Columns – Press Herald Sat, 24 Jun 2017 05:12:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Maine Voices: Nonprofits’ second-in-commands are leaders in shaping communities Fri, 23 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 On a fairly regular basis, I am urged by a well-meaning friend or supporter of Preble Street to run the agency “more like a business.” And from conversations with other nonprofit executives, I’m quite certain I’m not the only one getting that advice.

It drives me crazy to hear that. Of course we run the agency like a business! But we do so within the framework of a nonprofit business, which is decidedly different. Not better or worse, but different. Preble Street’s business model has different realities, different complexities, different challenges and different opportunities from those of a local restaurant, or clothing store, or high-tech company.

The key is not to “operate like a business,” but to operate like a good business: being strategic and nimble, working harder than others, always staying true to your core competencies and goals (which, for a nonprofit, is our mission statement), and hiring and retaining the very best people.

This last piece is key – hiring and retaining the very best people.

One of the very, very best people I’ve ever hired is Jon Bradley, associate director of Preble Street. After 18 years with this agency, Jon is retiring this month. We will miss him dearly. I will miss him dearly.

Like so many other associate directors at other organizations (or assistant directors, or vice presidents of programs, or similarly titled second-in-command positions), Jon has been instrumental in the success of Preble Street and the key architect of most of the programs here that have touched so many lives. And before coming to Preble Street, Jon was the longtime second-in-command at Ingraham, where he played a similar role in building strong and effective programs and services.

Jon has been responsible for an enormous amount of good in this community. In truth, it’s difficult for me to even imagine Portland as it currently exists without Jon’s fingerprints all over it. Fundamental to the caring, diverse, inclusive, vibrant city and state we are becoming is the work that people like Jon do.

Executive directors usually get more press and win more awards, but it is the associate directors who roll up their sleeves and get the work done. Whatever is needed. Maine has been blessed by many, many nonprofit professionals who, while not in the role of executive director or CEO, have made their organizations great and done tremendous good for all of us who live and work here. And too many of them go unnoticed (although that is exactly how many of them like to do their work – behind the scenes).

Well, I’ve noticed, as have others in the nonprofit community. We’ve worked with them, learned from them and relied on them in our efforts to fully realize our missions.

People like Jane Prouty, who, for so many years at the old YWCA, was a steady and strong second in command, through thick and thin. Gloria Melnick did inspiring work developing and running programs at Youth Alternatives until her retirement. Peter Stuckey at PROP worked tirelessly and passionately for decades on behalf of poor people.

Besides Jon Bradley retiring this month, Mary Ruchinskas of New Beginnings is also retiring after three decades of extraordinary work serving homeless and runaway youth. And this fall, Ed Blanchard of Shalom House will join them in retirement after a lifetime of quiet but great accomplishments in creating housing and services for people with mental illness.

Others are still at it, thank God, working long hours in the ever-changing and struggling nonprofit environment: Peter Rand at Community Partners, Inc; Giff Jamison at Tedford Housing; Lisa Munderback at Day One; Jane Driscoll at Goodwill; Greg Payne at Avesta Housing; Jan Bosse at the Portland Housing Authority; Tom Kane at LearningWorks; Don Harden at Catholic Charities, and Mary Swann (my personal favorite, of course) at the Kids First Center.

In lifetime pursuit of social and economic justice, they have all earned our respect and admiration, and we owe them our thanks.

Maine is a far, far better place because of these nonprofit professionals, people like Jon Bradley, Preble Street’s associate director, who have made their lives full and meaningful by combining their personal values with their professional expertise. Thank you, Jon.

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Charles Krauthammer: At stake in the Mideast is consolidation of the Shiite Crescent Fri, 23 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The U.S. shoots down a Syrian fighter-bomber. Iran launches missiles into eastern Syria. Russia threatens to attack coalition aircraft west of the Euphrates.

What is going on?

It might appear a mindless mess, but the outlines are clear. The great Muslim civil war, centered in Syria, is approaching its post-Islamic State phase. It’s the end of the beginning. The parties are maneuvering to shape what comes next.

It’s Europe in 1945, when the war was still raging against Nazi Germany, but everyone already knew the outcome. The maneuvering was largely between the approaching victors – the Soviet Union and the Western democracies – to determine postwar boundaries and spheres of influence.

So it is today in Syria. Everyone knows that the Islamic State is finished. Not that it will disappear as an ideology, insurgency and source of continuing terrorism both in the region and the West. But it will disappear as an independent, organized, territorial entity in the heart of the Middle East.

It is being squeezed out of existence. Its hold on Mosul, its last major redoubt in Iraq, is nearly gone. Raqqa, its stronghold in Syria and de facto capital, is next.

When it falls – it is already surrounded on three sides – the caliphate dies.

Much of the fighting today is about who inherits. Take the Syrian jet the U.S. shot down. It had been attacking a pro-Western Kurdish and Arab force (the Syrian Democratic Forces) not far from Islamic State territory.

Why? Because the Bashar Assad regime, backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, having gained the upper hand on the non-jihadist rebels in the Syrian heartland (most notably in Aleppo), feels secure enough to set its sights on eastern Syria. If it hopes to restore its authority over the whole country, it will need to control Raqqa and surrounding Islamic State areas. But the forces near Raqqa are pro-Western and anti-regime. Hence the Syrian fighter-bomber attack.

Hence the U.S. shoot-down. We are protecting our friends. Hence the Russian threats to now target U.S. planes. The Russians are protecting their friends.

On the same day as the shoot-down, Iran launched six surface-to-surface missiles into Syrian territory controlled by the Islamic State.

Why? Ostensibly to punish the jihadists for terrorist attacks two weeks ago inside Iran.

Perhaps. But one obvious objective was to demonstrate to Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Arabs the considerable reach of both Iran’s arms and territorial ambitions.

For Iran, Syria is the key, the central theater of a Shiite-Sunni war for regional hegemony. Iran (which is non-Arab) leads the Shiite side, attended by its Arab auxiliaries – Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shiite militias in Iraq and the highly penetrated government of Iraq, and Assad’s Alawite regime. (Alawites being a non-Sunni sect, often associated with Shiism.)

Taken together, they comprise a vast arc – the Shiite Crescent – stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean.

If consolidated, it gives the Persians a Mediterranean reach they have not had in 2,300 years.

This alliance operates under the patronage and protection of Russia, which supplies the Iranian-allied side with cash, weapons and, since 2015, air cover from its new bases in Syria.

Arrayed on the other side of the great Muslim civil war are the Sunnis, moderate and Western-allied, led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan – with their Great Power patron, the United States, now (post-Obama) back in action.

At stake is consolidation of the Shiite Crescent.

It’s already underway. As the Islamic State is driven out of Mosul, Iranian-controlled militias are taking over crucial roads and other strategic assets in western Iraq. Next target: eastern Syria (Raqqa and environs).

Imagine the scenario: a unified Syria under Assad, the ever more pliant client of Iran and Russia; Hezbollah, tip of the Iranian spear, dominant in Lebanon; Iran, the regional arbiter; and Russia, with its Syrian bases, the outside hegemon.

Our preferred outcome is radically different: a loosely federated Syria, partitioned and cantonized, in which Assad might be left in charge of an Alawite rump.

The Iranian-Russian strategy is a nightmare for the entire Sunni Middle East. And for us too.

The Pentagon seems bent on preventing it. Hence the Tomahawk attack for crossing the chemical red line. Hence the recent fighter-bomber shoot-down.

A reasonable U.S. strategy, given the alternatives. But not without risk. Which is why we need a national debate before we commit too deeply. Perhaps we might squeeze one in amid the national obsession with every James Comey memo-to-self?

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for The Washington Post. He can be contacted at:

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Commentary: Society’s vulnerable may pay with their lives if Medicaid is gutted Fri, 23 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 My son Kaden was born with a bigger list of obstacles to overcome than most kids.

When he was about 2 months old, we discovered Kaden has a congenital heart condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot with an absent pulmonary valve. He also has Von Willebrand’s disease, a bleeding disorder.

Kaden, now a spunky 12-year-old who loves science and theater, has had multiple open heart surgeries, survived on life support, suffered a stroke, lived through a bleeding disorder – the list goes on. The medications that keep him alive cost $300 to $1,000 each per month, and he has a rotating cast of 11 different doctors whom we visit regularly.

On top of that, I have some medical challenges of my own:

During gall bladder surgery, a doctor accidentally severed a bile duct and I’ve had multiple invasive procedures to repair the damage. I was left with a chronic condition that requires specialists and medication for the rest of my life and makes it even harder for me to give Kaden the care and support he needs.

Without our health care coverage through Medicaid, neither Kaden nor I would be alive. With President Trump and Republicans in the White House threatening to slash more than $1 trillion from Medicaid – the program that Kaden and I depend on for coverage – my worries have gone from how we’ll manage our conditions to whether we’ll survive them.

Every mother understands that I am willing to do anything and everything I can to protect my son’s health and his future. I juggle being a single mom and holding a full-time job so I can provide for Kaden. Even though I work full-time, I can’t afford my employer-sponsored health insurance; Medicaid and Children’s Special Health Care Services keep my son alive.

If Trump and Republicans in Congress succeed in gutting Medicaid so they can give a giant tax break to their billionaire buddies, Kaden and I will be the ones who pay the price. And there are millions of families like ours who can’t afford to foot the bill for this administration’s heartless budget.

We have dealt with lapses in our coverage before, and I know how it feels to be unable to afford an inhaler or a medication that Kaden needs. It isn’t as though we’ll be choosing between a nice vacation and a quicker doctor visit, or a new car or an important surgery. We’ll be choosing between life and death.

My mind races as I play out the tragic scenarios we could face if Congress passes the Trump budget or the House health care law: At what point will I have to choose between paying for food or for Kaden’s life-saving medication? What if giving up one still doesn’t allow me to pay for the other? What then?

No mom should have to ask these questions. Yet elected officials in Washington are trying to dismantle a health care system that currently protects the lives of millions of Americans, including our youngest, our oldest and our most vulnerable.

Providing health care for those who need it the most reflects our nation’s values. We take care of our family, our friends, our neighbors. We give each other a hand and help each other out. This is who we are.

Those values seem to have been stripped away by callous policymakers who are intent on destroying a health care system millions depend on to line the pockets of their wealthy campaign donors. But here’s what I’ve learned: Chronic conditions, terminal illness and medical emergencies don’t discriminate based on how you vote or how much money you earn. Our ability to get and stay healthy shouldn’t, either.

]]> 0 Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined by, from left, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks following a closed-door strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, June 20, 2017. Sen. McConnell says Republicans will have a "discussion draft" of a GOP-only bill scuttling former President Barack Obama's health care law by Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)Fri, 23 Jun 2017 11:27:16 +0000
Maine Voices: Republican health bill will gut Medicaid, leaving behind moms and newborns Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Republican leaders in Washington can’t afford to squander their best opportunity by pushing through a “repeal and replace” measure that could leave Maine’s moms and newborns behind.

The House-passed proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Health Care Act includes provisions to enact per-capita caps on Medicaid, cut Medicaid funding by billions of dollars and remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions. The House bill as written would decrease federal funding for the entire Medicaid program, which covers over 70 million low-income kids, adults, disabled individuals and the elderly – and those millions include mothers and pregnant women.

The impact here at home in Maine could be devastating. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 43 percent of births in Maine in 2015 were covered by Medicaid. That means almost half our pregnant moms rely on Medicaid funding to ensure they’re receiving adequate prenatal care.

We know firsthand the critical role Medicaid plays in funding care for newborns and mothers. I began my medical career as a physician assistant working in a neonatal intensive care unit participating in the care of the most vulnerable premature infants. It was during that time that I met my future husband, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, while he delivered a child born at 32 weeks after an extra-uterine pregnancy, a rare condition in which a fertilized egg develops outside the uterus.

He saved the life of the mother, a walk-in patient who had had no prenatal care, while I resuscitated the small neonate. Weeks later, that newborn passed away from multiple complications. The mother survived, but not without her own share of surgical problems.

Both were innocent victims of medical problems that they had no control over – not all that different from what we see today in the rural state of Maine.

Later, we were offered an opportunity at Maine Medical Center to start the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, with diagnostic ultrasound, genetic testing and care of the high-risk pregnant woman. We quickly realized the need to develop a comprehensive perinatal outreach network with Maine’s hospitals, many of which were small, rural community facilities, so that people could receive care without having to travel long distances.

I was honored to serve as director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention from 2011 to 2015, seeing firsthand the many health care challenges that face our state, especially for our most vulnerable populations, including mothers and infants as well as the disabled and elderly.

Advances in medicine have greatly increased safety for women in delivery, but these innovations are effective only if our residents can access them. Maintaining access to prenatal care for mothers is crucial and could be at risk if the Senate moves forward with aggressive cuts to Medicaid and changes that make funding available based on population instead of need.

There’s no denying that the repeal and replacement/reform of the ACA must be done in a budget-conscious manner, but restructuring our Medicaid program and removing protections for those with pre-existing conditions is not the right approach: It will only transfer the budget issues to Maine’s balance sheet and diminish access to care for those that need it the most. As we move past the mistakes of the ACA, we must ensure our children don’t end up paying the price for rushing the process. Infants have no choice in the health care debate, but we do.

It’s not just infants and children – over 260,000 Maine residents and their families depend on Medicaid for the care they need. This is an issue of public health that ultimately affects everyone. The state of Maine has worked hard to encourage individuals who are able to get back to work and to learn new skills and become self-sufficient so that they, too, can lead independent lives.

Thankfully, we have elected leaders representing us and the needs of our state in Washington who understand this. Sen. Susan Collins has been a tireless advocate for those who need it the most and is dedicated to finding a solution that provides Americans with more health care coverage than the current system, not less.

I hope her colleagues in the Senate follow her lead as the debate continues, ask the tough questions and take the time to get it right, while they work together to revise the American Health Care Act and build a better health care bill that won’t leave moms and newborns behind. Maine needs to continue to take the lead on this issue, while working together for a brighter, healthier future for all.


]]> 0 mother holds her newborn baby in Corpus Christi, Texas. A study released Monday shows pregnancy affects not only a woman's body: It changes parts of her brain structure, too.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 19:28:33 +0000
Commentary: Planned Parenthood’s Maine patients need health care, not politics Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 If the Senate blocks funds, many will face a dearth of affordable choices for women’s health care.

What would a world without Planned Parenthood look like?

Planned Parenthood provides critical care to millions of people across the country. Right here in Maine, our health centers treat more than 10,000 patients a year, and for many of them we are their only access to health care. What will happen if they are denied access to their provider?

Unfortunately, we may soon find out.

The Senate will vote next week to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” and the bill will likely include a provision blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving reimbursements from Medicaid, sometimes called “defunding” Planned Parenthood.

The effects would be significant. In Maine, 25 percent of our patients are insured through Medicaid, and for many of our patients, we are their only access to health care. Without Planned Parenthood, they would have nowhere else to go.

We see patients like Leah, a survivor of sexual assault. Leah was unable to tell her parents, her primary care doctor, or her gynecologist what happened.

She wrote, “the health care providers who helped me at Planned Parenthood were my only line of defense against what had happened to my body … they provided me with the medication I needed, along with the emotional support I needed to handle this trauma. If I hadn’t been able to go to Planned Parenthood for help I don’t know where I would have gone.”

Samantha told us, “It is sad that Planned Parenthood is under [attack], because I personally don’t know what I would do without the convenient and affordable care they have to offer.”

And Diana Turner, a cancer survivor, explained, “I was just 26 when the first [pap test] result was abnormal. After that, I went back every six months, then every three months, as Planned Parenthood and I tracked the approach of cervical cancer.”

This early detection and treatment saved her life.

Though the stories vary, our patients share one thing in common: They don’t come to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement.

They come to us for compassionate, affordable, high-quality health care. Denying patients access to their trusted healthcare providers for political reasons is simply wrong.

Yet efforts to block patient access to Planned Parenthood continue. Some opponents of Planned Parenthood have suggested our patients simply go to another provider, like a community health center or Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).

Public health experts have resoundingly dismissed this notion for several reasons.

First, these health centers simply don’t have the capacity to treat all of our patients. A recent analysis by the Guttmacher Institute determined that without Planned Parenthood, FQHCs in Maine would have to at least double their contraceptive caseloads – and that’s just for our birth control patients.

Furthermore, Planned Parenthood health centers offer a full range of contraceptive methods – from birth control pills and patches to IUDs and implants. Many FQHCs do not.

We also offer same-day and next-day appointments. Across the country, more than 80 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers offer same-day IUD insertion. Only one in four FQHCs do.

And all of our health centers in Maine have extended hours to accommodate patients who have difficulty taking time off from work or family. Little more than half of FQHCs have extended hours.

In short, on key indicators, Planned Parenthood health centers do better than FQHCs. Is it any surprise that in Maine our four health centers provide contraception to more women than the 65 FQHCS combined?

FQHCs are not the answer. Quite simply, Planned Parenthood is irreplaceable.

Our elected leaders must reject any attempt to cut off millions of people from Planned Parenthood and the lifesaving preventive care we provide.

Last month, the U.S. House failed to do so. Instead, a majority chose to sacrifice women’s health for political gain by repealing the Affordable Care Act and preventing Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood.

The U.S. Senate will vote at the end of the month. We are counting on them to do the right thing so that Planned Parenthood continues to be available to patients like Leah, Samantha, Diana – and millions more.


]]> 0 offered by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which has an office in the Clapp Building on Congress Street in Portland, above, include birth control, cancer screenings, breast health, abortions, and sexual health education and counseling.Wed, 21 Jun 2017 20:05:10 +0000
Dana Milbank: Ivanka, take note, your own family is stoking fear, fury, ‘ferocity’ Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Now we’ve done it. We’ve hurt Ivanka Trump’s feelings.

“There’s a level of viciousness that I was not expecting,” the presidential daughter and senior White House official told Fox News last week, adding that she was “blindsided” by the “ferocity.”

The poor dear.

Here are a few sources the blindsided footwear magnate might consult to understand why things are so vicious:

 Her brother Eric. The previous week, he called the head of the Democratic Party a “total whack job” and declared that “morality is just gone” from Democrats. “To me, they’re not even people,” he said.

Her brother Donald Jr. Last Wednesday, after the shooting at the Republican congressional baseball team practice, the president’s son retweeted with approval a claim tying the shooting to “NY elites glorifying the assassination of our President.”

Newt Gingrich. Last Thursday, the informal Trump adviser and surrogate tweeted a conspiracy claim that special counsel Robert Mueller is “now clearly the tip of the deep-state spear aimed at destroying or at a minimum undermining and crippling the Trump presidency.”

Her dad. The president last Thursday went on yet another Twitter tirade. He declared himself the victim of the “single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!” And he renewed his attack on his vanquished opponent, saying, “Crooked H destroyed phones w/hammer.”

This is why Washington is so vicious right now. Plenty bad before Trump’s campaign and presidency, it has gotten markedly worse. This is what happens when the president and his surrogates portray opponents as immoral, subhuman and criminal, when they hack away at the courts, the press and other pillars of a free society – and when they promote conspiracy theories suggesting American justice is tainted.

It was sickening that a lunatic apparently converted his hatred of Trump last week into violence, shooting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and others on a baseball diamond. The would-be assassin’s act – the ultimate assault on the rule of law – is the antithesis of the principled opposition to Trump.

Revolting in a different way is the speed with which a few on the right have tried to use the shooting to delegitimize the justifiable and widespread anger that Trump has generated. Rush Limbaugh called the gunman “a mainstream Democrat voter.” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said of the shooting: “I do want to put some of this at the feet of Barack Obama.”

Sean Hannity of Fox News, broadcasting from the scene of the shooting, alleged a “record level of vicious left-wing hate,” claiming this is the “biggest issue we need to address as a country.”

Some have gone in search of precedent to justify this attempt to smear Trump’s opposition by blaming it for a madman’s bullets. A writer for the conservative Washington Examiner falsely claimed last week that in 2011 I “blamed” Sarah Palin for the shooting that injured then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., and killed others. In fact, I wrote then that “there’s no evidence that either Palin or (Glenn) Beck inspired the Tucson suspect” but that they both deserved to be “held to account for recklessly playing with violent images.” Now, as then, nobody but the shooter is to blame for a depraved act, but we all should be careful with violent language and imagery that could be misconstrued by the unhinged.

Kathy Griffin’s severed Trump head was grotesque. Though I doubt those who watch Shakespeare performed by the Public Theater in New York are violence-prone, I wouldn’t have cast the assassinated Julius Caesar as Trump-like.

The deep and broad anger with Trump, however, has nothing to do with this. Part of it comes naturally from being out of power: Liberals were more vitriolic late in the Bush years, conservatives were nastier during Obama’s presidency, and the pendulum is swinging again.

But now there’s a new variable: The president himself is stoking fear and fury. Seven months after the election, he is still attacking Hillary Clinton as a criminal.

He is frightening allies, attacking the courts, discrediting the intelligence community and the “fake news media,” and suggesting there’s a major conspiracy against him in the justice system.

This recklessness causes enormous fear, which generates the “ferocity” Ivanka Trump perceives. President Trump could calm the anger – if he could calm himself.

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

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Leonard Pitts: In uneasy times, we can become what we hate, but this hero defied that Wed, 21 Jun 2017 10:00:00 +0000 The other day, a Muslim saved a terrorist.

It happened just after midnight Monday in London. The terrorist, according to authorities, was Darren Osborne, 47, from Cardiff, Wales, who drove a rented van 150 miles to the British capital, where he jumped a sidewalk and plowed into a crowd of worshipers outside a mosque as people were attending to a man who had collapsed.

Osborne is reported to have screamed, “I want to kill all Muslims!” The outraged crowd dragged him from the van, punching and kicking him. They might have killed him, but then Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of the Muslim Welfare House put himself between the mob and the man. “No one touch him!” he ordered. “No one!”

Mahmoud later told reporters it wasn’t just him, but “a group of brothers” who were “calm and collected and managed to calm people down.” As a result, Osborne was still in one piece when police arrived.

At least 10 people were reported injured in the attack. The man who collapsed later died, though the cause is unclear.

Mahmoud’s moral heroism seems especially stark in light of what Osborne allegedly did. Not just the random maiming of innocent people, but the fact that he did it, one presumes, in protest of terrorism.

That’s more than simply mad. It is also visceral proof of the human tendency to become what we abhor.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it like this: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

That would seem to be what happened to Osborne. It seems to be happening to many of us, the dangerous absurdities and frightening expediencies of this political moment having a coarsening effect on supporters of otherwise honorable causes.

So that a man who opposes the devastating agenda of the Republican Party devastates a Republican baseball practice with rifle fire. And people angry about police randomly killing African Americans randomly kill police officers. And people who protest the destructive words of conservative firebrands commit destructive acts to the tune of $100,000 damage in Berkeley, California. Now Darren Osborne apparently decides to protest terrorism by committing it.

We become what we abhor. We become the monster we fight. Small wonder. Few things are more attractive than violence cloaked in righteousness. This is especially true in a morally disjointed era wherein politics is broken and down is up and up is sideways and violence, like the snake in the Garden, whispers temptations and seductions. People who never would have listened before find themselves listening now.

That’s why Mahmoud’s example is powerful. His ability to separate himself from the anger of those people in that moment is a reminder that no one is predestined to be swept away by righteous anger into unrighteous acts. Being moral is a choice, albeit sometimes, a very difficult one.

Some will surmise that Mahmoud was able to make that choice because he’s a faith leader. But that’s a convenient rationalization that removes from the rest of us the onus for doing the right thing even when the wrong thing is alluring and nobody would blame you for it.

It is probably closer to the mark to believe he did it not simply because he is an imam, but because he is an upright man who realizes you can’t take the low road to the high place. And that Nietzsche was right: when you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes into you. You cannot control that.

But you can control what it sees when it does.

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, 20 Jun 2017 20:35:22 +0000
Maine Voices: Legislature should fully fund Commission on Indigent Legal Services Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 BRUNSWICK — Anyone who can’t afford a lawyer gets one appointed for them, right? No, not right.

We are familiar with the sentence “if you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you” from countless television shows and movies. But the right to have a lawyer appointed for you is limited. It applies only in certain cases in which the courts have decided that the stakes are so high that the U.S. Constitution requires the state to protect your rights by providing an attorney. This fundamental right was applied to criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963.

Justice Hugo Black, who wrote the unanimous decision, stated that “reason and reflection require us to recognize that in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person hauled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.”

The constitutional guarantee of a fair trial, however, also applies to other cases where the stakes are just as high as going to jail. Legal representation for indigent people is required as a matter of fundamental fairness in matters like child protective cases, where parents and children may be separated, and requests to involuntarily commit someone to a psychiatric hospital.

Maine’s constitutionally required indigent legal services have been administered by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services, an independent state agency, since July 1, 2010. Previously, Maine had appropriated funds to the Judicial Branch for this purpose.

During the last half of 2016, the commission reported over 13,000 cases opened in which Mainers were represented in 997 child protection petitions, 59 child emancipations, 409 involuntary commitments, 435 juvenile matters, 1,396 custody matters, 166 termination of parental rights cases and 285 child protective order reviews. Each court in Maine has a roster of attorneys vetted by the commission and qualified to provide indigent legal services. The number of attorneys ranges from 11 in the Fort Kent District Court to 162 in the Portland District Court.

Although Maine law directs the commission to work “to ensure adequate funding of a statewide system of indigent legal services,” its funding is beyond its control. Providing fundamental fairness when the stakes are whether you lose your child or whether you are committed to a psychiatric facility is not inexpensive. The commission has now run out of money because of inadequate funding. Lawyers are asked to work for free in the hopes that the Legislature will catch up.

I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for the attorneys. The ones who suffer are ultimately the poor of this state, children, elderly, veterans, parents and those with psychological disabilities.

The commission has been chronically underfunded. This is not the first time that the state has exposed its citizens to the risk of lawyers just giving up on the system. As one might expect in these economic times, the needs of the indigent increase. Yet legislative funding fell by nearly $3 million from fiscal 2016 to fiscal 2017.

The commission anticipated the need for, and requested, supplemental funding for fiscal 2017 to enable it to meet the state’s constitutional requirements. The commission is out of money and that urgent request has not been acted on. Moreover, the biennial budget originally proposed for fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 included less-than-level funding when compared with fiscal 2017. Recently, Gov. LePage released a “change package” that includes additional funding for indigent legal services – but only through January 2018.

Reliance on continual patches and after-the-fact funding is not a solution. These simply postpone the reckoning. A continued failure to provide adequate funding risks exposing the state to lawsuits for denying constitutionally protected rights or exposing the legal system to a complete breakdown in these most important matters.

A strong, unwavering commitment to adequate state funding for fiscal 2017, through the next biennium and on an ongoing basis is essential. Perhaps it is naïve, but I believe that programs and services that the Constitution says the state must provide should always be fully funded in our state budget.

It is well past the time for Maine to fully embrace and support the constitutional and statutory rights of poor Mainers to receive the legal counsel that the Constitution is supposed to guarantee. Please join me in urging members of the 128th Maine Legislature to provide adequate funding now and in the future to the statewide system of indigent legal services overseen by the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services.

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Greg Kesich: Republicans disrupting insurance markets for political advantage Wed, 21 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 If you are one of the thousands of Mainers who buy their health insurance on the Obamacare exchange, you may have gotten something like this in the mail this week:

“This letter provides you with two important notices: 1) Notice of Harvard Pilgrim’s proposed (39.7 percent) rate increase for 2018, and: 2) Notice of Harvard Pilgrim’s possible withdrawal from the individual HMO market in Maine.”

The reasons for both, the letter goes on to explain, are health care costs, especially for pharmaceuticals, which continue to rise faster than inflation. And it says “developments in the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act will have the effect of further raising individual-market product costs in 2018.”

That’s a nice way of saying, “We can’t afford to stay in this business if our partner in Washington keeps trying to kill us.”

Because that is what’s happening. While the 13 Republican senators in a health care working group debate in secret about how many millions of people they have to dump off Medicaid to get Ted Cruz’s vote, the Trump administration is doing whatever it can to exploit cracks in the system by pumping them full of uncertainty.

And every time an insurance company drops out of an exchange somewhere, a crocodile-tear news release goes out from the administration, bemoaning the fact that the system is failing and needs radical reform. Never mind that the reforms they have in mind would make things worse and move millions of Americans from flawed coverage to no coverage at all.

All the attention now is on the U.S. Senate, and really just the Republican working group. Democrats can’t do anything but complain because they are locked out of the process, so the millions of Americans who were able to get health insurance under the ACA are left hoping that Sen. Susan Collins and two other moderate Republicans might be able to stop a runaway train.

It’s important to remember that what we are seeing is not a battle of ideas being waged in Washington, but one of political calculation. The House-passed American Health Care Act, which would cost 23 million Americans their coverage, is not some utopian ideal dreamed up by a free-market think tank. It was a bill designed to get 216 Republican votes, and it just barely did.

And in the Senate, negotiators are not pursuing the best way to cover the most people for the least amount of money, they are looking for at least 50 out of a possible 52 Republican votes so they can ram a bill through with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence if necessary.

The goal here is not to reform health care, it’s to deliver on campaign promises that were made in four straight elections. The partisan’s main job isn’t to govern, but to win.

So while the Senate careens toward a vote on a mystery bill that is likely to preserve the worst parts of the hideously unpopular House bill, its authors are trying to change the subject.

Instead of talking about how they plan to dump more of the cost of caring for people in nursing homes onto state governments, or about phasing out Medicaid expansion, thus leaving millions with no coverage at all, Republican lawmakers prefer talking about Obamacare.

In a 49-second video released Tuesday, a lineup of Senate Republican leaders say some version of “Obamacare is unsustainable” seven times. If you wonder what they plan to replace it with, you’re out of luck. They didn’t mention that once.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is doing whatever it can to make insurance companies nervous. It started by sending mixed signals about whether it would continue to enforce the individual mandate that requires everyone to buy health insurance or pay a fine. Adding more healthy people to the insurance pool was the trade-off that insurance companies needed when they were forced to cover people with pre-existing conditions. If only sick people buy insurance, the markets really would collapse.

And the administration has sown doubt about whether it will continue to pay cost-sharing reduction subsidies, which partially cover out-of-pocket costs for 7 million low-income people who buy insurance on the exchanges. Insurance companies will have a hard time pricing their plans without knowing how much the government is going to kick in.

No wonder companies like Harvard Pilgrim are thinking about getting into a safer line of work.

Figuring out why it might be good politics to put millions of people’s lives in danger by threatening their access to health care is a question for the experts.

But don’t ask whether Republicans are intentionally creating chaos in the health insurance markets in order to gain political advantage, because the answer is obvious.

It came in the mail to thousands of Mainers this week, and they probably won’t be the last to get the message.

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, 20 Jun 2017 20:56:31 +0000
Maine Voices: Coverage of Pride parade a disservice to those who face discrimination Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Living as an openly queer-identified individual is an inherently political act. If you’re transgender, a person of color or low-income, it is also a revolutionary and extremely dangerous act.

The Portland Press Herald’s coverage of the Pride parade and corresponding festival did a great disservice to those who bravely weather discrimination and bigotry on a near-daily basis for either how they identify or for the color of their skin. I’d like to draw attention to the wonderful folks who took the stage in Deering Oaks during the festivities, as they read the names of the more than a dozen transgender women of color who have been brutally murdered in this year alone.

Race, gender and sexuality have been intertwined in the battle for our mutual liberation since the very genesis of the gay liberation movement at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. That riot began because of a concerted effort to brutalize and harass young, impoverished queers living in New York’s Greenwich Village, most of whom were black or Latinx (a gender-neutral term for the Latin-American community).

So why shouldn’t the Black Lives Matter cause be brought up at a Pride event, a day after Philando Castile’s killer walked free? Why shouldn’t our communities come together in solidarity, striving to battle the dark shadow of injustice, wherever it might hide?

Press Herald Pride coverage repeatedly referred to Donald Trump and what was described in a photo caption as “the lack of political overtones” at the parade and festival. I know this may surprise the reporters at the Press Herald, but there is actually more to politics these days than being explicitly anti-Trump.

Their neoliberal, and frankly bourgeois, take on the activist scene in Maine has ground the gears of more than just their conservative counterparts. Why not report on the multiple Islamophobic and transphobic signs seen in the crowds during the Pride march down Congress Street? Or the significant rise of violent hate crimes committed against many minority communities across this nation after the ascension of the Trump administration?

A little over a month ago, I had my own experience with just how dangerous it can be to live as an openly transgender individual in this supposed progressive bastion. While walking home from the neighborhood gay bar, Blackstones, in my favorite pair of heels no less, I was tripped by two middle-aged white men and called a “faggot.” While I was on the ground, they kicked me twice in the ribs, and punched me in the face before running off with the $20 bill I had in my wallet. The detective later assigned to the case commented over the phone to me that “Portland is a very safe city.” It sure didn’t feel that way to me last month.

There’s a variety of solutions that City Hall and Portland police could pursue, least among them putting some decent lighting throughout the Parkside neighborhood. Inevitably, though, they will have to challenge the toxic culture that exists within our policing communities.

As the Press Herald reported last week, a recent survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 62 percent of Maine respondents reported verbal harassment or physical assault at the hands of the police, while 59 percent of Maine respondents said they would feel uncomfortable asking the police for help. Why are those numbers so high? What can policymakers and police chiefs do to find solutions to these issues? Listening to those most affected might just be the best way to start.

Ultimately, Pride organizations across this nation are coming to grips with some serious demographic shifts in the LGBTQ+ community, as we’re starting to look younger, more gender-nonconforming and increasingly racially diverse.

This challenge should be seen as an opportunity to build bridges so we can center voices that suffer most in our society. You need only venture down to the Preble Street Teen Center to see that a significant plurality, if not an outright majority, of youth affected by homelessness identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or other. Where are they in the Pride organizers’ minds when we plan our week of events?

I suspect a change in the tide is coming, as old political and social realities begin to dawn on us in light of the resurgence of far-right populism throughout the world. My hope would be that Pride would change along with the world: “Adapt or die,” as the saying goes. Next year’s ethos for Pride Portland shouldn’t be “Love is love,” as warm and fuzzy as that sounds – it should instead proudly declare a gender and sexual “Revolution!”


]]> unfurl a huge rainbow flag as they prepare to march in the Equality March for Unity and Pride in Washington on Sunday. Thousands paraded past the White House.Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:07:26 +0000
Kathleen Parker: In the shooting aftermath, is this really the best we can do, America? Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Kelley Paul had gone to bed Tuesday night as usual, with her cellphone set on “Do Not Disturb,” except for family and close friends whose calls would always go through.

That’s why, when Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul tried to reach his wife early Wednesday using a borrowed phone, the call went straight to voicemail. Paul had left his own phone in the baseball dugout he had abandoned when the shooting began.

It was after a neighbor started banging on the front door of the Pauls’ Louisville home that Kelley learned of the rampage at the Alexandria, Virginia, baseball diamond where her husband and others were practicing for the annual congressional game between Republicans and Democrats.

On this particular day, the gunman was hunting Republicans.

In an email exchange with Kelley, a friend since last year’s presidential campaign, she told me of waking up to the sound of loud knocking – the shooting took place shortly after 7 a.m. – and finding her best friend at the door. Fearful that Kelley might read or hear the news through some form of media, the neighbor had rushed over to be by her side.

“Thank God, because my first three texts were along the lines of, ‘Is Rand OK??’ ” Kelley said in an email. “I would have flipped out.”

Such moments, doubtless, were taking place all over the country as family and friends wondered if their representative, senator, loved ones or friends had been in the line of fire. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, whose condition was upgraded from critical to serious Saturday, was near second base fielding balls when he was hit. Most are familiar by now with the details, especially the acts of heroism by Capitol Police officers who were attached to Scalise. Sen. Paul noted in retrospect that the event might have been a massacre had it not been for Scalise’s security detail.

And, yet, in some wretched irony, it was Scalise who absorbed the worst of the gunman’s rage when a single bullet pierced his hip, shattering bones and ripping through organs, leaving the congressman fighting for his life.

Perhaps because I know Scalise, this particular horror hit hard. Kelley and I shared our emotional exhaustion and sorrow, as well as fear. It isn’t only the terrible suffering of Scalise or the others wounded that day. It’s the cumulative effect of so much violence pounding us from all directions, day after day.

What is the tipping point for the human psyche, when too many becomes too much? For a lot of us, the psychological trauma began with the blunt force of 9/11. From then, humanity’s death spiral has seemed unrelenting. From the first beheading by the Islamic State to the mock severed head of President Trump, a malevolent spirit seems to have penetrated the air we breathe.

Yet, we defend our great nation as the best there is. This is certainly true if you happen to be a Syrian refugee or a survivor of slaughter in South Sudan. But is this really the best we can do?

I’m not much interested in debating gun control or assigning blame. The media didn’t open fire on that baseball field, nor did Donald Trump. Some horrible guy did it. He was apparently political, based on his social-media ramblings against Republicans. But it’s highly doubtful that he was reacting to some random act of punditry or a presidential tweet, maddening though they can be.

More likely, he found the impetus to act out his narcissistic rage in the same interior space that other mass murderers mine for imagined meaning. Do we need a kinder, gentler nation, as former President George H.W. Bush put it way back in the relatively innocent 1980s? Yes, we do. So, let’s.

We can’t un-crazy crazy, but we can each try to stem the madness. It begins with simply caring: By looking up from our cellphones and making eye contact; by asking the checkout girl about her day; thanking the garbage collector; doing favors without a scorecard; giving away money because someone needs it more.

Sometimes a small gesture of kindness can change someone’s day – or life. If the cumulative effect of evil acts brings us down, mightn’t the cumulative effect of good deeds lift us up? Madmen likely won’t abandon history anytime soon, but the least the rest of us can do is better – for Team Scalise and for America.

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

]]> 0 Evidence Response Team members mark evidence at the scene of Wednesday's shooting in Alexandria, Va., in which House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and four others were shot during a congressional baseball practice.Mon, 19 Jun 2017 21:00:21 +0000
Charles Lawton: It’s time for tourism model that spreads benefits all over the state Tue, 20 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The development of tourism in Maine to its full potential depends less on separating our visitors from more of their money and more on separating them from more of their vehicles. Maine as a place encompasses about 35,000 square miles and includes more than 490 separately incorporated cities, towns and plantations as well as millions of acres of unorganized territory. But 67 percent of lodging sales – the foundational component of the hospitality industry – is concentrated in seven economic areas encompassing barely 7 percent of the state’s total area. And over 91 percent of lodging sales are concentrated in 18 areas encompassing barely 15 percent of the state’s total area.

There are, it seems to me, two basic spatial models for tourism – the river and stream model and the hub and spokes model. In the first, visitors to Maine travel (almost exclusively in their own private automobiles) along the state’s highways and roads much like fish swimming up our rivers and streams. In this model, tourism – like fishing – is a matter of finding a good spot, placing an effective lure and catching enough passers-by to satisfy each particular fisherman’s annual income requirements over the course of the much smaller seasonal “run” of visitors.

This model is conducive to a wide variety of largely independent small businesses. The initial capital requirements are relatively low; there are relatively few technical and regulatory barriers to entry; and as long as our state and local governments maintain the road network adequately, the annual “run” of visitors is fairly reliable. The major uncertainties driving year-to-year fluctuations are gasoline prices, the state of the national business cycle, weekend weather forecasts and the Canadian exchange rate.

This model served Maine well for virtually all of the 20th century. It is the fundamental reason for the largely positive image that Maine enjoys across the country (and increasingly the world). It provides good jobs – largely seasonal – for thousands of Mainers and thousands of seasonally temporary immigrants who have become the human lifeblood of the industry in the wake of the ever-increasing shortage of young Maine residents brought on by the demographic imbalance of our “oldest in the nation” population status. Finally, this model has provided the basis for substantial wealth for hundreds of successful business people and families who have proved adept at mastering the requirements of providing reliable hospitality.

But this model faces serious threats – traffic congestion in popular areas, worker shortages exacerbated by uncertainty surrounding foreign visa programs, and the ever-growing fiscal pressures that demographic imbalance and fuel efficiency places on the state’s highway maintenance programs.

A second model of tourism – the hub and spokes model – exists in Maine today primarily through the cruise ship industry. Instead of arriving in Maine by car and traveling in small parties along the highway network, visitors arrive in floating hotels (mini-city-like hubs) and spread out like spokes throughout the select set of ports they visit. This model is far more capital-intensive for the travel portion of the business and keeps most of the lodging, meals and entertainment spending in the pockets of the cruise ship industry.

Despite these disadvantages, however, I believe this model points the way to the future of tourism in Maine, a tourism that can spread the economic benefits of visitor spending over a far wider area of the state and that can provide enormous opportunities to Maine entrepreneurs and the towns and cities willing to think bigger about destination resort tourism. The key to 21st-century tourism in Maine is finding ways to capture the auto-free advantages of the cruise ship model. Achievement of this goal will require three essential investments.

The first investment is creation of new hubs, new equivalents of cruise ships docked permanently in selected spots across Maine.

They would be destination resorts that provide easy access to visitors across the globe, comfortable accommodations with a wide variety of easily accessible shopping and entertainment options designed both to provide a “taste” of Maine and a familiarity and sophistication comfortable for the global traveler.

The second investment is creation around each hub of a set of clearly defined, explained and guided “adventures” – whitewater rafting, fishing trips, hiking, biking, cultural/historical tours, bird and other wildlife sightings, business and amenity group training/learning events, on and on. This investment would require extensive investment in human capital, i.e., in training knowledgeable, courteous and enthusiastic guides and docents.

The third investment would be extensive public investment in non-highway transportation. Success of visitor hubs across rural Maine would require a vast increase in in-state air travel and in coordination of those flights with bus and van transportation that would seamlessly transport visitors and their baggage and equipment to their chosen hubs in quick and efficient ways.

All of these investments would require extensive public-private partnerships in planning, permitting and financing this new model. But the benefits of success present the clearest opportunity we have for retooling Maine’s largest industry for another century of success – one that serves all regions of the state.

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

]]> 0 Photo by Doug Jones, Tue, May 27, 2003: The cruise ship Rotterdam is docked at the State pier dwarfing everything else in the harbor accept the oil derricks next to it.Mon, 19 Jun 2017 20:45:47 +0000
Maine Voices: Those who support existing zoning rules shouldn’t be called obstructionists Mon, 19 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The Portland Press Herald recently reported on a meeting in South Portland between real estate developers and Portland city officials, at which concerns about changing zoning in order to accommodate proposed real estate development were deprecated as examples of NIMBYism (short for “not in my backyard”).

The developers complained that objections by Portland residents to their requests for zoning changes are making it difficult to site large real estate development projects in the city. Their complaint seemed to have the implicit support of both the municipal officials at the conference and this newspaper.

Both the speakers at the conference and the newspaper coverage failed to differentiate between local citizens’ efforts to maintain existing zoning regulations in the face of developer pressure for project-based changes, and neighborhood opposition to projects that are permitted by existing zoning and land use regulations.

One can certainly characterize local citizens’ efforts to block or delay projects that comply with established zoning and land use regulations as unreasonable and obstructive. On the other hand, it is a lot harder to criticize citizens who oppose changes to the existing zoning in their neighborhoods to allow projects that would not otherwise comply. They are merely trying to maintain the quality of life that is supposed to be protected for them by the long-term planning and zoning process.

Our existing zoning ordinances are the result of an elaborate planning and legislative process designed to maximize the welfare of all Portland residents in their various neighborhoods. Based on a comprehensive plan, the zoning ordinance seeks to regulate land and building size, location and use in the various neighborhoods so as to maintain a particular character in each neighborhood. Residents are expected to comply with these regulations in the use and improvement of their property. Compliance is enforced.

By the same token, the neighborhood residents can have some sense of security that the zoning ordinances will protect their investments and the amenity of their lives from structures and uses that are deemed inharmonious with what is permitted in that locality.

Portland has long taken its zoning and land use regulation seriously. Homeowners and small businesses are required to comply with local zoning and are not given special dispensation or zone changes to accommodate their wishes.

However, in recent years, it appears that a double standard is emerging. While zoning still counts for ordinary citizens and small landowners, larger developers with more ambitious projects seem to be able to obtain changes in zoning for their proposals almost at will.

Current examples include not only the outsized cold-storage warehouse being proposed for West Commercial Street, but also the massive residential development proposed on outer Westbrook Street, and the grandiose proposals for redevelopment of the Portland Co. property at 58 Fore St. What these projects have in common is that each of them is of massive scale compared with the usual Portland project, each of them will have a major adverse effect on the quality of life of many neighborhood residents, and each of them requires a zone change that departs from the city’s long-range plan for the affected neighborhood.

It is not fair to disparage the efforts of citizens who object to the loss of existing zoning protections in their neighborhoods as obstructive NIMBYism. Portland’s record with grandiose projects allowed to sprout in neighborhoods not originally designed for them has not been good.

The 1960s-era Portland House, as well as Promenade East from the 1970s, have forever compromised the skyline of the eastern half of the city. I can imagine visitors thinking: “How could they ever have let those be built?” Holiday Inn by the Bay, across from the McLellan-Sweat Mansion on Spring Street, has been an eyesore ever since it was constructed. Ditto for Franklin Towers.

Every time we have put aside our carefully planned land use regulations to accommodate a grandiose individual project, we have come to regret it. So let’s not be so hard on those of our fellow citizens who believe in the quality and integrity of our long-term planning and zoning and want to protect it. They may be really saving our city from our own shortsightedness.


]]> 0, 19 Jun 2017 17:58:19 +0000
Alan Caron: Cutting taxes and government hurt economy in Kansas, so beware Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Seven years ago, the tea party candidate for governor in Kansas, Sam Brownback, was swept into office with pledges to cut taxes and government, and create a robust and growing economy. Soon thereafter, income taxes for the wealthiest of Kansas citizens were reduced by 25 percent and most businesses paid no taxes at all.

And everyone waited for the promised gravy train.

Brownback called it a “live experiment,” and the Legislature gave him all the laboratory beakers and test tubes he needed. On June 6, the Republican-led Kansas Legislature finally pulled the plug on Brownback’s tax program, after years of fiscal chaos, budget gimmicks, crowded schools, sinking credit ratings and deficits.

The “shot of adrenaline” to the economy that Brownback promised never materialized. Promised revenues were barely half what he projected. The state’s economy did worse than surrounding states.

Staff Illustration by Michael Fisher

And the 2014 elections in Kansas, 100 Republican former and current elected officials turned against Brownback. Voters were not amused either, turning out key Brownback supporters last year in droves, and replacing them with sensible moderates from both parties.

Meanwhile, the wealthy people of Kansas were laughing all the way to their offshore bank.

If the Kansas plan to cut taxes and grow the economy sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same program that tea party champion Paul LePage has pushed for seven years. It’s also the model for Trump’s proposal to lower taxes at the federal level.

That car wreck by the side of the road, with the nameplate “Kansas” on it, could have been us, if LePage had been more skillful in selling his ideas. And it might still be us if Trump’s gets what he wants.

The Republican hymnal about economic growth is not complex. Cut taxes. Shrink government. The economy takes off. Order a round of martinis. The problem is that it almost never works. When wealthy people in Kansas got their tax cuts, they didn’t create jobs. They took the money and ran. They invested it somewhere else. Or they bought a new toy made in Taiwan or Korea.

The greatest period of expansion in the American economy, between 1946 and 1978, is when the modern American middle class was born. In 1946 the top tax rate was 86 percent. By 1978 it had dropped to 70 percent. Today, it’s at 35 percent and President Trump would like to lower it again.

But here’s what happened as those top tax rates fell. The middle class shrunk. Government debt grew. And the distribution of income in America got dangerously lopsided in favor of the super-rich.

The Republican theory of trickle-down economics has been around since Herbert Hoover ushered in the Great Depression. Ronald Reagan employed it while tripling the national debt. President George W. Bush tried it again in 2001 and 2003, and we got the Great Recession.

Ironically, when George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton actually increased the top marginal rate on taxes, in 1990 and 1993, we had a five-year period of robust growth.

The Congressional Research Service recently studied the effect of tax cuts on the economy, since 1945. They concluded that tax rates on the richest Americans “have had little association with saving, investment or productivity growth.”

I’d go a step further. The idea of cutting taxes on the wealthy to generate a trickle-down effect for the rest of us is the worst and most poisonous elixir that the country has ever been asked to swallow.

Another problem with the idea is that the tax cuts are never paid for when they’re enacted. Promoters promise that the growth they’ll create will be so spectacular that they’ll pay for themselves eventually. But they don’t.

That approach is a little like your kid buying an expensive new car because he believes it will lead to a big job offer that will help pay for the car. Most often, that’s going to end badly.

With Congress about to act on yet another round of tax cuts for the rich, and with elections coming up next year for a new governor, we need to get clear on the track record of this fiscal nonsense. This is an urgent issue for Maine.

We dodged a bullet over the last seven years, in some ways, because LePage, unlike Brownback, couldn’t stay focused long enough to enact the tax cuts he wanted. But imagine what would have happened if we’d elected a more competent tea party governor who could have rallied people to support his big tax cuts and slashing attacks on government? What would Maine look like now?

It would look like Kansas.

What happened in Kansas should be required reading for every candidate, elected official and citizen who wants to see a new prosperity here.

Targeted tax cuts can help an economy to grow, but we have to be smart about it. That means replacing ideology and wishful thinking with common sense and real data. If we want people to create jobs, we should reward that behavior. Give tax breaks to people to add and keep good jobs. It’s not more complicated than that.

But across the board tax cuts to the rich, hoping that those folks will do the right thing, and that the benefits will miraculously trickle down to everyone else, is a sucker’s bargain, and always has been.

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

]]> 0, 17 Jun 2017 18:16:15 +0000
Jim Fossel: Pragmatists are getting things done in Augusta Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 With so much attention (rightfully) being focused on the state budget – and the looming specter of a government shutdown – it was easy to miss, but another major showdown was heading toward a resolution last week.

The House and the Senate both voted in an overwhelming, bipartisan fashion to restore the minimum-wage tip credit, which had been due to be phased out as part of the citizen initiative that raised the minimum wage. The wide consensus on Sen. Roger Katz’s bill came despite fierce opposition from outside pressure groups, including those who campaigned for passage of the original referendum.

This was an excellent example of legislators stepping up to work together to solve a serious problem, rather than turning it into yet another partisan football. The issue divided Democrats, with the more pragmatic amongst them joining together with their Republican colleagues to support the legislation. Indeed, it not only divided rank-and-file Democrats, but leadership as well: House Speaker Sara Gideon voted in favor of reinstating the tip credit, while Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson was vociferously opposed.

That was especially interesting, as Democratic leadership is usually fairly united on the major issues of the day – witness the schism between House and Senate Republicans over the budget. The minimum wage issue shows, however, that unity is not a given for either party. If Republicans in both chambers stick together, they might be able to sway enough Democrats to their cause to get something good done for the people of Maine. This wasn’t the first time this has happened in recent years, either: Republicans banded together with moderate Democrats to twice elect independent Terry Hayes as state treasurer over the Democrats’ hand-picked candidates.

This debate was even more illuminating than the treasurer race, though, for a number of reasons. Unlike the secret-ballot treasurer’s race, this debate was completely on display for the public to see. There were floor debates, committee hearings, amendments and roll-call votes. That allowed us to see exactly how close the vote was, and precisely where the fault lines lay. It made it abundantly clear that the Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from their divisive presidential party, as many of Bernie Sanders’ supporters (including Troy Jackson) led the fight to eliminate the minimum-wage tip credit. The so-called unity tour that kicked off in Maine earlier this year was, apparently, a failure, doing little to close the rift between Sanders supporters and the Democratic establishment.

In this fight – as in party primaries across the country since the presidential race – the populist faction was unsuccessful.

Here, that failure came despite the presence of a powerful ally, the Maine People’s Alliance, who put enormous pressure on Democratic lawmakers to leave the referendum intact as is. It was a rare example of Democrats publicly doing battle with the MPA – and succeeding.

The question for the MPA now is, where do they go from here? Will they keep pushing Democrats, and continue to publicly pick fights with party leadership when they don’t adopt their views? They’re already doing this to a certain extent, as the MPA also recently attacked Gideon’s budget compromise offer to reduce the tax increase intended to fund education (another key MPA initiative). If they continue down this road, their obvious next step would be to begin gathering signatures for another referendum to repeal the minimum-wage tip credit.

If the MPA chooses this route, they might be successful, but the divisions within the Democratic Party will only continue to deepen. Indeed, Maine Democrats may be facing their own tea party moment, as an increasingly restive grass roots seeks to circumvent party leadership, rather than working with them.

At a state level, they could do this by making sure truly progressive candidates won in the primaries. As Republicans across the country have seen, a restive grass roots and populist anger can be an asset at times, propelling you to unexpected victories. However, they can just as easily lead you into pointless fights that cost you elections.

Divisions among liberals in Maine are nothing new, just as divisions among conservatives aren’t uncommon. What would be quite unusual, however, is a grass-roots rebellion that reached the upper echelons of party leadership. The last time that happened was when John Martin was ousted as speaker of the House, which helped lead to Clean Elections and term limits being passed.

If the disagreements in Augusta today are the start of something similar, the next few years may be interesting indeed.

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

Twitter: @jimfossel

]]> 0, 16 Jun 2017 18:29:57 +0000
Commentary: Studies show women marginalized in meetings and conversations Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 That Uber board member was right — more women does mean more talking.

Because we have to repeat ourselves multiple times to be heard and start over every time we get interrupted.

Look at Kamala Harris. I came home from work Tuesday and my husband filled me in a little bit on the Jeff Sessions hearing, which I hadn’t watched.

“They kept interrupting Kamala Harris!” he said. “And they didn’t interrupt any of the men!”

I tried to register shock, but my face wouldn’t go there.

(Actual New York Times headline: “Kamala Harris Is (Again) Interrupted While Pressing a Senate Witness.”)

But back to David Bonderman, the Uber board member. He stepped down Wednesday after catching heat for what I assume was an attempt at a joke.

Fellow board member Arianna Huffington was discussing how one woman on a board leads to more women joining a board. Bonderman replied, “Actually, what it shows is that it’s much more likely to be more talking.”

Huffington replied, “Oh, come on, David.”

And the exchange happened at a meeting about the company’s lousy culture. LOL.

Statistically speaking, Bonderman’s statement was inaccurate. Researchers at Brigham Young University and Princeton University found that on school boards, governing boards of organizations and firms, and legislative committees, women speak significantly less often than men.

But I don’t think he was trying to cite research. I think he thought he was at a Christmas party, and it was the end of the evening where all the men gather and joke about how long it will take their chatty wives to say their goodbyes.

Anyway, his heart was in the wrong place, but his statement was hardly shocking. Multiple studies show women are marginalized in meetings and conversations.

In “Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations” sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West recorded and analyzed public conversations between two people: 10 between two men, 10 between two women and 11 between a man and a woman. In the same-sex groups, a total of seven interruptions happened. In the male/female group, there were 48 interruptions. And 46 of them were a man interrupting a woman.

A 2014 study at George Washington University found that men interrupt women 2.1 times during a three-minute conversation – 33 percent more often than when they talk with men.

Remember the pact that female Obama staffers made to amplify each other’s voices in meetings? When a woman made a key point, the other women in the room would repeat it and give credit to its originator. (More talking!)

“‘Woman in a Meeting’ is a language of its own,” The Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote in 2015.

Not only do you have the interruptions, but you have the misinterpretations.

“You will think that you have stated the case simply and effectively, and everyone else will wonder why you were so Terrifyingly Angry,” Petri wrote. “Instead, you have to translate. You start with your thought, then you figure out how to say it as though you were offering a groveling apology for an unspecified error.”

Petri translated some famous quotes into the way women would have to say them in a meeting, so as not to be perceived as angry or threatening. (Which really ups your chances of being interrupted.)

“Give me liberty, or give me death” translated to “Dave, if I could, I could just – I just really feel like if we had liberty it would be terrific, and the alternative would just be awful, you know? That’s just how it strikes me. I don’t know.”

Her essay was emailed and Facebook shared roughly 7 gazillion times by my female friends.

We get it. We know where Bonderman was coming from – a place where women are perceived to be chatty and moody and ripe for ridicule because who doesn’t love a little gender stereotyping to ease the tension at an uncomfortable conference, ha ha.

And now he’s gone. Fine. He’s a billionaire, and I think he’ll still find ways to fill his time.

But a lot of us are still stuck going to meetings. For that, I’ll leave you with the advice of Jessica Bennett, author of “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace).”

If you witness a woman being interrupted: “You can be a Manterrupter Interrupter, interjecting manterruptions on behalf of your female colleagues,” Bennett writes. “It’s as easy as, ‘Hey, can you let her finish?'”

If you’re being interrupted: “Just keep talking. Keep your pauses short. Maintain your momentum. No matter if he waves his hands, raises his voice or squirms in his chair, you do you,” she writes. Or, push back. “Bob, I wasn’t done finishing that point. Give me one more sec.”

It’s more talking. But it’s also more equal. And that’s a good thing for everyone.

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:44:45 +0000
Presidential libraries are a waste of money Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Right now, rangers are readying Acadia National Park for the summer arrival of 2.4 million visitors. But there is not enough staff – Acadia, like all national parks, has suffered from budget cuts because of sequestrations, shut-downs and all the rest. And the facilities themselves are in poor shape. The National Park Service said that Acadia has a $57.6 million in deferred maintenance needs for trails, bridges, roads and the like. The story can be repeated for all of the other important national parks across the country – Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite; pick your favorite.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is in the process of setting up yet another presidential library, in Chicago, and intends to raise $1 billion in private funds to build it.

While the Obama library has said they’ll decline funding from the National Archives, this will be the 14th such edifice, all developed since the Presidential Libraries Act was enacted in 1955. In 2016, five of the libraries had a total number of visitors below 100,000. Yet for this, the taxpayers are paying roughly $66 million per year – nearly the annual budget for Acadia.

Even more important than the budgetary question is the philosophical question: Does each president need his own library? Scholar Richard J. Cox says no.

In “America’s Pyramid: Presidents and Their Libraries,” he writes, “We don’t need ‘a library for each president, each armed with its own archivists and museum curators and scattered about the country.’ ” He goes on to say, “Establishing a different kind of Presidential Archives will end the ‘cult of personality’ that seems to be in place with the current Presidential Library system.”

Multiple libraries are also undemocratic because, as professor Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in The Washington Post, “they allow our presidents – not the people who elected them, to define their legacies.”

Unfortunately, many of the private donations to build recent presidential libraries are from foreign governments, and from donors who have benefited from the president’s time in office. They, not the people, control their content.

The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation raised $500 million primarily from donations from foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and from the father of a man he had recently paroled.

Bill Clinton’s presidential library was funded in great part by foreign grants and the ex-wife of a person to whom he had issued an 11th-hour pardon.

Don’t look for objective treatment of Watergate at the Nixon Library or of impeachment at the Clinton Library.

Multiple libraries are terribly wasteful, costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year to operate. Do we need three presidential libraries in Texas, two in California and potentially two in New York?

In the last 60 years, the cost of building and maintaining presidential libraries has increased in ways that Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, who established the first libraries, never imagined.

Lyndon Johnson’s library cost 10 times as much as Truman’s library; Ronald Reagan’s was triple the cost of Johnson’s library.

George H.W. Bush doubled the Reagan budget, and Bill Clinton then doubled Bush.

And would President Trump convert Trump Tower into a museum to be subsidized by taxpayers? Why not establish a Presidential Center for Research in Washington for all Americans to enjoy?

Thankfully this practice is relatively recent. If George Washington had established the precedent, by now we’d have 41 such libraries dotting the countryside, dedicated to such luminaries as James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore, and costing close to a half billion dollars a year.

We should end this mistaken experiment; otherwise, a century from now there will be dozens more libraries, looking to future citizens like lost pyramids to forgotten pharaohs.

This is an issue on which our congressional delegation should be able to reach bipartisan agreement. At a time when we are dealing with historical deficits and government spending is under increased scrutiny, we should end this taxpayer subsidy. End the cult of imperial presidents. End the unseemly fundraising. End the system of presidential libraries.

]]> 0 Barack Obama and former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter arrive for the 2013 dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Presidential libraries cost U.S. taxpayers $66 million a year.Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:54:33 +0000
Maine Observer: A family finds joy on a Maine shoreline Sun, 18 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The cross-over from New Hampshire to Maine occurred early in my 13th year. At first I lay too entrenched in the teen sorrow of leaving friends to notice, silently enduring a rendezvous with my grandparents before launching out on our annual family vacation.

My grandparents’ delightfully eccentric natures regularly drew skepticism from my business-minded father. It showed up this year as we entered Maine, traversing dangerously narrow, winding roads through the woods. It escalated as we bounced onto a narrow, winding dirt road.

“Are you sure there’s a lake back here?” my father spit out, teeth crashing as we rattled on, eating the dust of my grandparents’ car.

My mother threw up her hands. “They rented the cabin from friends,” she said, resignation dripping from her words.

My older sister and I pushed our faces out our respective windows in an unspoken race to find the lake. My 6-year-old sister sat in the middle, oblivious.

“I see it,” I shouted a moment later. My father focused on a sharp turn while my sister joined me at my window. A brief wrestling match and words from the front ensued until my father’s attention went to a thrillingly steep hill while the lake again dipped out of sight.

We crested the hill and followed the dust trail to a dirt circle surrounded by pine trees. I jumped out of the car and stared at a cottage roof sitting almost level with the car. Strange! Sadness forgotten, I ran down a set of wooden stairs, briefly pausing at the first landing.

“The lake!” I shouted back to the doubters, still standing at the top of the stairs.

I completed my descent, taking in the clear waters of Balch Pond. A pier, growing out of a large crop of rocks, stretched ahead and an aluminum boat merrily rocked against it. Though I had been around much of the Maine coast in my young life, this began my love affair with Maine’s Lake District.

The same love must have hit my father, because by the end of the week, this man – who, in my eyes, had never done anything out of the ordinary – announced that we and my grandparents had a deed to a piece of shoreline.

That fall I learned to set footings and through the spring and summer I pumped well water and sanded wood as my family built out the shell of our cottage. Southern Maine, where my grandparents, parents, and younger sister set down roots, became my anchor as adult life pulled me around, finally landing me in my husband’s home state of Texas.

My current challenge? Making sure my grandchildren recognize the eerie call of a loon, see the beauty of a clear lake, the wonder of a starfish on a beach rock, and the mischievousness of harbor seals. Most importantly, I hope to share the tenacity born of a life of changing seasons and changing times. Now, if only I owned an airline!

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:46:39 +0000
Garrison Keillor: It’s good to get away and take a break from the news Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The sign by my seat said, “Fasten seatbelt whilst seated,” so clearly it was a British airline. My daughter and wife were alongside me and we were off to Europe for a break from the news. Our mad king had essentially been indicted in sworn testimony and he claimed vindication and offered to testify under oath, forgetting the one he’d taken in January. Crazy times: It’s good to go away.

In London, the Brits were voting themselves into a deadlock, and the backrooms were busy with desperate deal-making, according to the papers, but none of it affected us. We were quite happy whilst we strolled about.

In our hotel, I took a shower and saw that on the shower knob, in between Hot and Cold was the word “Tepid,” and that was enough to make me consider emigration. The engineer who designed that knob loved the language. It is the richest language in widespread use today and “tepid” is a useful and lovely word. An American engineer would regard this as pointless – logic tells you that in between Hot and Cold is something in-between, lukewarm or moderate or room temperature, lackadaisical, half-hearted nondescript, whatever – and the use of “tepid” would be effete and elitist and cause other engineers to avoid you in the cafeteria. Best to just use H and C. Or a red dot and a blue dot. A country where engineers are fond of language is a country I could be happy in, never mind politics.

We took a fast train to Brussels – 180 mph – and another to Rotterdam, and walked along a canal, five-story brick tenements with bay windows and belfries, arched passageways leading to walled gardens behind, and on one corner a little cafe where we sat down at a table in a patch of sunlight.

The server who approached said, “Hey,” and handed us menus. The Netherlands is a small country with a long history of trade and shipping, so it is multilingual, and she was prepared, I’m sure, for us to speak Dutch, German, French, English or a combination. We being Americans chose English, and ordered croissants and coffee, speaking quietly lest people around us hear our accents and ask us about the current administration.

The people around us, however, were deep into their own conversations. Even a table of four teenagers was engrossed in talk, none of them fingering an iPhone, texting, posting, checking voicemail, but looking each other in the face and speaking as young people in America used to do, except these were speaking Dutch.

The next morning we boarded a ship bound for Oslo and stood at the aft rail, inhaling salt air, watching the gulls swooping down low looking for fish vacuumed up in the ship’s wake, and I thought about the great armada of June 1944 that crossed over to Normandy in the predawn hours.

My old phys ed teacher Stan Nelson was manning a Navy observation boat in that armada and steered it close to the shore to get a read on the state of German resistance. He never mentioned this in the 1950s when I was in his gym class. He simply kept a close watch for shirkers who tried to weasel out of doing the rope climb or the diving somersault over the horse. “Keillor, get back in line,” he yelled. I think of him plying these waters in his little boat. Did the Navy teach him sufficient French that if his boat got blown up and he had to swim to shore, he could ask a farm family to hide him in the barn?

The Europeans have a history of dealing with the madness of rulers; we do not. Lyndon Johnson was vain and dramatic and at times dishonest, but he had some principles and pushed through the Civil Rights Act and Medicare and thereby changed the country for the better.

Now here is a president who communicates in little specks and splats of tweets, leaving his minions to try to say clearly what, if anything, he thinks. The country will weary of this, the dead eyes, the heavy scowl, the jutting chin. The man’s base will discover eventually that he is a carnival hoax, the Cardiff Giant, the Wild Man of Borneo who eats live chickens. You can’t fool 40 percent of the people 90 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, honorable Republicans who have dedicated their lives to public service sit in committee and listen to insanity. If a man with a pistol in hand walks into a 7-Eleven and asks for money and his defense attorney explains that he was only asking for a loan, the gun was not loaded and the handkerchief over his face was for purposes of sanitation, this is a joke, right? Am I right? And if the courtroom takes it seriously, then we must bring in the psychiatrists.

]]> 0 KeillorFri, 16 Jun 2017 19:57:09 +0000
Forty-five years after Watergate, tapes have special meaning Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 LEWISTON — In a Twitter post last month, President Trump taunted the just-fired FBI Director James Comey that he “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” The reference to “tapes” brings back memories of the biggest scandal – to date – in American political history.

Forty-five years ago Saturday, June 17, 1972, five men associated with Richard Nixon’s re-election committee were caught burglarizing the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate office complex. Two other employees of the re-election committee were soon arrested. The arrests did not affect the 1972 presidential election later that year; Nixon was re-elected by a landslide.

But soon after his inauguration, the trial of the burglars and investigations by reporters and a U.S. Senate committee brought forth charges of a cover-up of various illegalities that engulfed Nixon’s presidency.

Forty government officials were eventually indicted or sent to prison, including former Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and White House legal counsel John Dean. Ultimately, Nixon himself resigned in disgrace facing impeachment and accepted a pardon from his successor that prevented his criminal prosecution.

The original Nixon White House tape recorder. President Trump’s taunt to the fired FBI Director James Comey that he’d “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations” brings back memories of the Watergate scandal. National Archives via AP

What turned Watergate from a suspicious set of events into a full-blown constitutional crisis was a secret taping system known only to Nixon and a few staffers. The stunning truth was that the president had recorded himself and his aides covering up a domestic spying and political dirty tricks operation, run out of the White House and his campaign.

For me, the notion that there could be a taping system in the Trump White House has special resonance. That’s because I had the unique opportunity to work on the staff at the National Archives that processed the Nixon tapes.

For 4½ years, I sat at a tape playing machine essentially eavesdropping on the daily conversations that Richard Nixon had with all those he met in the Oval Office and a couple of other White House locations. In all, I estimate I have listened to about 1,500 hours of the estimated 3,700 hours of conversations in the entire collection.

Most of the staff’s time was spent listening to the conversations, identifying the participants and the dates and times of each conversation, outlining the topics discussed and earmarking those portions that had to be restricted on privacy or national security grounds.

The Nixon tapes collection is of inestimable historical value, in large part because the recordings capture not only what Nixon discussed with other participants, few of whom knew they were being recorded. They also capture the tone and nuances of what was said. And they reveal much about the thinking and the personalities of Nixon and those who dealt with him and their interrelationships.

They cover every conceivable topic Nixon talked about, from the routines of the White House to Nixon’s major and minor preoccupations to weighty issues such as the Vietnam War, U.S. foreign policy in general, the economy and the 1972 presidential election. The Vietnam War and the way it played out at home were of particular interest to me, since I had served in Vietnam.

And of course, starting in June 1972, there was discussion of the Watergate break-in and its implications for the upcoming reelection campaign. Since the Democratic opposition was in disarray at the time, and Nixon believed the plan to cover up any White House involvement was working, there was little discussion after a week or so after the June 17 break-in.

Things changed, however, soon after Nixon’s inauguration for a second term. As the tapes reveal in considerable detail, in March 1973 Nixon had come to realize that the Watergate scandal could destroy his presidency. Once the system was discovered, and incriminating conversations came to light, Nixon’s fate was sealed.

The centrality of the Nixon tapes to the investigation of the Watergate scandal underscores the importance of determining whether President Trump recorded his conversations – something investigators will no doubt look into. The task will not be easy, in part because of major changes in the electronic environment. Back in the early 1970s, a taping system required a set-up of microphones, wiring and recording machines along with a small staff to maintain the system. Today, with smartphones and other small devices, it is much easier to record conversations, and hide or even delete the evidence. No one else besides President Trump would need to know of any recording of conversations he had with James Comey – or anyone else, for that matter.

Does President Trump have recordings of key meetings concerning the Russia investigation? Events of the past make this an important question special counsel Robert Mueller and his team will have to answer.

]]> 0 original Nixon White House tape recorder is shown in an undated handout photo. Decades after the fighting over his tapes began, Richard Nixon is finally getting at least part of his wish. The National Archives, under a court order it had fought for years, on Monday, August 10, 1998 will begin cutting up the original tapes from the Watergate years and returning portions dealing with private matters to the late president's estate. (National Archives via AP)Fri, 16 Jun 2017 22:31:11 +0000
Rep. Chace: Generic drug bill would offer greater access to affordable care Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — Why are drug prices so high? Can we do anything about it? As a pharmacist and a legislator, I hear these questions every single day.

The first question is pretty easy to answer. Mainers need life-saving drugs, and in some cases there are only a few companies making them, which results in high prices. One of the key causes of high drug prices is that some brand-name companies do whatever they can to discourage potential generic competition – competition that would lower drug costs. Where generics are available, though, consumers enjoy far lower prices and greater access to these important medicines.

One of the tactics they employ is to deny generic companies access to the drug samples they need, and to which they are entitled under the law, to develop a competing medicine. Generic drugs are on average 75 percent less expensive than their brand-name counterparts, and when they are available, generic drugs are prescribed 90 percent of the time. In fact, generics saved Maine $954 million in 2015, according to a 2016 study conducted by the Generic Pharmaceutical Association.

The pharmaceutical system in our country was designed to encourage brand-name drug companies to innovate and find new cures. After brand-name companies develop new drugs, they recoup their investment in research by making a profit while their products are protected by patents. However, once the patents on brand-name medications expire, generic-drug manufacturers are free to compete so patients can obtain the drugs they need at a more affordable price. This system gives the brand company incentive to keep innovating.

Sadly, that’s not what happens.

Often, brand-name companies withhold critical samples that prevent generic manufacturers from even filing an application with the Food and Drug Administration to get approval. This keeps generic versions of their products off pharmacy shelves for years, all while we struggle to pay for the medicines we need.

So, what are we going to do about it?

L.D. 1280, An Act to Require Drug Manufacturers To Comply with Federal Law, fixes some of these abuses and puts an end to brand obstruction and anti-competitive practices. This bill, which enjoys bipartisan support, garnered an 11-to-2 vote in favor from the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee. If passed, L.D. 1280 will ensure that patients in Maine have greater access to affordable health care options.

How so? This bill ensures competition in the marketplace by preventing a licensed drug manufacturer from restricting a sale to an eligible generic company of the samples they need in order to conduct testing required by the FDA for approval. A generics company would pay fair market price for these samples, and such a sale is industry standard. If a brand-name company were to break the law, avoiding sales to a generics company, the Maine Attorney General’s Office could enforce this law, compelling the brand-name companies to sell their product and allowing the generic manufacturer’s testing to move forward.

There is no extra cost to our state government or to citizens for this empowerment – but there is a cost to brand-name drug companies. It means billions of dollars, and they are fighting to hold on to their money.

No matter how bipartisan our support and how right we are on the merits, there will always be detractors. They are trying to blur what is abundantly clear: This is a problem for all Mainers that we can and will fix. I encourage all members of the 128th Legislature to join me and my colleagues and side with an approach to this problem that’s been endorsed by so many on both sides of the aisle. At the end of the day, we are all patients, and we all deserve safe, effective and affordable medicines.

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Jun 2017 19:53:58 +0000
By slashing pay of experienced aid specialists, National Guard hurts veterans Fri, 16 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — When I met the National Guardsman who later would become my husband, I had just graduated from college, and the sum total of what I knew about the military would have fit on a postage stamp. But military spouses learn quickly. We have to.

We were married five days before he deployed to Iraq. With my husband serving overseas, I decided that I wanted to do my part to support our troops and their families. That’s why I joined the local National Guard family readiness group to support the wives and kids left behind. Even after my husband came home, I continued to volunteer with the group. I loved the opportunity to serve the National Guard community, the mission and, above all, the people.

That’s why when a job came open as a Family Assistance Center specialist at our local Guard armory, it was a no-brainer to apply. So I started a new career helping military members, veterans and their families cope with life’s challenges.

The resources and referrals we provide to military members, veterans and their families change lives every day. I can’t tell you how many Vietnam-era guys we’ve helped who were living in their cars. Some people have a very specific need – a bill that’s overdue, help with Tricare, a counseling referral – while others have a whole host of issues.

I thought the National Guard valued the services that caseworkers like me provided to military families. But I was wrong.

Earlier this year, the National Guard Bureau allowed the contract with the company that employs me to expire. As a result, hundreds of caseworkers around the country were laid off, including five of us in Maine. It was a hard time for me, but it was even harder for the military families who rely on the critical services we provide. In fact, veterans and service members went six weeks without a lifeline until the National Guard signed a contract with a new company.

I was in a local home-improvement store when I got an email from a co-worker letting us know that the new company was offering to let us come back to work – but with a devastating pay cut.

Under the previous contract, I had earned about $24 per hour. Under the new contract, my pay was slashed to $14 per hour. I made more than that when I managed a Subway in college.

I returned to work, but I knew the pay cut was wrong. My co-workers across the country were equally upset, and we joined together with the advocacy group Good Jobs Nation to file a national wage theft complaint with the federal Department of Labor.

Needless to say, absorbing a pay cut of this magnitude has been difficult for my family. We’ve had to borrow money from family members just to pay the bills. Worst of all, my husband had to abandon his plans to start a small business and go back to work. Because of injuries received in combat and stateside, he’s 90 percent disabled. He’s had two shoulder surgeries and two knee surgeries and wasn’t in a place psychologically where he felt ready to find a job. That he did shows just how important we think Family Assistance Centers are.

It’s been rough on our family, but I’m even more worried about what it will mean for the people we serve.

Last November, I received a call from a young ex-Marine. He was so angry by the time he called me. He described how he’d contacted dozens of agencies for help; each turned him away. He was at his wit’s end – “This is my last chance – I don’t know what else to do,” he told me.

“I’m so glad you called, because I’m going to help you,” I said. I gave him a plan and laid out exactly how I’d follow up.

By the end of the call, his voice was so much softer. “I had completely given up hope,” he said. We didn’t solve all of his problems, but we solved enough that he felt empowered to deal with the rest.

Before I joined the Guard Family Assistance program, I spent a decade in social services. One of my co-workers was an Army drill sergeant for 12 years. You won’t get that level of experience paying people fast-food wages.

The truth is that it’s really our service members and military families who are paying the price.

Politicians always like to talk about supporting those who serve. Well, supporting our troops isn’t just about investing in the newest ships and the latest weapon systems. It’s also about investing in the people. It’s about being there for military families when they need us most.

It’s what we do every day, and this is the thanks we get.

]]> 0, 17 Jun 2017 13:47:20 +0000
Sens. Dion and Volk: Generic drug bill would be bad deal for Maine Fri, 16 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — The Legislature will soon consider a proposal that claims it will reduce drug prices for Maine consumers. The debate promises to highlight conflicting ideas, views and opinions of the pharmaceutical industry as our legislative colleagues try to decide the fate of L.D. 1280, An Act Regarding Generic Drug Pricing.

As senators, we recognize that the cost of prescription drugs poses a real burden for many of our constituents. We also understand that generic drugs frequently promise affordable medicine at a lower price. And we recognize that the sponsors of L.D. 1280 believe, sincerely, that it will provide relief from high drug prices and make more affordable generics more widely available for Mainers.

However, we believe the policy contained within L.D. 1280 will not achieve those desired results. Contrary to popular opinion, generic drugs are not always the most affordable alternative for consumers. In 2016, Attorney General Janet Mills joined 19 other states’ attorneys general and filed suit in federal court targeting Mylan Pharmaceuticals and five other generic manufacturers, alleging anticompetitive business conduct – including price fixing. According to prosecutors, generic drug company collusion has resulted in harmful economic consequences for healthcare consumers.

Mylan’s decision to hike prices on potentially life-saving Epi Pens by more than 500 percent led to strident criticism by Congress. The Inspector General for the federal Department of Health and Human Services is currently asserting Mylan overcharged Medicaid approximately $1.7 billion on the sale of Epi Pens.

Mylan has no footprint and not a single employee in Maine. But they stand to gain tremendously from passage of this bill.

L.D. 1280 would provide expedited access for generic manufacturers to a restricted class of brand name prescription drugs – about 70 out of several thousand medicines – that the FDA has approved for sale only by brand manufacturers who agree to comply with specific safety restrictions on how these drugs are produced, prescribed, administered and sold to consumers.

For this small set of drugs, producers are required to deploy extensive safety protections approved by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure no human is exposed to potentially deadly side effects. These FDA conditions exist to distinguish the potentially life-threatening side effects presented by these drugs and the need to manage the significant risks these medications pose to public health and safety.

However, L.D. 1280 doesn’t speak to safety regulations at all. And it leaves a huge question of liability unanswered: If a generic drug acquired under the auspices of this state law were to make a patient sick, or even cause a death, who would be liable? The generic producer, or the name-brand manufacturer?

L.D. 1280 creates this uncertainty by allowing Mylan and other generic drug manufacturers to legally circumvent the regulatory process established by the FDA to grant approval for the sale of a restricted brand name drug to a generic manufacturer. Mylan contends that the brand name manufacturers of these “restricted” drugs employ federal regulations as “an excuse” to prevent access to the drug by generic manufacturers. Their message is that “Big Pharma” is intent on blocking consumers from enjoying lower retail prices for these specialized prescriptions.

Contrast their claim of “unnecessary delay” to these restricted drugs with consumer data that outlines a generic marketplace where 88 percent of all prescriptions filled at your local pharmacy involve generic equivalents to brand name medications.

Despite Mylan’s claim that restrictions have an adverse effect on their industry, generic pharmaceuticals have enjoyed a market that realized approximately $74 billion in sales in 2015. L.D. 1280 compels Maine’s attorney general to bring a lawsuit against brand name manufacturers to make these restricted drugs available “without delay or restriction,” despite existing FDA safety restrictions and the likelihood that brand companies would face federal sanctions for complying with Maine law.

Should the attorney general not prevail in the courtroom, Maine taxpayers would be liable for the cost of litigation and attorney fees. We would assume the financial risks of legal action while accepting the absence of any statutory language requiring a generic company to use the contested drug for the purpose of developing a generic alternative. Mylan could simply resell the acquired drug to another manufacturer and at any price.

There is no win in this proposal for anyone but Mylan, themselves a large pharmaceutical company. We urge our fellow elected representatives to reject this legislation.

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:46:03 +0000
Domestic violence gets short shrift as precursor to mass shootings Fri, 16 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 DENVER — What do many mass shooters have in common? A history of domestic violence.

At first glance, mass shooters like James Hodgkinson, who authorities say opened fire Wednesday morning as Republicans practiced for the Congressional Baseball Game, seem like a diverse group.

Hodgkinson, whose attack injured House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a congressional aide, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police officers, had frequently criticized President Trump and other Republican leaders on social media and in letters to his local newspaper, and had contacted the office of Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., 14 times to criticize Republicans.

Past mass shooters have chosen targets or left manifestos indicating wildly different possible political beliefs or motivations – or given no indication at all about what made them act. With no common ideology or goal uniting the perpetrators of such horrific violence, how can we identify those likely to perpetrate mass shootings and prevent them from doing so?

There is one thing, though, that an alarming number of the recent mass shooters in the U.S. share: A history of aggression and violence toward women.

• Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been previously investigated for stalking two female classmates.

• Elliot Rodger, who killed six and wounded 13 in Isla Vista, California, in 2014, was obsessed with perceived rejection by women, and not long before the shooting had thrown coffee on two women at a bus stop because they didn’t smile at him.

• Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who murdered two police officers in Brooklyn, New York, in 2015, shot his ex-girlfriend in the stomach just hours earlier.

• Cedric Ford, who shot 17 people last year at the Newton, Kansas, plant where he worked, killing three, had been accused of abusing his ex-girlfriend and served with a restraining order not long before the shooting.

• Robert Dear, who shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, in 2015, had a history of domestic violence.

• Omar Mateen, who murdered 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, abused his wife for years, beating her because she had not finished the laundry or a similar offense.

Hodgkinson fits the same pattern. In 2006, police records show, Hodgkinson went to his neighbor’s house looking for his daughter and forced his way into the home, using “bodily force to damage” a door. According to a police narrative on file with the St. Clair County, Illinois, Sheriff’s Department, witnesses said he grabbed his daughter by the hair, chased her to their neighbor’s car and used a knife to cut her seat belt off so he could pull her out. Police records say he also punched his neighbor in the face after she told him she would call 911.

The incident did not result in punishment within the legal system. Hodgkinson appeared in court and had screaming outbursts that caused him to be removed. Nonetheless, the judge apparently dismissed his case after a witness accidentally failed to appear at a rescheduled hearing. “I tried to tell the court that this guy’s crazy, that this is a big deal, but they didn’t listen to me,” the neighbor said.

One analysis of mass shootings from 2009 through 2016 concluded that at least 54 percent of mass shootings – or 85 out of 156 incidents – involved a current or former intimate partner or family member as a victim.

Of course, it shouldn’t be a surprise that domestic violence and mass shootings are correlated. People who are likely to act violently often start with those nearest to them, who are vulnerable because of proximity and who are often financially, emotionally or legally dependent on their abuser.

The justice system also plays a role, treating domestic violence with less weight than “real” violence. Abusers are less likely to be incarcerated for a domestic violence incident than for an incident involving violence against someone other than a family member or an intimate partner, and are thus less likely to undergo the type of intensive rehabilitation that might deter violence in the future.

Despite research documenting a connection between domestic violence and mass shootings, we still don’t focus on domestic violence enough in the wake of such a shooting. A mass shooting tends to trigger passionate arguments about gun control and mental health services; discussion of how to respond to domestic violence often doesn’t even come up.

In reality, it’s impossible to separate domestic violence from gun violence more broadly: 36.7 percent of women living in domestic violence shelters have been threatened or harmed with a gun used by an intimate partner, and in 2011 over half of women murdered with guns in the U.S. were killed by intimate partners or family members.

Mass shootings are terrible tragedies, no matter what contributes to them. And it’s certainly important to consider all the factors that could go into preventing them. The available evidence indicates that one of the first things we should do is start taking domestic violence seriously.


]]> 0 Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:46:32 +0000
Dana Milbank: In wake of shootings, a divided House unites in sorrow, humanity Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 There was an eerie silence in the House chamber when the gavel fell to open Wednesday morning’s session.

This was supposed to be the time for “morning-hour” speeches, those short partisan jabs and one-liners. But not a single lawmaker was on the floor, the brown-leather benches and speakers’ tables all empty. Without even the invocation or the Pledge of Allegiance, the speaker pro tempore immediately declared the still chamber in recess.

The partisan guns had been silenced by a real one. Not three hours earlier, a would-be assassin critically wounded Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, and injured four others on a baseball field before falling to police bullets. In an instant, members of Congress were transformed from Democrats and Republicans into Americans – and humans. Reminded suddenly of their own mortality, they remembered, too, that their opponents are people.

Democrats at their baseball practice – the two teams were preparing separately Wednesday morning for Thursday night’s Congressional Baseball Game – gathered in their dugout upon hearing the news and bowed their heads in prayer for their Republican colleagues.

When the House reconvened at noon, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., looked stunned as he walked onto the House floor, still wearing his cap, jersey, baseball pants and muddy cleats. Spotting Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania, manager of the Democrats’ team, he called out “Hey, Coach!” – and the two embraced.

“We are united in our anguish,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told the House, now nearly full. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” Democrats and Republicans alike rose in the first of four standing ovations for the speaker.

The Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, rose to say that “I pray for all of you,” and “I pray for Donald Trump, that his presidency will be successful.” The gunman, she said, caused “an injury in the family.”

Ryan’s words echoed those of his predecessor, John Boehner, six years ago when then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot in the head: “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.” Then, members of Congress paid tribute to Giffords for eight hours on the House floor, and both sides pledged to temper their rhetoric as they waited for Giffords to return.

She never returned to Congress, but the sniping did, and, with the rise of President Trump, it got dramatically worse. Undoubtedly, business-as-usual will return this time, too.

Even on Wednesday, there were hints of a breakdown in the comity. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., taking a distinctly different tack from Ryan, proclaimed repeatedly before the cameras that the shooter was “targeting Republicans.” Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., took a swipe at the “no holds barred” firearm laws in Virginia, where the shooting occurred, and he reminded reporters that responsible rhetoric “starts at the top.”

True, but the shooting is a reminder to those of us who have warned of Trump’s incitements to violence that there are deranged people of all ideologies who can be inflamed by angry rhetoric. Sen. Bernie Sanders, for whose presidential campaign the shooter volunteered, rightly went to the Senate floor to denounce violence.

For the moment, there was at least a tacit recognition that the toxic tone had to change. Trump’s statement on the shooting was downright presidential. Republican lawmakers called off the day’s votes and most hearings, including one on legislation that would relax controls on gun silencers.

Instead, lawmakers gathered in the Capitol Visitor Center during the late morning for a members-only briefing. It was a solemn processional: Only a few stopped to talk to some of the 200 journalists lining the hallway, the rest silently filing in to learn more about the attempt to kill their colleagues.

One who did pause was a shaken Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, manager of the Republican team, still wearing a baseball cap and blue jeans. He choked up twice as he thanked the Capitol Police for preventing a massacre. “They attacked the shooter, and that saved our lives,” Barton said, accompanied by his young son, who had also been at the shooting.

The lawmakers moved next to the House floor, where the Rev. Pat Conroy, the chaplain, prayed that “Republicans and Democrats be mindful of the rare companionship they share.”

Ryan, in perhaps his best speech, continued the homily: “I ask each of you to join me,” he said, “to show the country, to show the world that we are one house, the people’s house, united in our humanity.”

Pelosi followed him with confirmation that the baseball game would be played Thursday, as scheduled. “We’ll root for our team,” she said, but “we will use this occasion as one that brings us together.”

There is something magical about the national pastime uniting our leaders – and something tragic that it takes the bullets of a madman to remind them that their opponents aren’t their enemies.

Dana Milbank is a columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. He can be contacted at:

Twitter: @Milbank

]]> 0, 15 Jun 2017 11:46:03 +0000
Commentary: Senate’s health care bill similar to House’s, but it’s not too late to fix it Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans are reportedly close to finishing their draft bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act – and do not plan to make it public. But the outline is enough to know that the Senate bill will be similar to the House bill in key respects – causing millions of people to lose Medicaid coverage. Rather than go down this path, the Senate should work on bipartisan reforms to stabilize and improve the ACA.

Just like the House bill, the Senate bill would cap federal funding for Medicaid. The nonpartisan Urban Institute projects that a Medicaid cap would cut federal funding for Maine by $1 billion over 10 years. Unless the state can make up the shortfall with budget cuts or tax increases, this would cause a reduction in enrollment, benefits, or payments to providers – decreasing access to care.

Just like the House bill, the Senate bill also would repeal enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., estimates that the loss of funding would increase costs to states by 182 percent to 400 percent, which is obviously unsustainable.

The difference between the House bill and the Senate bill is only one of timing. The House bill would repeal funding for Medicaid expansion in 2020; the Senate bill would merely delay that date by a few years. But the end result would be the same in terms of the impact on coverage after the phase-out period.

As a result of these two Medicaid policies, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 14 million fewer people would be enrolled in Medicaid and instead be uninsured. If this estimate is allocated among the states, 57,300 fewer Mainers would be enrolled in Medicaid and instead be uninsured.

The CBO’s projection assumes that some states like Maine that have not expanded Medicaid will do so in the future. Although Gov. LePage has vetoed bills to expand Medicaid, Maine voters will have an opportunity to support Medicaid expansion in a referendum in November. Sen. Susan Collins also recently expressed her support for Medicaid expansion.

On another issue crucial to Maine – the impact on older enrollees – the Senate bill is unlikely to fix the problems with the House bill. Just like the House bill, the Senate bill would allow insurers to charge older enrollees five times more than they charge younger enrollees.

The CBO estimated that a 64-year-old making $26,500 would pay $14,400 more for health insurance than under the ACA in 2026. Extrapolating this estimate to Maine, a 64-year-old Mainer making $26,500 would pay $17,600 under the House bill compared with $1,700 under the ACA. Although the Senate bill is expected to boost tax credits for older people to moderate this “age tax,” Republicans have not set aside enough money to do so.

While Senate Republicans pursue a repeal bill, the insurance market is deteriorating because of massive uncertainty. In Maine, the Trump administration’s policies are driving double-digit premium rate increases for next year.

Harvard Pilgrim specifically cited President Trump’s executive order to weaken enforcement of the individual mandate, which incentivizes healthier people to buy coverage. This policy alone accounts for 40 percent of Harvard Pilgrim’s rate increase. Anthem has said it may need to increase premiums by an additional 20 percent if the Trump administration does not provide certainty on funding for ACA subsidies.

But it’s not too late; bipartisan legislation could still stabilize the insurance market:

First, it would need to guarantee continued funding for ACA subsidies. This guarantee would not actually add any costs to government spending because these subsidies are already being paid.

Second, a bipartisan bill would follow the model of states like Alaska and Maine that reimburse insurers for high-cost enrollees. In Alaska, this “reinsurance” recently lowered premium increases from 40 percent to under 10 percent.

If the federal government provided $10 billion to states for reinsurance, this would lower premiums by about 10 percent. Because this funding would lower premiums, it would save some money on tax credits, resulting in an overall cost much less than $10 billion.

Third, a bipartisan bill could use carrots and sticks to encourage insurers to enter markets where there is a single or no insurer. For instance, insurers that enter such markets could be exempted from the health insurance tax.

These policies are common-sense solutions. Insurance experts and actuaries would testify that they would be effective. The only barrier standing in the way of real improvement in insurance markets is the partisan rush to repeal the law.

]]> 0 Wed, 14 Jun 2017 19:53:37 +0000
Health of many Mainers depends on bill in Congress, Medicaid expansion Thu, 15 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — The nation watched May 4 as the U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved legislation to repeal and replace integral parts of the Affordable Care Act. Now the replacement legislation, the American Health Care Act, is in the U.S. Senate’s hands. And there are rumblings that they might take it back up for passage with minimal changes before the Fourth of July.

If the AHCA passes in its current form, nearly 20,000 Mainers would lose critical access, gained through the ACA, to treatment for mental health concerns and substance use disorder, a number cited in research from both Harvard and New York universities in January.

As we have all heard by now, drug-related deaths in our state reached a new high of 376 lives lost last year, an increase of nearly 40 percent and 100 more people when compared with 2015’s total of 272 fatalities. More troubling, 2016 was the fifth straight year of an increase in fatal overdoses, mostly because of the illicit use of prescription painkillers, heroin and the potent synthetic drug fentanyl.

Behavioral health experts call what’s transpiring an acute crisis and recognize it as a devastating trend that must be halted. Medicaid and its unparalleled access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment needs to be protected, or expanded, to address this crisis.

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent, has said that the iteration of the AHCA proposed by the House would make our state’s opioid problem worse. At present, at least one person dies every day from an overdose in Maine. This is already one too many. No more.

Opponents of the ACA repeal, including King and Maine’s Republican senator, Susan Collins, understand that about 75,000 Mainers receive ACA coverage in general, more than 20,000 are receiving treatment for behavioral health issues, and some 8,000 are actively getting treatment for substance use disorder. The ACA has allowed many who would have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, which includes mental health and addiction issues, to keep their insurance.

Both senators decried the detrimental effects of the House proposal on the poor and on people over age 50. King called for meaningful improvements, while Collins said, “It really misses the mark.”

Because Maine is not a Medicaid expansion state, it only receives a 64.38 percent matching rate from the federal government for MaineCare (the state’s Medicaid program), a prime source of funding for our behavioral health services. These are critical funds, especially as pressures increase upon our already stretched state budget. Had Maine taken the Medicaid expansion, coverage for the newly eligible adults – an estimated 70,000 – would have been fully funded by the federal government for three years, then phased down to a 90 percent matching rate by 2020 and thereafter.

In February, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap certified that enough signatures have been collected to place a citizen initiative for MaineCare expansion on the November ballot. It’s been passed five times in the Legislature, but vetoed five times by Gov. LePage.

If repeal and replacement of the ACA comes to pass, we’ll lose $5 billion in federal funding for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, financial assistance for marketplace coverage and the option to expand Medicaid. According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, we have already lost nearly $2 billion that we would have received had the governor not vetoed Medicaid expansion.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has increased state funding for addressing our opioid crisis to the tune of millions of dollars, all without the match we would have had under an expansion. Our citizens simply can’t afford this.

Mainers are fortunate that our U.S. senators understand how necessary it is that provisions of the ACA are secured within a new plan, especially real coverage for pre-existing conditions like mental health. Please call Susan Collins and Angus King to affirm your support that any new health care plan protects us all – and especially our neighbors needing substance use disorder treatment and mental health care.

And make sure you go to the polls in November to expand coverage to the tens of thousands of Maine residents who need it.

]]> 0 Wed, 14 Jun 2017 19:41:42 +0000
Leonard Pitts: When a traffic stop is just a traffic stop, African-Americans feel blessed Wed, 14 Jun 2017 10:00:39 +0000 Two weeks ago, a black woman driving alone in Princeton, Louisiana, was pulled over for no apparent reason.

But she was not shot and killed. Or hauled from her car and body-slammed. Or even arrested for getting snippy.

The officer explained that she was driving under the speed limit, something he said drivers do when they are tired or inebriated. He said he just wanted to make sure she was OK.

“And as he said that,” said Ayanna Reid Cruver in a video posted to Facebook, “I just broke down crying.”

She cried again, recounting it. “I told him, ‘I was so scared.’ I knew he felt awful that I was that scared. … I never thought that in that situation I would feel fearful, but I legitimately felt horrified.”

The officer, she said, begged her not to cry. He even gave her a hug. But Cruver was still so shaken she had to get off the freeway and pull over to compose herself.

Her video has been viewed 3.3 million times.

To judge from the comments, many people were moved and troubled by it. But some weren’t. At least one individual smugly assured Cruver that so long as she obeys an officer, she has no reason to fear. Perhaps that’s true in his world, but African-Americans live a different truth.

After all, Levar Jones was obeying when he was shot. Lateef Dickerson was obeying when he was kicked in the face. And Tamir Rice never had a chance to obey.

It’s no surprise Cruver’s video discombobulates some of those for whom police brutality is only a news story: It offers stark testimony of the damage done to policing when accountability is not required. As such, that clip should be required viewing for every cop in America, every chief who ever stood behind a bad officer, every prosecutor who ever looked the other way, every juror who gave a cop benefit of the doubt when there was no doubt, every judge for whom equality before the law was only words to say.

Consider the three cases noted above. Levar Jones’ assailant pleaded guilty in March of last year, but has yet to be sentenced. A jury cleared the cop who broke Lateef Dickerson’s jaw. Tamir Rice’s killer was never even tried.

The damage of such failures is bigger than those three cases or the hundreds that preceded them.

Where there is no accountability, there can be no trust.

When law-abiding people have legitimate reason to fear even a traffic stop, the world becomes more dangerous, both for police and the communities they serve.

Last week, Omaha police Chief Todd Schmaderer called for two officers to be fired after they tasered a mentally ill man 12 times and he died. Last month, Balch Springs, Texas, police Chief Jonathan Haber sacked an officer who shot into a moving car, killing an unarmed 15-year-old boy.

The sad thing is, such episodes of police accountability are rare enough that they stand out, that you remember them. They even seem morally heroic. And they should not.

When he was stopped last year for speeding, Tony Lee, a Washington-area preacher, was happily surprised to find the officer friendly and professional. Talking with a friend, Lee, who is black, called the encounter a “blessing.”

The friend, a white police chief in another jurisdiction, was angry at that, reminding Lee that anyone who gets a ticket – even a deserved one – has a right to be upset. “But,” said the chief, “you’re just happy you’re (still) living. That’s not the way it should be.”

No, but that is the way it is. And because of the way it is, a simple traffic stop left Ayanna Cruver terrified.

“I shouldn’t have had to feel this,” she said.

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, 13 Jun 2017 20:03:26 +0000
Maine Voices: Shifting political environment an alarming trend for older LGBT Mainers Wed, 14 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Pride season seems to have a more urgent tone across the country this year. For many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, particularly older adults, Pride is a reminder of how far our community has come and how much we may be in danger of losing should the pendulum swing in the other direction.

I am a member of the board of Maine’s chapter of Services & Advocacy for LGBT Elders, SAGE Maine, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. As someone who works broadly and deeply with this community, I see this as a moment of great opportunity despite the current uncertain political climate. Pride is a time to celebrate the connections we have built in our Maine communities as well as an opportunity to foster new connections and relationships across generations.

Our SAGE Maine chapter recently hosted two intergenerational community dinners called SAGE Table. Eighty-five people of all ages and orientations gathered in Portland and Bangor to discuss that while aging poses distinct challenges for everyone, LGBT aging presents particular, often exacerbated, versions of these challenges. Issues such as isolation, discrimination, affordable housing and other topics were discussed.

Isolation is a key issue despite many advances in inclusion witnessed in the last decade. Many older individuals aren’t accustomed to the level of societal acceptance that younger LGBT people often enjoy. Many older LGBT adults did not feel that marriage or raising children were options for them. These perceptions, fostered in earlier decades, can now be tempered through cross-generational contact and discussion so that our whole community feels a sense of inclusion. We can all become less isolated.

Too often, throughout the 20th century, discrimination was the common thread in the lives of today’s older LGBT adults. After decades of activism that produced greater understanding and some significant societal advances, the political environment has shifted ominously, as was mentioned above. Many LGBT older adults in both rural and urban areas fear having to return to the closet in their communities, particularly when it comes to accessing care in the aging network.

I travel all over our beautiful state and have yet to meet one older person who tells me they aspire to reside in assisted living or a nursing facility as they age. However, as we all know, because of health care issues and the lack of affordable, senior-appropriate housing, many older adults run out of options and end up in institutionalized care. While almost all people in this situation find it problematic and challenging, I hear too many demoralizing stories of our LGBT elders being marginalized in these institutions and forced to hide their truths about who they love or who they are.

We can do better than this. We must join together across generations and across communities to make sure that we do better than this. Regardless of political ideology, I believe that we, as Mainers, must agree that basic human decency is a nonpartisan commodity.

Older LGBT adults have lots of ideas about what we can change in our communities so that we can all thrive as we age together. SAGE Maine offers supportive services and resources for LGBT older adults statewide and their caregivers. We advocate for policy changes that address the needs of LGBT older adults and provide training for care providers. SAGE works to promote positive images of LGBT life in later years and to transform discrimination and misunderstanding through enhanced dialogue and education.

By traveling and working throughout our great state, I know that most families have been affected by the same issues that confront the LGBT community. We, like other Mainers, are diverse, engaged and committed to working for increasingly inclusive, prosperous and enlightened communities.

I urge you to contact SAGE Maine ( for information, resources or assistance at any time. No question or issue is too big or too small.


]]> 0 people and their allies will show that there is strength in numbers when they hold this year's Portland Pride parade Saturday.Wed, 14 Jun 2017 19:17:33 +0000
Greg Kesich: LePage battle against the ‘nips’ amounts to political littering Wed, 14 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 If, down the road, you ever need to explain what it was like to live in Maine during the Paul LePage era, you can tell the story of the “nips.”

Somehow, two-terms of his mis-administration got distilled into a tiny little bottle.

The outline goes like this: People were concerned about roadside litter made up of discarded 50-milliliter bottles of hard liquor. A bill went to the Legislature to make nips subject to the 15-cent bottle deposit that’s collected on other liquor bottles, and there was a public hearing in the State House.

Proponents of the bill said it would help keep our roads cleaner. The liquor industry said that it would hurt sales.

So, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, met with both sides and struck a deal: The deposit on nips would be 5 cents, like it is for soda, instead of 15 cents as it is with booze.

In a normal state – like Maine before 2011 – that would have been the end of a very boring story. You might have seen the change listed in a newspaper roundup story about the recent legislative session, and maybe there would be a brief item in a liquor industry trade magazine or the Association of State Governments website. But we’re not in a normal state anymore.

Out of nowhere came an enraged governor, who declared that he was tired of the Legislature’s anti-business attitude (even though the business involved was on board with the compromise) and he wasn’t going to stand for it.

If the Legislature insisted on passing this bill, he thundered, he would veto it. And if they passed it over his veto, he would cast his hand upon the land, and, verily, no nip would be allowed for sale anywhere in his domain!

When the liquor industry said that was not the kind of help they were hoping for, LePage silenced them. It was not their profits he was concerned about, he said, but drivers drinking behind the wheel, which the bill at issue would not address.

And on that point, the governor is 100 percent correct.

It was a littering bill, not a piece of legislation designed to fix all of society’s problems at once. Some people just wanted to make the roadsides more tidy.

But the Legislature defied him and overrode his veto anyway. On Tuesday, the governor made good on his threat and ordered the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to begin the process of banning 50-milliliter bottles of alcohol, ending sales expected to boom to 12 million units this year and pay $4 million to the state coffers. And since the most popular nip out there, Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, is bottled in Lewiston, 130 jobs are at risk.

The leader has spoken. His critics defied him and now they have felt his wrath. Oh, and, by the way, he didn’t do a damn thing about drunken driving.

And that is what it’s like to live with a governor who thinks leadership means telling people what to do.

It’s not just with nips. This governor only knows one way to settle a dispute – dominance. If he can get what he wants, fine. If he can’t, but he can stop you from getting what you want, that’s fine too. If nothing gets done, so be it. They should have done it his way in the first place.

And now we are waiting to see if a divided Legislature will avoid a state government shutdown by coming to terms over a budget before June 30 – with no help from the governor. Five months ago, LePage dumped his proposal on lawmakers and walked away.

After months of meetings, negotiators are at an impasse. Senate Republicans have proposed a plan. House Democrats have proposed a plan. House Republicans have laid out their priorities. None of them have the two-thirds support in both chambers that would be needed to pass a budget and to override the governor’s already promised veto.

They may not succeed, but they are going to try, because that’s what they’re in Augusta for – to resolve disputes.

If everyone agreed on everything, you wouldn’t need a government. It takes collective effort to get important things done and that takes working through differences of opinion, which is why smart leaders know that they have to compromise, even when they’re right.

Fortunately, there are members of both parties in Augusta who see it that way and they have a shot at keeping the state in business after the shutdown clock winds down.

And fortunately, Gov. LePage has become so irrelevant he can’t screw up anything more important these days than the sale of nips.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at

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, 14 Jun 2017 16:09:12 +0000
Maine Voices: Time for Maine lawmakers to lead the transition to a clean energy economy Tue, 13 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Maine could, and should, transition to a clean energy economy. But instead, we are falling behind almost every other state in the country by failing to give our residents the opportunity to invest in solar energy.

It’s time for Maine to move forward on solar. As a professional snowboarder, I have witnessed the impacts of climate change firsthand, and I am deeply concerned about the future of our winters. I strongly support the transition to a clean energy economy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate the devastating impacts of climate change.

A healthy winter is about more than just powder days. It’s about people’s livelihoods and local businesses. Nationwide, according to the Outdoor Industry Assocation, the snow sports industry (cross-country, downhill, nordic and telemark skiing; snowboarding; snowmobiling, and snowshoeing) is responsible for $72 billion in revenue and 695,000 jobs each year. Decreased snowpack and warmer winters threaten the prosperity of our winter tourism economy. To realistically mitigate these impacts of climate change, we have to utilize clean sources of energy, like solar.

After growing up in Farmington, I traveled the world to compete in snowboard cross. From competing in the Torino and Vancouver Olympic Games to exploring the Chugach Mountains of Alaska and riding first descents in the Himalayas, I have seen how climate change affects rural mountain communities around the world. I know that change starts at the local level. After witnessing these impacts, I wanted to return to Maine and invest in my community’s tourism economy.

Today, I co-own and operate a slope-side restaurant at Sugarloaf, The Rack, and a snowboard manufacturing company, Winterstick Snowboards. Both businesses generate revenue and provide jobs in our rural community. But both businesses depend on snowy winters to drive profit; therefore, they wouldn’t survive in an unstable climate.

To move to a stable climate, we need to transition away from fossil fuels. This means investing in clean energy and a low-carbon economy. The recent proposal from the Maine Public Utilities Commission to eradicate “net metering” goes too far. Net metering is a billing mechanism that enables individuals and businesses to not only generate their own solar energy, but to also receive a fair credit for power sent to their neighbors. The PUC’s proposal would eliminate the credits on electricity bills that provide home and business owners with an incentive to transition to solar in the first place. Maine should be growing its nascent solar market by expanding this policy, not killing it.

Net metering currently exists in 42 states across the country, and it is the simplest way to transition to clean energy as it provides an immediate return on investment. Our state currently generates only 1 percent of its energy from solar, and we are quickly falling behind the rest of the country by continuing to rely on fossil fuels.

I am proud that my home mountain, Sugarloaf, is standing against this proposal, too, through its membership in the Industrial Energy Consumers Group. Maine business owners are coming together to speak out against the proposed “transmission and distribution” fees that the PUC would charge on solar power consumed right on site. These unprecedented and extreme policies undermine the right to self-generate and self-consume clean energy. They are, plain and simple, bad for business.

If Maine embraces solar, it can protect winter tourism while creating hundreds of new jobs, lowering utility costs and providing clean, local energy options for consumers. Without action, carbon pollution caused by the consumption of fossil fuels will affect not only the outdoor recreation industry, but also our state’s natural resource economy, from agriculture to fishing. The consequences have the potential to be catastrophic.

It’s time for state lawmakers from both parties to work together to lead the transition to a clean energy economy. If the Legislature doesn’t act, the PUC’s failing mindset will prevail. Maine can’t afford to miss opportunities for low-cost clean energy.


]]> 0, ME - JUNE 25: Avesta Housing and Portland Housing Authority unveil a new 45-unit apartment complex on East Oxford Street. The rooftop houses 167 solar electric panels which supply energy to the first floor of the building. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Mon, 12 Jun 2017 20:03:57 +0000
Kathleen Parker: Boy Scout James Comey was no match for The Donald Tue, 13 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 As it turns out, Donald Trump is the hope-and-change president.

According to James Comey, Trump hoped that the then-FBI director would find a way to drop his investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and help blow away “the cloud” concerning the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. When Comey didn’t, Trump changed Comey – right out of a job.

“You’re fired,” the apprentice-president bravely conveyed to Comey via the news media he so abhors, except when he doesn’t. Was Trump’s “hope” a “direction,” as Comey testified Thursday that he took it to mean? As in, The Don hopes ol’ Jimmy does the “right” thing. Or was it simply hope? As in, good golly, I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend?

If one were a young child, one might go for the weather-forecast interpretation – because what child wants it to rain on his or her parade? If one were an adult with full knowledge of the president’s pre-political history and the common sense of an investigator, one might reasonably conclude that the hoper-in-chief was making a strong suggestion, the ignoring of which could have dead-horse-in-your-bed consequences.

Comey, obviously, smelled a dead horse.

In his exchanges with the president, he carefully selected his words and took mental notes, after which he wrote down his recollections.

But Comey’s concentration on the president’s hope may have doomed him. Not only did he lose his job, but his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee seemed weak tea in the broader context of the president’s potential criminality. Expressing hope – a word that’s open to interpretation and nowhere near evidence of obstruction of justice – is clearly not a crime.

In his testimony, Comey further revealed that he personally had leaked his memos, again to the benighted media via a Columbia University law professor and friend. Comey said he was concerned that Trump might lie about their discussions and other details leading up to his firing.

Regarding the two men and whose word to trust, there’s no contest. But often what is obviously wrong isn’t necessarily illegal. I don’t doubt that Trump essentially threatened Comey because that’s what Trump does. (Count his lawsuits if you have a few free months.) Even as Comey testified, the president was regaling the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference with Scripture and tough talk: “We know how to fight better than anybody and we never, ever give up – we are winners and we are going to fight.” (Please, please, please read “Elmer Gantry.”)

During the hearing, several senators pressed Comey about why he didn’t ask obvious follow-up questions, as when Trump allegedly said to the director, “We had that thing.” What thing? Comey also might have queried, “Mr. President, what do you mean when you say you ‘hope’?” Or, as various commentators have suggested, why didn’t Comey say, “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but this is highly inappropriate and I’m going to have to excuse myself”?

Ask any reporter, whose skills are essentially investigative, and the answer is: You don’t ever interrupt when the subject is spilling beans. Remember that Flynn was under investigation at the time, as was Trump’s campaign, though apparently not Trump himself. All of this was surely in Comey’s mind when Trump allegedly expressed his hope.

In real life, we rely upon our instincts, experience, interpretation of facial expressions and body language, and historical knowledge to make judgments and instruct our words and actions. We do this usually without conscious effort – unless we’re driven by a purpose.

For Comey, what was the higher moral position? To stop the president of the United States from talking – or keep the conversation going while you gather your wits and see what else might be forthcoming but could aid in an ongoing investigation? Most likely, Comey’s mind was frantically trying to assess the situation and wondering Lordy, why didn’t I wear a wire?

He hinted as much Thursday, albeit with weirdly undermining self-deprecations. Comey said he felt he needed to pay attention and was too stunned to react to the “hope” comment. “Maybe if I was stronger,” he said, explaining why he didn’t ask “what thing?” Please. What’s with the 6-foot-8-inch weakling act from a man routinely praised for his brilliance and integrity? Why telegraph feebleness to Trump, his lawyers and a skeptical public if he’s secure in his rectitude?

Presumably, Comey was trying to convey his humility juxtaposed with the steamrolling Trump. What Comey may be constitutionally unable to fully grasp, however, is that integrity is no weapon in a knife fight.

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

]]> 0 FBI Director James Comey, shown in 2015, has submitted his written opening testimony as he prepares to appear Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.Mon, 12 Jun 2017 19:56:15 +0000
Charles Lawton: R&D bond a vital first step to economic growth through innovation Tue, 13 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 If I could put a daily reminder quote on the calendar of every Maine voter Tuesday morning, it would be from the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Why? Because it’s the day we have the opportunity to put our money where our hopes are. We can say “yes” to a $50 million bond issue “to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades … that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people.” A very clear goal, a very simple definition of success, but requiring a great deal of patience. The outcome of this vote will not solve this year’s budget crisis, nor the next year’s, nor the one the year after that.

But the thousand-mile journey that this bond issue calls for offers our only hope of eventually filling the ever-deeper budget gaps that now loom in our future as clearly as the prospects of global warming and rising sea levels. While the duration of the long journey to be initiated by passage of the research and development bond cannot be specified, however, there is clear evidence of its ultimately successful outcome – both nationally and in Maine.

According to a report by the National Science and Technology Council published in 2016, “at least one-half of America’s economic growth can be attributed to scientific and technological innovation.” In Maine, at least some evidence of that promise is evident in the data on job creation when viewed from the perspective of age of enterprise.

Using data from the joint Department of Labor-Bureau of the Census program that enables examination of net job gains in private companies according to their age, the net job creation for all Maine private employers between 2011 and 2016 – that is, the number of jobs created minus the number of jobs destroyed – was negative 192, a job loss of 5 percent.

When examining those private employers up to 3 years old, however, the net gain was 728 jobs, an increase of 52 percent. For employers 4 to 10 years old, net job gain was basically stable, an increase of 2 percent, and for employers 11 years and older, net job change was negative 923, a drop of 41 percent.

In what is perhaps even more encouraging news, when considering Maine’s non-metropolitan rural areas, the net job gain numbers are (naturally) smaller, but the pattern by age of firms is similar. Net job gain for young firms (those up to 3 years of age) was 45 percent, while for old firms (11 or more years of age), it was negative 65 percent. And for the middle-aged firms (4 to 10 years old) there was a small net gain of 158 jobs.

In short, even in the rural areas of Maine, where stories of aging population, declining school enrollments and emigration dominate the news, new things are happening in the local business community; hope seems to spring eternal in the entrepreneurial heart wherever it finds itself.

Obviously, not all young Maine firms are growing rapidly, nor are all older Maine firms cutting jobs. But overall, the trend is clear – younger firms are adding more jobs than older firms. Nor is the net job growth of young firms over the past several years a guarantee of continuity. The transition from growing 3-year-old firms into strong 4- to 10-year-old firms is extremely difficult.

But that is precisely why support for the research and development bond before us Tuesday is so crucial. It will provide at least some state funds to help identify and support those young firms (and older firms as well, but particularly young firms) that can make a compelling case that the infrastructure and equipment they need are crucial to a difficult transition from eager, hopeful young enterprise to mature, solid business with a clear path to growth.

A second reason to support Tuesday’s R&D bond is to prepare for whatever may come from the federal government. While Washington today seems to be stuck in the controversies surrounding investigations into our intelligence agencies and efforts to revive or stifle health care reform, at some point congressional attention will turn to infrastructure and economic development programs. If anything emerges from all the talk surrounding this topic, it will almost certainly involve grants and/or loans to state and local entities and requirements for matching funds.

However and whenever such programs may develop, Maine’s entrepreneurial R&D-oriented firms and research institutes will be far better positioned to take advantage of them with a recapitalized Maine Technology Asset Fund than they would otherwise be. If we are serious about reviving our economy and addressing the long-term funding problems facing our schools and health care organizations, we must pass the bond issue before us Tuesday.

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

]]> 0, 12 Jun 2017 20:00:00 +0000
Maine Voices: Hard lessons learned in company town prompt warning about Trump Mon, 12 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 KENNEBUNKPORT — President Trump reminds me of the tannery owners in my hometown in central Maine. They came to town in limousines, parked at the drugstore corner and toured the factory. The workers they saw received low pay and worked dangerous jobs on outdated machinery. The river was polluted by chemicals, colored by dyes. The air was foul from the rotting flesh stripped from hides and thrown into the “salad bowl” tank.

In 1963, one hour before a vote to form a workers’ union for higher wages and better conditions, the tannery bosses called a meeting at the town hall and handed out new $2 bills to the workers. The town has never recovered from that history. The tannery is still there but with far fewer workers and newer automated processes.

Wealth and income inequality plagued my hometown, and it has worsened throughout the state, nation and world ever since. Neither Trump nor Hillary Clinton understands how wealth and income inequality undermines our democracy and the welfare of our citizens. If they did, they would discuss economic inequality and jobs in more explicit terms. They would point out how our economy generates nearly $20 trillion a year. If divided equally among us, each American would receive about $50,000 each year in income, goods and services.

Maine’s median household income was $51,494 in 2015. In other words, half of Maine’s households made less than that. Imagine the financial security of a family of four with an annual budget of $200,000. Imagine how Maine communities would thrive, even if each family of four obtained only half of that amount in wages, goods and services.

Like the tannery owners, Trump has a business history that suggests that he will do very little for working people. During the campaign, he often bragged of his Atlantic City investments: “The money I took out of there was incredible.” Others fared far worse, said Steven Perskie, New Jersey’s top casino regulator during Trump’s time there, recalling that Trump “put a number of local contractors and suppliers out of business.” Thousands of construction jobs were lost as his casinos failed; Trump filed for bankruptcy four times.

Maine, too, will suffer under Trump’s leadership. The Republican health care plan and Trump’s budget, if enacted, will devastate many Maine families and increase the state’s vulnerability to climate change.

Cuts in heating assistance, disability coverage, health care, legal assistance for low-income people, school nutrition programs, public education, aid to the homeless and other vital social services will hurt hundreds of thousands. Maine’s 265,000 Medicaid recipients, 37,328 Supplemental Security Income beneficiaries and 55,000 children struggling with hunger will be hit hard. As reduced incomes and subsidies affect consumer spending, local businesses and employers, Maine communities will feel an immediate impact.

Maine’s environment and natural resource industries will be imperiled. Scientific research to protect our water, air and forests and supporting development of new industries will be slashed. Federal funds for developing and protecting sea farming ventures will end. Communities will lose out on funds for storm-preparation measures that help mitigate road and property damage. Research in diseases and pests affecting forests and waterways will be impacted. Restoration of fish habitats through dam removal would lose funding.

Again, these cuts would have immediate and lasting effects on local economies as well as degrading the state’s environment and hastening climate change.

One lesson I learned growing up in a “company town”: Vast income disparity means great disparity in political power. Government always serves best those who have the greatest influence in it. Billionaires and millionaires have little incentive to “drain the swamp” created and populated by powerful corporate lobbies. Electing as president a double-talking billionaire with a limited social conscience is putting the fox in the henhouse.

Trump will make millions from his businesses and proposed tax reforms favoring the wealthiest Americans. Among his Cabinet appointees are tycoons and politicians who cheated workers, hired undocumented laborers, opposed minimum wage, chased cheap wages around the world, manipulated banking laws, degraded the environment and doubt climate change.

Economic inequality remains the driving factor in domestic politics. Mainers certainly feel this, and Trump manipulates this fact. He carves up truth and tweets anything to twist supporters to enrich himself and other wealthy Americans.

Meanwhile, Mainers are left with higher state and local taxes to cover lost federal funds, higher insurance premiums and health care costs, poorer living standards for many, and greater national debt from tax losses. Future lost opportunities in new, greener technologies and industries, moreover, will haunt Maine communities.


]]> 0"We want to get back to running our great country," President Trump said Friday at the White House. He spoke of creating apprenticeships but offered few specifics.Mon, 12 Jun 2017 12:48:32 +0000
Jim Fossel: Republicans should fight, but smarter Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 With the Appropriations Committee recently voting out a divided report on the state budget, the possibility of a government shutdown is looming increasingly large in Augusta. Along with that, calls for both sides to compromise have become increasingly common in the press.

Those who are resisting the urge to compromise and settle for yet another do-nothing budget are being derided as extremists who are unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Of course, that’s easy to do when you’re sitting on the sidelines – or when you have a feeling that your beliefs are going to win out in the end. The truth, though, is much more complicated.

Compromise is, to be sure, not a dirty word. Life is full of compromises, and governing – especially in a democracy – is no exception. Nobody will ever get everything they want, and in a government as divided as Augusta is these days, brinksmanship and tough negotiations are to be expected. That’s not only fair, it’s the best outcome for all of us.

That being said, there’s a big difference between compromise and surrender. When you completely agree with the basic premise that the other side is making, but quibble only over exactly how much they get their way, that’s not compromise – that’s surrender. That’s what happens when you refuse to stand up and fight for your own principles, but instead try to mitigate the damage done by the other side.

Unfortunately, there’s been all too much of that in Augusta of late. We’ve seen, time and time again, Republicans cave to Democrats at the last minute in budget negotiations – which is why Gov. LePage was, rightly, unwilling to sign the last budget passed by the Legislature. He was right to veto that poorly crafted, disappointing budget, as it wasn’t a real compromise where both sides gave up a little and got a little. It’s unfair, though, to say that LePage has been unwilling to compromise when it comes to the budget: He compromised on his very first budget, which required Democratic support to pass even in a Republican Legislature.

Indeed, it was out of those budget negotiations that Emily Cain’s now-infamous quote that her caucus “hates these tax cuts” arose. However, that quote brings back an interesting point in regard to the last budget negotiated by Democrats and Republicans in Augusta: What, if anything, did Democrats have to hate in it? Did they hate that they didn’t get to spend as much money as they wanted? Did they hate that they couldn’t raise the hospitality tax or the sales tax? Did they hate the few nominal tax cuts they had to include?

In contrast, there was plenty for Republicans to hate in the last budget. Scheduled decreases in the hospitality tax and the sales tax didn’t materialize, and the cuts in the income tax weren’t nearly substantial enough to make up for them. There wasn’t real welfare reform included – indeed, there really weren’t major policy reforms in the budget at all in the end.

Republicans have a chance this year to do better. They can fight for real, substantial reforms to education policy, welfare and taxes in Maine. Rather than increasing education spending by $100 million instead of $300 million, they can fight for real policy changes like a statewide teachers’ contract, or readjusting the funding formula.

Maine deserves to have an honest, open debate about education policy, not one that just revolves around a dollar figure.

Our education system needs substantive, dramatic reforms to reduce costs and refocus spending where it might do the most good. If we do that, we might have a chance to improve education in Maine without raising taxes to throw more money at it. Unfortunately, only one side in Augusta is willing to have that conversation right now, so it’s going nowhere. Instead, Democrats are relying on their tax-and-spend philosophy to fix what’s wrong with education, just as they rely on it for everything else.

House Republicans are unwilling to acquiesce to this position, and they ought to be lauded for that, not condemned. A real compromise budget would include some education reforms in exchange for some increased spending, not some increased spending in exchange for not increasing spending even more. It’s a compromise when both sides give a little to reach a common goal, not when one side gets nothing and the other side doesn’t get everything. That isn’t a compromise, that’s a failure, and it ought to be portrayed as such.

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

Twitter: @jimfossel

]]> 0, 09 Jun 2017 19:57:17 +0000
Maine Observer: Memories of Grammy and Shirley Mills Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 My dad was in Germany during World War II, and Mom was staying with her mother in Shirley Mills. My grandmother owned the little store and post office there; her house was just across the road.

I remember the house had no indoor plumbing. The “two-holer” was in the barn just off the shed. The black slate kitchen sink had a hand pump. I recall the hot water was dipped out of a large tank from the woodstove. We took baths in a big tub in the shed. My grandmother was far from poor – it’s just the way it was at the time.

Over the years we spent a lot of time in Shirley Mills. My mom would help out at the store, and we kids would be there a lot as well. The store was built just at the edge of Shirley Pond and I recall the sound of the loons very well. I also recall the mosquitoes: We were never without an oily layer of repellent.

The mail came off the train each day, and it was quite an experience because the train never stopped. The outgoing mail was hung in a sack and was hooked off a device from the train, while the incoming was just thrown off. Gram – Effie Virgie – had a cart with two huge wooden wheels for either pushing or pulling the mail sacks.

Then the mail was sorted into the little mailboxes or set aside for the delivery man to take to the mailboxes. As kids, we were not allowed to play in the sacred mail area.

Also, the store was kind of the meeting place. Sure enough, there was a big woodstove, but I don’t think anyone played checkers. Several old nail kegs provided seating for those who were visiting and catching up on news.

I recall my Uncle Herman. He was a man of some notoriety. He farmed and had a milk route; his team of huge draft horses could roll snow on the road to compact it rather than plow it. That was a sight.

Anyway, Uncle Herman always wore coveralls and had a big moustache that covered his teeth or where his teeth used to be. I even remember his smell in a pleasant way. It was a combination of horse, sawdust, sweat and tobacco.

I also recall a story he told that I for sure have to paraphrase. I tell this story often and am able to drum up an exaggerated Maine accent when I tell it.

“You heard tell about Adam Lang’s boy? He goes to that little school down in Guilford. It seemed the boy was in trouble with the teacher. He was always holding his textbooks and such upside down.

“The teacher was always making him turn it back right side up, but he would still turn them back over again. Finally it was decided to have him see Doc Prythum.

“Well, the old Doc studied the boy and it was decided to take him on up to Millinocket to the hospital there. Well, what they finally decided to do was they popped out both his eyes one at a time and just turned them over and popped them right back in, and by God he was all right after that.”

I don’t know how old I was when I heard that story, but I sure remember that I was some taken aback. That image was etched into my brain.

The old store is still there, but it’s just not like it was. It sure shrank.

I’m told Grammy’s old house is fixed up with bathrooms now. The mosquitoes are still healthy, though.

]]> 0 Fri, 09 Jun 2017 18:21:58 +0000
One graduate missing on the Portland stage Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Sixty-nine phenomenal students graduated Friday from my daughter’s school in Portland. There should have been 70, but one of them couldn’t attend.

It was my daughter, Beata Vest, who died in March 2016.

The cause of death was listed as suicide, but I see the real cause as a complication of a disease – a brain illness.

This disease surpassed behavioral issues, existential angst, victimization by bullying or the catch-all diagnosis of depression and anxiety. Her condition caused so much pain and suffering, that it became terminal. This child loved and lived a full life; she loved her people, her family and her school. She knew and felt her love was reciprocated.

Beata Vest

Beata was amazing. She could do anything. She was intelligent. She could communicate in four languages, picking them up as easily as most teens can learn the lyrics to the latest pop songs. She was an incredible artist and dancer. She played the violin and taught herself piano. She was an integral player on three varsity teams. She made the honor roll, and aspired to be an engineer. She was equally passionate about social justice as she was about climate change. Her idol was Angela Merkel. Beata was beautiful, adventurous and best friend to many.

During the fall of her sophomore year, she started manifesting symptoms of illness. She was hospitalized for suicidal ideations with a plan. She was not given any tests, except a pregnancy test upon admission. She did not see a doctor, she saw a nurse practitioner and a social worker. She was released three days later with the plan to attend a dialectical behavior therapy program.

Dialectical behavior therapy is a wonderful program, teaching patients positive tool sets such as mindfulness, coping with distress and regulating emotions. Everyone can benefit from dialectical behavior therapy exercises. But they did nothing to cure Beata or her disease.

Coping methods can facilitate healthful behavior in all forms for patients. They can include easing the stressors of treatments, surgeries and living with a disease. But these tools do not cure the underlying pathology. To get at the root cause of the disease, more is required.

When a patient presents with a disease of the body, extensive tests are run to diagnose and treat the illness. Beata, with a different kind of disease, was given no such assessments.

But unlike physical illness, where blood can be analyzed and tumors can be scanned, Beata’s symptoms were sometimes subtle – and with her high pain threshold – masked. On the outside, she continued to be her impressive self, earning two scholarships to study Arabic in Morocco for the summer.

Beata traveled, returned, started school, then went into crisis and was re-hospitalized in November of her junior year. We tried to get her scans, testing and treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation in Boston, but we were told she had to fail “traditional” treatment modalities first.

She was discharged after a 10-day hospital stay without any outpatient care other than a follow-up appointment two weeks later with yet another team. This lack of outpatient support is a recurrent theme in our system. I have spoken to parents of three other teens who were discharged from the hospital with either suicide attempt or ideation without any scheduled follow-up.

This does not happen to patients with life-threatening diagnoses discharged from medical hospitals. They are discharged with appointments for medication, radiation, nutrition, home health visitors, counseling, etc.

During the last academic year, at least five teenagers within a 10-mile radius of where I live have died from complications of psychological brain disease. Among my acquaintances, I know of five other teens that have been hospitalized. Two other teens were unable to obtain an inpatient hospitalization, and more than 15 teens are on psychiatric medication.

These teens were suffering before Beata died, so while her death probably did not help their situation, it certainly didn’t cause the disease.

I exist in a small community. I don’t know that many people in Maine, so if this is what I know of personally – what are the actual county or state figures?

And, more importantly, why are there not more facilities, testing and treatment programs accessible to these children? This is a local, state, and national emergency.

The seriousness of their condition is misread, as evidenced by the lack of adequate, timely, diagnostic testing and successful treatment programs. These kids are not dying because they are sad; they are dying because we have failed them as a community.

]]> 0, 11 Jun 2017 11:16:56 +0000
Cynthia Dill: Aphorisms for alumni Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Editor’s note: This is an updated version of a column that was originally published on June 11.

Are you at a loss of what to do in today’s political environment? Write a graduation speech. It’s good for the soul. Here’s mine.

Graduates of (fill in the blank), Congratulations! Do something to set the mood and tempo of your generation. Play a part in defining the zeitgeist. Nature abhors a vacuum and if you’re not defining the ethos of the era, guess who will? Vacuums picks up dirt and dirtbags make lousy leaders. Grunge covers their lenses and blurs their vision. Be as bright as you can for as long as you can whenever you can to maximize the light in the world so others can see.

Keep graduating. Don’t stop commencing. You got the diploma and the real job is in sight but it’s likely not your final destination. Be flexible, take risks, manage your expectations and you will succeed by surviving. Graduate a little bit more every year to keep your attitude fresh about what’s next and remain curious about what’s around the corner. Build time into your busy schedule to reinvent yourself now and again. Step up, but pace yourself. The mountain is high and the trail long and you have all day.

Enjoy hard work and make thinking a priority. There’s no job that’s “mindless” unless you choose to stop thinking while doing it. Accept life’s menial jobs as opportunities to think about the world and family. Think of ways to fix or improve things and how to make life easier and more pleasant for people you love and care about. Give your mind the exercise it needs by letting it wonder. What are your innermost aspirations and goals? What is the plan to achieve them? What is the meaning of your life? There’s no right answer, of course, but value and growth in pondering the question.

Be courageous. Stand up to bullies, especially those who accuse you of being “elitist” because you learned things at school and in life. Dive under the wave of ignorance washing over America right now. Belong to the society of reasonable people who don’t maraud around earth and the Internet waving a proverbial pitchfork and spitting venom. Seething is not an American ideal. The era of buffoonery can’t last forever. Your trick is to tread water until the next renaissance of reason and then partake.

Speak your mind often but judiciously. Hone and use good judgment. Your voice unused you will lose, but enough is enough. A dead horse need not be beaten. Offer your view into the mix of the public discourse and see what happens. You may change your mind or others.

Find the humor in things and laugh every day as if your life depends on it because it does.

Be optimistic. Spend more energy solving problems than worrying about them. Don’t be Debbie Downer. Pointing out what’s bad about everything creates a gray cloud over your head. Pessimists suck energy out of things. Don’t deflate others with your fears and anxiety. Don’t complain about the weather.

Express your values. Be kind to people, plants and animals. Act trustworthy and tolerant. Look sharp. Give generously without expectation of return. Don’t be a stooge, sycophant or bootlicker. Find your spine and use it. Shine.

Don’t eat too much. The size of one’s vessel is not as important as the size of its hold. Your weight is not as important as your inner space for energy to flow in and out. Give the noisy engine of digestion regular breaks to hear other messages coming from within. The incredible lightness of being is just that.

Look at the sky a lot. Lifting your gaze to the heavens is mind altering and liberating. The infinity and possibility of the sky is all the proof necessary to know we are but fleeting bursts of energy in a much larger light show over which we have no control. Life is simpler when you look up. The task at hand becomes easier. Tend to your small flame while you have it and share your light and heat.

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)Wed, 14 Jun 2017 17:42:19 +0000
Commentary: Virginia may reveal future for Democrats Sun, 11 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The June 20 Georgia special congressional election will offer an early reading on the Democrats’ ability to rebound from 2016 and make 2018 gains. But next week’s Virginia primary will provide an insight into the future of their party and two of its key figures.

The gubernatorial contest features a bid by a self-identified “proud progressive,” former Rep. Tom Perriello, to continue last year’s anti-establishment successes by upending Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, anointed by the entire state Democratic establishment.

But their duel, which polls suggest is likely to pick the state’s next governor, is also a proxy contest between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has backed and campaigned for Perriello, and outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe that could affect the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Sanders’ interest in the 2020 race, whether as a candidate himself or as the influential head of his growing organization, is evident. But there has been less attention given to the fact that McAuliffe, coming off a successful tenure in a state lately tending more Democratic, seems also to have his eye on 2020.

Governors have always made successful presidential candidates and, in a field that could be dominated by septuagenarians like Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren and African-Americans including Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, supporters think the genial, backslapping Virginia governor might be able to emerge as a formidable rival.

Because of recent losses, Democrats have few big-state governors likely to be in the field. One who is reportedly eyeing 2020, New York’s Andrew Cuomo, may be a bad fit for the retail politicking that is so important in Iowa and New Hampshire. McAuliffe’s closeness to Bill and Hillary Clinton means access to their formidable political and financial network, though those ties may be more of a handicap than a blessing.

In Virginia, meanwhile, Perriello’s unexpected entry into the governor’s race challenged the 60-year-old governor’s plan to place an ally at the helm of a state that limits governors to a single four-year term. Perriello, 42, served a single House term before losing his Charlottesville-area seat in the Republican sweep of 2010.

He is running the classic outsider campaign, vowing to shake up the status quo in Richmond, where many issues such as expanding Medicaid and revamping transportation funding have been stalemated between the Democratic governor and a Republican legislature that strengthened its position by drawing favorable districts.

Though he supported Clinton last year, Perriello’s message has attracted the support of Sanders, who has sought, with mixed success, to transform the national Democratic Party. And no one is as emblematic of the status quo as McAuliffe, national party chairman from 2001 to 2005.

Polls show the race is close. Both candidates have moved left to fit within the more aggressively liberal Democratic Party of the Trump era. Perriello, a strong Barack Obama supporter whose 2010 defeat may have been at least partly due to supporting Obamacare, has said he was wrong in breaking with liberal orthodoxy to vote to limit abortion coverage in private health plans.

Northam, 57, a pediatric neurologist and former Army physician from Virginia’s conservative eastern shore, voted twice for Republican President George W. Bush, something he attributes to being “under-informed” before entering politics.

They’ve campaigned as much against Trump as one another: Perriello vows to make Virginia “a firewall” against Trump, and Northam has lately run an ad labeling him a “narcissistic maniac.” A Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, former Joe Biden aide Susan Platt, one-upped both by calling for the president’s impeachment.

Some Democrats initially feared the Yale-educated Perriello might be seen as too liberal, given the state’s conservative political tradition. But an influx of highly educated suburbanites and the growth of African-American voting have enabled Democrats to win most recent statewide races, and polls don’t show any such weakness.

In the GOP primary, Ed Gillespie, a veteran Republican operative and Washington lobbyist who narrowly lost a 2014 Senate bid, leads a more outspoken conservative rival, Corey Stewart.

But polls show Gillespie trails both Democrats by double digits, in part due to Trump’s unpopularity.

For Sanders, the Democratic primary is one in a series of contests in which he is seeking to expand his influence in the party.

But two 2016 Sanders supporters lost in recent special congressional elections, and other backers of the Vermont senator narrowly lost bids to chair the California and national Democratic parties.

Besides, the primary may be more meaningful for McAuliffe, since failure to install a friendly successor in Richmond could, at the least, complicate his long-shot 2020 hopes.

]]> 0 gubernatorial hopeful Tom Perriello speaks at the site of the Robert E. Lee statue at Lee Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Monday.Fri, 09 Jun 2017 19:53:59 +0000
Commentary: Burrito cart hullabaloo spotlights concept of cultural appropriation Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 What’s the matter with Portland, Oregon? The city has recently had a racist triple stabbing, a Republican Party chair threatening to hire right-wing militias for protection and … a culturally appropriative burrito cart.

Yes, one of these things is not like the others.

Most obviously, the last is a situation of almost-too-on-the-nose cultural comedy: Portland. Burritos. Off-putting jargon. (No doubt a millennial eating avocado toast was somehow involved.) But it’s also an excellent opportunity to examine what “cultural appropriation” is – and what harm is done when the term is overused.

The phrase describes a real problem, but it’s increasingly being weaponized as a catch-all accusation. At Oberlin College, students decried their dining hall’s General Tso’s chicken as culturally appropriative. At the Whitney Museum in New York, protesters called for a white artist’s painting of Emmett Till to be destroyed for similar reasons.

The overuse of the term “cultural appropriation” obscures offenses that might actually deserve more censure, exaggerates some that don’t deserve much at all and weakens the power of the concept in general. It’s “the boy who cried burrito.”

To recap: A Portland burrito cart shut down May 20 amid accusations of cultural appropriation. Its owners, two white women, had taken a trip to Mexico, fallen in love with the tortillas there and decided to open a pop-up in their hometown. But then a newspaper profile surfaced with some ill-considered quotes: “I picked the brains of every tortilla lady there in the worst broken Spanish ever,” said one co-owner. “They wouldn’t tell us too much about technique, but we were peeking into the windows of every kitchen, totally fascinated by how easy they made it look.” And so locals took to the comment section and social media in outrage, and other outlets helped the story catch fire. The food cart, Kooks, closed less than two weeks after opening.

But what, after all, was the source of critics’ discomfort with Portland’s newest breakfast-burrito vendor? Was it how the chefs said that they had peered through windows to get their tortilla technique? Was it that they were lauding tortillas at all?

If it’s the first, well, theft is theft. Shamelessly stealing someone’s intellectual property is bad. It would be more meaningful to discuss that as an issue in and of itself; wrapping such an accusation in the language of cultural appropriation shortchanges its seriousness. Culture is irrelevant: In this, as in many cases, adding on the denunciation is done more to burnish the accuser’s progressive credentials than to educate or improve.

And if it’s the latter issue, where is energy best spent? A food-cart burrito, even made with dubiously sourced tortillas, is hardly the colonization of Mexican cuisine. Portland, Oregon, which is about three-quarters white, does have a problem with diversity. Rather than focusing anger and effort on a single misguided business, perhaps consider other issues that might have greater significance.

Exclusionary zoning (made worse by the NIMBY-ism of many of Portland’s ostensible progressives) means that the typical Latino family can’t afford the rent in most neighborhoods. Oregon’s murkily racist originspersist in everyday incidents of harassment. Positive action to combat these problems would be more meaningful than performative internet outrage.

That’s not to say that cultural appropriation should forever be ignored. It is real, after all, contrary to those who decry it as the invention of left-wing snowflakes with too much time on their hands. The term describes the adoption of elements of one culture – food, symbols, traditions, fashion – by members of another.

Such crossover is inevitable when cultures rub up against each other, and the outcome is often benign or even positive: Think of the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, or New York pizza. Yet there are those incidents in which the Western world co-opts without acknowledging the source of its inspiration. It can be demeaning to the culture it’s borrowing from, perpetuate negative stereotypes or disrespect the sacred: Think African American hairstyles touted as hip summer looks for white women when black children are punished for wearing the same styles to school, Native American ceremonial regalia worn as unearned costumes, or slang seen as low-class when used by minorities but funny and provocative when used by whites.

Using “cultural appropriation” to shout down something as insignificant as a misguided tortilla dilutes the meaning and strength of the term. When you’ve wasted all your capital shutting down food trucks, who will listen when a real transgression takes place?

]]> 0 Fri, 09 Jun 2017 20:23:44 +0000
The humble Farmer: When storytelling enthusiasts call, it’s time for some good lines Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Here’s an announcement I heard at the Portland Jetport. “Someone has left a belt at security. Please come and claim your belt.” Does this concern you? If they’ve already got your belt, can there be any question what they’ll have next?

My speaking business once required me to fly about the country on a fairly regular basis, and there was a time when I could tell you stories about air travel. At 6 o’clock on another morning I was the first person in line at the Bangor International Airport. The baggage inspectors had just assumed their stations and, as one snapped on a pair of rubber gloves, I heard a startled old man behind me whisper to his wife, “My, these fellows certainly intend to be thorough.”

But flying is unpredictable; you realize you don’t have the stamina you did when you were 75, and when sleeping in airports and eating Subway sandwiches three times a day isn’t as much fun as it used to be, you quit. In my case, I simply fizzled out.

So what would you do if you were called out of retirement? The Maine Organization Of Storytelling Enthusiasts asked me to tell stories at the Portland Public Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. You might know that the MOOSE frown on reading stories. But they must be aware that I am now a museum piece who can no longer set his mouth on automatic pilot while thinking about what to say next. You’ve seen them wheel aged baseball players out onto a field where they toss out the ceremonial first ball. But I’m afraid I’m expected to bat and run the bases.

In a last-minute attempt to prepare myself for what might well be my last speaking engagement, I looked through several hundred old radio rants until I found three dozen I thought I could muddle through in front of a dozen people. A few of my best stories were so dry that only two people out of a hundred would laugh. So if I mess up on the 14th, friends who know me will figure that they just didn’t get it.

The comments below did not fit into my planned program for Wednesday, and if you read them you might see why.

 Most everything has been done before, so I am proud to have a unique friend named Dave who claims to be the only man in Aroostook County to get his head caught in a hydraulic potato barrel hoist.

 Albert Pertinen, a football player for the Boston Red Shoes, made the Guinness Book of Records by completing the past season without a serious injury. He will be awarded a trophy at the Sports Hall of Fame banquet in September for being the first football player in America to play an entire season without having broken knees or cartilage repaired. A disgusted spokesman for the American Orthopedic Association has named Pertinen “Wimp of the Year.”

 Are you ready for The humble Farmer question of the week? A minister who is about to officiate at an outdoor marriage ceremony, held next to a lighthouse, finds that a stiff offshore breeze is blowing his tunic wildly around his head. He solves his problem with 18 or so inches of duct tape. This marriage ceremony took place in A. West Palm Beach, Florida; B. Malibu, California; or C. Port Clyde, Maine.

 When I was sitting in the Knox County Courthouse hoping to be selected for jury duty, people were asked to stand if they or a close family member had been involved in an incident involving alcohol. Twenty or so stood. The judge asked one man, “Was it you or a family member who was involved in this incident?” and the man whined, “It was me, and I still think I was innocent.”

 I can remember finding a brand-new book called “Caring for Your Baby and Child” at a lawn sale. I mentioned to the woman selling it that the book was in awful good condition. She said, “Yes, after I had the kid, I never had time to read it.”

 One hundred years ago, people in Spruce Head knew how to save. Ralph Cline says that his Great-Grandmother Bennett was so thrifty that each spring when she cleaned out the cupboards she’d swallow any medicine that was left so as not to waste it. To appreciate the extent of Great-Grandmother Bennett’s suffering, one should remember that back then, most popular medicines were black, gooey and 85 percent alcohol.

 Over the years I’ve only spoken to a handful of organizations like MOOSE; that is, of storytellers. But I do remember that Jackson Gillman once brought me down to the Harvard campus for a conference of his hippie raconteur friends.

Jackson laid it on pretty thick with my introduction, saying, “You have never heard anything like The humble Farmer.” I took the mike from his hand and said, “I have to agree with Jackson. This is probably the first time many of you have even seen a storyteller who eats meat.”

Correction: This column was updated at 3:33 p.m. on June 10 to correct the spelling of Jackson Gillman’s last name.

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

]]> 0, 10 Jun 2017 15:33:36 +0000
Schools get poor grade for effort to minimize amount of trash Sat, 10 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The waste that schools produce has become more and more apparent in this day and age. We teach children to love and care for the Earth – after all, it will be our home until we die. Yet in the place children spend over 1,000 hours each year – school – they are taught quite the opposite.

For years we have ignored how much trash schools produce. My middle school didn’t have hand dryers like my current high school does. Every day, the trash cans would be filled with paper towels that would go straight into the garbage. The school could produce so much less trash if they’d only used hand dryers.

The high school that I attend doesn’t use paper towels in any of the bathrooms, and there is so much less trash. If Portland Public Schools could implement a “no hand towels” rule in all their schools, or require reusable lunch trays, schools could produce so much less waste.

Speaking of lunch trays, the cafeteria isn’t much better, either. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has found that the average school-age American child produces 67 pounds of school lunch trash from packaging every year. To add to that, almost 80 percent of all the waste generated by schools could be recycled or composted, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It seems that the best solution is to cut out all, or most, packaged foods in schools, leaving less trash and healthier children. Packaged lunches aren’t the healthiest, anyway.

Though this might not be an option for the public school budget, it is, however, easy to make the simple switch from disposable lunch trays to washable. This would dramatically decrease the amount of trash schools produce, and encourage students to recycle and compost their waste as well, as opposed to throwing the entire tray in the trash. The students would have to put their food waste in a compost bin, and their emptied milk containers in the recycling bin.

There are compostable and recyclable food trays, but they are more expensive. If the schools are already using them, the students probably have no idea and are throwing them in the trash anyway. Washable trays, although they sound great to some, pose their own issues, with schools needing to have dishwashers installed. Schools would also have to pay a higher up-front cost.

But this is just a tiny commitment to reducing waste. A school in Concord, Massachusetts, used reusable trays and utensils and found out that their overall school waste went down by 50 percent. Not only that, but the dishwasher, reusable trays, utensils, carts and bins only cost $7,000. Ten months of biodegradable lunch trays would’ve cost $10,600, a study by the state’s Green Team found out. Reusable trays would have a higher upfront cost, but the same ones can be used for years, so it will be worth it in the long run.

Then there’s paper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 35 percent to 45 percent of the trash in solid waste streams comes from schools and other institutions, and over a third of that is paper. Schools using less paper is like asking a candy store to stop selling candy: It doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen any time soon.

Schools should, and could, however, strive to teach their students the importance of recycling their paper instead of throwing it out. When schools teach their students why they want to recycle, not just how, there could be great benefits. If one or two schools started to produce less waste, other schools might see the benefits of producing less waste and start doing it themselves.

Although the waste in landfills isn’t going to disappear overnight because schools are producing less waste, the amount of trash going into them would be significantly less. Just by making a small change of using reusable lunch trays, or not using paper towels, students in those schools would understand the importance of reducing the amount of trash they create and schools would be more sustainable.

Creating sustainable schools is imperative to creating a healthy environment for children to grow and thrive in. Reducing school waste is the first step to get there. Let schools make the step in the right direction.

]]> 0 school lunch salad entree option featuring low-sodium chicken, a whole-grain roll, fresh red peppers, and cilantro dressing is assembled in a lunch basket at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Federal Way, Wash., south of Seattle, Monday, May 5, 2014. On this day, students could choose between this salad and a more traditional lunch of a grilled cheese sandwich on whole grain bread served with a southwestern-style corn salad, fresh carrots and either canned pears or apple sauce. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)Sat, 10 Jun 2017 00:42:02 +0000
Funding county jails: Why it matters to all families in Maine Fri, 09 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Maine’s county jails exist to protect law-abiding citizens from those who choose to violate the law; in doing so, these facilities have earned Maine a consistent spot on every “safest states in the country” list to be found. Responsibly funding jail operations is non-negotiable.

After several weeks of educating members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, a unanimous recommendation was made to the Appropriations Committee to provide supplemental funding for Maine’s jails in the amount of $3.8 million. This figure is the anticipated shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year and has been examined by many parties and confirmed as accurate.

Why do the counties have this shortfall? In 2009, the state froze county tax expenditures for jail budgets at 2008 figures. While the Legislature allowed up to a 3 percent increase in 2016, they didn’t provide a mechanism to make up for the eight years of flat-lined budgets.

What happened during those years? From bath salts to opioids, the overwhelming drug crisis in Maine has left many of our jails grossly overcrowded. With no allowable increases to jail budgets, Maine’s county jail system has been severely impacted. While there are hundreds of empty beds available in the system, it’s important to remember that because of the current funding crisis, many inmate housing pods – or clusters of cells – are closed. Without funding to staff these pods, they’re useless to the system.

This isn’t a commentary about taxes, but while we’re on the topic, it’s important to distinguish between increases in your local school budget and increases in the taxes that municipalities pay toward jail funding.

In Oakland, where I live, for every dollar the average taxpayer gives to the town, 64 cents will be allocated to schools. To compare, 6 cents is allocated to county government, and a fraction of that is allocated to the correctional services for the county.

It varies around the state. In Millinocket, for example, only 2 cents of every taxpayer dollar goes to their county government, and less than 1 cent of every dollar goes to their jail operations.

Maine’s county jails have consistently, and without omission, earned the highest of marks in their annual state audits. With the exception of facilities in dire need of physical improvements, all other facets of jail inspections have been exemplary. We have 14 county jails and one regional jail, housing a combined total of about 1,700 inmates on any given day. Maintaining these stellar results, year after year, is what taxpayers are receiving for their infinitesimally small county jail tax.

What will happen if Maine’s jails do not receive the critical funding in the next fiscal year? The county jail staffing crisis will grow exponentially. Some of the solutions discussed include being unable to take on newly arrested criminals and requiring municipalities to transport them to jails in other counties with open beds.

How would this scenario play out in your city or town? Would local budgets be affected by this added transport of everyone arrested? Would this influence the level of crimes investigated? One can only imagine.

Other suggestions include closing more pods to reduce staff and/or reducing the patrol on the roads. How would this affect the thousands of rural Maine miles that we call home? That there will be a direct impact on the safety of Maine’s citizens is guaranteed.

Funding Maine’s jails doesn’t have the same appeal as funding local schools, so Maine’s sheriffs must work harder to educate those decision-makers under the dome in Augusta. They can’t do it alone. If you value the safety you feel as a Maine citizen, recognize that keeping Maine’s inmates in jail is a priority for you, your family, your children and your community.

Call your state representatives, your state senators and your governor. We must collectively insist that Maine’s jails be funded appropriately and consistently. The risk of doing anything less is unacceptable.

]]> 0, 09 Jun 2017 15:16:58 +0000
Maine Voices: On June 13, vote for Question 1 bond to power small-business and tech economy Thu, 08 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — On Tuesday, there’s an election in Maine, and an opportunity to move our state forward. It’s likely to be a low-key affair without the weight of a presidential or gubernatorial race to motivate participants, but the issues at stake are critically important.

On Election Day, Maine voters have a chance to say “yes” to an investment in our state that will create thousands of good-paying jobs, spark news ideas and innovation and help us better understand the world we live in.

Voters will be asked to consider Question 1, a $50 million bond that will leverage an additional $50 million in matching funds. The combined $100 million will fund research and development, and provide loans and startup capital to small businesses that have the potential for significant growth and job creation.

At a time when things in Washington are so divisive, it’s encouraging to have local issues like this that can bring us together to move Maine in a positive direction.

I work in construction, and I’m an engineer by training. I know that if you want to build a world-class laboratory, school or hospital, you must start with a solid foundation.

The investment in R&D and small-business growth will help our state build a modern and thriving economy. They are the foundations for Maine’s economy of the future.

The bond funds will also create an economic ripple effect in our communities. It’s estimated that every $1 spent on R&D generates another $2 to $4 in local spending, from restaurant meals to haircuts to durable goods purchases.

The bond represents a partnership with private industry in seven key economic sectors – biotechnology, composites and advanced materials, environmental technologies, forest products and agriculture, information technology, marine technology and aquaculture, and precision manufacturing. The bond funding would be managed by the Maine Technology Institute, which was created in 1999 to support innovation and job creation in the state.

Grants – which draw matching dollars that double, triple and quadruple their impact – are made through a comprehensive screening process that protects taxpayer dollars and ensures that projects with the greatest chance for success and the largest positive impact earn support.

Since its creation, the Maine Technology Institute has championed important projects all around the state, including work in advanced materials, pulp and paper, and forest and marine science.

The organization’s work has been critical to the state’s biotechnology sector. According to Research America – a group that advocates for discoveries in health – the biopharmaceutical sector in Maine has an annual economic output of $4.6 billion and supports nearly 20,000 jobs.

The biotech sector is a model for successful collaboration among private industry, nonprofit schools and federal and state governments. But the impact of this investment and the work that’s being done goes beyond just jobs and numbers on a balance sheet. One in 10 Mainers has a rare disease, and the research that’s being done contributes to their well-being and health.

For example, The Jackson Laboratory, which has earned past Maine Technology Institute support, is working with the National Institutes of Health to determine the relationship between strong immune responses during childhood and the onset of autoimmune disease in adults.

Democrats, Republicans and independents have a hard time agreeing on anything these days, but Question 1 on the June ballot is supported by the governor and by a supermajority in the Maine House and Maine Senate. This critical investment passed in the Maine House of Representatives 129-10 and in the Maine Senate 28-4.

The bond earned that strong support because lawmakers of all political persuasions understand this type of investment pays dividends in jobs, economic growth and in the lives of Mainers from all parts of the state and in all walks of life. But with an election in June that might not be on everyone’s radar screen, it’s critical that we all get out and vote. We have a chance to raise our voices – to put aside the things that might divide us politically – and support an idea that is straightforward and worthwhile.

Maine voters know a good investment when they see it, and Question 1 is exactly that: a great deal that will pay dividends statewide for years to come.


]]> 0 Thu, 08 Jun 2017 11:37:06 +0000
Dana Milbank: Two words that keep sounding better every day: President Pence Thu, 08 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 President Trump, on his recent European trip, literally shoved aside Prime Minister Dusko Markovic of Montenegro in order to get to the front of a group of leaders. On Monday, Vice President Pence hosted the shoving victim at the White House, then praised Markovic publicly.

“I had the privilege of welcoming the prime minister to the White House today,” Pence said at an Atlantic Council dinner. “I was very humbled to be able to share a few moments with him on the very day that Montenegro became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”

On that same European trip, Trump surprised his own aides and unsettled allies when he refused to affirm NATO’s collective-defense obligations. On Monday night, Pence expressed his “unwavering” support: “The United States is resolved, as we were at NATO’s founding and in every hour since, to live by that principle that an attack on one of us is an attack on us all.”

John Nance Garner, one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously compared the office to “a bucket of warm piss.” For Pence, the vice presidency is a bucket of Clorox and a mop.

Tuesday morning found the vice president doing what he does frequently these days: cleaning up Trump’s messes. Pence, speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, offered a soothing contrast to Trump’s recent outbursts.

Where Trump alienated allies and opened a dispute with the mayor of London, Pence vowed to “continue to stand with our allies” and praised “our cherished ally,” Britain. Where Trump has largely removed human rights from the agenda, Pence called for “an America standing tall in the world again for our values and our ideals.”

Trump, at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year, told attendees to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger and his “Apprentice” ratings. Pence aimed higher. “Don’t so much pray for a cause as for country,” he said, paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln. “Just pray for America.”


The contrast between the reckless president and his responsible understudy has me thinking, not for the first time, how much better things would be if Pence were president. Trump shows no ability to correct course, to pull himself out of a self-destructive spiral. It may be premature to talk of impeachment or resignation, but Trump’s path is unsustainable. Republicans in Congress would be sensible to start thinking about an endgame, and the former Indiana governor may be their best hope – and all of ours.

Many liberals correctly call Pence a doctrinaire conservative, particularly on gay rights and other social issues. He’ll be forever tarnished because of his role in legitimizing Trump for mainstream conservatives, a calculation based on the vain hope that he could influence Trump. He has embarrassed himself in office by parroting Trump’s untruths and cheerleading for the boss.

But Pence is, at core, a small-d democrat, not a demagogue. The world would be safer with him in charge. We would still have fierce divisions about the nation’s direction. But Pence, in the nearly two decades I’ve known him, has been an honorable man. Opponents can disagree with him, yet sleep well knowing he’s unlikely to be irrational.

This was supposed to have been “infrastructure week” for Trump, but he has been using his Twitter account to impair further the infrastructure of his presidency: burning bridges, building bunkers and going off the rails. He has vented unfiltered rage at the courts, the media, the mayor of London, Qatar and his own administration.

Meanwhile, Pence governs. He visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to have a luncheon talk with Republican senators about health care reform. He hosted female entrepreneurs at the White House on Monday and said seven words to them that likely never passed his boss’ lips: “I’m here to listen, not to talk.”

At the Atlantic Council dinner, he gave a statesmanlike response to the London attacks that contrasted dramatically with Trump’s. He repeatedly hailed NATO and European allies. He criticized Russian expansionism. He was diplomatic about areas of disagreement with Europe.

Trump could not have given that speech, nor the one Pence gave at the Catholic Prayer Breakfast, asking for prayers to heal a divided country – at almost the exact moment Trump was railing on Twitter about fake news and political correctness. Pence urged the Catholics to “continue to be the hands and feet of our Savior, reaching in with love and compassion, embracing the dignity of all people of every background and every experience.”

A noble – even presidential – aspiration. Under Trump we don’t have a prayer.

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

]]> 0, 07 Jun 2017 19:29:29 +0000
Shocking Facebook memes cast long shadow as Harvard kicks out applicants Thu, 08 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Today’s episode of “What were they thinking?” features horny bourgeois teens no longer attending Harvard.

At least 10 prospective students saw their admissions offers yanked by the Ivy League school, according to The Harvard Crimson, after they shared Facebook memes that targeted minority groups and mocked sexual assault, the Holocaust and the deaths of children.

The students had formed a messaging group called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” in December, which Harvard administrators discovered. Admissions office employees emailed the students posting the memes, the Crimson reports, asking them to disclose their involvement.

“The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics,” reads a copy of the admissions office’s email obtained by the Crimson. “As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement by tomorrow at noon to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee.”

About a week later, the Crimson reports, at least 10 students received letters saying their offers of admission were withdrawn.

Most of us, by now, are well aware that universities and employers keep tabs on online personas.

Thirty-five percent of college admissions officers said they check applicants’ social media profiles, according to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey. Of those who checked social media profiles, 42 percent said the findings negatively impacted their views on applicants.

Kaplan’s survey also found that 25 percent of admissions officers who used social media to help make decisions did so “often.”

So what gives? Are these statistics not making their way to teens? Or are they simply not sinking in?

I checked in with education consultant Ana Homayoun, author of the upcoming “Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.”

Homayoun said parents and teens are aware that social media footprints have real consequences, but our conversations about them have been fear-based, rather than instructive.

“So much of the last decade of social media education has been around scaring kids, ‘Don’t do this or you won’t get into college,'” she said. “All that really does is send them underground.”

Better to help them understand that their online and real-life identities are one and the same, she said, and help them think hard about the values they hold dear when shaping those identities.

“Kids often go online and feel like they have this secondary experience – maybe they try on different personalities, different viewpoints, see what kind of response they get,” Homayoun said. “Especially if they’re using apps or groups where their real name isn’t being used.”

Try to engage kids in frequent conversations, Homayoun said, about how they can shut down inappropriate comments, or at least disengage from them – just as they should in real life.

“Most adults can recall a time when they somehow felt excluded in their younger years,” Homayoun writes in “Social Media Wellness.”

“Many can also recall how they did something that was ill-advised or, for lack of a better word, dumb. Social media use didn’t cause these feelings or decisions, but it’s easy to see how social media expands and amplifies such feelings to near-overwhelming levels while creating a long ‘paper’ trail that can radically alter the long-term consequences of bad choices.”

Those memories, embarrassing as they may be, can offer important context when we’re talking to our kids about their behavior and identity.

And don’t be afraid to offer some hard-and-fast boundaries. In a blog post accompanying last year’s Kaplan survey, the site urges students to keep in mind one simple question: “Would I say this on television?”

Social media is, after all, a broadcast of sorts.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Jun 2017 20:04:09 +0000
Leonard Pitts: After last of a dozen aunts and uncles dies, a nephew reflects on his roots Wed, 07 Jun 2017 10:00:15 +0000 There were 13 of them in all, born over a period of 27 years.

Lillian, who grew up to run a numbers racket, was the first, born in 1906. She was followed by Sadie, Vivian and Virgie. Richard, a college professor and poet came next, followed by Paul, Vina, Annie, Edna and Leonard, my dad. Then came Ruth, Carl and finally, Mildred, born in 1933.

As she was the last to be born, a few days ago she became the last to die.

I wrote about Aunt Millie and her decline from dementia three years ago in this space. As these words are written, I’m preparing to go to Chicago to bury her. And thinking about what it means when a generation dies.

I have no more blood aunts and uncles. Not on either side. My sisters and brother and cousins and I, we are it. We are the “grown-ups” now. We are the family.

It is a sobering realization familiar to many of us of a certain age. Firsthand memory of the Depression, the war, the Holocaust, is dwindling at a sobering pace, disappearing one heart attack, cancer diagnosis and stroke at a time. But those of us who are of a certain age and also African-American are losing those things, and other things specific to us.

We are losing firsthand memory of you can’t walk here, and you can’t eat there, of you can’t try that on and you can’t look that man in the eye. We are losing our exodus, how it felt to flee Greenville, Jacksonville or Shreveport on the first bus or train heading north or west, toting suitcases tied with rope and cold chicken in grease-stained paper bags.

We are losing that. And we are losing stuff they used to say.

Like, “I ain’t studdin’ you,” which meant, “I’m not bothering with you.” Nobody says that anymore.

Nobody says, “You don’t believe fat meat’s greasy,” which meant, “You don’t believe this obvious thing, but I’m about to teach you in a very painful way.”

We’re losing “seditty,” which meant “pompous”; “ninny,” which meant “a woman’s nursing breast”; and “haints,” which meant “spirits.” Uncle Carl used to have a saying about the futility of “if”: He’d say, “If the worms had machine guns, the birds wouldn’t mess with them.” Except he didn’t say “mess.”

We are losing that. And we are losing their superstitions. My dad almost had a heart attack one time when we were walking and I passed on the other side of a utility pole. Turns out it’s bad luck to split a pole. And every New Year’s Day my mom served chitlins, black-eyed peas and greens. The greens were supposed to bring folding money in the new year, the peas, pocket change, and the pork entrails – if you can believe this – health. Laugh if you want to. I laugh, too, every New Year’s, when we serve the same meal. I laugh and wonder if the tradition will survive me.

Time takes what time will. It takes the generations that shaped you. Eventually, it takes you as well. Such is life.

So yes, I am mindful of all that we are losing. Not just their superstitions and words, but also their home truths and rough wisdom. Like “Use your head for more than a hat rack,” and “There’s no such word as ‘can’t.’ ” Like, “A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” and “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you.” Like, “Father, I stretch my hand to thee … ”

You pass this stuff on to your kids, but you never know if they’re listening. Just as, I suppose, my folks never knew with me. I’m surprised to discover that I actually was.

Maybe that’s the blessing here, the sun lining the cloud’s edge in silver. Maybe the things they taught us are not lost with them, after all. Maybe they are only buried in us all, buried way down deep.

You know, like roots.

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

]]> 0 Columnist Leonard Pitts. (Olivier Douliery/TNS)Tue, 06 Jun 2017 20:14:55 +0000
Greg Kesich: For Portland residents, a source of real fake news right in our backyard Wed, 07 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 You’ve heard the conspiracy theories: The “kill count” of Bill Clinton’s crime family tops 90 murders. High-ranking Democrats are running a child-sex ring in Washington. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were really an inside job.

Where does this stuff come from?

If you live in Portland, it may come from a duly elected member of your local school committee.

When she’s not attending public hearings and budget workshops, Holly Seeliger, who represents the West End, has an active presence on social media, where lately she has been producing daily video commentaries with a YouTube show called “Zoon Politikon.” The topics range widely, but lately a favorite subject is the violent death of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was fatally shot near his Washington apartment last July.

Rich’s murder, which police say was probably the result of a botched robbery, has been irresistible for right-wing media commentators, who claim (with no evidence) that Rich – not Russian hackers – was the source of the WikiLeaks document dump last year that revealed DNC staffers speaking disrespectfully about Bernie Sanders. The “scandal” pays off for them two ways at once – taking the heat off the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russian interference in the presidential election, and further demonizing Hillary Clinton.

Last week, Fox News backed off the story after Rich’s parents pleaded in a Washington Post column for journalists to stop using their son’s death as a political weapon, but Seeliger is still at it.

In a recent episode, the Green Party member laughed off the notion that it’s just the right wing who thinks the Democrats have blood on their hands. She assured her viewers that there are plenty of people on the left who also believe that a hit squad knocked off Rich to keep him quiet.

“They keep saying that conservative media is touting the Seth Rich conspiracy. No! Bernie Sanders supporters are talking about this (too),” Seeliger said. “Seth Rich was a Bernie Sanders supporter … and he could see the writing on the wall. Unfortunately he was also naive and believed he could change the (Democratic) Party from the inside and because of that, I believe, he paid the ultimate price.”

By now, we have all become inured to the label “fake news” because it gets slapped on every story that leads to a conclusion that someone doesn’t like. But we live in an era where there’s such a thing as real fake news – false stories that are manufactured either for propaganda or profit. They can swing elections and drive public opinion just like genuine journalism because many readers choose to believe them.

It’s not a question of getting fooled as much as being willing to fool ourselves. Confirmation bias makes us open to information that tells our mind what our gut already believes, no matter how outlandish it is. Anyone looking for information to support their bias is going to be able to find it on the internet. And one of those sources could be a two-term member of the Portland Board of Education.

In addition to the Rich conspiracy, Seeliger has been an active proponent of the thoroughly debunked “Pizzagate” child-sex ring theory – alleging in a commentary that Democratic operative and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta sent emails that used “code words including ‘pizza,’ ” which people in the “sexually deviant community” knew referred to “child abuse and child rape, pedophilia and human trafficking.”

Seeliger has at times proposed on other social media sites the notion that Hitler and the Nazis started out as liberals, and that President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. because he didn’t want King running against him as a third-party candidate in 1968. (Never mind that Johnson had already pulled out of the race by the time of King’s death.)

No one gives up their constitutional rights when they run for the school board, and Seeliger is free to read, write and say whatever she likes. But in a democracy, elected officials are a reflection of the people they represent. What does it say about Portland’s West End that Seeliger has twice been the choice of the voters, including her last race, where she ran unopposed?

She has been a prominent member of the city’s Green Party, occasionally crossing party lines, such as when she supported Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination or Democrat Ethan Strimling’s 2015 run for mayor.

Is the rest of the city’s political community comfortable with Seeliger’s views? Is this kind of thing a problem only when it’s a Republican talking?

It shouldn’t be. Fake news is fake, no matter where it comes from.

Listen to Press Herald podcasts at

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, 06 Jun 2017 20:59:54 +0000
Maine Voices: LePage misrepresented Maine opinion on national monument Wed, 07 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 MILLINOCKET — As a longtime business owner in the Katahdin region, I am shocked by the few people doing everything they can to tear down our communities and destroy the economic progress already made since the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Katahdin Woods and Waters is under an Interior Department review ordered by President Trump to ensure what his executive order called “adequate public outreach” was part of the designation process. However, our monument is in a class by itself regarding public outreach. We’re on the review list only because Gov. LePage traveled to Washington and misrepresented public opinion in Maine, saying the majority of Mainers were opposed to the monument.

That clearly isn’t true, but even if it were, how could the governor make that claim if there hadn’t been adequate public outreach? In fact, multiple polls showed the vast majority of Mainers supported federal land protection initiatives in the Katahdin region. A survey done shortly after the national monument designation found that support for Katahdin Woods and Waters had reached 72 percent statewide and two-thirds of Mainers in the 2nd Congressional District, where the monument is located, support the designation.

The notion that there was insufficient outreach is a fallacy. Before the designation, there were years of meetings, presentations and local forums for people to state their views on the land’s future. I know because, as the owner of WSYY, the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes Region’s radio station, we announced many of these forums on air.

There were countless opportunities in the Katahdin region and throughout Maine for public input into the creation of the monument. Besides polls, presentations, forums and meetings, there have been hundreds of letters in the Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram (not to mention the regional papers), as well as op-eds and editorials; letters of support from businesses, city councils and trade associations, and news coverage on television and radio.

This discussion has been going on for years. Just because a small, vocal minority doesn’t like what the vast majority of the input was, that doesn’t mean the input didn’t happen. And just because a politician has never visited an area or met with local business leaders to find out how the monument is benefiting the economy and communities, that doesn’t mean benefits aren’t accruing.

They are. After decades of decline and strife, the monument has given our communities hope and early signs of economic growth. Now those investments and jobs are in doubt. I want to grow my own business, but WSYY’s planned expansion will not proceed if the national monument designation is rescinded or changed – or, frankly, if the shadow cast by our governor isn’t lifted.

If the designation is rescinded, banks have no reason to lend and I’ll have little choice but to sell to a national religious broadcaster. Just as with Lincoln’s WLKN years ago, this would mean that Red Sox broadcasts would never return, and there would be no local music, DJs, sports or CBS News. Another local station gone.

Donald Trump certainly doesn’t seem to have any plans to help our region recover from the loss of our mills. Gov. Le-Page has not helped create any jobs here. The governor, to the best of my knowledge, has never visited the monument, as he considers anything other than Maine’s coastal region to be “the mosquito area.” Our businesses need the monument to stay and help the area stabilize and prosper. We cannot live in the past and dismiss every opportunity that is not what was here before. We must move forward.

Despite being less than a year old, Katahdin Woods and Waters is already creating jobs and business expansion. The international exposure for the monument is bringing us something that no state park has, or could.

With the governor offering nothing but complete disregard for rural Maine, our long struggles and the opportunities the monument creates, our congressional delegation must defend Katahdin Woods and Waters, our local businesses and our communities. They must protect Mainers from this direct assault on our future prosperity, not to mention insults to the beautiful interior portions of Maine.

Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree have come out strongly against this attack. Sen. Susan Collins has mildly opposed efforts to harm the monument. Rep. Bruce Poliquin has done nothing and says it’s up to the executive branch. That’s not how representation works. The people and businesses of the Katahdin region want Sen. Collins and Rep. Poliquin to protect our monument, our small businesses, our communities and the image of northern Maine.

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Maine Voices: Dog breeder, therapist and Liam created a Chihuahua miracle Tue, 06 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 SEBAGO — In my mid-20s, I was terrified to reintegrate myself into society after losing my job and ending up on disability. Even though I was taking my medication for my schizoaffective disorder, it doesn’t control all my symptoms. I don’t have delusions anymore, but I am left with visual and auditory hallucinations. I became very lonely, and I was at a loss as to how I would continue to live the rest of my life. I needed a companion; I desperately wanted a Chihuahua.

I didn’t intend for him to be a service dog. Over the internet, I found a local Chihuahua breeder with a positive reputation. While petting Liam for the first time, I began to open up to the breeder, who told me she had been training Chihuahuas for 33 years.

She was very easy to talk to, so I told her about my journey with mental illness and why I wanted a dog at this point in my life. She asked me what I was still struggling with on a daily basis. I told her that I was annoying my boyfriend. She laughed.

I explained that I was constantly asking him either “Did you hear that?” or “Did you see that?” to get a reality check on the low-level hallucinations that my medicine still doesn’t completely control. As you can imagine, it was creating a lot of stress in our home. I was also paranoid about being home alone and going out alone, and I was self-conscious about my possible behaviors.

The breeder asked if I would consider working with her to train Liam to help me. I immediately thought of hugs, kisses and unconditional love – which are all wonderful – but I didn’t know what else she could train Liam to do for me. She said she had ideas that she had never tried before and asked if I would be willing to work on creating a Chihuahua miracle. She didn’t ask for a penny.

How could I resist? I worked with her for two years twice a week, and during the second year, my therapist even agreed to join us. This was the opportunity of a lifetime.

We trained Liam in basic obedience and then slowly shifted to the individually tailored tasks that could help me with my daily life.

It wasn’t an easy process, but after a lot of work by all of us (Liam most of all), Liam now assists me in ways I never thought possible. I’ll lightly tap his shoulder with two fingers and then ask him either “Did you hear that?” or “Did you see that?” If he did, he will put one paw forward; if he did not, he will lie down.

Super amazing, right? I had no idea a dog could do this. This seemingly basic task changes the way I live my life every day.

He has become my barometer for reality. I don’t have to ask the people closest to me a thousand times a day about a possible hallucination. I don’t have to be scared and wake someone up in the middle of the night. My paranoia has decreased drastically. I’m not scared to be home alone and I’m not scared to go out alone, because he is always there supporting me.

I continue to bring Liam, my Chihuahua, everywhere I go. I am a public speaker for three separate mental health speaker bureaus in Maine. He can be quite the attraction. It is as if we have an invisible leash connection at all times.He just turned 7 years old, so we are in a fantastic rhythm together. He is still happy and healthy.

His little 6-pound frame has changed my life. I am not scared anymore, and my relationships are stronger and healthier than ever before. He has helped me so much to reintegrate into society. He is my best and most loyal friend.


]]> 0 Paulsen of Sebago, who has schizoaffective disorder, worked with her therapist and a dog breeder to train Liam, above, to help her distinguish between what is real and what is a hallucination.Mon, 05 Jun 2017 19:52:45 +0000