republicans from criticizing FBI Director Christopher Wray, another Trump appointee, when he appeared before them last week.

“If you kicked everybody off of Mueller’s team who was anti-Trump, I don’t think there’d be anyone left,” griped Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

“I am emphasizing in every audience I can inside the bureau that our decisions need to be made based on nothing other than the facts and the law,” Wray replied. “I’m not aware of any senior FBI executives who are allowing improper political considerations to affect their work.”

Trump’s lawyers say he’s never even considered firing the special counsel. But experts who worked on earlier investigations, both Republicans and Democrats, told me that Trump is essentially free to fire Mueller and, in effect, shut the inquest down – if he’s willing to take some political heat.

That doesn’t mean Mueller’s evidence will disappear. It will remain in the hands of the Justice Department. At that point, Congress can summon Mueller to disclose what he learned. Congress can also press for a new special counsel – or begin impeachment proceedings.

But Republican voters, primed by the delegitimization campaign, will press GOP senators and representatives to support Trump, not Mueller. Judging from the lawmakers’ performance so far, there’s little reason to expect that many would defy both their president and their most loyal voters.

]]> 0 Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation moves further into President Trump's inner circle, he is coming under a constant drumbeat of conservative criticism.Tue, 12 Dec 2017 20:18:38 +0000
Charles Lawton: Western Maine must create jobs, but will younger talent be there? Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Maine’s western mountains region – Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties– is the birthplace of many of Maine’s most iconic rural industries. From Hugh Chisholm and the paper mills of Livermore Falls, Jay, Mexico and Rumford, to W.S. Wells’ canned vegetables, to the famous Weejuns of George Bass and his descendants, to the toothpicks, golf tees, clothespins and assorted wood products shipped from Forster Manufacturing of Wilton and its many competitors in the wood-turning business, this region’s forests, fields and rivers gave birth to a continuous flow of products that served national and international markets andbrought jobs and wealth to rural Maine for more than a century and a half.

But over the past 30 years, the same forces of technological change and entrepreneurial investment that brought the region such prosperity have spread to every corner of the globe, undercutting Maine products and leading to the decline and closure of many of these long-term sources of wealth and prosperity. This inexorable change has a two-pronged effect: an immediate decline in employment, and a slower, longer-term shift in demographic structure.

As the slow growth from the Great Recession has gradually accelerated over the past year, new opportunities for creating jobs, wealth and prosperity have emerged. If the people of Maine’s western mountains region are to take advantage of newly emerging technologies to create new jobs – as their forebears did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – they must recognize and respond to the demographic challenge that stands as a potential barrier to any solution to their economic challenge.

The two-fold nature of this challenge is evident in a comparison of the labor market and population data. Over the most recent national recovery (2010 to 2016), employment in the three-county region grew by just over 400 – an increase of 0.7 percent. Over the same period, however, the region’s labor force (the number of people holding a job or looking for a job) fell by nearly 3,500, a drop of over 5 percent. Clearly, this represents a significant barrier to returning the region to its former prosperity. One can’t continue growing employment while the labor force is declining.

Over the same period, the region’s population (as reported in census estimates) fell by nearly 2,500. Nearly 1,500 more people died in Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties than were born there; nearly 1,000 more people moved away from the region than moved there from another region or state; and about 150 more people moved there from abroad than left for another country. Yet, as overall population growth largely declined, the population of those age 65 and older grew by nearly 3 percent.

This stark contrast between an expanding range of possible economic opportunities and an aging (and, therefore, less economically engaged population) and the exodus of the most motivated of the prime working-age population is the essence of the economic challenge facing the region’s citizens and public policy makers.

All these facts make the task of promoting and cultivating economic growth all the more difficult. It is no longer the old task of “smokestack chasing,” or even the broader notion of “job creation.” It is, first and foremost, talent attraction. The goal must be creating communities that young people will find attractive – welcoming, safe, family-friendly and well connected to the world beyond Maine.

There are signs that such opportunities are emerging. The growing national interest in “traceable” food, combined with Maine’s acres of cultivable land and ample supply of water for irrigation, hold promise for a rebirth not merely of growing Maine food, but also of packing it, transporting it and marketing it. Similarly, the effort to better serve the growing national demand for active and culturally varied tourist activities presents opportunities for the regions surrounding Maine’s ski resorts and associated hiking activities centered in and, increasingly, linked between Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Saddleback all the way to Greenville.

But, above all else, realization of these opportunities requires a direct admission of the demographic challenge. It is not enough to create a job. Economic success in rural Maine means both creating the job and attracting the person to fill it.

Consulting economist Charles Lawton, Ph.D., can be contacted at:

]]> 0 photo by David Leaming Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton, examines jugs of maple syrup Tuesday at his farm in Wilton, where he raises cattle and produces maple syrup in his Black Acres Sugar Shack. Black is advocating for a proposal that the state acquire the Big Six Forest Conservation Easement on 23,600 acres north of Jackman along the border with Canada.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:17:23 +0000
Kathleen Parker: Sen. Franken behaved badly, but not on the level of Trump and Moore Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 With quavering voice and a tinge of stubborn denial, Sen. Al Franken announced that he would resign from office.

The Minnesota Democrat’s remarks last Thursday marked the culmination of exactly three weeks during which eight women – half of them anonymous – alleged sexual misconduct by the former “Saturday Night Live” star. By the seventh allegation, 33 of his Democratic colleagues, including 13 female senators, plus Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, had urged him to step down. Franken doubtless felt he had no choice.

While men and women may have found his alleged behavior unbecoming for a U.S. senator, it is transparently obvious that Democrats needed Franken to leave as a political matter. Even as other officials similarly charged will face investigation by an ethics committee rather than necessarily forfeit their jobs, Franken clearly was a sacrificial symbol for the party that stands, when convenient, for women.

After the seventh strike, but not the fifth or sixth, it became clear that Franken’s job was to fall on his sword so that Democrats could seize the high ground surrendered by Republicans when they turned their support to Alabama’s Roy Moore for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Jeff Sessions.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

Franken’s alleged actions, including one that was captured on film, were certainly objectionable. But they were nowhere near as repugnant as the charges leveled at Moore and other men of prominence. These include Donald Trump, who, as Franken noted with irony, had bragged on a recording about having forcibly kissed and grabbed women.

Franken, himself, is alleged to have kissed women without their permission and let his hand wander during photo ops. Anyone who follows the news has seen the photo of him during a USO tour in which he apes at the camera while preparing to grab one of his accuser’s breasts while she’s sleeping. Whether he actually did grab her isn’t clear, but the image was enough to remind people that Franken’s silly prankster days aren’t so far in his past. One can be a senator or a clown, but you can’t be both – for long.

Moore, far from being a comedian, is known for his affection for the Ten Commandments. Clearly, there should have been an amendment to the commandment that thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s wife: or his little girl, either. The former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court is alleged to have fondled or otherwise behaved in sexual ways with teenage girls when he was an adult in his 30s.

If these charges are true – and Moore denies them – then Franken’s sins, by comparison, were on a par with yanking ponytails. Which is a metaphor and not an excuse.

But clearly, the accusations against Franken and Moore are in no way similar. Patting a grown woman’s tush during a photo op may be crude, rude and inexcusable, but this act alone probably hasn’t caused anyone lasting harm. “What a jerk!” she might have said and walked away. A teenager being seduced by an older man of some repute, however, is a victim, who, indeed, may suffer emotional or psychological harm.

In all other ways, Franken did everything right in the wake of the accusations. Though he denies some of the claims, he has apologized for others. The sleeping woman publicly accepted his apology. Franken also had sworn to cooperate with ethics investigators and to work toward changing the culture that has kept women abused and silent.

But none of this was enough in the current climate. Moreover, Democrats couldn’t very well let Franken stay when Rep. John Conyers, the civil rights icon, was shown the door.

If Franken was set ablaze on the pyre of political expediency, Republicans busied themselves constructing monuments to denial and political self-mockery. No tortures of conscience for those who found Moore morally reprehensible but support him anyway.

Meanwhile, at least one Republican member of Congress accused of misconduct has been granted due process through an ethics investigation: Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas, who spent taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment suit. Another Republican, Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, who admitted to discussing surrogacy with two former staffers, resigned last Friday.

In the game of righteous indignation, it would seem that Democrats are leading. Many of them may rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican, but Republicans would seemingly rather vote for an accused child molester than let another Democrat enter the Senate chamber.

Come Tuesday, we’ll see where Alabama voters stand. Chances are better than good he’ll win. But Bible Belters know – and Roy Moore would tell you – that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

When an alleged child molester becomes a U.S. senator, beware the boll weevil.

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

]]> 0 Sen. Al Franken faces a second accusation of inappropriately touching a woman, this one from a photograph at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:16:01 +0000
Maine Voices: Greater Portland Council of Government doesn’t dictate decision-making, it facilitates it Tue, 12 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 From Sebago Lake to Casco Bay, the Portland area is thriving. People are back to work after finally shaking off the lingering effects of the Great Recession. New employers are finding opportunity in our region to build the foundations of our future prosperity, from craft brewing and local food production to the arts, high-tech and professional services. Our region is recognized nationally, and globally, as a vital entrepreneurial ecosystem, and our authentic tourism experiences and superb restaurant offerings are second to none.

But challenges remain – serious challenges that demand more from us than simple appreciation of all that’s good here. Our region faces demographic trends that threaten our ability to sustain what we have today. Poverty remains a persistent problem that denies economic and social equity to far too many of our fellow citizens. And climate change requires both adaptation and mitigation strategies for today and tomorrow.

In order to shape our future and overcome these and other challenges, we need leadership from our many strong institutions to build sustainable and shared prosperity. For almost 50 years, the Greater Portland Council of Governments has worked collaboratively to provide leadership alongside our partners, and we remain committed to doing so.

We face another challenge – one that we have to overcome in order to meet the rest. Civil public discourse is a hallmark of our heritage, but too often today data-based, respectful and inclusive dialogue is missing from our public exchanges. If we expect to find solutions to the challenges facing our region, and retain all that we love about our current successes, this must change. GPCOG is committed to doing everything we can to improve our public dialogue.

One of the many services that GPCOG provides is convening cities and towns to work together on complex issues. As conveners, we do not bring a preset agenda to the conversations we lead; on the contrary, we present data, define options for how to address challenges, and help citizens make their own informed choices.

That’s the GPCOG style: data-driven, community-based and respectful of all perspectives. Public dialogue in Maine needs this kind of approach, and we’re proud to contribute our expertise to constructive public debate and decision-making. But not everyone understands what we do, or how we do it.

A recent Maine Voices column (Nov. 28) took the Greater Portland Council of Governments to task for putting forward a “misguided ‘rail to trail’ plan” for a proposed walking and biking trail that would run alongside railroad tracks that would connect Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth.

Unlike the accurate news article by Staff Writer Peter McGuire the same day, the Maine Voices authors mischaracterized GPCOG’s role in this community discussion as well as our motives. Our role as neutral facilitator was defined by our member municipalities, who called on us to lead a complex discussion, and we were happy to do just that. I want readers of the Portland Press Herald to be clear: GPCOG is facilitating a discussion among all interested parties, including those who oppose the idea of a bike and walking trail.

We have no agenda other than ensuring a respectful discussion, informed by the best available data, designed to allow everyone to contribute their ideas, aspirations and concerns. Members of the four municipalities where the trail might run will decide what, if any, actions to take.

On Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Lunt Auditorium at OceanView in Falmouth, GPCOG will host a meeting where transportation experts, municipal land use planners and interested citizens will gather to discuss options for better connecting Portland and its northern neighbors.

Join us if you have an interest in this project and make your voice part of the community decision-making process. We particularly welcome new ideas, data-based reasoning and critical thinking. Every proposal deserves careful scrutiny, and our process is designed to give full and fair hearing to all perspectives.

I’ll be facilitating the meeting myself, and I’d love to see you there. If you come, you can see for yourself that today’s Greater Portland Council of Governments is leading civil discourse, bringing people together and providing the leadership needed to advance our region’s future, however our citizens and their elected representatives decide to shape it.

And after all, isn’t that what we all should be doing?

]]> 0 tracks and spur that B&M Baked Beans uses occasionally. 581726 Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer. Friday, November 15, 2013.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 21:14:40 +0000
Maine Voices: Partisan divide may benefit Moore, as it did Trump Mon, 11 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 One explanation for Republican Roy Moore’s staying power against Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama U.S. Senate race might center on policy preferences. Moore’s closing pitch seems all about abortion, with a caboose of other Christian-conservative policies. Alabama voters are especially conservative, so this might seem logical.

And in many ways it echoes the 2016 presidential contest, where voters in a few swing states seemed willing to put aside Donald Trump’s transgressions in the hope that his policies would make America great again. Much commentary since the election has indeed focused on how Hillary Clinton and the liberals overlooked the plight of white, working-class Americans, for instance, and all good progressives now have J.D. Vance’s memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” on their nightstand.

The problem is that, in both cases, a policy-centered explanation is wrong.

Beginning about a decade ago, our politics took a radical turn. Elections became exceedingly partisan. Straight-ticket voting, for example, has reached unprecedented levels.

More importantly, the very meaning of “party identification” has changed. Whereas in the past, our attachment to a political party centered on policy disputes or cues from family and associations, today’s version is grounded in fear and loathing of the other side. We believe that members of the “other” party are crazy, dangerous, a true threat to the nation.

Pew Research Center data tell the story: Politics was rather heated in 1994, as you may recall, but that year only about 21 percent of Americans had a “very unfavorable” view of those in the other party. Today, that figure stands at 58 percent. Many other studies point to increasingly hostile attitudes toward members of the other party. We don’t trust them and are less likely to socialize with them or to hire them. About a third of Americans say they would be upset if a member of their family married one of “them.” Playdates with conservative/liberal kids? I don’t think so!

At the end of the Obama administration, the Pew Center reported, 59 percent of Republicans said they felt “very coldly” toward Michelle Obama, and 40 percent of Republicans gave her a zero on a scale of 1 to 100. Michelle Obama gets a zero?

As noted by Emory University scholars Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster, “Over the past few decades, American politics has become like a bitter sports rivalry, in which the parties hang together mainly out of sheer hatred of the other team, rather than a shared sense of purpose.”

We choose to live in ideologically homogenous communities, and the promise of the internet to broaden perspectives and associations has morphed into blinders and the purifying of sources, arguments and facts. Voters no longer explore new ideas and perspectives, but share, like and retweet concordant ones. Adding fuel to the fire, a new book by scholars Chris Achen and Larry Bartels has shaken our understanding of voter rationality.

“Issue congruence (between voters and parties), in so far as it exists, is mostly a byproduct of other connections, most of them lacking policy content,” they write. Voters align themselves with racial, ethnic, occupational, religious, recreational and other groups.

Group identity determines vote choice, not policy preferences. People do not seem to understand or even like the policy choices they make.

So when Donald Trump tells votes in Alabama that Doug Jones is a liberal, and when Steve Bannon says that Roy Moore is “righteous,” they’re ringing the tribal alarm. Sure, Moore might have done those things to teenage girls, but at least he’s one of us.

And as to the economic interpretation of Trump’s win, a growing pool of studies suggests attitudes toward immigration, blacks and social welfare were much more important than were perceptions of personal finances or the state of economy.

It’s hard to label Donald Trump strategic these days, but he seems to know what he’s doing when he tweets “We need (Moore’s) vote on stopping crime, illegal immigration, Border Wall, Military, Pro Life, V.A., Judges 2nd Amendment.”

Ring that tribal bell, Mr. President. Ring that bell.


]]> 0 National Republican Senatorial Committee is ending its fundraising agreement with former Alabama chief justice and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore following allegations that he had sexual contact with a teenager decades ago.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 08:00:37 +0000
Cynthia Dill: While many grow less merry, Trump brings tidings of great joy for just a few Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Christians today light the candle of love in celebration of the second week of Advent, a season of getting ready for Christmas. Each Sunday for the four weeks preceding Dec. 25, purple candles symbolizing hope, love, joy and peace are lit and special prayers said in anticipation of receiving the most sacred of gifts. This year, that gift is a tax cut for fat cats.

Many but not all find comfort in the ritual of an Advent wreath and the retelling of the story about the miraculous birth of a baby in a manger in Bethlehem, but love – as in the benevolent concern for humankind – is universal. All major faiths aspire to cultivate compassion and loving-kindness.

Donald Trump would have you believe that under the presidency of his predecessor, Barack Obama, Christian Americans were prevented from celebrating Christmas. Trump claims to recall a bleak season of tyranny by liberal atheists who strictly enforced political correctness and marginalized white Christians for the sake of diversity.

Trump would have us forget the eight years the faithful and beautiful Obama family graciously opened the doors of the White House to the Holy Spirit and all other forces for good during the holiday season – on top of implementing policies that fought poverty and increased economic security. “Happy holidays” was hollow Obama diktat, Trump’s tweets suggest.

For years, Trump would also have had you believe – contrary to all evidence – that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

In the Trump-era Christmas story, Donald Trump is the savior. He saved the great-again American Christmas with tax cuts. Big, beautiful tax cuts.

“With Trump as your president, we are going to be celebrating Merry Christmas again, and it’s going to be done with a big, beautiful tax cut,” he said recently in Missouri.

It’s true many Americans are not celebrating as much as they used to and becoming less and less happy over time. Citizens of the most powerful and richest country on Earth also experience more pain compared to people in other countries. Lower-income families in particular have little hope their plight will improve – the first Sunday of Advent notwithstanding – according to a recently published study of Carol Grahanm’s book “Happiness for All?”

The big, beautiful tax cut in Santa Trump’s bag will increase the divide between rich and poor families and decrease access for many to health care and a ladder for social mobility. Taking away programs that support the health and security of children is contrary not only to fundamental Christian principles but to universal mores.

Americans of all faiths who profess love of humanity and this country should take note during this season of reflection – especially so-called Christian conservatives who profess being pious but act and vote profanely – too many of God’s children in the United States are hurting.

The BBC reported last week that children living in inner-city neighborhoods in America are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in rates higher than soldiers returning from war. Constant exposure by these kids to gun violence is causing physiological changes to their brains. Hypervigilance is becoming hardwired. The lack of ability to feel safe makes it hard if not impossible to learn useful skills, build trusting relationships and otherwise thrive and develop as contributing citizens. Gun murder rates in places like Atlanta and Chicago are off the charts, while rural children are going without adequate food or shelter.

Poised to increase the deficit by over a trillion dollars to pay for tax cuts that largely benefit corporations and very wealthy people, Trump and Congress are saying “Merry Christmas” by putting the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provides health care to 9 million kids on the chopping block.

In this season of brotherly love wouldn’t you love to see what policy solutions President Trump might propose to deal with the crisis of hunger and violence sickening and weakening American kids other than saying “Merry Christmas” again?

It’s the height of hypocrisy for the president and his Christian conservative friends in Washington to boast of their alleged righteous and superior Christmas credentials as measured by decorations at the White House or words uttered in speeches and embossed on greeting cards. The true Christmas story is one of good tidings of great joy for all people.

No child has ever wished for a big, beautiful tax cut under the tree.

While President Trump and conservative Christians get ready for Christmas during Advent they need only ask a simple question before casting a vote to further harm already vulnerable American kids by making it harder to live, love and learn in peace: what would Jesus do?

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

]]> 0, ME - SEPTEMBER 28: Cynthia Dill, a new columnist, was photographed on Monday, September 28, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Staff Photographer)Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:49:35 +0000
Jim Fossel: Republicans risk voter backlash over tax cuts Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Although the Republican Party has thus far made a spectacular mess of any attempts to repeal – or even modestly revise – Obamacare, they were more successful with another top priority about a week ago, when a tax cut package narrowly passed the U.S. Senate.

To critics, the tax cuts are a gigantic giveaway to the wealthy that will explode the deficit and provide no benefit to working-class Americans. Republicans, however, have been arguing that the benefit of the tax cuts would create enough economic growth to make up any shortfall in revenue, and that argument carried the day – among members of their own caucus, at least.

The immediate question, though, is not just whether Republicans are correct about the impact of the tax cuts on the deficit, but whether the public believes them. Since the bill won’t have any effect on taxes until people file their 2018 returns, it won’t have a direct impact on anyone until long after the next election. Even then, it’s unlikely to produce a sudden, dramatic impact on the economy, so the effects might not truly be felt until after the 2020 presidential election.

We may not know the real impact of this legislation on the deficit or the economy for years to come, but it will nevertheless have an enormous impact on campaigns immediately, beginning with next year’s midterm elections.

Republicans are essentially gambling that, rather than seeing this as backtracking on years of concern about the deficit, voters will believe them that the tax cuts will not end up increasing it.

Now, it’s nothing new for the majority party to suddenly forget their concerns about the debt or the deficit; it’s become almost a given in American politics that the deficit is something the minority party uses as a political cudgel against the majority.

In his first term as a U.S. senator, Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling; later, as president, he decried it when Republicans did the same. During his presidential campaign, he frequently railed against the deficit created under President George W. Bush, but then added to it when he moved in to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

So, in one sense, Donald Trump may be simply perpetuating a long tradition of railing against the deficit as a candidate while adding to it as a president. There’s plenty of reasons for Republicans to believe that, even if voters don’t accept their arguments about the deficit, they won’t be held politically accountable for increasing it. Poll after poll has shown that voters generally want less government spending and lower taxes, but don’t want to cut any specific programs that they like. In a democracy, voters themselves are just as responsible for the debt and the deficit as the politicians.

Every once in a while, though, voters actually do get frustrated about the deficit. We last saw this in a substantial way in 1992, with the independent presidential campaign of Texas businessman H. Ross Perot.

He challenged both parties on spending, and if he hadn’t run such a disorganized campaign, he might well have won.

Even with his bizarre approach – which included dropping out and re-entering the race, and refusing to run a traditional advertising campaign – he got nearly 20 percent of the vote nationwide and placed second in Maine.

That ended the Republican Party’s longtime domination of presidential politics here, and two years later we elected Angus King as our second independent governor. After the campaign, both parties eventually took heed of Perot’s shot across their bow and worked together to reduce the national debt.

Today, the Republican Party’s willingness to risk increasing the deficit might not help Democrats, but it still could hurt Republicans.

If voters again begin to see the deficit and the debt as a major pressing issue, as they have in the past, they might not trust either party to solve the problem. In that case, an independent or third-party candidate could well take advantage of the opening.

To win a presidential election, an independent would need all of Perot’s strengths with none of his weaknesses. The candidate would need to run a tough, disciplined campaign, but it’s not impossible.

Even if such a candidate did not win, though, the two major parties might be scared into coming up with a solution. If both parties managed to set aside their differences long enough to focus on coming up with a permanent fix for the debt and the deficit, that would certainly help all of us.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: @jimfossel

]]> 0, 08 Dec 2017 18:03:36 +0000
Maine Voices: It takes big and small gifts to bring change Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Three years ago, as I watched my son perform martial arts, he said something that was forever etched into my head and heart. Stepping onto the mat, Aidan bowed to his instructor and, in his sweet 9-year-old voice, said, “I’m gonna do the best I can today.” Goose bumps. An hour later, Aidan bowed again, saying, “I did the best I could today!” More goose bumps.

Nearly everyone I share this story with pledges to bookend their day with this simple sentiment. Because each of our definitions of doing our best varies, I’d like to suggest the following for 2018: Let’s do our best by helping one another do the best we can. We all have something to give, and together we can make a world of change.


Serving in nonprofit leadership roles for 17 years, I have witnessed humanity at its best – people joining together in powerful ways. At our core, humans innately need and desire connections. These connections are often strongest when built on empathy, defined as “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

Here in the U.S. we see countless examples of empathy. A hurricane hits and Americans are quick to help neighbors near and far. Charitable giving continues to set new records, increasing nearly every year since 1976, according to Giving USA 2017.

But while the wealthiest give the most in sheer dollars, according to social scientist Arthur C. Brooks, low-income employed Americans give the highest portion of their earnings. These data suggest we have an abundance of empathy – while also highlighting the power of small.

It’s easy to lose sight of the power of small when growth in mega-donations – private gifts over $100 million – grab headlines, including John Paulson’s $400 million gift to Harvard and Phil Knight’s $400 million gift to Stanford.

These mega-gifts reminded me of Mark Swann’s January 2015 Portland Press Herald op-ed, “Maine Voices: Wealthy ‘angels’ needed to help end suffering in Portland.” In it, the Preble Street executive director acknowledged the importance of all gifts, but cited a missing link: “large donations that could transform our city.” Swann suggested chronic homelessness could be resolved for $40 million (four $10 million gifts). Now three years later, where are those angels? We still need mega-gifts, to be sure, and we also need to increase the number of everyday change makers.

To do so, we must address issues of access – and we need to emphasize the power of small.

Nonprofits are increasingly recognizing opportunities to engage the masses, and ordinary citizens. The Case Foundation has labeled this phenomenon democratizing philanthropy: “the notion that giving – of your time, talent or treasure – isn’t something just for an elite class of individuals, but for all individuals.”

Yet, even with technological advances and growing focus on making giving more accessible, how are we reaching folks most marginalized? How do we eliminate all barriers to giving, even those perceived, by bringing opportunities directly to them?


This dilemma is even more pressing in Maine, which lags behind the rest of the country when calculating giving as a percentage of income, ranking 49th overall, according to Philanthropy Roundtable USA.

I don’t believe Maine’s low ranking indicates an empathy deficit. This past year in launching World of Change, a Maine nonprofit seeking to collect the $10 billion in loose change all around us to make social change, I spent countless hours in classrooms, at summer camps and with businesses engaging people of all ages. I can attest firsthand that almost everyone gets excited and is spurred to action when given empathy-activating opportunities.

That connection, fulfillment and sense of purpose we all get from giving – shouldn’t every child and human have an opportunity to experience the same?

We all play a role, but it starts in the home. Children whose parents talk to them about giving are 20 percent more likely to give than children whose parents do not, according to an Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy study. That finding holds regardless of the child’s sex, age, race or family income.

In a rural state like Maine, how do we increase access to purpose-filled experiences? How do we create more hurricanes of small acts, connecting people and using “the power of small” to move Maine up the generosity ladder?

Let’s prime the pump! At World of Change we’ll continue using spare change to lower barriers and get kids and adults excited about making change. Meanwhile, if there’s an “angel” out there, how about leveraging your mega-investment to empower and inspire more everyday citizens?

Who’s with me in 2018?

]]> 0 human, young or old, rich or poor gains a sense of purpose from giving.Sat, 09 Dec 2017 23:15:04 +0000
Maine Observer: Closing of Lisbon Falls shop not just a business loss Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In 1956, Lucienne Drapeau of Lewiston bought hundreds of costumes from an unnamed neighbor; with them, she opened a shop on Main Street – Drapeau’s Costumes – that would become a Maine icon.

The business changed hands and locations a few times, the name always remaining the same. The most recent owner, Kris Scribner Cornish, moved Drapeau’s to Lisbon Falls and hoped to turn it around: She increased the inventory to around 4,000 costumes, and gave it a web presence. It was successful for a spell, but sadly, this year Drapeau’s was forced to close for good.

I spoke briefly with Kris a couple of weeks ago as I paid for what I’d bought at their $30-a-bag sale. I could see the frustration on her face, hear an almost quiet anger in her voice as she discussed what led to her deciding to shut the doors. While talking to me she watched customers purchase items for pennies, and I can only imagine her internal struggle. Sadly, the end of an era has come.

Even national retailers are feeling pushed out and undercut by Amazon, and Drapeau’s isn’t a big-box chain selling top-quality products at a rock-bottom price; it’s a small store with one-of-a-kind items – many of them made right there – and a level of service you just don’t see anymore.

I know most people won’t see the value in a costume shop. I’m sure they will assume it’s selling something unnecessary, only needed for Halloween and various moments throughout the year, and that its closing is no big deal. But I don’t agree.

I’m a resident of Lewiston and a singer for OperaMaine: I performed in the chorus this summer for “La Traviata” and as Manuelita in “Carmen.” I sing music that has been written off as antiquated and reserved only for folks who have a history with the genre. Sadly, I know the feeling of not trending. But because I am a performer with a niche so special, I understand the value of just what Drapeau’s sold and rented.

At OperaMaine, costume designer Millie Hiibel – who knows the value of a visibly appealing cast – brought wardrobe to a level I had never experienced. But before I was a 32-year-old mom of four/ hobbyist opera singer, I knew the importance of “looking the part.”

I was a young girl who would go to a store like Drapeau’s or even Drapeau’s itself because I needed a ragtime dress for a performance in Bangor with the New York Ragtime Orchestra during the Arcady Music Festival. Or I needed a Disney princess costume for a local recital, thanks to my mother’s insistence that I “just get on stage.” Whatever the occasion, I came to know stores like Drapeau’s as an almost mecca.

My heart aches for the ladies of Drapeau’s. I am sure every item in their shop houses memories – of the people who needed a certain costume, the events where the costumes were to be worn, the wigs fluffed and boots shined. So I suppose I’m almost making a plea of sorts, that for anyone who owns anything from Drapeau’s to really hold that item dear. Because it isn’t just a thing – it’s years of memories, and it is a relic of a time that no longer exists.

]]> 0, 10 Dec 2017 13:45:19 +0000
Commentary: When civil rights and religion collide Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 There was a strange sense of deja vu in the Supreme Court Tuesday morning. Twenty-five years ago, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, which nullified protections for gay people statewide, and which the Supreme Court later struck down. In Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was argued Tuesday, the religious conservatives who pushed for Amendment 2 sought to undermine civil rights protections in another way – by claiming that the Constitution gives them the right to discriminate against gay people.

Masterpiece arose when Lakewood baker Jack Phillips refused to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which held that Phillips had violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act (CADA). Phillips responded by saying that applying CADA to make him use his artistic talents to bake a cake for same-sex couples violated his constitutional rights to free speech and religious conscience.

The case, though, is about more than just cake – it is an important and dangerous battle in the broader war between religion and speech rights that conservatives claim on one hand, and LGBT rights, contraceptive access and compliance with health-care laws on the other.

Many justices seemed sympathetic to the baker: Noel Francisco, President Trump’s new solicitor general, claimed that leaving the law intact would mean that an African-American sculptor could be forced to make a cross for a Ku Klux Klan event if he made crosses for the general public.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who holds the court’s key swing vote and who penned the decision that recognized same-sex couples’ right to marry, remained troubled. As he pointed out, Francisco’s position would essentially permit a “boycott (of) gay marriages.” If the court recognized the baker as an artist who had a constitutional right to refuse to make a cake for same-sex couples, then what’s to stop a chef, or florist or makeup artist from claiming that same right? The baker’s lawyer unconvincingly tried to cabin the case to its facts: Neither a makeup artist, nor a hairstylist, nor even a chef engaged in work sufficiently artistic enough to merit free speech protections.

But there are other ramifications of ruling for the baker. If gays can’t be protected from discrimination, then how about blacks, or women, or discrimination based on national origin, or religion? As the couple’s lawyer pointed out, if claiming a speech or religious right gave one an out every time someone came across a law they didn’t like, “you’re in a world in which every man is a law unto himself.”

Francisco’s suggestion that race was special did not seem to get much traction with the justices.

Thus even the conservative justices found themselves in a hard position.

They could rule against a sympathetic baker who served gay couples in general, but just refused to make them a custom wedding cake, or rule in his favor, thus opening a Pandora’s box, that would, as Justice Stephen G. Breyer put it, “undermine every civil rights law since year 2.” A ruling in favor of the baker could effectively nullify hundreds of anti-discrimination laws across the country, including signature protections like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Even Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, Trump’s appointee, pressed Francisco for a test that would help draw a line that would avoid that outcome.

And Justice Kennedy seemed torn, lamenting that blatant discrimination would be an “affront to the gay community,” but at the same time accusing the state of Colorado of being neither “tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ religious beliefs.”

It was Kennedy’s line of questioning, however, that suggested a possible Solomonic outcome.

In a tense series of questions, Kennedy suggested to Colorado’s solicitor general that the state had shown “hostility towards religion” in ruling against Phillips.

Kennedy focused on a single statement in the case’s voluminous appendix, in which one of the seven members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had said that using religion “to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric.”

The tone and nature of Kennedy’s questions suggest that he is inclined to rule for the baker. But his ruling would effectively still be a win for gay rights laws.

Kennedy can hold that CADA itself – like hundreds of other civil rights protections – remains completely valid. But this particular proceeding, he might conclude, was infected by anti-religious bias.

The court could send the case back for a redo, or simply invalidate the commission’s finding.

The religious right wants a free-standing exemption from civil rights laws. Gay rights advocates (correctly, I think) want the court to resoundingly affirm the vitality of civil rights laws.

So Kennedy’s ruling will probably satisfy neither side. But at the end of the day, any ruling that leaves civil rights laws alive, even if the Craig and Mullins lose this particular case, remains a victory for gay rights.

]]> 0, 08 Dec 2017 17:54:41 +0000
Ken Fredette: By avoiding federal law, sanctuary cities endanger public safety Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 NEWPORT — You may not know who Kate Steinle was or care. But you should. She was killed in a sanctuary city.

On July 1, 2015, the 32-year-old was walking along a pier in San Francisco with her father when the unthinkable happened. She was shot and killed by a five-time-deported illegal immigrant and felon. San Francisco had earlier passed an ordinance prohibiting city employees or use of funds from assisting immigration officials, thus becoming a sanctuary city.

Last week, a California jury found Garcia Zarate not guilty of murder or manslaughter – only convicting him of being a felon in possession of a gun.

Zarate had been deported five times before Steinle was killed. He was scheduled to be deported a sixth time, but that did not happen in time to protect Steinle. Local law enforcement had to let him go because San Francisco chooses to protect illegal immigrants.

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor for his arraignment on July 7, 2015. A jury acquitted him in November on possible charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder. Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool

California has some of the most stringent and draconian gun control laws in the nation, so the left can’t blame Steinle’s death on guns. She’s dead because a sanctuary city refused to comply with federal law enforcement and detain her killer, who was in the country illegally, opting instead to set him free.

While this crime occurred 3,000 miles away from us, we’re not immune to this here in Maine. Several Maine communities have discussed becoming a sanctuary city, only to water down the wording to avoid losing federal funds for not cooperating with federal officials and law enforcement on illegal immigrants. Earlier this year, two Maine sheriffs (Kevin Joyce of Cumberland County and William King of York County) said they would no longer hold inmates past their release date for federal immigration officials – a practice eerily similar to the one that caused the death of Steinle in San Francisco.

As public officials, we have a duty to obey federal law and we have a duty to protect our citizens, first and foremost. Advocating for tougher immigration policy and an end to sanctuary cities doesn’t make us “racists” and it doesn’t make us “anti-immigrant” – it makes us pro-public safety. We are a state of immigrants. Let me be clear: I’m not against immigration, but what I’m for is legal immigration. A family friend of mine became an American citizen and was naturalized in Bangor this past week. My own family came to Maine from Canada three generations ago. They all came legally.

Legal immigrants are vital to the long-term economic vitality of our state. We are acutely aware of the workforce challenge facing Maine. Immigration can be an integral part of meeting economic work force demands. Many of these immigrants have college educations or skills our employers so desperately are seeking.

In 2010, in one of his first orders of business, Gov. Paul LePage signed an executive order reversing the Baldacci-era policy that barred law enforcement officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status, trying to put an end to sanctuary cities in Maine.

In 2015, I opposed legislation that extended General Assistance welfare benefits to asylum-seeking immigrants for up to two years. Most of this money goes to two cities in Maine. It seems to me actions like this by the Maine Legislature are an invitation for cities in Maine to become “sanctuary cities” like San Francisco. Cities where crimes are committed by illegal immigrants that then go unpunished.

Today we are spending taxpayer dollars to give welfare to noncitizens while thousands of severely disabled Mainers languish on waiting lists for state funding. I prefer to follow federal law; to protect the citizens of our state and to prioritize funding for those severely disabled who are waiting for the Legislature to do the right thing.

In June, Republican primary voters will get to choose a nominee to be Maine’s next governor. Earning the nomination of our party shouldn’t be a steppingstone along the way, but a reminder of the responsibility all of us, as candidates, have to lead by example. I’ve been a Republican my entire life and support law enforcement’s efforts to protect the public. Part of that leadership should require us to not support sanctuary cities that intentionally avoid and violate federal law, and instead, put the public safety of Mainers first.


]]> 0 Ines Garcia Zarate, right, is led into the courtroom by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, left, and Assistant District Attorney Diana Garciaor for his arraignment on July 7, 2015. A jury acquitted him Thursday on possible charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to first-degree murder.Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:31:39 +0000
Maine Voices: First Mainer lost in WWI a painful memory of a century ago Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 On Nov. 30, 1917, Cpl. Harold T. Andrews of Portland became the first Mainer in the American Expeditionary Forces to die in combat in World War I. This son of a prominent Portland educator died when his engineering unit was called into combat to fight a German offensive on the Cambrai front in France.

America had entered the war in April 1917. A month later, young Andrews volunteered and joined a New York-based engineering unit. American engineers were badly needed to improve a French railroad system that was woefully inadequate and badly needed for moving incoming American troops from French coastal ports to the inland battlefields.

Harold Andrews reflected service by “the best” of young Americans in the war. That included both volunteers like Andrews and thousands of draftees who followed him. By the Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, America included among its military deaths the immediate past mayor of New York City, one of the leading members of the House of Representatives, one of the outstanding collegiate athletes of his year and the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt. A present analogy might be to imagine the death in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars of Rep. Paul Ryan, one of several young big-city mayors who were being considered future presidential prospects, one of the Bush or Obama daughters, or a Trump son and a recent Heisman Trophy winner.

At the time of Andrews’ death, the world war was not going well for America and its allies. Earlier news in November 1917 reported that Germany had effectively won the war on the Eastern front and that former ally Russia was drifting into anarchy and civil war. Ally Italy was faced with German and Austrian invading forces. France had changed its civilian leadership after 18 months of horrific losses and a mutiny of some of its troops. German submarines still threatened to cut food supplies to Great Britain. America was becoming aware of what it meant to declare war on Germany, often described in congressional debate as the “most powerful military nation in history.” While few American leaders spoke of it publicly, few of them did not wonder: “Have we joined too late?”

The next 12 months would answer that question. It would see America rising to numerous challenges that it had never, or rarely, faced before. Among those were how to raise an army, how to fight as part of a major alliance, what financial assistance to give to those allies, how to pay for those costs and what other sacrifices civilians would have to make. It also had to deal with serious issues that did not arise from the war but were influenced by it such as votes for women, race conflicts, prohibition of alcohol, labor-management relations and treatment of immigrants.

On Nov. 30, 2017, a small group gathered at Andrews Square on Pine Street in Portland to commemorate the centennial of Cpl. Andrews’ death. We then adjourned for further discussion of what was known a century ago as the “war to end all wars.” Today, we reflected it might be called “the forgotten war.” Sadly, efforts to remember the World War I centennial have received little support from government leaders in Washington who in earlier years boosted remembrance of the centennial of the Civil War and the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. We speculated on the reasons for this. Fortunately, a state of Maine World War I Centennial Commission has been tasked with correcting that oversight.

What the study of the American experience in World War I reminds us of is how the issues of 1917 still resonate a century later. Foreign alliances, military spending, racial tensions, taxation, the roles of women in society, sacrifice by all members of society rather than just the men (and now women) in uniform are still with us. They also emphasize how much those two years of the war era shaped the American century that followed as we debate what the next century should look like.

]]> 0 U.S. soldiers, with five of them wearing gas masks and the other one holding his throat are seen in an undated photo probably used for training purposes during World War I. World War I pioneered many “firsts” in technological, scientific and societal innovations. Chemical weapons in the form of deadly poison gases were used for the first time, leading quickly to the development of countermeasures like the first gas masks.Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:19:32 +0000
The humble Farmer: I’m not just talking through my hat about covering my head Sat, 09 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In 1916 Booth Tarkington wrote a book about a boy named Penrod, and in most of the book’s illustrations, Penrod is wearing a newsboy cap. Although few men or boys would wear anything called a newsboy cap today, they are now called “thug caps” and have become popular among those willing to pay as much as $118 to wear one. We read in the ads that a man wearing a thug cap is making a statement.

The term “newsboy cap” is new to me, although in the early 1940s, the caps were very common here in St. George. We called them “Swedish paving cutter hats” because it was the kind of hat my father and many of the other paving cutters wore to work at the time. There is one hanging on a nail out in my henhouse that has been there since 1938 or perhaps before. They had a narrow but broad soft visor that had to be pulled low to keep the sun out of your eyes, giving one a furtive look – which might be why J. Peterman now markets them as “thug caps.”

Would you be surprised to hear that you can also buy a top hat or a bowler from J. Peterman? If I were a bit younger, I’d get a top hat just for the fun of wearing it to town when it wasn’t windy. I think I saw Dr. Demento in a top hat at a humor conference in Anaheim. And Ron Carter, Key West’s notorious Noodleman, sported one, too.

There was a battered old top hat in the house when I was a kid. When my little brother, Jim, was 6 or 7 years old, he used to put on that top hat and a cape and walk through the woods with a silver-headed cane. He still knows all the birds out there by sight and song.

I once saw a movie in which the hero ran around, in what we were led to believe was 40-below Minnesota weather, wearing a sheepskin coat but nothing on his head. You can trust it wasn’t that cold when they shot the movie, or the man’s ears would have frozen and dropped off. In today’s world his rough, rugged, manly image would have suffered if he had some kind of hat pulled down over his ears.

So what is it about a hat that defines a man’s character? His manliness? When I – ever a wimp – was in grade school, the sight of my ears on the playground was a harbinger of summer weather. I remember hearing, “Spring is here. Skoglund’s got his earflaps up.” A few years later when I was in high school, boys would soak their hair with water, comb it into an Elvis-like pompadour and then go outside, where their hair would freeze solid in the January cold.

I wore a red “Bah Humbug” hat to a recent Grange community Christmas supper. That hat has a long, red, drooping tassel with a white fuzzy ball at the end. I was hoping it would generate a little Christmas commentary, although I felt a bit odd wearing a hat when I sat down to eat. But when I stood up and looked around, I counted six other men (one 91 years old, whose hat advertised Guptill’s Mill in Machias) who obviously felt comfortable in baseball caps while eating at a table.

For 50 years I’ve had the impression that it was a hatless President Kennedy who destroyed the hat industry in the United States. A few have suggested, with some merit, that it was the low overhead in automobiles that discouraged men from wearing hats.

Seventy years ago there was radio jingle that advertised Adam Hats. Do you remember it? “I go for a man who wears an Adam Hat.” “I love my man who wears an Adam Hat.” And then someone whistled. Those of us who close our eyes to shampoo commercials that show lathered, dripping bodies in showers would gladly trade them for an Adam Hat commercial with the whistle.

Although the baseball cap with a curled-down visor rules in rural Maine, you are unlikely to see a hat on any man who attends Wyeth exhibitions or pays to hear Yo-Yo Ma.

There are rare exceptions. If you never got past the sixth grade – or are a judge with a degree from Harvard Law School – you have never noticed what the average Maine man wears, and you know enough to put on mittens, overshoes and a fuzzy watch cap before stepping out into a blizzard.

The Humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at his website: MainePrivateRadio.html

]]> 0, 08 Dec 2017 22:38:19 +0000
MaineHousing director: Tax bill will make our state’s affordable-housing crisis even worse Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — In the coming days, a congressional conference committee will reconcile the differences between the U.S. House and Senate bills to modify the U.S. tax code. The outcome could affect whether more Maine seniors and families will be able to move off waiting lists and into affordable housing; whether prospective homebuyers will be able to purchase their first house; and whether construction workers will be building multifamily housing vitally needed in a state where housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

Under the House plan, the tax-exempt status of private activity bonds would be eliminated, wiping out a critical tool that Maine has counted on for decades to provide below-market-rate mortgages and build affordable rentals for people who earn 50 percent to 60 percent of an area’s annual median income, or between $22,300 and $34,680 for a two-person household.

The Senate version retains private activity bonds. It’s imperative that they are kept in the final version; otherwise, Maine could face a loss of nearly 2,000 affordable-housing units in the next decade, and thousands of prospective homebuyers would not be able to purchase their first home.

The private activity bond program, created in 1968 and modified in 1986, is held in high regard. Here’s how it works: Investors purchase bonds that earn interest that is not subject to federal taxes. They receive a lower interest rate on the bond, and that lower rate is passed on as a low-rate home mortgage or development loan.

In addition to providing below-market-rate loans, private activity bonds are required to access a key component of the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. Under this program, investors purchase an ownership interest in the rental project and receive a federal tax credit for a 10-year period.

Private activity bonds, together with low-income housing tax credits, finance about 300 affordable apartments each year in Maine. More than 1,075 units were constructed or rehabilitated from 2010 to 2016 through a $147.5 million combined total investment of private activity bonds and housing tax credits. Meanwhile, thousands of seniors and lower-income wage earners have their names on waiting lists for when apartments become available.

Since 2013, the bonds and tax credits have financed the construction or rehabilitation of 587 apartments for seniors and families in 10 southern Maine communities. They include the Malcolm E. Noyes Apartments in Westbrook (38 new units for seniors) and The Ledges in Saco (84 renovated units for seniors).

Also, because of private activity bonds, almost 3,900 first-time buyers have purchased a house using our First Home Loan program in the past five years.

Through these crucial programs, Maine gains private-sector investment that serves an important public purpose – providing affordable housing, which is desperately needed in most of the state. According to MaineHousing’s Affordability Index, in 2016 nearly 58 percent of renter households statewide couldn’t afford the median two-bedroom rent of $872 (plus utilities), and almost 53 percent of total households could not afford the median home price of $184,000.

For homebuyers, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Sagadahoc and York counties are unaffordable in comparison to the state’s other 11 counties. In Cumberland County in 2016, the median home price was $256,000 and the median income was $59,748. Sixty percent of households there cannot afford the median home price.

For renters, all Maine counties except Knox and Lincoln were unaffordable in 2016.

Putting a chill on affordable-housing development would affect Maine’s economy, too. In 2015-2016, 29 housing projects that received $180 million from MaineHousing and all of our leveraged sources added 1,120 units and created 2,444 jobs with $74 million in wages, according to an economic impact study by the University of Southern Maine. The jobs comprised 17 percent of annual residential construction employment.

MaineHousing was established by the Maine Legislature nearly 50 years ago with the mission to assist Maine people in obtaining and maintaining quality, affordable housing and services suitable to their housing needs.

I’m proud of the work our agency has done in collaboration with affordable-housing developers and lenders in Maine to keep costs down while meeting the needs of families, seniors and veterans. Congress should not eliminate successful programs with proven outcomes.

Mainers are counting on us.

]]> 0, ME - JUNE 5: Avesta Housing and Portland Housing Authority unveil a new 45-unit apartment complex on East Oxford Street. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:42:18 +0000
George Will: Nobody knows if a tax cut bill built on hope will stir growth Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The Republicans’ tax legislation is built on economic projections that are as confidently as they are cheerfully made concerning the legislation’s shaping effect on the economy over the next 10 years. This claim to prescience must amaze alumni of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which were 85 and 158 years old, respectively, when they expired less than 10 years ago in the unanticipated Great Recession.

The predictions of gross domestic product and revenue growth assume, among many other things, continuation of the current expansion. It began in June 2009 and has been notable for its anemia relative to other post-1945 expansions: Its average annual growth rate has been 2 percent; theirs, 4.3 percent. But it also has been remarkably durable. It is 102 months old; the average since after World War II is 58 months. Unless the business cycle has been repealed, a recession is almost a certainty during the 10-year window for which the tax bill has been tailored.

What the legislation’s drafters anticipate, indeed proclaim, is that Congress will not allow to happen what the legislation says, with a wink, will happen. So, this might mark the historic moment when Washington decided that it no longer will bother to blush. The legislation says the tax reductions for individuals will expire by 2025. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, however, says “we have every expectation that down the road Congress will extend them.” Of course Congress will. The phantom expiration is an $800 billion fudge, a cooking of the books in order to cram the tax bill into conformity with arcane parliamentary procedures that make the measure immune to filibuster. We have been down this road before: For the same reason, some George W. Bush tax cuts of 2001 were scheduled to expire at the end of 2010; 82 percent of them (measured by revenue) did not.

The Democrats’ denunciation of the Republicans’ tax cuts because they especially benefit the wealthy is a recyclable denunciation of any significant tax cut. The top 1 percent of earners supply 39 percent of income tax revenues, the top 10 percent supply 70 percent, the bottom 50 percent supply 3 percent, 60 percent of households pay either no income taxes (45 percent) or less than 5 percent of their income, and 62 percent of Americans pay more in payroll taxes than in income taxes. So, any tax cut significant to macroeconomic policy – any that might change incentives sufficiently to substantially change businesses’ and individuals’ behaviors – must be primarily a cut for the affluent.

Democrats pretend to worry that Republicans are executing a diabolical double play, using tax cuts to placate donors, then citing the cuts’ enlargement of the national debt as an excuse to cut entitlements. Surely Democrats know that Republicans are not insubordinate to their president, who has vowed to oppose any significant (i.e., touching Social Security or Medicare) entitlement reforms. Besides, whenever Republicans run large budget deficits – the tax legislation probably means that the next decade’s will be even larger than they would have been – they serve the Democrats’ basic agenda: They legitimize the bipartisan penchant for making big government seem cheap. Republicans, too, give people $X worth of government services and charge the recipients $Y, with Y significantly less than X.

In 2002, when Dick Cheney – a strict constructionist, but not of economic data – said, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter,” the publicly held national debt was 33 percent the size of GDP; today, it is 75 percent. At some point, the debt’s size matters, and we seem determined to learn the hard way where that point is.

This tax legislation, an amalgam of earnest hoping and transparent make-believe, is a serious lunge for sustained 3 percent growth. Without this, the economy, and hence the entitlement state, will buckle beneath the strain of 10,000 of the elderly each day becoming eligible for Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans purport to know how changed tax incentives will affect corporations’ and individuals’ decisions, and how those decisions will radiate through the economy. Republicans do not know – nobody, including the Republicans’ equally overconfident critics, does – but they might be right, and their wager is worth trying.

Economics is a science of incentives, and like all sciences it is never “settled.” Both sides, with their thumping predictions, have given hostages to the future, which will deal harshly with some. Perhaps most. Possibly all of them.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Thu, 07 Dec 2017 19:50:59 +0000
Deadline for federal health insurance enrollment is just days away Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 As we all prepare for the holidays, it is important to remember that it’s open enrollment time. If you need health coverage, you should know that this year, individuals have a shorter period of time to enroll and select their plans – and fewer options to choose from. The open enrollment period this year is only six weeks – half as long as last year. The enrollment deadline is Dec. 15 for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. Maine residents who want individual health insurance must go online soon and shop for the plan that best fits their needs and the needs of their family.

It has been widely reported that premiums are going up around the country, and unfortunately, this is also true of Maine. The cost of health care services continues to rise, and recent administrative and legislative decisions made in Washington have directly led to increasing insurance premiums.

Fortunately, most Maine residents purchasing on the exchange will be protected from these increases. While premiums are going up, many Mainers will also see their premium subsidy increase. These subsidies, known as the advanced premium tax credit, offset the cost of health insurance and will allow some residents to purchase health insurance with either very low or zero monthly premiums, depending on their income.

Additionally, certain eligible individuals will also find that another federal subsidy, called cost-sharing reduction subsidies, will dramatically reduce their deductibles, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses. These cost-sharing reduction subsidies, however, are available only for so-called “Silver” plans, which may have slightly higher monthly premiums. While you may have read that funding for this subsidy has been ended by actions in Washington, these affordable and attractive plans are still offered on the exchange.

Therefore, this year more than ever, it is extremely important that consumers carefully consider all the costs associated with a health insurance plan, including the premium, deductibles, co-payments, coinsurance and any other out-of-pocket expenses. If individuals have questions about the health plans available on, they should know that there are health navigators and certified assisters throughout the state of Maine who can help them with their concerns. These trained professionals have an extensive background in health care and can be reached online at or toll-free by phone at 800-965-7476. Consumers can also contact a licensed broker or even call a health plan directly.

Lastly, consumers will also notice that this year there will be fewer health insurers participating on the exchange through, so individuals will find fewer choices than in previous years. Health insurer participation rates around the country have declined, but in Maine, consumers will still find options from two quality health insurers, including Harvard Pilgrim, and be able to choose from several health insurance plans.

In Maine, much credit for the survival of the public health exchange is due to the leadership of the Maine Bureau of Insurance. Amid indecision from Washington about whether or not the cost-sharing reduction payments would be funded, Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa was fair and decisive in his approach to regulating the marketplace for 2018. His foresight ensured that residents both had the opportunity to voice their concerns during the process and that Mainers would have a choice in health plans for 2018.

Harvard Pilgrim is proud to have participated in the Maine health insurance exchange for the past three years. As a company celebrating our 50th anniversary, and with over 20 years of serving Maine residents, our commitment to the state of Maine goes well beyond our role as an insurance provider – we hope to be a strong corporate citizen, in line with our not-for-profit mission and our core values.

So, before you get too caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, please take the time to review your individual health insurance options for 2018 at Dec. 15 and the end of open enrollment are right around the corner!

]]> 0 website is seen on a computer screen. The government says more than 600,000 people signed up for Affordable Care Act coverage in the first week of open enrollment season, and nearly 8 in 10 of those were current customers renewing their coverage.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 11:03:04 +0000
Maine Voices: Japan’s surrender saved a soldier from second major combat mission Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 My father – New Yorker Charlie Watson – nearly fought two wars during his combat time in World War II.

The first was in Italy, where he and his 91st Army Division methodically chased the Germans up the Italian boot for two years in the days just before VE Day in the spring of 1945.

But just as he was preparing for a new life and a new fiancée back in the U.S., he learned he was to be part of what would be the biggest single engagement of the Pacific campaign, a massive million-man assault of the Japanese mainland.

My dad was a humble soldier, decorated with the Bronze Star, focused on the task at hand. In 1986, I did a video interview with him and he casually mentioned Japan and his possible fate. No big deal, he suggested.

It was called Operation Downfall. But it never happened, as it was rendered unnecessary by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in late summer 1945, much to the surprise of the world.

It was to be epic in scope. Forty percent of the U.S. soldiers still in uniform in 1945 would be deployed. More than 180,000 paratroopers would join the landing craft. Fear of kamikaze attacks and poison gas drove military planners to drastic decisions.

It was all part of the peculiar final days of the war. Secretly, the Manhattan Project had been developed, and atomic tests conducted. The worrisome Soviets entered the theater as a full combatant on the Allied side against Japan. Conventional fire-bombing of cities was stepped up in an effort to bring Emperor Hirohito to his knees.

The United States desperately wanted the war over, to bring all its troops home. But the Japanese wouldn’t budge, fighting with ferocity and skill.


The United States had invaded Japan before – years earlier, in 1853, when Commodore Matthew Perry led his four sailing ships into the harbor at Tokyo Bay, seeking to re-establish regular trade and discourse between that country and the West after a hiatus of over 200 years.

Over the years the U.S. encouraged and condoned Japan’s muscle-building and development as the strongest power in the region. Ironically, Japan later flexed those muscles, vanquishing Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, and later initiating full-scale hostilities throughout Asia by invading China in the 1930s and then the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

War raged around the world. In Europe, Hitler commanded a continent. In the Pacific, Japan’s legions gobbled up a land mass and thousands of miles of islands. Our Asian war (1942-45) conjurs up images of the arduous and bloody island-hopping moves geared to roll back and to destroy Japan. Midway. Guadalcanal. The Philippines. Burma. Guam. Coral Sea. New Guinea. Finally, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, where 94 percent of 117,000 Japanese defenders perished.

The ending months in the Pacific were horrific. After losing eight battleships and most of its Pacific Fleet to Japanese attackers in late 1941, the United States saw 111,000 dead and 253,000 wounded in the Pacific Theater by the summer of 1945. U.S. forces vaulted closer to Japan. Numbers of American dead mounted in ferocious fighting. Local newspapers in Maine filled with combat obituaries.


Historian James Martin Davis wrote in the Omaha World-Herald that Operation Downfall “might have been one of the most horrible campaigns in the history of man.”

Set to start in November 1945, Downfall was intended to capture the southern third of the southernmost main Japanese island, Kyushu, with the island of Okinawa to be used for staging.

If the campaign had taken place, it would have been the largest amphibious operation in history, dwarfing the European landing at Normandy. The war could be extended into 1947, some planners said.

The Japanese planned an all-out defense of Kyushu. Casualty predictions varied widely. One estimate predicted 6 million Japanese dead. Hundreds of thousands of Americans would be in peril.

So, Dad, 24 at the time, went about his business, visiting New Hampshire, courting Claire St. Cyr, but putting off marriage plans until 1946. He knew things might be tentative.

And there were his brothers – John, 21, and George, 19. Both were already fighting in the Pacific Theater in those uneasy times.

Downfall was abandoned when Japan surrendered following Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The atomic bombs ended it all. Suddenly the war was over.

]]> 0 Sept. 8, 1945, an allied correspondent stands in the rubble of Hiroshima, Japan. The building in the backgound is preserved as the Atomic Bomb Dome. Hiroshima was bombed on Aug. 6, 1945. Nagasaki was bombed three days later.Thu, 07 Dec 2017 17:10:30 +0000
Commentary: Tax bills would be an assault on educational opportunities Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 LEWISTON — As Congress works to reconcile differences between the House and Senate tax bills, it is worth pausing to consider the impact of both on the nation’s young people and their life prospects. After an election driven in no small part by concerns that, for the first time in U.S. history, our children’s lives might not be better than their parents’, this legislation’s assault on educational opportunity is as puzzling as it is ill-conceived.

According to Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Commission on Taxation, the House version of the bill would cost America’s students an estimated $71 billion over the next decade. Cuts directed at students will eliminate a range of tax benefits for undergraduates and their families, hike taxes on graduate students by thousands of dollars and place unprecedented burdens on colleges and universities.


The House bill repeals the student loan interest deduction, which allows borrowers making less than $80,000 per year to deduct the interest they pay on student loans. In 2015 alone, this provision offered tax relief to 12 million American households.

The House proposal also targets continuing education, eliminating the Lifetime Learning Credit, the Hope Scholarship Credit and the deductibility of employer-provided tuition assistance. These supports are sorely needed in Maine, where barely 40 percent of residents hold college degrees, and where economists estimate that 15,000 new high-skilled positions will go unfilled unless more residents complete some level of higher education. Work is changing rapidly, and workers need to keep up. Eliminating deductions that allow working adults to retool with new skills and credentials will only widen the skills gap in Maine, making it harder for individuals to earn a living and harder for the state to attract new businesses.

Taxing graduate school tuition waivers would create insurmountable financial barriers for our most talented and ambitious scholars, and seriously threaten the American research enterprise, which has long been the innovation engine of the world. These students power American research by teaching undergraduates and working in labs while pursuing their graduate degrees. Advances in medical technology, global positioning systems, antibiotics and weather forecasting, among countless other examples, all originated in university research.

Colleges and universities also face real burdens from both versions of the bill.

The House would eliminate tax-exempt private activity bonds, which colleges use to finance the building of dormitories, classrooms and laboratories that support learning and research.

Both the House and Senate versions also raise the standard deduction, reducing the incentive for donors to make charitable contributions that colleges – and all charitable organizations – depend on.

Both proposals levy an excise tax on investment income from college endowments above a certain level, depriving colleges and universities of an estimated $2.4 billion over 10 years that is currently used to support programs, like financial aid, that directly benefit students.

Finally, eliminating or capping the federal deduction for state and local taxes – measures contained in both bills – will put pressure on states to cut income taxes, reducing a key revenue source for Maine’s perennially strapped community colleges and public universities.


Seventy-three years ago, in 1944, as soldiers returned from World War II, the American Legion proposed a new kind of veterans benefit designed not as a short-term cash bonus, which had been the norm, but as a long-term investment in the education and life prospects of returning soldiers. The GI Bill, enacted with bipartisan support, provided veterans with, among other benefits, tuition and living assistance to attend high school, college, graduate school or training programs. By 1957, 7.8 million veterans had taken advantage of these educational benefits.

This influx of talent and ambition into the nation’s colleges and universities, combined with federal support for university research, created the greatest engine of innovation in the world, expanded the pool of highly skilled labor and ushered in an unprecedented period of U.S. economic growth.

Congress’ current efforts at tax reform stand in sharp contrast to the expansive vision of the GI Bill. By increasing the cost of education for both students and institutions, the tax bill will constrict access to education at a time when it has never been more vital to individual advancement or national prosperity.

It is ironic that a measure called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” promises to constrain development of the labor force needed to do these jobs.


]]> 0 listen to a University of Maine macroeconomics lecture in 2015. Readers say a column pushing changes to the college system missed a couple points.Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:54:55 +0000
Commentary: Retailers, consumers and state will benefit from tax reform bill Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — After more than three decades, Congress finally passed much-needed and long-overdue tax relief for millions of families and businesses. For Maine and its nearly 9,000 retail establishments and over 80,000 retail jobs, this is a welcome relief for small businesses.

We owe Sen. Susan Collins a heartfelt “thank you” for helping push the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act over the finish line. As she has done many times throughout her career, Sen. Collins was a critical force during the negotiations and was able to make significant changes to the bill addressing some of her major concerns.


We elect all of our congressional representatives to work hard for the people of Maine, and if these issues were all easy, all four would vote the same way each time. However, the issues are often complex and the process can be frustrating, but we rely on our elected officials to work hard and make informed decisions. Tax reform is a great example of that, and Sen. Collins used her leverage wisely to improve the bill.

Retailers in Maine have been advocating for tax reform for years, calling on Congress to push against tax breaks that benefit only select industries and instead use that revenue to lower rates for all companies, including small businesses. The retail industry is Maine’s largest private-sector employer and contributes $1.5 billion to the state gross domestic product, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Maine deserves legislation that will help generate jobs and economic growth.

While some critics will argue that this tax bill only benefits large companies, that is simply not true. They need to remember that 95 percent of retailers operate in just one location and 98 percent of retailers have 50 or fewer employees. Retailers are truly small businesses, and it’s clear they will be much better off under this bill.

Not only will Main Street retailers see the lowest tax rates in decades, they’ll benefit from a fairer and simpler tax code that leads to lower compliance costs. According to the National Taxpayer Advocate, small businesses spend nearly $16 billion complying with our nation’s complicated tax code, which is money that could be better spent on growth, job creation and higher wages. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will free up resources for retailers in a variety of ways, including by simplifying inventory accounting rules and promoting capital investment.


Here are the three main reasons why passage of this new tax bill is good for Maine’s retail industry and the state as a whole:

First, it addresses retail’s high, unequal tax burden: This legislation cuts business tax rates and closes loopholes, thus lowering retail’s high and unequal tax burden and leveling the playing field for the industry. Retail currently pays the highest effective tax rate of any industry, the National Retail Federation has found. Most tax breaks and loopholes are not applicable to retail.

Second, it will enable reinvestment: By lowering retail’s tax burden, this bill will enable employers to reinvest in their businesses and employees. That means stronger retailers, better pay and more jobs.

Third, it provides vital tax relief to consumers: Consumers will receive much-needed tax relief and therefore, increase discretionary income. By one estimate, a family of four with an income of roughly $73,000 would save $1,500 each year in taxes. More consumers with more money to spend would be a long-lasting boon for retailers.


While the new tax bill isn’t perfect, it goes a long way in helping retailers and their employees. It creates a fairer tax code, triggers reinvestment in Maine and the rest of the country and boosts the spending power of consumers. These are all key ingredients for retailers in Maine to continue to grow and for our state to stay competitive.

As the bill continues its way through the final process of a committee of conference and additional votes in the House and Senate, we have no doubt that Sen. Collins will be a respected, thoughtful voice and continue to do the best she can for Maine.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2017 10:53:32 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Trump hypocritically praises Rosa Parks but condemns Colin Kaepernick Wed, 06 Dec 2017 11:00:03 +0000 Here comes the most meaningless sentence you’ll read today: Last week, Donald Trump paid tribute to Rosa Parks.

It’s meaningless because Trump obviously has no real idea what Parks did or what it meant. If he did, he could never have cursed football player Colin Kaepernick.

Oh, sure, he can mouth the words, as he did in the slick video posted online Saturday. To the accompaniment of swelling music and historical images, Trump narrated Parks’ famous act of defiance 62 Decembers ago, her refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man after the “white” section of the bus became full.

Her arrest ignited the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott, the first act of the Civil Rights Movement, and brought to prominence a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. And yes, Trump spoke truly when he lauded Parks for bravery and a legacy that inspires. But given the source, that praise could not have been emptier.

You cannot truly understand Parks’ legacy or appreciate her bravery and still declare, as he did in September, that NFL owners should say “Get that son of a bitch off the field” if a player follows Kaepernick’s lead and kneels during the national anthem. This is not to equate the athlete and the seamstress; her impact obviously dwarfs his – at least, thus far. But it is to say that, in terms of motive, method and reaction, there is little substantive difference between the two.

It’s important to remember that it wasn’t just the indignity of being told to surrender her seat that made Parks say “no” that day. Rather, it was also decades of living with white people’s abuse, exploitation and violence under a system that assumed, as a matter of policy, that she was filthy, ignorant and unworthy. Which is not fundamentally different from Kaepernick’s frustration with police brutality that kills and wounds African-Americans while the courts do nothing.

Yes, his protest is often called unpatriotic and offensive. The same was said of Parks’ protest. Not incidentally, she broke the law; he didn’t. And as Kaepernick is called names and threatened by outraged white people, so was she.

Parks once said she refused to stand because she was “tired of taking it.” The things that made her tired were in plain sight, as obvious as a “Whites Only” sign. Yet they were invisible to most white people.

Sixty-two years later, we can all easily see the things that fatigued her and other black people back then. We marvel that there was ever a time some of us could not. And Parks, 12 years dead, is unthreatening enough to be “honored” by a Donald Trump.

Well, this is the same Trump who has led the metaphorical lynch mob against black athletes for doing essentially what Parks and her generation did. Moreover, he’s the same Trump who retweets white supremacists and Islamophobes, the one who found moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and those who protested them.

So this “honor” is cynical, hypocritical and deeply insulting to the memory of a great woman. Trump needs to take Rosa Parks’ name out of his lying mouth. He sullies it by speaking it.

Meanwhile, that football player Trump loathes risked his livelihood because he got tired of “taking” the brutalization of black people. He has faced condemnation and threat for demanding that all of us see what some of us refuse to. Like the seamstress on the bus six decades ago, Kaepernick has ignited a generation because he decided he literally would not stand for it anymore.

He honors Rosa Parks more meaningfully than Donald Trump ever could.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Columnist Leonard Pitts. (Olivier Douliery/TNS)Tue, 05 Dec 2017 20:32:20 +0000
Maine Voices: Spiritual fitness, human connections needed as our culture goes through a transition Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Organized religions would have us look to the hills, from whence cometh our help. But instead cometh a monumental mudslide, ever-rising water, razor-strength winds and hate that assaults us – again and again and again. Hope gets battered. Hope gets catastrophe fatigue. Hope gets cynical. Hope gets worn out. And we, as humans, must have hope. It is the impetus for optimism, endurance and change.

Formal organized religion has diminished power as a place to go for hope. When it comes to belief in God and the practice of prayer, the Pew Religious Landscape Study, published in 2015, shows trends that are often confusing.

“Nones” is a term used for the religiously unaffiliated (in census data collection) who self-identify as atheists or agnostics or who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” This group grew from 16 percent of the U.S. population in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014.

Still, 75 percent of the “nones” pray some of the time. This disaffected group wants authenticity, integrity and the facts of real life acknowledged before any formal religion can be considered. The phrasing most used by “nones” is “I am spiritual but not religious.” A “none” answered my question this way when I asked if the person prays: “Of course I pray, but I don’t worry about who or what I pray to.”

The secular world doesn’t seem like the place to turn for hope these days, either. Government is comedy and tragedy both, great for entertainment but not for getting important things done. Education is bifurcating society into the rich and the poor and is not great at producing literate, critical-thinking citizens who are informed and able to do collaborative work. Secular systems seem hopeless.

We are in a time of institutional crisis. Religion scholar and publisher Phyllis Tickle, in her book “Emergence Christianity,” wrote about the religious transition we are entering. Tickle demonstrates that every 500 years since the first century, there comes a time for an institutional (especially religious) garage sale in which the clutter needs to be sorted through. The old that doesn’t work has to be tossed, the old that needs to be cherished needs care and polishing, and new must be created.

We are living through one of those redefining times of turmoil; we are the Transition Generation. There are experiments of all kinds being embarked upon to bring about a new way to live together. We are seeing (if we look closely) an equal and opposite reaction to the hate-based fear that exists now. Love is getting loud and exaggerated and beginning to be formalized.

But we need hope mechanisms close to home. We need to find and create more community forums as we pioneer in this new frontier of spiritual and institutional transformation.

We have to manage the tendency to retreat, to talk only to people we know agree with us, to see the other as “wrong” rather than a co-human, to avoid constant self-reinforcement of our own position.

We must talk. Talk with people we don’t enjoy. Talk with people who scare us by being so different. Talk with people who don’t want to talk with us. Talk out loud about differently held truths. Talk to understand, not persuade. The differences become a source of new ideas. This “playing” with differences connects ideas and people so that an incubation process can take place and innovation can happen.

How to get through the “now” to the “new” is the dilemma. New and good is emerging. It is not, will not, be fast coming – or easy. This transition will demand the best of us. All of us are spiritual pioneers, like it or not, and pioneers survive with the assistance of hope, community and endurance. We must be spiritually fit and grow our hope through connection and conversations with people very different from ourselves. Hope has to win, and we have to nurture it ourselves while our institutions catch up.

]]> 0 and Shauna Drashcovich hold hands Wednesday as they talk about their missing daughter Megan Gregory during an interview in Gardiner.Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:29:05 +0000
Greg Kesich: Don’t like Collins’ tax cut vote, Democrats? Offer up an alternative Wed, 06 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 It’s about time Sen. Susan Collins gets an apology from all of those people who have been calling her a “RINO.”

That’s short for “Republican In Name Only,” and it’s meant as an insult from people who think she is not fully committed to her party’s values.

But Collins’ vote in favor of the Senate tax bill last week proves that the critics have been wrong. If being a “real Republican” means supporting policies that promote income inequality and leave the middle class to fend for itself, Maine’s senior senator has nothing to be ashamed of.

Collins might stray from her party when it comes to an issue like health care, because health care is not really a Republican concern – their eight years of moaning about Obamacare notwithstanding. When they found themselves in control of both the legislative and executive branches of government, it turned out that there was no Republican health care plan that could attract a majority of Republicans, let alone anyone else.

But taxes are different. Lower taxes and smaller government are what “real Republicans” are all about, and tax cuts are their policy cure-all for everything that ails America.

The final details of the plan are being worked out, but Collins and almost all of her colleagues have approved borrowing about $1.5 trillion – give or take a hundred billion here or there – to hand out to corporations, privately held businesses, wealthy families and individuals. It’s not the biggest tax cut ever, but it’s probably one of the most lopsided, according to an analysis in The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, because so many of the benefits are targeted toward people who already have so much.

Republicans say their bill will help the middle class, too, but it can’t help much. The reason isn’t complicated. Since the rich pay the most taxes, tax cuts help the rich most.

The next step is the small government part. About half of the federal budget goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid now, and as more baby boomers move into retirement, there will be pressure to cut benefits. Unlike the tax cuts, “entitlement reform” will barely affect people at the top of the wage scale, but everyone else will feel the pinch.

Collins has secured commitments from Republican leadership to waive an automatic $25 billion cut in next year’s Medicare budget that would have been triggered by growth in the deficit, but even if they keep their promises – the ability for the federal government to meet the need of an aging population is going to fade as the cumulative impact of the tax cuts takes hold.

This is not the Trump agenda. It’s the Republican agenda, and these are the same bills that would have passed if any of the other 16 Republican contenders for the presidency had won the last election.

None of this should be a surprise. Of all the shocking things that have occurred in the last year, Republicans voting to cut taxes on the rich could compete with the Patriots winning another Superbowl and the roll-out of another iPhone for the title of least surprising event of 2017. Cutting taxes is what Republicans do. The question now is, what are Democrats going to do about it?

They have had a pretty good year politically without having to exert any effort. Between the Russia investigation, the sudden popularity of the Affordable Care Act and the you-can’t-look-away-for-a-second presidency of Donald Trump, the opposition party is hoping to make serious gains in the 2018 midterm elections, maybe even taking back the House of Representatives.

But to do that, they would have to be able to say what it is they all believe – the way every Republican from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz believes in tax cuts.

And unless it’s “Donald Trump is not a normal president,” we haven’t heard it yet.

Democrats are all blasting the tax bill, but are any of them running for Congress next year calling for a tax hike for corporations or the people who report more than $1 million a year in income?

And, if so, how would they propose spending the money? Would they offer more than restoring funding to programs that are already not doing enough to help the middle class?

It’s understandable that people are angry at Collins for her vote, but being mad at Republicans for sticking to Republican principles seems a little pointless.

We have a two-party system, and one of the parties has made it clear what it believes in. If the other party has anything to say, it should speak up.

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

]]> 0 Patriquin/Staff Photographer.Wed. July,25, 2012. News room mug shots Greg Kesich. (Photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:27:50 +0000
Maine Voices: Wealth addicts are like opioid junkies, but the rich do more harm to society Tue, 05 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 BRIDGTON — The opioid crisis has shined a light on the chronic problem of addiction in our culture. Punishing and shaming those with addiction issues by incarcerating them has, unfortunately, become the most common reaction from society, rather than implementing compassionate treatment options.

The widening gap between the rich and poor and the tax overhaul that the House and Senate are trying to finalize as quickly as possible should now be forcing us to consider yet another form of addiction: addiction to the acquisition of money. This is not a recent development; humanity has grappled with it for millenniums. But the term “wealth addiction” wasn’t described until 1980, in sociologist Philip Slater’s book of the same name.

The congressional tax measure has been criticized as further (and permanently) unburdening the wealthy of just taxation while giving a modest and temporary tax reduction to the middle class and pushing the increased debt onto future generations. The basic needs of people are ignored by propaganda describing the dispossessed as the “undeserving poor.”

How do the wealthy wrest a great share of resources and power from a majority of the electorate? Political philosopher Noam Chomsky makes the case in his book “Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.” Here’s his formula: reduce democracy, shape ideology, redesign the economy, shift the burden, attack solidarity, run the regulators, engineer elections, keep the rabble in line, manufacture consent and marginalize the population.

The drug addict steals to satisfy his habit and causes great harm to himself, his family and the public; the wealth addict steals, too, but is often able to avoid criminal conviction by blocking effective legislation that would protect the public from the tyranny imposed by a small segment of the population. This has a greater negative effect on society than drug addiction. We are seeing it now in the attempted dismantling of government initiatives developed to serve the common good: Social Security, public education, Medicare and Medicaid, public transportation, national parks, etc., through underfunding or withdrawal of funding and demonization of government.

Is there a way out of our current mess? According to George Lakey, sociologist and author of “Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right and How We Can, Too,” the situation we’re in here in the U.S. is similar to how it was in Scandinavia in the 1930s. The “economic elite” controlled the government. Citizens were able to seize power democratically so that today the “Nordic model” of economic development has produced a quality of life in Scandinavia that is the envy of the world. In Scandinavia, politicians make promises not to lower taxes!

The wealth-addicted economic elite in our country could benefit from the method adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous. The famous support group’s approach has been replicated by groups of people with an array of problems. The Giving Pledge campaign founded by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates could serve in this capacity. The billionaire members of the group have committed to dispersing a portion of their fortunes through charitable causes of their choosing. Perhaps they could hold Wealth Addicts Anonymous meetings in places that offer opportunities to develop empathy for the dispossessed: Native American reservations, refugee camps, immigration detention centers or maybe some low-lying islands fast losing their struggles against sea-level rise.

We, the people, can help them in their efforts by demanding just taxation with a result similar to that in the Scandinavian countries. Charity is admirable and necessary but not a replacement for justice.

No wonder people pine for the “good old days” in the 1950s and ’60s, when the New Deal collectivist spirit was in full swing, when unions were strong enough to foster the dignity of the American worker, when it was possible to work your way through college and come out debt-free, when the economic elite actually did contribute to the good of the commons through just taxation.

As with people addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, tobacco, etc., we need to avoid disgust and revulsion toward wealth addicts, but we also need to stop enabling them. Pressure elected officials to give us government for all the people, not just for the rich and powerful who are causing the vulnerable to suffer at their hands.


]]> 0, 04 Dec 2017 20:06:56 +0000
Charles Lawton: Areas with unbalanced demographics should take on 3 tasks Tue, 05 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Maine’s central public-policy challenge is figuring out how to resolve the dilemma of rising employment and a diminishing labor force. The effects of this demographic reality touch all parts of the state, but their size, intensity and impact will vary widely from region to region.

Consider, for example, the midcoast region – Lincoln, Knox, Waldo and Hancock counties. Between 2010 and 2016, when the economy was recovering from the Great Recession, resident employment in the four-county region grew by nearly 3,500 – an increase of 4.3 percent, a rate that slightly exceeded the statewide increase of 4 percent.

Yet, over the same period, the region’s labor force actually declined by nearly 100 workers. Employment growth was sustained by a drop of nearly 3,600 in the number of unemployed, combined with a net gain of nearly 2,700 residents (about 1,300 from other states and about 1,400 from other countries). The first of these pools of potential workers – the unemployed – has a very limited capacity to meet future employment growth, both because the ranks of the unemployed are shrinking and because those who remain unemployed over time require additional training to meet employer needs. The second pool – people who move here from other states or countries – is equally limited because many come to retire rather than to look for a job.

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of midcoast residents age 15 and under fell by approximately 1,200. The cohort age 16 to 65 (from which the vast majority of those working or looking for work are likely to come) fell by approximately 2,700. And the ranks of those age 65 and older increased by nearly 4,100. In short, above-average employment growth did not overcome the demographic inertia of an aging population. In the midcoast region, migration (at least in part) contributed to the overall aging of the population rather than ameliorating that trend through the attraction of younger people.

And Maine Office of Policy and Management projections indicate that this trend is only going to accelerate over the near future. These projections show a decline of nearly 3,000 in the number of residents under 16; a decline of approximately 14,400 among those ages 16 to 64; and an increase of approximately 12,600 in the 65-and-over age cohort. In short, the projections for the midcoast call for an across-the-board population decline of 3 percent and a 36 percent spike in the number of residents age 65 and older.

Clearly, finding enough workers to meet employers’ needs during periods of even modest economic growth will be a considerable problem. And if employment begins to drop, the fiscal impact of the region’s increasingly unbalanced demographic structure will emerge more clearly as school enrollments fall and demand for services for the elderly rises.

The midcoast’s traditionally below-average property tax rate may be threatened. Indeed, it may already be slipping away. In 2016, the average property tax rate across all the towns of the four-county region was $13.95 per $1,000 of assessed value, about 12 percent lower than the state average. However, between 2010 and 2016, the average tax rate in the midcoast region increased just over 15 percent, while the average increase statewide was just below 5 percent.

What, then, can local and county governments do to move beyond the shortsighted but inevitable struggle to increase property values and keep down spending and to try instead to anticipate how to deal with these seemingly inexorable demographic changes? I suggest three tasks:

Designated data days: The most important days of the year for fiscal purposes are Oct. 1 and April 1. On these two days, the state makes its official count of students, and on April 1, it requires reports on the taxable property in every municipality in the state.

These two values provide the basis for allocating about $1 billion in state aid to education, which, in turn, drives the largest public expense in virtually every town and city in the state. Yet few carefully consider the interrelation between these values. How many residential properties have students? How has this ratio changed? Why? Will the results increase or decrease costs per student?

 Count commuters: How many residents of a given community live there but work somewhere else? How many employers in a given community provide jobs for workers who live in another town or city? These numbers are readily available from U.S. Census and Department of Labor sources, but they’re rarely examined regularly as part of the local budgeting process. They should be.

Re-evaluate regulations: Creating jobs is not the job of government. But understanding how housing, infrastructure and land-use regulations affect the business location and employee attraction process is very much the role of local and regional governments. This responsibility will increasingly determine a community’s ability to meet all of its other responsibilities. It should be an integral part of the budgeting process.

Consulting economist Charles Lawton, Ph.D., can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:00:18 +0000
Want ranked-choice voting? Elect candidates who will support a constitutional amendment Tue, 05 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — Ranked-choice voting was approved by a Maine electorate that is tired of seeing polarizing candidates win elections without majority support. They are tired of being told to vote “strategically” for the candidate with the best chance of winning, rather than being free to vote for the candidate they truly prefer. They are tired of multi-candidate campaigns in which partisan attacks and scorched-earth politics are par for the course as each candidate tries to gin up their base.

Perhaps more than anything, Mainers supported ranked-choice voting because they believed their voices didn’t matter as much as they should. The Legislature’s decision to ignore the referendum results by delaying and repealing the law was a slap in the face because it confirmed that belief.

By allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference and conducting instant runoffs until one candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote, ranked-choice voting allows Mainers to vote their hopes, not their fears. Both of us have been vocal supporters. Our disappointment in the Legislature’s decision to block the law is profound – not just because the Legislature got it wrong, but also because it missed so many opportunities to get it right.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued an advisory opinion in May, stating that using ranked-choice voting for legislative and gubernatorial elections would violate provisions of the Maine Constitution adopted in the 19th century. While many supporters of ranked-choice voting disagreed with the court’s opinion, it nevertheless indicates that the integrity of results from elections conducted via ranked-choice voting would be questioned. Legal challenges would almost certainly follow such an election, and results could very well be overturned.

We brought a constitutional amendment before the Legislature in an effort to avoid the prospect of post-election uncertainty. The amendment won bipartisan support, including an affirmative vote from every Democrat in the Legislature. But it died in the face of opposition from a handful of Republican lawmakers.

Later, the Legislature considered several proposals to implement portions of the ranked-choice voting law for which the Supreme Judicial Court had not raised any constitutional concerns: primary elections and general elections for Congress. To our surprise, those efforts were similarly rejected along partisan lines.

In the end, despite ample time to craft a better, bipartisan solution, the Legislature approved a bill to delay implementation for four years, at which point the law will be repealed unless a constitutional amendment is adopted. This bill was crafted by ranked-choice voting opponents, who feel confident that such an amendment will never pass.

We continue to believe that a constitutional amendment is the clearest, most direct way to implement ranked-choice voting for Maine’s elections, and to ensure the integrity of those elections’ results. At the earliest opportunity, we will submit legislation to put such an amendment before Maine’s voters. If unsuccessful, we’ll continue to do so until Mainers get the election reform that they have already demanded.

Ranked-choice voting guarantees that elections are won by candidates whom a majority of voters supported. It removes the incentive to “go negative” on the campaign trail by creating an incentive for candidates to appeal to voters outside their small, energized base. Those are goals every candidate for the Legislature should support.

But as this year made clear, a constitutional amendment will not pass in the current Legislature. So as candidates for the Legislature begin their campaigns for election in 2018, we urge all Mainers who support election reform to ask them this: If you’re elected, will you support a constitutional amendment for ranked-choice voting?

The fate of ranked-choice voting will ultimately depend on how winning candidates answer that question. Voters demanded election reform, and it’s our responsibility to ensure they get it. We hope you’ll join us.

]]> 0 Parent, left, gets instructions on submitting his ballots from warden Denise Shames while voting Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Portland, Maine. Voters in Maine will decide if they want to join 31 other states and expand Medicaid under former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. It's the first time since the law took effect that the expansion question has been put before voters. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)Tue, 05 Dec 2017 15:24:38 +0000
Maine Voices: General Dynamics has no business asking for more tax breaks Mon, 04 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 BATH — General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works, is embarking on a statewide public relations campaign to ask the Maine Legislature for a $60 million tax break over the next 20 years for their operation in Bath.

While never actually mentioning their requested tax break, a Nov. 17 Portland Press Herald commentary by BIW President Dirk Lesko did pull all the emotional levers about jobs, shipbuilding history and more.

General Dynamics claims that in order to stay competitive they must have state financial support – what I’d call “corporate welfare.”

Already over many years General Dynamics has received more than $200 million in state and local tax breaks for BIW. In 2013 General Dynamics asked for another $6.3 million tax break from the city of Bath. I worked with a small committee that organized a local campaign to oppose the tax cut, and in the end the City Council voted to reduce the tax break, giving General Dynamics $3.7 million. Citizen intervention saved the community $2.6 million that could be used for other local needs, like fixing crumbling infrastructure and paying salaries for firefighters and police officers.

Now General Dynamics is daring to come around to the already financially strapped state of Maine with their corporate silver cup in hand, asking for an additional $60 million.

On top of this, the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal recently reported that General Dynamics spent $9.4 billion buying back its own stock from 2013 to 2016.

In the Nov. 3 article, William Lazonick, an economist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and an expert on stock buybacks, says, “I think, as taxpayers, we’re being taken for fools. At a minimum, I would have a rule saying, ‘You’re not getting any subsidies if you’re doing buybacks. You’re showing us you don’t need the money.’ ”

The article also suggests that buybacks are bad for workers and average shareholders because the real beneficiaries are savvy traders who can time their sales and corporate brass with pay packages linked to stock performance and earnings per share.

In fact, the CEO at General Dynamics, Phebe Novakovic, last year made $21 million ($5 million of which was a bonus). It was Novakovic who accelerated General Dynamics’ stock repurchases after taking over the corporation in 2013 – so her bonuses are likely because of these fiscal shell games. Novakovic netted $49 million in take-home pay in her first four years as General Dynamics CEO, with an annual average of 43 percent of her total compensation coming by way of stock-based pay.

The company plays one state against another, saying that if they don’t get more tax breaks in Maine, then they can’t maintain their operations, because a fellow shipyard in Mississippi gets tax breaks from that state. So the poor in Maine are pitted against the poor in Mississippi, and all the politicians – Republican and Democratic alike – give these greedy corporations everything they want.

General Dynamics, like most weapons corporations, get the vast majority of their operating funds from the U.S. Treasury. The taxpayers pay the freight from the start. But then the military-industrial complex adds another twist – a strategy to extract even more profit from the taxpayers by going to the states, and even to small cities like Bath, demanding more tax breaks.

We all should demand that our state legislators oppose this corporate welfare giveaway. Before General Dynamics gets any more state taxpayer dollars, they should be required to begin a transition process to build commuter rail systems, tidal power and offshore wind turbines to help us deal with our real problem – global warming.

We have the right, and the responsibility, to speak out and demand that this nonsense stop now. We are handing a collapsing nation, facing the ravages of global warming, to our children and grandchildren. The least we can do is call upon on state legislators to go to Augusta and say “no” to General Dynamics. Enough is enough.

Let General Dynamics take back the extravagant pay raises and bonuses from their top executives before they come poormouthing to our already financially barren state treasury.


]]> 0 6,000 people work at General Dynamics-owned Bath Iron Works, which has a complex of cranes, manufacturing buildings and a dry dock, at right, on the Kennebec River.Mon, 04 Dec 2017 15:48:34 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Only postmortem will reveal viruses hiding in Republican tax bill Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The tax bill coming out of Washington reminds me of the degenerative disease NFL football players get from repeated blows to the head. We won’t know the truth about it until it’s too late.

Symptoms of the tax legislation and chronic traumatic encephalopathy include impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, depression, anger and emotional instability. The kicker for CTE is that the seriously debilitating disease can only be diagnosed after death: for “tax reform” the unexpected and unpleasant repercussions remain a mystery until Tax Day, set for April 17, 2018, or beyond when all the various machinations negotiated behind closed doors in the wee hours of the night play out.

Will the rise of the plutocracy in America establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity? Or will the divide between the haves and the have-nots grow wider and create more entrenched divisions among Americans and destabilize the longest running democracy on the planet? Scores of Republicans and Democrats risk suffering greatly under proposals to slash the social safety net in the name of capitalism and to embolden already powerful corporations that rule the world.

But there’s more to the proposed legislation under consideration by the Senate as of this writing than tax cuts for corporations. The bill is stuffed with policy about hot-button social and political issues that’s baked in to get so-called “conservative” members on board a bill that will increase the swollen national debt of $20 trillion by another trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ own nonpartisan tax analyst.

For the abortion-obsessed, there is legal recognition of an “unborn child” for whom it will become legal to make tax-free contributions for college in popular Section 529 accounts.

“Nothing shall prevent an unborn child from being treated as a designated beneficiary or an individual under this section,” the draft bill says. “The term ‘unborn child’ means a “child in utero,” defined as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

Will “parents” of Zygote Homo Sapien qualify for the proposed increase of the child tax credit? Will the IRS require a urine sample or pregnancy test with the return? Who knows? President Trump’s push to fill the benches of federal courts with religious conservatives is just in time to answer these questions.

Another feature of the proposed tax law that’s more clever than ideological makes financial settlements of sexual harassment claims deductible only if there is no nondisclosure agreement. Secret deals, in other words, are taxed. How about an amendment financing a study of whether a change to the tax code encouraging transparency about sexual harassment claims alters corporate conduct? Is there room for a groper penalty?

These are just two examples among many of the bill’s foray into the culture wars – and are easy to understand – as are most of the obvious giveaways to breweries, tech startups, growers of citrus and victims of the Mississippi Delta floods. Serve in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt? You get a tax cut. Commute to work on a bike? No tax cut. Easy. But the bulk of the legislation – about 400 pages – is technical corporate mumbo jumbo only accountants, tax lawyers and lobbyists understand at the moment. For the rest of us the brutal awakening is yet to come.

It’s true that under the proposal, the standard deduction doubles, so the first $24,000 of income goes tax free for lower- and middle-income families for the short term. Whoopie. The rest of the story may be written but unknown. It takes only 14 lines of the 515 page bill to repeal the individual mandate under Obamacare – a move expected to impact the economy by billions of dollars and deprive roughly 13 million people of health insurance. What the rest of the document does is left to spin and the imagination.

American people are getting hammered with claims of the bill’s greatness by Trump on Twitter and congressional Republicans in the news while being pelted with predictions of imminent doom by everyone else. Meanwhile the lobbyists for the corporations and moneyed interests are busy working at breakneck speed to cram this midterm election showboat full of goodies for all the highly resourced organizations that stand to gain the most from the bill’s passage. It’s daunting to process the effects of the 500-plus pages of legislation as drafted and not vetted by the committee process, and impossible to track the drama of vote-a-rama.

“Concussed” is one of the most foul words in the English language and an apt analogy to the eager-beaver Republicans supporting the tax bill professing to know all its full and fabulous implications. Republican lawmakers have been knocking their heads against the wall in a broken Congress and it shows.

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

Twitter: dillesquire

]]> 0, ME - SEPTEMBER 28: Cynthia Dill, a new columnist, was photographed on Monday, September 28, 2015. (Photo by Yoon S. Byun/Staff Photographer)Fri, 01 Dec 2017 18:19:31 +0000
Jim Fossel: Congress prepares to do the shutdown shuffle Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and Christmas fast approaching, this is a stressful time of year for many Americans – and this year, members of Congress are no exception.

Except for them it’s yet another crisis of their own making. Earlier this year, Trump worked with Democrats to punt a solution on government funding, and the far end of that trajectory is rapidly approaching: if Congress doesn’t pass a spending plan by Dec. 8 (or give itself an extension), there will be a government shutdown. Of course, given their inability to get things done, Congress is nowhere near a solution – so they’ll have to give themselves another extension of some kind.

As was entirely predictable, by extending the deadline in the fall Republicans in Congress have only made their own jobs harder. Not only is disaster relief still an issue, with Hurricane Irma and Western wildfires causing extensive damage, but a variety of programs are facing looming funding and re-authorization deadlines, like the Children’s Health Insurance Program. With a number of states and territories needing major assistance, some deal is again likely to be struck on disaster relief, firmly putting that aid package in the category of must-pass legislation.

It seems almost certain that this time, Democrats will not settle for merely getting the timing right, as they did in the fall. A top priority for them is renewing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which spares young immigrants brought here illegally by their parents from deportation. As a candidate, Trump promised to end DACA, but when he followed through as president he delayed implementation of the repeal by six months, giving Congress time to find a legislative solution. That deadline doesn’t come up until March, but if they really want to save it, Democrats have every reason to force a solution with one of these must-pass bills.

The question for Democrats – and it is not an idle one for the thousands who might face deportation without a solution – is where DACA ranks on their priorities. They didn’t move quickly on any kind of immigration reform for the two years when they had Congress and the White House. Instead, they passed Obamacare and promptly lost the majority. Though one might think that Democrats had learned their lesson from that experience, immigration seems to be one of those issues that both parties consider too valuable in campaigns to actually address once they’re in office. When politicians do attempt to address the issue in a broad way, as Sen. Marco Rubio did, their efforts usually fail and they end up paying a political price for it. DACA by itself might be a simpler issue to fix, but if history is any guide, that doesn’t mean Congress will actually make any progress on a solution.

The rare opportunity for the minority party in Congress to actually exert influence may tempt Democrats to create a Christmas list of items to present to Republicans. Just as Senate Republicans included a repeal of the individual insurance mandate in their tax reform bill, Democrats may face intense pressure to load up any budget deal with a wide variety of demands. This approach can be effective, as it could allow Democrats room to negotiate down to the few items that they truly consider vital.

They may want to take action to restore subsidies for health insurance companies recently cut by the Trump administration, as well as other steps to shore up Obamacare – even as Republicans keep trying to repeal it. There could well be efforts to save other regulations that Trump has already announced plans to repeal or is considering repealing, like net neutrality, media ownership rules, financial regulations, environmental rules and more. Though he hasn’t been quite as aggressive as he promised during the campaign, Trump is repealing, halting and rewriting a whole host of rules and regulations issued by the previous administration.

There is a real risk to this strategy for Democrats, however: If they go in with too long a list of demands, talks might go nowhere and they could walk away with few or no gains. Neither side really wants a government shutdown, especially near the holidays, and that gives both sides leverage. The question is not truly whether a deal will be struck that averts a shutdown, but what shape the deal will take and which party will benefit more from it. These next few weeks of negotiations could have enormous impact on not just the midterms, but the next several elections as well.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: @jimfossel

]]> 0, 01 Dec 2017 18:06:27 +0000
Maine Observer: Hail to the women who untangle red tape Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The (seemingly) ordinary Maine woman keeps our state running. Not the VIPs, not the “experts” on TV touting project X, Y and Z. (Anyone for skiing at yet another heavily leveraged tourist attraction?) Not the media tycoons, nor those beings from another universe: Veterans Affairs, Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service.

When you really need help pronto, as I did, and dialed the Secretary of State’s Office and reached, on the first call, a real, live Maine woman – not an endless loop of messages instructing me to go away – there you have hit pay dirt, mes amis.

Abby is on the ball. I explain what must to her be the hundredth – nay, thousandth – time she has heard the same request: i.e. Is our paperwork as a dog rescue nonprofit out of order? Are we late filing a form or not? Are we still – gasp – legal?

Abby says, “Hold on” and goes off a bit before coming back with good news and not-so-good news. The good news is that we are still legit as far as her bureaucracy is concerned; the bad news, she says, is “you need to file a form … that nominates a new clerk.” Then, in that yummy phrase unique to Maine, she says, “You have plenty of time for that, and then you’re all set.” She tells me to go online and find said form, so I do. Bless you, Abby.

Is this system of government efficient or not? It is every time I reach a woman – always a woman at the middle or lower level of management. Need a license to renew a mobile vendor gig? No sweat. Done. Need to double-check on that “electrician” who screwed up the off-on light switches? Can do. Can the sweet young woman running my local post office possibly find a cheaper way to send a package? Yes, she can.

And this competence extends to the governance of my community (population 1,200) in the persona of two ladies who compose one and a half town clerks per the town budget but who actually know more about local regulatory systems than anyone else – and whose historical memory is not to be challenged. Ever.

I asked town clerk Rosie about a recently sold property that became a nasty home to well over eight hungry and shivering dogs of indeterminate breed that clearly needed intervention from our animal control officer. Within an hour, Rosie had name and vital information in hand. And the animal control officer on the case. Try getting that response from an IRS agent.

These are the people who actually run our state. I imagine most get a state or municipal job out of high school or college and stay with it their entire working lives; they’re not paid a whole lot, but they get decent benefits – and they are worth every single penny of my taxes.

These women are the unheralded backbone of Maine. They are our neighbors, with kids and grandkids and basic common and fashion sense, who keep family photos pasted to their computers, including the latest newborn member of the family. In this season, I ask you to herald and thank our extraordinary Maine women.

That done, we’re all set.

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Dec 2017 18:11:14 +0000
South Berwick gains a sister city in Alabama Sun, 03 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 I am leaving Sunday for Tuskegee, Alabama, and I have to say it is one of the most exciting trips I will ever take. Never have I embarked on an adventure so filled with love and hope. Eight other people from South Berwick are joining me in a delegation to meet with the people and see the sights of our new sister city. The officials and residents of Tuskegee have made it clear that they are ready to receive us with open arms, which has humbled and honored us.

My fellow townsfolk and I approached Tuskegee more than a year ago in a hopeful, if idealistic, attempt to figure out what the heck we in predominantly white Maine could do to play some part in healing our country as continuing racial injustices were becoming increasingly blatant and inflammatory. Friends and neighbors often talked about how little contact they had with people of color, how their only images came from the media, even how they wished our town were more diverse.


Tuskegee is filled with the rich history of the civil rights movement, and it is the home of Tuskegee University and the heroic Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. The city has also known the agony of the mistreatment of African-Americans, from slavery to Jim Crow laws to the barbaric Tuskegee Syphilis Study, done only on black men. We are eager to learn about Tuskegee’s history. But first and foremost we are interested in making friends, getting to know people in a different part of the country who have had different cultural and life experiences.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower began the sister city program in 1956 as an international effort. He hoped it would usher in peace and prosperity by creating bonds between people from different cities around the world. Through these relationships, Eisenhower reasoned, people of different cultures could celebrate and appreciate their differences and build partnerships that would lessen the chance of new conflicts.

We thought: Why wouldn’t this work within our country’s borders? So we asked Tuskegee to be our “sister.” It’s about the same size as South Berwick, just under 10,000 people, and, as we do, people there seem to have an identity and community pride.


The two communities also have histories that overlap. Both are in states about to turn 200, and both grew under the cotton economy of the 19th century – Tuskegee as host to cotton plantations and South Berwick as home to textile mills.

Tuskegee Mayor Lawrence “Tony” Haywood said yes, he would bring this to his council. Last winter both the Tuskegee City Council and the South Berwick Town Council unanimously agreed to form this relationship.

When we – church representatives, educators and other community members – arrive in Tuskegee on Sunday, we will be greeted by the mayor, an honor already more than we could ask for.

Local TV and radio coverage has announced our arrival in advance, with the mayor voicing so beautifully our interest in our two communities – one 95 percent black and the other 97 percent white – “exchanging ideas and getting to know more about each other’s culture” so that we can “have greater understanding and reduce unnecessary divisions.”


We will start our visit at the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Christmas Concert, a beautiful local tradition. From there we’ll meet with educators, business leaders, students, church groups and the community at large.

We will see Tuskegee University and tour the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, honoring the African-American pilots who served in World War II. We cannot wait for our schoolchildren to start talking to each other, and we will work with teachers there to make that happen. Finally, a public reception will allow the community to meet us and learn about Common Ground-Tuskegee/South Berwick Sister City Project.

But mostly, we feel lucky already to have new friends so willing to take our hand and walk with us in this journey toward a stronger nation. And all of us feel blessed that the people in Tuskegee understand our vision and are ready to embrace it.

Tuskegee, here we come.

]]> 0 Airman Donald C. Thomas Jr. takes part in the 2008 opening ceremony of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. A delegation of South Berwick residents will visit the site on a trip to meet its new sister city.Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:34:50 +0000
The Maine Millennial: A selection of things that millennials are accused of killing Sat, 02 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 From what I can tell, millennials must be the most dangerous generation, since every day I see articles about what businesses and economic sectors we are killing, destroying and otherwise joyfully maiming on our way to the farmers market. A selection of things that 18- to 34-year-olds stand accused of killing include:

Homeownership: OK, whose generation ruined the economy in 2008? I’ll give you a hint – it rhymes with “maybe bloomers.”

Diamonds: They’re only seen as special because of a wildly successful marketing campaign (cheers, De Beers), and are only “rare” because De Beers hoards them like a dragon hoards gold. You can make them in a lab. I like sparkles as much as the next girl, and probably more, but I want jewelry with some color to it. And also jewelry that isn’t implicated in fueling wars and creating demand for child labor.

If someone wants to marry me, don’t bother with the diamond ring. I’d take the chunk of change and spend it on a down payment for a home. (If I weren’t already killing homeownership, that is.)

Stilettos: While on the topic of fancy, useless feminine things, are there any women, of any generation, who actually enjoy wearing 6-inch spike heels? It’s all fun and fashion until someone breaks an ankle.

Wine corks: Call me a heathen, but I’ve drunk a lot of wine, and whether it came from a corked bottle, a twist-top one or a box, it still tasted like decent wine. Let’s leave the cork oaks alone. (They do make good cat toys, though.)

Motorcycles: They are two-wheeled death traps, and I am terrified of every single one of them. Not enough riders wear helmets. Do they think their skulls are thicker than concrete? Besides, motorcycles make too much noise. I cannot tell you how many times I have been abruptly awakened by the ripping of a motorcycle engine. We get it, man, you were real cool once.

However, I would like to take this moment to publicly thank the gang of motorcycle-riding paramedics who were the first people to respond to the car crash I was involved in this past Labor Day. Sorry I didn’t properly thank you in person. I was in shock. (P.S.: They were all wearing helmets.)

Cereal: You try sitting down to eat a bowl of cereal with two cats and a raging case of lactose intolerance.

Tanning beds: I would be happy to see every single tanning bed destroyed. My father died of skin cancer. (He never used tanning beds, but obviously I can’t destroy the sun, so this is the next best form of vengeance.)

Casual dining chains: Farewell, Fuddruckers; au revoir, Applebee’s. Millennials may like their relationships casual, but they take their food very, very seriously.

Banks: Although my father worked for banks for decades, he never trusted them, and I inherited that distrust from both my baby boomer parents. The whole 2008 crisis just cemented it.

I once went into a Bank of America branch to ask one simple question and remained trapped there for 30 minutes, with multiple employees pressuring me to open bank accounts. I’ve seen “The Big Short.” No banks. Credit unions all the way.

Golf: I think golf is like yoga. For some people, it’s a relaxing exercise that doesn’t put too much pressure on their joints, and for other people, it’s boring. Just boring.

Napkins: If millennials are destroying the napkin industry, then what’s clogging up my washing machine once a week?

But when it comes to paper napkins rather than cloth ones, it is true that I don’t buy them. I take a large handful of them whenever I’m at Dunkin’ Donuts, just like my mother taught me.

The Canadian tourism industry: How? Why? Did we divert all their business to Maine? … Can we do that? (Has anyone tried?)

Fabric softener: Why would you buy clothes that weren’t soft in the first place?

Marriage: If I truly loved someone, I would not legally bind them to my $68,000 in student loan debt.

How do I plead, your honor? Pretty guilty.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

Twitter: @mainemillennial

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Dec 2017 19:37:15 +0000
Commentary: Collins, Murkowski will see good will in health debate evaporate Sat, 02 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, stood tall against partisan pressure in voting to stop a disastrous health care bill. Now, in the context of the tax bill, they committed themselves to repealing the individual mandate, causing grave economic disruption to the individual market and leaving 13 million fewer insured.

The excuse that they have gotten assurance that President Trump will back the legislation to preserve cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers doesn’t make sense. Timothy Jost at Health Affairs explains:

“The two bills are the Alexander-Murray bipartisan health reform bill, which would provide funding to reimburse insurers for reducing cost sharing for low-income enrollees for 2018 and 2019, and another bill that Sen. Collins is co-sponsoring with Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. The Collins-Nelson bill would provide $2.25 million in funding for 2018 and for 2019 for states that obtained 1332 innovation waivers to institute reinsurance programs.

“The assumption underlying this trade-off is presumably that adoption of Alexander-Murray and Collins-Nelson would offset the damage done to the individual market by repeal of the individual mandate. However, on Nov. 29, 2017, the Congressional Budget Office released a letter to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., confirming that adoption of the Alexander-Murray bill would not begin to offset the dramatic increase in the number of uninsured that would be caused by the individual mandate repeal.

“In its Nov. 8, 2017, report on individual mandate repeal, the CBO estimated that repeal would cause 4 million individuals to lose coverage by 2018 and 13 million by 2025. In its Oct. 25, 2017, analysis of the Alexander-Murray bill, the CBO estimated that it ‘would not substantially change the number of people with health insurance coverage, on net, compared with (the CBO’s) baseline projection.’ … The CBO’s Nov. 29 projection, therefore, that Alexander-Murray will not begin to offset the coverage losses of the individual mandate repeal is consistent with its earlier projection that cost-sharing reduction funding has little effect on coverage, one way or the other.”

As for the Collins-Nelson bill, a Rand Corp. study calculated that it would increase coverage by 1.2 million (not enough to offset the 13 million who will lose coverage) and would reduce premiums by 3.9 percent, not enough to offset “the 10 percent premium increases that the CBO predicts would be attributable to the individual mandate repeal.”

Politically, it’s foolish for Collins and Murkowski to give way, since the White House has already said the individual mandate repeal could come out of the Senate tax bill. (It was not in the House bill, of course.) Collins and Murkowski are being less protective of health care coverage in this instance than Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney.

Another argument – that the repeal of the individual mandate isn’t the same as throwing people who already have insurance off insurance – is entirely specious. The individual mandate repeal unwinds the exchanges, allowing young and healthy people to stay out of the risk pools, making coverage more expensive and even unaffordable for those who remain. Surely, Collins and Murkowski know this to be the case from the Obamacare repeal debate.

Simply put, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found: “Pairing mandate repeal with the Collins-Nelson bill, or a similar approach … would not change the fact that repealing the mandate would drive up uninsured rates. That would weaken access to care, health and financial security for millions of people. It would also substantially raise uncompensated care costs, which would ultimately be borne by providers, other health care consumers and taxpayers.”

None of this addresses the damage the bill may do to Medicaid and Medicare. Because of the deficits it creates (an issue that has thrown the entire legislative process into confusion), there may be a $25 billion sequester in Medicaid and Medicare funding in 2018 alone under the so-called pay-as-you-go rules. Collins has said she’d oppose that, but her colleagues do not show the same concern.

It should behoove Collins and Murkowski to reconsider their position as the rest of the bill is now being reworked. Patient advocates, hospitals and doctors groups remain mystified by their about-face. Democrats are incredulous that a provision that is not a must-have for Republicans leadership or the White House is getting the support of these two lawmakers.

Because they’ve gone along with this gambit, the good will they gained in the health care debate will evaporate. Collins and Murkowski had the perfect opportunity to reclaim their role as guardians of health care coverage – by committing to voting in favor of the tax bill, they’ve forfeited that chance.

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Dec 2017 19:40:12 +0000
Maine Voices: Proposed unification of hospitals about balance sheet, not health care Sat, 02 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 BELFAST — Between a rock and hard place: That’s where Waldo County General Hospital sits amid an impending decision about its unification with the MaineHealth system.

As a board member first of Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast, and then of Coastal Healthcare Alliance following a partnership with Rockport-based Penobscot Bay Medical Center, I’ve watched Waldo County General Hospital being squeezed and pressed in its uncomfortable position for the past year. Next week it will finally be irrevocably reshaped, and I don’t yet know how.

My fellow Coastal Healthcare Alliance board members and I each will cast a vote Tuesday to either become part of the growing MaineHealth machine or remain a semi-independent entity. For months our board meetings have been consumed by deep discussions regarding the merits of unification. We’ve hosted supplemental workshops and outreach programs for both the Waldo and Pen Bay areas. Each of us has struggled alone and as a group with the predicted financial, health and community repercussions of unification.

I regularly voice my opinion to my fellow board members that this decision about unification is actually a choice about control of the balance sheet, not health care. If our two hospitals are part of MaineHealth, our two revenue streams – and deficits – are also part of MaineHealth. Funds from all of MaineHealth’s hospitals will move around the entire state to create a balanced budget. For Pen Bay, which suffers annual losses, MaineHealth’s control will be a benefit, zeroing out its debt. For Waldo County General Hospital, which enjoys a healthy surplus, MaineHealth’s control will result in a huge loss of the funds that could benefit its immediate community.

This imbalance in the bottom lines of the two Coastal Healthcare Alliance hospitals helps to divide the votes across our board. Members with closer ties to Pen Bay are much more likely to support the unification, which would ease its financial burden. Many of us who hail from Waldo County feel like Waldo County General Hospital’s surplus – the result of the leadership’s careful navigation of the health care system’s regulations – will be appropriated unfairly by organizations that haven’t been as forward-thinking as ours.

During our deliberations several months ago, we considered dissolving Coastal Healthcare Alliance so the two hospitals could vote independently about unification with MaineHealth. That motion never made it to a board vote, so we remain together, yet slightly divided.

When we look beyond the dollars and cents, we see other potential bureaucratic costs that we can’t forecast. Will our local hospitals lose control of their destinies when MaineHealth exerts its control? Will we need approval for every new piece of life-saving equipment, new doctor or new facility? And what happens to the quality of our hospitals if we don’t get it?

These fears are shared by many of our doctors and health staff. Our board can’t appease their anxieties; we have no clear vision of a “unified” future. We either take the chance with MaineHealth and believe in the good intentions of its executives, or we push back and see if we can make it on our own without the corporate safety net.

I often struggle to believe in those good intentions when our ongoing negotiations with MaineHealth fall flat. As part of the unification, MaineHealth has guaranteed that Waldo County General Hospital and Pen Bay each will have a MaineHealth board representative for five years. After that period, no hospital – other than Maine Medical Center – is guaranteed a seat at MaineHealth’s decision-making table. Our Coastal Healthcare Alliance board has asked MaineHealth multiple times to reconsider our board seats, but it won’t budge.

What if we at Coastal Healthcare Alliance decide not to budge? We wouldn’t be thrown out of MaineHealth, but we would begin an uncharted course. Our hospitals would become outliers in the system. Just as our doctors are concerned they might not get much-needed equipment if we unify with MaineHealth, our board is concerned we might not get critical support for our hospitals if we don’t unify.

Should next week’s vote support unification, our organizations will move into a very expensive planning phase for the merger, which will take a significant amount of time and resources. Should the vote be against unification, we’ll begin our daunting journey into the future of health care alone.

As both a Waldo County resident and as a Maine business leader, I’m squeezed between that rock and hard place with little room to breathe before next Tuesday’s vote.

— Special to the Press Herald

]]> 0 Fri, 01 Dec 2017 20:35:27 +0000
Open hearings needed before FCC issues damaging rule on internet access Fri, 01 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 NEW GLOUCESTER — The Federal Communications Commission is about to release a new order on net neutrality under the moniker “Restoring Internet Freedom.” In our opinion, this rule – which the FCC is poised to enact in less than two weeks – will ensure that the internet is controlled by a handful of large multinational companies that will be in a position to extort money from small businesses attempting to develop innovative new internet-based products and services.

The draft order will define internet access as an information service, rather than a telecommunications service. The change in definition would transfer the responsibility for regulating competitive practices on the internet from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission. The problem is that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California has ruled that the FTC has no enforcement powers over broadband providers that also offer landline, mobile and other telecommunications services – which is nearly all of them. In other words, no one will have the ability to enforce fair practices on the internet.

Without a watchdog with enforcement authority over business practices, the nation’s largest internet service providers would be able to restrict trade and innovation on the internet in a variety of ways:

Large ISPs could charge extra for bandwidth suitable for video streaming. Large providers like Google, Amazon and Netflix have already built their own content delivery networks to mitigate this risk, but new entrants wanting to bring better, more innovative and perhaps more cost-effective services to market would find themselves unable to provide a marketable service without paying extra – limiting consumer choice and increasing prices.

Cable companies and phone companies would be able to limit the flow of voice-over-internet protocol traffic by other providers on their networks, such as Vonage, Magic Jack, 8×8 and our own company. This could severely hamper or even put these companies out of business.

Internet service providers could block access to websites, gaming networks and content that haven’t paid for transport on the network, limiting consumer options for entertainment, shopping and education.

As a business executive in a telecommunications company, I don’t see the elimination of net-neutrality rules as “pro-business,” “pro-internet freedom” or even “pro-telecommunications.” Small to mid-sized businesses hoping to offer innovative, competitive services are at risk of being squeezed out of the marketplace by larger competitors.

Who does benefit? A handful of very large companies including Comcast, Charter, Verizon and Level 3 that would seek to leverage their market dominance and control traffic on the internet in the interest of limiting competition and increasing their own profits.

Given that this move is more “pro-trust” than “pro-business,” it’s also very discouraging that it has become a partisan issue in some quarters, with the Republicans on the FCC – Brendan Carr, Michael O’Rielly and Chairman Ajit Pai – backing the new rule and Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel dissenting. It’s a somewhat different scenario in the Maine congressional delegation. There, Republicans are divided: 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin supports the measure and Sen. Susan Collins is against it, as are Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, and independent Sen. Angus King.

There appears to be disturbing evidence that hacking techniques and fraud are once again being used to stifle public opinion. During the public comment period for this rulemaking process last summer, nearly 22 million comments came in, but many, including the FCC’s Rosenworcel and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, have pointed out that a lot of the comments in favor of the proposed rule changes are alleged to have come from bots and even dead people.

In addition, access to the comment site by legitimate citizens was blocked for a time in May by what the FCC claims was a denial-of-service attack; the Government Accountability Office will be looking into the attack at the request of two members of Congress. As a result of these irregularities, Rosenworcel has called for open, public hearings before the FCC brings this order to a vote Dec. 14, a call supported by Sen. King and others.

In the interest of transparency and integrity in the rulemaking process, Otelco supports Rosenworcel’s call for open hearings before the FCC’s upcoming vote, which will almost surely bring about the end of network neutrality. We encourage readers of the Press Herald to reach out to the FCC and our congressional delegation to support an open process.

]]> 0 than 1,100 cybersecurity professionals from government, health care firms, Internet service providers, phone companies and retail businesses are testing their ability to deal with a cyberattack, during a weeklong exercise.Fri, 01 Dec 2017 16:32:13 +0000
Commentary: Don’t rush to judgment on Maine business investment incentives Fri, 01 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — After listening to the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability deliver its report on the effectiveness of the state’s Pine Tree Development Zone program to lawmakers, it’s clear that OPEGA should go back to the drawing board and the Legislature ought to consider the economic benefits the state has reaped because of the program. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce is convinced that lawmakers don’t yet have the data necessary to make an informed decision as to whether or not the Pine Tree Zone program is actually working for Maine.

Here’s the problem with this report, and here’s what I hope legislators will keep in mind in January:

OPEGA concluded after reviewing the Pine Tree Zone program that the program’s design does not support its intended goals. Then OPEGA concluded that the program’s results are unclear, because the agency did not collect data to determine its effectiveness.

Let’s be honest: OPEGA took the easy way out. They admitted the data were actually there – maybe not readily available, but there nonetheless. They indicated they simply did not have the time to gather it.

If the Legislature is going to direct OPEGA to pursue a review of programs like these, then the appropriate time needs to be allocated to gather the critical data necessary to arrive at a verifiable conclusion. Instead, we have a report that comes to conclusions without adequate data to support those conclusions. That kind of outcome is dangerous for Maine businesses and our state’s future economic growth.

The goal of the Pine Tree Zone program is to provide new qualifying employment opportunities in certain industries in economically distressed areas. It’s true that when enacted, the program was designed to target low-income, economically depressed areas of the state. However, in 2009 the Legislature expanded the Pine Tree Zone program, designating the entire state as Tier 1, because the state – along with much of the country and the world – was in a deep recession and there was a desperate need to attract investment and jobs and to retain jobs here in Maine.

At the time, lawmakers from around Maine wanted the program to apply to their areas, and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want to enable businesses to stay afloat and remain in Maine, especially during one of the most economically depressed times since the Great Depression?

By expanding the program statewide, lawmakers did what they thought best in an effort to jumpstart investment. They ought to be applauded for that. In 2010, certain areas were removed from Tier 1 and were designated as a Tier 2 based on unemployment levels in those areas, but still the vast area of the state remained eligible. At the end of 2013, Tier 2 locations were further limited based on unemployment rates.

So, if the goal of the program has changed, then it should be so noted within the statute. But don’t assume just because goals are now shifting that the program hasn’t worked. Economic development is more than creating jobs; it’s also about keeping the jobs that have actually stayed here in Maine because of the Pine Tree Zone program.

This isn’t the first evaluation of the Pine Tree Zone program. Investment Consulting Associates, a third-party consultant, conducted evaluations in 2014 and 2016. Their next evaluation is in 2018. They did a thorough review of the program, complete with gathering data, interviewing companies, etc. These are basic research steps OPEGA did not accomplish.

Investment Consulting Associates’ findings were much different from OPEGA’s report. The consultant concluded that for every $1 the state of Maine spent on the program, it received $2.32 back. That’s a 122 percent increase. The direct benefit to the state of Maine with the program was $3.3 billion versus $1.4 billion without it. The report also concluded that the Pine Tree Zone program has “been shown to effectively improve the competitive economic development environment for the state of Maine with a positive return on investment.” It can’t get much clearer than that.

As OPEGA continues its review of our meager investment programs, we are concerned about OPEGA’s completeness and their accuracy. OPEGA loses all credibility when it doesn’t use data or talk to the stakeholders and businesses that actively use these programs to remain competitive in a global economy. Our incentive programs are all that Maine has to attract the necessary capital investment to sustain our economy and they pale beside those of other states. We need capital investment to be competitive in this global economy.

]]> 0 Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:05:17 +0000
George Will: High court should let states set their own sports gambling laws Fri, 01 Dec 2017 09:00:00 +0000 American democracy’s comic opera frequently features collaborations of “bootleggers and Baptists.” These entertainments are so named because during Prohibition, Baptists thought banning Demon Rum would improve public morals (oh, well) and bootleggers favored the ban because it made scarce a commodity for which there was a demand that they could profitably supply. On Monday, the Supreme Court will listen to arguments concerning another prohibition.

This one concerns a law banning what many millions of Americans do anyway – illegally betting between $150 billion and $400 billion annually on sports events. Illegality prevents precise knowledge, but if the sum is just $150 billion, that sum exceeds the combined revenues of Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s. The Baptists in this case are those who consider gambling a vice that state governments should discourage. The bootleggers are those who supply illegal gambling services on the internet and elsewhere.

The court’s nine fine minds need not and should not trouble themselves with the question of whether this particular prohibition is sensible. They should, however, defend federalism by telling the national government to stop telling state governments what laws they cannot change.

Twenty-five years ago, gambling was rapidly becoming regarded less as a vice that state governments should discourage and more as a source of revenues that those governments would encourage. But in 1992, U.S Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., a former college and NBA basketball star who worried about the possible corrupting effects of gambling on sports, authored the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It says no government entity may “authorize” wagering on sporting events. This has not deterred the many millions of Americans who since 1992 have wagered trillions on such events. Next March, the sum wagered on the college basketball tournament – about $9 billion – will exceed the NBA’s estimated revenues for the 2017-2018 season ($8 billion).

In a 2011 referendum, New Jersey voters authorized their Legislature to do what it did in 2014: partially legalize sports betting by repealing a law prohibiting such wagering at racetracks and casinos. The NCAA and pro sports leagues objected, saying that by “authorizing” such gambling, New Jersey was violating the federal statute. A federal circuit court agreed, rejecting the state’s argument that the law violates the 10th Amendment. (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”)

The court said New Jersey’s partial repeal affirmatively authorized sports wagering by directing it to particular venues. The court argued that the law did not unconstitutionally “commandeer” state resources because it did not compel New Jersey to take a particular action or devote resources to administering federal choices.

An amicus brief supporting New Jersey argues that federalism precludes the national government from forbidding a state to pass a law “that neither violates the Constitution nor addresses any matter pre-empted by federal law.” Congress has not chosen, as it could, to prohibit sports betting; instead, Congress has paralyzed states, preventing them from changing laws that such betting violates, and effectively commandeering state resources to enforce a policy that the state dislikes.

The brief also says: “Depriving the body that enacted a law of the ability to repeal or amend that law defeats the purpose of representative democracy.” It is indisputable that Congress cannot “directly compel New Jersey to enact a prohibition on sports betting.” Therefore, Congress may not prevent the state from repealing such prohibition. In either case, the state is being forced to regulate behavior it would prefer to deregulate or to regulate in its own manner.

As currently construed, federal law requires states to disregard an emerging consensus: In 1993, 56 percent of Americans disapproved of legalizing sports betting. Now, 55 percent approve. Twenty states have joined an amicus brief supporting New Jersey, and legislation has been introduced in 12 states to legalize sports betting if New Jersey wins. The leagues are recalibrating their thinking, partly because legalizing and regulating sports betting would make it easier to detect suspicious surges of bets that might indicate rigged competition, and partly because wagering expands and intensifies fans’ engagement. For example, bettors watch more NFL games, and watch for longer, than non-bettors.

Besides, the NFL is moving the Oakland Raiders to a city built by gambling, Las Vegas, where an NHL franchise has just begun its first season. The outcome in the Supreme Court is difficult to predict. It is, however, legal to bet on it.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Thu, 30 Nov 2017 20:03:56 +0000
Commentary: Senate tax bill is a pro-growth,
 tax-cut win for families in Maine Thu, 30 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have a rare opportunity to reform the broken tax code this week when the U.S. Senate votes on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The pro-growth, pro-family Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a huge win for families and individuals in Maine and across the country.

Under this legislation, Americans at every income level see tax reduction and drastic simplification of the 70,000-plus-page tax code. This plan also reduces taxes for small businesses and corporations to promote more investment in the economy, leading to higher wages and new or better jobs.


The Senate plan reduces almost every tax bracket and doubles the standard deduction from $6,000 to $12,000 ($12,000 to $24,000 for a family). This reform means direct tax relief for the 466,000 Maine individuals and families that currently take the standard deduction.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act also doubles the child tax credit to $2,000 per child, giving the 87,670 families in Maine that take the credit more take-home pay. The plan also repeals the Alternative Minimum Tax, directly reducing taxes for 14,530 taxpayers in Maine and simplifying the code for thousands more who no longer need to calculate their income under the AMT.

Through these reforms, a family of four with an annual income of $73,000 will see a tax cut of nearly $2,200 – a reduction of nearly 60 percent. Similarly, an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation found that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will create almost 4,000 new full-time jobs in Maine and increase after tax-income for a typical middle-class family by $2,238.


The plan also implements numerous pro-growth reforms so that businesses large and small are granted much-needed relief.

The U.S. currently has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. The Senate plan lowers the rate to 20 percent. This rate reduction is long overdue – the U.S. corporate rate has barely changed in 30 years, and America is just one of three developed countries that has failed to reduce their corporate rate since 2000.

Similarly, pass-through entities that pay taxes through the individual code (such as sole proprietorships, limited liability companies and S Corporations) see relief with lower tax brackets across the board and a 17.4 percent exclusion on business income.

The Senate bill also encourages businesses to invest in the economy through the implementation of full business expensing for five years. In addition, U.S. companies operating overseas will again be able to compete against foreign competitors through the implementation of a modern, territorial system of taxation that ends the needless and complex system of double taxation present in our outdated worldwide system of taxation.


Despite the clear benefits the Senate’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will have for Maine businesses and families, the plan has been subject to harsh criticism.

Soon after the bill was released, Senate Democrats claimed it would leave a family earning $86,000 per year facing a $794 tax increase. However, this claim was debunked by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, which gave it four Pinocchios (the worst rank possible).

Similarly, the Joint Committee on Taxation’s analysis of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act claims that the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate will cause taxpayers earning between $10,000 and $30,000 to face a tax increase starting in 2021. Under this assumption, millions choose not to purchase Obamacare, meaning they will also choose not to receive the Obamacare refundable tax credit.

The committee’s analysis assumes that individuals will choose to increase their own taxes – the Senate bill retains the Obamacare tax credit and does not limit anyone’s eligibility for insurance. A separate and more accurate Taxation Committee analysis of the bill finds tax reduction at every income level (including for those earning between $10,000 and $30,000), with the biggest winners being middle-class families.

These misleading claims aside, the Senate’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is a pro-growth, pro-family bill that reduces taxes for individuals and businesses, simplifies the code and grows the economy. Sen. Collins and Sen. King have a rare opportunity to give much needed tax relief to Mainers. They should support this pro-growth, pro-family legislation.

]]> 0 Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:15:21 +0000
Commentary: Senate tax plan has all warning signs of catastrophe in the making Thu, 30 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Sometimes a catastrophe takes you by surprise. At other times you can see it coming. The tax plan our U.S. senators are taking up this week, after their Thanksgiving break, is the latter.

Despite the deception and outright lies coming out of Washington, D.C., anyone who is paying attention can see that this tax plan, which was written by and for billionaires, millionaires and the wealthiest corporations, is a catastrophe in the making. It gives huge tax breaks to those who need it least while doing great damage to our economy and to working families – to people like us.


Congress has tried, time and again this year, to take away our health care – and the people of Maine have stood strong. Maine’s own U.S. Sen. Susan Collins played a pivotal role in protecting our care. And in Maine, we just had a referendum on Medicaid expansion where voters said, loud and clear, that they want to expand health coverage, not take it away. But the U.S. Senate Republican tax proposal does the opposite. It includes a provision to gut the Affordable Care Act that would leave 13 million Americans without health insurance and raise premiums for those of us who buy our insurance in the individual marketplace.

When Arabica Coffee opened in 1995, we provided health insurance for our employees. The days when we could afford to do that are long gone. Today, we all – owners and employees, both – have to fend for ourselves in the health insurance marketplace. So gutting the ACA, raising premiums and destabilizing the health insurance marketplace that we rely on hits very close to home. This tax plan wasn’t written for us.


It also wasn’t written for those of us with children – the moms of Maine and of America – who urgently need quality, affordable child care and a way to put our kids through college. The U.S. Senate tax proposal includes a pathetically weak child tax credit that isn’t even refundable, meaning that those struggling to make ends meet lose out the most. The tax plan passed by the U.S. House of Representatives – and still very much on the table if the Senate bill gets the votes to move forward – kills the student loan interest exemption, pushing higher education out of reach for many working families. This tax plan wasn’t written to help us.

How do we know? Because it permanently lowers the corporate tax rate and doubles the estate tax threshold, so individuals in wealthy families pay no taxes on the first $11 million they inherit – and couples pay no taxes on the first $22 million. It’s pretty clear who this bill was written for!

It certainly wasn’t written for those of us who rely on – or may someday rely on – government services. This bill adds at least $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit by cutting taxes for the richest individuals and corporations. If it takes effect, very soon there simply won’t be enough money to sustain the programs that boost our health care, nutrition, education and economy. If Congress passes this tax plan, then job training, disaster relief, food stamps, Head Start, Medicaid and even Medicare and Social Security will go on the chopping block because the federal deficit will explode.


This isn’t what we want to be thinking about this holiday season. We want to be able to trust all our elected representatives and to believe that each and every one of them has our best interests at heart. But the truth is plain to see: This tax bill won’t help small businesses, working families, our economy or the moms of America. It’s for Wall Street executives and real estate moguls. It will hurt the rest of us and hurt our economy while creating a legacy of debt our children will be forced to pay off.

This tax plan is a long con, one that will devastate our country for years to come. Every U.S. senator who cares about her or his constituents must vote “no.”

]]> 0 Wed, 29 Nov 2017 19:00:00 +0000
Time to return to New Deal principles: Unrelenting pursuit of the public good Thu, 30 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 NEWCASTLE — Years ago I learned something about the Masai warriors of Africa that I have never forgotten. These formidable warriors were considered second to none in their fearlessness and intelligence. Yet they greeted one another with a curious phrase. “Kasserian ingera?” one would always say to another. This means “And how are the children?”

The answer to this greeting was “All the children are well.” Even warriors with no children of their own would participate in these exchanges. This custom bore witness to the high value the Masai placed on the well-being of the children among them. “All the children are well” meant that safety and peace prevailed, that the Masai had not forgotten their responsibility for the youngest members of their society.

To this day, “Kasserian ingera?” remains the tribe’s traditional greeting.

What if, in our great country, we would take to greeting each other in this way: “And how are the children?” Perhaps if we heard this question and spoke it a dozen times a day, we would develop a new attitude as a nation toward how we treat the youngest people among us.

Take this a step further. What if the president of the United States, at every news conference, were asked, “And how are the children?” What if that happened with governors, members of Congress and elected representatives at all levels?

As a nation, our current treatment of children leaves much to be desired. This is a nation where many children go hungry, receive a woefully inadequate education, lack health insurance, end up in prison, live in environmental sacrifice zones or die from gunshot wounds. We cannot be a truly great nation until the day comes when anyone can hear that question, “And how are the children?” and respond with the words “All the children are well,” knowing deep down that this is the truth.

The Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle keeps alive the memory of a time when, despite mistakes and shortcomings, our federal government successfully reoriented itself to serve the welfare of every American during a time of national economic catastrophe and beyond. This massive reorientation is known as the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Frances Perkins was secretary of labor throughout the 12 years of Roosevelt’s presidency and is recognized as “the woman behind the New Deal.” Appalled by how children were abused through factory employment, she contributed to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which prohibited the employment of children under 16 and required safe working conditions for employed youth.

The Perkins Center focuses on a remarkable period in American history, but it is actively concerned with the present and the future as well. Why? Because the New Deal story contains abiding American principles that have been eclipsed in recent decades. These principles once helped to transform a failing social order into a more gracious and generous society. They can do so again.

New Deal principles can reconnect our nation to the moral norm that Masai warriors upheld when they asked each other “And how are the children?” and responded “All the children are well.” All the children. No exceptions.

The Masai lacked many resources of our so-called “advanced” society, yet their morality insisted that they care for their children. Can we, who claim membership in an “advanced” society, go further and insist on the best possible life for people of all ages? Some countries directly embrace this goal and have achieved significant success in realizing it. The U.S. can do the same. We have the necessary resources.

The Frances Perkins Center is not alone in promoting America’s New Deal heritage and not alone in advocating for a more just social order. People and organizations across the land are engaged in this patriotic endeavor. Yet the Perkins Center has something distinctive to offer in the pursuit of the public good, because of the powerful witness of its namesake.

The 2020s may turn out to resemble the 1930s. The 1930s saw a hard-won transition from the Great Depression to a new and better deal for Americans. The 2020s can be the time when America leaves behind its current season of troubles and we become a people able to respond “All the children are well,” knowing in our hearts that this is the truth.

]]> 0 “socialist” as a political epithet in the U.S. dates back to pre-Civil War days. Decades later, many elements of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, including Social Security, were denounced as socialist.Thu, 30 Nov 2017 14:33:48 +0000
Leonard Pitts: Be careful about what you hear and believe, or you may not be living in reality Wed, 29 Nov 2017 11:00:14 +0000 It happened again Monday when The Washington Post unmasked an apparent Project Veritas operative who had tried over the course of two weeks to induce the paper to bite on a false story. Jaime T. Phillips approached the Post with the sensational claim that Alabama senatorial candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore got her pregnant and induced her to have an abortion when she was 15.

The Post never ran that story. Phillips’ scheme was foiled when routine background checks turned up multiple lies, inconsistencies and red flags. Afterward, Post reporters tailed her to the offices of Project Veritas.

The official slogan of The Washington Post is “Democracy dies in darkness.” But just for today, the paper should change that to: “Beep-Beep (really bad word)!”

Yet if this is funny – and it is – it’s also revealing. These people actually project their scuzzy values and motivations onto the rest of us. Apparently and incredibly, these geniuses thought a responsible news organization would run that cockamamie story without checking the source or caring whether it was true. It likely made sense to them because it’s something they would have done.

Take it as superfluous proof: Journalism is under siege. Just days ago, Donald Trump rage-tweeted his latest assault on CNN, saying it represents America “poorly” to the world. The so-called president’s attack on a free and independent press prompted this rebuke from former CIA chief Gen. Michael Hayden. “If this is who we are or who we are becoming,” he tweeted, “I have wasted 40 years of my life.”

That assessment is beyond sad, but these attempts to cripple news media are now an everyday thing.

In mid-November, Alabama voters were robo-called by a “Bernie Bernstein,” who claimed to be a Post reporter offering a cash reward for tips damaging to Moore. Bernie Bernstein, should it need saying, does not exist.

The thinking behind this campaign to delegitimize journalism could not be more transparent. As the far right has apparently concluded it cannot win elections without suppressing votes, it now seems to have decided it cannot win political debates without suppressing facts.

This is an attempted coup against reality itself. What Project Veritas and all the other merchants of mendacity seek is a world without memory, a world where all facts are always in controversy and nothing is ever truly knowable unless it serves their ideological ends. The people of such a world are manipulable. They believe what you tell them to. They are anchored by nothing.

That’s the world some of us already live in. If the rest of us are not mindful of our news sources and vigilant of our biases, if we forget to repeatedly ask ourselves how we know the things we know, it’ll be our world too, soon enough.

For the record, “veritas” is a Latin word. It means “truth.”

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen, left, questions a woman who appeared to be trying to trick the newspaper into publishing a story based on a false charge.Tue, 28 Nov 2017 20:15:24 +0000
Maine Voices: Administration’s attempt to repeal Clean Power Plan needs to be stopped Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, appears set on repealing the Clean Power Plan, America’s only federal limit on carbon emissions from existing power plants.

By law, the EPA must solicit public input, but by holding just one hearing – on Tuesday and Wednesday, in the heart of coal country (West Virginia) – Pruitt seeks to minimize public transparency and boost industry influence over the process.

The Clean Power Plan was adopted by the EPA under then-President Barack Obama only after hearings across the country gave all concerned a voice in shaping a policy to reduce the carbon emissions that are disrupting our weather, damaging our coasts and maritime industries and making the ocean more acidic.

Pruitt is attempting to reverse that policy, as quietly as possible, to support the fossil fuel industry he served before being appointed to his current position.

Maine and other Northeastern states pay a high price for carbon dioxide from power plants to our west. The chemistry is simple: Carbon dioxide plus water yields carbonic acid. A warmer, more acidic ocean endangers shellfish, lobster and other fisheries. More frequent, intense storms and rising sea levels lead to more power outages, flooding and costly damage to roads and buildings.

The Clean Power Plan followed the lead of the nine-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Maine has enjoyed substantial benefits from the pact. Over $60 million from the RGGI sale of carbon credits has been used to provide energy-efficient solutions for homes and businesses. Because of the RGGI, we have more clean-energy jobs in Maine and have paid less money to international fossil fuel corporations. Perhaps that’s why New Jersey is poised to return to the RGGI and Virginia is expected to join it: They recognize its value.

Maine will be allowed to meet the federal Clean Power Plan standards by continuing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which had already set power plant carbon limits before the Clean Power Plan took effect. But the ocean and Maine’s fisheries and other maritime activities are profoundly affected by emissions from states that are not part of the RGGI. Warming ocean temperatures, increasing acidification and rising sea levels are a destructive combination. On the Atlantic coast, according to government scientists, sea-level rise will have the greatest negative social impact in three areas: Maine, the Chesapeake Bay and Florida.

Maine’s fishing community is already feeling the impacts of climate change. The Gulf of Maine is warming 99 percent faster than the rest of our Earth’s oceans. Maine lobstermen, commercial fishermen and clammers are concerned about the impact that warming waters, ocean acidification, and the arrival of invasive species have on their businesses and livelihood. We’re also expecting another season with shrimp fishing closed in the Gulf of Maine.

As the Gulf of Maine warms up, cod are moving north to colder water. This mainstay of the Gulf of Maine economy for centuries may not be saved by fishing regulations, no matter how strict. Menhaden, herring, hake and northern shrimp populations are dangerously depleted. Sea life we’re not used to in the Gulf, like blue crabs, black sea bass and longfin squid, are turning up in fishermen’s nets. More invasive species like green crabs are devastating clam flats. Lobster abundance in southern New England has declined by more than 70 percent because of rising ocean temperatures.

Ocean acidification may have less visible but still serious consequences. For more than 50 years, atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii has shown steady annual increases. Since the early 1990s, when tests of surface seawater began in the same area, its acidity has been increasing with a parallel regularity to atmospheric carbon dioxide. In Congress I wrote a bill, often cited as FOAREM (the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act), to establish our country’s first program to improve understanding of the risks of ocean acidification to our fisheries and coastal communities. The idea was only incorporated in law several weeks after I had left the House and Barack Obama had taken office as president.

Warming ocean water, increasing acidity and rising sea levels will have a significant adverse effect on Maine’s culture and economy unless we act. All of us tied to the Gulf of Maine by location or employment have a vital stake in the EPA proceedings designed to do away with the Clean Power Plan. We need to stand up and speak out against the Trump administration’s attempt to eliminate it.


]]> 0 - In this Tuesday Jan. 20, 2015 file photo, a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H. New Hampshire's largest utility, Eversource Energy, announced Thursday March 12, 2015 that it has has agreed to sell its power plants. Eversource will sell its nine PSNH hydro facilities and three fossil fuel plants, including the Merrimack Station in Bow, Newington Station and Schiller Station in Portsmouth. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)Wed, 29 Nov 2017 16:22:44 +0000
Greg Kesich: Franken’s sexual harassment case shows how much has changed, and how fast Wed, 29 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Things change. Sometimes they change fast. Just ask Al Franken.

Two weeks ago, he was riding high – a second-term senator with star power, boasting a best-selling new book and a highlight reel of “moments” fit for sharing on social media. He had become a sought-after fundraising attraction for his colleagues, and there was even talk about him running for president.

On Monday, he shuffled up to a bank of microphones and humbly apologized for things that he says he doesn’t remember doing, but still regrets because he understands that he made some women feel uncomfortable.

He promised to earn back the trust of his constituents, and someday he may. But he shouldn’t expect many invitations to campaign with Democrats next year or to be mentioned on any lists of presidential contenders.

It’s more likely that he’ll serve out the next three years like a ghost – there but not there, too toxic for friends and too tempting a target for enemies to be given much of a public role.

Franken got caught in a rogue wave of cultural change that he wasn’t ready for, and it’s important for the rest of us to understand why. Something has changed, but what?

Was it the rules? No. The things that Franken is accused of doing – forcing a woman to kiss him in one case, and grabbing strange women by the buttocks when he posed with them for pictures in three other cases – were always against the rules as most people understood them.

Is it fair that Franken has to pay such a high political price when he’s not Washington’s worst offender? No, but it’s not fair that so many women have been groped and belittled by men who had power over their livelihoods, either. This would be the wrong time to start being fair.

Franken’s supporters, including many women, say we should have a sense of proportion in the public response to cases like his. What Franken is accused of is gross, they argue, but the conduct that Donald Trump bragged about to Billy Bush on the infamous 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape would be criminal. The same with Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been credibly alleged to have sexually assaulted teenagers when he was in his 30s.

It’s not morally inconsistent to have one set of consequences for one set of facts and a different set for more severe cases, writes Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Making these kinds of distinctions is something adults do all the time.

But how long do we want to spend parsing how much butt-grabbing is acceptable conduct for a U.S. senator? Is just a little all right? What if he means it as a joke? Should there be a different standard for senators who violate women but vote the right way on women’s issues?

I wish Franken had spared us that conversation, but he decided to take the more familiar path: Apologize exactly as much as you have to and wait for the next scandal to distract everyone. It worked for Bill Clinton. So far, it’s worked for Donald Trump.

Franken had a chance to be a hero. Instead of punting to the Ethics Committee and grimly going back to the Senate, he could have resigned on the day the first charge was made public. (He had to know more would be coming.) He could have set the standard against which others will be judged – the standard that everyone should have been measured by all along.

The comic’s timing was off. He missed what is really different about this historical moment.

These days, when women come forward with allegations against powerful men, most people believe them. That’s not how it’s always been – and that alone is more protection against future harassment than any court could impose. Stories like this should put everyone on notice.

It will be sad to see a diminished Al Franken, but he’ll be a useful reminder of how much has changed. And how fast.

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

Twitter: gregkesich

]]> 0 Patriquin/Staff Photographer.Wed. July,25, 2012. News room mug shots Greg Kesich. (Photo by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer)Tue, 28 Nov 2017 20:10:12 +0000
Charles Lawton: Answers to these 3 questions should guide Maine’s public policy agenda Tue, 28 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Maine is awash in unsettled public policy disputes – affordable housing, Medicaid expansion, education funding and tax reform, to mention but a few. Taken alone, none will ever be resolved. And none of these current policy disputes, or any others, can be solved without considering three questions: Who are we? Where are we? What do we do?

Virtually all of the hottest policy issues today are based on yesterday’s answers to these questions. But whatever resolution eventually passes muster with our voters, our legislators and whoever is elected governor in 2018, it will have to address tomorrow’s realities if it is to succeed. In short, we must today build solutions to tomorrow’s problems.

All of Maine will be transformed by the demographic tsunami we have only begun to experience. While the basic forces of demographic change will be the same in all regions of the state, their size, intensity and impact will vary widely from region to region. As a result, public policy responses that may be appropriate to one region may not apply to others. For that reason, it is important to enumerate the basic factors that will shape tomorrow’s answers to these questions so that they can be documented both for the state as a whole and for the state’s major regions.

These fundamental social metrics (for the state, a region, a county or an individual municipality) are:

Natural increase: The number of births minus the number of deaths in the state (or region or town).

Net migration: The number of people from another state (or another region or another town) moving to Maine (or to a given region or town) minus the number of Maine (or region or town) residents moving out of the state, region or town;

Demographic structure: At its most basic, the shares of the population younger than 16, aged 16 to 64 and older than 65.

Labor force: Who works, is looking for work or doesn’t work? What share of the working-age population is in the labor force?

Employers: How many enterprises are seeking workers?

The central issue facing Maine today can be summarized in the following two sentences: Since the end of the Great Recession in 2010, Maine’s resident employment has grown by 4 percent, or about 25,400 employees. Over the same period, Maine’s labor force has declined by about 4,600 people, our deaths have exceeded our births by about 3,600 and nearly 2,000 more Maine residents have left for other states than have come here from the rest of the country.

These trends – growing employment and diminishing labor force – are simply unsustainable. Current projections from the Maine Office of Policy and Management indicate that by 2024, our population will remain essentially stable at about 1.33 million residents. Within that total, however, the office projects that the number of residents age 15 and under (our prime education force, our future) will decline by nearly 21,000 and the population age 16 to 64 (our prime labor force) will drop by over 71,000. Meanwhile, our population age 65 and older (our golden agers) will increase by nearly 94,000. Given these trends, we would need to see an enormous increase in labor force participation within the 65-plus population just to maintain the size of today’s labor force.

It is encouraging that since its low of about 45,500 in 2009, the number of private establishments reporting a payroll – i.e., the number of private businesses offering jobs in the state – has risen to just over 54,000 in 2016. The animal spirits of entrepreneurial capitalism in Maine seem to be alive. But the average number of employees per company has declined throughout the economic “recovery,” and it will be interesting to see how these employers respond to the increasingly challenging task of finding workers in the demographic environment so evident in the figures above.

We and our elected representatives in Augusta and in town halls across the state may support and even enact into law solutions to our housing, health, education, tax, marijuana and assorted other problems, but they are doomed to fall short of our good intentions if we do not integrate them as part of a full-scale assault on our overwhelming labor force problem. For that reason, I intend to devote my next several columns to an exploration of a) how the metrics noted above apply to the major regions within Maine and b) what is being done and might be done to address the problems they present.

Consulting economist Charles Lawton, Ph.D., can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Mathieu, who was laid off from Verso Paper in January, found a new job at Cousineau Wood Products in North Anson. Labor force participation of males age 25 to 54 has declined over the past four decades in Maine.Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:01:48 +0000
Maine Voices: We need to protect our Maine railroad lines for train service Tue, 28 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In the last few months, the Greater Portland Council of Governments has put forth a plan to construct a walking trail alongside a little-used railroad track running from Portland to Yarmouth. At first glance, this may sound like an intriguing idea, but it is a short-sighted plan that would jeopardize valuable transit alternatives that will be critical for building a sustainable transportation system in Maine.

In the last generation, several Maine governors, from Angus King to John Baldacci, purchased, with bipartisan legislative approval, over 300 miles of railroad lines with the clear objective that these lines would be restored to providing train service throughout the state. They were seen as a critical piece of public infrastructure.

As part of this, in 2007, Maine spent $8 million to preserve the 32 miles of the former St. Lawrence and Atlantic Rail Road between the Portland waterfront and Auburn airport for passenger and freight service. Currently, the Sierra Club, the Maine Rail Transit Coalition and the Maine Department of Transportation are working on a plan to restore passenger rail service on this line between Portland and Lewiston-Auburn. The Maine Legislature approved $400,000 for this plan, matched by $100,000 from the cities of Lewiston and Auburn.

Passenger trains on this corridor could carry modern, highly efficient, electric-hybrid passenger trains as a commuter service, as well as feed and perhaps expand current Amtrak Downeaster routes. Connecting Portland to Lewiston-Auburn would also enable future passenger train service to the Bethel region and Montreal.

The Greater Portland Council of Governments’ proposed walking trail endangers use of this much-needed rail corridor. There is no room on the line for trails; neither is there time and money to change the grades, crossing bridges, ballasts and rights of way, or current plans to accommodate this trail. Why? Because this line was designed over 150 years ago and rights of way are narrow. The existing bridges, built out of Maine granite and wooden ties, were designed for rail, not for trails. Also, when passenger and freight services are re-established, the right of way will need sections of passing siding tracks, for two-directional travel.

Maine has already realized economic loss from abandoning public rail infrastructure. The Sunrise Trail between Eastport and Ellsworth removed 88 miles of the state-owned Calais Branch railroad for recreation; it is now used as a “high-speed” snowmobile and ATV trail. This is perhaps one of the most expensive such trails in the world, considering that our tax dollars purchased this line with the idea of saving a railroad.

A similar plan led to loss of the Union Branch Railway serving downtown Portland for the Bayside Trail. In Augusta, the Kennebunk Rail-Trail path (and parking lot) is hindering passenger rail transportation there. The Belfast & Moosehead Lake Rail Road is now a trail into Belfast, essentially negating the railroad, relegating it as a tourist excursion. On the Mountain Division rail line between Portland and Fryeburg, bike paths have destroyed that rail bed, while the western Sebago region suffers economic blight.

Make no mistake: These trails have endangered future passenger and freight rail uses. By abandoning these critical arteries of potential clean transportation, we further tie ourselves to an expensive asphalt and concrete automobile-dependent future with more congestion, pollution and high transportation costs. Train transportation can be four to five times more efficient and less polluting than road-based transport. As we have seen in the communities along the Downeaster route, passenger rail can also leverage significant private investment in towns along the line.

We urge the Greater Portland Council of Governments to reconsider its misguided “rail to trail” plan. Now is the time for Maine to preserve and invest in modern rail transportation services.

Sierra Club Maine and the Maine Rail Transit Coalition are sponsoring public forums to discuss expanding and utilizing Maine’s public train infrastructure. Please join us for the next one in Portland on Dec. 6. For more information, visit


]]> 0 your mode of transportation – by automobile on the Maine Turnpike, a Concord Coach Lines bus out of Portland, the Downeaster passenger train or a plane from the Portland jetport – officials are predicting this will be a very heavy holiday travel period.Mon, 27 Nov 2017 20:59:41 +0000
Biddeford legislator: Let’s make small businesses competitive again Tue, 28 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed its tax reform bill before adjourning for Thanksgiving recess, giving millions of small-business owners across the country much to be thankful for as the proposal heads to the Senate.

The current tax code hasn’t been substantially updated in over 30 years, and American small businesses have paid the price. At the present marginal top rate of 39.6 percent, the highest among the world’s developed nations, the U.S. Main Street business tax rate is a barrier to economic growth and job creation. While larger corporations can move their businesses to other, lower-taxed countries around the world and sell their goods back to consumers in the U.S., small businesses can’t afford to do that and are having trouble competing with multinational companies.

This is the real problem. The tax code doesn’t allow for competitive small businesses to rival major corporations. Larger corporations can tap into funds, bring on more investors or take out loans to pay high taxes. Also, many larger corporations have the means to hire tax attorneys, who find loopholes to enable their clients to avoid paying taxes at all. Whatever the top tax rate is, they won’t pay it. But small businesses don’t have this luxury and many get bled dry and close up shop because of overtaxation. It’s this simple: To allow small businesses to flourish, they need an equal playing field.

I am the founder of two small businesses in Maine. I also serve as the state representative for Maine’s 12th District. I personally know how difficult it can be to operate a small business under the strains of the current tax code, and I see many of my constituents suffer the same overtaxation problems that I do. Enough is enough of this inequality driven by the tax code.

Maine is home to over 144,000 small businesses, which employ over half of the private workforce in the state. Tax savings would directly benefit Maine by allowing small-business owners to reinvest. A recent study by the Job Creators Network determined that small-business owners would use their tax cut savings to hire more employees, expand their operations and increase employees’ wages. As a small-business owner myself, I couldn’t agree more with this statement. Cutting taxes is not about lining the pockets of business owners with more money, as critics contend. It is about giving these vital players in the economy a little more room to help their customers, employees and communities, and allowing them to be more competitive with big corporations.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act put forth by congressional Republicans finally puts America’s small businesses first and substantially lowers the small-business tax rate. For Main Street businesses, this bill creates a new 25 percent tax rate. Those businesses that don’t earn enough to take advantage of that rate would benefit from lower tax brackets, an increased standard deduction and – particularly – a new 9 percent tax rate on their first $75,000 of earnings. Our Congress should be laser-focused on this business tax reform, which will be meaningful and important, and work in a bipartisan manner, resisting the urge to add other controversial and non-business-related elements, which will cause distraction and delay or prevent passage.

Predicted by the Tax Foundation to create nearly 4,000 new jobs for our state and increase median household income by almost $2,000, this plan is a huge cost savings for Maine’s small businesses and will finally allow them to compete with larger corporations, which have had an unfair advantage for too long.

Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. We need a tax code that encourages investment back into entrepreneurialism and less into the hands of big government. It’s time for Congress to take up tax reform that will end overtaxation and allow Maine’s small businesses to succeed. This reform should be both business-friendly and deficit-friendly. Small businesses and Mainers should support and be thankful for Congress’ efforts to reform the business tax code and pass tax cuts now.


]]> 0 PORTLAND, ME- JUNE 25: South Portland's Mill Creek neighborhood is facing possible zoning and ordinance changes. Shops and a variety of restaurants and other small businesses along in Ocean Street in Mill Creek. (Photo by John Ewing/Staff Photographer)Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:00:14 +0000
Next governor better be ready to answer to all Mainers Sun, 26 Nov 2017 09:00:00 +0000 BANGOR — Twenty men and women are expected to join the field to replace Gov. LePage in next year’s race for chief executive of Maine. Here are some questions that candidates should consider:

Who among you understands that when the current governor leaves office at noon on Jan. 2, 2019, that that will be the end of his administration? Your administration starts, and you will be held accountable for everything that you do and say, after 12:01 p.m. that day.

Who among you understands that as governor, your leadership sets the tone, or the course, for all Mainers over the next four years? Your words and actions will have influence among your constituents, repercussions among legislators and weight among Maine businesses, especially tourism.

Who among you understands that as governor, your word is your bond? Changing your mind, moving the goalposts or ignoring the will of the people are not leadership traits of an individual who values either personal integrity, public service or both. Not only does it reflect your character flaws, it also shows you cannot be trusted. In other words, don’t make promises you can’t keep or have no intention of keeping.

Who among you understands that as governor your duty is to serve all of the citizens of Maine? Not just members of your party (if you have one), business interests, political action committees or the people who contributed to your campaign. No one has priority; everyone is treated equally.

Who among you understands that as governor, you are not the headmaster, den mother or pack leader of the Legislature?

Your job is to enroll legislators into your detailed vision of Maine’s future with specific, incremental objectives. This vision came into focus from your many hours of listening to voters during the campaign. Collaborate and compromise with the Legislature, then go from there.

Without a detailed vision, the Legislature will choose its own path for you, and your administration will be blamed by your political opponents for the lack of leadership. Thus the agreed-upon version of your vision for Maine is the foundation of your administration. Not only is it the result of your leadership skills, it also should sell itself, and you should stick with it.

Who among you understands that as governor, finding a favorable audience with certain media outlets reflects on your inability to lead? Favoring one audience over another just to shore up your political base, get your personal (or party) agenda passed and whine about your administration’s critics and political opponents is not leadership.

It shows that your administration is not willing to do the work to find bipartisan solutions to solve Maine’s problems. If anything, the action itself sows the seeds of political strife – especially in the halls of the state Capitol.

Who among you understands that you chose to run? You did so because you love Maine and you have an indomitable passion to make the state a better place, and its people better off – not because of the person you’re replacing, or because your ego needs stroking, or because you think you can fix the Legislature or help your party. You are Maine’s public champion; its life coach, salesperson and protector.

If you were talked into running, then do Maine a favor and drop out now. If you’re elected, any service you offer is inauthentic and lacks the will necessary to hold the office. In the back of your mind, there will always be that excuse.

For example, if you’re having a bad day at the Capitol, you can always go to that lingering thought in the back of your mind: “Why did I get myself talked into this?” or “I didn’t want this job in the first place.”

Finally, who among you understands that if elected, you will not get rich?

If you are making more than $70,000 a year and can’t afford the pay cut, stay where you’re at.

For all its trials and tribulations – dealing with legislators, facing scrutiny in the press and withstanding trolling on social media – if you succeed in your vision of making Maine a better place, and, after your first term, a majority of Mainers are better off than they were four years earlier, then personal satisfaction will be your greatest reward.

]]> 0 onus on the Legislature to fund Medicaid expansionSun, 26 Nov 2017 18:23:27 +0000